How many normal people per mage should a world have for people to globally know about the existence of mages and what they can do but they do not actually expect to encounter one on a day to day basis in a medieval-esque swords and sorcery setting? Assume there's one in the employ by every king but apart from that your encounter chances should be...?

1 per 100? 1000? 10000?

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    $\begingroup$ Are your wizards at all academic? Consider Earthsea or Harry Potter --- wizards need schooling in order to learn and control their ability. If so, you already know the answer! You'd be as likely to meet a wizard as you would a monk or priest or scribe or any other similarly literate & learned person. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 26 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ That's kind of hard to say. In a medieval setting, most people didn't move around much. They knew everybody in their locality but nobody outside of it. Mages are specialists and so would gravitate to large cities where their services are needed and there are people wealthy enough to afford it. So you might wind up with a situation where villagers and farmers (the bulk of the population) have never seen a mage but practically everyone has encountered a mage in the major cities. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ 1 in a million or something, maybe one in 100k $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 26 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Whilst I'm always happy to have my answers accepted, do consider that this is an international site, and note everyone will be viewing it at the same time and that someone might come up with a much better answer than mine. Generally best to wait 24 hours before accepting anything (though upvote at any time!) $\endgroup$ Sep 26 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ something to think about. why are your mages and kings not the same people? it may give you your answer to this question as well. $\endgroup$ Sep 26 at 23:02

It depends somewhat on the nature of wizardry in your setting, but lets assume it is something vaguely monastic.

In England and Wales in about 1200, there were something like 2 million people. The number of monks is a lot harder to come by (there's what looks like a good reference from 1941 but it is still paywalled by jstor, thanks folks) but there were approximately 200 monasteries (of varying types and sizes). Lets say they had an average of 50 monks per monastery, that'll give you 10000 monastic types or about 1 per 200 people.

As an alternative you might want your magical folk to be parts of the communities they were born into, perhaps with a more traditional apprecticeship to the local spellcasting-type, rather than being shipped off to wizard school. In the same time period I cobbled together my above guesstimates from, you might find about 14000 towns and villages. With an average of one wizard per population centre, you obviously get more like 14000 of them or 1 per 142 people in the population.

There's some scope for increasing that, if you wanted, but it depends on the efficiency of agriculture and the willingness of non-wizarding folk to put up with the wizards. To quote Pratchett, "It takes forty men with their feet on the ground to support one man with his head in the clouds". How useful are your wizards, that people are willing to feed, clothe and house them? Or alternatively, how terrifying and dangerous are your wizards, such that people will appease them? Only you can say!

  • $\begingroup$ If you have the link to the hopefully-helpful article, or its title, someone may have journal access and be able to quote a key number. Anyway for these purposes and this accuracy 1/142=1/200 $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ ... I've got this from 1944 jstor.org/stable/27830048?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately it jumps from the Domesday Book 1086 to around 1377, with around 890 religious (of which 740 male) in 1086 to 18400 (13600 male) in arund 1377 (confusingly described as "pre-plague") for England alone. Other figures in that paper suggest a very variable number of monks per house but your estimate of 50 seems close if a touch high. All good ballpark numbers $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 12:26

The problem is with mobility. In medieval-esque setting, about 80% or more people was working in agriculture, lived in villages or small towns, and generally had no business in traveling further than nearest merchant buying grains i bulk. For more details see Agriculture in the Middle Ages on Wikipedia.

As long as your mages have nothing to do with farming, processing farmed grains, or trading agriculture products, or collecting taxes from villages, literally each and every other person in your world (that is somewhere between 15 and 20%) could be a mage or witch and 80% of the people would never encounter one.

I guess that your story will not be about farming communities, but about the rest 20% of society. Then, it is getting trickier. Craftsmen and merchants generally met everyone in their vicinity - most towns couldn't afford to have many shoemakers, innkeepers etc and it was merchants' job to know and be known.

To limit chances of mage encounters, you need to not have one in towns smaller than, say 1000~5000 people. Magic user would be a celebrity in such a "small" city, so we can expect people would actively seek to encounter him and everyone would know where he lives.

Remembering that in early middle ages London had only 10`000 residents, we can assume that to meet your criteria interpreted with exclusion of farmers you would need to limit mages to capital cities, and maybe "cathedral" cities of your countries. How many would be there in such city is almost irrelevant, because again they probably would be local celebrities and people would actively try to encounter them.

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    $\begingroup$ Also it's not even about people encountering them. It's about people knowing magic exists (if I read the question right). So just have wizards turn up at wars, making obvious magic like blizzards in summer and fireballs, and maybe some more magical artifacts that a couple of richer towns have. You'd need almost no wizards at all $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 28 at 8:40

I have made my wizards 1 in 10000. This gets me about 1 in every major city and a bunch in the wizard school. But to have magic be part of the lives of everyday people. I have made 1 in 100 people be capable of becoming a "street artist". Lots of flashy tricks without much purpose to it. (I have made my magic incredibly easy to copy and near impossible to research. Innate ability is the limiting thing.)

A person is capable of knowing about 150 people. Those are your friends(family) and the people you see often. So any number more than 1 in 150 will be an uncommon occurrence. On the other end of the scale. You have the once in a generation/age. In that case that one mage needs to be incredibly powerful and leave behind a legacy. think Alexander the great king of Macedon.

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    $\begingroup$ A person may be capable of knowing ~250 people, but living in small villages they may not meet that number in their lifetime - 250 is 3--5 villages worth of people, and knowing everyone in the 2 nearest neighbouring villages seems unlikely $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ I like the reference to Dunbar's number. Have an upvote. $\endgroup$
    – jo1storm
    Sep 27 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ I live in a small village and we know most of the people in our neighbour villages. for good or for ill. $\endgroup$ Sep 27 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @jo1storm Dunbar's number is 150, and is about relationships you can keep track of, not necessarily contacts you can remember. $\endgroup$
    – Zags
    Sep 27 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Zags depends on your definition of knowing, I guess. At some point, people become NPCs, a robot denoted by its function, medieval equivalent of Walmart cashier. Difference between "This is Jake. He is the best smith in village A, his wife is called Jasmin, he has two children, Mirtle and Jake Junior. He is allergic to bullshit and his favorite food is ham and eggs. His greatest fear is Normans." and "This is Jason. He is from village B. I think he is a carter or something. Bought a pig from him on a fair five years ago." Knowing the name doesn't make it a social or parasocial relationship. $\endgroup$
    – jo1storm
    Sep 28 at 7:13

My take on it would be to approach it by comparison to life in a day-to-day base as it can be extremely difficult to visualise that kind of stuff.

If your magic system is more study-based

You could look at medicine as it is something that most people would be confronted as some point and you can look at different specialities if you want magic wielders to be much rarer or mutch common.

In France for example, the numbers can be found in the government website, maybe you have the same. For rarer magic wielders you can take a look at cardiologists and cardiovascular-specialists witch, in france, represents more or less 10 per 100,000 hab. For a more significant presence maybe look into numbers of general doctors per habitant: 153 per 100,000 hab. in 2018 (again in france).

I looked into medicine in my country for a much easier access to statistical informations but maybe you can look at other professions or other country that are closer to the principals aspects of your magic system and your world.

If your magic system is more a genetic-based thing or a rare gift

You could looks at statistics about eyes color in the world. For example, Heterochromia represent less than 1% of people. Grey eyes are close to 3%. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/eye-color-percentage)


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