Starting from the Ground Up, Part II

In my prior post, I showed that each square mile of land supports 21 peasant farmers and their wives and 3 kids, or (21x5) 105 peasants per square mile. 105 peasants per square mile is roughly the historical population density of Medieval France. Other historical population densities are noted below.

Medieval England, average 40.0people/sq mi
Ancient Rome, average 50.3people/sq mi
Classical Greece, average 80.3people/sq mi
Holy Roman Empire, average 90.0 people/sq mi
Medieval France, average 105 people/sq mi

How does these assumptions compare to the available game rules, in for example Dave Arneson's barony rules in the First Fantasy Campaign and Frank Mentzer's domain rules in the D&D Companion Set/Cyclopedia.

Category ACKS D&D Cyclopedia First Fantasy
Heavy Footmen Cost, per Mercenary 12gp/month 3gp/month 3gp/month
Serf Tax Revenue 12gp/month per 5 12pg/month per 5 4.16gp/month per 5
Footmen Supported by 1 Serf 1 footmen per 5 serfs 4 footmen per 5 serfs 1.4 footmen per 5 serfs
Footmen Available to Recruit per Serf (Fyrd/Militia) 1 footmen per 5 serfs 1 footmen per 5 serfs 1.5 footmen per 5 serfs
Serfs per 6 mile hex (31sq miles)      
-          Wilderness   3 – 725 3 - 31 200-6,400
-          Borderlands 726 - 1,250 62-375  
-          Civilized 2,750 or less 156-1,562 30,000 – 70,000
Max wilderness revenue per hex 1,740gp/month 74gp/month 5,324gp/month
Max footmen supportable per hex 145 per month 25 per month 1,774 per month
Max population density per sq mile (each hex is 31 sq mi)    
-          Wilderness 23 people / sq mi 1 person / sq mi 206 people / sq mi
-          Borderlands 40 people / sq mi 13 people / sq mi -
-          Civilized 89 people / sq mi 50 people / sq mi 2,258 people / sq mi

As the chart above shows, in the D&D Cyclopedia, a peasant family is worth 12gp per month, while in the First Fantasy Campaign its worth only 3gp per month. Meanwhile, in both D&D Cyclopedia and First Fantasy, a heavy footman costs just 1/4 of that, or 3gp per month. Based on historical research into the wages of soldiers, in ACKS I corrected the cost of heavy footmen by increasing them by a factor of 4. As a result, ACKS and First Fantasy have the same ratios in place regarding the number of footmen that can be recruited from the populace, and the revenues that the populace can generate to support those footmen, correctly line up. But as shown in the prior post, the gp revenue per peasant for First Fantasy is too low relative to historical values and compared to other prices in the rules. A footman paid 3gp per month cannot afford to live on the prices in the rules. Since the First Fantasy Campaign undervalued the value of a peasant, the First Fantasy Campaign had to set its population densities vastly in excess of historical standards, which was necessary to provide sufficient funds for the players to field appropriate sized armies. Meanwhile the D&D Cyclopedia has population densities vastly below historical standards, which was necessary because D&D Cyclopedia has undervalued how much armies cost. Put another way, First Fantasy Campaign has densely packed countrysides filled with inefficient farmers paying the wages of dirt-cheap soldiers; while D&D Cyclopedia has empty countrysides filled with standard medieval farmers in just sufficient numbers to pay the wages of dirt-cheap soldiers. In ACKS we have managed to get peasant revenues, mercenary costs, and population densities that are all in line with historical standards. We have historically populated countrysides with medieval farmers in sufficient numbers to pay the historical wages of real soldiers.

Well, again, there’s a lot you don’t seem to be grokking here. Population density is not a measure of production, or of resource wealth, and often has as much to do with settlement pattern as it does with resource density or carrying capacity.

Second, Arneson was a historian by training and had a pretty good grasp of what he was doing in relation to the population and wealth statistics of Blackmoor. Blackmoor (minnesota essentially) has a northern economy the subsistence aspects of which revolved primarily around hay based agriculture (bison derived cattle and sheep) and coastal/estuary fishing economies, So you are comparing apples to oranges.

Daniel, thanks for taking the time to review my material. That said, I would appreciate it if you would distinguish between what I “grok” and what I simulate! I grok a lot. I’m not necessarily modeling all of it. As it stands, when you tell me I don’t “grok”, it doesn’t really give me any useful feedback, either. It just says you think I’m stupid, which might be true, but isn’t helpful.

Anyway, I disagree with you about population density… pretty much completely, I think. It’s the major measure of productivity in a pre-modern society over the medium term. In the short term you may have low population density because, e.g., new lands have opened up and the population hasn’t yet filled them up. In the long term, of course, one has to deal with soil erosion, but that happens at historical rates that are outside of the concerns of an ACKS campaign.

(Have you read the book “Soil: The Erosion of Civilizations”? It shows how much of history can be directly correlated to soil erosion and the resultant movements of populations. One of the points they make in the book is that ancient and medieval populations tended to grow towards denser and denser population density, rising in power as a civilization, but while doing so they simultaneously were eroding their soil, until they suddenly hit a tipping point in which the soil could no longer sustain the population. This was followed by collapse. I give a slight nod to soil erosion in the Demand Modifiers section of the rules, but by and large a player who creates a barony in Game Year 1 needn’t worry about it.)

As far as Arenson’s data, if you compare the imputed wages of soldiers and farmers in The First Fantasy Campaign to the prices for things as they appear in OD&D/Basic D&D/AD&D, a footman isn’t being paid enough money. Now, perhaps Arenson used different prices - I have no way of knowing. But the prices we have and the wages we have are out of whack.

Note also that Blackmoor, per Arneson’s own math, has a population density of 200 people per square mile, which is vastly in excess of what any Northern European population enjoyed prior to modern age. Medieval Scandinavia had a population density of about 7 people per square mile… We can assume it was an order of magnitude greater near the coasts, but that still doesn’t get one to 200 people per square mile. [Note that all of this is for rural, not urban areas.]

Arenson was certainly a good historian and I consider him an inspiration and source, but we today have the benefit of an additional 30 years of material, translations, and sources, plus all the data on the web, that he did not.

Alex, obviously a poor choice of words on my part as I never meant to imply you were lacking in intelligence, and by “here” I’m defiently refering to what is written, not to what you may or may not know beyond the page. So my apologies.

Having said that, settlement pattern, generally, and particularly in the north atlantic during the viking age expansion, is my sthick as a scholar. I can, pretty well deomonstrate, that population density is not a measure of productivity or carrying capacity, in any society, pre-modern or not, but doing so, as I’m sure you can imagine, would take a heck of a lot more space and effort than I have here. The short argument is that population density is primarily a function of social organization and cultural norms. Brian K Roberts Landscapes of Settlement: Prehistory to the Present
might be worth a look for you.

I do realize its a game your after in the end though so your point about what it is you want to simulate is well taken. Population density and available wealth is tied to the value of labor, generally, so that if you set the wages being paid you might be able to work out a ratio or range for the other two. Food for thought anyway.

Daniel - Thanks for the kind note. I will check out the Landscapes book; that sounds very interesting and up my alley.

I just made a lengthy post in the other Starting From the Ground Up thread that should give you some sense of how we’re approaching it. We do cover much of the areas you bring up although I think we “reversed into it” as it were after establishing a generic baseline, rather than taking the simulation down one more level of detail and then building upwards.

Anyway, if you are not yet a sponsor, I hope you will end up joining us as your expertise would make you a valuable voice. In particular there is one chart (demand modifiers based on terrain, elevation, climate, and age) that I am dying for you to review…