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Thread: Plausible Distances & Populations

  1. #1

    Post Plausible Distances & Populations

    I know I'm nit picking but I tend to worry about the distances between towns and if the land around them is plausible to support their populations. I like to draw as much as I can from the geography of a map so when I make one I try to put some thought into it.

    Along those lines I found a great website about Herefordshire

    Its very approachable and has some good info. This seems like a coherent little snapshot of medieval town development.

    Chiefly, I'm looking at the little map attached to this post.

    The first map is from the Herefordshire website and the second is from wikipedia. So you can see where in England it came from. Herefordshire was a center for the Anglo Saxons and Alfred the Great. It bordered the Welsh and has its own illustrious history that I will largely skip over. I'm going to try and concentrate on physical map elements.


    There are many on this site who know far more about this that I do. Someone living in Herefordshire is probably reading this right now . I appreciate gentle correction and considered opinions. I've never spent any time in Herefordshire. I'm putting this together from websites and google. My apologies for mystakes or false assumptions. If you want to pontificate on this region and what it has to teach us about map making, you too are welcome.
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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-12-2008 at 12:41 PM.

  2. #2

    Post This is not going to be a tremendously deep analysis. Just some thinking out loud.

    If you look at the greater map of England in the previous post, you can see that Herefordshire was by the middle ages a border region. It was not a center like London, York or Paris. Although fully populated it did not have the same crush of people that London did. For the sake of this treatment I am going to assume it is equivalent to a role playing average or smallish holding (King,Knight,???). Depending on the world and the game needs I'm sure the leader could have any title. I'm using it to create a middle of the road rule of thumb.

    First, the over all size.

    At its longest its about 44 miles. It is roughly 40 miles in diameter. Looking at the list of possible towns I count 24 identified sites. I'm not too hung up on details (This is a game after all) so I'm going to take this as a maximum of concurrent towns in a region.

    There were only 8 Medieval towns present after 1500 in the region. Of the 24 possible I'm going to reserve 8 as dominant and either town sized or better.

    (see first pic - this post)

    There are a known collection of 13 failed towns. I'm going to reserve that many struggling or really tiny towns. This will include little Abbeys or wierd game elements that aren't supported by trade and commerce.

    (See Second pic - this post)

    Now looking at the surviving towns in 1500 they have a noticable space between them, whereas the failed towns are sort of clusterred. This might be for all sorts of reasons but I'm going to interpret that as a radius necessary for a successful town.

    This really is very arbitrary. Population pressure can make bigger cities out of close small towns - as happened in London. The failed towns could have been grouped around resources or leaders that were unsuccessful etc... Stil this will be my rule of thumb.

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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-12-2008 at 12:45 PM.

  3. #3


    Herefordshire is the seat of the region. I like capitals that share the same name as a region - its one less name I have to make up .

    The Distance between it and its 4 closest neighbors in the surviving town map is approximately 12 miles (See circle in Picture). This, I have been told, is a common distance between European cities because (I am told) it is comfortable for horse travel.

    So be it. 12 miles between larger villages\cities etc... Less space and they are probably competing for resources and influence. More space hampers communication and trade. Without a rich resource or an exceptional element two cities inside of 12 miles are both going to be smaller or on a collision course.

    Herefordshire is also on a river. But only 2 of the 8 surviving towns are on rivers. Notably none of the towns are on the coast. (This was a frontline between Norse and English for a while.) I can imagine that the bonuses of more trade might be necessary to achieve higher town sizes (and bring in more food) but they increase the ease of travel for invaders as well.

    Wikipedia gives me this....

    Herefordshire has always been esteemed an exceptionally rich agricultural area, the manufactures being unimportant, with the sole exception of the woollen and the cloth trade which flourished soon after the Conquest. Iron was worked in Wormelow hundred in Roman times, and the Domesday Survey mentions iron workers in Marcle. At the time of Henry VIII the towns had become much impoverished, and Elizabeth in order to encourage local industries, insisted on her subjects wearing English-made caps from the factory of Hereford. Hops were grown in the county soon after their introduction into England in 1524. In 1580 and again in 1637 the county was severely visited by the plague, but in the 17th century it had a flourishing timber trade, and was also noted for its orchards and cider.

    So I am going to assume that these town placements are largely agrarian - farms and such. Especially in the middle ages large populations need their food producing regions to support their higher population. Only for the system to work the food producing regions have to export their people along with their food or they'd have nothing to sell .


    So this is the running rule of thumb -

    Small to Medium Territory
    40ml diameter
    1 major river
    Good farms and lands but no exceptional industry.

    2 Larger cities - probably one dominant keep\castle.
    Influence\support radius around larger cities 12ml.

    6 Villages
    As many as 16 further sites of interest, ruins, failed cities, manors etc..... (this is only a rule of thumb.)

    I can't say this is historically researched but I'm content that its vaguely plausible based on this very small sample.
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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-10-2008 at 09:50 PM.

  4. #4
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
    Ft. Wayne, IN


    Very interesting.
    My Finished Maps | My Challenge Maps | Ghoraja Juun, my largely stagnated campaign setting.

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  5. #5

    Post A Blank Map

    Now the application. This is not a science. I'm just hoping my rule of thumb will give me an option to keep or depart from.

    This is output from Fractal terrains without rivers or trees. I have modified it heavily in Photoshop. I am trying to be accurate because I carve off pieces of the same world for the same group. That way FT lets me consider accurate distances, even elevations.

    Personally I really prefer to 'discover' land rather than invent it. Random gens are brilliant because I recognize the right sort of thing but second guess every step if I have to plan it. Besides it just feels more natural to me if I have the story be influenced by the geography not the other way around.

    These are stats for the blank map.

    1km = 20.9px w
    1km = 18.362 h
    77.98km across
    57.60km Top to bottom

    Settling on a map scale of 19px = 1km

    Roughly 82km Across & 56km Top to bottom

    Highest 107.2708M
    Lowest 6.9501

    I can take little credit for the accuracy of these figures - they come from Fractal Terrains or Wilbur

    I hope the elevation, scale and coordinates of the piece are clear. Unfortunately with little ground detail its very hard to intuit how big this map is or what it might hold.

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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-10-2008 at 09:53 PM.

  6. #6
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
    St. Charles, Missouri, United States


    I like the way you think or, in this case, deduce. I do my maps based on my surroundings of the the St. Louis suburbs where every named township is about 5 miles apart and larger cities (approx 40,000 people) are 15-20 miles apart. This corroborates with the first pic you posted. So I agree with you 100% as to the way your thinking.

    In college I drove back n forth frequently between home and Mizzou (exactly 100 miles from my driveway to my fraternity or about 90 minutes). Everything seemed to be spaced about 15 minutes apart. Starting in St. Charles, it's 15 to O'Fallon, then 15 to Wentzville, then 15 to Warrenton, then 15 to High Hill, then 15 to Mexico, and 15 to Columbia...roughly. Thus, I do my map distances almost exactly the way you do...villages are 5-10 miles apart, towns are 10-20 miles apart, small cities are about 45 miles apart, large cities about 90, etc.

    I also liked studying this phenomenon since Lewis & Clark started here, St. Charles was the first capitol of the state, and Daniel Boone lived in Warrenton after his famous days (he was buried there too until like 15 years ago when he was taken back to his home state), lest I forget to mention Jesse James and his gang. Since there were no cars in them thar days I had always just taken the 5/15 thing as some sort of human nature rule of thumb.

    From downtown St. Louis to Columbia is 2 hours and then another 2 hours to Kansas City (by car at 70mph). The actual mileage is about 250 so the multiples of 15 would be 240 (same as for multiples of 12). So I'm thinking that the 5 mile rule for villages might be true and the 12-15 range for larger towns might also be true. Between St. Charles and KC it's all pretty much farmland, except for Columbia, so these distances might only be true for rural settings and cities might be different and more clustered.

    Looking to seeing more of this.
    If the radiance of a thousand suns was to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One...I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds.
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    My Maps ~ My Brushes ~ My Tutorials ~ My Challenge Maps

  7. #7

    Post Level of Detail

    One question for me is always what level of detail do you include with a map at a given scale. Since you start with a largely blank map I always wonder what is too much.

    Thankfully, with a real world example we can compare samples of land and detail. These are modern samples from Google, map & satellite images of modern Herfordshire. I've roughly scaled and placed them inside the border lines from the earlier maps.

    As you can see there are quite a number of hills and a fair amount of detail on the satellite shot, event the 'Modern Map' has quite a bit of detail.

    The Modern map is very similar to the historic one (the map itself is a little better) similar number of towns & most of the old towns survive.

    If I overlay the Hereford map on the FT blank, at the appropriate scale, you can see that my blank needs a great deal more detail and a great deal of room. I couldn't imagine that all my and gaming would be drawn from this one map but I'm sure there are real world people that had great exploits and never left Herefordshire.

    My little square of land doesn't look so small anymore. Based on my real world example it's probably big enough for a small kingdom and some wilderness, even 2 different kingdoms\regions.

    So the land currently in my map is very very flat and bigger than it 'feels'. This might be fine for a political map but it doesn't really have enough detail for my liking. If you look at the modern map of Hereford - it has far less detail than the satellite but more detail than my map right now.

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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-10-2008 at 08:52 PM.

  8. #8

    Post It really is about scale.

    A word on Fractal Terrains

    FT is a wonderful program. It generates a random globe and lets you cut it up for your gaming.

    Unfortunately, in order to scale to the whole globe in reasonable time with reasonable computer resources it doesn't do every available bit of land.

    This selection is a tiny, tiny part of the world I generated. The red square in the middle of the globe (see attached) entirely covers my blank map. I'm adding detail to an infinitesimal bit of game world - but at least I know where it goes. Some day I wish there would be a way to modify regions and paste them back into FT, or another global program. As it is, I keep directories based on continent and locations on a modified google earth.
    The ideal solution for me would let each detail build on the previous ones without having to tear anything down to do it. These simulations have so much detail that you can never add it all at once.

    Anyone familiar with the Harn game system and world? I think they have a wonderful model. Everyone shares a world that has a history but stops background development on a given date. You can add all the depth you want but don't step on other efforts and don't move the world into the plot. If you have earth shaping events plan them after the given date. I think that frees up world design to be descriptive but not reactive or mutually disruptive. It maximizes people's efforts and encourages people to spread out and develop new areas.

    On the first globe, the Red Dot towards the center of the globe covers my whole 'blank map'.

    I think its pretty amazing you can go from orbit down to a selection 60 km high. When you get there though you have to add, or generate, some land detail if you want to approximate the new scale.

    Lastly, for those involved in the Cartographers Guild World project, one of the mapping squares with an appropriately sized Herefordshire. (Look in the far South East by the scale and compass. No thats not a lake, its a whole shire! As you can see there is a lot of room in one of those squares .

    Accuracy - Trying my best.

    Other than the stats from my sample map (for which I have FT to thank) the rest of the scales have been set mostly by eyeball. I'd be surprised however if they're more than 10% off. The biggest source of inaccuracy is probably the shape of screen pixels which are wider than tall.

    If anyone spots an error or has something to add they're welcome to speak up.

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    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-11-2008 at 11:08 AM.

  9. #9


    Sigurd ,you are the man, this post should go to the E-zine.

  10. #10


    Thank you all for the comments.

    Steel General - I appreciate those who take the time to read it. I'm trying to make it visual and approachable. I'm thankful to the site that I can post the pics and text together so easily! Scale is hard to work with unless you've 'seen' it. The only measurements Im super familiar with are small ones. I have some trouble pinning down a 'Mile' or a 'Kilometer' when I write\map.

    Ascension - appreciate the compliment. I'm hoping if I can settle these questions for myself, others might be interested in my rule(s) of thumb. They're going to be hugely imperfect but I hope they're plausible.

    joćo paulo - Gotta like that kind of compliment . I'm just happy its been provocative or interesting for someone else.

    Thanks everyone.

    I'm not done yet. Just have to plan the rest of the journey.

    Last edited by Sigurd; 11-11-2008 at 02:33 PM.

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