How Resources Affect Culture in Worldbuilding

Natural Resources and Trade

For some, natural materials and trade routes might be boring. Hear me out! You don’t have to go into detail but it can’t hurt if you want to build a rich world.

If you have a large world with different countries and customs, then trade is a great way to get them talking and causing friction with each other. Conflict is the heart of your story, all stories, and this is just one way of building on that.

I said in another post that you need to know what grows where, who needs what. In this post I will try to show you how something like natural resources and trade can be important and useful in adding detail to your world.

Natural Resources

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

Again I’m going to mention history, specifically the Roman Empire which is what I based one of my countries on.

The Romans had lots of trade routes around their empire. They were a bit greedy. I 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).

Conflict possibilities

Think about all the lovely conflict you can create or increase 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. They can deprive each other of resources. Even something as small as who grows grain can have a massive impact on the rest of the world. Considering tiny details like this can lead to ideas about conflict and war, cultural differences and economy.

If one country stops selling grain to another, this could lead to starving people > angry people > hatred with government > possible uprisings.

Natural resources and climate have a big impact on culture

In iron rich areas, there’s obviously a lot of iron work, which affects warfare, technology, buildings and culture. In other countries with different resources, they may use something completely different to build their society.

Certain resources which are rare in some countries will turn out to be more valuable, e.g. the Egyptians avoided cutting down trees for wood because it provided much needed shade. They would import it instead from places like Lebanon, which would drive up the price of it.

On the other hand, wood was plentiful in northern Europe, and the poorest people would use it for fires, houses and weapons.

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.


Of course what is available naturally will have a big impact on what your people will eat. 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. This leads me on to:


You may have poor, underdeveloped countries that your more powerful countries might want to invade, like the Roman/British empires did.

When importing from a poor country something which becomes a delicacy in a rich country, this drives up the price in the poor country.

For example, hipsters and healthy people in the UK love quinoa at the moment. This is a staple in countries like Peru but because selling to the UK is more profitable, the price goes up for everyone back where it’s grown.

Everything affects everything. If you’ve not considered natural resources and trade before, then hopefully this will help to see how tiny details spark to 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!


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