Resource Maps, Trade Goods and Trade Routes


This is something I’ve been developing myself, so I hope you enjoy it. Let me know how you find it and I’d love to see some cases in action.

Knowing what resources your countries have access to can have vast implications for the way they develop, in culture, prosperity, trade routes, even targets for war as countries fight over important trade routes. Locations in the real world such as the Silk Road and Constantinople were fought over for the control of trade.

The Map

In some places it will be clear what resources are available. If you are following the tutorial series, you will have a map showing climates. This will determine some resources. Fish will be available along coasts and rivers. Temperate lands will support farming and maybe hunting. Slaves may be available from anywhere, but you may decide that a country without much in the way of natural resources turns to slavery to make its wealth and compete with its neighbours. But other resources wont be so readily available and if you draw a Resource Map you will find out where they are.

Divide your map up into small squares, and colour squares in where a resource is present. Obviously you don’t need to mark down every single resource, just those you want. Or if you just want to signify a major deposit. I tend to imagine, for example, that any of the metals can be found all over the world, but where marked simply indicates a major deposit.

Alternately you don’t have to divide into squares and colour, you could just colour in freehand where your resources are. Draw each on a different layer and lower the opacity, this would allow you to indicate two resources in one area.


Your resource map might end up looking something like this (though hopefully with a better key). I opted not to have more than one resource per block, though you can if you want.


This is a list of resources which might be present, and whether you should mark them on the map, or if they are widely available (or appear across a climate). Some of these I was unable to find out how readily available, or what regions they are more commonly found in. Just place them at your own discretion. If you have more information about any of these, I’d love to know and add them to this resource. Send me a message or leave a comment on this post, thanks.

Don’t Mark on the Map

Ideas!: This is an important and often overlooked concept. Ideas would travel along trade routes, spreading religions, concepts such as money, knowledge, spiritual and cultural movements etc. Think about how the spread of culture along the trade routes would impact the countries involved.

Leather: This can come from anywhere really, but would usually come from cattle and hunted animals. This would widely available from countries with access to temperate farmland.

Furs: These would be largely found in cold climates, ice caps, taiga and tundra from furry animals, eg bears, seals, wolves, etc, but can also be found elsewhere.

Clothes: This can be from anywhere, but it is a manufactured good so would need the industry to support it, skilled artists to make them and a source of materials to make them from and therefore might be produced in larger settlements.

Ornaments: These include trinkets, accessories, decorations etc. These can come from anywhere, but would generally be made in larger settlements where people have the ability to diversify their trade. A small outback village may be too preoccupied with defending and feeding itself than making ornaments.

Grain: General came from temperate regions, or areas with fertile soil (like the banks of the Nile).

Fish: This can be found along the edge of water bodies. You don’t need to mark this, just remember settlements with access to water will have access to this.

Naval Supplies: Larger settlements on the coast, or along the edge of rivers may have an industry to support the production of naval supplies. These would generally be along the coast, rather than upstream, but if the river is still quite big then you may find them being produced there.

Slaves: These can come from anywhere. Generally more commonly “produced” from areas involved in war, if countries sell their prisoners of war as slaves. Otherwise they would come from areas where slavers are present.

Ivory: Generally used in ornaments as an expression of wealth. Comes from animals with tusks, horns or even teeth were used, elephants, walruses, hippopotamus etc and therefore could be found anywhere.

Tea: Discovered in china, tea is a very popular and much traded drink.

Chinaware/Pottery: Used to make jars, vases, bottles, decorations, cups etc.

Electrum: An alloy of gold and silver, used as jewellry and as currency. It is more suited than gold mostly as it is harder and more durable, but also because methods for refining gold were not widespread at the time.

Mercury: Liquid metal aka quicksilver, it was intriguing due to its silver hue and liquid state at room temperature. Often used in magic and alchemy. Different cultures had different legends about mercury and it was used as everything from a medicine to a talisman. Its extraction was dangerous and it was a neurological poison, causing tremors, extreme mood changes, and eventually loss of hearing and restricted vision.The Romans used their mercury mines as penal institutions for criminals, slaves, and other undesirables. The warders were among the first to recognize that there was a high likelihood that the prisoners would become poisoned and spare the keepers the need for formal executions.

Mark on the Map

Papyrus: Used to make paper. This was a big trade good from areas such as Egypt and Syria.

Dyes: This is a luxury good which can be found anywhere really, depending on what colour dye as they often come from insects, shellfish and plants. Purple dye was hard to come by and this is one of the reasons why it was seen as a mark of royalty as it was so expensive to acquire. Purple dye was made from sea snails and it could take a couple thousand snails to make only a couple grams of dye. You can use made up animals and plants as sources for your dye.

Spices: These generally come from hot humid climates such as India and Indonesia. They would be expensive in the cold North, but commonplace in the hot South. (Consider a trade route of spices passing north and furs passing south.)

Silk: This is a luxury item which would be found in colder and temperate climates as it requires silkworms. It also requires a considerable industry to support it.

Oil: (Olive Oil) Used in religious rituals and as an external ointment. Other (animal fat and vegetable) oils were often used in cooking. Produced in areas like the Mediterranean.

Salt: Salt was a valuable and very useful resource. It could be used to preserve food, in religious rituals, in making pottery and was even used as currency in some places.

Copper: Used for weapons, tools, amulets and jewelry and sometimes as currency (in the Roman Empire). Was very common and occurs naturally in its native form so you can just dig it up and start smithing straight away.

Tin: A less common metal which requires smelting before use, which therefore makes it harder to produce. It can be combined with copper to make bronze and pewter. This makes tin valuable.

Bronze: Made from smelting copper and tin together. If they are found in different countries, will require international trade between them.

Iron: Used to make weapons, amour and tools. While is very common in its natural form, it was not widely in use until techniques for its refinement were developed. One these were developed, good quality iron production was cheep. Some cultures revered it as a blessed metal. Being magnetic, this contributed to the opinion that it was magical.

Aluminium: Used as an agent to set dye onto fabrics and as an astringent for cleaning wounds. It was difficult to extract and very expensive.

Gold: Used for jewelry, currency and ornaments. Rather rare.

Sugar: Comes from sugarcane. Generally a luxury good. Grows in hot sunny areas and grows best in areas with long hot summers and a good supply of water (coast/ rainfall). Also comes from beets (especially sugarbeets) which can be grown in temperate climates, so are a good alternative.

Honey: (Also honey sugar (cracked and concentrated honey)) Sweetener and can be used as a sealant to preserve other foods (ham and other shanks of meat that aren’t likely to be dried). Initially domesticated by areas which get cold in winter, cold enough to kill off most grains and flowers, though was domesticated in tropical lowlands as well.

Wax – preserve other foods and make watertight barriers (jams and jarlids) and in making wax molds.

Tobacco: Smokes, let’s go. Used in rituals, it was seen by some as a way of conveying ones thoughts to the heavens. Also used recreationally. Cultures which used it religiously frowned up recreational use. Grows in warm climates with rich, well drained soil.

Cocoa: Used to make (hot) chocolate. Used as a luxury food, but also in religious and marital rituals. Found in areas such as South America and Africa.

Flint: Used in weapons and tools in the Stone Age. Used with steel to make a spark for fire.

Obsidian: Hard, brittle and sharp, sometimes used as a cutting and piercing tool. Also used to create early mirrors.

Lead: Used in moments, statues and buildings. It was a widely used metal and, used in paints, watertight containers, preservatives and sling bullets as it’s too heavy and soft for tools. The Romans made their plumbing with lead. It was most commonly produced as a by-product of silver. Alchemist tried to turn it into gold also. Comes from regions such as those in Europe. People also liked the taste of lead, which contributed to its popularity.

Silver: Used as currency and in decorations such as ornaments and pendants. Can be found all over the world.

Zinc was also a very early metal and has been used since the ancient times in the form of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass has very low friction and never makes sparks. It was mostly used in ornaments and coinage. Nowadays also locks and instruments.

If you have more information on how available these resources are, their uses, or environments they can be found, please let me know in the comments.

Trade Routes

Trade routes will form along the easiest, cheapest path between two trade hubs (villages, cities etc). Generally this is the shortest route, along rivers and along the coast/ across the sea. Traders will avoid dangerous routes which are home to bandits, outlaws, dangerous animals and anything that would threaten their cargo, unless they can hire the muscle to protect themselves.

This is a method of writing down trade routes which I came up with.

Akante Trade Route (260YC+)
Nodes: Rivermeet (Tukit), Messa, Longubassa (Mesit)
Goods: Grain, Fish, Lumber, Game Meat, Cattle Meat,
Flow: Rivermeet (Grain+, Fish-, Lumber-, Game Meat-, Cattle Meat+) Messa (Grain+, Fish-, Cattle Meat+) Longubassa

Each trade route will have a name (if only for your benefit) and a year it was established and perhaps a year it was no longer in use. Using the above example, there are three nodes (trade hubs) on this route, Rivermeet, Messa and Longubassa.

In brackets indicate the country this node belongs to. Then list goods traded on this route (makes it easier to understand when you look back at it later.)

Then write the flow. Goods in the brackets between these nodes indicates the goods traveling between the two nodes. + Indicates a flow from left to right, – indicates from right to left. A good in italics indicates that this node produces the good. Rivermeet (Grain+) Messa would mean Rivermeet produces grain and exports it to Messa.

As the route changes over time, either add, in brackets the year that good began being traded, or  add to a timeline like the example below.


Goods: Grain, Fish, Lumber, Game Meat, Cattle Meat, Naval Supplies

Flow: Rivermeet (Grain+, Fish-, Lumber-, Game Meat-, Cattle Meat+) Messa (Grain+, Fish-, Cattle Meat+, Naval Supplies-) Longubassa,


On my map, I have indicated trade routes using a yellow dotted line like you can see above. See  how some of the settlements act as major trade hubs where several routes intersect. These will be prosperous cities.

Cities on Trade Routes

Settlements on trade routes will prosper and grow. Those that produce or consume goods will grow as a direct result of the trade, but other industries such as inns and entertainment will grow as services and goods are provided to those visiting the settlement.

Villages that lie on a trade route, but don’t trade much may grow as well as traders stopping for the night and restocking their food and water would bring wealth to the village.

Villages near where trade routes intersect will prosper also and may turn into a central trade hub in its own rights over time.

Using Trade and Resources to Drive Your World

In addition to growing cities, wars might also be caused. A nation that does not have access to an iron source might invade to secure such a supply. An inland country might invade a coastal one to acquire access to fish stocks. Countries might fight over control of certain trade routes, as they did the Silk Road in real life. Prosperous villages, towns and cities, will become targets for raiders, bandits and outlaws and who knows, the noise of the city might attract some nasty critters.

Beliefs Regarding Resources

“It was once believed, erroneously, of course, that celestial bodies were responsible for certain precious metals found on Earth. The sun’s rays created gold by passing through the Earth, Mercury created Mercury, the Moon created silver, etc. For this reason, the orbits of those celestial bodies would dictate where to look for those metals. Since the direct rays of the sun created gold, then looking for gold any further north than the Tropic of Cancer or further south than the Tropic of Capricorn, would be foolish, because north and south of those lines never got direct rays of the sun, only angled rays. The same was believed to be true of the other celestial bodies.

Now, obviously, science marches on and alchemy like this wasn’t around forever. But including a belief system into where you can find, and mine precious metals in the world you build, denying the people of that world access to metals that are there, but not where they expect them to be can have great story impact.”

This is an excellent point from a redditor named Galaxy_Ranger_Bob. Using beliefs such as these can add some real colour to your world. If it is believed that a certain resource has desirable qualities, this would drive up demand and the price of this good. You could have a plotline where a war is started to control production of said resource and by the time they realise that the good doesn’t do what they thought it does, they have wasted loads of resources and weakened themselves.


Taking the time to add resources and develop trade routes can really breath life into your world and give it new and interesting directions that you hadn’t even thought of. Someone on the Worldbuilding Subreddit (the community this blog is born from) once said (and I wish I knew who),

“The mark of good worldbuilding is when the world starts to build itself.” ~Unknown Redditor

Try using this in your worlds and see what they mean, its very satisfying.

Next week I’ll be discussing inspiration and a good place you might find it.


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3 Responses to Resource Maps, Trade Goods and Trade Routes

  1. Lead was also used to make pipes, for plumbing and the like. One of the reasons it was so prevalent is that people liked the “sweet” lead taste in there water. Of course we now know lead is poisonous.


  2. Pingback: Economy & Barter Systems | Worldbuilding Workshop

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