If you want conflict in your story, you don’t need to invent political plots or conspiracies. You just need to look for the one thing in your setting everyone needs, and the Evil Plots will appear. Consider the case of salt.
The history of human civilization is, to a great extent, the history of salt. Ice makes it in there too, especially once we worked out powered ways to refrigerate and freeze food, but mostly salt.
Three main reasons for this. First, salt is one of the best, simplest, non-temperature-dependent ways to preserve food. If you can’t put food by and build up a surplus, you can’t get past bare survival, much less build villages and cultures that write down their rituals, recipes, and raunchy jokes.
Second, plain old ordinary salt is useful for all kinds of chemical reactions. Tanning, dyeing, soap-making, mining and alloys – all of these use salt. Modern industry uses most of the salt produced worldwide. Look up organic chemistry if you want the gritty details, that stuff’s scary.
Third, humans need salt in their diet. It may be hard to imagine in grocery stores full of processed food and salty snacks, but for most of history, if you didn’t live right on the seashore, getting enough salt to stay healthy could be an uphill battle.
And here’s where some of the annoying aspects of civilization kick in. Specifically, governments hungry for Ever More Tax Money. Since everyone needs salt, governments throughout history have concluded that by taxing and controlling salt, they get everyone to pay taxes. Fair, right?
…I will pause here to let readers stop laughing hysterically, and/or retrieve their rolled eyes from under the sofa where they’re picking up dust bunnies.
Yeah. Not so much. Historically the people who most need to use salt to store food as a hedge against disaster are those too poor to afford getting fresh food when they want it. If you’re rich you can have fresh meat slaughtered, fresh fish hauled in water-baskets inland, fresh cherries air-mailed by pigeon post for a banquet.
(True story. A guy in ancient Persia proving a point about how fast he could get news across the Empire. Enemies took the hint.)
Rich people don’t have to spend as much money on salt. But if you sell salt, to people who have to have it? You can make out like a bandit.
(According to Everyday Life in Joseon-era Korea, this was the actual historical cause of many people turning bandit. They couldn’t afford enough salt to stay legal and survive.)
It runs through history like clockwork. Governments want money, they take over the production of salt, they farm out the actual work to people who can bribe their way into running it, the quality goes down, the price goes up, people make and smuggle it illegally… and there’s never enough. If you want some more recent history, look at British India. The government made it illegal for native Indians to make their own salt. This was part of what Gandhi used to crack them. (There were plenty of other things wrong, but salt was the one that affected your average householder trying to get by. Messy.)
If your story is set any time prior to modern day, salt is an important background detail. Nations go to war for salt. Beggars steal for it. People travel to find it, mine it, boil it from brine, and so much more. This Wikipedia article on salt in Chinese history lays out a lot of historical shenanigans, and if your library lets you borrow Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, even better. This is history with ordinary people attached, meaning excellent story fodder.
But your story doesn’t have to use salt for this. Just anything that a lot of people need, and will pay for. If you want your characters going up against villains like corrupt government officials or greedy merchants – here’s a place to start looking!