Populating a Country…then the World…

Fantasy worlds come in many varieties, from the “hard core” medieval-simulation school to the more fanciful realms of high fantasy, with alabaster castles and jewelled gardens in the place of the more traditional muddy squalor. Despite their differences, these share a vital common element: ordinary people. Most realms of fantasy, no matter how baroque or magical, cannot get by without a supply of ordinary farmers, merchants, quarrelling princes and palace guards. Clustered into villages and crowding the cities, they provide the human backdrop for adventure. (S. John Ross)

If you’re looking for this sort of information then you’re going to be most likely to find Ross’ original “Medieval Demographics Made Easy” or one of the numerous articles and generators based on his work. For example, this particular one seems to be of a slightly higher quality than some of the others out there -and I just like how it looks better.

Still, if you want to do the work yourself, but are just lazy enough that you don’t want to read the entire Medieval Demographics Made Easy article, then allow me to distill it for you.

Population Density

  • Population density ranges from 30 to 120 per square mile, which averages out to 75/sq. mile
  • Countries that experience problems such as plagues, invasions, natural disasters, etc. can stay depopulated for centuries if they don’t receive an influx of immigrants.

Town/City Population

  • A village ranges from 20-1,000 people and is a farming community. Historically, a “hamlet” meant a village that supported orchards instead of fields, but more and more often the term “hamlet” is just used to refer to a very small village.
  • A town ranges from 1,000-8,000 people. Think of these like the small cities that you can find along major highways. They would likely only be walled if they experienced frequent threats (from other countries, monsters, or other aggressors).
  • A city would range from 8,000-12,000 people. A large country would still only have a few centres this large.
  • A big city is anything larger than 12,000. Obviously these would be rare, and Ross gives London, Paris, Genoa, Venice, and Moscow as historical examples.
  • Most importantly remember that the size of a town/city will be dependant on it’s accessibility (how much traffic can it see in a single day). Even then, a large portion of a country’s population must also be dedicated to producing food unless the country is able to produce enough wealth in another way to just buy whatever food they need. If that is the case, remember that in the event of a famine, such a country would be hit first, and harder than those that supply some or all of their own food.

Population Spread

  • Ross gives a series of calculations to determine the size of cities and towns and some rules for adjusting them. Basically it boils down to this:
  • The largest city (your capitol most likely) has a population of P x M (where P = square root of the country’s population, and M = 12 to 18).
  • The size of cities and towns go down from there, with the second largest being 20-80% the size of the capitol, and all others being 10-40% smaller than the previous. There should be 2 to 16 times as many towns as villages. Your remaining population lives in towns, hamlets, etc.
  • Scale the size of towns/cities (and the number of them) if you have a pre-Renaissance/Renaissance word up (by 50% or more), and down if you have limited external trade happening.

Merchants and Services

  • Ross provides a nice chart of business and their “Support Value” (the number of people required for you to see a business of that type). To find the number of businesses in a city/town you divide the population by the SV. Obviously this is only a guideline and there may be more (or less) business than indicated for various reason.
  • These are not all of the business possible, or even all the ones listed by Ross, just a decent sampling.
Business

SV

Business

SV

Tailor

250

Tavern/Restaurant

400

Jeweler

400

Inn

2,000

Shoemaker

150

Baker

800

Old Clothes

400

Pastry Cook

500

Woodcarver

2,400

Noble Family

200

Sculptor

2,000

Lawyer/Advocate

650

Bookbinder

3,000

Clergyman

40

Bookseller

6,300

Priest

25-30

Mason

500

Weaver

600

Carpenter

550

Furrier

250

Butcher

1,200

Brewer

1,400

Fishmonger

1,200

Copyist

2,000

Blacksmith

1,500

Doctor (licensed)

1,700

Painter

1,500

Doctor (total

350

Thatcher/Roofer

1,800

Illuminator

3,900

Wood Seller

2,400

Magic Supplies

2,800

Tanner

2,000

Spice Merchant

1,400

Locksmith

1,900

Barber

350

Agriculture

  • Including roads, villages, towns, crops, etc., a square mile will support 180 people.
  • Note: the number of people a square mile of agricultural land will support is not tha same as the maximum population density for a kingdom. The example country Ross uses throughout the article would only use 2/3rds of the land if its population density was at the maximum 120 per square mile.

Castles & Ruins

  • Ruins depend on the age of the region and the frequency of military conflict. To find an approximate number of ruined castles and forts, divide the country’s population by 5,000,000 (that’s 5 million) and multiply it by the square root of the country’s age. If it’s changed hands a lot, use it’s total age.
  • Active castles are more common, so assume one functional one for every 50,000 people. 75% of them will be in and around the settled areas with the remaining 25% along any wilderness/borders.

Miscellaneous

  • Medieval cities cover roughly one square mile per 38,850 people (a density of 61/acre or 150/hectare).
  • A well-kept city will have 1 law officer for every 150 citizens.
  • There is one University for every 27.3 million people in the country.
  • Livestock population equals 2.2 times the human population. 68% are fowl (chickens, geese, ducks, etc). Of the remainder, pigs are most common. Sheep are common if there is a wool market. Cows are used for labour and milk primarily unless it is a very prosperous area (only then will they be raised specifically for meat).

Ross’ article is created specifically with roleplaying games in mind, and so with that, I’d like to add a little bit of extra information as derived for roleplaying games. (Which is still useful for generic writing, not just for designing games and game worlds).

I’m not 100% sure where I got this table from, possibly online, possibly the Wizards of the Coast Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Community

Population

Base Value

Thorp

20-80

50

Hamlet

81-400

200

Village

401-900

500

Small   Town

901-2,000

1,000

Large   Town

2,001-5,000

2,000

Small   City

5,001-12,000

4,000

Large   City

12,001-25,000

8,000

Metropolis

25,001+

16,000

There is a 75% chance that any/all items of the base value or lower can be found in a town/village.

There is also a formula to find the max value per community that applies to sales and purchases. I find that the numbers I get are really big from it. So definitely feel free to tweak it (I tend to divide it by 2 or more, depending on how much too big it seems).

Max Value per Community = 1/2 base value (x) 1/10 population

 

Obviously, all of this information is designed for generating a single country and the specific towns/villages in it. But once you’ve created one country for your world, you should think about creating others. Very few places are able to function in a vacuum. They will interact with their neighbours and, to some extent, the neighbours of their neighbours. It may be as simple as trade relations, or more complex political and military relations. Maybe two countries broke free from a third, or a group of countries are all that remains of a once massive empire. All these things will affect the individual countries. You might not need to come up with the specific details of all the countries, but you should still have a good idea of total population, density, and how each country provides for its people. (Do they grow their own food, buy some to supplement, or buy all the food? What do they produce that is tradeable with other countries?) Even if you decide that a country refuses to trade with its neighbours, and strictly watches its borders so no one comes in or out, it will still affect its neighbours. There could be tension, fear, suspicion, and/or curiosity.

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