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Thread: Fantasy author looking for tips on army sizes

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  1. #1

    Default Fantasy author looking for tips on army sizes

    Hey there. I'll try to keep this as light as possible. I'm a fantasy author working on a novel that's set in North America. It takes place in the future after the world has essentially become a "wildlife preserve", where humans have retroactively recreated natural landscapes (they removed the cities, infrastructure, basically anything artificial, etc.). However, a small population of humans stayed back on earth to live primitively. Eventually these humans began re-building a new society, starting from simple tribes and moving into a pseudo-medieval esque civilization (it's really closer to the Dark Ages, possibly even antiquity). They had no records or knowledge of the previous civilizations, so their progression would be natural and "fresh". These particular civilizations are centered around the eastern coast, with the major population centers being roughly around Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York State, Kentucky, South and North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

    Kentucky and North Carolina, in particular, would theoretically be the most densely populated, as well as areas along the Ohio river. The only reason I really want to know about populations is for references to army sizes. My question is simply what you guys think the best way to go about estimating general army sizes would be in this particular context? There's "magic" (actually a form of nanotech remaining from the previous human societies), but it's rare and very minimal, mostly relegated to prophecies and telepathy and such, so it shouldn't affect the civilizations all that much in this regard (the biggest use of "magic" -- even though it's technically science-fiction -- is through an advanced, almost god-like transhuman entity, who has subtly pushed the civilizations towards advancement, as otherwise there's no guarantee that human societies living in North America would have ever progressed to a point comparable to ancient Rome or Greece).

    I'm not how much the actual cultures matter, but if so, they're very, very roughly like a mixture between ancient China and medieval europe, with lots of fictional elements. They're supposed to be brand new cultures, so the similarities to our historical ones are fairly minimal.

    I realize that this is a really odd sort of situation, and it's difficult especially because I like to make my fantasy worlds as realistic as possible (I'm also omitting an enormous amount of information here in order to keep this post short, so the whole thing probably sounds kind of unrealistic, but trust me when I say I've put a lot of effort into making the situation as believable as possible). I'm willing to make some concessions in this particular case, but I'd still like it to be relatively grounded in reality.

    Thanks for any and all tips! If there's some other relevant information that would I should add, let me know. Like I said I've done a ton of world-building, it's just hard to know what to include here without going overboard.

  2. #2


    Hi Francis and welcome to the guild, This isn't a mapping related question so I've moved it to general discussion. Gopod luck wth finding an answer. I'm guessing a big part of the answer would be how martial the societies are, what sorts of threats they face, whether by armies you mean standing armies or volunteer units that are called up as needed.

  3. #3
    Software Dev/Rep waldronate's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    The High Desert


    What sort of army structure are you looking for? Elites only, freemen, or conscript? What sort of population densities are you looking at for the basis of your armies?

    Is warfare planned to be a seasonal affair or year-round? What is the level of agriculture that will feed these armies? Modern agricultural varieties allow for yields unheard of in the middle ages. Much of classic warfare was seasonable because someone had to stay home and do the farming (or leave the battlefield for planting and harvesting). I vaguely recall reading that classical yields for grains were around 4:1 on average (some crops are lower, some higher; some years are better, some worse). Modern yields might be ten times that due to genetics, fertilization, and mechanization.

    Why are the cultures at war (wars based on ideology can have a much different army composition than a regular army - the crusades, for example)?

    A critical component in most battles has historically been intelligence gathering. If you know when to engage an enemy and when not to, you have a huge advantage. Similarly, if you have communication between units in battle, there is also a huge advantage. Anything resembling telepathy will have a huge advantage on the battlefield and anything resembling clairvoyance will have a huge impact in intelligence gathering.

    Most folks who are likely to respond probably won't mind reading lots of information.

  4. #4


    Thank you for the reply! I will do my best to provide the information you requested, and I'm also going to whip up a very rough map of the general placement of things.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    So basically, the war that's taking place is between the relatively newly formed Empire of Orthigar, which is maybe ten years old by the time the story actually starts. Before the Orthian Empire formed, it was was a feudal monarchy. We'll ignore the Free Tribes to the north for now.

    Carathir, Ethage, Ambany, and Strafos are essentially feudalistic monarchies as well. I would like for Orthigar to have a standing army (maybe five years old by the time the story starts), which would also be expanding fairly rapidly. This is partially because of religious conversions, and also because, being in Kentucky, they have access to good farming conditions (and with no threat to them from the west). When the story starts, Ethage has already been conquered and assimilated into the empire.

    There are two religions: Tsashurism, which is the faith of the Orthian Empire, and Brishwaynism, which is mostly the faith of all the other "nations". When Orthigar conquers a new nation, the citizens can either convert to Tsashurism, or they can retain religious freedom, but they have to pay a tax to do so (along with other social restrictions, similar to our own historical dhimmi). There is also something comparable to a "knightly" social class for both the Brischwayn and the Tsashurites, but they would not be especially abundant. Horses and cavalry would of course be very valuable, but again I'm vague on the exact numbers there (also, there are no creatures or anything like that to worry about...most if not all of the animals would be ones native to North America).

    As I mentioned, I'd like the technological level of these civilizations (which includes agriculture, weaponry, etc.), to be near or around that of the Dark and/or Middle Ages. You mentioned seasonal warfare, which is an excellent point, one that I'm afraid I completely overlooked. The entire story itself doesn't take place over more than a year (maybe a bit longer, if necessary, but the timespan is pretty flexible). So, does that mean it would make sense for me start the story around springtime?

    In regards to the telepathy and clairvoyance, they're extremely rare and difficult to control in-universe, so overall I would suggest not to really take them into consideration. Intelligence gathering would be very much along the lines of its real-world historical counterparts (spies, informants, etc.). Magic also has virtually no significance in warfare either. For all intents and purposes, it's probably best just to proceed as if there's no magic at all.

    As the story begins, the empire has taken Ethage (as I mentioned), and by about half-way through the story they need to take Ambany as well (Ambany surrenders after a particularly devastating loss, in which their second largest walled-city (called Urminy) is taken by the that's something else I'll have to figure out logistically). I've purposefully put-off figuring out exactly how the battles will play out, since I think it makes sense to figure out this other stuff first.

    Overall, the most powerful nations in descending order (at least according to the plot) should be: Orthigar, Carathir, Ambany, Strafos, and Ethage.

    Is there any other information I can add that would be useful? And thanks again!

    EDIT: Oh, and the actual territorial lines between these nations are not strongly defined for the most part -- those modern US state lines in the map I posted are just there for reference. They don't have any significance in the actual story.
    Last edited by Francis Buck; 05-28-2013 at 01:55 AM.

  5. #5
    Guild Applicant
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    Well army size depends on which of area of the world you are looking at, which time and which nation.

    The romans had 50 legions plus auxilliary troops and a navy at one point => 600'000-700'000 Men under arms. Of course, not all of these would be in the same place but where spread out throughout the empire. Rome would usually field no more than 10 legions in a campaign.

    Medieval Europeans did not field very large armies - 20,000 maximum - (they lacked food), this changed with the introduction of the potato. Of course there are also exceptions here. In the 14th century the Tartars (100'000) fought against Dimitrij Donskoj (70'000-120'000).

    In India the armies were quite large both in Roman times and after (up to 800'000).

    The Chinese however take the top spot for largest single Armies in history wich could number up to well over 200'000 in a single battle.

    What you want to do is estimate how big of a population your areas could support. You then take a certain percentage of that population (depending on how warlike the state is) and make them into standing armies. If you need more have them be conscripts

    Be aware that your nations might be able to feed more people per km˛ since they have access to modern high-yield crops (unless they crossbred their own all over again).
    Last edited by Hal9000; 05-28-2013 at 06:56 AM.

  6. #6


    Some more numbers of note. Charlemagne at the height of his power had approximately 20,000 troops. That's very early Middle Ages, with a population of less than 1 million people to draw on probably (The entire population of Europe ~800 A.D. is estimated at 1.5 million).

    A typical Welsh war band was around 150 - 300 in the 13th century. For a major conflict, several war bands would unite and conscripts would be added to their number. If I recall correctly, a typical Welsh fief at that time might have had about 1,000 men available to fight; the chief could levy them for only half the year. Typical army sizes for a formal conflict (as opposed to the near-constant raiding and border skirmishes typical of the Welsh at that time) were around 7 - 10,000. Very major wars could see armies of 15 - 30,000, but I think a large number of those troops were mercenaries. The population estimate for all of Wales at the time of the Norman Conquest is about 150,000, growing to around 300,000 until the Black Death hit in the 14th century.

    Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars could field about 30,000, of which about 16,000 were hoplites (professional well-equipped soldiers). During the relatively peaceful period that followed, they could usually muster less than 3,000. The Persians are reported to have had an army of over 1 million men, but most historians regard that as an exaggeration, with the truth probably being somewhere around 300,000 for the (failed) invasion of Greece. Even so, they had to have left a portion of their troops behind to defend against uprisings in Egypt, which had already disrupted the plan to invade Greece at least once. I have no idea what the population of the Persian Empire was at that time, though. I do know that the Ferticle Crescent was still living up to its name. Most of what is now desert was once very good farmland, capable of much larger ratios of farmers to warriors than other areas.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  7. #7


    2% to 3 % of pop as professional soldiers. Another 5% levy/militia at most as logistics in ancient times will make it hard to gather more in one spot. Thomas Morwinsky, Armies of Eriador, Do a net search for it.

  8. #8


    Awesome tips guys, much appreciated. I'm beginning to formulate a direction here.

    One question I do have is, what should the proportions be between the "peasant-class" (the farmers, the producers) compared to city dwellers? The largest city in Orthigar is Sivan, which I'm tentatively going to place at around maybe 300,000 people, perhaps less if that seems too much. So, let's say there's maybe two other cities at half that size, what would be a reasonable population for the peasant class? I think 30,000 professional soldiers sounds about what I'd like Orthigar to able to field, preferably with no (or very few) conscripts. Keep in mind that the total area of Orthian territory would be greater than that of Kentucky (not massively greater, but greater, in particular it would extend further to the west).

    I should add that the crops being used would not our own, modern, high-yield variety. Imagine that the US is literally as it was about 10,000 years ago. Is it generally held that the areas in question (east coast to middle US) would still have more valuable farm land than in comparison to europe?
    Last edited by Francis Buck; 05-30-2013 at 11:54 PM.

  9. #9
    Software Dev/Rep waldronate's Avatar
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    The High Desert


    Without an abundance of steel axes or saws, it'd be a serious pain to clear the heavy-duty forest that would be covering up that area, which would affect the kind of crops that would grow. Things like wheat and barley don't grow too well in forests or light woodlands, if I understand. Crops like corn, squash, and beans, though, do fairly well in a woodland environment. As an example of population density, Wikipedia says that Hungary (which is just a little smaller than Kentucky and is broadly similar in terrain) has a population of roughly 600 thousand in 1000 and would have been roughly 2 million in 1300 if not for that pesky Tatar invasion in the early 1200s.

    The classic Medieval Demographics Made Easy (a good read, by the way) states that a typical settled region would support about 180 people per square mile. That population density would work out to 7.2 million people in the 40000 square miles of the region if everywhere was settled. If the settled land is roughly a third of the total land area, then the 2 million falls in line with the Hungary number.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by waldronate View Post
    +1 :-)

    From a great article from Dragon Magazine that was updated.

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