I am creating a fictional fantasy (Medieval-ish era) world. The area covered by my map is fairly large, and contains an ocean, mountains, plains, lakes, forests, swamps, etc. It's pretty much all there (save for desert and tundra).

In my world, races are largely limited to one area. So for example dwarves live almost exclusively on the slopes of mountains. Elves live in the forests and plains. Certain tribes live exclusively in the plains, while others live exclusively in the forests. Others live through an entire mountain range.

Here's my question: Who has which natural resources? I need certain groups to depend on others for trade reasons, but I'm having difficulty figuring out what one group would have based on their location that the other wouldn't. So to put it simply: What natural resources do certain biomes (including mountainous areas) have that others do not? If I have a list in front of me, I should be able to establish who's trading what without too much difficulty.

A list of my biomes:

  • Extensive Mountain Ranges
  • Long Mountain Slopes
  • Large Forests
  • Coastal Plains
  • Inland Plains/Grasslands
  • Large Swamps

Notes: If you have a link to a list or lists, that would be great. Answers are equally welcome. The main biomes that I need information on are the mountain slopes/ranges and the forests, but information on all would be good. I'm interested in anything that could be traded, be it organic, manufactured, whatever. And finally, this is a medieval-ish setting (think LotR), so gauge the natural resources needed for that time setting appropriately. Additionally, if you know of information pertaining to deserts or tundra, that would also be appreciated, as future worlds might contain those settings.

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    $\begingroup$ You mention resources from certain biomes : does your question focus on raw organic resources or does it also include minerals and manufactured products (leather, silk) ? $\endgroup$
    – Uriel
    Aug 16, 2016 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly sure the current environment has fairly little to with the distribution of geological minerals. You can have whatever you like in each region (as long as it has some sort of logical geologic history).The only thing you may have to take into account is rivers. Rivers wash loose sediment along. So, different minerals often accumulate along different stretches. eg gold and diamonds. but others too! Check out the Orange River in South Africa with regards to transporting Diamonds. There is a HUGE mining operation at the river mouth. EDIT - sorry, I read your question as to mining only. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2016 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Seeds Well yes, but I didn't want to say strictly Medieval, so I was hoping Fantasy would rule out electricity and such. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2016 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ That's my point, it does not. Most of the stuff classes as urban fantasy takes place in fairly recognizable modern settings, whereas the more futuristic ones tend to diverge a lot more from, but still typically stem from, modern times. Mostly Fantasy just means "has magic" or "has fantastic creatures" it by no means indicates a technology level. $\endgroup$
    – Seeds
    Aug 16, 2016 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Unless you want to spend a ton of time and effort on creating the geology of your world you won't be able to do what you want accurately. There are about 12 resources + animals that that are important to the world before the modern age and their placement is based largely on on alleuvial sediment which is based on tectonics which I've yet to find any automatic way of generating which means a lot of work... $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Aug 17, 2016 at 2:28

4 Answers 4


Mountains could be a source of minerals/metals/rocks and gems/mines, ice/water, and home to rare flowers as well as goats and sheep. They could be similar to the Alps, Himalayas, Rockies or any other mountain range on Earth, so research those ecologies. This area may import wood for fires (for heat and foundries) and additional food, clothing and art from the lowlanders.

Note: very tall mountains have multiple ecologies from tundra at the peak to jungle at the base.

Check out Altitudinal zonation on Wikipedia for more information.

Long Mountain Slopes - see Mountains (these are the same).

Forests provide wood (a good building material, also good for arts and crafts, paper, burning/fuel), mushrooms and deer/game (including buckskin and antler/bone tools). These people could want metal tools from the mountains, grains from the plains and fish from the coast. Note: there are several types of forest to research from rain forests and jungles to bayou to pine forest. The type of forest depends on latitude. Here is a forest biome intro to start.

Coastal Plains will probably provide seafood, salt, boats and trade goods from other coastal towns. They may want grains, clothing and such from inland farms, wood for their boats from the forest, metal tools and harpoons from the mountains. Biggest advantage here is trade from city to city across the water is probably faster than over land, so you could get a lot of exotic goods coming from far-away locations.

Inland Plains/Grasslands will probably be the bread basket for the region because it's the best place to grow grains (like wheat) and raise animals like sheep (wool and meat), horses (transportation more than meat) and cows (milk, beef). They will need heating fuel (wood) and supplemental meat from the forest, metal tools from the mountains and whatever exotic goods/baubles are offered from the coastal cities.

Swamps are also a very broad category. There are all kinds of wetlands including fens (mostly grasses), bogs (mostly peat) and bayous (mostly trees). Depending on which, you could have rice, cranberries, fish and birds. It would be a good source of fresh water. Residents will probably want to import metal tools from the mountains, clothing from the plains and boats from the coast.


Generally speaking, there are not many rules forbidding any ores on any kind of biome - however -

  • swamps would be a nightmare to mine, unless you are looking for bog or swamp gas

  • big plains tend to have all nice ores covered by big amounts of soil - however, there may be a good source of clay

  • hills and mountains tend to have easier access to ores (usually)

There are some environments that would not be seriously settled (far north, desserts, mountains) - unless they have some desired resources.

Think less about resources as such, but about logistics, especially waterways. It would seriously affect trade routes in a low tech setting.

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    $\begingroup$ What about resources other than ore though? You can't build a civilization exclusively on metal. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2016 at 21:08

I'd start by asking - who cares?

This is a medieval(ish) world. 90+% of the people are subsistence farmers. Trade is, by our standards, almost nonexistent. Transportation is largely muscle-driven, and water travel (especially ocean travel) is hazardous.

What long-range trade there is is pretty much confined to relatively high-value goods. This largely rules out trade in raw resources. Food, except luxury items like spices and wine, is local. Refined metal, rather than ores, and not a lot of that. No timber, except perhaps exotic woods. Manufactured goods, especially arms and cloth, can be shipped fairly long distances, but these would hardly be widely used. Wool cloth, for instance, is nice, but locally produced leather or linen is likely cheaper.

The classic exception, Rome, requires careful thought. An important aspect of Rome's ability to encourage trade was its military might and political control. If you want large-scale trade, you need an empire. Another important factor is slavery. Slaves make cheap labor, and this cuts transportation costs. Are you sure you want a monolithic, oppressive government, and widespread slavery?

In response to another answer, I'd point out that with the transportation available, importing firewood is a non-starter, unless the producing area is fabulously wealthy in some product. Likewise, trade in water is just ludicrous. The bulk and weight are simply too great. Ice is possible, since the Romans used it occasionally, but it was the height of luxury, and wildly expensive.

Minerals/gems are where you find them. While the vertical exposure associated with mountains makes them somewhat preferred, placer deposits such as gold are found far from the sources, and eroded land also exposes lower strata. Consider the British tin mines of Cornwall and Dartmoor, which were the dominant source for millennia. The region is coastal, with elevations of no more than 2000 feet, and marked by gentle hills and valleys.

  • $\begingroup$ While not strictly answering, the answer points out a key point in trade : the cost and risk of transportation. Only expensive items are worth transporting by the end. Today's global trade is really implausible in a medieval context. $\endgroup$
    – Uriel
    Aug 18, 2016 at 18:38

Resources of the pre-modern world...

  1. Lead
  2. Fresh Water
  3. Salt
  4. Tin
  5. Bismuth
  6. Zinc
  7. Iron
  8. Copper
  9. Mercury
  10. Nickel
  11. Coal
  12. Silver
  13. Gold
  14. Wood
  15. Tameable Animals

Which resources where?

Lead and Silver are mined together and Lead is by-product of Silver Mining.
Copper is usually mixed with Tin or Zinc, but can be found by itself.
Mercury is used as a medicine and in mining of Silver.
Zinc can't be found by itself and was undiscovered as it's own thing till much later. In the smelting and smithing process an alloy turned up that was valuable.
Bismuth and Nickel were seen as "cheap" or worse versions of the other resources and found with them. I forget which though.
Salt can be found virtually every where, but Salt Mines largely exist where Glaciers used to be... which is everywhere pretty much.

Tin, Copper, Iron, and Gold are all found on eluvial plains.
Lead, Zinc, Bismuth, Mercury, Silver, and Gold are found in Volanic areas (not volcanoes).

Coal of different qualities is found in various places so there isn't a good answer for where it is other than define where swamps were 250 million years ago and thats where it will be today on those land masses. Also there are things called peat bogs that produces not very good coal in less time. You can also make it from wood. Hard to pin down, but mountains and swamps is where you'll find most coal mines

Fresh Water is dictated by your landscape, as is wood.
Tameable Animals is the difference between Cities and Nomads/small villages. I have not done much looking into this aspect but I need to soon.

So where to put things? Basically, have to work the plate tectonics out so that you can figure out where the 3 type of sediments go. And then you can just randomly distribute all types that go in that sediment, keeping in ming that the only things that were Salt, Mercury, Copper, Iron, Gold, and Silver... of which you can say there were "Copper-Iron" "Gold" "Silver" "Mercury" and "Salt" mines. distributed pretty much like so...

Aluvial area: "Copper-Iron" and "Gold" Volcanic Area: "Silver" and "Mercury" Everywhere: "Salt"

Since Salt is "everywhere" and important, you can just toss it as placing correctly and instead just use it for story purposes since humans need salt and it fairly common, but still, there is only so much any single place can hold so its a reason to war and such in the past, but it became so easily accessible by the middle ages in other forms that it's hardly worth mentioning.

Now the problem with placing any of the other 4 "accurately" is that any map that I have ever seen doesn't really help as it just has mines strewn about everywhere in any place that is considered to have these elements which indicates to me that mines are just where they are because that is where randomly, enough of the material was seen at that point that's where they started digging or they purposefully set up a camp there because it is secure and then just started digging till they hit something. Either way this means that 3 of the 4 is more or less just random. Mercury is however, as I understand it is found in lowlands and swamps due to how it gets pushed to the surface so there is some geology there at work, but where these things are also seems arbitrary to me, even though it probably isn't.

Things to note however... Mercury limits Silver and Gold mining. How I don't know, but it's used in their mining so if you don't have Silver you can't mind those thus you're limited by it.
Salt limits your overall work force since if humans don't get salt they die.
Iron & Copper limits your overall military and production capacity due to if you can't get these materials you can't arm your soldiers/workers copitently.

So from that perspective you can simply define your nation by some math where the stronger they are the more of those mines must be under their control and just balance the equation to figure out how many should be in the region that a nation in your world controls. To do that is a whole other topic, but the startin point for that is that for a government to control a place, from what I have looked into, they must be able to deploy a unit there within a month. To trade with a place effectively, a trader must take no longer than 1 year to get there. From that, you can see how much you can control and trade... in other words, All mines must be within a month of travel of military deployment, and that military must have enough power to maintain it's control, either from resources inside it, or traded to it.

Hope that helps. It's a really hard question that I've never found any easy answers to and any answers that I did learn requires more and more knowledge about geology to answer 100% accurately.


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