Saturday, November 16, 2019

Elven Populations in Greyhawk

Greetings Greyhawkers. Sometimes on this blog, I fall down a rabbit hole while researching the topic of a post and it leads me into something different. In the case of this subject, the population of elves in the Flanaess, I found it so dry and boring I sat on my collected data for a while. I almost pitched the idea, then I came back to it and figured well I spent this much time on it already, why not? Why am I even tracking elven population? I totally forgot! But the point of this exercise is that elves, while a minority compared to humans in the World of Greyhawk, are not rare (yet).

First some disclaimers. These figures lump published numbers for only playable types of elves together (particularly sylvan, grey, high). So no I am not talking drow or sea elves or snow elves, etc. Also, my math is not solid, and there is bound to be some obscure reference I missed, so at best this study is mostly accurate. Third, I'm not a big expert on demographics, but it does interest me, so I'm drawing conclusions on this info the best I can. Many Greyhawk fans have argued demographics of the setting in the past which in 2000 led to the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer recalculation of these national populations. I will be comparing both the LGG numbers and the 1983 boxed set numbers.

Beginning with how the elven populations are figured, in the 83 Guide Gygax smartly avoids giving exact numbers on demi-human (collected elven, dwarven, gnomish, halfling, etc) populations. When he did it was with war-time statistics in mind so it only meant fighting males only, which for a wargamer like Gygax makes sense. So for these nations I would assign a multiplier of 3 assuming a bare minimum average of one female and offspring per fighting male. This led to another rabbit hole topic I'll address below. When specific numbers weren't given, demi-humans were generalized into terms like "some", "few" or "many" The Guide says these approximations include females and offspring and they constitute a percentage of the listed human population. For purposes of this study, "many" is the suggested 20%, "some" is 10% and "few" is 5%. So for example, Bissel has 50,000 humans and "some" demi-humans, so 5000. With this number I have to break elves out of the overall total. Here I fall back on the LGG which exhaustively lists all types by percentage of population, to tell me almost 10% of all demi-humans (dwarves are majority here) in Bissel are elves (of any type), or 500 for a final total. That sounds like a modest total of elves you'd expect in a fantasy world. When you start comparing and adding up other nations I found that going by Gygax figures in the boxed set, there is about 627,000 elves in the Flanaess.

How about the Living Greyhawk populations? They were all inflated because the writers felt that in the boxed set, the density of people per square mile was too light to accurately simulate medieval demographics. Why is that important? I don't know, it's what we Greyhawk fans do. At any rate, this makes a country like Bissel go from 50,000 people to 123,880. Other are nudged up a bit, like the Pale from 250,000 to 395,000 while more populated nations like Furyondy go from 350,000 to 1,481,800. One thing to consider about the LGG source is that these totals include all sentient races including elves, dwarves, orcs, centaurs, etc (male, female and young). They are all conveniently broke down into percentages, which is fine and easy for calculating, but can lead to some eyebrow raising amounts because this system was based on demographics for player characters not the make-up for nations. For instance, Bissel with its 123,880 is said to have 2% elven population, or 2478 elves. That's five times as many elves as in the gold box, though the overall population only went up about 1.5 times.

This means in the Guide, there is a generous 17,500 total elves in Furyondy, which coincidentally is the same number of male fighting elves in the main elven ruled nation of Celene. If you add females and young, Celene then might have an impressive 52,500 elves. But in the LGG the number of Furyondian elves rises to 133,362, which is more than the entire elven population of Celene in the LGG at 110,600, because in 3e the writers of D&D made it standard to have the majority type of any population 79% the total. Now, nobody would ever suspect Furyondy has more elves than Celene, unless they were just commuting over from the Vesve Forest or Highfolk. These places have their own elven population totals however. Thus in this instance, Gygax's numbers seem more realistic.

For fun here is some of my totals for some elven lands:

Celene 110,660 (LGG) vs 52,500 (Guide)
Highfolk/Highvale 36,400 (LGG) vs 81,000 (Guide)
Sunndi 11,250 (LGG) vs 21,000 (Guide)
Duchy of Ulek 74,518 (LGG) vs 48,000 (Guide)
Vesve Forest 13,000 (LGG) vs 39,000 (Guide)

Now look at some of the biggest human controlled lands and their elven populations:

Nyrond 235,638 (LGG) vs 68,750 (Guide)
Keoland 144,000 (LGG) vs 9900 (Guide)
Ahlissa 191,805 (LGG) vs Great Kingdom 100,000 (Guide)

Because of the iffy percentages in the LGG, I figured the Flanaess in this book has about 1.4 million elves. As a DM your mileage may vary on this amount versus Gygax's 627k. Interestingly across the totals of all nations from both the Guide and LGG, the average percentage of elves in the Flanaess vs humans is still about 5%. I ask you the reader, does 5% elves in the world seem high or low to you? It may depend on each DM's view of elven culture I suppose.

One last discussion, elves are a long lived species. In Gygax's heyday of writing Greyhawk, I'm sure when he wrote "fighting males" for demi-human populations as a generalization, he didn't figure that elven women (or dwur for that matter) who live for many centuries have enough time to practice archery and sword-fighting to be "battle ready" as well. When the Guide says Geoff has 6000 fighting age elven males, surely there is another 6000 females who are just as capable. Also, elven generations are way off base compared to humans. While they initially grow at the rate of humans, elves aren't considered adults until their 100th birthday (5e and 1e agree). Do these near 100 year-old children have fighting ability at all? You can see four or five human generations before an elf male is old enough to be in their army!

Another note, it doesn't need explained that long-lived elves have a much lower birth rate than frail medieval-era lifespan humans. So when we see figures in the LGG or Guide, that is a snapshot of a census done at that starting point in the timeline. It is thus wrong to permanently tie these elven figures (or any demi-human) to human population totals because when your campaign moves forward and the humans add one or two more generations, the elven totals should remain static or worse, go down.

Congratulations if you've read this entire article or merely skipped to the end. This is the kind of scholarly (nerdy) stuff that some Greyhawk fans like myself ponder and will sometimes torture you with in turn to clear our mind! If you have any commentary or corrections, feel free to join in my mania below. Thank you and until next time...


David Leonard said...

Far be from me to disagree with those learned sages, that's got to be WAY to many elves. They're long-lived, like 700+ or more years long-lived. That would mean low birth rate. Also consider their 600 year long war with Vecna was only a couple generations ago. That would take a long time to recover from. And in the wake of that war, they all but retreated from human society, gathering in the Spindrifts, the Highfolk, Celene, and Aerdy Forests, with Valley elves exclusively in the Valley of the Mage, for the most part. They ought to be rare the further you travel from those hubs. The same goes with Dwarves; they've always been xenophobic. Gnomes gather in the foothills, and maybe as artisans in large cities. The only demihuman you should see with any regularity among humans should be halflings, and even then, they'd gather in their own urban and rural enclaves, mildly suspicious of the bully big folk. Maybe I'm overthinking this. Damn you, Mike! :)

Sean Robert Meaney said...

Yeah, the populations given are oddly high. Veluna would burn through Bramblewood Forest in unsustainable timber/firewood use in ten to fifteen years.

Mike Bridges said...

David: You're welcome haha. And yeah we have tons of info on elves of the Flanaess and comparatively zilch on dwarves. Agreed on the Vecna era. The demi-humans couldn't have had much time to prosper in the last 1000 years.

Mike Bridges said...

Sean: Haha, yeah Veluna is another one of those countries like Furyondy that is Highfolk/Vesve and also Celene adjacent. They have a huge elven population, but should it rival the totals of those native elven lands?

Grumpy Old Man said...

I want to say the 80 Folio had even lower population numbers than the 83 boxed set. Would have to look.

Mike Bridges said...

Yikes, it never occurred to me to compare the 1980 folio. Just assumed they match. I gotta check too. Thanks Old Man ;)

Lord Gosumba said...

Mike, VERY interesting analysis! Thank you!