In a fit of silliness inspired by the WFRP books, I attempted to catalogue the cities in the Reikland based upon the books. Now, I’m a fresh newcomer to both the system and the world, but long-time players will know well the inconsistencies that accrue over 35+ years of lore development and revision. The cities were first listed in the first edition (1ᴇ) book Death on the Reik (1987) — for the actual numbers, see the end of this post.
It is generally acknowledged that the numbers in the first edition of WFRP are too low, and later editions have revised them upwards. Towns and cities received a population bump moving from 1ᴇ to 2ᴇ (towns increasing by about 1.6× and the big cities of Altdorf & Nuln by 7×), while in 4ᴇ both were increased again (towns to 2.4× their 1ᴇ values, Altdorf to 66⅔×!), and villages also received a modest population increase from the 1ᴇ/2ᴇ values (on average 1.4×).
Some attempts at in-game explanations for the reason that the 1ᴇ numbers are so low are that either the ‘population’ number only counts “those who count” — landowners, artisans, merchants, etc — or that it describes the number of households rather than the number of people.
This solution has always, seemingly, been the official answer, though it has been under-emphasized. The 1ᴇ book Warhammer City (1987) — published after Death on the Reik — says:
Today, Middenheim is the second largest city in The Empire – after Altdorf. The resident population of Middenheim (according to the last census taken two years ago) is 13,224 […]. Of course, the census only includes the heads of tax-paying households, while the size of Middenheim’s constantly swelling army of vagrants, thieves and beggars can only be guessed at.Warhammer City, p. 9
Compare also the 1ᴇ sourcebook Marienburg: Sold Down the River (1999), which reports 135,000 “heads of households” with the 2ᴇ book The WFRP Companion (2006), which reports a “population” of 135,000.
This explanation is also used officially in the 4ᴇ book Empire in Ruins Companion (2022), when discussing the town of Diesdorf:
The town has an official population of 150 but that only includes officers of the rank of captain and above, property-owners, and master craftsmen, of which many are blacksmith and armourers supporting the college. The true population stands nearer 1600.Empire in Ruins Companion, p. 82
However, note that the figure of 150 is from the 2nd edition of the game; the 4ᴇ figure is 210!
In the 1ᴇ sourcebook Dwarfs: Stone and Steel (2002), a similar explanation is made (even though the figures for Dwarf populations are much higher on average than those given for Human):
Population figures for the Dwarfholds are based upon the number of able bodies that can fight if the need arises. This includes females, but excludes any Dwarf under 15 years of age.Dwarfs: Stone and Steel, Appendix C: Gazetteer of the Dwarf Realms
But now, what should we do about all this, if we wish to figure the “actual populations” of these fantasy settlements? Let’s start with the village populations which were unmodified until 4ᴇ. A common solution in the past seems to have been to multiply the 1ᴇ populations by some number such as 10×. This seems to be too high for many of the villages — at least, going by the classic article “Medieval Demographics Made Easy” (1993–2018) by S. John Ross (see also the critique “Notes on Medieval Population Geography” (2016) by Lyman Stone, and the article “How Large were Medieval Peasant Families?” (2021) by Lucie Laumonier also has some good information, such as the fact that rural households should be larger on average). However, the setting of WFRP is in the early modern rather than the true medieval period, so we shouldn’t be too tied to the numbers listed.
MDME gives a “typical village” size as 50–300 people; if we treat the 1ᴇ village values as households and approximate 5 people per household then we end up with populations in the range 125–475 with an average of 287; the number is skewed toward the upper end of the MDME range, but that is probably good for villages that are important enough to be listed on the gazetteer, and again, we aren’t in the middle of the middle ages. If we want to work from the 4ᴇ figures, then 4 people per household gives very similar results for the most part, although some villages are already adjusted to be much higher, so they end up with 600/700 people.
The listed town and city values overall seem to be more realistic, and multiplying the 1ᴇ values by similar amounts as we multiplied the villages would push all into the ‘city’ or ‘big city’ range. I am inclined to accept directly the adjusted 4ᴇ figures which increase a few of the larger towns into the ‘city’ level, which seems reasonable if you compare the supposed facilities of the towns with the “support values” (i.e. required minimum population level) given in MDME. For example, in the 4ᴇ A Guide to Ubersreik (2018) it is stated that there are 3 licensed Doktors, requiring — according to MDME — a population of at least 5000; the population given in the Guide is 6000.1Note that this is lower than the number given in Death on the Reik Companion, as the Jungfreud loyalists have all left town, and others have surely left simply due to the upheaval. The population figure of 10,500 for Bögenhafen also seems more realistic to support the wide range of guilds that are listed in Enemy in Shadows.
As far as the cities go, a million people seems excessive for Altdorf; the Wikipedia article “List of largest European cities in history” gives useful points of comparison. Based upon vibes I feel like we’re looking at the late 16th century, at which point the largest cities in the core of Europe top out at around 200k people; none of the cities of the Holy Roman Empire (if we wish to attempt to draw cultural parallels) break 200k until the late 18th century. The largest city in the real world during this period would be Constantinpole at around 700k people.
If we look at other large cities that have (so far) been released for WFRP fourth edition we see that Middenheim has around “40,000 souls” (3× the 1ᴇ figure, 2⅔× the 2ᴇ figure), so perhaps we could position a more ‘realistic’ Altdorf around 300k.
So overall, to calculate some approximation to ‘actual population’ for 4ᴇ I would: increase the size of the villages (5×1ᴇ or 4×4ᴇ), keep the towns the same, and reduce the size of Altdorf.
And now the numbers themselves. The sources listed are:
- 1ᴇ: Death on the Reik (1987)
- Year 2512 IC.
- 2ᴇ: Sigmar’s Heirs (2005)
- Year 2522 IC, after the Storm of Chaos.
- MA: Mad Alfred’s Maps & Gazetteers (2012–2020)
- Year 2515 IC, post-The Enemy Within campaign.
- Note that I have removed any entries that only appear in these gazetteers and not in previous ones.
- 4ᴇ: Death on the Reik Companion (2020)
- Year 2512 IC.
- Note that this list is strictly restricted to the Reikland area and so doesn’t include Grissenwald, even though it is part of the adventure.
- An egregious error is that the town of Stimmigen and the village of Lachenbad were both accidentally deleted from the list and the rest of its villages are included under the Kemperbad entry.