Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Champions Pre-Campaign Notes: Scale Matters!

Something has been nagging me about the campaign map for my Champions campaign – the scale.

I’m from Texas and cities in Texas (except those on the borders of the state) generally have little in the way of geographic limits, particularly Houston, where I’ve spent the majority of my life.  I’m used to relatively low density urban sprawl as the norm.  Comparing Houston’s population density to the two largest cities in Maryland (where the campaign will take place) plus Boston and Philadelphia, you get:

Population Area Density
(ca 2010) (sq mi) (/sq. mi.)
Baltimore 620,961 80.9 7675.7
D.C. 658,893 61.4 10,731.2
Philly 1,560,297 134.1 11,635.3
Boston 655,884 48.42 13,545.7
Houston 2,239,559 599.59 3735.2
(Population and Area numbers from Wikipedia)

Going by those numbers, the city I am creating in southern Maryland should have a population density somewhere between 7500 and 11,000/sq mi. BUT no more than 620,000 people total as it should not be larger than Baltimore or Washington D.C.

With that in mind, I worked out a rough estimate of the area my map covered and did the math.  I had approximately 123.55 sq mi mapped.  With 610,000 people, that gave a density of…4937.3/sq mi – about half the density I was looking for.


Time to start jettisoning districts from the city.

Playing around with my estimate, I worked out that by jettisoning 7 districts I had an area of approximately 58 sq mi, which provided a density of 10,519/sq mi with a population of 610,000 people.  Dropping the population down to 500,000 people gave me 8622.4/sq mi as the population density.  This gives me a good population range to work with while maintaining a proper East Coast metropolitan population density.

The downside is I now need to make some major adjustments to my city map.  Some districts are going to disappear entirely, some are going to revert to the small towns I named them after.  I need to move two of the mob families and several other villain organizations and cults so they are back within the city limits. I’ll probably also downgrade the remaining districts back to neighborhoods and subdivide them into smaller chunks.

So remember: when designing cities –Scale Matters!


  1. Never would have realized writing was this difficult to keep realistic! Eye opening!

  2. Modern day material always has a high bar for realism because people know what to expect and if you just start winging it, it breaks the suspension of disbelief quickly. While this is for a superhero game, I want the background to be the normal world starting to adjust to superheros, so I need it to be believable without warping things too much.

    For example, where the major rail line (and the parallel freeway) runs changes slightly because there is a city now where there isn't in the real world. However, the background also requires the city not outshine Baltimore and Washington, DC, so I have to use a real number of citizens, which dictates how big the city is. The city I originally drew out was twice as large in area than a East Coast city of similar population would be, so it had to be cut nearly in half to fix that.

    Now for a fantasy game or story, the writer can dictate whatever he or she wants as there is no real world analogue for players/readers to match it to. And as long as you are consistent with the presentation of the city or have a fixed reason for things to be that way, people will accept quite a lot.