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Thread: City Size

  1. #1
    Guild Journeyer Facebook Connected JoeyD473's Avatar
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    Apr 2008

    Post City Size

    I'm working on a city but I think I may be making it too big, but I'm not sure and am looking for some advice

    Currently it is 10 miles x 7.5 miles. SO the basic question is how big should I make this city

    A little about the city and the campaign it will be used for

    Basic Geography
    Center City lies between two mountain ranges which cuts the Northwest part of the continent off from the rest of the continent. The two mountain ranges at this point are about 150 miles a part from each other and each house a different Dwarf Clan. It is on a major river and has docks for ships going up and down the river. It is a temperate climate region (think the climate around New York City) with 4 seasons. Temperatures rarely go below 0 or above 100 degrees

    The racial demographics are approximately as follows
    85% Human and Halfling
    5% Dwarf
    <10% other races
    <1% Elf

    Total population is greater then 25,000

    Basic History
    The city was once a simple fishing village under the protection of a noble family. There was a civil war in the ancient Kingdom, and this noble stayed neutral. Because of that he was forced to flee to this town. The ancient kingdom completely collapsed itself so no one came looking for the noble or his family.

    The village grew to the size of a small town, but wasn't constantly attacked by Barbarians, Orcs, Gblins etc so couldn't grow beyond that size because of the attacks.

    A war broke out between the two clans of Dwarfs, and the nobles (Descendants of the noble) brokered a peace between the two clans and as a part of the peace plan, so the two clans could get used to working together built a keep for the town.

    Because of the keep, ad with help of the Dwarf clans the attacked basically stopped and the town started to grow.

    About 150 years ago the noble family was overthrown by the wealthy of the city and it now ruled by a council which one member from each family who has a total net worth of 500K or more (less then 1% of the population) plus elected representatives (voted on by land owners) from throughout the city the total of which is two less then the amount of people who are on the council because of their money. (Yes the government is now mainly run by plutocrats, which means a lot of corruption.

    Some City Features
    The city wall was completed 100 years ago and is pretty well maintained because most of the land outside the city is still wild land. Before that it was unwalled except for the keep itself.

    The keep itself is approximately 800'x800', 3-4 stories high (plus a basement level (maybe 2)). Entrances through the wall of the keep are only on the east and west sides of the wall.

    A Coliseum
    A Great Library
    Dwarf District (nicknamed Dwarf Town) to the south of the keep and a Noble district (all the people with that high net worth) to the north

    There were 4 (Maybe more) Thieves guilds (think more like present day Organized crimes. They dealt with the tradition pickpockets, extortion, protection, assassinations etc.) However there was a meeting for the leaders of the four guilds and the city guard came in and arrested the leadership of all the guilds (executed the morning publicly). The headquarters of all the guilds were hit by the city guard that night as well as many of the various safe houses of the guilds. The total upper echelon of the guilds were either arrested or killed and will most likely be put to death soon.

    The campaign will start the morning after where the players, who were part of one the guilds, went to an inn which was one of the neutral territories for the guilds.

    I have no ideas what my players are going to do, Though there is a story of things going on, what role they play I don't know because I have decided to leave this campaign open from the player point of view. They may decide to be one of the ambitious people and create a new thieves guild, or decide to try and find out how the guilds were taken out so easily, or decide to go the traditional adventurer (I hope not the traditional adventurer) route.

    So how big should i make this city?

  2. #2


    Looking over some real life city population density stats i have come up with a approximation that may help you out.

    Boston is a busy but not too crowded city. It has a population of 589,141 a land area of 48.43 square miles and a population density of 12,165.8 per square mile. But if you think about the taller buildings which allows for more people to live on top of each other it is easy to see that the city would feel much more crowded if it was limited to single family dwellings. (I lived there in my youth and three story houses divided up into apartments is common as well as apartment buildings of four or more floors with multiple units on each floor.)

    So i would suggest for the sake of argument we cut it down to 5,000 people per square mile which would give you something in the range of five or six square miles for your city if you want it to seem to be teeming with people. (People ready to slit each other's throat just for some breathing room.)

    I live in Las Vegas and we have a bit more room here, but there are certainly people everywhere you go. We have about 2000 people per square mile, but keep in mind there is plenty of undeveloped land here in the city. You can drive down a street inside the city and be looking at desert.

    When you see these people they are usually in their cars going someplace else. I imagine if they were walking on the street it would look like a festival was in progress.

    All this is a round about way of saying i think your city would do well at about 5 by 3 miles and be busy without driving people into the wild surroundings. Six by four would also seem good. The other alternative of course is to keep your original size and increase the number of inhabitants. (Besides, what would people do in their spare time stuck inside an isolated city with danger outside the walls but get to know each other?)

  3. #3
    Administrator Redrobes's Avatar
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    I reckon you should look up the stats like Nordling has done but instead of using Boston, look for an area of the world much like the demographics that you want. Modern day stats are not much use in a fantasy setting. I think 10 miles across is about 20x the size it might be.

  4. #4


    Joey, try this:

    A quote from there:

    City Size: Cities and towns of the Middle Ages cover one square mile of land per 38,850 people, on average. This is a density of about 61 per acre or 150 per hectare, so the land within the walls of a typical city of 10,000 would be 165 acres—hardly a city by modern standards, in terms of population OR size. Some very large cities may have had up to twice this density.

    Looks like your city is WAY too big - should be around 0.75 mile across!
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  5. #5
    Community Leader NeonKnight's Avatar
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    Dear God! TEN MILES! That is way too big (unless you are including in that figure the farmlands). With an average human walking speed of approximately 3 miles per hour, it would take a person 3 hours to walk from one side of your mythical city to the other, or nearly a full day for a round trip. Worse if the PC/character is a halfling with a shorter stride/movement rate

    The following link gives some interesting studies on size of ancient cities (Notably Ancient Babylon, and Ancient Egypt):
    *NOTE Some of the table entries appear a little 'off' and reading the document I can only suppose they are missing some hyphens in areas.

    Now, the above mentioned document shows cities like Eridu having a population of 10,000 people and only occupying a space of 50 hectares, or about 7 hectares by 7 hectares. Now 1 hectare is an area 100m x 100m, and a square kilometre (km2) is 1000m x 1000m, so there are 100 hectares in a square kilometer. What's that in Miles? Well, 1 square mile (1 mile x 1 mile) is approximately 259 hectares or 16 x 16 hectares.

    SO, A population of 25,000 people would likely be at most for the city proper in a medieval period be around a single square mile. Even using a town like London, by 1600's had a population of approximately 250,000, and thus would be larger. By that period hansom cabs were common, and foot traffic was limited to one's burrough.

    See Diagram below for comparison
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by NeonKnight; 11-19-2009 at 10:29 AM.
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  6. #6
    Guild Journeyer Facebook Connected JoeyD473's Avatar
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    Thank you all very much. The articles were all very useful. I decided for my purposes I needed a city of a high pop so I went with the 10K/50 Hectares. My city is now 1.572 miles (8,300') x 1.9138 Miles (6,300') )can hold about 97K people, but it will hold less then that because several areas won't be as dense as others, for instance, the upper class district of the city.

    I have another stupid question which wasn't covered in about those articles, what would the typical size of a home for the average family be?

  7. #7
    Guild Artisan landorl's Avatar
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    Very small. Most homes were 1 or 2 room shacks. A medieval family was somewhat larger than most families today. I would say an average of 4-6 kids, however there was a high infant mortality rate. In addition, extended families would often share a house. I would guess by some drawings that I have seen that 20'x30' would be a good starting place for a lower income house. Then move up from there. Many homes would be 2 floors, and often were rentals, with one family on the first floor, and another on the second.

    Probably half of the city would be these smaller, lower income homes. They are the "grunt" work. From there you would have merchants and shop owners whose home is also their business, so they would be bigger. Then you steadily move up till you get to some of the larger townhouses which will be owned by wealthy merchants, nobility, and others who can afford them.

  8. #8
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    Also don't forget that in cities, especially walled ones, it was often easier to build UP than it was to build out.

    The idea of the modern 10+ story apartment building isn't actually modern. The poorest housing would of course be at the top. Medieval cities packed a lot of people into a small space.

  9. #9


    Having seen some Scottish crofters cottages and African tribal huts first hand, I'd say 10' x 20' might be more typical, with some of the smaller huts being not much bigger than an igloo.

    In a city, often a family would share a single rented room, perhaps less than 10' square, with 6 kids, granny and the animals. Even the smaller family businesses might have only two rooms - a family room and a workshop.

    Privacy wasn't viewed the same as it is today.

    Take a look at this - the first 'cottage' belongs to the lord! :
    Last edited by icosahedron; 11-21-2009 at 10:08 AM.
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  10. #10
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    I make my huts on the 10 to 20 foot range and my small houses/businesses for the city dwellers in the 30 to 50 foot range. My house brushes are all that way.
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