Idea Guild > Sagely Advice

Small Population World


This isn't a new idea. But, in recent times I've become fond of the idea of a fantasy setting with a small population, like in the Elder Scrolls Series, where a metropolis (which in reality would need a population in like the hundreds of thousands) has a population of around 313 (I'm using the Imperial City in Oblivion as a representation of a metropolis).

The advantage/goal of this is to reduce things down until you could literally write up lore/background/etc on each and every NPC in the entire setting (or at least a good portion of them; maybe all the important people and then some random unimportant people for each area).

I'm thinking of like,

--- Code: ---log(x)^2 = y
--- End code ---
where X is the real-world population and y is this reduced population.

The disadvantage to this (in the Elder Scrolls at least) is that you have to throw common sense out the window. GURPS Space states that any population below 10,000 would be unstable. I'm not sure of the exact reason for that, is it just genetic diversity? (cause I can totally ignore genetics if that's the answer). People dying of unnatural (accidental) causes don't seem like they would be enough to really factor into this 10,000 limit, barring large scale events like plagues.

To match up with the Elder Scrolls we'd have to reduce distances down as well (being able to cross an entire kingdom in one day's walking isn't realistic).

I think the reason for cities being distant from each other has to to with taxing the resources of the land. Aquifers can dry up if you use them too much, game animal populations can be hunted to extinction, only so many crops/plants can grow in an area. Would need to tweak these things to ensure that multiple communities are created (don't want the whole world grouping up in one big city). Might even add new resource limitations, like a reduced quantity of air, so that if too many creatures gather into a small area they start running low on breathable air.

One way to help reduce distances would be to reduce the diameter of the planet, which would also help limit the population. Though, if taken too far, the repercussions on the horizon line/line of sight would be weird.

Reproduction rates are an issue in this setting, increasing gestation periods could help create this sort of situation, maybe, and/or reducing the chance of pregnancy.

One thing I'm thinking of to help make this work, is to have an entirely sterile planet, or rather, a planet where pregnancy just doesn't exist at all. People could be born via magic ceremonies, or be given as gifts from the gods, or, something... Needs work. Magic ceremonies don't work well since a deer couldn't really perform a ritual to create a fowl. It might work out if like a special race of animal-loving druids were the ones performing the ceremonies, and all creatures are just naturally friendly to that race. Would be interesting if they could choose the nature of the creatures they make; leading to things like people trying to bribe them, evil druids creating evil creatures, etc.

Another possibility is that people could be like pheonixes, each time one dies they burst into flames and another is born from their ashes. It would be interesting if like, death by drowning for example, became a terrifying idea because it would end not only your life but your future "reincarnations". This would put a hard limit on population.

Anyway, I'm having a hard time realizing all the repercussions and problems that a small population would produce, so I'd appreciate any help!

I'd like to build this into a system for people to use when building settings if they want to, but it needs more figuring out.

edit: somebody on the UESP wiki just pointed out this super relevant page that gives the populations of the various cities in Oblivion

Labor shortage would be a fairly major issue. Unless you have all hunter-gatherer societies, a world with less than 10,000 is going to have a hard time finding enough menial labor to do things like farm or build cities. I would expect a "city" would mostly be wooden shacks with perhaps a handful of small, significant stone or brick structures.

An issue that could be interesting is dealing with NPCs and random encounters. Killing someone - anyone - means reducing a significant portion of the population. No more faceless minions, unless you have some other non-sentient races to fight.

I'm sure there's more to this. I'll have to think on it.


--- Quote from: Dozus on February 24, 2014, 01:40:07 PM ---Labor shortage would be a fairly major issue. Unless you have all hunter-gatherer societies, a world with less than 10,000 is going to have a hard time finding enough menial labor to do things like farm or build cities. I would expect a "city" would mostly be wooden shacks with perhaps a handful of small, significant stone or brick structures.

--- End quote ---

That totally makes sense.

So lets develop an example continent to help this thought process.

I'd like to build this out of Skyrim-type regions of around ~500 people that are about one day's journey across (I'm going with walking pace, though riding would make sense too). I'm gonna say it'd be good to have like four or five regions. So our example continent is about 75 miles across, has about 2,000 to 2,500 people, and I'm gonna say the continent is square so it has an area of 5,625 square miles and a population density of... one person per three miles? Not sure if I did that math right.

I think this is enough to say that there are people in certain areas who would specialize into most professional skills that exist in the real world. Not enough for much redundancy though, so, if there were one active ore mine on the continent, it would probably  be the only one for example. This worries me because I would want metal weapons and armor and whatnot, and mining is not a job many people would take on, given the choice. People would have to wear multiple hats all over to get by, for example there probably wouldn't be need for more than one dedicated smith in the world, but he wouldn't have the time (or locality) to reshod every horse's hoove, so other people (with jobs otherwise unrelated to smithing) would have to learn that skill. Similar to how real-world soldiers need to learn to sew and cook and to put together masonry walls. In order for this setting to work most (if not all) people in the world would have to be skillful at what they do and also have various side jobs. One ne'er-do-well would be very bad for the prosperity of their entire continent.

This actually sounds pretty cool to me, although a little iffy, educational systems would have to be very effective for people to learn so many skills; and there's hardly population to spare as teachers. If the gods/druids do create each person, maybe they just create them with inborn talents at the skills that they foresee the people needing... in GURPS the Talent advantage both gives you a static bonus to rolls with the skills it effects and reduces the time it takes to learn the skill.

I just thought of another (relatively minor) consequence of this small world idea: say you developed an entire setting, decided on the populations of each and every city and carefully considered the consequences of the presence of each of those NPCs on the position of that city in the world. Then the players make their characters, and say they all decide they're from some particular local, suddenly that city has like +4 population, possibly increasing it's size by 50% or as much as 100% and upsetting that balance. This could be minimized by starting in a metropolitan city where they'd be like a ~10% population bump, etc.

Replace the labor force with a mechanical force.



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