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.
This post is something of a two parter. Once you’ve built your Resource Map, you’ll be in a position to figure out your trade routes.
In some places it will be clear what resources are available. If you are following the tutorial series, you will have a Climate Map. 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 often frown upon 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: 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 in 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.
It is likely that settlements will form around major resource deposits to support the workforce needed to extract said resources. Take a look at the Placement of Settlements guide for more information on this topic.
Now that you’ve figured out where your resources are, you can begin to explore how they are transported around the world. See the trade routes guide for more info on this which will really help your world start to feel alive.