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(Meta) How Many Slayers?

19th October 2010 (15:59)
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I've been doing some number-crunching about how many Slayers there are in the Buffyverse. The headline figures are as shown below, the assumptions and hypotheses I made to arrive at the conclusions are under the cut. None of these numbers are set in stone - I had to make some fairly random guesses on some of the data - but they feel in the right ballpark to me. Feel free to challenge any of my assumptions!

  • Every year, approximately 500 new Potential Slayers are born.
  • One baby in 260,000 is a Potential (or one girl baby in 130,000). Put another way, if you're pregnant, you have a 0.000385 % chance of giving birth to a Potential Slayer.
  • One Potential is born each year for every 13.4 million people. Four or five per year are born in Britain; about 23 in the US.
  • After 'Chosen' there is one Slayer for every 2.7 million people, because several generations were Called at once due to Willow's spell. An extra Slayer per 13.4 million people will be added each year thereafter as a Potential reaches the appropriate age, unless pogroms or Twilight intervene. Or to put it more clearly:
    • In Britain, with a population of 60 million, there are 22 Slayers plus another five per year.
    • In the US with a population of 307 million, there are 114 Slayers plus an extra 23 per year.
  • At the start of Season 7, there were 10,000 Potentials under the age of 20. Of these, 3,000 were old enough to become Slayers while the other 7,000 were still too young.
  • The Watchers' Council knew of 1,600 of these Potentials, including 500 of the right age to be Called as Slayers. 95% of these 500 Council-trained teenage Potentials were murdered by The First's minions, leaving around 25 to escape to Sunnydale.
  • That left around 2,500 Potentials who were made into Slayers in 'Chosen', of whom 80% have been tracked down by Buffy and Willow and their team. Almost all of these Potentials were never identified by the Council - which, I assume, is why the First never found them either.
  • In its heyday the Council had nearly 1,300 Watchers out in the field around the world, not counting headquarters staff and special projects teams.

In 'The Long Way Home', we get one piece of solid data: there are now 1800 Slayers "that we've counted". Later issues of the comic up this figure to "just under 2,000"; this may be simple rounding or because new Slayers continue to be discovered over the course of the early season.

While not completely confirmed by canon, it's strongly implied that only girls in their mid-to-late teens are eligible to become Slayers, with a few outlying exceptions here and there. Buffy was 15, Faith was 17, Kennedy thinks that at 19 she's getting too old. In 'Harmonic Divergence' we see a girl getting Called on her 16th birthday. I'm going to take it as a hypothesis, then, that in general Potentials can become Slayers between the ages of 14/15 and 19/20, a six-year time window.

We now have to make an assumption: how many unknown Slayers are still out there, not yet contacted by Buffy and her team? We have no data so can only guess. However, I assume that they would have been using mystical means to track down the Slayers so should have a reasonably good idea how many there are. Therefore, Buffy's figures might be out by a few hundred, but not by an order of magnitude. As such, my hypothesis is that the "nearly 2,000" figure accounts for about 75-80% of all the Slayers out there.

The second assumption we have to make is how many Potentials were murdered by The First's minions during Season 7. The only data we have here is that Giles was able to rescue about 25 - 30 girls and bring them to Sunnydale, and he refers to this number as "just a handful" compared to how many there used to be. At this point, we have to pull figures out of the air: but if we assume that "a handful" means about 5%, then before The First began Its massacre there would have been around 600 Potentials of the right age known to the Council. (5% of 600 is 30, the high-end figure for the number of rescued Potentials.) If "a handful" means 10%, then there were 300 teenage Potentials being supervised by the Council. Call it 500 in round numbers.

Giles didn't rescue any child Potentials, only teenagers. Either he didn't think they were in danger or he was unable to save any of them because they were too vulnerable. Another assumption I'm making, then, is that he rescued only "a handful" of the teenage Potentials, rather than saving most of them but leaving all the kiddies to die...

Therefore, putting those figures together, we can say in round numbers that there would have been about 3,000 Potentials of the right age to become Slayers at the beginning of Season 7. If we assume The First killed around 500 of them, that leaves around 2,500 Slayers to be Called by the spell in Chosen, almost all of whom were presumably unknown and undetected by the Council beforehand. Buffy and her friends have accounted for nearly 2,000 of these, leaving about 500 still operating off the radar or going about their lives.

As I said, there's a fair bit of guesswork involved in those numbers, but they feel in the right ballpark to me.

We can therefore start making some calculations.

If there were 3,000 Potentials between the ages of 14 and 19, assuming they're evenly spread in ages that makes 500 who were 14, 500 who were 15, and so on - in other words, this is where I get the figure of 500 new Potentials being born each year.

If the Council had records of about 500 of those 3,000 Potentials, that makes only one in six. However, one hypothesis would be that the chance of each Potential becoming the Slayer is not purely random, rather that some girls have better odds than others - and if the divination magic or whatever the Watchers use to track down Potentials detects that, it could mean that they were able to train and control a much higher percentage of Slayers than the one-in-six figure would otherwise indicate.

As a datapoint, of the three Slayers we see before the final season, only Kendra had a Watcher since childhood. Buffy was discovered by Merrick after she became a Slayer, and Faith really doesn't give the impression of someone who was brought up under the tutelage of a Watcher either. Based on that, my speculation is that around a third of Slayers are Watcher-trained (double the number the raw figures would suggest), while the rest are only tracked down soon after they become Slayers. (A few might never get discovered at all: I suspect that was much more likely in the days before mass communication and international travel, though.)

If 500 Potentials are born per year, that makes 10,000 of them below the age of 20. Applying the one-sixth proportion means that the Council was aware of 1600 of them; if we further assume that they normally assigned Watchers when the children reached the age of five, that gives us the figure of approximately 1300 Field Watchers throughout the world.

At some point I might write more about how I think the Council was organised, but that's for another day.

Questions? Comments? The part that's less fun, when there's no screaming?


Posted by: Denita (menomegirl)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 15:47 (UTC)

Eeeek! Math!

Without thinking about math (because that's something I would never do) 10,000 Potentials seems like a very large number to me.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 16:28 (UTC)

It *is* a very large number. But it makes sense. (Remember, the number includes baby Potentials and toddler Potentials and cute eight-year-old Potentials as well as the ones we saw in Season 7.)

And if there were a minimum of a couple of thousand Potentials old enough to become Slayers in 'Chosen', how many more would there have been under the age of 14?

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 17:57 (UTC)

I need a Barbie icon that says MATH IS HARD

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 20:30 (UTC)

That's why I hid the maths part of the post behind a cut. :-)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 19:26 (UTC)

I tend to go with a simple "one in a million": so Britain would have 60 Slayers.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 20:32 (UTC)

But how many new Slayers are Called each year? :-)

Posted by: Nicki (peroxidepirate)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 19:38 (UTC)

Fascinating stuff! I see no reason to disagree. :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 20:33 (UTC)


Posted by: brutti_ma_buoni (brutti_ma_buoni)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 20:16 (UTC)

Another assumption I'm making, then, is that he rescued only "a handful" of the teenage Potentials, rather than saving most of them but leaving all the kiddies to die...

a) Meep. You know, I never thought of that.
b) Yes. Reasonable. We didn't see anyone under your '14-19' bracket dying.

Of course your numbers are open to all sorts of interpretation depending on whether you go with high or low estimates for your based numbers, but they broadly feel workable. As you say, could be out by 50% but probably not by x50. It makes me feel better about my post-Chosen Council, which clearly needs a cast of thousands to keep going but didn't have this as backup.

I like reading about practicalities...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 20:43 (UTC)

Yeah, it was only when I was writing this that I thought "What happened to all the Watchers with five- and eight-year old Potentials?"

On the one hand, The First wouldn't care about them, beyond the generic "I'm Evilll!" kind of level. It just has to make sure there are no Potentials alive who are currently old enough to become the Slayer when Buffy and Faith die.

On the other hand, if there were 500 Potentials, with Watchers, aged 15-20, logically there were 1,000 of them aged 5 - 15. But it's strongly implied that all the Watchers were killed apart from Giles and maybe a few remnants... so I don't think it looks good for the kiddies.

(Of course, the meta reason is probably that the studio didn't want the hassle of hiring a bunch of child actors, or didn't think the audience would appreciate them...)

And yes, a Council with probably a couple of thousand employees all told feels about right to me. The question left unanswered though, is what did they do with the hundred-odd Potentials who reached the age of 20 each year without becoming the Slayer. Cut them adrift back to normal life? Give them jobs with the Council? Sacrifice them to dark gods in some horrific ritual? None of the alternatives sounds promising...

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 21:25 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 21:59 (UTC)

Posted by: MrTeufel (mrteufel)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 22:43 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 23:11 (UTC)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 19th October 2010 22:49 (UTC)

Posted by: majingojira (majingojira)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 03:15 (UTC)
Gurren Lagann

That's about the numbers I got when I ran it through for my own projects.

Nice to have independent confirmation :D

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 13:34 (UTC)

Nice to have independent confirmation

Likewise. :-)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 05:28 (UTC)

In keeping with the Meta - how many of those new Slayers/Potentials are Mary Sues?

How many have ludicrous names?

How many have purple eyes?

How many are so utterly, astonishingly beautiful that Spike and Angel will utterly forget Buffy ever existed if they so much as glance at them?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 13:35 (UTC)

They certainly all seem to be young, fit and attractive...

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 21st October 2010 03:30 (UTC)

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 10:06 (UTC)


With so many Chinese slayers Spike will be dust very soon.

Math is scary

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 13:36 (UTC)

Chao An, as the only Chinese-speaking Sunnydale alumna, went overnight from being the outsider whom nobody could understand, to the person who's presumably in charge of one-sixth of all the world's Slayers...

Posted by: iyalode (iyalode)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 12:04 (UTC)
BtVS: Xander Comic 1

Excessively cool meta. As a math failure I thank you from the bottom of my heart :) The only impact on this per head of population that might effect the figures is the high infant mortality rate in less developed nations.

A continent such as Africa one might expect to find over 300 slayers based on a population of 1 billion. But with a 96:1000 female infant mortality rate coupled with other social issues this figure could be as low as half that 300 amount. A thought that never crossed my mind until I read your meta.

Thank you for inspiring thinky thought.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 13:44 (UTC)

That's a thought. I don't know how 'special' Potentials are even if they don't become Slayers: are they indistinguishable from normal girls or do they still have a certain level of mystical ability? The show kind of implied they did at times, and I tend to see them as being unusually healthy and 'lucky', for want of a better word, even if not supernaturally so.

Which means they'd have a higher-than normal survival rate, and in a Third World country might actually form a much higher proportion of the overall female population in consequence - though we're still talking about, maybe, 1 in 70,000 instead of 1 in 130,000.

That's assuming we're talking about the simple effects of ddeprivation, though. Things like selective abortion and infanticide of girls would reduce the number of Potentials and Slayers, but that would mostly affect China.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 16:31 (UTC)

Your Slayer numbers seem more or less plausible. Was it established that the First had killed *all* of the Council-identified Potentials that didn't escape to Sunnydale? Or was it simply in the process of doing so?

The figure of 1,300 Watchers seems high. Caleb killed all but a handful of them when he blew up their headquarters, and it seems hard to believe there were over a thousand Watchers crammed into that building. It may be that only a few Potentials identified by the Council were given Watchers from childhood. An inordinate number of them may have found their way to Sunnydale because they were the easiest for Giles to find.

Buffy's organization seems to have inherited the Council's methods (whatever they might be) for identifying activated Slayers, since Andrew shows up to recruit Soledad shortly after she's called. But they don't seem to be able to identify Potentials, as the Council could.

The act of "Slayerization" presumably gives off a bright magical signature that Buffy's Wiccans can pick up on from a distance.

My impression was that there were no more than a couple hundred Watchers, not counting fired ones (like Wesley) or retired ones (like his father). But I have no proof of that, other than the fact that they were nearly all able to be killed by a single bomb, and that they all seem to have known each other personally, at least by name.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 19:31 (UTC)

I don't think Caleb killed 1300 Watchers when he blew up their HQ; there were probably a few hundred there at most. However, that might have been all the Watchers who were left after a sustained campaign by the Bringers to track them down and murder them in their own homes.

1300 might seem high, but remember we're talking about a worldwide organisation here. There would be the ones at HQ, doing research and keeping records and compiling reports, and then the ones out in the field. As I said to deird1, I imagine that serving a term as a field Watcher is considered good experience for a rising star in the organisation (such as Wesley), but the real action is at HQ - and ambitious Watchers will want to make sure they're posted back to an HQ job as soon as their Potential hits the age of 20 and is cut loose (or sacrified to the Dark Gods). Watchers who actually prefer life out on the field are doubtless looked down on by the Head Office types, a sentiment which is of course returned in full.


Willow certainly knows a spell to detect Potentials, even if it can be confused by a non-Potential like Dawn standing directly in front of the actual Potential when she casts it. :-) She also mentioned in 'Chosen' that she could "feel" the Slayers waking up all over - though how precise that feeling is is another question, of course.

However, even if they can detect Potentials, Buffy's team lacks the resources to do anything much about it. Their priority is finding active Slayers and helping them, not tracking down five-year-old girls - and what would they do with them when they found them, anyway?

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 19:47 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 20:33 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 20:53 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2010 21:07 (UTC)

Posted by: jess (soapygirl)
Posted at: 28th October 2010 19:04 (UTC)

I wonder if the reason Giles didn't rescue the child potentials was because those were the ones the First went after first.

I also have to wonder how the Watcher's council was able to steal away potentials if their parents weren't on board. Kendra's family gave her away willingly but for other families the Watcher's council might have needed their wet works team to kill the family and/or kidnap the child.

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