Taking a Census: 4th Edition Style – Part I


April 8, 2010 by deadorcs

Here in the States, the decade is up, and that means another census.  Regardless of how you feel about that particular government activity, it made me start to think about how to build settlement populations in the towns I create in my own 4th Editions Dungeons and Dragons® campaign.

Before I get much further, a little caution.  This is probably one of the “crunchiest” posts I’ve done.  Lots of math and lots of explanation of the math.  If you don’t care for math, skip to the end, or read my great treatise on MODRONS!  🙂  That’s not a pun, I promise.

Back up to yesterday, and  I posted a blurb on Twitter about 4e demographics.  Were there any rules?  Had I missed something in the Dungeon Master’s Guide?

My fellow bloggers @chattydm and @asmor (as well as others) responded pretty quickly (the miracle that is Twitter), and were quick to point out that there were only basic guidelines in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide™ and if I wanted additional demographic rules, I might need to go back to the 3.5 Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide™.  

So, I went to both books, and they were right.  I was familiar with the 3.5 version’s take on demographics, and had built an extensive spreadsheet for my own campaign setting to generate population figures.  However, the 4th edition take is more simplified, and only gives very basic descriptions for determining demographics (I’ll go into what those are in a bit). 

My whole goal here was to generate population figures based on the size of the settlement; hamlet, village, town, city, etc.. Beyond that, I wanted to be able to break down the population into manageable chunks.  So, I got out my trusty Excel sheet and applied some maths to the problem.

Beginning on page 152 of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide™, the rules for determining the size of a settlement are spelled out.  Unfortunately, the rules only state population maximums for three sizes of settlements; Villages, Towns, and Cities. This is highly simplified from the 3.5 Edition which not only add sizes for smaller communities (such as Thorps and Hamlets), but also breaks down Towns and Cities into large and small varieties.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Village:  Up to 1,000 people

Town:  Up to 10,000 people

City:  Up to 25,000 people

I blame my mild OCD, but this was insufficient for me.  So I extended these numbers to include the old categories, which I feel do a much better job covering settlement sizes.

Thorp: Up to 100 people

Hamlet:  Up to 500 people

Village:  Up to 1,000 people

Small Town:  Up to 5,000 people

Large Town:  Up to 10,000 people

Small City:  Up to 15,000 people

Large City:  Up to 25,000 people

Now that I had my settlement sizes, I needed to apply the maths.  In order to randomly determine a population size (every settlement needs to be different, you see), I set a range for each of these categories, like so:

20 to 100

Hamlet:  100 to 500

Village:  500 to 1000

Small Town:  1000 to 5000

Large Town:  5000 to 10000

Small City:  10000 to 15000

Large City:  15000 to 25000

I set the lower limit of the Thorp to 20 for a couple of reasons.  The first, is that any community smaller than 20 people is really more like a commune, and not really an organized settlement as such.  I suppose I’ll get an argument from someone out there, but breaking down a population that small seemed pointless.  The number is small enough you could “stat-out” each member without really breaking a sweat.  The goal is being able to deal with larger population figures.  The second reason, is that the 3.5 version of the rules set the lower limit on a Thorp at 20.  I decided to go with the precedent.

Now that I had a basic way to determine population, I wanted to break it down a little further.  When you create a settlement, you like to have some idea how many farmers, merchants, craftsman, etc. are in town.  It’s also helpful to know how many adventuring types (read: character classes) are in town as well.  It’s data that can provide the DM with potential hooks and foils for their players.  I put some thought to it, and these are the categories I came up with:

Children:  It’s always helpful to know how many children your evil cult leader can kidnap.  Yes, this really happens.

Producers:  These are the folks that produce the raw material for a community.  Farmers, Miners, Loggers, Hunters, and Fisherman are all good examples of Producers

Craftsmen:  These are the folks that take the raw materials and do something with them.  Blacksmith, Leather-worker, Wainwright, Brewer, and Builder are all good examples of Craftsmen.

Scholars:  These are the folks that nurture (if you will) or educate the community.  Healers, Clergy, Sages, and Librarians are good examples of Scholarly types.

Traders:  These are the folks that exchange goods or services for money (and sometimes for other goods).  Outfitters, Innkeepers, Dry Goods Merchants and even Prostitutes can be considered Traders.

Teamsters:  These are folks that make a living porting people and goods from one place to another.  They’re closely related to Traders, but enough of their jobs (at least to me) are sufficiently different to place them in their own category.  Drivers, Ferrymen, and Porters are good examples of Teamsters.

Militia:  These are folks whose only job is to protect the settlement.  Although most towns under duress will call out for “every able body”, this category is for regular guards and soldiers that might patrol a town.  

Dignitaries:  These are folks that have some kind of leadership status within the community.  Mayors, Elders, and Minor Nobles are all good examples of Dignitaries.

Adventurers:  These are the folks that will make your players have a bad day.  They usually contribute little to the community, except by perhaps posing as one of the other categories for a short time.  I’ll speak more about this group in another post.

Okay.  Now that you know the categories, let me tell you how I broke it down.  After I’m done with that, I’ll actually post the Excel formulas I used so that you can create your own spreadsheet.

I used my own rationale for determining what percentage of a given population were in a specific category.  Generally, Producers outnumber everything, and Craftsmen come second.  Beyond that, I just took a good guess on distribution based on what I know about small towns and previous distributions I’ve encountered.  Here’s what I came up with:

Children:  10% to 40% of the randomly generated population, but added to the final total.  For example:  If I have a generated population of 100 folks, I might have 10, 20, 30 or 40 children, for a final total of 110, 120, 130, or 140 total people.  I arrived at those percentages by once again going to the 3.5 rules.  You can make this percentage random, or determine a set percentage based on the primary race that inhabits the settlement (perhaps Elves have fewer babies than Humans).  

Adventurers:  10% of the randomly generated population.

Townsfolk:  90% of the randomly generated population.

Producers:  70% of the Townsfolk

Craftsmen:  10% of the Townsfolk
Scholars:  5% of the Townsfolk
Traders:  5% of the Townsfolk
Teamsters:  4% of the Townsfolk
Militia:  5% of the Townsfolk
Dignitaries:  1% of the Townsfolk

I’m pretty math impaired, so I was impressed with myself that I managed to make those percentages add up to 100.  Yay, me!

This post is getting long, so here’s the actual formulas I used to generate all the numbers in Excel.  This can probably be done with just about any spreadsheet program, as long as you have a way to generate the random population numbers.  The example given is for a Hamlet.

Settlement: Hamlet












Here’s what the number calculations look like when they’re done:

Settlement:                       Hamlet

Adult Population:                385
Children:                              154
Townsfolk:                           347
Producers                           243
Craftsmen                             35
Scholars                               17
Traders                                17
Teamsters                           14
Militia                                   17
Dignitaries                            3
Total:                                 347

Grand Total Population:  539

For my next post, I plan to tackle the question of how to determine just what adventurers are poking around in your settlement. Pesky lot, always tearing up good farmland and knocking down careful displays.

In the meantime, if @Asmor is looking for a project, build me a little app that I can do this with online, so I don’t have to mess around in Excel for it.  🙂

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.


7 thoughts on “Taking a Census: 4th Edition Style – Part I

  1. Noumenon says:

    Additionally, knowing what everyone in town is doing helps me set up adventure and character hooks.It might be more handy instead of saying every town has x% scholars and y% teamsters, to make a "scholar town" and a "teamster town", so they're really differentiated. Or maybe you could have a threshold, every town has 5% scholars and when the raw number hits a breakpoint, like 15 scholars, you get a school. 50 scholars, you get a guild, 100 scholars, you get Hogwarts.

  2. R.M. Walker says:

    @Noumenon – Well, there's always the option to keep things simple. For me, knowing the division of labor in a community helps me plan out the community, and for me, increase continuity from settlement to settlement. Additionally, knowing what everyone in town is doing helps me set up adventure and character hooks. I'll admit, it's a level of detail many aren't going to want to mess with. Phil Cooper's app helps with that, but like any "additional functionality", it's optional.

  3. Noumenon says:

    A town is comprised of a tavern, a temple, shops, and some NPCs including a government. Whether there are 7 teamsters or 15 in town is totally irrelevant. I'd stick to the 4E level of granularity.

  4. R.M. Walker says:

    Glad you like it. Phil Cooper's built a great web app based on the idea, which will be tweaked as I provide more information which is coming soon! Thanks, again!

  5. gamefiend says:

    Excellent. I'll be using this for sure. You may see linkage in the future. Thanks for this!

  6. R.M. Walker says:

    Dude, this freakin' rocks! Looking forward to seeing what the final thing looks. Hopefully, you'll be able to easily add the adventurer part (which will be posted in a couple of days). For a full demographic generator! When you have a final page link, let know, and I'll get it into a post. Great stuff!

  7. Phil Cooper says:

    I've made you a little javascript tool for rolling random settlements using these numbers. It's at: http://rpgcensus.tumblr.com/It's not really pretty just yet, but I'll be styling it and improving it shortly. Enjoy!

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