I’m guessing no one’s jumping for joy thinking about mining or trade routes. You’d rather be building your magic system, drawing maps or creating brand new magical species.
I get it, but if you’re here, the chances are you’re looking for ways to make your world feel as real and immersive as possible.
That means thinking about all the unglamorous sides of fantasy worldbuilding. Not that fantasy writing is particularly glamorous at all.
So, in today’s post, I’ll be sharing some ideas around natural resources and trade and incorporating your research into your fantasy world.
Why natural resources and trade are important
The overall aim of fantasy worldbuilding is to avoid those moments when your reader jumps out of the story with a confused face. You want to drag your reader into your world and keep them there as long as possible. Anything that seems off, under-explored or just plain wrong has the power to snap your reader out of the spell you’ve created. This applies to all the topics I blog about here, including the not-so interesting ones like natural resources.
But here’s an example of why it’s worth considering:
If your characters cannot logically create something in the type of terrain, climate, era and so on, it’s very jarring to read.
For example, it may seem weird for your desert-dwelling characters to all live in wooden houses rather than stone or mud ones. Not a huge amount of trees in a desert to chop down into timber. However, in Britain, there are plenty of trees so it makes more sense for buildings to be made from wood.
If someone in your desert society wanted to build a house of wood, they would likely have to import it. This means the character is likely to be rich. On the other hand, as wood is more abundant in Britain, it’s what poorer people would use to build their houses instead.
You could full on geek here and talk about the specific types of wood and stone available in ancient times and different climates. But if you’d rather not, simple stuff like what houses are generally built out of is definitely worth considering.
Whether you’re working with a singular society or you’ve got a whole world out there that needs building, it helps to have a rough idea of what’s available to your characters.
Start off with a list of basic resources and goods that your country or countries will need. I’m sure many more things could be added, but here are a few ideas:
– Grain, wheat
– Meat & fish
– Iron, tin, copper, gold, silver
– Olives, oil, grapes & wine
– Salt, spices
– Oak, pine
– Limestone, marble, granite
Using the wood example from above, value is determined by how common or difficult something is to find. What one culture values, another has no use for. If you think about it, gold is just another metal. Why have we decided that it’s worth more than copper? Think about these things when building your cultures and trade routes.
If there’s something you really like but you can’t seem to fit it in or it doesn’t make sense, there is a solution – the same solution that people had when they also wanted something they couldn’t have.
Trade is a pretty natural act you’ll find in every civilisation. People want things you’ve got, they want something in return. When transport develops in your civilisation, people will always look further afield than their village/city/country. International trade is born and with it comes so much variety.
But where do you even start? For my world, I used ancient history to help me. I looked at how the Romans did it all, they seemed to know what they were doing.
The Romans had lots of trade routes around their empire. I loosely based my trade routes and natural resources on this because it worked for them and I know it’s believable.
So I looked into the Roman Empire’s trading history because that’s the sort of strange thing people like me do. I worked out what was found where, in what type of climate and applied it to my own world. If you want to start from scratch that’s also fine as long as it makes sense (sort of).
You could go one step further and explore the idea of colonisation. When a rich country wants what a poor country has, they may take it by force. Just look at the colonisation in this world. People took what wasn’t theirs, sold people into slavery and came home and called it trade. In this case, trade is sort of subjective and that’s another area you can explore in your world.
Conflict possibilities of trade
The other benefit of thinking about trade is that it’s a great way to cause friction and conflict with your characters. Different countries and cultures rarely see eye to eye, in this world at least. Trade is a necessary evil. If two countries fall out with each other, this can have a huge impact on trade because world leaders can get pretty petty.
Think about all the lovely conflict you can create with something as simple as trade.
If you have two nations who are rivals, imagine what they could do to mess life up for each other. Citizens in country 1 could be starving because country 2 decided to stop sending them grain over a simple misunderstanding or because some lord’s daughter married the wrong noble.
It could go like: Starving people > angry people > hatred with government > possible uprisings. Boom a massive story evolves.
Tiny details like this can blossom into big ideas that affect the central narrative.
The impact on culture
Your natural resources will determine a lot about your world and the characters in it.
They can affect:
- Foreign relations
Of course, what is available naturally will have a big impact on what your people will eat, smoke, drink and wear. With the introduction of trade routes, this also gives room for diet differences between the rich and poor. Imported goods cost more. The poor will generally eat what’s readily available and the rich will seek out more exotic tastes because they can afford them.
You can weave these details into your story to make it feel more real. Everything affects everything, both in real life and worldbuilding. I hope this has helped make natural resources/trade a little less boring or insignificant in your mind. Tiny details can spark big ideas.
What do you think of the tiny details? What other impacts might trade relations have on your world? Let me know what you think in the comments!