The guidelines are (or at least should be) far less strict. In the real-world, titles, estates, and holdings are a virtually indecipherable tangle. If you spend an hour reading about the organizational structure of the Holy Roman Empire, Feudal England, Byzantine Empire, or Ottoman Empire, it’s difficult to make sense of it at all. It’s not at all uncommon for a Baron to be more powerful than a Duke, or for the same title to mean vastly different things in neighboring realms, or for a small realm to have a huge military while a large realm is a fractitious, weak mess.
So, if history is any guide, you can do almost anything you want. There are two problems with that much realism.
- Players, who are learning about your world “part time” (so as to speak) tend to get easily confused if things aren’t made very clear. It’s one thing for a history major to understand that the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire wasn’t really an Emperor in the same sense of the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. It’s much more confusing for a player.
- For the purposes of a Judge setting up a campaign, “anything goes” is not very helpful in setting up his world.
NOW on to specific questions:
“Where would I start if the generated population was outside the perfect cascade spread of the different realm category populations?”
APM: If the realm is recently established, I would use a realm title for a smaller realm, on the argument that it’s up-and-coming. Rome didn’t get called an empire until long after it had an empire. On the other hand, if the realm is on the decline, use the realm title of the larger size. The Byzantine Empire kept being called an empire long after it had shrunk to a rump kingdom.
“Is it assumed that somewhere in the hierarchy there are less than 4 vassals or more than 6 that are serving lords or are personal domain sizes smaller/greater than those listed than those listed?”
APM: Yes, you can assume that. What I have found is that if you start with the guideline-specific breakdowns, they won’t last even 20 sessions of actual domain-level play. The first war, cataclysm, betrayal, etc. will throw everything off. The reality of your game’s realms will vary from the Platonic (ACKSonic?) ideal.
“Where should the hierarchy flex? I had to do a lot of striking down of Barons and their personal domain sizes at the last tier of the realm to get my ending population totals in line. If I was better at my arithmetic I could probably figure it out but I did a lot of erasing of totals on the lists. The Personal Domain size seems a black box to me.”
APM: There’s no particular magic to it. I simply ran numbers in a spreadsheet arbitrarily until I found something that spit out numbers that lined up with a sample of historical data points.
“Also, the total population distributed at each tier should include the largest urban settlement correct? In the examples I see the lord’s personal domain accounted for and the remaining population divided among the vassals, but should not the settlement population also be taken out of the total distributed to vassals where applicable?”
APM: I apologize, but I didn’t understand the question.
“I do understand the nature of these being “guidelines” and the makeup of the realm tables, I am just wondering what direction to flex towards. Beyond the population issues and the domain/vassal qualifications for lordliness, I get the rest of the domain stuff.”
APM: In general, I would use the (fictional) history of your realm as a guide, per above. It matters much more that the realms make sense within your world than that they reach any particular milestone with regard to the guidelines.
ONE FINAL NOTE:
For each realm, be sure to determine how much income per month (revenue - costs) it’s sending to the realm ruler. Then compare that to the domain thresholds. Realm’s will tend to be ruled by rulers of a level that’s sufficient that domain income is less than their domain threshold. (You can understand why - the domain income would level them up until this is no longer the case).
So, for instance, if a particular realm happens to be amazingly profitable, it will tend to have a high-level ruler, even if its territory is smaller than a traditional kingdom.