Resources, Part II
Welcome back! Last time we had a quick dip into Geography, Climate, Resources & People. This time, we’re taking another look at resources and commodities. This will be a relatively short post today.
Off the top of my head, I’d say that there are perhaps three categories of resources that you, dear reader, could consider for your world. Those are: natural, produced, and strategic. There is an overlap between strategic, natural and produced resources but strategic resources are of critical importance to your nations. Of course, one could argue that ‘commerce’ counts as a strategic resource, and there are of course, ‘human’ resources (which could conceivably slaves/manpower in your world…) but before we get too far off topic, I would like you to consider something.
Yes, salt. Salt is perhaps the single most critical resource before refrigeration ever. More so than steel, more so than gold. Historically, it was worth more than its weight in gold. Why? Preserving food. How are you going to store your food without a fridge? Well, you can pickle it, jelly it, put it in a larder, pack it in ice (ice is another really valuable resource by the way), hang it out to dry in the salty sea wind, or you can salt it. (There are other ways to preserve foods, of course). If you have the technology, you can also can or tin food, something that made a huge difference. Sometime around the 1800s, I believe that baked beans were a delicacy. Fashion’s funny like that.
Also: if you have the time, you should check out “Mansa Musa”, Timbuktu, and the Saharan trade (involving, salt, slaves, and gold. It’s interesting, if a little disconcerting.)
This isn’t what I actually wanted to talk about today. What I actually wanted to talk about today was alcohol – which is to say, region specific products. But before we do, I do want to add one more note about resources. If your land is rich with copper and your soldiers and sculptors are all about bronze, you need a source of tin. In Cornwall, England, the region was blessed with both copper and tin, if memory serves. Britain was also blessed with coal, decent iron (unlike Japan, whose iron is nefariously poor and contributed to their smiths folding steel in order to improve it), and a lot of hills and running water (good for hydroelectricity), as well as constant drizzle (great for agriculture, along with the Gulf stream that warms the island and keeps it from being as cold as Siberia).
Mines are important. How you get your raw ores, how you process them, where you get them, where you process them, this all determines industry, jobs, the economy. Are you reliant on imports? Maybe you have to ship stuff after mining it. Canals are a great way of transporting things – they can take a lot of tonnage. Railways (or “railroads”, dear American friends), are faster, but they do require a power source (steam engines, coal, for example). Of course, canal boats often used horses, and those need feeding.
There was a point to this: infrastructure. If you need to ship your raw resources (as Rome did with grain from Egypt, the breadbasket of the empire), pirates can attack your shipping, as can storms. You can make your realm dependent on a certain commodity that is vital for its survival if you so choose, or you can have everything at its fingertips (as Ancient China seemed to; when the European powers came to trade, China appeared to want for nothing, save automata, and refused to trade in anything but silver and this led to opium being introduced and a nasty, nasty mess…) – though, such a realm is never without problems.
So there are a few ideas for you, in brief.
Alcohol – Region Specialities
Okay! Finally, onto what I wanted to actually talk about. So, recently, (and on and off for the past few months… years…) I’ve been toying with a notion. Region-specific commodities. For today, we’re going to be looking specifically at alcohol. I’m going to run a few names by you: Bordeaux. Champagne. Burgundy. Sherry. You know what they all have in common? They all hail from specific regions. Sherry, I recently learnt (because apparently I’ve been living under a rock all these years) comes from a very specific region of Spain. As a fortified wine, it is aged, bottled and whatnot. The English word is actually a translation (or transliteration) for ‘Jerez’, and Sherry is made from white grapes of that region which are then fortified, etc. Champagne is not simply sparkling wine, nor Bordeaux simply red wine. They are very specific, regional specialities. In fact, Ouzo, a Greek liqueur similar to Raki, Sambuca, and Arak, is Greek specific. So why am I referencing these? Well, aside from alcohols, there are cheese, fabrics, and other regional commodities that exist in our world but what about in yours?
Are you going to ‘translate’ Champagne and say that it is a Champagne lookalike, or equivalent? Whisky is another good one – is it corn whiskey, rye whiskey? What about barley? At what point do you invent your own raw materials (be they fruit, grain, etc), invent your own regions (“Khampin”?) and name your specialist products after those regions, (Burgundy is of course, a shade which hailed from the region…) and at what point do you use our own existing words for ease of use?
All things to think upon!
Next time, we’re going to take a look into magic systems, so stay tuned!