Friday, February 10, 2017

Biomes Part 3: Resources on a Larger Scale (Hannah)

Hello, everyone, Reni here. Hannah is… ahem… occupied… elsewhere. Don’t worry about her. She asked for it. You can consider this payback for not letting me talk as much as she promised. And besides, who is better qualified to talk about resources on a large scale than a world traveler like me? A world traveler who is temporarily trapped in Minecraft. But never mind that. 

Have you chosen your biome yet? If not, why are you reading part three? Series build on each other. So if you haven’t yet, read Biomes Part 1: The Natural World, or at least make sure you know what biome you are going to be using. Once you know your biome, you can determine what resources are available. Believe me – available resources color everything from food to buildings to clothes. It is deeply ingrained in daily life. Naturally, that means it affects society at large as well.


Where did the rest of her outline go? I only got as far as the title. Maybe if it’s... Uh, is it over there? No – maybe here? Or… Oh dear…

Sorry about the technical difficulties…

Um… Well, it seems Hannah’s notes have been damaged. Irreparably damaged. Of course, I have absolutely no idea how that happened. They were perfectly intact and right there in her hand when I… oops… Anyway, moving on.

Population Centers

Remember how the last post Hannah was talking about how it’s best to be close to the resources you need? Well, as it turns out humans are actually pretty smart creatures. They figured out the same thing I did in Minecraft – build your home where you can easily get to the resources you need. What happens when lots of people need the same resource? You get a population center. It might start as small as a couple of families in a virtual wilderness, but people tend to want to live near other people. (I’ll never understand that… You have the whole wilderness at your fingertips and you choose to cram in with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other people? Not for me, no way.) Over time, areas that are resource-rich become heavily populated.
  • Are there any areas that are naturally resource-saturated? 
  • Are there any villages, cities, or other population centers that sprung up because of an abundance of resources? 

Travel and Transportation

I’ve talked a lot about how people like to be close to the resources they need and use. That’s a good general rule, but there are, of course, exceptions. It’s not just about actual distance between the resource and the people who use it. The real issue is how easy it is to transport the resource to where it will be used.

Ancient Egypt was founded along the Nile River, which made it much easier to transport resources of all sorts to people along the way. Thanks to the sophisticated system of transportation, distance wasn’t so much of a problem. Most civilizations along rivers, seas, and other bodies of water benefited in a similar way. Natural terrain features that allow easy travel and transportation will help a civilization quickly develop and spread.

But… natural benefits are overrated sometimes. I’ve spent many years traveling across the most unwelcoming lands, and I have learned that innovative people will always find a way to make their environment work. Ancient Rome built roads all across the empire, allowing trade between even the most distant provinces. The Mongols were master horseman. Sherpas in the Himalayan Mountains are known for being masters of navigating difficult terrain at high altitudes.

Sometimes, though, seemingly difficult terrain can turn into an advantage for the native people. The Green Bay Packers are a professional American football team from Wisconsin. Football season lasts from September to early February, and as some of the Minnesota natives on this blog can attest, the weather is brutally cold in Wisconsin during those months. The outdoor football stadium exposes players to all of the ill effects of the weather. For the Packers, this is normal – they practice in the cold every day. But for teams who are used to warmer weather down south, the cold is a shock and a disadvantage.

What should you consider about travel and transportation?
  • Are there any natural features that facilitate travel? 
  • Are there any natural features that make travel more difficult? 
  • How have your people adapted to take advantage of the benefits of their terrain? 
  • How do they make up for any disadvantage that comes from the landscape? 
  • Have they been able to find a way to master a terrain-based “disadvantage” and turn it into an advantage? 
  • What resources are rare or unavailable in your primary biome but can be imported due to ease of travel? 

Scarcity and Value

What makes something valuable? It’s simple economics – the more people that want something and the more rare it is, the higher the value will be. When Europe and China finally made contact in the Middle Ages, they became enamored with each other. Europe couldn’t get enough silk, spices, and more. They spent the next century seeking new ways to access the riches in the east. Similarly, the Chinese were smitten with European astronomical ideas and mechanical constructs. Trade between the two was difficult due to the geographical obstacles. Anyone who could bring Chinese treasures to Europe or European products to China could make an incredible amount of money due to the low supply and high demand for such items.

When I’m traveling around underground in Ruavaen, gems and precious metals are just as common and cheap as a good pair of boots. They’re pretty, but not considered valuable. Which is why I always try to carry as many as I can when I go back above ground – they are rare there, but in high demand because of the lavish lifestyle of the upper class Airaloth.

It’s common for people to want foreign, exotic, and expensive things. These can become status symbols or curiosities. If you have more than one culture or city, there is a good chance that people from one group are going to want something the other group has in abundance. This can lead to an interesting trade situation, if you want to dig that deep into your economics.
  • What resources are rare and valuable to your people? 
  • What resources do your people have in abundance that would be considered rare and valuable by someone else? 
  • Related to the travel section above, how easy is it for your civilization to trade with its neighbors? 

Nations and Their Resources

This is a big subject and I am just a traveler, so I am hardly qualified to talk about politics and the actions of nations. However, I can’t just leave it out. So far, Hannah and I have talked about what resources your civilization needs and how they get them. What I glossed over is that it’s not always that simple. Often, people will not be able to access some of the resources they need or want. Maybe national borders are in the way, or someone else uses up all of the resources too quickly, or maybe the land just doesn’t provide everything the people need. Either way, most of the time these people will do whatever they can to take hold of what they need.

Sid Meyer’s Civilization IV is a turn-based-strategy game. The premise is that you are building a civilization from the ground up and guiding its development from the very first city to modern times. The beginning is crucial – if you don’t find a good starting place with the resources you need, you will quickly fall behind the other nations. When looking for a starting location, two resources are most valuable – horses and copper. Without horses, you can’t have cavalry, and without copper, you can’t build anything more powerful than the most basic warrior. Your nation will fall within 100 turns if you are missing both.

But resources don’t just matter at the beginning. As you research more technology, iron (which was not previously visible) will appear. This is where it gets sticky – even with horses and copper, a civilization without iron will not fare very well. What happens if there isn’t any iron within your borders? Other nations are more likely to take advantage of your weakness than sell iron to you. Your best options are to either find some distant source or go to war while you aren’t so far behind and take iron from some neighboring country. The same issue arises again and again as technology progresses and you need aluminum, oil, and uranium.

This is a good illustration of what happens in real life. In the game, your civilization will quickly be invaded and destroyed if you don’t have the iron necessary for a strong military. In real life, there are many resources that are similarly critical for survival. What happens when one group of people doesn’t have a resource they need? They have to find it (often in some far away location), trade for it, or take it by force. This is where politics and economics step in, and I step out. Still, it’s good to think about scenarios like this, and if you would like more information, read 30 Days of Worldbuilding, Day 8: Economy and Politics. (Hannah mentioned this one last week, but it is even more applicable here.)
  • What are the most important resources to your civilization, culture, or nation as a whole? 
  • How do they acquire all of these that they need? 
  • Are they missing anything that will be important for their survival or general wellbeing? 
  • If they are missing something, how can they get a hold of it? 
    • Will they have to make long, dangerous, or expensive trips to harvest the resource from a distant location? 
    • Will they become economically enslaved another nation by relying on trade to provide something they desperately need? 
    • Will they be willing to go to war in order to secure access to a crucial resource? 

In Conclusion…

This is it for this series on biomes! Hannah started it off well, and now I believe I have brought it to a strong conclusion. See, we all knew I could write a blog post just fine on my own. She just wouldn’t give me a chance. Maybe some good can come from being forcibly removed from the office and locked in… uh, what I mean is… well, never mind. Who cares about the details, right? Anyway, I hope you all have enjoyed this series!

As always, questions, comments, opinions, and ideas are always welcome in the comments. If there is any particular topic that would help you in your worldbuilding, please go ahead and mention it down below. Hannah and I always want to write posts that are useful and interesting, so request away! How do your people travel in your world? Are they isolation from other civilizations? Do you have any materials you’re your characters hold valuable even though people on earth might not think so? Have you thought about how a supply-and-demand balance could affect the politics in your world?

Now to find a way out of Minecraft…


  1. Your great rendition of Reni and the relationship between her and Hannah is a delightful way to present your information:) I could relate many of your insights toward my own upbringing in a gold mining country, and how that resource has kept that area alive as the only surviving original mining camp in America. Access to the coveted gold there was most daunting, and only the roughest and toughest of the gold seekers dared to go first. And, as you pointed out, the economics that grew around this resource were fascinating...laundry workers, a plethera of saloons, cooks, ladies of loose morals, sawmills to provide wood for building, gambling...I could go on and on! Thank you for your gainful insights into this important aspect of building a believable world for your story!

  2. Reni, you have no idea how much you need Hannah. Just think if you'd had to write this post without help from her notes! I strongly suggest you let her out of wherever you locked her up and show her more gratitude in the future.



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