Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wilderlands Population Sizes and Their Implications

Due to the recently released movie, I decided to read a few of Howard's original Conan stories.  While I was flipping through my copy of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, my wife caught a glimpse of the map of the Hyborian Age overlaid on top of Europe and North Africa.  She asked me if Conan inhabited "the real world." I couldn't think of a better way to put in than Howard did, so I read her the Nemedian Chronicles fragment  from the beginning of "the Phoenix on the Sword."

The phrases "glittering cities" and "shining kingdoms" made me pine for a more Sword & Sorcery (or Sword & Sandal) take on fantasy than the one found in the Dark Country.*  Since I'd also fairly recently gotten a hold of the pdf version of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and given my fondness for the setting, I decided to look into turning the original product into my own private version of a D&D-ized Hyborian Age.

One thing that immediately struck me was the fact that the sections on settlements were titled "Villages."  Not "Villages, Towns, and Cities" or "Settlements."  "Villages."  Looking at the list of population sizes, it isn't difficult to see why.

Here is a list of the number of settlements with a population over 1,500 (the lowest size possible for a "town" in the Greyhawk folio) and the settlement with the highest population for each map detailed in the Judges Guild version of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

Campaign Map Two
Settlements greater than 1,500:  None
Largest Settlement: Antil (1,172)

Campaign Map Three
Settlements greater than 1,500: 1
Largest Settlement: Tarsh (3,560)

Campaign Map Four
Settlements greater than 1,500: 1
Largest Settlement: Tarantis (6,000)

Campaign Map Five
Settlements greater than 1,500: 1
Largest Settlement: Valon (1,690)

Campaign Map One
Settlements greater than 1,500: 5
Largest Settlement: the City State (20,000)

When one considers the fact that Bob Bledsaw's version may have been three times as large, one begins to realize just how sparsely populated the Wilderlands is.  Sure the City State qualifies as a city per the Greyhawk Folio rules, but it is the only settlement in the entirety of the product that does.  Warwik comes close, but falls just short of the 10,000 mark.  The City State is literally the City State.  This is clearly not a land of "glittering cities" and "shining kingdoms."

I'm not entirely sure how this matches up with the 3.5 version by Necromancer Games that I used to run my old Wilderlands campaign.  The format makes it much more difficult to conduct this exercise, but I don't remember being particularly taken aback by how few people there were in the setting.  The Necromancer version of the CSIO I have handy informs me that their version of the City State has a total population of 80,000 with 20,000 able bodied citizens.  Perhaps this would account for the low numbers, but no such explanation is given in the original product itself.  At least, none is given that I can easily find.

So what do the Wilderlands look like?  The first thing that came to my mind was Korgoth of Barbaria.  It's a brutal, barbaric age born out of the apocalypse of our own Earth.  The Wilderlands clearly has elements of this.  How else would one be able to find the wreck of a nuclear submarine in a setting where the largest population center was roughly the size of Hattiesburg, Mississippi?

Then I remembered the version of the Nemedian Chronicles from the Arnold movie.  No mention of "shining kingdoms" appears in it.  Milius's version of Conan's world is one where everyone is a barbarian.  King Osric certainly isn't the decadent sort of person I'd associate with Howard's portrayal of the Hyborian Age.  Thulsa Doom is initially a reaver himself before becoming the leader of a cult.  The landscape is arid and the settlements are filthy.  This image fits the above statistics rather well, I think.

It might be difficult to imagine PCs treading the jeweled thrones of this world under their sandalled feet, but their is definitely a place for PC rulers in such a setting.  Since the population numbers are so small, I would think it would be far easier to form confederations of towns against the larger settlements like Warwik and Antil.  Battles are mere skirmishes by the standards of many other settings, but this means that the PCs can have a considerably larger role in such events.  Who knows, after years of play perhaps the litany of characters that have inhabited the setting might make their own "shining kingdoms."

I may have not found my perfect Hyborian Age style setting for D&D, but I do have a much clearer image of the Wilderlands in my mind than I did before this exercise.

* One should not take this post as meaning I'm going to drop the Dark Country.  The Nightwick campaign is still chugging along nicely, and a play report for last night's session should go up fairly soon.

Edit: Missed two towns on Campaign Map 1.  They were on the next page.


  1. Hmm... Those population #s don't really hold with the technological advancement of the setting. I don't mean the artifacts dug up but, rather, how industrial the peoples are. With only 1 proper city in the whole setting, it doesn't seem logical that I can, say, buy steel plate mail in any village in the setting. Where's the man power to mine this stuff? (Especially since it's not pristine world already and would have already had some of its deposits drained) Where's the market? Who are these blacksmiths selling these things to and how are they making a living?

    That being said, I actually do LIKE that kind of setup for the more Bronze age setting I like to work in, wherein that's not a flaw but a feature.

  2. One thing missed about the population figures is that the numbers listed are merely "Able-Bodied Men," and the total population of the settlements are actually four times that... a fact not found in the guide books themselves, but listed under "trade" in the Ready Ref Sheets. So the CSIO actually does have a total population of 80,000, but only 20,000 are "Able-Bodied Men."

    I myself use a scale of 12.5 miles to the hex these days, and have multiplied each population figure of listed settlements by 2.5 to get a bigger set of bigger settlements.

    Another factor often missed in the official, original JG rules is that each hex has at the least one "hamlet" sized settlement, in addition to the listed settlement, if it has one. This comes from the encounter/movement charts (again, in the Ready Ref sheets), wherein when one moves into a hex, unless along a river or road, you have a 1 in 6 chance of encountering the listed settlement or, lacking a listed settlement, a hamlet...

    So the population of the Wilderlands is a lot bigger than most people realize, even using just the original official JG rules...

  3. Thanks for the clarification, James. Admittedly I'm a bit sad that it makes the above model a bit useless, but such is life.

    With the extra hamlet being in each hex, the 12.5 miles makes a great deal more sense.