Imperial Scale to Manorial Scale in Mapping and Rulership

A few days ago I talked about Fractal Game Design and mentioned how it relates to Demesne-Level play. Yesterday I dug into Hex Population Density.

Three-Level Hex Map

Three-Level Hex Map

Today I’m going to try to bring these things together.


I am using a very simple model for the relationships between demesnes. Real feudalism is horribly complex and hard to understand, let alone explain.

manor is a home of a member of the gentry, and refers also to the surrounding lands he is responsible for. A 1.5-mile hex with an area of two square miles. Lowest practical level of detail as far as management is concerned, but may be subdivided into sixteen 3/8-mile (80 acre) hexes for allocating terrain and the like, if desired. Often owned by a knight, dame, or other gentry (usually called just ‘lord of the manor’, but ‘baronet’ is another possibility), often managed by a steward when the owner had duties elsewhere (such as a higher title). Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 200 people.

barony is a collection of manors under a single ruler, a baron or baroness (higher gentry, not quite nobility). Nominally a six-mile hex with an area of 32 (actually 31.18) square miles. Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 3,200 people.

An earldom or county is a collection of baronies under a single ruler, an earl, count, or countess (depending on naming scheme used; either way the lower end of the nobility). Nominally a twenty-four mile hex with an area quite close to 500 square miles (498.8, close enough). Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 50,000 people.

A duchy is a collection of earldoms or counties under a single ruler, a duke or duchess. Nominally a 96-mile hex with an area of about 8000 (7981.2) square miles. Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 800,000 people.

kingdom is a collection of duchies under a single ruler, a king or queen. Nominally a 384-mile hex with an area of about 128,000 (127,700) square miles. Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 12,800,000 people.

An empire is a collection of kingdoms under a single rule, an emperor or empress. Nominally a 1,536-mile hex with an area of about 2,000,000 (2,043,210) square miles. Nominal population maximum, without support, is about 200,000,000 people.

This is a gross simplification to illustrate the relative sizes of things. In principle each demesne is on a scale sixteen times the size (area and population) of the one below it.

These are all nominal values, and in practice may vary quite a bit. It is entirely possible that a barony contains only a smaller (or larger) number of manors than is shown here, and it is possible that a kingdom may consist of a mix of duchies and earldoms (and possibly directly baronies). In any case a demesne larger than a manor is unlikely to be hex-shaped, instead being a contiguous collection of smaller demesnes. Historically this is not required, but I think I will consider a noncontiguous collection of smaller demesnes as separate demesnes.

Notice the population figures. They’re pretty big, and assume the entire region is arable and settled.

Demesne-Play – Settlements


Determining the size of settlements possible, given the population, can be a bit of a challenge. I don’t want to be bothered to try to do demographic analysis and try to figure out how to transport food around. However, I observe that larger cities require both more support, and more infrastructure. Both of these might be represented after a fashion by the size of the demesne, and what is around it.

I grabbed the Pathfinder settlement definitions and realized they’re probably kind of silly, so I’m going to largely ignore the populations there and steal the names.

  • A manor is nominally two square miles, and can support on the order of 100-200 people pretty easily in most reasonably arable places. This is one or two villages, but no more.
  • A barony, a collection of manors, might be able to support a couple of larger villages (200-250 people or so) or perhaps a small town of 400-500. I’m nudging things up a bit, but I have a reason.
  • A earldom/county, a collection of baronies, might be able to support a couple of small towns, or a larger one.
  • A duchy, a collection of earldoms, can probably support a couple larger towns or a small city.
  • A kingdom, a collection of duchies, can support some smaller cities or a larger city.
  • An empire, a collection of kingdoms, can support several larger cities, or a metropolis.

In real-world history, there have been cities (such as Paris and Rome) with populations in the hundreds of thousands, and even over a million. I don’t think I need to get quite this big here, but the sheer landmass possible in this model is pretty big and should be able to produce a lot of food.

With the larger demesne designations comes more infrastructure. A manor likely has simple dirt paths, a barony might have dirt roads, and so on. The Imperial Highway is an incredible work and spans the empire, with focus on the capital.

Which brings me to an idea of how to manage settlement placement.

Let’s say that any settlement requires at least four (relatively) nearby settlements the next size down. A settlement may only support one larger settlement (though I suppose if needed a single settlement could count for half toward each of two larger settlements.

I was reviewing this post with regard to another one I’m writing, and I started to correct this one to replace ‘settlement’ (in the context of supporting a larger settlement) with ‘hex’… when I realized that if a hex has more than one largest-allowed settlement in it, perhaps it can actually support more neighboring hexes. This might be a foolish thought, since a hex with two or three of the largest-allowed settlements is probably pushing the boundary of what can be supported in the immediate area anyway. I’d like to remember this anyway, though.

Baronies, market villages

Baronies, market villages

A small town (250-300 people) would not exist in a manor without support. If a manor has at four neighbors with villages (that are not otherwise claimed for this purpose) it’s village could be ‘upgraded’ to a ‘small town’ (grow to 250-300 people). It is not necessary for all the manors to be part of the same barony. In the image to the right, assume that this is fairly arable land (with some forest and the like, sure, and some streams and small lakes); all manors on the map have villages. The stronger hex colors are manors with small towns, the paler colors are their supporting villages.

This puts a small town within a few miles of any village identified, and not really that much farther apart (it looks like 2-3 hexes, 4-6 miles, between nearby small towns). In addition to the regular market, you might find a service not present in all villages, such as a grain mill or other — it depends a lot on what the manor lords and baron allow, really.

The same mechanism might be applied the next level up. A small town in a barony could be upgraded to a large town if there are four adjacent ‘unclaimed’ baronies that have small towns. Assuming these are centrally located in the barony (they probably won’t be) and each hex is sixteen times the area (that is, four times the radius), this will place the large towns some 16-24 miles apart from their neighbors.

An earldom or county could have a large town upgraded to a small city if there are four adjacent ‘unclaimed’ earldoms with large towns. At four more times the distance, this will be about 64-96 miles — two to five days of travel.

A duchy could have a small city upgraded to a large city if there are four adjacent ‘unclaimed’ duchies with small cities. These will be nominally 250-400 miles or so apart, perhaps two to three weeks distant.

A kingdom could have a large city upgraded to a metropolis if there are four adjacent ‘unclaimed’ kingdoms with large cities. These will nominally be 1000-1600 miles or so apart (this is getting uncomfortably big now — this could be a couple _months_ apart!).

And finally, an empire could have the infrastructure, possibly, to upgrade a metropolis to something crazy… though I’m not sure quite how big that might be.

Hmm. Perhaps instead, a settlement maximum size could be increased by drawing from adjacent demesnes. Given two manors, one could have a bigger population. Given three, one could be a bit bigger yet than the other two. Given four neighbors you can draw on you might be able to get to the next larger settlement size, and given six such neighbors go a bit bigger (but not yet the size after that).

Probably too much trouble.

I see, though, that this comes kind of close to my original description. A manor has a village or two depending on what makes sense for the people there. A barony might have some small towns (I see one up there with two plus two halves, one with two plus one half, one with one plus one half — and I might have hexes assigned either to one larger hex or the other by adjusting them slightly so they aren’t quite hexes any more, as described in Fractal Game Design the other day). The same patterns can apply, with earldoms/counties having 1-3 (more or less) large towns, duchies have 1-3 small cities, kingdoms 1-3 large cities, and so on.

Closing Comments

The structure I am devising here looks like it will come somewhat close to modeling the relationship between ‘farmers’ and ‘city folk’. Depending on the size of the settlements at each level it might be a little rich (historically ‘no more than 10% of the population could be not-food production’ is a pretty commonly-accepted value), but it looks reasonably credible if you don’t know that :)

Of course, ‘reasonably credible’ will depend in large degree on how big the settlements are. Spreadsheet time! No, no, in the morning it can be spreadsheet time. If I want to end up with something like 10% of the population “not farmers”, and I can divide townfolk up into equally-sized groups (for instance, every four settlements can support one that is four times the size) I could end up with the ‘Empire-sized city’ about a thousand times the size of the ‘Manor-size city’ (large village/small town).

This does not yet feel polished, but I think I’m headed in a good direction. I suspect I slipped somewhere in here, to be honest, but it’s after midnight and I’m up at silly o’clock, so I’m going to leave it here and revise it after it’s had some time to percolate in my brain.

Suggestions are welcome, of course, they help the percolation.

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22 Comments to "Imperial Scale to Manorial Scale in Mapping and Rulership"

  1. GreyKnight's Gravatar GreyKnight
    April 11, 2013 - 1:07 am | Permalink

    There are two “levels” of baron: lesser barons are what you seem to be describing here (actually rarely called barons since a fair while back, more usually “lords of the manor”). Greater barons (just “baron” really) are considered nobility, of which they’re the least rank. Interestingly I think (IIRC) the noble status of “lesser” barons hasn’t been formally confirmed or denied in the courts ever, so they’re in a sort of grey zone.

    You could apply a concept of “levelling up” if a player character enters the landholding system. A “lesser baron” as listed above could be promoted to the nobility and become a “greater baron”; from there he could be promoted to viscount. Advancing further to Earl/Count should come with an appropriate increase in territory; presumably he takes over the earldom his erstwhile barony/viscountcy was contained in, and the latter becomes the seat of the earldom. Similarly, an Earl could be promoted to a Marquis (female Marchioness) and his earldom becomes a march. An advancement from there to Duke comes with an increase in territory again.

    There is precedent for what you describe when you mention a kingdom containing baronies directly (a barony held “in-chief”). AFAIK subdividing a manor holding is legally disallowed (IRL anyway). Also, the female equivalent to a knight would be a dame.

  2. April 11, 2013 - 4:54 am | Permalink

    You mentioned that there may be different infrastructures (e.g. an earldom has better roads than a barony). However, the roads which are part of the earldom will be part of at least some of the baronies!

    I imagine road quality will be based more on what’s being connected; a road between a city and another city will be large and well-maintained, roads between a city and nearby towns may be lesser (and might just be branches off the inter-city road), and so forth.

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