Demographics and the military in my campaign, Part 2

Last post, I set out to answer a simple question for my D&D campaign:
"How many troops can Duke Archanis Reynald field against the Bestials or some other invading army?"

What followed was an exploration of just how big the Duchy was, how many people lived in the Duchy and how many of those people would be part of the military forces.

From a population of nearly 7.5 million inhabitants of the Duchy of Irecia, the Duke could hope to field a force of nearly 337,000 individuals. Which answers the basic question, but then that begs a follow-up question:

"What would that army look like?"

In fiction and movies, we're used to seeing this:

And much of what you might have read would have you thinking it was this:

... and this ...

... but the truth seems to be somewhat in the middle.

Based on my own readings of books and what is on the web, I've come to learn a couple of interesting things that give me a different view of medieval warfare than I previously thought:
1. Mercenaries and paid soldiers were a huge chunk of the forces that fought.
2. The typical medieval battle wasn't quite the mass of disarray that I thought it was.

I also learned that it's very hard to figure out, at least that I can find, of a rough idea of the breakdown in forces. How many knights versus how many archers? Figures and counts are hard to come by, or to my mind they don't add up. However, I have a model to look at the overall breakdown of the population by status, so let's start there.

Going back to the Welsh Piper generator, and the "Settlement Area and Population" section of it. On the generator, he breaks down the population by Nobility, Officers, Clergy, Freeholders, Citizenry and Hirelings. Rather than explain each of them, go here and read Erin's overview and explanation. (Yea, you know, go ahead, but I hate waiting...)

I like the breakdown, as it can easily translate, per what I've read about typical medieval forces, into troop types:
Nobility == Knights, Commanders, Heavy Cavalry
Officers & Freeholders == Heavy Infantry (good arms/armor) and Cavalry
Clergy and Citizens == Levies, Archers and/or Skirmishers, light forces

We also have leveled NPC priests as part of the clergy, who I would add into the Heavy Infantry. As Daniel over at OD&D Hotspot has excellently explained, unless you're at about 10th level, you really can't make an individual contribution to the battlefield. This would also hold true for the lower leveled NPCs - they'd probably go into the Heavy Infantry. Name level would go into the Nobility, I would imagine, or be their own unit.

Hirelings... now that's an interesting column. Erin says that "Hirelings: The number of citizens available for hire by PCs as retainers, henchmen, and guides." Which you could take as the level 0 rabble, but for my campaign, I see a different fit. The hirelings number (at a duchy level) would represent the King's Legions. Those BAMFs are like the visiting special forces. To be used at the King's discretion in the region.

With all that mind, I set the generator to "Large City" and plugged in the number of 337,000 for the Duke's forces. I got the following breakdown:

Nobility: 5,199
Officers: 2,249
Clergy: 3,370
Freeholders: 21,213
Citizens: 303,734
Hirelings: 1,123

I like it. The Nobility is roughly 1.5%, the freeholders and paid soldiers is about 7% of the total force and the common rabble forms a little over 90% of the forces. I don't have a good measure of how "accurate" that is, but it works for my campaign, so I'll go with it.

That means that the Duke can field:
5,199 - Knights/Heavy Cavalry
23,462 - Heavy Foot/Infantry/Men-At-Arms/Heavy-Med Cavalry (spears, swords, armor)
307,216 - Light Foot/Archers/Skirmishers/Levies/Light Cavalry

So there's my answer.

But what does that mean for the campaign? Well, aside from the fact that there aren't as many heavy infantry as I would imagine in my head, it also means that I have an opportunity for some additional RPG elements in my campaign.


From everything I'm reading, mercenaries were a huge part of the medieval military picture. It just didn't dawn on me how important they were, or how prevalent they were. When I would think of mercenary soldiers from a D&D perspective, I always saw them as the outliers or rarity. Not so... apparently BattleTech had it more right. Mercenaries make up a huge part of the canon and unit forces for the Inner Sphere within the BattleTech Universe.

I never saw it called out like that in D&D, but I get it now. Mercs are going to be a bigger part of my campaign now, and even gives my players a new option to start something up and it not be as rare as I had once thought.

I had started exploring this with the Duke's brother, Sir Chaddius Reynald, the adventuring noble who has brought money and mercenaries to the area of Enonia in search of glory and combat. Little did I know that this was going to feed into something more.

At the end of the day, when I'm calculating forces for my wargames, it gives me some perspective. Is the Duke going to spend the money to hire more skilled forces, or will he simply fill in with common/cheaper laborers? Considering that 90% of his forces for a total call-up would be levies of probably an unskilled nature.

I'm sure that as I read more and take in more perspectives that this might all change, but I like what I have and how it tells a story. Now that I have an approach, I can repeat it for all the other various political entities.

1. Come up with rough estimate of region size in hexes, then to square miles (MDME)
2. Calculate a population based on what I think the density should be (WPMD - Regional)
3. Calculate the total forces size (assuming 50% loss due to disease, 40% noncombatants) (Hordes)
4. Calculate force breakdown (WPMD - Settlement)

What do you think? Crazy? Makes sense? TL;DR? Something I should go read that will change all this?

Some sources that I looked over:
Look at percentages of 'freeholders' vs. citizens - freeholders would form the backbone of men-at-arms. Peasants would be archers and levies. Freeholders would be med/hvy foot
"The knight, then, was a disciplined and well-trained professional soldier."
Mercenary companies - very important, and probably how most freeholders would be organized.
Typically feudal armies consisted of a core of highly skilled knights and their household troops, mercenaries hired for the time of the campaign and feudal levies fulfilling their feudal obligations, who usually were little more than rabble. They could, however, be efficient in disadvantageous terrain. Towns and cities could also field militias.
formal military ranks above the voice-command level (about 100 soldiers) did not develop until the late Renaissance.


  1. Chivalry & Sorcery addresses these issues. The Feudal Holdings tables give you a breakdown of the numbers and types of troops a noble can raise as well as land holdiings, revenues and type of castle or manor house they own. Sourcebook 1 (for second ediition) further expands this with demographics and the battlesystem which answers questions about mobilization, number of mercenaries and a general wealth of information about medieval warfare.

  2. I was pretty sure there were other rule sets that do this, I'm vaguely remembering that the Greyhawk box set had something (I could be remembering wrong.) and I'm sure the First Fantasy Campaign book of Arneson's had something about this as well.

    The bigger joy for me was developing something that felt right for my campaign, versus off the shelf. Forcing me to think what works and how it flows together.


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