Adept Populations

I’m going to take a little bit of a tangent here from the previews and teasing and talk about some behind-the-scenes design stuff. This is the sort of thing I tinker with in the background that informs material I’m writing, but doesn’t directly show up in the books.

Part of the opening of the Disciplines chapter for the forthcoming Earthdawn Companion is a discussion on the role of Warden and Master adepts in Barsaive. Their role would, at least in part, be influenced by how many there are.

So…. how many are there?

Obviously, the answer can vary from campaign to campaign, but there are some things to keep in mind when answering that question. I’m going to present my thinking, along with the assumptions I’m working with.

The number of high Circle adepts in Barsaive is based on the number of adepts in Barsaive, which is in turn based on the number of Namegivers in Barsaive. So let’s tackle that last question first. While exact figures haven’t (and very likely won’t) be provided, there are some estimates we can use.

The Kingdom of Throal makes up about one-third of Barsaive’s population (Player’s Guide, p. 486). According to the Throal sourcebook (first or third edition), the population of the Kingdom was about 190,000 and growing. These two figures give us an approximate population of 570,000 for Barsaive, so a fair range would be between half a million and 1 million Namegivers (though that upper bound is pretty high). For our purposes (because I like more round numbers), let’s say 600,000.

With that figure, we can estimate the total population of adepts. The in-character author of the essay, “To Live Life as an Adept” (found in The Adept’s Way from first edition, as well as the third edition Player’s Guide), estimates that “one in twenty” has the ability to follow the adept’s path. While not all those with potential will succeed or follow the path, that figure gives us another good estimate–five percent. Five percent of 600,000 is 30,000.

Thirty thousand adepts. While that population will not be evenly distributed (there will be more of some types than others), assuming so makes life easier. We’ll also just use the “core” fifteen rather than try to figure out which ones there are and how well they are represented. Again, we’re not looking for precision, just an estimate. Thirty thousand adepts divided across fifteen Disciplines gives each Discipline 2,000 members.

The numbers are starting to shrink, aren’t they? Here’s where things get a bit more interesting. We can’t assume even distribution across all fifteen Circles–out of those who follow a Discipline, few will have the devotion and ability to reach the loftier heights. These kinds of distribution are found throughout nature, and there’s a whole mess of fascinating statistics and analysis to be discovered for the curious.

At this point… I broke out the spreadsheets. We know what the estimated population is. We just need to decide what the–for lack of a better term–rate of decline is. For example, does each Circle have half the population of the previous one? Two-thirds?

I won’t get too heavily into the math here, but basically, if each Circle has half the population of the previous one, a First Circle population of 1,000 will mean about 2,000 total across the entire 15 Circle progression:

1,000 + 500 + 250 + 125 + 63 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 2,005

That, by the way, is rounding up, since you can’t have a “fractional” person. Those last four Circles–from 12 to 15–only come out to be one additional person (roughly) if you add up the 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16.

This means that–even always rounding up–there are only three adepts of a given Discipline that have achieved Master tier. And only another 8 that are Wardens. That’s… not a lot. (And a wonderful demonstration, by the way, of the power–pun totally intended–of exponents.)

What if we change the ratio to two-thirds? Again, not needing to get too heavily into the math, that drops our “starting” population (First Circle) to 666. (If we keep the 1,000 starting population we end up with 3000 total adepts, give or take.) Higher Circles do get a population boost–65 Wardens and 13 Masters.

Still not a lot, all things considered, still less than a hundred adepts in total… and that’s assuming an even decline in population. It’s just as likely the ratio will change as the Circle increases–perhaps starting at two-thirds or three-quarters, and declining to one-half (or whatever) as the Circle goes up. (You could even get really fancy and start playing with natural logs or other funky math, because those sorts of things show up in nature all the time.)

The point, ultimately, is that there really aren’t that many Warden and Master adepts out there. If they don’t know each other personally, they very likely know of each other. That will inform a lot of how they interact, and opens the possibility of interesting stories. Especially for characters that reach that level of power, since they will be in rare company.

Anyway, this is the sort of hole I sometimes drop down when working on stuff.

If you want to take a look, I put up a version of the sheet I built on Google Docs. You can play around with it if you like, changing the starting population or factors to see what that does with the numbers. If you are so inclined, feel free to use it as the basis for a tool of your own! And if you want to talk about this a little more, head over to the forums.

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