Size of a garrison

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Lemnoc
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Size of a garrison

Postby Lemnoc » Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:41 am

Any thoughts or clues from history as to the relative size of a city garrison? Any helpful rules of thumb? Should it be one percent of the city’s total population? Five percent?

Basically, these are the cops of last resort. When players are intent on tearing up and looting a town, they should expect to (eventually) be met by this force.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Dan True » Tue Aug 21, 2012 5:40 am

As far as I know, standing garrisons were actually quite small - any man who spends all day wearing mail as a useless mouth to feed when there's not trouble.

I don't have any historical numbers for cities at hand, but I do remember that the fortress at Bornholm (the Danish Island I am from) had a peace-time garrison of roughly 40 men-at-arms in 1200-1300. The fortress isn't a French castle, but it's not just a small keep either. Space wise it could probably have held a thousand men or more, if they encamped in tents inside.

So, for castles I think the garrison size would usually be rather small, swelling to great heights during wartime.

If by garrison, you mean "city guard", I don't really know what historical pretext there is for those, and in what cultures.

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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Olaus Petrus » Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:13 am

Dan True wrote:If by garrison, you mean "city guard", I don't really know what historical pretext there is for those, and in what cultures.
Ancient Rome had vigiles urbani who were combined firefighters and nightwatchmen. Their duties included catching thieves and runaway slaves. Then they had cohortes urbanae a urban military force which was established to fight against street gangs.

13th century England has legislation about appointment of watchmen (minimum size for the nightwatch was 4 men) and constables. Constables had right to call men to arms (earlier legislation dictated that certain classes were required to take arms and serve the king if the king's officials ordered them to do so).

I would say that in ancient Rome style of setting the city guard could be several cohorts, but in feudal setting the the watch is probably rather small and there is one or two constables in the city, but if things get out of hand they just call free men to help them. So depending on your setting it can be anything from few men of a medieval English city to thousands of elite soldiers of the ancient Rome.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Rikki Tikki Traveller » Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:52 pm

I have used 0.5% (1 per 200) as a base number for all the city guards and watch.

For regular military, I have used a figure of 1% for peacetime and 10% in wartime. If you take much more than that away from the producers, you start having serious shortages of food and materials.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby tarkhan bey » Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:40 pm

Those last figures look much like the percentages that I use. The only difference is that what Rikki Tikki considers to be numbers of regular troops, I consider to be militia. I never worry about percentages for regular army guys as loads of them are probably country boys or foreign mercenaries.
If it isn't a garrison town, there are probably only the armed retainers of any local nobles or dignitaries that would be described as professionals.
That's my take anyway. :)
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Dan True » Wed Aug 22, 2012 7:01 am

Olaus Petrus wrote:
Dan True wrote:If by garrison, you mean "city guard", I don't really know what historical pretext there is for those, and in what cultures.
Ancient Rome had vigiles urbani who were combined firefighters and nightwatchmen. Their duties included catching thieves and runaway slaves. Then they had cohortes urbanae a urban military force which was established to fight against street gangs.

13th century England has legislation about appointment of watchmen (minimum size for the nightwatch was 4 men) and constables. Constables had right to call men to arms (earlier legislation dictated that certain classes were required to take arms and serve the king if the king's officials ordered them to do so).

I would say that in ancient Rome style of setting the city guard could be several cohorts, but in feudal setting the the watch is probably rather small and there is one or two constables in the city, but if things get out of hand they just call free men to help them. So depending on your setting it can be anything from few men of a medieval English city to thousands of elite soldiers of the ancient Rome.
Ah, yeah I was speaking medieval. Rome did indeed have organised city watches. I did not know about the English legislation however. I am not sure we had similar laws here in Scandinavia, but regardless, a city with PCs should also have a city guard or personal guard of some lord keeping the peace.. elsewise things might get out of hand when the PCs it ;)
I think that in earlier settlemens, castles or smaller towns the city guard will simply be equal to the personal guard of the reigning lord. When towns grow into cities they get city priviledges and sometimes appoint a Mayor instead, and that Mayor will be responsible for setting up some sort of peace-keeping force.

The size of the army depends a lot on the type of army used, which again depends on the period. Rome used a professional army since the Marian Reforms. The English armies that fought in the hundred years war, consisted mostly of professional soldiers - even the longbowmen would probably be from peasant households, but have taken up the bow in the service of their king professionally.
The French armies of the same period consisted mostly of nobles, their squires and guards and (Italian) mercenaries.

However, both sides would probably call in peasant levies if the campaign required additional numbers, if hard pressed after losing a battle or to replenish losses. Other places in the world (Scandinavia for instance) relied much more on levies called in times of war, since a class of knights and professional soldiers only arose fairly late in the medieval period. The same countries were also among the first to later institute a national army.

So, if you wanøt to be historically correct it is very hard to set some sort of guidelines. Usually you can put bollocks to that, and simply go with the 1% rule or something :)

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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Olaus Petrus » Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:49 pm

Dan True wrote:Ah, yeah I was speaking medieval. Rome did indeed have organised city watches. I did not know about the English legislation however. I am not sure we had similar laws here in Scandinavia, but regardless, a city with PCs should also have a city guard or personal guard of some lord keeping the peace.. elsewise things might get out of hand when the PCs it ;)
I think that in earlier settlemens, castles or smaller towns the city guard will simply be equal to the personal guard of the reigning lord. When towns grow into cities they get city priviledges and sometimes appoint a Mayor instead, and that Mayor will be responsible for setting up some sort of peace-keeping force.

The size of the army depends a lot on the type of army used, which again depends on the period. Rome used a professional army since the Marian Reforms. The English armies that fought in the hundred years war, consisted mostly of professional soldiers - even the longbowmen would probably be from peasant households, but have taken up the bow in the service of their king professionally.
The French armies of the same period consisted mostly of nobles, their squires and guards and (Italian) mercenaries.

However, both sides would probably call in peasant levies if the campaign required additional numbers, if hard pressed after losing a battle or to replenish losses. Other places in the world (Scandinavia for instance) relied much more on levies called in times of war, since a class of knights and professional soldiers only arose fairly late in the medieval period. The same countries were also among the first to later institute a national army.

So, if you wanøt to be historically correct it is very hard to set some sort of guidelines. Usually you can put bollocks to that, and simply go with the 1% rule or something :)

- Dan
In early Scandinavian societies it was responsibility of the clan and liege to protect their people. To avoid long feuds it was possible to bring the matter to a Thing, which then passed it's judgement according to the laws. So, if PCs would cause trouble in such society they would probably face angry clansmen and possibly they could even face jarl and his hird if they cause enough trouble. In Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon societies it was duty of free men to serve in their king's army, although they also had elite soldiers in ruler's household.


And like you said in later middle ages mayors had to organize courts etc. so they were responsible for making sure that the city was safe. High and late medieval European cities had only small number of constables and watchmen. Watchmen were often just normal inhabitants of the city who did it because it was their turn to be on duty. In later period people started paying to other people so they wouldn't have to be on guard duty. Naturally the people who were willing to accept the money weren't always the best warriors, but often it was anyone who was desperate enough to work cheap.

City states had citizen militia, but it was often relatively small, which is the reason why Italian city states hired mercenary companies to fight their wars. But naturally if the city isn't independent there can be royal or ducal castles next to city which have their own garrisons.

Naturally in many fantasy settings cities are larger and have more troops than real medieval cities, it wouldn't be very exciting adventure if players are in bustling metropolis of 500 inhabitants and they face army of five elderly nightwatchmen with poor fighting skills.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Lemnoc » Wed Aug 22, 2012 9:18 pm

Dan True wrote:So, if you wanøt to be historically correct it is very hard to set some sort of guidelines. Usually you can put bollocks to that, and simply go with the 1% rule or something :)
Yes, I was just looking for some seat-of-the-pants rule for when players spontaneously start busting up the joint. Eventually the cops will show up... :)
Olaus Petrus wrote:Naturally in many fantasy settings cities are larger and have more troops than real medieval cities, it wouldn't be very exciting adventure if players are in bustling metropolis of 500 inhabitants and they face army of five elderly nightwatchmen with poor fighting skills.
Yes, we have to put up with much in our campaigns. :wink: How many people actually strolled around armed and armored in republican Rome?
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby rust » Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:52 pm

The main problem for armed and armoured characters in a
pseudo-historical medieval setting would be to get permis-
sion to enter any town or city at all, they would normally be
turned away - and not necessarily in a friendly manner - at
the gate. The main reason why medieval towns and cities
could do with a surprisingly low number of guards was that
under normal conditions very few other people inside the
walls were allowed to go armed and armoured.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Lemnoc » Wed Aug 22, 2012 11:41 pm

rust wrote:The main problem for armed and armoured characters in a
pseudo-historical medieval setting would be to get permis-
sion to enter any town or city at all, they would normally be
turned away - and not necessarily in a friendly manner - at
the gate....
Exactly.

But OTOH unless players are specifically exempt from attack w/in cities, they're not unwise for running around armed and armored. It's a precaution that makes sense for them. And so here we are :|
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Olaus Petrus » Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:31 am

Lemnoc wrote:Exactly.

But OTOH unless players are specifically exempt from attack w/in cities, they're not unwise for running around armed and armored. It's a precaution that makes sense for them. And so here we are :|
It's always possible to demand at the gate that PCs leave their metal armour and largest weapons to guards before they enter the city. Mongoose's Elric of Melniboné sourcebook Cities of the Young Kingdoms: The South has weapon legislation for different cities. In city where pirates sell their plunder there is no legislation, but more peaceful cities of that book have some limitations for weapons and armour which you can wear inside the city walls without getting into trouble.

While players sometimes oppose such things, I personally prefer that cities have some limitations. I don't want to ban weapons and armour entirely, but I maintain that the game world should have some level of realism. Other genres have similar limitations and in many sci-fi games you can get shot or arrested by police, military or corporations if you wave your weapons in the wrong place. In similar manner people in fantasy setting aren't going to act friendly and relaxed if you're wearing plate mail and have huge weapons. So in my own game you're not going to get into troubles with the local town guards and such if you wear leather/linen and have rapier and dagger, but if you wear plate mail and great sword they won't even let you inside the walls unless you leave those to gatekeeper. First set of equipment is something you could use for self-defense, while second is full war gear.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby soltakss » Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:51 am

If you look at TV shows set in medieval periods, you see that generally the only people in armour/weapons are the guards, the Sheriff's men and nobles. Pretty much everyone else has a quarterstaff, a dagger and a leather shirt/trews/pants. Whether that is historically accurate or not is beside the point, it is realistic and reasonable.

Having said that, there were student riots in the period where people were killed by student gangs and townsfolk rampaging through the streets. They definitely had weapons, so suppose it is up to the GM how they interpret that.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby rust » Thu Aug 23, 2012 10:14 am

In my current setting it also depends on the social class of the
character. For a freeman a hunting outfit of leather with a bow
or crossbow and a dagger is considered acceptable, a noble is
allowed to keep his sword. However, under normal circumstan-
ces any kind of metal armour or shield would be considered as
a sign of unfriendly intentions.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby rust » Thu Aug 23, 2012 10:21 am

soltakss wrote: Having said that, there were student riots in the period where people were killed by student gangs and townsfolk rampaging through the streets. They definitely had weapons, so suppose it is up to the GM how they interpret that.
The weapons were there, the members of the levy or militia
usually kept their arms and armour at home. However, to go
around armed and armoured without good reason was defini-
tely asking for trouble - there were times and places where
every burgher was obliged to have war gear and to attend a
training with it quite often in order to prepare for a war, but
where wearing it on any other occasion was considered a ca-
pital crime.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby strega » Thu Aug 23, 2012 2:31 pm

One doesn't need a 2 handed sword to cause mayhem in a city. I didn't see a single one last August during the London riots.

A lot of damage can be done with a knife with only a 10-15cm blade, a rock or a piece of wood.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Lemnoc » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:44 pm

The funny thing about RPGs versus reality is PCs are exactly the kinds of people who would alarm and terrify townsfolk in the real world. They self-professed mercenaries, looters, reavers, thieves, vandals and are generally always looking for a fight. Gangsters. They are actually the last people you’d admit armed through a city gate... or would hire for any decent or heroic purpose whatsoever. :)
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Olaus Petrus » Thu Aug 23, 2012 4:21 pm

Lemnoc wrote:The funny thing about RPGs versus reality is PCs are exactly the kinds of people who would alarm and terrify townsfolk in the real world. They self-professed mercenaries, looters, reavers, thieves, vandals and are generally always looking for a fight. Gangsters. They are actually the last people you’d admit armed through a city gate... or would hire for any decent or heroic purpose whatsoever. :)
While that is often true, some people actually like to play as noble Tolkien elves or righteous paladins. And when other players want to play as necromancers, assassins and thieves then you have to remind your group that it's a good idea to create characters which won't kill each other in first session or two. :)

Personally I allow some leeway to PCs, unless I'm hosting a strictly historical setting, because no one in their right mind would allow such people like Elric of Melniboné, Conan the Cimmerian or Fafhrd and Gray Mouser into the city either. In my dark fantasy games it's all right to have sword fights against rich merchant's guards or thieves who haunt the dark alleys (although thieves most likely have just daggers and clubs etc. rather than actual swords). And it's certainly all right to have some weapons with you when you break into temple where priests, with their long daggers, sacrifice people to city's demonic gods.
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby rust » Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:54 pm

Lemnoc wrote: They self-professed mercenaries, looters, reavers, thieves, vandals and are generally always looking for a fight.
It depends a lot on the setting and campaign and the style of the
group. In my campaigns such characters would have only rather
short careers and would soon end as a gallows' decoration. :evil:
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby dreamer_prophet » Fri Aug 24, 2012 6:11 am

"Yes sir, of course you may stroll around our city in your panoply of very shiny and no doubt very valuable armour. I see you are a man of quality and not no troublemaker. Take care though, some of these streets can be a bit rough, and what with only 0.5% of the city making up the guard... well we can't be everywhere can we? I mean, only last week there was this gent, much like y'self sir, he was strolling along when what should happen? A score of ruffians surrounded 'im, smashed 'is legs in with big hammers and took 'is expensive shiny armour before feeding 'im to the pigs. Well, we was a bit red in the face, but as I say we can't be everywhere can we? Listen, maybe me and may mates could take care it it for you? For a small consideration, of course..."
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Re: Size of a garrison

Postby Tias » Sun Sep 30, 2012 9:09 pm

Well, you sort of answer it yourself, when you state that you need opposition to players tearing up a town: There will be as many "cops" as you as GM consider fitting, within the bounds of reason for the size of a settlement.

Larger towns (5000+) with stored weapons are able to raise their adult, male population (usually one in five in a medieval level of health care setting) to man the city defense if all professional assets are unavailable, but any burg worth bothering about will outfit a city watch, gatekeepers and night watchmen enough for what your story may require.

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