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Dungeons and Demographics
Posted on Sat, December 03, 2005 by Dongul
samwise writes "
One of the more heavily disputed elements of Greyhawk is the population. Many people point to the figures from the various books and say that the population density of Greyhawk is absurdly low. But is it? While direct comparisons to real world demographics and history are not always reasonable, what would they indicate if examined more closely?

Dungeons and Demographics
By: Samwise
Posted with permission. DO not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

For this comparison I use Keoland and the Sheldomar Valley, consisting of Bissel, Gran March, Geoff, Sterich, Yeomanry, Sea Princes, County, Duchy, and Principality of Ulek, and the Pomarj, as the Greyhawk sample. I compare them to west and central Europe - France, the Low Countries, Germany, Scandanavia, and England.

I use the base population figures from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (LGG), and the population numbers from Josiah C. Russell "Population in Europe", in Carlo M Cipolla, ed., The Fontana Economic History of Europe, Vol I, The Middle Ages, (Glasgow : Collins/Fontana, 1972), 25-71, available here: .

How Many People Are There? How Many People Should There Be?

According to the LGG, there are are 1,800,000 people in Keoland. Seventy-five percent of them are human, 22% are various demi-humans, and 1% are "other". (Note: Yes, I am aware that only adds up to 98%. Those are the figures in the book.) This means there are 1,350,000 humans in Keoland, and 450,000 demi-humans and others. Keoland covers approximately 222 hexes, which is about 173,000 square miles. That translates to a population density of about 10.4 per square mile. By comparison, Europe in the 14th century had populations ranging from 40 to 100 per square mile. It appears Keoland is woefully underpopulated by a factor between 4 and 10.

Why Aren’t There Any More People?

Buried in all the numbers for population is a possible explanation. Although most people are interested in how fast population increases, the same numbers can also reveal what the population used to be. In the case of Europe we can see in Russell’s figures that the population of west and central Europe approximately doubled over an initial 350 year period, then tripled over a second 350 year period, before being reduced by a third due to plague. Using these numbers, and exempting any devastating plague, we can expect that the population of the Sheldomar to have increased between 8 and 27 fold from the time of the Twin Cataclysms in -422 CY and the present year of 591 CY, a period of 1,013 years. What would we get if we did this? The Sheldomar as a whole has a population of about 4,900,000, including demi-humans and the humanoids of the Pomarj. Divided by 8, that gives us 612,500. Divided by 27, it gives us about 181,500. If we just count humans, we have 3,280,000, and a -422 CY starting number of 121,500 to 410,000.

Would this be reasonable for the Sheldomar just after the Twin Cataclysms?

Having asked Gary Holian for the number of people with Slerotin, he replied between 50,000 and 100,000. He also suggested there were about 10,000 Suel already in the Sheldomar. Assuming about half of them stayed or were incorporated into Keoland gives us about 55,000 at the most. The Oeridians could not number more, and should likely number less, or about 50,000. The Flan would be even less, perhaps 25,000 at most. All together, this is 130,000, or just over the minimum we have above.

Demi-humans are a bit more complicated, having a current population total of nearly 1,240,000, and a presumed lower growth rate. If they grew at the slower rate, doubling instead of tripling every 350 years, they would have had a population of around 155,000 back then, producing a very dramatic and contrasting comparison as the humans swiftly grew to outnumber them. However, they likely had a dramatic reduction in population during the Hateful Wars, so their numbers are subject to tweaking to produce whatever ratio is most pleasing.

But Now We Have Too Few People

If there were only about 25,000 Flan in the Sheldomar back then, even with 155,000 demi-humans, and some unspecified number of humanoids, we wind up with a most absurd population density of less than 1 person per square mile. Where are all the Flan? That isn’t even the population of people with herds of animals, and is barely above the nomadic hunter-gatherer level. The Flan had to have managed better than that, or they wouldn’t have built any nations, in Sulm or under Vecna, or anywhere else. There population should be at least 10 times what it was from those figures. So where did they all go?

We know they were conquered, by the Suel and the Oeridians. The problem is, conquest doesn’t tend to kill everyone, especially not 90% of the population. The Suel would prefer them as slaves, and the Oeridians would be more likely to take them as tenants, free or serf, than just kill them. If they had run away to surrounding lands, they would have eventually been conquered later, and the same problem with racial proportions would remain.

There are only two ways the Flan population could have been so low. First, a magical disaster like the Twin Cataclysms could have wiped out 90% of their population. Second, mundane diseases like those that reduced native populations in the Americas could have wiped out 90% of their population. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a cataclysm, and plague wiping out most of a population like that is very possible, so I’d favor the second for reducing the Flan populations to that level.

To the Future

As noted, Keoland looks to have an average population density of around 10 people per square mile. Given its location, it should support near the medieval maximum of 100 per square mile. If the population continues to triple every 350 years, it should get up there in another 700 years or so, well after Pluffet Smedger’s time. Of course, that might change depending on the level of medical technology developed, and industrial age era medical advances could change the growth rate dramatically. But that is for another essay.
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Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by MerricB on Sat, December 03, 2005
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Fascinating article, Sam. (I still think the real answer is because the monsters in the dungeons keep eating people... ;))

Why is the Flan population so low? Using the ideas in your article, I can think of a couple of reasons for various areas:

Sheldomar - wasn't it hit by a catastrophe named Vecna at some time?
North-West - something bad out of Blackmoor?
Great Kingdom area - wiped out by invading Oeridians and Suel.


Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by Crag on Sat, December 03, 2005
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Very interesting piece Samwise...
Well I can't argue with the mathematics of population, especially given your research. Broadly I have to wonder wha t effect the numerous intelligent competiting species has on GH population density?

Even the "friendly" demi-humans all compete for room and resources, given their enviromental advantages, wouldn't this fact further hinder the growth potential of humans as they claim desirable land for themselves.

Let us not forget the various humanoids, on the fringes of civilisation, this very fact would I hazard hinder all but the hardiest "pioneer", knowing humanoid lairs are out there, would make me reconsider.

Another factor is the various "monsters", granted wild animals have always been a threat to people and especially pioneers but I think you will agree wolves and bears can't compare to dragons and giants in terms of either the devastation they can cause or the amount of territory they need to use to sustain themselves. 

Just wondering how demi-humans, humanoid tribes and monsters would no doubt affect human attitudes, psychology, behavior towards exploration and settlement which should alter the historical population scenario.

Any thoughts? 

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by CruelSummerLord on Sat, December 03, 2005
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The numbers in the LGG seem quite believable to me.  Remember, there are still plenty of humans living in places like the Dreadwood and the Yatil Mountains, and so they aren't all counted among the human population states.  And we should also remember that people die all the time in the Flanaess.  Our real world has/had human criminals and bandits, disease, wild animal attacks, and all those other hazards.  The inhabitants of Greyhawk have all that and orcs, goblins, giants, dragons, and a hundred and one other monstrous hazards to boot!

Also, does this article take into account Gary Holian's "Measuring Up the Oerth" calculations that used to be on []?  That article, IIRC, had the hexes widened to about 33.6 miles or so, which gives us a lot more legroom. 

On a final and very personal note, I may have misinterpreted one of Samwise's responses, but did he state that Nosnra's Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is the only one in the Jotens?  I personally find that preposterous-there should be a hundred such hill giant lairs in the Jotens alone at the absolute bare minimum.  Add to that a couple dozen stone giant lairs, a hundred dwarf or gnome halls, about six hundred or so goblin lairs (which seems to be really low-balling it, but we'll just keep it like that for the sake of argument.) 

I personally think it's impossible to "clear out" a mountain range or a forest-the monsters will always come back, sooner or later.  Nosnra's steading is infamous only because it played a part in Snurre and Eclavdra's conspiracy, IMO.  Otherwise, the reasoning seems to be that there are only fifty or so hill giants in the whole Jotens range, which to me seems preposterous.  And besides, once the Steading was cleared out, what else would there be for future adventurers to deal with? 

Places like the Hellfurnaces and the Crystalmists have, for all intents and purposes, an unlimited supply of giants, ogres and orcs.  Only a truly oerth-shaking event like the Twin Cataclysms could ever put a lid on the number of monsters we have there. 

The problem with fantasy demographics is two-fold: First, in order to have a viable population base, you need at least a few hundred members, I would think.  Fifty giants in one measly steading just won't cut it.  The other problem is the sheer number of monsters and races in the modern D&D game-they all have to go somewhere, and it seems that many of them are all doomed to be crammed into the various forests, mountains and marshes.  Those areas have to be pretty lush to sustain such a massive variety of life, in addition to all the life-forms we know in our real world. 

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by Armenfrast ( on Sun, December 04, 2005
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You can always extend your demonstration with former theories mentioning that the population was only expressed in adult population or even male "active" population. This way the figures could be multiplied by 2 to 5 - Still not enough, but it is a beginning...

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by Woesinger on Mon, December 05, 2005
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Very interesting article, Sam!

I particularly like the back calculation of the numbers of refugees there must have been to produce the current densities (and shall now be applying that to Aerdy to see how many Oerid horsemen actually made it to the Promised Land).

The other striking finding is that the Flan really were devestated during the Great Migrations. Disease is the obvious and major cause (new pestilences brought out of the west with the invaders), followed by famine (caused by displacement from ancestral lands and hunting grounds) and war (though as you said, that'd be a relatively minor cause of death compared to the previous two).

Of course, a plague among the Flannae would have gone relatively unreported in the annals of the Oerid and Suel invaders, hence the paucity of accounts of the disaster that befell the natives.


Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by GVDammerung on Mon, December 05, 2005
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Good title.  Good article.  Long story short - the Flanaess is underpopulated.  What to do about it? 

Practically, I simply ignore the "canon" numbers, imagining Pluffet Smedger was not good at math or easily distracted.  Everytime he'd get his count going, a dryad would wander by, he'd lose count and start over without considering the population he had already counted?

"Canon-wise" one can either correct the number or explain it.  The LGG nabobs decided that the low population numbers were "holy writ" and left them substantially lower than they should be.  Unfortunately, to date, I have not heard a reasonable explaination for how the numbers remain so low and yet support a civilization to rival, and arguably surpass, the actual Middle Ages.  Of course, "magic" can explain most everything but then the Flanaess would more resemble realms perhaps best left forgotten.

Of note, good old Pluffet remarked that "magic was dying" in his time.  Maybe technology rises to replace it, which would be in accord with the philosophizing in the Gord books.  With greater mechanization, crop yields could be increased to then support a greater population.    But as with the "magic" explaination, that might leave the Flanaess looking less like the Flanaess.

Idea solution?  In the next general GH treatment, increase the population numbers. 

Good article. :-D

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by Phoebus on Tue, December 06, 2005
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I am not sure people per square mile is a very good indication of population density for a fantasy world.  It would be much more informative if we could compare metropolitan densities from European cities during the time with ones of the Flanaess.  The reasoning for this is twofold.

First of all, Europe is an incredibly small land mass compared to the Flanaess.  What we see is a lot more migration than would be expected during European early history. Also cities can only support so many people before settlers move out and form new towns.

So the question becomes, why are there so few cities and towns in the Flanaess?

My thoughts would be because newly founded villages would be far more at risk in a fantasy world than medieval Europe.  Think Jamestown settlement in the 1600's on a much more prevalant scale because not only of natural hazards but supernatural and monsters.

To reconcile this realistically is that for most large cities there should be several large towns within a days travel that would multiply the population considerably.  Going further out would only have been possible once the major threats in the area had been pacified and even then evil incursions would almost wipe out certain sized villages from time to time.

I can understand why the developers never bothered with this though.  Creating new towns requires a lot of thought especially with the names. Imagine Gary Gygax coming up with 3X the number of town names than we already have. The horror!  How many anagrams can you possibly handle?

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by Crag on Tue, December 06, 2005
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As some previous posts mentioned the reasons cities in Greyhawk ware scarceoriginally was the amount of work required.

Remember the original focus of GH was simply as a dungeon crawl and monster lairs, the "emptiness" was a positive as well as a design time saver. So DMs could put their creations or tribes somewhere "over there" without some rules PC quoting "canon scripture" about the area.

Before players started asking for greater detail about the gameworld, demographics was hardly on the design radar, most official towns consisted of some shops to buy supplies, sell loot, heal and a tavern to hear the next rumor.

Pc's weren't supposed to be concerned with the how or why of armies and population numbers, these were added "ad hoc" due to market demand and generally the authors chose the size and population figures with caution, no doubt having learned as DMs it is always easier to add more detail later then take anything away once it is part of the gameworld. 

Re: Dungeons and Demographics (Score: 1)
by mtg ( on Thu, December 08, 2005
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I hope not to end the discussion but continue it in a better forum.  See the thread I started in the Readers Workshop.

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