Tabletop Game: GURPS Alternate Earths

GURPS Alternate Earths is (as you may have guessed) a GURPS sourcebook (well, rather two books, but they're both covered here) about Alternate History — or rather, alternate timelines which the characters may visit in one campaign, or live in from the start. Describes twelve timelines (six in each book) in loving detail.

The scenario "Centrum" inspired Max Sinister's Chaos Timeline.


Tropes:

All worlds:

  • Allohistorical Allusion
  • Alternate History Wank: The only thing changing is who (or what) is wanked high.
  • In Spite of a Nail
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: Malcolm Little (Malcolm X) as VP of the rest-US in a world where the CSA successfully seceded. David Duke as POTUS in a world where The Nazis win World War II and the US become their fascist satellite. Jabir ibn Hayyan as a Roman chemist inventing mustard gas in 767. Swedish king Charles XII invading Britain. Roman emperor Heraclius founding a new empire in Africa after Constantinople falls. And Adolf Hitler ending up in an insane asylum painting more watercolors.
    • The sequel had some more of these. Alissa Rosenbaum writing novels about heroic rail builders in Nationalist Republican Russia. Japanese admiral Hiyoshimaru fighting European pirates for the Ming emperors. St. Bernhard of Clairvaux and St. Dominic de Guzman converting still-pagan Scandinavia to a somewhat different Christianity. Ibn Sina inventing calculus in 1006. Jan Masaryk elected Archon of an Austrian empire turned republic. And finally, Otakar Przemysl kicking out the Mongolian oppressors from the Holy Roman Empire in Centrum.
  • Spiritual Successor: GURPS Infinite Worlds.

Dixie:

Starts to diverge when filibuster William Walker succeeds in taking over Nicaragua in 1856; during the American Civil War, it broke the Union blockade and helped the CSA win recognition from the European powers and ultimately independence. Later, the "Southrons" take over most of Mexico and Central America. The US (which took much of Canada in revenge for British aid to the rebels) is allied with Germany and helps them win World War One. In the present day, the two Americas face off across a border of mines and barbed wire that stretches from the Gulf of California to the Potomac.

Reich-5:

Diverges with the assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt by Guiseppe Zangara in 1933. During the terms of Charles Lindbergh and the not-that-competent John Nance Garner and Henry Wallace, the US become politically split and polarized. Meanwhile, the Nazis and Japanese conquer half the world in the 1940s, and then finish the job with the aid of subversion from William Dudley Pelley's fascist Union Party.
  • Alternate History Wank: Guess for whom.
  • Balkanize Me: The Soviet Union, which is no more.
  • Cool Train: kugelbahnen
  • Crapsack World
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: The current führer and successor to Viktor Alchsneiss is named Günter Wallraff. In our world, that's the name of a decidedly leftist German author. Makes you wonder how much research they did on that.
  • Fictional United Nations: Welt-Achse (World Axis)
  • Imperial Japan
  • Nazi Germany
  • Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: Gnarlier than ever. In the present, their army has Kevlar armor, tanks with railguns and neutron bomb howitzers.
  • Nuke 'em: The nazis didn't hesitate to level Denver, Dallas, St. Louis and Omaha in 1950 and Pittsburgh, Atlanta, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Calgary in 1976 when the Americans started an uprising.
    • They also wiped out those pesky guerrillas in Afghanistan and the Andes by saturation bombardment with neutron bomb howitzers.
  • Shout-Out: The picture of the Nazis deporting the Jews of Houston (happening in the 1980s) is based on the famous picture of the Warsaw Ghetto 1943. Except that they are wearing time-appropriate clothes - the little boy on the right has a Chicago Cubs cap.
  • Space-Filling Empire: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
  • Those Wacky Nazis

Roma Aeterna:

Instead of the sinister Tiberius, a surviving Drusus (who died from a fall off a horse in 9 BC in our world) takes over Rome after Augustus' death. During the following two millennia, Rome will expand, fall apart twice and reunite again and expand further. Their technology also develops, albeit not as fast as in our world.
  • Alternate History Wank: Rome, Rome and Rome again.
  • Balkanize Me: China (not by the Romans, though)
  • Cool Sword: Over the centuries, the Roman gladius has evolved into something like a giant Bowie knife.
  • Eagleland: Hesperia (Roman America) has a similar image.
  • The Glory That Was Rome: More glorious than ever!
  • Interfaith Smoothie: The Greco-Roman religion added American, Egyptian and Indian gods to their pantheon.
  • Jesus: May have been pardoned by the emperor, if he lived at all.
  • The Roman Empire
  • Space-Filling Empire: Rome covers Europe, Africa north of the rainforest belt, the Middle East, Central Asia and India, most of South America and half of North America.
  • Steam Punk: They have boxy, heavyweight steamcars.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The only native heavier-than-air flyer is the jactavolans, an incredibly dangerous melding of Roman glider and Chinese rocket technology used by the Third Empire's legions for scouting and courier purposes. In game terms, you have to roll Piloting checks on takeoff (to see if the rockets explode) and landing (to see if you crash). All jactavolans pilots are state-owned slaves who receive both their freedom and Roman citizenship if they survive a five-year term of service.

Shikaku-Mon:

John Trastamara (the son of Ferdinand I of Castille and Isabella II of Aragon – yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella) survives to inherit the throne in place of his sister Joanna the Mad. Hence, no united Habsburg empire. The way history develops is... odd: Charles II and Louis XVI prevent revolutions which otherwise would have lead to more democracy and the creation of republics, increased missionary activity from Portugal (who finds its continental designs frustrated) causes Japan to remain open to Western influences and technology from the 16th century on, and at the end, the whole democratic phase is somehow skipped, since the world transforms into a typical cyberpunkish society where nothing else counts but how rich you are.
  • Alternate History Wank: Japan, oh so much. Also, Sweden, France and Brazil which are the other three superpowers.
  • Balkanize Me: North America, (still) Germany
  • Commie Nazis: The Synarchists, a totalitarian philosophy without a direct parallel in our world.
  • Cyber Punk
  • Japanese Christian: In this reality Japan is almost entirely Christian, having converted in the 16th century.
    • Christianity Is Catholic: In great part thanks to above and Japan also being by far the world's most powerful nation, almost 50% of total world population are Catholic - rising to 90% with the elites.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: More successful than ever. They manage to reign over two thirds of the world population!
  • Nuke 'em: Synarchist Sweden nukes four British cities when their pawns don't win the Civil War. As a result, 60% of Britain's population dies or emigrates.
  • Space-Filling Empire: Japan, of course. How much? The eastern half of Asia (incl. India), the Pacific islands and Madagascar, and the western bit of North America.
  • World War One: The Pyrrhic War occurred for much the same reasons as World War One did historically (a Gambit Pileup of secret alliances that finally blew out), but it began in 1927 and ended in a stalemate that precluded any chance of a World War II.

Ezcalli:

The Carthaginians discover America in 600 BC, so the Old World diseases hit America two millennia earlier (and the New World crops do the same to Europe); in addition, the lower technological development of the newcomers prevents outright conquest. The Roman Empire falls apart after Nero, and the various barbarians make sure Europe never recovers. Then the Aztecs (who have rebuilt their population) start the Industrial Revolution.
  • Alternate History Wank: Mongols, Aztecs and Iroquois.
  • Balkanize Me: Western and Southern Europe, which were smashed too many times by barbarian hordes and part of the Mongol Empire for a long time.
  • For Want of a Nail: The reason Rome falls apart: Since the west European provinces have had access to New World staple crops like maize and potatoes for a long time, they're no longer dependent on Egyptian grain, so the economy and politics disintegrate fast.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Most egregious example. The Aztec people (aka the Tenochca) still exists although history diverged more than two thousand years before them. Lampshaded in that Homeline cliologists have no idea why they exist in that timeline either.
  • Istanbul Not Constantinople: Manhattan Island is known as Manannan here (named after the Celtic sea god by the Irish refugees who founded it).
    • The country making up the southern part of the larger island off the northwest coast of Europe is known asEnglavo – they were invaded by the Podols instead of the Normans and formed a hybrid Anglo-Slavic culture.
  • Made a Slave: Many Europeans who're sold to the Mongols and Aztecs then.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Mongol Khaganate – huge and immensely rich, but slow to act (and the smaller empires are beginning to outstrip them technologically).
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Ezcalli" means "house of blood" in Nahuatl.
  • Rising Empire: The Tenochca. They've just developed the steam engine, and they're on the move to seize islands (to serve as coaling stations) and slaves (to serve up to the gods).
  • Space-Filling Empire: The Mongol Empire, which still holds most of Eurasia.
  • Steam Punk
  • Vestigial Empire: The Songhay Empire, directly descended from the African provinces of Rome. Slightly subverted in that it's still a power player in geopolitics.

Gernsback:

Nikola Tesla marries the daughter of J.P. Morgan, gains financial support to take out Edison, and can realize all his cool inventions.
  • Alternate History Wank: Science!
  • Civil Rights Movement: Set back a few decades due to the lack of World War II and the Holocaust, which in our world discredited the concepts of eugenics and scientific racism. Women's rights have also been set back; they have the vote in the US, but haven't gotten past the 1920s.
  • Cool Train: blitzbahnen
  • The Fifties: Even about twenty years later, the world is still much like this. (World War II was avoided, the war which brought down the Soviet Union was shorter and more one-sided, thus less upsetting for the world.)
  • Fictional United Nations: Played with. The League of Nations was real, but even more toothless than the UN is today, and didn't last very long. Here...see United Nations Is a Superpower.
  • For Science!
  • I Want My Jetpack: And here, you get it!
  • League of Nations Is a Superpower: Due to the power of the World Science Council (established with the aid of JP Morgan's money and Nikola Tesla's inventions), and the war against Stalin's Soviet Union, the League is rapidly developing into a world government.
  • Mad Scientist: They're very fitting for this world.
  • Minovsky Physics: It is hinted that the laws of physics might differ a bit in this timeline.
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: A characteristic of scientists in this world is that they can have the Science! skill, an ability that allows them to know about scientific discoveries in any field. The concept was later generalized into "wildcard skills" in Fourth Edition, and the exclamation point became a generic marker for wildcard skills instead of particularly distinguishing Science! from vanilla science.
  • Punk Punk: Diesel Punk overlapping with Atom Punk.
  • Technology Porn
  • Vestigial Empire: Socialist France is one of the six Great Powers of the League of Nations and a ruling colonial power, in theory. In practice, it's barely even a major power in Europe, and its colonial empire is nothing but an albatross around its neck.
  • Zeppelins from Another World

Cornwallis:

Baron Turgot manages to reform France without unduly upsetting the royalty, which prevents The French Revolution - and The American Revolution as well, since he won't support republican rebels against a fellow king. In 1984, the Thirteen Colonies are still economically repressed and confined east of the Appalachians. Meanwhile, the Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Spain, France, and Austria remains watchful against the Russian Dominate, the revolutionary force that expelled the Tsar six years earlier and threatens to do the same to the other crowned heads of Europe.
  • Alternate History Wank: For the great European monarchies.
  • Balkanize Me: The German states (except for Prussia and Austria)
  • Cool Train: The trains of Russia which impress less with speed and more with size.
  • The Good King: Thanks to an alliance with the Catholic Church, careful devolution of power to local viceroys, and the use of mass media, subjects of the Spanish Empire see their monarch as this.
  • Gray and Gray Morality: The Quintuple Alliance versus the Russian Dominate.
  • Just the First Citizen: Boris Gromov, head of the Russian Dominate.
  • The Lancer: With its experiments in free-market economics and the elimination of royal privileges, Austria is seen as this by the other European powers.
  • Penal Colony: Oregon Country (which has hosted such luminaries as Jeremy Bentham and Eric Blair) is where the British Empire sends its troublemakers.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The Russian Dominate seems to be heading this way.
  • Space-Filling Empire: Britain and Spain (which kept their empires) and Russia (which includes Finland, Manchuria, Korea, Japan and Alaska - and was even bigger in the past).
  • Vast Bureaucracy: The principles of mercantilism and a bewildering network of laws has retarded technological and industrial progress – tariffs are required at the border of almost every province or city, and motorcars are still toys for the rich.

Ming-3:

Ming China doesn't scrap its treasure fleet after the 15th century voyages of Zheng He, and starts to almost accidentally expand - first into Vietnam, India, and Arabia, then Africa, and later into Europe when the lackeys of their bandit queens and kings start to become a nuisance... and there's no end, it seems...

Midgard:

In 860, the Vikings take Constantinople (instead of being bribed to go away) and capture the secret of Greek fire. They manage to extend their rule over half of Europe, North America, Russia and Siberia.

Caliph:

An eccentric 9th century Muslim scholar refutes the pagan Greek philosophers using rationalism. In combination with an Arab printing press and an oil-powered Industrial Revolution, the Muslims become the prime power in the world and develop science and technology at a breakneck pace. The first man lands on the moon in 1434, and in the present time (1683 AD), the world has reached an age of progress far beyond that of Homeline. However, a secular, rationalist movement known as the Jamahariya ("Republic") has recently taken over much of Talentis (the New World) in a lightning bid for power, and an apocalyptic war may be at hand.
  • Alternate History Wank: Islam.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant/Sealed Badass in a Can: The whole timeline is presented as this with regards to the Infinite Worlds setting. Both Homeline and Centrum are, quite rightly, scared shitless of the prospect that Caliph might learn the Secret.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Sentient computers (called djinns) have to be educated just like humans; consequentially, all are friendly to organic life (and devout Muslims to boot). Of course, that may change in areas under control of the Jamahariya.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Given the technology available to this timeline, not out of the realm of possibility.
  • Evil Overlord: The Caliph of Hind; he only betrayed the other caliphates and allied with the Jamahariya to gain power.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The Rightly Guided Stellar Caliphate is an unusual example; once war between the Jamahariya and the rest of Earth's nations seemed likely, the Mega Corp. that controls most space travel seceded as the RGSC in order to ensure the continuity of human civilization in case of an Earth That Was situation.
  • Space-Filling Empire: The Bulgarian Caliphate covers our Russia, southeastern Europe, and the north and west of North America / Talentis.
  • Technology Porn: Despite being in the 17th (Christian) century, they already have colonies in space, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and skyscrapers made of artificial diamonds.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Jamahariya intend to expand the possibilities of science beyond the limitations imposed by Islamic law and custom (as if nanotechnology,space elevators, and FTL travel weren't enough); they do tend to push For Science! to its limits, and in the Caliph of Hind they may have made a poor choice of friends.

Aeolus:

"The Divine Wind" of 1688 never happens, so Britain stays under the Stuarts and gradually becomes Catholic again.

United States of Lizardia:

The K-T extinction event never happens - leading, 65 million years later, to an almost exact equivalent of the modern world, except populated by lizard-men.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs
  • Joke Level: This world is mainly there to make it clear that alternate universes don't have to make sense, and nobody on Homeline is even going to try explaining just how the hell this world came about. The consensus is that the gods think it's funny.

Centrum:

A more successful Angevin (Anglo-French) empire gradually takes over all the world. When the empire falls apart, a meritocracy centered on Terraustralis (Australia) rebuilds the empire. And then, they start discovering and conquering other timelines...
  • Alternate History Wank: The Angevins, and the British Empire in general...until 1902, then it becomes a completely new society.
  • The Rival: Centrum for Homeline