In my book series, the Aurean Empire spans an entire Earth-sized world called Aurea (however, all of the landmass is on the southern hemisphere, so only that part is inhabited). Overall, the planet's technology level is late medieval/early renaissance (think cannons but no other guns yet), and the planet is in Tokugawa-style isolation, with only the port of Olynthaseia in the Monsaltu region being open to interplanetary trade (domestic trade thrives, however). Aurea's landmass is extremely diverse in climate, terrain, and culture, so how would I go about deciding which provinces of the empire are the richest and which are the poorest?

Here's some information about each province for context (NOTE: When I say "similar geography", this takes physical geography, climate, soil quality, mineral deposits, and native plant species into account. The largest province by far is Argentolia, but it's so huge and diverse that I'll just break it up into its 13 sub-regions: Calissylvania, Cularo, Sparteia, Taurope, Pagomenos, Nikos, Lycia, Kerkapeze, Monsaltu, Imbreus, Pheron, Nypros, and Lurias. When I talk about the urban-rural balance of an area, it is relative to the tech level.):


  • Largest in population (barring Argentolia)

  • Very rural in the interior, balanced urban-rural mix along the east and northern coasts

  • Similar geography to Mongolia in the south-center, Iran in the north-center, Maghreb along the northern coast, Gujarat in the far northeast, east coast is more-or-less similar to the coast of China, south as a whole is very similar to Siberia or northern Canada

  • Relationship with central government: Very Rocky


  • 2nd largest in population

  • Mostly rural with some scattered urban centers

  • Similar geography to South America as a whole (north of Rio de Janeiro)

  • Relationship with central government: Rocky


  • 3rd largest in population

  • Fairly balanced mix of urban and rural

  • Similar geography to southern Italy in the south, Algeria in the center, and Nigeria in the north

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 4th largest in population

  • Fairly balanced mix of urban and rural

  • Similar geography to Tasmania in the north, Manchuria and Mongolia in the interior, Siberia in the south, New England along the west coast, and Finland along the east coast.

  • Relationship with central government: Fair


  • 5th largest in population

  • Very urban

  • Similar geography to the French Riviera along the coast, and the Sierra Nevada in the mountains

  • Relationship with central government: Very good


  • 6th largest in population

  • Urban

  • Similar geography to the Brazilian Cerrado in the north and center, Cuba along the southeast coast, and southern Appalachia in the mountains

  • Literally hosts the central government at the Capital of Astras

Terra Centralis

  • 7th largest in population

  • Fairly balanced mix of urban and rural

  • Similar geography to South Africa

  • Relationship with central government: Fair


  • 8th largest in population

  • Urban

  • Similar geography to Southern California (excluding the desert) in the east and Georgia (the US State) in the west. Similar to south Florida along the coast.

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 9th largest in population

  • Fairly balanced mix of rural and urban

  • Similar geography to South Carolina along the coast, Cascadia in the interior, and the Great Basin Desert in the north

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 10th largest in population

  • Very urban in the northwest, rural everywhere else

  • Similar geography to south Florida along the coast and in the northwest, San Gabriel Mountains in the interior, and Yucatan in the northeast

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 11th largest in population

  • Urban along the coast, rural everywhere else

  • Similar geography to northern and central France along the coast, similar to Mongolia (but without the mountains) in the interior

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 12th largest in population

  • Urban near Lake Pheron and the rivers, desolate elsewhere

  • Similar geography to the Mojave desert, but add a huge freshwater lake the size of Lake Erie and a massive floodplain between two rivers

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 13th largest in population

  • Urban along the coast, rural elsewhere

  • Similar geography to the Mexican Riviera along the coast and San Gabriel Mountains in the interior

  • Relationship with central government: Good

  • Home to Olynthaseia, the only port open to interplanetary trade thanks to enforced isolationism


  • 14th largest in population

  • Fairly balanced mix of urban and rural

  • Similar geography to the west coast of Turkey

  • Relationship with central government: Fair


  • 15th largest in population

  • Urban

  • Similar geography to northern France and southern Britain

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 16th largest in population

  • Very urban in the center, rural along the river valleys, desolate elsewhere

  • Similar geography to the Sonoran Desert but with two major river floodplains

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 17th largest in population

  • Rural

  • Similar geography to the Aegean Archipelago

  • Relationship with central government: Rocky


  • 18th largest in population

  • Very rural

  • Similar geography to Dalmatia along the southwestern coast, Somali desert in the center, and the Amazon in the north and along the northern coast

  • Relationship with central government: Good


  • 19th largest in population

  • Very rural

  • Similar geography to the Colorado Plateau, specifically the wetter parts near Flagstaff, Arizona

  • Relationship with central government: Fair


  • Least populous

  • Desolate

  • Similar geography to the Rub' al Khali

  • Relationship with central government: Fair

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 at 19:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The question is entirely story-based, and can only be answered in the context of the development of the story. There is nothing innate or inherent about what areas would be richer or poorer except the story line. Someone in some area finds a resource trove, instant wealth of that area. Take Saudi Arabia for example. Wealth is entirely dependent on the narrative. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 4 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you assume wealth is entirely tied to local natural resources, there isn't remotely enough information here to make an informed answer. $\endgroup$ – rek Apr 9 at 3:22

As a vast oversimplification, Urban areas are generally richer than Rural areas, coastal areas are generally richer than interior regions, and areas along major rivers (think internationally recognized rivers in size) are generally richer than areas not along rivers.

For the most important factor, however, there's the interplanetary port. That province is the richest province because it has a monopoly on interplanetary trade. Think about how much wealth the Silk Road generated by simply facilitating trade with China. They made so much money that it became cheaper to invent new sailing techniques and travel around the cape of Africa.

Additionally, more money leads to a better relationship with the central government, and a better relationship with the central government leads to more money.

Rating all of your provinces on a scale of 0-6 with 6 being richest and 0 being poorest:

Tangolia - 1 A highly populated, mostly rural region that isn't on good terms with the central government is poor.

Zebusylvania - 2 Might be richer than Tangolia, but scattered urban centers don't speak well to its wealth level, especially if it is nearly the 2nd most populous region

Occidens - 4 Southern Italy is the more fertile part, and a good mix of urban and rural speaks well of trade, along with a good relationship with the central government.

Tiorangi - 3 Cold regions are typically poorer than warmer regions, so this has to be at least a full rank lower than the very similar Occiens.

Ibreus - 5 A highly urbanized area with a good relationship to the central government is likely very wealthy indeed.

Calisylvania - 6 I was about to rank this one a 4, but it hosts the capital of a late medieval government. It's one of the top two wealthiest provinces.

Terra Centralis - 3 A good mix of urbanization speak well to wealth, but it only has a fair relationship with the central government, so I dropped it a little.

Taurope - 5 Urban, fertile land, good relationship with central government: wealthy.

Nikos - 4 Smaller clone of Occidens

Sparteia - 4 I would expect a great amount of wealth disparity here in particular because the cities are geographically distinct (think California)

Lurias - 5 Coastal cities are wealthier than otherwise. High wealth disparity.

Pheron - 4 Something keeps those cities alive in the middle of desolate wasteland, and it's probably trade. A good relationship with the central government confirms my suspicion.

Monsaltu - 6 This is very likely the wealthiest province, competing only with the capital. The wealth disparity here is going to be absolutely insane, but the fact that they capital is not here with the interplanetary trade node, implies that the central government does not control all interplanetary trade, and the free(er) market here captures enormous profits as a result.

Cularo - 3 Good mix of urban communities and a decent geography, but limited relationship with the central government implies they're poorer.

Nypros - 5 Urban, with good relationships. It's also smaller, which lends towards a higher concentration of wealth.

Kerkapeze - 4 River cities are typically wealthy, and like Pheron, something has to keep that Urban city running and the good relationship with the central government implies trade

Centronesia - 1 Small, rural, rocky relationship with the government.

Thoronodos - 1 The good relationship with the central government implies this isn't the poorest area, but a tiny very rural province is poor.

Pagomenos - 1 Tiny, very rural, fair relationship

Lycia - 0 This is the poorest province.


JustinThymetheSecond made an excellent point in comments. If any of these provinces happen to exclusively produce the most valuable commodities in their economic region, then they would also gain a lot of wealth and move up a couple steps on that wealth ladder.

The most valuable commodities have changed dramatically over the course of history, but some examples include:

  • Gold (or other precious metals to include copper)
  • Spices
  • Slaves (oh wait, the place that produces slaves is poor, while the place that takes them is rich)
  • Salt
  • Quality timber
  • Specialty Dyes

Exploitative business practices being as old as time, you can also expect that if one or another province dominates the trade market particularly well (in the same way as ancient Athens or Venice dominated their trade markets), then they would gain more of a wealth benefit than the people that actually produce the trade goods (i.e. why Monsaltu is almost for sure the wealthiest province)

  • $\begingroup$ Nothing in the question precludes one region from colonizing or oppressing another region. The 'rich' could very well live in another area, regardless of the characteristics of any particular area. Why would the residents of a poor area not migrate to a rich area? That is all about politics and social structures. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 1 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond "Why would the residents of a poor area not migrate to a rich area?" - Why don't you ask the residents of Mississippi who are the poorest citizens in America? Unless you plan to explain how Massachusetts is oppressing Mississippi. The very existence of a centralized government reduces the probability of one province actively oppressing another by a sizeable degree. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Apr 2 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond Don't forget, this is a late medieval period. The primary reason the modern world has a vastly more complicated wealth structure is because systemic oppression over hundreds of years has led to incredible technological differences, and the primary source of wealth in the modern world is technology. This technological disparity has led to some places using late medieval techniques for gathering water and growing crops while some other places are trying to build a colony on Mars. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Apr 2 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond I think you're overcomplicating things, but I'd love for you to show me an example of a rural region with a poor relationship with its central government that is wealthier than an urban region that has a good relationship with that same central government. Apologies for deleting an earlier comment, but I felt like I was being too harsh. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Apr 2 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ The oil sands in Alberta. Very rural, not highly populated, geographically isolated, very poor relationship with the central government, one of the richest areas in Canada. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:54

You have to count in these factors:

  • resources/goods production vs demand of those resources/goods (producing potatoes when everybody want corn will do little benefit for your economy)
  • figure out the trade routes: Venice was a major power as long as the pond known as Mediterranean sea was the main route for traffic. Once that role passed to the Atlantic Ocean with the discovery of America, its power declined together with its trades.
  • accessibility to transportation routes: if you produce superb products but can only transport them using a donkey on a mountain path your trade will be necessarily more limited than if you can use ships or carts in a more easily usable route.
  • $\begingroup$ You also need to cover racism, racial and caste inequality, religion and religious persecution, ideas of supremacy, laws on weapons ownership, education and dispersal of educational resources, leadership style, regional animosity, political philosophy (socialism vs Americocracy), etc. etc. etc. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:19

Normally, a place with the least population receives the least trade, leading to the least ammt. of money. There are notable exceptions, but population and export/import ratios are the most important, as well as centrality/linking to trade routes.

Out of the information you provided, with Lycia having an incredibly dispersed and low population, it would have the worst economy.

The Rub' al Khali is known through my 10s google search as a place with a source for petroleum- rather unused in Medieval-ish periods. Since it is also a desert, it can't be used to farm crops.

The only way I could think of improving it is if it has some rare mining resource like West Africa did (diamond, gold, salt possibly)- otherwise it's the last place with the Info given.

  • $\begingroup$ So please explain Israel. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Mar 31 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ Israel is a manufacturing and research center that uses high education standards to provide skilled labor and processed products as exports. $\endgroup$ – Charlie Hershberger Apr 1 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Charlie Hershberger Kind of mu point - none of these things are covered in the description of the lands. No possible way to answer the question based on the criteria listed in the question. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:22

This is to answer this question:

how would I go about deciding which provinces of the empire are the richest and which are the poorest?

Apart from already mentioned trade, trade routes, and resources, one of the most important factors determining the wealth of regions is the system of governance and associated with it institutions and taxes.

1. level of centralisation

In a centralised system, the capital and surrounding areas will be the richest region. The poorest regions will be the ones that are far away, do not have usable resources, and are unimportant for trade or politics. In a decentralised system, the wealth of regions will depend on multiple factors such as climate, resources, manufacturing, trade routes, political standing, military value and strength, etc. Take a look at historical records of demographics and income to figure out how various factors influence the wealth of the population.

2. existence of classes/castes

A society with well-defined classes/castes will distribute wealth accordingly. The richest regions will be the ones that have more upper-class members residing permanently. The poorest regions will be mainly populated by lower classes. The income will flow from the lower classes to the upper classes. The disparity of income will depend on the organisation of the class system and accompanying laws.

Please keep in mind that a classless society does not mean a more equal distribution of wealth. If this society has low social mobility de facto classes will form within 3-4 generations, especially if the laws of the country favour wealth preservation in the hands of wealthy people.

3. institutions

Institutions can be inclusive or exclusive. Inclusive institutions allow greater economic participation and lead to an increase in the well-being of the entire population. Exclusive institutions bar people that do not meet specific criteria (wealth, social status, connections, etc.) from economic activities. These institutions help to funnel the wealth into the hands of already rich and powerful while preventing the rest from becoming rich and powerful.

4. taxes

Taxation is very important when it comes to wealth distribution within a country. Taxes can discourage or encourage specific types of economic activity. Taxes also can affect the overall wealth of a region. For example, a central government can adopt punitive taxes that siphon the wealth of a potentially rebellious region.

5. regulations

Regulations are another factor determining wealth and its distribution. Governments can regulate who, how, and where conducts an economic activity. For example, merchants may not be allowed to own land or peasants may not be allowed to sell their crafts. Consumption of goods can also be regulated, for example, luxury goods were strictly regulated in many medieval countries. These regulations may lead to stagnation of businesses that produce regulated services and goods.

6. financial system

In a late medieval/early Renaissance setting this boils down to two questions: 1) availability of money and 2) existence of credit institutions.

Money (be it coins or banknotes) facilitate the exchange of goods and labour. If your economy is still dependent on barter regions that produce more will be richer. If the economy is money-based this may not be the case since the wealthiest regions can be the ones where money is concentrated.

Credit institutions (banks and alike) provide opportunities for people without enough starting capital to engage in economic activity. They also facilitate trade. Check the history of banking for more details and examples of early money-lending enterprises.

7. cultural values and predominant lifestyles

Governments can encourage specific values and lifestyles that can affect wealth. This covers attitudes toward inheritance, wealth display, education, mobility, etc. Specific effects vary, so, please, do your research.

Please note that the system of governance should be decided before the trade. Trade development and flow of goods depend on abovestated factors.

  • $\begingroup$ You forgot the most obvious - religion. Almost all political systems begin with religion, and you can not understand the economics of a region without understanding the religion and religious dogma. Puritan work ethic? Buddhist laissez-faire? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:29

Looking around modern day Earth its pretty clear wealth doesnt correlate with any of the existing answers given so far:

  • We have wealthy countries that don't make or export much, we have poor countries with incredible manufacturing abilities and large exports.
  • We have rich communities far from trade opportunities, and poor communities adjacent to ports.
  • We have cities with rich and poor communities adjacent to each other, divided by only a road or rail line.
  • The same work done in two different communities can barely keep a poverty stricken family alive in one, or be a comfortable living wage in another.
  • We have rich countries which have (or have had) high taxes, and poor countries where there are no or very low taxes.
  • We have rich countries with strict authoritative governments, and poor countries with freedoms and rights.

So how do you really tell?

Abuse between groups.

When one group steals from, enslaves, subjugates, persecuted, or otherwise abuses another, that changes two otherwise equal peoples into a rich community and a poor community.

The methods of creating this wealth divide are varied and too many for me to brainstorm. Think Greed, low morals, belief in ones own superiority, belief that others are inferior, or just plain old capitalism. A historical abuse will propagate down for many generations, as disadvantaged children grow to be poorer adults on average, with the odds of escaping poverty being low.

How does this apply to your world?

Who has the lowest morals? Whose going to capture and enslave another group as a colony for a few decades? That will tend to make the victim poorer and the enslaver richer, and that will typically last for hundreds of years.

  • $\begingroup$ This reads more like a frame challenge, although I do not completely understand what a 'frame challenge' is. "The methods of creating this wealth divide are varied and too many for me to brainstorm." They are too varied and numerous for ANYONE to brainstorm. The list would go on and on and on. Even more critically, how do you rank them in importance? That is story-based. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:36

Based on this: "...all of the landmass is on the southern hemisphere..." and "Overall, the planet's technology level is late medieval/early renaissance" I would go with ocean ports and the coastline being the richest. Trade would be highest there. Inland would get less of this the further you got into the middle of that massive land continent. Worst at the southern frozen pole. Sure there would be rivers that lead inland, and of course roads to villages and towns, but I think the trade and commerce of the coastline ocean ports would be hard to beat.

Large cities would be congregations of trade and money too.

Another possibility is... Where did the colonizers first land? Maybe for some reason they clustered there and built their largest city there? That would be a nucleus of commerce.

Something that might throw all of this for a loop is if your society highly values a mineral that can only be found way inland in some remote valley. All of the sudden there would be a "gold rush" type situation there. People would flock to it and demand commerce follow them there.

Your world seems very well thought out. Good luck.

  • $\begingroup$ Nothing in the question mentions 'colonizers'. If this planet was 'colonized, the question becomes impossible to answer based on the criteria. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond, the sentence "...being open to interplanetary trade..." made me go there. You missed that? $\endgroup$ – Len Apr 3 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ I new there was interplanetary trade. What is not clear is the 'colonizing' part. How is the medieval economy explained if the planet was colonized by spacers? I interpreted it to mean that the planet was inhabited by a native population before space flight came to it. Or did the colonizers regress in technology dramatically after they arrived from space? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 3 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond, I interpreted it as, not that the society regressed, but that they're building a society based on what is on the planet, as opposed to bringing all kinds of industry with them; which puts them at a certain level. OP didn't mention that the characters are alien beings. Never mind, I'm probably wrong. $\endgroup$ – Len Apr 3 at 20:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I thought about the 'building with what is available', and that makes the most sense with inter-star-system colonization. Really, that is how North America developed when it was first colonized. Some imported machinery, but most of the day-to-day stuff was improvised locally. However, the KNOWLEDGE would be imported. So it might be medieval living standards, but a very modern societal and educational development level e,g, health and physics knowledge $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 4 at 14:50

Sort of Frame challenge They don't really

Wealth inequality can and does exist despite one group having more resources than another. If trade thrives then the head of that trade is rich, and those who get the short stick are far more likely to be poor, especially if the empire or group at hand has something of a monopoly with regards to the tools and resources to harvest such resources and turn a profit. An example of this might be American Indian's land containing large deposits of uranium, which served as a primary source for the base element for the production of such things as nuclear weapons in the cold war. On top of not being given adequate protections, they got the short end of the stick with regards to returns. uranium, in 2019 was worth 27.89 per pound, and they had around 4 million tons mined, and got very little in return compared to the value of the stuff in the first place.

Or in short, the power balance doesn't need to be reliant on resources alone but the ability to extract the resources on top of it

This being on top of, if the climates are diverse, that to a degree implies a diversity of available goods, so if one group has a monopoly on goods that nearby groups dont, they'd be totally and utterly reliant on that one group in a local sense, and a monopoly for the one that holds it inherently leads to wealth, on a personal as well as societal scale.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree - question is unanswerable it the given format. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:25

Wealth : On the Books, or Off?

Off the Books

Adam Smith identified that everyone in a nation produces something of, at a minimum, enough value to keep them able to produce tomorrow. The survivalist living in the wilderness works enough to feed and shelter himself. As does the isolated rancher in the high mountains. As does the professional companion in the dense cities.

Off the books, then, the wealth of a region is simply a function of the population.

On the Books

On the books wealth gets sketchy. It is frequently manipulated, as required for a situation. For examples of hiding value: Warren Buffet once boasted that his on-the-books income was less than his secretary's. Steve Jobs boasted that he took a single dollar as his salary for running a company. For examples of exaggerating value : most stocks in the US market are priced at several thousand times their actual earnings, when the rule-of-thumb for buying a company outright is that nothing is more valuable than between 3x to 5x annual earnings.

Even a sincere assessment of on the books wealth is hard to quantify. It only appears when there is some kind of transaction that can get recorded : an exchange between the shepherd and a wool wholesaler done for coin and reported to the government is on the books wealth. The same transaction done still in coin, but unreported doesn't count. Or, the same transaction done by barter, where the wholesaler pays in produce (equipment, animals, seed) that the rancher needs also doesn't count.

For an idea of extremes, India hosts 1.1 billion people and has reported and estimated trade activity of 10 trillion US dollars per year. The USA has one-quarter as many people, but almost twice as much reported economic activity at 17 trillion per year.


How much immediate benefit (marginal utility) can each of your regions transfer to their neighbors? The homesteader in the wilderness isn't very helpful to the economy. But, if he makes several pilgrimages per year to neighboring territories and trades with his neighbors, that helps everyone. It's great if he has something useful that he can easily pick up, maybe the tar that boils up from the rocks, or this glittering unrusting heavy metal that sits at the bottom of the streams, or incredibly inventive people coming up with brilliant ideas for doing more with less that they can either trade directly with their neighbors, or trade as tools, or trade indirectly as the finished product.

Government Interference

There is a concept called 'The Resource Curse' or 'The Curse of Plenty' that describes how even well-intentioned governments (city, local, regional, or national) can negatively impact the economy by acting in the role of "investors" or "managers" deciding who wins (and who loses) rights to justice in the courts, extra effort from the community, protection, roads, and so on. Even extremely talented managers struggle with to meet the challenge of properly investing in a single business, which is why most fail. Much harder is the broad portfolio of a community.


So, in short: it's your world.

The labor wealth of each region is based on it's population.

The utility value of each regions is = population x multipliers for ingenuity or resources x multipliers from government involvement (can be, and often is less than 1.0) x multipliers for how much of the economy is on the books.

Good luck!

  • $\begingroup$ The question DOES seem to assume a Westernized wealth-based system. In a system where land ownership = wealth, then it would depend on who owns the land - the local inhabitants/residents, or land barons from another area. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ A better explanation of the resource curse is that it effectively puts the people of a nation outside of the political and economic system in practice. Any leader in a nation with extensive natural resources will rely on the wealth of those resources to stay in power rather than investing in the citizens of their nation. This also applies to regions within a nation, so one way of looking at the question is that places with natural resources will often be poorer in the long run because the wealth flows away. Much of this is also about volatile pricing(see the economic collapse of Venezuela). $\endgroup$ – Adam Reynolds Apr 3 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Adam Reynolds A truly Western perspective, but that is NOT how it happens in China under a Confucian system. Leaders stays in power only if they are able to distribute the wealth to the citizenry equally. That is why, for instance, Xi has the support of 90% of the Chinese population. It all depends on the philosophy of the culture, and the 'religion' (belief system). $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 4 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @adamreynolds I understand comments are not for extended discussion, but that does not match my research. If my understanding is correct (and it might not be) the “rural” half of China (in quotes because this includes some cities) (700 million people) receive no national benefits, are not even guaranteed to have roads or wells, and are not allowed to immigrate into the “urban” half of the country that does receive national care. Would love to discuss. Message me directly, or there’s a discussion part of the site. $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Apr 6 at 12:22

Base it on your characters and the arc of the story.

Rather than decide a priori about how each of these (many) countries are, decide how the countries will be introduced in the course of telling your story. That is what they exist to do, right?

  1. Your characters start somewhere. Where they are is a middle of the road country for your world. You are not particularly distracted by their country. You are learning about your characters.

  2. Neighboring country is similar to their own but they have some differences that are made much of in a fraternal way. Plus these neighbors used to be bitter enemies in the remote past. An England / France type of thing. They meet up with a buddy there and he has a couple of funny ways because he is from the neighbor country. Maybe he wears a beret.

  3. Characters experience a very poor country. People are beat down because they had a rebellion. People are hungry. They have sores.

  4. Characters experience a very rich country. It is a lot richer than at home. Your characters feel like the hungry people with sores from the poor country.

Most of your many countries will not be visited by your characters unless this is some Amazing Race scenario. It is kind of like Far Harad in the Lord of the Rings. It is on the map and that is about it. Characters or story may encounter persons from these distant countries and draw conclusions about them based on these persons but there is no reason for you to flesh out the economy and sociopolitical structure of Far Harad. They have big oliphants there and that is enough.

  • $\begingroup$ This is more like a frame challenge, but is one of the best answers. Any answer can only be story-based and story-specific. Too many variables that can be manipulated exclusively by the author. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Apr 2 at 14:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.