Background: My settings world has sentient life around the space-faring level. The problem is that the planet itself has very few natural resources available, they’re too deep down to harvest or simply not there.

My current idea was this: Even though they’re incredibly advanced the lack of resources mean they rely heavily on the world around them. Using things like woods, stone, or mud to build houses/weapons/tools since what we build those from need to be used more sparingly there.

EDIT: Most metal ores (iron, brass) are extremely hard to mine and even so there's probably around half as much of it compared to Earth. There's also a lack of good sand and rare earths for ceramics and certain electronics. But there's a heavy amount of precious gemstones; rubies, diamonds, and quartz are all exceptionally common. (For spaceships, while they may have them they're from other species, traded to them for the rare gemstones.)

Question: What would their cities/communities look like?

(Please tell me if the question seems too broad or could be improved. Thank you in advance.)

  • $\begingroup$ The problem with your question is that a reasonable answer requires a lot of assumptions to be made about your world. For instance which resources are in short supply? How short is the supply? What is available other than wood, stone and mud? What level of technology are we starting from? Does the civilization have the ability to transform mud, stone and wood into other forms? Such as Aluminium – probably available from aluminium silicates in the mud, if allowed… If you are trying to create a stone aged space craft I think the answer is it can’t be done. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Oct 22, 2017 at 21:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have resources always been scarce on this world, or are they scarce now because of things that have happened within the history of the sentient species (like over-mining)? $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2017 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Monica Cellio They have always been scarce. However, they have become much more uncommon in modern times due to a good amount already being mined and used. $\endgroup$
    – Axolotl
    Oct 23, 2017 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ If you have lots of quartz, then you have lots of sand. Sand is just tiny bits of quartz (silicon dioxide), and sandstone is made of lots of sand grains stuck together to form rock. It's clay you need for ceramics. I think you need to make a list of what things you DON'T want your sentients' ancestors to have had when they were building civilisation, then go on from there. e.g. no clay = no pottery or bricks. No sand = no glass. Might be worth posting a question about unique 'gems' on your world - pearls, abalone shell, red coral and amber are all made by life, so you can invent local ones. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Oct 24, 2017 at 17:28

2 Answers 2


Hmm ...

Here's the thing. There can't be a total lack of resources, because they live on a planet, and the planet has to be made of something.

So I'm thinking you need to narrow down exactly which resources are the ones which are scarce, then we can figure out:

  • Are there workarounds? What has to be made from resource X? Then figure out how to replace it in the non-critical applications.

  • How are the scarce resources distributed, fought over, and otherwise allocated?

So let's take ... hmm ... iron. Let's say that the planet is poor in (available) iron. What do we Earthlings make from iron? Well, lots of stuff. Ship hulls, shipping containers, structural girders, vehicle chassis, guns, gigantic broadswords, and so on.

Which of these things must be iron? Well ... here's where you win your worldbuilding spurs. Your aliens may decide to dedicate their scarce iron to making girders so they can have high-rise buildings. Which means that boats must be annoyingly wooden (or hey, special ceramics, we're sci-fi here, yo). Or maybe they're fine with spread-out low cities. That leaves more metal for shipping containers. You have plenty of options. See where I'm going?

Now just to get this out on the table, I'll suggest that the tribe which uses their scarce iron for making cannons might be able to set terms for the rest... ;D

Your question seems to hint that it's the metals which are scarce. Now I want to go crazy and go the other way. Why not have an overabundance of metals, and have a scarcity of good sand for ceramics? Or rare earths for advanced electronics -- I would cry happy tears if your spacecraft were running on vacuum tubes.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, the fallback from silicon is germanium. Its downside is that its crystalline structure is destroyed by high temperatures, has a lower band gap, and lower reverse breakdown voltage. All of this limits applications to ~10 watts (to silicon's 50+ watts). That could make for an interesting limitation... $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2017 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s obsessively parallel circuits to spread the load...? ;D $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Oct 22, 2017 at 21:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s This will most likely be the outcome should they ever try to build their own spacecraft. This is also what the rest of their vehicles would probably look like. All in all, it's very interesting. :) $\endgroup$
    – Axolotl
    Oct 22, 2017 at 22:20

Put a kind of life-like being that "convert" natural resources in gemstones.

Something similar to the sandworm of Dune or the Tiberium from Command and Conquer series.

You could start your story saying that the planet many millennia ago was full of natural resources. Then for some "unknown" reason (here subters your creativity) a genetically modified creature started to assimilate the natural resources and releasing gems as processing waste without control. This condition quickly turns the planet into a deserted land full of gems.....


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .