So, my setting is a small border town on the edge of the [x] empire- beyond the town is the Eastern Reaches and is mostly unexplored. The border has been explored up to around 60 miles by the feudal lord mentioned below- just plains and forests, no iron of any note beyond the small vein close to town or anything of much value.

When thinking of the town, think 8 farms of 60-70 acres surrounding a small area with a tavern, cobbler, grain mill, and smithy.

Pre-gunpowder medieval tech setting.

The planet is earthlike, mid-magic setting. Think mild European climate- very rarely goes above 85*f or into single-digit territory.

Town population totals to around 120 people, counting everyone in between the age of 10 and 50 as a working member

There is a distant feudal lord that owns the town and the area around it, who gives the townies relative freedom as long as they pay taxes.

Population dist. is as follows-

10%-ish in a central town

 7% skilled labor, 3% unskilled/support labor

3% townies as a bandit watch

   As pointed out below, most likely a single family or smaller.

80%-odd farmers- need to look up statistics for avg. laborers per farm

7% as a misc. labor workforce

Traders come through every few weeks, so that might make up for any missing resource production.

Question- is there anything I'm missing that is essential or recommended for a small frontier town? If not, is my distribution of peoples realistic?

Sorry for any points I didn't address, still inexperienced at making questions.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's a small bordering town next to what? A border can be relatively peaceful, it could also be excessively raided. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ What's the tech level? You mention a feudal lord, so I assume something vaguely medieval, but I just want to make sure. $\endgroup$
    – SirTain
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's unexplored...how safe does it seem? Because typically you don't put a peaceful undefended settlement where you might have trouble. You secure the border with garrisons. But with this setup, I'd expect it to be unexplored but nobody really expects any problems. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SirTain not specialized as much as time consuming, making charcoal requires you to watch the kilns non-stop for several days, charcoal makers often would not sleep for days at a time. But the amount of charcoal needed my a single village can easily be made as needed by unskilled labor. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Suspecting most of your 'specialists' are all going to be farmer/(fill in skill here) rather than dedicated specialists. Other than harvest time, most labor was fairly leisurely, excluding the constant labor, literal and figurative, of women, although actual gender distribution of labor goes down the less specialized people get. Specialization may have more to do with what extra tools you own. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Mar 15, 2021 at 17:45

4 Answers 4


Honestly, from a medieval fantasy setting for a frontier town, I think you may have diversified your population a little too much.

Traditionally, 80-90% of peasants were farmers, and I'd imagine that number climbs above 90% the further outside of a kingdom you get. Here are my thoughts:

  • There's probably no miners. A village on the outskirts of an empire probably doesn't mine anything because mining is specialty work that requires a lot of hidden infrastructure. You might have a dedicated potter, but if you do he probably collects his own clay in a village that size.
  • There's probably only one guy and his sons on bandit watch, they probably double as local law enforcement and run a store or a farmstead near the village, since a village of 120 people doesn't have a problem with local bandits, and other bandits are called "raiders" and get everyone in the town organized into a posse in order to fight them.
  • There's a not insignificant chance that everyone's homes are in a central village and that the farm lands extend into the land around them. A town that size likely works under 1800 acres of land (pulling some numbers from this post), which would cover a square less than 2 miles on a side. If your town is in the immediate center, then anyone could expect to reach any plot of land. Even if they aren't communal farmers, they could divide the land into long, thin strips which is also not unheard of in that time period. Edit: see this wikipedia entry on Ribbon Farms
  • Normally, I'd expect a village to get anything it doesn't produce from travelling merchants, but if they are on the border of the wilderness, you can just expect them to be even more poor than normal as it will be difficult to find people to trade with for even simple necessities like iron.
  • Edit: PcMan mentioned coal, which made me think firewood. I would expect a forest of around 20 acres to produce 4 cords of firewood from just the dead/fallen trees. That's probably more than enough to support a peasant through the winter. You could probably support the whole village on under 5 square miles of forest then. You might have a dedicated woodcutter then depending on how far from the farmland the woods are (the father the woods, the more likely there's a dedicated woodcutter).
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I believe "mining" in this context is the non-specialist, daily use sort of stuff. Coal mining for household usage, Peat cutters, clay collecters for pottery, that sort of thing. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 15, 2021 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan Ah, fair point, I always forget about clay collectors. $\endgroup$
    – SirTain
    Mar 15, 2021 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ A town that small with a store is unrealistic, as is full time law enforcement, with a town that small you don't actually need law enforcement, everyone knows everyone else intimately. People spent most of their time outside that was your town watch. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @John I use the word "store" loosely to mean that he isn't a farmer, perhaps being a smith, miller, potter, cleric, etc. I'd wager that such an individual is more likely to live in the village proper, and is thus less likely to be a farmer unless the village is a ribbon farm. He's obviously not full time law enforcement if he runs said establishment and/or a farm. $\endgroup$
    – SirTain
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ The village is too small to have a miller, potter, cleric, or smith. Most likely, people go to a nearby town for pottery, metalworks, and church services (if there is organised religion). If there is a forest nearby, a hunter (or trapper) would be more realistic (albeit still a bit odd). $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 15, 2021 at 18:43

Also consider.

  • Mayor: As an alternative to having clergy-rule, elder-counsel rule or rule by Plutarchs - To generally organize distribution of any funds used for the public good (bandit protection, town boundary maintenance, streets if applicable), preside over secular ceremonies, negotiate territory boundaries with neighboring towns (if any).

  • Tax collector/Book-keeper: Works closely with the ruling class, also acts as intelligence gatherer. Possibly in charge of ensuring food reserves meet the need between crops.

  • Judge/Sheriff/Guard-Captain: To mediate disputes and arrange the keeping of the peace and guard effectiveness. As an alternative again to clergy mediated punishment, they can perhaps have a mandate to punish, execute if necessary, perhaps reporting to whoever's in charge.

  • Smith: Versatile, should be able to work with iron and wood, turning bowls and plates. Ploughs, tools and horseshoes need making/replacing/mending, not to mention the vital task of making beer barrels for the tavern and pots for cooking in each household. If there's enough work (there would be) then an apprentice (maybe two).

  • Potter: All households need flagons, bottles. The tavern needs the same. Bowls and plates for the privileged members of the community and sale at market.

  • The Tavern-keep/Brewer: Self explanatory, family business. May need a certain expertise at calming heated disputes. A good listener, helps cohere society.

  • Dogs: To keep the rat population down around any winter food-stores, and to alert dozing guards to a potential threat, and to scare-off the threats.

  • $\begingroup$ A medieval village of ~120 people is going to be roughly 15 families, and more or less all of them are going to be farmers. You might get a specialist of some sort (priest or smith being the most likely), but it's not going to be a judge, mayor, or guard -- those are things for a community too big for everyone to know everyone else. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Aug 4, 2021 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ You're quite probably correct @Mark for the most part, but I'd thought to chuck those things in in case the town was prosperous enough to support them - depends on the writer's choice quite a bit. $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2021 at 23:48

1 thing I dont see mentioned yet: How is fresh water accessed and laid out?

Rivers? Wells? Lakes? Ponds? What is the quality of this water? This effects agricultural output and quality.

Where does it originate? Who controls it at the town and upstream?

Precipitation? Seasonally?

Water is a main concern of agriculture, and often lords built defensive structures like guard towers to secure the main well or river.

Water body layouts can also affect town layouts as well as major defensive strategy--even against the bandits you mentioned, but also in times of war and border disputes, common in medieval times.



  • Brewer / barkeep. Water is typically contaminated with all sorts of nasty things in this time period, it's safer to brew it into beer and drink a low alcohol swill than water.
    • They may also double as an Innkeeper, or you may need a separate one - (depending on distance to next largest town and traffic through the town). It sounds like a lot of the income to the town comes from travellers on their way to the unknown and traders passing through. With small towns usually being set up a days travel apart from each other, an inn may be not only required, but the best source of income.
  • Healer / apoticarian / friendly neighbourhood witch / midwife / etc. Someone who knows a little bit about the intricacies of human bodies and the herbs in the area.
    • People will be injured and need healing from mining, exploring, and general life.
    • Your town has 120 people aged 10 - 50, lets says 20 are children, (or chaste, or infertile) and exclude them, leaving 100 fertile people, 50 romantic pairs post puberty having unprotected sex - there'll be multiple babies born most months.
  • Priest. While not essential, they'll come to you whether you want them or not, as the frontier towns are gateways to the unbaptised who need saving, and your towns leader wont have the courage to evict the church.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think these are all covered by the "10%-ish in a central town" metagroup. Which could really use some subdividing. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Mar 15, 2021 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ the safer to brew into alcohol thing is a myth medieval people knew you could boil water to make it drinkable. people drank low beer for the same reason we drink soda and fruit juice because they wanted to. Also you are seriously overestimated the fertility of humans. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fifty adult women, probably 45 of those of childbearing age (peasants didn't tend to live past their early 40s), no birth control other than nursing -- you can expect most of the women to have one baby about every other year (nursing ran to a couple years in this setting). That's 22+ per year, or roughly two a month. Best have a midwife... $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 120 is the total population per OP. This translates into max 10 families in a medieval setting. They will produce moonshine on their own, older women will be midwives/nannies/healers. There can be an odd priest who decided to stay around for some weird reason (maybe hiding from their superiors) but an official church is highly unlikely unless it is a very religious society. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 15, 2021 at 18:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In a medieval setting, the population pyramid is very skewed towards younger ages. A village of 120 people is probably going to be around 30 adults/90 children, with a birth rate of 7.5 children per year (and a death rate of around 6 per year, mostly very young children). $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Mar 15, 2021 at 23:25

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