Q&A: Worldbuilding and Logistics

Hey, me again. I was busy today. Is it realistic to have a castle full of expert fighters (talking about 500+), like, cliché-knight-level experts (that have magical powers, mind you, like photokinesis) and still have plenty of food, supplies, weapons, etc. Like enough weapons for spare weapons?

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The question here is, do the numbers support it?

It might not look like it, but this is a math question, and I don’t have the information to give a definitive number.

Ignoring the standing forces for a moment, a fairly large fantasy nation could easily support a large stronghold to hold elite forces. The arms and armor aren’t a problem, until they become one.

Now, conventional arms are supply and demand, if the idea is that each of your mage knights is supposed to be carrying around magical weapons, that becomes a bigger supply question. Can your setting’s smiths, arcane smiths or whatever produce the things in sufficient volume? If arms and armor are (mostly) mundane then that’s not a problem. Also if the weapons are simply “there.” That is to say, they date back centuries, and their actual sources are lost to time. Maybe they were all forged by some mythical creature that could pump them out. At that point, okay, fine, they’re there, and irreplaceable.

So, how many of them are there? I’m going to stick with 500 for the moment and run with that idea. But, you need to start asking questions about how common these powers are. Figure that most people with these powers wouldn’t spend the time to develop the powers to the point where they could become an elite fighting force. I’m going to peg this at somewhere between one in a hundred to one in fifty. (I think it’s entirely valid to inflate these numbers even further, it’s possible that less than one in a thousand  possesses the ability and drive to become one of these elites.)

So, we take the 500, multiply to get a rough number of the overall population for your world/nation whatever. This puts powered population of your nation somewhere around 25,000 to 50,000. (Obviously, if you take the 1:1k, you’d have half a million powered people.)

So, then we need to know how frequent these powers are in the general population. If one in ten manifests these abilities, at any level, that might mean your fantasy nation’s population is somewhere around half a million. That’s not unreasonable. And, if we’re talking about an economy supported by 500k people, these numbers are fine. But, to get here we made powers incredibly common in your setting.

At the other end of the spectrum, if only one in a thousand even manifests an ability, and only one in a thousand has what it takes, you’re looking at a population of 500 million people. The modern United States has a population of ~308 million. Your elites would literally be one in a million.

So, are there the numbers to support that? An economy of half a billion people wouldn’t have trouble maintaining upkeep for that fortress. The weapons and food are significant logistical issue, but in a large enough system that’s manageable, if expensive.

You can put your thumb on the scale and shift the numbers heavily, by selecting a non-representative chunk of the population. For example, if the magical powers are hereditary, you could significantly skew the overall powered population in favor of your organization. If one in five is part of the program, and in one in a thousand of your world is powered, you’re looking at a population of around 2.5 million. Again, for a “standard fantasy setting,” that’s not too high for a major civilization. This is also assuming that the full 500 are from one nationality, and not worldwide.

There are some limits to skewing the math too hard. Usually in favor of justifying your elite’s existence. Realistically you can’t get 100% enrollment. Even 20% is pushing it. Most people will not want to fight for a living. No matter how good your setting is at picking them, some will be missed (especially if there is no hereditary element.) Some simply won’t be good enough. They won’t commit to training, they’ll screw around, and ultimately, they’ll be worthless for your organization’s purposes. 20% is ridiculously high, but you could make an argument for it.

The overall rate of incidence, how common powers are in general, has a massive effect on your setting. The more people practicing magic, the more innovative was your setting will start to change from the real world (or its history.) Even after the superficial stuff, magic facilitates “impossible” technological growth. The more magic users your setting has, the more they’ll distort it.

There’s probably a legitimate argument that, in a fantasy setting, combatant is the least culturally valuable role for a magic user. When they could be doing almost anything else, advancing their civilization’s technology or understanding of the world, and that stuff can be applied. It’s still a necessary role, but it also argues against the overspecialization of magic users as strictly elite combat units.

Another problem is, just because “your” society came back with this answer doesn’t mean another couldn’t have come up with a different one. Just because your nation uses their magic users in a combat role, it’s entirely possible other nations on your world would have significantly smaller battlemage cadres with a focus on R&D. In practical terms, this means they could be facing forces that are far better equipped by technology they cannot comprehend, because when their mages were practicing how to stab someone, the other guys were developing autonomous power crystals that could be used to operate heavy machinery, or developing mass produced magical weapons that could be wielded by their standard infantry.

I haven’t answered the food thing. Short version is, if there’s the agricultural support to keep food coming, then sure. They’re going to eat a lot. Keeping in fighting condition is requires a lot of calories. But, if there are enough people to actually staff your magic using elite corps, the agricultural support is probably going to be there. However, this does dictate where your fortress can be. It needs to be someplace with ready access or secure supply lines to, your major agricultural centers. Again, you can mess with this a lot, depending on the overall sophistication of magic in your setting, (which is directly related to how common magic users are.) It’s possible you could see portal travel and cryomantic food storage, allowing your fortress to be up on a mountain somewhere and still stay supplied.

This might seem like a lot of busy work, but it is stuff you should think about, because it’s how you answer your question, “is this realistic?” I don’t know, what are the rules you set up for your world?

-Starke

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