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In Spite of a Nail

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"The universe doesn't much care if you step on a butterfly. There are plenty more butterflies."

We all know that in an Alternate History or Alternate Universe, tiny changes ("For Want of a Nail, the shoe was lost...") can lead to massive changes, where everything is different.

Or, as it may be, not. Sometimes what's different in the new history is less interesting than what has stayed exactly the same.

Consider how a person's DNA is the result of an ovum and one of countless spermatozoa competing to get at it. The slightest change in timing by seconds would result in a completely different person; different sex, possibly different personality and different abilities, etc. (i.e., the difference between fraternal twins). This is never addressed. Well, hardly ever.

An alternate universe could arise where the human race never developed money and society is radically different, but you'll find that you were still born, still live in the same house, and still have that tattered old E.T. doll sitting on the mantlepiece.

In an ongoing series, there's generally an element of the production team wanting to get the most out of actors and sets that they've already paid for. In both series and standalone works, the writer may be trying to draw interesting parallels between two different versions of the same character or situation, or to help impress upon the reader how things are different by showing them a familiar figure in slightly different circumstances; Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman allows the reader to see how the world is different, rather than Richard Nixon The Person Who Never Existed Because A Different Spermatozoön Fertilized His Mother's Egg.

If the new history is the result of Time Travel, it might be possible to explain the non-changes as reality avoiding a Temporal Paradox (by making sure that there's still a time machine and a time traveller to go back and create the new history). Often it isn't. And even when it is, the writer usually doesn't bother. The other possible explanation could be that there is some form of higher power (like God, for example) preventing the timeline from changing too drastically. Another still would be the idea of chaos theory and the butterfly effect as being unpredictable in relation to its consequences. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Naturally, this could to result in a Close-Enough Timeline.

(Note that this doesn't really apply to alternate histories where the change was something the protagonists or their parents did or didn't do. You wouldn't expect universal change within one generation.)

Of course, why does Hitler have to be the only detail history refused to change?

Compare Ontological Inertia. If we're expected to believe things "just happen" to be the same, a subtrope of Contrived Coincidence. See also The Stations of the Canon, Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility and Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman. See also Different World, Different Movies


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Near the end of the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, it is discovered that the alchemist world is an alternate history of ours that branched at least 400 years ago with the discovery of alchemy. In spite of this, The Movie shows several of the characters also exist in "our world," though with different histories and motivations.
  • Code Geass: Word of God says the alternate history goes back as far as 55 BC, when Julius Caesar's attempt to invade Britain is thwarted by the election of a "super-leader"note  — the Celtic King Eowyn, who is the first member of the Britannian royal line (this is later made year 1 of the a.t.b., Ascension Throne Britannia, calendar). The American Revolution failed. Napoleon beat the British, who then re-headquartered their Empire in North America. In the 21st century, the "Holy Britannian Empire" conquers Japan with Humongous Mecha... and yet there are still a great number of parallel developments with our world:
    • Pizza Huts everywhere.
    • If Britannia is descended from the Celts, they shouldn't even be speaking English. Or what we think of as English, anyways.
    • Specifically, history happened basically the same up until Elizabeth I bore a child, which did not happen in history, either by two people that existed in history, or by the "Duke of Britannia", leading to a "golden age" of the Tudors. Another 250 years later, Elizabeth III dies childless, and appoints a different Duke of Britannia as her successor.
  • In the first Doraemon manga, Nobita's great grandson explains to him that even though the future will be changed he will still exist, despite the fact Nobita marries Shizuka instead of Jaiko.
  • Read or Die takes place in a history where the British Empire remains the most powerful force on Earth and cloning is a viable science, yet George W. Bush is still the (at the time) President of the United States, and Stephen King still wrote Misery. Some or all of this may be a result of Gentleman screwing with the Book of Truth.
  • In the main continuity of Lyrical Nanoha, Dead Guy Junior Reinforce Zwei only existed because she was a replacement for the original, who performed a Heroic Sacrifice. However, in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable continuity, the original survived... and the ending for her route shows her taking a walk with Hayate, talking about the future and their plan to create a new Unison Device named Reinforce Zwei.
    • It's even suggested that Reinforce does not have long to live in spite of surviving what would have been her Heroic Sacrifice. She and Hayate both know this, but don't say anything about it.
    • Invoked in the Blu-Ray release of the first three seasons. There's a what-if story where Hayate was the one who found Raising Heart and defeats Fate instead of Nanoha. Nanoha actually complains about having her role stolen, at which point Hayate lets her have the role of Mistress of the Night Sky who then goes onto befriend Fate (with as just much Les Yay as in canon, judging by the Bridal Carry).
  • Katanagatari ends this way. Despite Shikizaki Kiki's attempts to Screw Destiny with the Deviant Blades created via methods from the future, history managed to correct itself. This is because the people he intended on carrying out his plans, his descendant and his ultimate creation, simply refused to play their part.
  • A major frustration to Homura Akemi in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; no matter what she does in her indeterminate number of attempts to rewind the events of the series and start them over differently, the outcome is always the same. She refers to it herself as an "endless maze".
    • As well as the finale; Madoka's wish Ret Cons all witches out of existence, meaning every death at the hands of a witch (Magical Girl or Muggle) didn't happen, saving countless numbers of lives who could then do more things and impact the world. Needless to say, this should radically change the course of human history, as witches and magical girls had been shown to have been around for hundreds of years... yet Mitakihara, at least, looks more or less the same. And Magical Girls still risk life and limb to fight despair, only in the form of 'Wraiths' instead of Witches.
  • Psyren: After seeing the wreck that the world will be in just 10 years and learning that the catalysts leading to those events will occur much sooner, Ageha and friends quickly begin investigating said future in an attempt to reverse the damage in the present. While their efforts do bear fruit ( letting some previously-doomed friends survive to form La Résistance), they realize that it will take far more drastic changes to prevent the apocalypse than simply altering a few of the particulars. Also, the biggest catalyst is the arrival of an Eldritch Abomination from outer space. ...yeah, that'll take some effort.
  • Persona 4 Golden: The Animation: Yu's more outgoing and savvy compared to in Persona 4: The Animation, but it doesn't help him avoid Izanami's "push" or prevent the murders.
  • Steins;Gate: No matter how the timeline changes, no matter how different everyone's lives and circumstances have been because of the change (even to the point of a whole district of the city developing differently), as long as the world line is within the 1% barrier, everyone still has the same personalities, relationships, pastimes, addresses, and careers, Mayuri still dies, and her watch still stops immediately before it happens, no matter when it happens.
  • Kagerou Daze: In the second timeline shown in the manga, Ene is living in Shintaro's computer, just like in the first timeline. This happens despite the fact that the event that led to her doing that, being killed by the Clearing Eyes Snake in Kenjirou's body, did not happen in the second timeline.
  • Justified in the Nasuverse thanks to the concept of "Quantum Timelocks," events which must happen across all alternate timelines, to allow them to remain uniform. This prevents the idea of "infinite realities from infinite choices" from clogging up the multiverse, by using the "core timeline", the one with the highest chance of survival, as a template for all others. While alternate timelines can be divergent in ways that will not change history on a grand scale (for example, if King Arthur were a woman instead of a man), they cannot be too divergent lest they disobey the Quantum Timelocks (for example, the fall of Camelot cannot be prevented). If a timeline disobeys a Quantum Timelock and becomes too divergent, then its odds of survival plummet and it will very likely become a dead world; said dead timeline is designated a "Lostbelt," and deleted from the multiverse to conserve energy. In other words, the only "nails" allowed to exist are the ones that do not lead the kingdom to be lost.

    Comic Books 
  • Most Comic Book Elseworlds suggest that, whatever else happens, the superheroes still exist (unless the absence of a given hero is The Difference). Particularly obvious in many of Marvel Comics's Exiles storylines; in one the entire world has been under the control of Skrulls for the last century, humans have no access to technology, but apparently Peter Parker was still bitten by a radioactive spider.
    • It is actually stated, in an issue of Exiles, by the character Morph, in one of the early issues, that he has noticed that a key component missing on a lot of the worlds is the presence of the Norse Gods (Thor, Loki, Odin, etc). He then goes on to say that he thinks that if the Norse Gods were present many of the worlds would have turned out much more positively.
    • This one is probably best handled in Marvel Comics' Marvel 1602. In this case, a foreign element (namely, Captain America being sent backwards in time) has messed up history; the universe reacts, and "a season has dawned over three hundred years early: a season of heroes and marvels." Or more accurately, "heroes and Marvels."
      • In a way, 1602 actually justifies the fact of certain things and people existing in alternate universes, no matter how different — in essence, 1602 basically explains that certain people and events were destined to exist, so that altering the past may change some things, but the "important" stuff is still going to happen. Or, to put it another way, the universe itself does its best to insure that a Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, etc. exist, no matter what it has to do to make that happen. (If by "the universe", we mean "the Marvel writers and editors.")
      • And then Spider-Man 1602 has the dinosaurs die out, the accord between the Roanokians and the natives get broken, and the superhumans apparently disappear from history, so that by the time World War II comes round, the only difference between this universe and Earth-616 is that a vial of Peter Parquagh's blood is used for Captain America's Super Serum. (This may also mean it's a Stable Time Loop.)
  • In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Lex Luthor finds Kal-El's rocket instead of the Kents and kills the baby before he grows into Superman, and later hires a hitman to assassinate the Waynes. The hitman fails and murders the Gordons instead, prompting Barbara Gordon to become Batgirl. Several years later Kara Zor-El's parents send her to Earth because, even though they don't know their nephew's fate, they know about the Earth's heroes. Kara is mentored by Wonder Woman, becomes Supergirl, joins a super-team and makes friends with Barbara, just like in the mainstream universe.
  • In a special story written for the 500th issue of Detective Comics, Batman is offered the chance to save Bruce Wayne's parents in an alternate universe, knowing that doing so could mean that world never has a Batman to protect Gotham. He does so anyway, and it is later revealed that the deed inspired the alternate Bruce to become Batman as a tribute to the costumed man who saved his parents.
    • This is echoed in the Crisis Crossover series Flashpoint, where there is still a Batman, but with a twist: He's really Thomas Wayne, who took up the cowl after Bruce was murdered. The Joker, by extension, is also an example: what reason other than this trope would cause philanthropist socialite Martha Wayne to respond to her son's death by turning into a psychopathic clown?
      • Elseworlds stories that have Bruce Wayne becoming a different hero (or a different hero becoming Batman) will generally have the other hero's Arch-Enemy becoming the Joker one way or another. In Speeding Bullets (in which Kal-El is adopted by the Waynes) has this happen to Lex Luthor, while In Darkest Knight (where Bruce Wayne gets Abin Sur's Green Lantern ring) does it to Sinestro. The latter is especially notable because Bruce prevented Red Hood (Jack the comedian) from falling into a vat of chemicals earlier in the story.
  • In Astro City, one of the powers of Samaritan (and his arch-enemy Infidel) is immunity to Ret Gone. Samaritan was originally sent back in time to prevent the Challenger explosion, and because of his meddling undoes his world's past, he was never born. No matter what happens to the timeline, Samaritan and Infidel will still exist. In fact, Infidel once destroyed all of space-time, and they still existed.
    • Another Astro City story, "The Nearness of You", averts the trope. A man is haunted by dreams of a woman that he has never met; he knows her well enough to draw her picture, yet utterly fails to track her down. A supernatural character explains to him that the woman is/was his beloved wife, erased in a time-war, and offers to erase his residual memories of her; he declines, and is told that "no one forgets".
  • The Don Rosa 60th anniversary Donald Duck story does this with a Wonderful Life scenario. Most everybody is miserable and worse off for Duck never existing...except for Gladstone Gander, whose ridiculous luck keeps him the same well-off Smug Snake he always was.
    • Except that he has to care for Huey, Dewey and Louey, who under his inept parenting (mostly consisting of bending on their every whim) have become needy couch potatoes estranged from reality.
  • In Strontium Dog, it is explained that since time is so vast, time travellers usually only exert minor changes which smooth out over time. It takes a truly catastrophic event to alter history noticeably.
    • One Fantastic Four storyline espouses the same idea, with Johnny Storm explaining it as "Saving Lincoln just means that everybody will remember how Lincoln was almost assassinated, only to die of a heart attack one day later." Dr. Doom mentions that the "for want of a nail" theory of time travel is a lie spread throughout the timestream by Kang to prevent the emergence of rival time-travellors.
  • Bishop of the X-Men comics is a "chronal anomaly" who has been involved in so much time travel that he himself is never affected by it.
  • An Elseworlds story in the DC Universe, JLA: The Nail, shows what would happen if the Kents had not been out driving their truck as baby Kal-El's ship crash-landed (due to a nail puncturing one of their tires). Instead he was raised by an Amish family and thus never ventured out into the world and never became Superman. Aside from that, not much had changed. All the other heroes still existed, but the public was just more afraid and suspicious of them (cause Superman was a really nice y'know), with debates as to whether they could be trusted. Oh and Jimmy Olsen becomes evil and hatches a plan that involves giving himself Kryptonian superpowers. In the end however, evil Jimmy ends up killing the now-adult Kal-El's Amish parents, giving him the Heroic Resolve to fight and defeat him. Afterwards, he becomes Superman and moves in with the Kents (who had been offering superpowered individuals shelter).
  • In one Silver Age Superman story, Supes asked the supercomputer in his fortress to extrapolate what his life might have been like if Krypton had never exploded. The extrapolated story finally ends with an odd circumstance where this alternate Kal-El acquires super-powers, loses his family, and becomes Superman on Krypton, full costume with the cape and insignia and all. Supes and Batman turn away from the screen with just priceless expressions of astonishment.
  • Although Marvel series What If? typically tends toward For Want of a Nail, it occasionally switches into this trope instead.
    • In "What if the Fantastic Four had not gained their powers?" (v1 #36), Reed Richards properly checked the radiation shielding on his spaceship, so the Fantastic Four never get their powers. As it turns out, this has absolutely no bearing on their ability to kick Mole Man's ass.
    • An even more dramatic example is v1 #14, "What if Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos had fought World War II in Outer Space?": Thanks to the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, mankind has advanced technology including casual spaceflight by the 1940s, but there's still a World War II and it's still got the Howling Commandos fighting in it, complete with all the usual war-comic tropes. Fury's even still a Cigar Chomper, though you'd think that wouldn't work so well in a spacesuit.
    • A quick study of Marvel's What If... series will confirm that, in the multiverse of Marvel Comics, there's only two universes in which Peter Parker doesn't ever become Spider-Man. One of them has no superhumans at all, and the other has no Peter Parker at all. In every other Marvel Universe variant, Peter Parker exists, and he will become Spider-Man at some point.
      • Spider-Gwen adds a third, where Gwen Stacy became Spider-Woman. Here, Peter turned himself into the Lizard... and died.
  • Major Bummer has an alternate reality where dinosaurs evolved into intelligent lifeforms... And somehow they still managed to create a Nazi society, complete with understandable German language.
  • The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius used this during one time travel story. When Barry and Jeremy got stuck in the Wild West, Jeremy was worried that they might change history or cause a Time Paradox. Barry dismissed his concerns, saying that humans overestimate their own significance. He claims that they could kill everyone in the town they are currently in without affecting history one iota.
  • In one Teen Titans storyline, Lex Luthor brought a team of evil Future Titans to kill Jaime Reyes aka Blue Beetle because no matter what he did to the timeline, Jaime refused to turn evil.
  • In Justice Society of America #31 (Part 3 of "The Bad Seed"), Obsidian gets turned into a black egg, as part of the Fourth Reich's evil plot. After two unrelated storylines (and a crossover miniseries), #36-39 are set in a Bad Future, in which the Fourth Reich rule America. In #40, Mr Terrific of the future sends his knowledge of the Reich's plans back in time, and Mr Terrific from the end of "The Bad Seed" frees Obsidian, and the Society takes the fight to the Reich and defeats them. And then a two page coda assures us that the storylines since "The Bad Seed" happened exactly the same way, only Obsidian was also there.
  • Archie Comics has one defining feature. 636 got the population of Riverdale magically made the opposite sex. But one thing never, ever, changes — and the cover doesn't even try kidding readers about this anymore:
    female Archie: (sitting between now-male Betty and Veronica) I still can't choose!
  • One of the few things that remains true throughout the DCU's Multiverse is that Superman and Lex Luthor will always be enemies.
  • Issue 50 of W.I.T.C.H. answered the question of "What if Will never accepted the Heart of Kandrakar that day?" The answer? She'd get it a little bit later on and W.I.T.C.H. is still formed. The damn thing's persistent.
  • In the X-Men storyline Age of Apocalypse, where Charles Xavier died young, Magneto founded the X-Men and the supervillain Apocalypse rules much of the world, there are a whole lot of characters who were villains in the "normal" timeline but heroes in the new one, or vice versa, but darn near everybody still has the same code names, and if they're not wearing the same costume as before they've at least got the same color scheme.
  • The Star Trek (IDW) comic has a two-part story about an alternate universe where everyone is genderflipped. Jane Kirk comments that Starfleet Command distrust her "emotional" decisions, suggesting that gender stereotypes are the same in this universe, and that a woman captain is a rarity. Despite this, the main crew of the Enterprise is (of course) almost entirely female, except Uhuro, Jason Rand, and Carl Marcus. (Also, Jane's mother was captain of the Kelvin for eight minutes. Presumably, the parallelism didn't extend quite as far as this happening while she was giving birth.)
  • In Seconds, at the end, Katie is returned to the original timeline, reversing the entire story, even Katie preventing Hazel's burns. The one thing that remained constant through all the revisions, even this one, is that Katie still had that first conversation with Hazel about Lis, and they're still great friends in the present.
  • In Convergence #8, Crisis on Infinite Earths is altered so that all the alternate Earths weren't destroyed. The end result is... that the post-Flashpoint multiverse of 52 Earths is still there. Whether they developed from existing worlds in the multiverse or came into existence on their own is unclear, but the 52 end up happening one way or the other.
  • In IDW's "Deviations" event, we're shown heavy deviations from canon for five continuities: The Transformers: The Movie, Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe (IDW), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW) and The X-Files. In three of them - Transformers, Ghostbusters and G.I. Joe — we see that even though Optimus Prime lives, the Ghostbusters chicken out in crossing the streams and Cobra successfully take over the world with the M.A.S.S. Device, canon sorts itself out and the original endings happen.
  • The French comic series "Jour J" are a series of What Ifs concerning Alternate Histories that works hard to avert this.
    • There's one where the Titanic doesn't sink in 1912, preventing Prohibition (the kid with the telescope who gave the alarm ends up working for a newspaper and revealing that Prohibition would be a godsend to gangsters). It does, however, sink a few years later because of an iceberg, preventing World War Two as Hitler and Einstein were aboard.
    • Spain is still Muslim territory when Columbus sets off for his voyage, landing further north than in reality. It turns out the Vikings' descendants had colonized and spread further south. The expedition's Sole Survivor marries a native princess named Pocahontas and does what he can to prepare the natives for the inevitable European invasion.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown of Stars:
    • Before Daniel's arrival Shinji and Asuka were arguing about the past. Shinji wondered if they could have averted Third Impact and led happier lives if they travelled back in time with their full knowledge, but Asuka firmly believed they could not have changed a damned thing.
    • In Avalon, Shinji and Asuka hear about other alternate dimensions and even find their counterparts of other world. Not matter how different, all Evangelion baseline timelines have one thing in common: Shinji and Asuka are together.
  • Despite the vastly different circumstances leading up to it, Rei still ends up sacrificing herself to defeat the 16th Angel in Advice and Trust. The author said that he did this deliberately to draw a contrast with how everyone was at that point in the main series.
    By having that one event turn out the same, but for entirely different reasons, the whys would be underlined, and the consequences even more so.
  • In Supergirl fic Hellsister Trilogy, the Anti-Monitor was defeated in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but several events such as so an army of villains coming together to conquer several realities still happen.
  • The One I Love Is: Although Shinji, Asuka and Rei and their relationship changed a lot throughout the story, most canon tragedies still happened. Their different and improved mindset only changed one thing: the outcome of the war.
  • The fic Queen of All Oni (part of Project Dark Jade), while differing from the canon Jackie Chan Adventures plot at the start of the canon's fourth season with Jade having a Face–Heel Turn as a result of a spell of Daolon Wong, has a large number of similarities with the series plot.
  • Jade Dragon, part of Project Dark Jade and by the same writer as Queen of All Oni, has Jackie still ending up fighting a demon to stop an army of dragons from attacking China, despite it being a Demon!Jade instead of canon's Shendu.
  • In Supergirl fanfic Survivors, Superman doesn't introduce Kara to the Danvers but she meets them anyway. Kal-El isn't found by the Kents but his cousin settles on Clark for his Earth name. And Kara eventually becomes Supergirl.
  • Better Angels has Shane Walsh surviving the ordeal at the end of Season 2 of The Walking Dead. He takes over Rick's position as leader, corrupting the group with his ruthless survival philosophy. Despite this, the Atlanta group is still put on a path to The Prison where Rick leads them in canon.
    • Zig-zagged because Shane's leadership puts the group at much worse odds than their canon counterparts.
  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, practically every world Michikyuu Kanae has been to contains Kyon, and generally Haruhi.
  • Played with in the Star Wars fanfic Riding the Wheel of If, where in some alternate universes characters don't exist, and others even have them change gender. On the other hand, those versions of the characters that are the same gender are pretty much identical physically, and they're always the same age (per Word of God; when one author wrote a story where Obi-Wan was younger the original author said that didn't happen and it was considered AU to the series). And certain events take place in most or all universes, and if Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon both exist they're usually together, but that's all just Because Destiny Says So.
  • For Want of a Nail is extremely common in Naruto Fan Fiction, but no matter what that nail might be, Team 7 or just Naruto himself has about a 90-95% chance of ending up in the Land of Waves and meeting Zabuza and Haku around when it chronologically happened in canon.
    • However, an increasingly common trend seems to be that Zabuza and Haku (or at least Haku) survive and join Konoha's forces.
      • Even more recently, there's been a pretty strong backlash against this, sending the protagonist team elsewhere. Oddly, these almost never actually send someone else to deal with the situation in Wave, and the whole thing is never commented on.
    • 90% of the time Naruto learns Shadow Clone Jutsu and Rasengan no matter what happens, although since these two skills make up his entire move set it's justified.
    • The Naruto/One Piece crossover fanfic Shinobi Of The High Seas takes In Spite of a Nail to ridiculous extremes. Despite Naruto being there and regularly interacting with the Straw Hats (including adding Nami and Robin to his harem), every major event of the anime/manga happens without fail, even if he's there. It's to the point he completely misses the entire Marineford arc, only hearing of it second-hand.
    • In most fanfics where Naruto grows up outside Konoha he'll likely meet his would've been team mates in the same way: In the beginning of the Chunin exams arc while Kankuro was threatening Konohamaru, despite the fact that without team 7 or Konohamaru knowing him until then the situation wouldn't have happened as Naruto was the only reason any of were interacting with each other.
    • Lampshaded in I Am NOT Going Through Puberty Again!, when the seating arrangement for the Chunin Exams ends up identical to the original timeline despite Sakura stating that it would be statistically impossible. Most of the characters also end up with the same significant others despite vastly different circumstances.
  • This happens in a number of ITV region What If? TV mocks. In some, Carlton and Granada never get hold of the London and North West regions respectively, yet they manage to buy out the regions they purchased in our world and ITV is rendered to its consolidated state in 2003.
  • The Sonic The Hedgehog fanfic A Rose And A Thorn 4 features a character going back in time to save the Ark. Despite knowing everything that can happen, she still cannot stop the destruction of the Ark or the death of Maria. It all happens anyway, so Sonic Adventure 2 happens anyway.
  • Ranma ˝ fanfiction will unfailingly reproduce the first six volumes of the manga, despite Ranma having been born female, travelling with his Rogues Gallery as frienemies, having acquired a different curse, having not actually gone on the training trip, having learned god-smackingly-powerful magic instead of Martial Arts and Crafts, etc.
  • Shinji And Warhammer 40 K is an inversion of this... it isn't the fanfic that needed the nail, it was canon. It still plays the first several Angels almost completely to canon (with minor changes in character attitudes and relationships and much greater levels of awesomeness) but at about Chapters 15 to 20, depending on the reader, it suddenly stops being anything close to canon. Probably best summed up with the following line.
    Shinji: Then hear my command. Send the assassins. Plant the evidence. All the things we talked about before...let it be done...Begin The Purge. Protect my city.
  • Nights In The Big City includes Alternate Universe versions of dozens of major and minor Kim Possible characters, even though its Alternate History diverged at least a century and a half ago (one character mentions Robert E. Lee as a "Blue" (Union) stalwart who went on to become the 17th President).
  • Very common in Harry Potter fan fiction that changes what happened the night Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter. Sometimes Voldemort is somehow defeated despite Lily not dying. Sometimes Voldemort isn't defeated at all. Harry will still usually be the "Boy Who Lived," even if his mother, father, and twin sister also survived. Regardless, everything else that happened before the fic begins will be exactly the same, even if Voldemort should still be waging war against the wizarding community.
    • Another notoriously common one is that, if the Triwizard Tournament takes place, no matter what else is different, the graveyard scene will still happen, and Cedric will almost always die. Considering the sheer unlikelihood of Cedric and Harry reaching the Cup at the same time, THEN deciding to touch the Cup at the same time (and even if they do, the chances of Cedric being outright killed aren't that high), the fact that this happens without fail is more than a little jarring.
    • In A Different Dursley Family, it's said Vernon and Petunia were destined lovers. The "nail" of this fic was Vernon trying to steal a statue from Smeltings (his secondary school) for a prank. In that fic, Vernon was caught and expelled for this, which resulted on him being cut from his father's will and becoming a mechanic to earn a living. This prevented him from being the intolerant man who'd force Harry Potter into Cinderella Circumstances and yet, he and Petunia met, fell in love and had a child. Prior to the fic's proper beginning, the author briefly mentioned other alternative timelines coming from the statue prank and the only one specifically stating Vernon wouldn't marry Petunia was one where the statue fell on him, causing his death. And even then Harry's life wouldn't be different from canon since Petunia would marry a squib who was so envious of his magical relations as Petunia was of her sister.
    • The Rose Potter series is fairly notorious for this, being a literal (as in, largely the same but with the pronouns swapped) rewrite of canon with Harry replaced by a female God-Mode Sue. This results in many places where Rose easily resolves something Harry failed to do in canon, but inexplicably still has to deal with the fallout — for instance, even after clearing Sirius Black's name, she still has to meet and contact him in secret as if he were still a wanted criminal.
  • Just about any fanfic that tries to insert an Original Character, but keep to canon. The new character might steal a few scenes from others, and may replace someone as the author's favorite character's love interest, but don't expect anything important to actually change because of this character's existence.
  • In the Pony POV Series, despite unforeseen circumstances like the Windigos, Discord's first reign, and Nightmare Moon, the version of Ponyville designed by the Alicorns and Draconequi during the Cosmic Retcon of G3 still comes into existence as planned.
  • Oh, god — the gradually broadening, world-engulfing trope that is OmegaVerse. A human culture that had normal male and female "betas", powerful "alphas" that whether they appear as male or female can impregnate, and "omegas" that whether they appear as male or female undergo periodic sexual "heats" during which they can be impregnated — and during which they are irresistibly attracted to any alpha within scent range, said alpha inevitably reciprocating — would not be in any conceivable way the same as ours. Not remotely.
  • In Perfection is Overrated, while the SUEs' arrival results in an alternate suspect arising for the attack on Yukariko, resulting in the Himes not going after Nao, there are several other changes. Yukariko and Ishigami die when Ishigami tries to take advantage of SUEs with the ability to alter their targets' memories and personalities to spark infighting among the Himes. The First District still gets destroyed, not by Shizuru, but by The Usurper-possessed Obsidian Lord, a brainwashed Mikoto, Nagi and two SUEs.
  • The Infinite Loops have this hardcoded into their premise. An anchor is intended to stabilize a universe, no matter how many variant loops it goes through. Though the Anchor can sometimes replace other characters within a Loop, so they aren't always playing the same role. Also, Fused Loops can have non-native Anchors present.
    • There's a running gag in the MLP Loops where no matter what Twilight does, her library will end up being destroyed by the end of the Loop.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the For Better Or For Worse Fix Fic Foobar; try as Elly might to use magic to make her future better, her very limited ability to influence events (and ignorance of the fact that her victims are aware of what she's trying to do) result in only a minor change in her surroundings. Said minor change is a true awareness of how damaged she is.
  • In Dauntless, the "Nail" is Clovis discovering Lelouch is alive, reuniting him with the Britannian royal family. Though a lot of things do change, Lelouch still makes contact with C.C. and still gets his Geass.
  • Although history progressively changes over the course of the Axis Powers Hetalia AU fic Monarchy Over The Danube, some events still happen more or less as in real life, such as the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Even further on, a few Historical Domain Characters still manage to become prominent heads of state, like Queen Elizabeth II for England.
  • Despite the Britannian Empire not being a thing in the world of Justice Society of Japan, Lelouch is still Zero, he still works with C.C., he still has a Geass, and he's still the head of a mercenary company known as the Black Knights. The reasons for this are, as of now, unknown.
  • To Paragon!John Shepard's shock, when he meets his Renegade!Female counterpart in Mass Effect: Life is a Game, Jane says that she killed Wrex, Mordin and Legion in her first playthrough. Except, despite her joking about it, there is absolutely no way she'd promote Uldina to the Council over Anderson, something she and John are in complete agreement about.
    • The fact that the divergent Paragon and Renegade paths both inevitably led to them facing down the Star Child in the same way at the same time really ticks her off.
  • In SOS Pretty Cure, Haruhi is still melancholy about the fact that she has failed to discover any supernatural phenomena, even though she becomes a Magical Girl before ever forming the SOS Brigade. When Kyon asks about that later on, it's Hand Waved by means of redefining what the paranormal is.
  • In Façade, despite the fact that Yu Narukami is female, the plot chugs on as usual as far as events go. Thus far at least — Yu's budding friendship with Mitsuo might change things...
  • In The S-Class Mage, a Fairy Tail fanfiction where Earthland Lucy looks and acts like Edolas Lucy and thus joins Fairy Tail years ahead of canon and rises to S-Class, things still happen more or less the same way is they did in canon, and where it diverts, it diverts in a way that benefits the protagonists. For example, Simon survives the Tower of Heaven arc, and Jellal's name is cleared at the end of the Oracion Seis arc.
  • Shown in the Facing the Future Series where, despite Danny preventing the Bad Future in "The Ultimate Enemy," Skulker and Technus still end up joining forces to form SkulkTech. When this is pointed out, the subject of whether or not Box Lunch will be born also came up, much to the disgust of Danny, Sam, and Tucker.
  • In the RWBY fic For All Time, one of the reasons Ruby travels back in time is because she thinks she can manipulate Past!Weiss into returning her feelings. This never works, though she has tried it literally hundreds of times.
  • In the Shadow of the Moon is a crossover fic where Homura Akemi lives in the Moon Kingdom and Walpurgisnacht doesn't exist. But Madoka still dies, and Homura still goes demon. Homura herself lampshades this trope, insisting that the narrator (Sailor Venus) cannot help her and shouldn't feel guilty about that.
  • Several How to Train Your Dragon For Want of a Nail fanfictions will have Hiccup lose his left leg, even if the event that caused it in canon does not happen.
  • Despite the very different setting and tons of OCs added in, Sonic X: Dark Chaos still roughly follows the general plot arc of the original Sonic X. Sonic fights new villain, Cosmo arrives, the heroes go into space to find the Chaos Emeralds, meet several canon alien races, and the adventure ends with a huge final battle and Heroic Sacrifice Bittersweet Ending.
    • Also, the Seedrians are still utterly wiped out and Dark Oak forms the Metarex in both the canon and Dark Chaos universes, even though the Dark Chaos backstory is very different.
  • A character variation occurs in A Different First Crewmember. Nami is still obsessed with money despite not having to buy her home island from Arlong. Justified given that if her family had just had more money, Bellemare would have still been alive when Shanks turned up to defeat Arlong.
    • Likewise, the crew has to get a ship from Kaya despite Nami commissioning one beforehand because Buggy blows it up.
  • It's not uncommon for the Balbadd arc of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic with two outcomes, one, it follows the same as canon, two, Kassim survives, but Balbadd still fall to the hands of Kou.
  • Lulu's Bizarre Rebellion:
    • Unable to give Lelouch a geass, C.C seeks out Nunally and gives her the exact same geass he received in canon.
    • There is still a "Massacre princess" incident, but it's caused by the rogue stand Anubis, not a geass and since the general public knows about stands, none of the controlled people are considered at fault.
    • Villeta still gets stuck in the persona of a woman named Chigusa, but it's because of vampire Kusakabe's stand turning her Japanese.
  • Quiververse: In this storyline, thanks to everything regarding Sunset Shimmer and a desire to avoid becoming a Broken Pedestal, Princess Celestia fills Twilight in on a number of things, particularly the Tree of Harmony. Thanks to this foreknowledge, Twilight's able to put two and two together regarding the plundervines very quickly once the time comes, and convinces Discord to help deal with them. The vines, however, attack Discord, and she and the rest of the Mane Six are forced to return the Elements to the Tree of Harmony anyway.
  • Thousand Shinji: In spite of his completely different upbringing, new powers and improved relationships with the remaining main characters, Shinji was unable to avert most of tragedies: Touji still got crippled when Bardiel hijacked an Eva, he still got stuck inside Unit-01, Asuka still was mind-raped by Arael, Rei still blew up when she fought Armisael and Third Impact still happened.
  • Justified in Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past. There is a mysterious character known only as "the agent-in-place" who somehow knows what happened in the original timeline, possesses vast resources and impressive magical power, and secretly acts behind the scenes to ensure that things like Harry violating the Decree For The Reasonable Restriction Of Underage Wizardry, Ginny getting possessed by the diary and Harry getting entered into the Triwizard Tournament still happen, no matter how hard Harry tries to prevent them from happening.
    • Notably, Harry has no idea that the "agent-in-place" exists, which means that from his point of view, these canon events still happen even though it no longer makes the least bit of sense for them to happen.
  • The Senshi Files: Despite Harry adopting Makoto Kino shortly after the events of Storm Front, the basic canon of the Dresden-verse seems to be unchanged. Justified in that the earlier plots tend to happen to Dresden, rather than as a result of him, and the story itself being focused on the Tokyo end of things.
  • Despite Shinji and Asuka's best efforts, several events in The Second Try still happen in accordance with the original timeline (The Stations of the Canon notwithstanding), most notably Shinji getting absorbed by Unit 01 during the battle with Zeruel and Rei II sacrificing herself to defeat Armisael.
    Why? Why couldn't he kill it just like that? Why did it have to happen like this?
    Was destiny meant to repeat itself after all...?
  • While non-DL6 world in an Ace Attorney fanfic A Complete Turnabout is completely different from the one we know some things don't change. Phoenix and Iris still meet and fall in love, Phoenix and Maya still become friends, SL-9 still happens and Karma still kills Gregory Edgeworth although much later.
  • In The Greatest There Was Or Ever Will Be, Ash actually defeats Sabrina in a Gym Battle on his first try. Even so, she immediately flies into a rage and traps him and his friends into an illusory world, because without Haunter, he could not purify her soul.
  • Brother on Brother, Daughter on Mother actually makes an effort to justify this with an analogy that time is a rope composed of probabilistic outcomes that produce fundamentally similar alternate timelines with slight variations. A rope can tangle up, but if you pull on a rope all the strands move in basically the same direction. However, sufficiently large Time Travel events can cause the rope to fray, which results in scenarios such as the Mirror Universe note  and the timeline in which Star Trek: Enterprise took place, the latter of which ended up becoming so unstable it was erased from existence entirely.
  • Lampshaded in Crisis on Two Equestrias. When the Celestiaverse Twilight encounters the visitors from the Lunaverse, she goes off on a rant about how despite the two universes having had radically different histories for the past millennium, the same ponies were still born, ended up in much the same places, and even developed recognizably similar personalities. She's well on her way to a full-fledged existential breakdown before Spike helpfully pokes her.
  • This Bites!:
    • Cross' attempted interventions seem to result in keeping the crew safe... only for him to take the hit instead. This happens with the prehistoric bacteria on Little Garden, the initial meeting with Mr. 2 and the 1st round of the Davy Back Fight.
    • Cross warns Vivi about the bomb in the clock tower ahead of time, and she includes that warning in her message to her father that she sends to Alubarna. Due to the moles in the Royal Army, Baroque Works gets wind of it, and the army they amass together with the Mr. 7 pair's sniping skills results in them guarding the bomb successfully against the siege until the war begins.
    • As Vivi finds out, one of Cross's biggest fears in this world is, despite everything he's tried to do, failing to stop the Paramount War.
    • Despite Cross's planning, Luffy still ends up revealing himself to Jonathan.
    • Cross manages to stop Foxy from shooting the horse Shelly, but after witnessing Foxy's callous attitude, Luffy still ends up accepting the Davy Back Fight anyway. When the rest confront him about it, Luffy says that he already knows the Fight's risks from Shanks's stories, but he also knows about the one-on-one Captain's Fight at the end, and he wants to beat up Foxy for pretending to be a pirate.
    • Despite Cross's promise, Merry's keel is still broken beyond all hope of saving.
    • Robin still hands herself over to CP9 to keep the crew safe.
    • A downplayed example: Shu still manages to rust part of Yubashiri's blade.
    • Despite Whitey and Squardo's assistance, Ace still loses to Blackbeard and is captured by the Marines... on account of Aokiji sticking his nose in at exactly the wrong moment.
  • madsthenerdygirl's MCU Rewrites: In Age of Ultron: Redux, Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver is Spared by the Adaptation during the Final Battle against Ultron. However, in the sequel New Avengers, Pietro is killed by Tomi Shishido/Gorgon.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, even considering all the changes between timelines, as well as Ash and his Pokémon having awareness of what happened the first time around, some events happen more or less as they did in canon. Examples include:
    • Despite arriving in time to Oak's lab, Ash finds out that the three starter Pokémon have already been claimed.
    • Ash and Pikachu are still attacked by a Spearow flock on the road to Viridian City, this time even without provocation.
    • Misty has the same Pysduck she involuntarily caught in the anime. Only this time, she appears to actually have caught it of her own volition, plus she already had it by the time she met Ash.
    • Despite her completely different upbringing, Iris has the exact same Axew, Excadrill, and Emolga she had in the anime, in addition to having been raised alongside her Dragonite.
    • Ash once again finds himself banned from entering Erika's Gym, albeit this time for a reason out of his control.
    • Lara Laramie still gets her arm broken, forcing her out of the Big P Pokémon Race. Fortunately, like in canon, Ash is able to fill in for her.
    • MissingNo mentions that all the people and Pokémon Ash met in the previous timeline are still tied to him. Hence why Ash, and to a lesser extent other trainers, end up finding the exact same Pokémon they had in the previous timeline, and how Ash ends up meeting the same people, even if it's under different circumstances.
  • To Hell and Back (Arrowverse):
    • Even with the presences of Barry and Kara and the lack of Sara, Shado still dies from a gunshot wound.
    • Replacing Oliver with Slade in his non-Lian Yu adventures only changes the ultimate outcome of one of said adventures. Also, despite the Mirakuru no longer driving him insane, Slade is still forced to leave behind his biological son Joe.
  • In Heretic Pride, Shmi Skywalker is freed from slavery shortly after the events of The Phantom Menace, and consequently she never meets and marries Cliegg Lars. But she still meets and befriends Owen Lars and Beru Whitesun under other circumstances, because some of the author's other works had developed Shmi's friendship with Beru and the author wanted to show a version of that in this timeline.
  • Mr and Mrs Gold: Despite the difference Belle's early liberation (and her Storybrooke counterpart's presence) has on the story, various events and factors still fall into place, considering Rumpelstiltskin was the one that set up the dominoes and this version of Belle is now in on the plan.
    • Henry still gets the book… it is just that Rose gave it to him and not Mary Margaret.
    • Maurice's Storybrooke persona Moe French winds up in the hospital… but it has nothing to do with Mr. Gold, instead caused by organ failure.
    • Mr. Gold's treasured cup gets stolen on Regina's behalf… but by Kit instead of Moe French.
  • Becoming the Mask: The circumstances which lead to Claire's brother being swapped for a Changeling are not recreated - Jim and Toby never follow the goblins into the museum and see Nomura in her Changeling form, pushing her to reveal the recently-recovered Fetch to Bular in the next episode to convince him of her usefulness and to spare her life. However, Enrique still ends up being kidnapped and replaced.

    Films - Animated 
  • In Zootopia, the basic premise of the movie's setting is that even though human beings never existed and sapient anthropomorphic mammals evolved instead, civilization and modern society emerged in almost exactly the same way as it would have with humans.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • White Man's Burden is set in a world in which black and white people have switched cultural roles, but besides that, 1990s America is still pretty much the same.
  • Terminator
    • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines shows us that no matter what, Judgment Day will still transpire circa the turn of the century.
    • In a way, the climax of Terminator 2: Judgment Day made things worse, since the new version of Skynet designed in T3 wasn't a supercomputer, but software which was able to infiltrate the Internet, which is decentralized and much harder to destroy.
  • The Back to the Future trilogy:
    • Back to the Future is a good example — Marty accidentally prevents his parents from meeting in 1955, so has to get them together in order to protect his existence. Marty's actions change a lot in regards to his family; when he returns to 1985, his father George is a much more confident man and successful author, his mother Lorraine is slimmer and no longer an alcoholic, his siblings are no longer dead-end losers, Biff is now a somewhat goofy car waxer that looks up to George, and Marty now owns a spiffy pick-up truck, one that he had been eyeing longingly in the original timeline. However, the only change beyond his family and Biff is that Twin Pines Mall is called Lone Pine Mall; everything else is exactly the same. Marty and his siblings still exist and were still born on the same days, they still live in the same house, his room is exactly the same as in the "old" timeline, Marty is still dating Jennifer, and was planning the exact same trip to the lake as "before".
    • Then, in Back to the Future Part II, you have 1985A. In this timeline, a lot more has changed: Biff becomes insanely wealthy and George gets murdered by Biff. Yet, Marty and his siblings still exist, Michael Jackson still becomes a famous pop star, and A Fistful of Dollars is still made.
      • George fathered the three before Biff had him killed; Lorraine even says Marty looks like his father George. Also, Marty's 1985A siblings have apparently reverted to their original Jerkass loser personalities.
    • Back to the Future Part III had Marty embarrass Biff's Wild West ancestor and get him arrested, and Marty and Doc rob a train to drive it off a cliff. This didn't change anything at all, except that now Clayton Ravine is called Eastwood Ravine (named for Marty's alias instead of the schoolteacher who "originally" died there).
    • They actually discussed this in the commentary for Part II when Biff goes back from 2015, with Marty and the Doc still there. They discussed why it never changed, and decided it'd be better if things remained the same at that moment.
  • In the Alternate Universe of Almost Normal, in spite of homosexuals being in the majority (with heterosexuals being the ostracized minority), the culture and society seems to (otherwise) be much of the same. Brad still exists, along with everyone else he knew. It's interesting to note that the homo/hetero flip has led to changes in French history.
  • In the 2009 Star Trek movie, no matter what the Big Bad does, the original cast of TOS ends up on the Enterprise in the spots they filled on the show. It's actually implied that Nero's actions cause the group to coalesce sooner than they did in the original timeline.
    • In the case of Chekov, it actually caused him to be born sooner. Chekov was originally born in 2245, but the new timestream pushed it forward to 2241. It's interesting to imagine that as soon as they heard the news about the destruction of the Kelvin, Chekov's parents' first reaction was "we should bone!", and that's why Chekov is older in the new film.note 
    • This also happened to Kirk who was born two months earlier than he would've been. Nero's attack somehow caused Kirk's mom to go into labor (maybe intense stress or something) causing Kirk to be born in January instead of March like he was in the original timeline. The novelization of the 2009 movie reveals that Kirk's mom had an inhibitor device to impede the child's birth while she was still on assignment aboard the USS Kelvin. However, as soon as Nero showed up, the impact of the Narada's weapons on the ship caused the device to fail.
    • The only other main difference is that Spock and Uhura's romance is now much more blatant and not one-sided.
    • And, y'know, Vulcan.
    • And y'know, despite that they never have a history, Kirk and Khan will ALWAYS be at each other's throat, and Khan will always make one of the main cast die in a radiation-filled engine room.
    • Though apparently a line they filmed, but cut for some reason, had Spock Prime say that these events happened because this new space-time continuum was "trying to repair itself" to be more like the original, hence the reason why everyone all ended up on the same ship.
  • An odd version happens in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. The Futurians tells Japan's authorities Japan will become a nuclear wasteland because of Godzilla in the future, and so they must prevent Godzilla's birth in 1954. However, they went after the wrong Godzilla, and went for the one who would be the Heisei Godzilla. However, Godzilla in actuality did not destroy Japan, and judging by the last film, neither will Godzilla Junior, who was Raised by Humans. After Godzilla's death, Japan would still become a superpower nation with a Gentle Giant Godzilla that wouldn't kill a single human.
  • The Invention of Lying: A world where nobody is capable of lying, and yet humanity hasn't killed itself off from everyone constantly insulting one another or failing to conceal their inherent jerkassness. The film shows major cultural consequences of humanity's inability to lie, such as the fact that there's never been any fiction or religion, yet all the countries seem to be the same, there was still a black plague in the thirteenth century, Napoleon still conquered half the world, Coke is still competing with Pepsi, etc. And despite Christianity not existing in the film's universe, the calendar still ended up exactly identical to the Gregorian calendar. Think about it: how did they decide what year to mark as 1?
  • This is done humorously in C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, to draw parallels with real history. In the DVD Commentary, however, the creators noted that the Indian Wars were pretty much the same in Real Life.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Discussed by Beast, but ultimately subverted. The Sentinel future has been thoroughly derailed, but Wolverine still falls into Stryker's hands (presumably propelling him through the events of Origins), and Charles goes on to form the X-Men, and the two still meet up. One or two significant things have changed, though. Logan, tragically, plays this ultimately straight, with all of the original X-Men wiped out at the end of the movie, including Logan and Charles, who barely survived Days. Also, going by the movie's premise, the worst of humanity is now in charge.
  • In Men in Black 3 K is erased from history by a time traveling Boris (the Animal), but somehow in the new time line J is still a Men in Black agent.
  • Bright is set in a universe where magic exists, mankind exist side by side with fantastical creatures like orcs, elves and fairies and over 2,000 years ago, an Evil Overlord attempted to take over the world and it took an alliance of all nine peoples to defeat him. Despite these drastic changes and that Fantastic Racism is rampant, human history seems no different that of the real world - aside from the technology being the same and the cities being in the same locations, among other things, Shrek, the battle of the Alamo, the Crips and Bloods, and Black Lives Matter all get referenced at some point.

  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • The TNG novel Dark Mirror treads similar ground; there's still an Enterprise-D, with most of the same crew in most of the same roles, except that Worf is a galley slave and Wesley Crusher is a total badass who attempts to kill Picard, as revenge for killing his father and taking over the Stargazer, and to move himself up.
    • Star Trek: Mirror Universe takes it further; there are Terran Resistance cells equivalent to the Voyager crew (including Neelix and Kes!), the Stargazer crew, the Excalibur crew, the Titan crew, etc. And they fight Alliance members who are counterparts of the aliens in the same crews.
    • Some of the universes in the Star Trek: Myriad Universes spin-offs are even worse than the Mirror Universe. If Khan Noonien Singh won the Eugenics War, and humanity spent the next four hundred years being genetically engineered and only breeding according to strict eugenic principles, it beggars belief that the Deep Space Nine cast even exist, let alone are patrolling Bajoran space in a ship called the Defiance.
    • Christopher L. Bennett's Myriad Universes novella Place of Exile proposes that the characters are linked to their alternate universe counterparts though subspace. In his annotations he says "the physical connection across different timelines means that there can be a sort of quantum resonance: the shared 'inertia' of different quantum facets of the same being causes their lives — and their genetics — to develop along similar lines."
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle does this AND For Want of a Nail at the same time. Charles Wallace (and a unicorn, and Meg... sort-of) need to zig-zag though time, making a dozen changes scattered throughout history, to replace a dictator poised to start World War III with a nicer near-clone. But no matter what events they change, no other effects show up in the present. And they even screw with Meg's husband's family!
  • In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series the central premise is a) vampires are real, as are all fictional characters (and more of them are vampires than you'd expect), and b) Dracula vampirised Queen Victoria and ruled Britain for many years. But by the second book, World War I is happening in roughly the same way it did in ours (with a Lampshade Hanging that many believe it wouldn't have happened without the vampire influence), and by the third book (set in The '50s) the vampires seem to have had no real effect on history at all; they exist, but everything else is the same.
  • The original comic-book version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in a similar world, although this is far more obvious in all the "supplementary" material than the main action.
  • In Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's Back in the USSA, American government and capitalism collapse in 1917 and Eugene Debs leads a Socialist revolution. After that things go much as in the USSR in our timeline, but with American figures — e.g., Al Capone fills the role of Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover is the equivalent of Lavrentiy Beria, and Eliot Ness is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Ideology. Dissidents risk getting exiled to Alaska.
  • Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series is notorious for this. Not only are many of the same historical figures around (albeit often in different positions), but most of the story arc is copy/pasted from the history of Germany and France in World War I and World War II including the Holocaust happening to southern blacks.
    • Interestingly, the original TL-191 novel, How Few Remain, largely averted this Trope. The following Great War trilogy at least made some effort at averting it as well, with notable butterflies and Expys of post-PoD historical figures... at least on the American side of the Atlantic (in Europe, however, he played it straight).
    • Similarly, his collaboration with Richard Dreyfuss, The Two Georges, concerning a giant British North American Dominion born of George Washington and King George III cutting a deal featured not only Governor General Sir Martin Luther King but a used steam car tycoon named "Honest Dick" in Southern California.
    • And again in In the Presence of Mine Enemies, in which the Nazis won World War II, he copy-pastes the fall of the Soviet Union. It's shifted forward about fifteen years, but the world's largest totalitarian government still crumbles after the appointment of a pro-glasnost Fuhrer, a right-wing coup against him, and a popular uprising with a megalomaniac, alcoholic local governor at its head, who ends up the front-runner for head of state once his state becomes its own country.
    • The copypasting is then taken to ludicrous extremes in The United States of Atlantis, this time with an American Revolution with only the settings changed to reflect the Alternate History geography that created the new timeline, and with an Expy substituting for George Washington.
    • Copy-pasting real world history is Turtledove's shtick. Timeline-191? CSA = Nazi Germany. In the Presence of Mine Enemies? Nazi Germany in decline = USSR in decline. The Man with the Iron Heart? Modern-day Iraq War.
      • The Man in with the Iron Heart is the worst one - basically, a Nazi-led insurgency in Germany just after World War II somehow succeeds in driving the British and Americans out. This, after fighting the largest and most destructive war in human history against them, but also with the Soviet Union just across the border - and the widely-held belief that as soon as the Allies leave, the Nazis take over again, this time with nuclear weapons!
      • That and the Nazis somehow are able to pull off stunts that resemble modern day terrorism's finest dreams despite having much lower levels of tech and having been completely and utterly raped and burned in ways that modern day extremists are lucky they haven't been.
      • Also, Heydrich's real-life assassination, the one whose failure is the PoD, wasn't just a random attack by partisans; it was planned in real life by MI-6, who by that time really wanted Heydrich dead for a number of reasons, not the least that he was threatening several high-placed German double agents. It's doubtful they would have just given up after one attempt.
    • The war that came early begins with General Sanjurjo surviving the plane trip from Portugal in 1936 and he, not Franco, leading the nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. The action then jumps to 1938, at the height of the Battle of the Ebro, and the narration notes that Sanjurjo failed to take Madrid early in the war because he preferred marching on Toledo first. In reality, Toledo and the attack on the XYZ Line that made possible the Republican counterattack on the Ebro were both Franco's personal blunders for which he was criticized a lot in his own side; had Sanjurjo been in charge he'd probably acted differently.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell features an Alternate History of Regency Britain where magic and The Fair Folk exist, the setting is little different than the actual Britain of the time and historical figures are exactly as in reality. Also, although magic is used in fighting the Napoleonic Wars, they still end up finishing at Waterloo with an British/Dutch/German victory.
    • It gets worse. For the majority of the Middle Ages, the northern part of England was ruled by a Fairy-sponsored magician-king. This has almost no appreciable effect on the timeline.
  • The Newt Gingrich/William R. Forstchen-penned American Civil War trilogy has both this and For Want of a Nail going down: Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia wins at Gettysburg due to a change in strategy, but Vicksburg still falls on July 4th so Grant marches eastnote  much earlier. Likewise, while the Army of the Potomacnote  is shattered in battle after Lee's army was repulsed at Washington, D.C., the subsequent Battle of Frederick becomes this timeline's "Gettysburg"note , and thanks to Grant's combined armies being more successful than our timeline's Meade at running down Lee the war actually ends in Union victory, complete with similar terms of surrender for Lee's army and much of Abraham Lincoln's declared plans mirroring post-war U.S. government policy. Heck, this timeline concludes with a "Frederick Address".
  • In a series of books by Vasiliy Golovachev, people with any psychic power are explicitly said to be resistant to past-altering powers. To be more exact, their personalities and memories are. Should their parents never meet, they will be born from other parents. This probably should cause a lot of confusion, as they might not know who their new parents are, and previous parents will forget them. The world once changed the sentient life in the past (sentient cockroaches to sentient apes), and there were people to witness it.
  • The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik are Napoleonic alternate history WITH DRAGONS! The fact that all the major world powers now have air forces has had very little effect on the course of European history, though outside Europe things seem to be considerably more different—particularly in Africa which has an empire built on dragons.
    • Also, starting with the timeframe of the books, the history of the Napoleonic Wars begins to diverge slightly from our own. This may be One-Shot Revisionism: if European history was the same as our up until the timeframe of the books, why should it start diverging just then?
    • The books mention that in Eurasia, dragons are seen as little more than very large, more-or-less intelligent horses that can fly. Because most people are afraid of them, the dragons are kept away from civilization and these myths are allowed to perpetuate, and the dragons are prevented from impacting the culture. The cultures that are noted as being different are the ones that treat the dragons as the equals they really are (the Africans mentioned are actually led by dragons, and the Incan empire is still intact in the 1800s, having used dragons to drive the Spanish off).
    • Note also that the relationship of non-European peoples and powers to the European powers is quite different in the world of Temeraire than in ours. Here, China is a Great Power, able to make Britain walk and speak softly when dealing with it (though racist attitudes vis-a-vis Chinese still exist), the Inca have been able to hold off the Spanish for centuries, and the African empire drives the European colonists and slavers clean off the continent, with great slaughter.
    • As far as the Napoleonic Wars go, the campaign against Prussia in 1806 goes off pretty much as in our history, though later on Napoleon is able to launch his invasion of Britain, and does overrun much of England, although the Grande Armee is finally driven out. Furthermore, Lord Nelson survives the Battle of Trafalgar, though severely injured, although he is later killed in action in the crucial naval battle of the campaign to drive the French out of England.
    • As the story develops the questions and inconsistancies become greater, especially in light of how quickly the British are able to increase their numbers of dragons. With Birthrates like those, you'd think that the Dragon's would've displaced humans by now, especially as they're generally shown to be at least as intelligent.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books, most of the main characters live in a universe where magic is functional, the French won the Battle of Agincourt, and North America is called "Atlantis" and is dominated by a Modern Mayincatec Empire. Nevertheless, a substantial fraction of the people there explicitly have counterparts in our world.
  • Lampshaded in Night Watch: "Historical Imperative", as it's called by the History Monks, ensures that a time-displaced Vimes takes the place of his teacher after said teacher's death at the hands of another time traveler so that the "present-day" Vimes will be the same as he was before the time travel incident.
    • The Discworld runs on Narrative Causality, which may have also had a hand in it (or be another side of the same thing as Historical Imperative...).
      • An alternative view, with some substantiation based on other appearances of the History Monks, is that "Historical Imperative" is shorthand for "that version of events favored by the History Monks".
    • Also, in the second and third The Science of Discworld books, the wizards try to avert changes in history wrought by elves and Auditors, to ensure that Shakespeare and Darwin will complete their works and the Roundworld humans will achieve space travel before the next iceball smacks into their planet. In many versions of history, Darwin writes "On The Theology Of Species": a superficially-similar treatise that describes natural selection, but blames it all on divine will, hamstringing scientific reasoning for future generations.
      • Not to mention that this causes Richard Dawkins to write the real Origin (as in "of Species") later, with the shown excerpt worded identically to Darwin's version.
    • In Mort, the title character is acting as Death when he saves a princess that's supposed to die. It turns out her successor, while an evil man, would have united the city-states of the Plains. At the end of the book, Mort is reminded he needs to work to ensure this happens anyway.
    • Averted in Small Gods, in which the main character was supposed to die. Thanks to the intervention of one of the monks tasked with keeping the timeline working, he survives, prevents a hundred years of war and the "death" of a god.
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett is set in an alternate universe where the geography of the Earth is different, several new species of animal exist, most of the British royal family died in a plague in the mid-nineteenth century, and over the course of the story it is discovered that an advanced civilisation arose in the Pacific islands 35,000 years ago. This fact becomes common knowledge and the subject of major scientific interest. The epilogue takes place in the present day and namechecks several real-life scientists who apparently still exist and work in the same fields.
  • Johnny and the Bomb has the protagonists overcome their worries about For Want of a Nail and save a couple dozen people from getting bombed. As a result a couple streets have different names and a few shops have changed, but that's about it.
  • Animorphs:
    • Elfangor's Secret opens in an alternate history where Visser Four traveled back in time and mucked with (among other things...) the American Revolution and World War II (and Agincourt, but that was because his host body constantly recited Henry V to annoy him), trying to ensure that human society would be oppressive and backwards. He gets results, but all of the Animorphs are alive and superficially similar to their true selves — Cassie (who is African-American) owns a slave, but her usual-timeline boyfriend, Jake, still considers turning her in to the police because he wonders if her softness towards her slaves means she's liberal and opposes the Empire. Also, Blood Knight Rachel is replaced by her friend Melissa Chapman, as this society "has no use for uppity, aggressive females," and she's in a reeducation camp being taught "her place." Toward the end, despite wildly different historical outcomes, the 1960's still features a free-love hippie commune.
    Marco: "The United States is gone, or at least way different; the Nazis never happened, Einstein, who knows? But hippies are right when and where they're supposed to be? ...Maybe hippies just have to happen, you know? How else would we have bell-bottoms?"
    • Not sure if this is intentional, but another book has an explanation for this. It turns out that the Ellimist made sure that those particular kids became friends and started fighting the Yeerks, no matter what the timeline.
    • In said book, the Drode (on Crayak's orders) gives a particularly stressed-out Jake a chance to undo history by having the kids not acquire morphing powers (and the stress that goes with it). Jake accepts... and as a result, the Yeerk invasion is actually closer to being exposed and defeated than the main timeline despite Tobias being infested, Cassie is revealed to be a temporal anomaly (she "remembers" how things are supposed to go)... oh, and Rachel goes on a date with Marco. You can see why everyone agrees to return to the main timeline.
  • "Hardcore" Alternate History refers to this trope as "the butterfly net" (as in the butterfly effect) and considers examples of AH works that use it to be unrealistic or frivolous — similar to the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness. Very commonly used in published AH, of course, because it's funny to see Richard Nixon as a used car salesman, even if the timeline diverged in the 1760s. Its use may, however, also be regarded as an example of Viewers Are Morons.
  • Lampshaded in The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, but not justified, particularly considering that the protagonist changes humanity's evolutionary history at one point.
  • In ...And thunder did not struck by E. Lukin, a History Protection Group employee explains why he despises "chronobumbles" — guys who steal (very limited) time-machine, don some "authentic" cloth and jump by schoolbook and tourist map:
    Get at it: they want to change not a history, but a schoolbook of history... See the difference? And can't grasp, dullards, that schoolbooks are used to be fixed not in the past, but in the present.
  • In Harry Harrison's Rebel In Time the bad guy is just such a chronobumble: he aims to help the South win, but fails because the history book he used [1]doesn't mention John Brown and Harpers' Ferry.
  • In the Dragonlance novels — specifically the Legends trilogy, which is aimed squarely at Time Travel — the point of view is that, if you're one of the races that was created along with the universe, it doesn't matter what you do in the past, events stay pretty much the same. The underlying principle is that time essentially is like a fast-flowing river — if you throw a pebble into that river, it may cause a few tiny ripples, but these ripples will be lost in the overall flow of the stream.
    • If, say, a kender were to travel back in time, however...
  • In The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, Christianity never took hold in the Roman Empire, Constantinople didn't fall to the Turks, and France was partitioned between England and Byzantium sometime in the 12th century. The Wars of the Roses still seemingly happen exactly as they do in reality up through the crowning of Edward IV, with the exception of one relatively insignificant death.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan explains that if history is changed, then the same events happen, but the roles are just filled by different people. So when Darren goes back in time and stops himself from becoming a vampire, some other person would become a vampire in his place, some other person would take Steve's place, some other person would take Debbie's place, etc.
    • It does add one very unusual twist: whatever force is responsible has to proactively create the new people and ensure they fill those roles. This becomes plot-relevant due to details of an action's morality and a person's afterlife being testable in-universe. To use the Hitler example, killing Hitler wouldn't prevent any of his atrocities or their consequences in history, but Hitler himself would die without having committed any of his evil acts (or having chosen to commit some of them), and his replacement, having no free will or way to avoid doing everything Hitler "should have" done, would be personally blameless for all of them (though he or she would still be born with the innate potential to choose to be Hitler, and would probably be badly affected by living Hitler's life). This distinction drives the last hundred pages of the story, after the climax.
  • Christopher Stasheff's Rod Gallowglass in one of the later books, discovered that he's somehow extraordinarily "probable" — it seems there's someone with his face and character in lots and lots of universes.
  • The Big One series has numerous radical changes in history and international relations following on from Britain surrendering to the Nazis in 1940 — but the presidents of the United States, after FDR's death in '44, are Dewey (who beat Truman), George Patton, Curtis LeMay, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and "Jeb" Bush in 2008. However, the key point is the subtle differences in the characters of the Presidents in question. Lyndon Johnson is equally devious but without the pressures of Vietnam is much more of the social reformer he wanted to be. Nixon is a little less paranoid, Clinton more 'Presidential'. Contrasting the TB Overse presidents with their OTL equivalents is an indication of how much the different environments has changed them.
  • The book What Ifs? of American History is a collection of essays by historians on what could have happened had certain pivotal events gone differently. Most of them play For Want of a Nail straight (though most of them do point out the ultimate futility of speculating on "what could have been"), such as Grover Cleveland not backing down from conflict with Britain in 1896 resulting in aversion of WWI (and presumably WWII too) thanks to America becoming a non-isolationist world power early on, but the one about what could have happened had the Japanese government called off the Pearl Harbor raid presents an outcome in which it takes America slightly longer to enter WWII - but only slightly, as the Japanese prove to still be so bitter toward America that they give the Americans their "day of infamy" in 1942 anyway, and the Axis powers are still defeated in the end, complete with two atomic bombings on Japan.
  • Notably averted by the Wheel of Time series, which is kind of odd in a series in which destiny is so important. In the second book we get a glimpse of dozens of timelines: several alternate ways the life of The Chosen One could have gone, plus one timeline in which humanity has been extinct (or so it appears, at least) for hundreds of years. The main character could have died young, could have Jumped at the Call instead of running from it, could have been an Evil Overlord, and probably was never born at all in some timelines (or at least, was not born within centuries of when the character we know was born), and it's safe to say that the same is true of most if not all other characters as well.
    • One detail remains true in all alternate possibilities of the Chosen One's life, however. In each and every life he could have lived, sheepherder or slave, farmer or warrior or madman, he never gives up against the Shadow.
  • In Esther Friesner's Druid's Blood, magic works, so powerfully that the Druids stopped the Roman invasion and (presumably) any later invasions and kept Britain Celtic, but by the 19th Century London and the British look pretty much the same apart from details - teleported scrolls instead of telegrams, Beltane fires in Trafalgar Square (they did fight Napoleon, he was a Gaulish Druid), Queen Victoria as a witch, etc. But this is strictly Rule of Funny, since the point is to set a Sherlock Holmes adventure in a Celtic fantasy world.
  • In Michael Crichton's Timeline, the Corrupt Corporate Executive uses an extended analogy about how the main characters couldn't make the Mets beat the Yankees to reassure them that the few individuals travelling can't really change anything major. When one of the characters directly questions the Grandfather Paradox, he changes the subject.
  • Doctor Who – Expanded Universe
    • In the short story "The Haldenmor Fugue", from the Doctor Who Storybook 2010, the Doctor teams up with a 21st century woman called Carla to stop temporal incursions in her home city of Haldenmor. The result is that Haldenmor was a minor Viking settlement in the 10th century, and then disappeared from history. Nonetheless the Doctor tracks Carla down. It takes some doing, because in the new history "her ancestors moved to Brazil in 1600". What, all of them?
    • The Past Doctor Adventures novel Spiral Scratch is set in a number of parallel universes. In one where the Roman Empire never fell, the Doctor's friend DI Bob Lines still exists as Praetor Linus, and is still friends with that universe's Sixth Doctor. His slave Melina is that world's Melanie Bush, and becomes the Doctor's new companion, replacing a "savage from the New World" called Brown Perpigillium. In another reality, the Doctor's companion is a half-Silurian named Mel Baal, nicknamed Melanie.
  • Isaac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity has an organisation that exists outside of time, in a location called "Eternity", from which they effect changes on "Reality". It is stated that even for major changes, the effects die away after some centuries; thus all changes are pretty much local. The plot turns out to hinge on a scheme to do a change so pivotal it breaks away from this — which results in what seems to be our history. And with the final sentence it is the end of Eternity — and the beginning of Infinity.
  • The grand daddy of them all: A Sound of Thunder — the characters go back more than 65 million years, step on a butterfly and the changes roll down through the ages until they get back and the only apparent difference is that no one can spell and a fascist was elected President, thus implying that 1) the human race still evolved in exactly the same way, 2) humans still speak English, 3) the presidential candidates of the most recent election were still born and still chose to run for President, 4) in what is still the United States.
  • The Time Machine gamebook series does this in a weird way. The rules of time travel strictly forbid the player from changing history, for example by killing people or animals... but the plot of the books tends to involve the player saving lives of several people who would die without his intervention. Somehow this apparently doesn't affect history.
  • "How Much Shall We Bet?" from Calvino's Cosmicomics has two characters from the beginning of time betting against each other on the events of the universe, and the viewpoint character starts making specific bets about human events back when the two were still betting on whether star matter would condense into solid, orbiting objects (such as betting that the Assyrians would invade Mesopotamia before there were Assyrians, Mesopotamia, Earth, or even a certain G-Type yellow star that would eventually be the center of the solar system). Despite starting to lose his bets more and more frequently, the situation of his bets still occurred millions and billions of years after he predicted them (a man got three years imprisonment instead of life for killing his wife, a certain illegally constructed building was nine stories instead of twelve). Somehow, though each of his bets seemingly rested on the basis of billions and trillions and quintillions of previous precise predictions, the events of the bets still developed the exact context needed for him to lose (an almost infinitely higher probability than the context never forming in the first place).
  • Though George W. Bush's presidency and his policies never occurred in Dale Brown's books, the US of 2012 is somehow still recovering from a major recession.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightment of Rachel Griffin, monotheism was a slight historical curiosity, adhered to by a minor group in ancient history the Israelites, but world history managed to trundle on without it. The Holocaust happened on schedule, being framed as the mass murder of Gypsies in this world. note  Indeed, two characters who discuss "Beauty and The Beast" — one cited the literary version, and the other knows only the Disney one.
    May be justified in later volumes, in that we are given plenty of clues that history was forced onto this track; those responsible may also be keeping the sequence of events the same, or be unable to modify it too far.
  • In 11/22/63, despite Jake saving John F. Kennedy's life, events such as the Vietnam War, the Jonestown Massacre, and the Iranian Hostage Crisis still happen. In fact, not only do they still happen, they end up being worse than they were in our timeline.
  • Purposely avoided in Claudia Gray's Firebird trilogy. The technology for an individual to transport their consciousness between universes exists, but travel is only possible between universes with a genetically identical counterpart of the traveler. This is taken advantage of in the third book by Wicked, who attempts to kill herself in different universes and travel away at the last second, thus making it impossible for Marguerite to reach those universes.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: Despite One-Man Industrial Revolution Hank Morgan's best efforts to defy this trope and drag 6th-century Britain kicking and screaming into the 19th century by introducing guns, education, democracy, electricity and advertising to the oppressed masses, it still ends with a civil war opposing first Lancelot then Mordred and Arthur (in this case, Lancelot making a big profit off the stock market causes less fortunate knights including Mordred to demand he pay back their losses lest they inform the king of his affair with the queen). The events of the final battle are taken directly from one of the best-known versions of the myth (the knights are at a peace conference, one sees a snake in the grass and draws his sword to kill it, misunderstandings and violence ensue), though narrated in Twain's style.
  • In Seekers of the Sky, the world has diverged from ours roughly 2000 years ago, resulting in sort-of Functional Magic, the Roman Empire surviving to the present day, Russia remaining a Mongolian state, Aztecs dominating much of the Americas, and technology being seriously outdated. Despite this, several characters in the novel are pretty much stated to be alternate versions of well-known figures in our world, including Arnold Schwarzenegger (trigger-happy Guard officer on the hunt for a teenage boy), Gérard Depardieu (thief-turned-priest), and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (flyer-turned-poet, who once crashed in a desert).

    Live-Action TV 
  • 12 Monkeys: At the end of the pilot Cole successfully kills Jeffrey Goines in 2015, but this has no effect on the future, as his work is continued by others - most likely, the titular '12 Monkeys'. Of course it's also possible that Jeffrey Goines was never the one directly involved in the creation and release of the virus, which would void this trope.
  • Babylon 5: In "War Without End", we see the Ivanova of a timeline where Sinclair and Babylon 4 never went back in time recording a message before Babylon 5 blows up. She's wearing the uniform that Delenn had made for her. But in this timeline, because Sinclair didn't go to the past, Delenn wouldn't have been born, because she's Sinclair's descendant.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the alternate Wishverse, Giles somehow got to Sunnydale despite Buffy's not being there and Giles not knowing that Buffy was supposed to be there, even though his sole reason for coming to the town in the normal timeline was to find Buffy and become her mentor. Cordelia questions this, but is killed before we can get an explanation.
    • Less bothersome with the other characters, because they all lived in Sunnydale independently of Buffy, and the divergence point was only about three years earlier. Which brings up an interesting general rule: The further back in time the divergence point is, the weirder In Spite of a Nail becomes.
  • On Continuum, the time-space continuum is described as being extremely self-correcting and that most of the time even a Grandfather Paradox will not affect the major events of the timeline. In addition, a group of fanatical Time Police make sure that time travelers are stopped before they can do any real damage and that any significant changes are corrected. All of this ends up being subverted when a major historical figure travels back in time a week to change a major event in his own life and then sticks around to interact with the other time travelers already present in that time period. This is too much of a paradox and a Time Crash occurs where the entire future timeline is wiped out and a brand new timeline is created to account for all the changes.
  • A couple of examples from the Timey-Wimey Ball that is Doctor Who:
    • In "Inferno", the Doctor borrows power from the Inferno Project to jump-start the TARDIS and winds up in an Alternate History where Britain has been a fascist dictatorship for decades — but there's still an Inferno Project (though the alternate versions are closer to completing their project), run for the same purpose by the same people (although, again, not always in the same roles). Which is convenient, since he needs to borrow power from them again to get back home.
    • In "Father's Day", Rose's father died alone in a hit-and-run accident when she was a baby. She goes back in time and saves his life instead. This creates a Temporal Paradox and prompts the Clock Roaches to start eating people. Her father ends up setting things right by throwing himself in front of the car that was supposed to have killed him, but this time Rose is there and comforts him while his life slips away, thus altering her own past in a trivial way that doesn't affect the greater march of time. This also affects the driver, as the accident is no longer a hit-and-run.
    • In "Rise of the Cybermen", the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey visit an Alternate Universe where history is different enough that Britain has a black President (yes, president) and a thriving zeppelin industry — but Mickey was still born and lives at the same address (though he's named "Ricky" and implied to be gay, and his grandmother is still alive). Both of Rose's parents also exist in this universe under the same names, and were still married, although Rose herself was explicitly never born and Pete never died in the eighties. There doesn't appear to be a Doctor, though, or he's seriously shirking his world-saving duties. Until the series 4 finale, that is.
    • In "The Shakespeare Code", Martha is afraid of altering history after landing in Elizabethan London. When bringing up the butterfly paradox, the Doctor says, "Tell you what: Don't step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?"
    • In "The Waters of Mars", this takes a darker turn as the Doctor attempts to break the laws of Time in order to save someone that history says should have died. Despite his efforts, or rather because of them, she commits suicide, and history is altered but still preserves the key elements that cause the future to occur as it should. Among the altered events is the survival of two other people who should've died, and the revelation of what happened on Mars to the world (it was previously a mystery).
    • Played around with in "Vincent and the Doctor"; after helping [2] fight an invisible alien monster, the Doctor and Amy decide to take him to a present-day art gallery that is showcasing his works to cheer him up and show the impact his life will have. Vincent thanks them and goes on his way, after which Amy rushes them back to the gallery to see all the new paintings he came up with... only to find there are none; besides removing the monster from his painting of the church and dedicating his sunflower painting to Amy, nothing had changed and Vincent still killed himself at a young age due to his depression and various mental issues. Two episodes later reveal there was a new painting; one of Vincent's last was a painting of the TARDIS exploding, and his newfound optimism came crashing down with the idea that his best friends died horribly in the future, leading to him committing suicide out of grief.
  • The 4th season of Eureka plays havoc with this trope. Five of the main characters accidentally travel to 1947 (the founding of Eureka) and bring the guy responsible for the city back with them to 2010. Specific things have changed while others are completely the same:
    • Allison still had a son, Kevin, by the same father, who looks exactly the same — but is no longer autistic. This one gets lampshaded, with Henry noting that no one knows what causes it in the first place, so it would be impossible to figure out how it changed. Jack hypothesizes that Kevin may have engineered the time travel incident in order to undo his autism, but as he didn't travel back with them he has no memory of ever doing so.
    • Allison is no longer head of GD (Fargo is) — yet she still lives and works in Eureka (as chief medical officer). It's mentioned that Fargo got to this point thanks to the influence of his grandfather. It can be assumed that, in this timeline, Grand-Fargo did not become a Human Popsicle early in his career and rose high in GD.
    • Henry is married to a woman he previously barely knew — yet still has the same garage and equipment and is still mayor of Eureka. Except both of them are members of the Consortium, although Henry doesn't know it, since his alternate self was erased the moment he returned to the present. And Alt!Henry is supposed to have asthma, and he continues taking the medicine while maintaining the ruse for his wife, despite the fact that it could be harmful to someone who isn't an asthmatic.
    • GD is much more of a DoD puppet with Fargo in charge — yet all the same scientists work on all the same projects as before.
    • Jo is no longer deputy and is now chief of GD security, with her replacement being Andy the robot. And due to him never having gone through Character Development, Zane never dated her.
    • Tess never left for Australia, so it is assumed that her relationship with Carter was perfect, and she was even moving in with him.
    • Fargo's girlfriend Jennifer is now rich and married to an astronaut.
    • All of the highly improbable events that occurred in previous seasons are assumed to still have happened, like Nathan being vaporized by a rogue experiment on his wedding day.
    • Henry uses the term "ripple effect" to explain why little if any history has changed on a global scale: the time travel hit Eureka profoundly like a wave, causing major changes which would have caused other changes - ripples - which would have caused other changes and so on, and affected areas besides Eureka, but the further away from Eureka, the less significant the changes would be, and the ripples would eventually stop.
  • This trope is explicit in Farscape. First mentioned in "Different Destinations...", when Harvey tells Crichton that "If nudged closely enough to course, events have a way of restructuring themselves. If the participants are the same, the venue's the same, the motivation's the same, then, well, the outcome is likely to be the same." It's confirmed by the Ancient "Einstein", and soon put to use again when the crew has to fix Crichton's past.
  • Friends:
    • Played with in the episode "The One That Could Have Been". It takes a look at the lives of the main six characters had each one had one significant change in their life: Ross never got divorced, Monica never lost weight, Chandler quit his job, Rachel got married, Phoebe became a stockbroker. In the end, by the time it's over most of their lives resemble their ones from the "real" world: Ross realizes is marriage is over while Carol gets together with Susan, Monica and Chandler have fallen in love and got together, Rachel's left her husband, Phoebe's lost her job as a stockbroker and is now performing her usual bizarre songs at Central Perk, etc. The director's commentary lampshades this:
    Kevin Bright: "It would have been different, but ultimately it would have been the same."
    • Joey's case is an inversion, as his main "what if?" scenario is he was never fired from "Days of Our Lives" back during the events of the second season, and he's still happily employed as one of the regular cast members by the end of the episode. In the following season after "The One That Could Have Been" after learning some humility he's able to successfully appeal to the creator of the soap and is brought back. Notably, one episode that features a very brief clip from a "Days of Our Lives" episode is actually reused from the one shown in "The One That Could Have Been".
  • Fringe:
    • While the exact point of divergence of the two universes is not yet known, it's hard to imagine it could be later than about 1900 and revelations from Season 3 suggest it could possibly predate the dinosaurs. Despite this the majority of characters exist on both sides. In fact, we learn that the Bishops in both universe live in the same house and Peter sleeps in the same bedroom.
    • Barack Obama is president of the United States during the 2009-2013 term in both universes. In one of them, no one has heard of Andrew Jackson, who (in our universe) basically founded the U.S. Democratic Party that Obama belongs to.
    • Examined in the season 4 episode "Everything In Its Right Place", where two versions of Lincoln Lee compare their lives to find out where they diverged into Captain Lee being a hyper-confident badass and Agent Lee being a cautious By-the-Book Cop, and find that their lives were identical, down to every last detail, through high school. The confident version rejects the idea that his personality has to be dictated by his past circumstances, and proposes that he's the way he is because it's what he chose to become.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had an Alternate Universe ruled by "the Sovereign," the evil version of Hercules. The characters were relatively the same in both worlds due to a psychic link; the link was so strong that if a character dies in one world, this results in the death of their counterpart. Which, given how bloodthirsty the Sovereign was, kinda makes you wonder why people in "our" world weren't dropping dead left and right as he cut down their doppelgangers. It was also later discovered that if you were in the limbo-like realm which connected the two worlds when your counterpart died, you would not be affected. This was how the AU Iolaus was able to survive his counterpart's death and how Hercules was able to survive the Sovereign's death in later episodes.
  • Important Things with Demetri Martin: in the episode "Chairs," Demetri goes to a wedding reception, and must decide whether to sit next to an attractive young woman or a Cool Old Guy. We then see the results of both choices: either way, he runs afoul of a guy named Angelo and winds up tied up in a basement with a rat cage strapped to his face.
  • Journeyman:
    • The lead character of Dan Vassar, while traveling through time, meets and interacts with his friends and family in the past. This never has any impact on the present day and it seems no one ever asks the Dan in their time about something the time-traveling Dan mentioned to them.
    • In the next to last episode, Dan accidentally makes a change which replaces his son by a daughter, and advances technology to boot. This seemingly averts the trope, because changing the time of someone's conception did have an effect. Yet such a drastic personal and societal change didn't stop him from having the same people visiting him on the same date, his brother getting his girlfriend pregnant at the same time, him having a picture of himself meeting a scientist on the same day, etc. He even meets a psychic in the changed history, and a direct follow-on to that meeting in the fixed history with no indication that things have changed in any way. And the history with the daughter clearly wasn't a Stable Time Loop, either.
    • Rubberband History. It's stated pretty explicitly that there is some sort of intelligence guiding the "Journeys", and that is what keeps everything nearly identical. Likewise, Dan's son becoming a daughter was used because otherwise, what reason would he have to undo the massive technology jump he caused?
  • This is apparently how the world works in Lost, with one character explicitly stating that "the universe has a way of course-correcting" to make sure that changes to the past don't have any major effects. Although this could be wrong, as we've never seen anything that couldn't be explained as a 100% Stable Time Loop with regard to the actual time traveling. Even an apparent change to Daniel's journal in the past was explained when we learned about his memory problems. Desmond's future flashes, however, do allow him to change the future, but then apparently fate course-corrects back.
  • The Lucifer episode "Once Upon a Time" shows a world where Chloe's father was never killed and thus Chloe was never inspired to be a cop. Instead, she's an actress and thus other effects: Lucifer an arrogant club owner; Dan now a corrupt cop (and as he and Chloe never met, let alone get married, their daughter Trixie doesn't exist); Linda a talk show host and more. Yet, when a friend of Chloe's turns up dead in Lucifer's club, the pair manage to end up working together to solve the case. Afterward, Chloe decides she wants to give being a cop for real a try and an intrigued Lucifer offers to help her.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Netflix shows take place in a New York City affected by "The Incident", however, evidence suggests that aside from the insertion of the invasion, the city's history has been unaltered. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement is referenced in Luke Cage. Likewise, Daredevil shows that the Fall Experimental Football Leaguenote  still happened, as Karen Page wears a Brooklyn Bolts T-shirt in one scene in season 1. The biggest difference is that the Real Life Hell's Kitchen has escaped its crime and poverty-stricken past and a crime-fighting vigilante would be rather unnecessary, so the Alien Invasion is mentioned as having wrecked much of that area specifically (even though in the movie none of the fighting was nearby it), causing a rise in violent crime and gangsters again so that the story has some reason for being.
  • Power Rangers
    • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Kimberly's brief trip to Victorian-era Angel Grove didn't seem to change a thing, despite the fact that Goldar and the Monster of the Week followed her, requiring her to find that era's Zordon and Alpha 5, gain the Power Coins, and give them to the Rangers' great-great grandparents, to fight the villains Ranger-style. (And the present-day Zordon seemed to already know about it. Maybe because it happened already?)
    • Speaking of Power Rangers, the finale of Power Rangers Dino Charge involved the Rangers travelling back to the pre-historic era to defeat Sledge and his shipmates. The result of this involved next to no change in the future Earth aside from the teeny-tiny tidbit of dinosaurs never having gone extinct and co-existing with humans. How the rest of PR continuity (sans RPM) fits in with this has yet to be addressed.
  • Misfits had an episode where the Nazis won World War II. The characters looked exactly the same, and despite never knowing each other before the events of the series, they had met each other.
  • Mud, a BBC live action children's series from the 1990s, ended with the characters returning from a trip back in time and accidentally bringing Christopher Columbus home with them. They go home and everything seems normal, until they try to watch Baywatch — which their mother has never heard of, because the discovery of the Americas must have played out somewhat differently due to his absence. If this was supposed to be a Sequel Hook it fell rather flat, and the viewer is Left Hanging as to whether or not they manage to sort it all out.
  • Primeval:
    • In the 1st series finale, a change in the Permian era, i.e. over a quarter of a billion years ago, erases Claudia from existence while leaving the rest of the team untouched, down to the clothes they are wearing and Stephen still remembering having had an affair with Helen.
    • In season 2 we find out the full extent of the changes: the team has a new base, also Claudia isn't really gone, she just has a different name and personality. This is despite Professor Cutter repeatedly stating that screwing around with history has sent evolution down a completely different path.
    • This issue is actually given as a reason why everyone thinks Professor Cutter has just gone a bit nuts instead of history actually being changed. His response is that there could be many more changes he doesn't even know about.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Hand waved in one episode by specifically erasing Kryten and Lister from history, yet having the two characters still running around trying to not be killed by the guy who erased them. They run into the main characters and find that their "twins" are slightly off and played by completely different people, like the "fraternal brothers" thing only even more distinct than that. Yet the ship still exists and the accident still happened and Dave Lister still managed to be frozen in stasis for three million years, etc. Ironically the Robotic Psychopath who erased Kryten and Lister did so specifically because he thought they were wasting their lives, yet their replacements were not different in any significant way at all.
    • The 3rd season episode "Timeslides" had Dave Lister changing history so that he became a millionaire and never left Earth, prompting the Cat and Kryten to vanish from existence ... yet, bizarrely, Rimmer (who was only revived as a companion for Lister) is still stuck on the ship, 3 million years into deep space.
    • 7th season episode "Tikka to Ride" has the crew accidentally avert the assassination of John F Kennedy, which results in a Crapsack World future where the US space program, and hence Red Dwarf, never existed ... yet, bizarrely, the crew and their time machine aren't similarly erased from existence. Then there's ... you know what? It's probably best not to think about it.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Temptation of Sarah Jane" claims that when history gets "diverted", it tries to correct itself, explaining why, in a world enslaved by the Trickster since 1951, Rani's mum still exists and they "happen" to run into her.
  • Numerous episodes of Sliders, especially the one where everything was exactly the same except that women had moustaches, and the one where the sky was purple but things were much the same until the Robot War.
  • In Smallville, Clark visits a Mirror Universe where the major difference is that he was raised by the Luthors instead of the Kents. His other self was raised to be completely ruthless and evil, but for some reason was still given the first name of Clark.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 two-part episode "Moebius", the team muddles around with Egypt 5,000 years ago. Their admittedly small changes result in a world where the Stargate hasn't been discovered and the main characters aren't quite as cool. Those characters go back and fix things, which results in everything being the way it was before, with the exception of a pond that was but now is no longer devoid of fish (and the sudden existence of a certain lieutenant colonel)...
  • In Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror", Kirk visits an Alternate Universe where the Federation of Planets is a repressive interstellar empire — but there's still a starship Enterprise, and it has mostly the same crew (although not all of them perform the same functions). Specifically for Mirror, Mirror there is a partial explanation in that the mechanism of transfer could only happen between realities in which the same (parallel) people were doing the same thing at the same time.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", history changing so that the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for the past twenty years has no apparent effect on the Enterprise's command roster except for the absence of Worf and Troi and the survival of Tasha Yar. It does affect the rest of the ship's complement, though, as instead of nominally carrying 1,014 in Starfleet personnel, civilian crews, families, and passengers, it was a militarized ship capable of carrying 6,000 troops, and the only observed civilian on board was Guinan. (Wesley was still there, but as a fully-commissioned officer, when his "main" counterpart was still an acting ensign.)
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Tapestry". Picard becoming a paper-pusher assistant astrophysics officer instead of a legendary starship captain had no apparent effect on the rest of the crew roster (Except perhaps Dr. Crusher. Then again, because Picard didn't become captain of the USS Stargazer, it's possible that Jack Crusher survived and Beverly is with him elsewhere), yet that was because of Q's promise to Picard that anything he does in the past will not affect anyone else in the present.
    • The episode, "Parallels," has Worf going through several dimensions, and while Enterprise remains mostly the same, the changes keep mounting to the point where Wesley was the tactical officer, Picard died during the events of "Best of Both Worlds" (leaving Riker as Captain), and Troi had married Worf. They also ran into a Riker from a universe where the Borg had conquered the galaxy.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Mirror Universe has the station inhabited with largely the same characters, even if some of them are there for vastly different reasons; such as O'Brien, who is (strangely) virtually the same as normal O'Brien (and not, like almost everyone else, evil), and is only on Deep Space Nine as a slave. And yet a later episode explicitly stated that Jake Sisko was never born there. So any future descendants of Jake will not have counterparts there either. The most baffling thing is that Vic is still on the station — but isn't a hologram.
  • In Season 6 of Supernatural an angel goes back in time and saves the Titanic from sinking. This resulted in thousands more people being alive today and many changes. However, the brothers are so central to the destiny of the world that new timeline arranges itself around them. They themselves are pretty much unchanged but the people near them have their lives altered in some ways big and small. Most likely this protection only applies to people closely connected to the brothers. The timeline appears to be trying to repair itself in that episode however, since the plot is kicked off when descendants of the people who should have died on the Titanic start dropping off like flies. This is the work of the angry Fate, who knows Castiel organized it all to get more souls for his side of an angelic civil war.
  • Travelers has possibly the most resilient timeline in all of fiction. In the second episode they save 11,000 people and there is absolutely no effect to the timeline. Half way through first season they manage to prevent an asteroid impact that kills 91 million people and the change to the future is so subtle that operations continue for weeks without them realizing that anything was altered at all.
  • In The Twilight Zone episode "The Parallel", an astronaut returns to an alternate Earth where his family and superiors are identical, but he himself has a higher military rank and the President is different.
  • In the Warehouse 13 episode "Endless Terror" Paracelsus goes back in time 500 years and kills the Regents of Warehouse 8. In the present, history alters so that he's run the Warehouse singlehandedly ever since, and it's now a high-tech monolith to artifact analysis and exploitation. Valda, who in the original timeline was a Regent who made a Heroic Sacrifice, is now Paracelsus's heavy; Vanessa and Hugo reluctantly work in his human experimentation unit; and Abigail is the Wetware CPU of the Warehouse computer systems. Lampshaded by Claudia, who says the same people are drawn towards the Warehouse in any reality, prompting Pete to sarcastically wonder if MacPherson and Sykes run the break room. Artie also notes that the logos of past Warehouses show that they were associated with the same empires, indicating that Paracelsus doesn't seem to have altered history beyond the Warehouse itself.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • In the Book of Esther from The Bible, when Esther's elder cousin Mordecai gets news of Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews, Mordecai pleads with Esther to go before King Xerxes and petition him to save their people. Esther tells Mordecai that she cannot go into the king's chamber without an appointment or else she would die, and the only thing that can spare her life is if the king extended his scepter to the person coming before his throne. Mordecai warns Esther that if she does nothing, God (implied in the text, but not mentioned) will still bring deliverance to the Jews from another place, but she and her family will be destroyed.

    Nonfictional Discussion 

    Traditional Games 
  • Chrononauts has a card called "Your Parents Never Met" which forces a player to pick a new "character" card (thus altering the win conditions for said player).
    • Since players and characters are separate in Chrononauts, this would be logical: the original character ceased to exist and the player takes on a new one. But the new character has the same Artifacts and Mission...

    Tabletop Games 
  • The GURPS 4th Edition sourcebook Infinite Worlds calls parallel worlds that are very similar, despite drastic divergence, "high-inertia". Probably the best example is "The United States of Lizardia", which is very similar to Earth, but with different historical figures. Oh yeah, and instead of humans there are six foot tall lizards. This is, however, explicitly noted as a "weird parallel", and there's a Lampshade Hanging in the fact that the text description of the worldline mentions that even some scientists who've been studying the USL for years "don't really believe in it".
    • A multiverse of infinite possibilities would mean a world where history was identical but with lizards (or bears, or triffids) would surely be inevitable.
      • The infinite multiverse is tempered somewhat by the inability to see or travel to universes beyond a certain number of quantum levels away. They've also only been doing it for about forty years so there would still be lots of surprises around.
      • "Infinite" doesn't automatically imply "all-encompassing". Just like in math you can have infinite sets of numbers that don't actually include all numbers, it's not hard to imagine an infinite multiverse in which not every conceivable alternate universe necessarily has to exist — and that assumes that it is in fact "infinite" instead of merely "finite, just HUGE" in the first place.
    • A character can also have Temporal Inertia as a personal trait; it ensures that he will exist in all versions of the present, as long as it's at least marginally plausible. There's also its opposite trait, Unique; a character with that one is likely to be among the first things to disappear if history changes even slightly.
  • Used in the setting for the RPG Feng Shui (and the card game Shadowfist). Despite time travel being involved, any changes you make to the past are likely to result in cosmetic differences in the present, at most. That is to say, killing Hitler's ancestor in 1850 would result in little more than some other short, bombastic dictator causing trouble in Germany. Even massive changes to the timeline (which are only possible by having control over Feng Shui sites) will result in the same people being born, but filling slightly different roles, similar to a different character played by an actor with limited range.
    • However, by controlling enough Feng Shui sites, a faction can create a major shift in history, effectively rewriting all of history from that point. Before the game started, the world was a magical world controlled by the Four Monarchs, but then the Ascended gained control of many sites and created our current history. In addition, by changing who controlled some of the Feng Shui sites in the 1930s, the Dragons caused the future, originally dominated by the Architects of the Flesh, to be overwritten.
  • In the Halloween freebie for Battletech, Empires Aflame, the story is essentially a For Want of a Nail plot that brings us into a radically different Inner Sphere. In effect, the Exodus never happens, and Aleksandr Kerensky is assassinated, prompting his second in command to call off the SLDF fleeing to parts unknown and instead has them take charge of the old Terran Hegemony. This makes for a radically shifted balance of power for the 300-odd years of post-Amaris War history. However, most, if not all of the famous names still take their appointed spaces in the metaplot, the Kentares IV massacre still happens, and Hanse Davion is still First Prince of the Federated Suns in 3025. However, he then allys with the Capellan Confederation, and the combined state gets its ass handed to it by the Draconis Combine. Oddly enough, though, even though The Clans never existed in this universe, as the Exodus never occurred, nor Operation Klondike which can be seen as the official starting point for the Clans proper, many Clan figures from the main universe still find positions of power and authority in the Terran Supremacy, even if they probably shouldn't have existed to begin with, given how they were actually conceived. Devlin Stone himself is also a key player in the Supremacy as of the 3090s.
  • Magic: The Gathering has Sarkhan Vol's home plane of Tarkir. In the original timeline, dragons are extinct and the plane is ruled by feuding walords. After Sarkhan changes the past, Tarkir is ruled by dragons, yet the warlords are still around (albeit in much different circumstances.) And then there's Summit Prowler whose only difference between timelines is slightly different art. Although to be fair, not much changes in the life of a yeti.

    Video Games 
  • In Chrono Trigger, a late-game sidequest has Lucca travel back in time to the moment her mother was crippled by a large machine. As a child, Lucca could do nothing to stop this accident, and dedicated her life to science to prevent future accidents. If Future!Lucca succeeds in stopping the machine (and thus saving her mother from being crippled), her child self still dedicates her life to science, for almost the same reason. Given that Lucca's Telepod invention is itself responsible for the existence of the Gates (or at least the main factor in their creation) that Lucca then uses to travel through time and save her mother, if saving her mother would result in Lucca not having interest in science it would result in a paradox.
  • In the Legacy of Kain series of games, they describe changing events of the past via time travel as "throwing pebbles in a river." The idea being that history is resilient at self-preservation, and attempting to change it only makes the timeline diverge temporarily, before it quickly rights itself. The catch is that there is only one person/thing capable of throwing a big enough "pebble" to actually change the course of history: a paradox. So Kain goes about turning Raziel into a walking paradox so that history can be changed.
  • Europa Universalis and its sequel feature historical events and rulers largely unchanged from our timeline, even in the default start. Mostly averted by the third game.
    • There is, however, an option to enforce this upon the game. If you switch on the "Historical Rulers" option, your nation will have the same monarch names as in real life and the same relative military, diplomatic and administrative capabilities. Of course, given that a lot of nations in an average game will exist outside of when they did historically (or nations may exist that were never formed in reality) you can easily end up stuck with the same inept King for hundreds of years. With this option switched off, rulers will be generated randomly
  • In Eternal Darkness, three Ancients manipulated Pious Augustus into becoming their champion, but the parallel realities created by choosing one artifact instead of the two others differ very little from each other: you still end up fighting an undead Roman centurion, while his patron deity still gets his ass kicked and horribly mutilated by the opposite one you summoned earlier. It then still proceeds to try and destroy the world and enslave humanity, while your dead grandpa still fixes it for you.
  • An important component of Achron's design is to ensure player orders happen on every iteration of the timeline when reasonable (i.e. when your opponent isn't actively interfering), so that players don't get frustrated because a unit ending up 2 steps to the left 2 minutes ago caused their main production center to cease to have ever existed. Ensuring that one's strategy as a whole happens despite the interference of opponents is a key component of the metagame.
  • Life between the two sides of the Earth in Persona 2 is not that different, with the only major differences being that in Eternal Punishment, there is now a sixth ward (Narumi), and the home lives of Eikichi, Lisa, and especially Jun are far better than they were in Innocent Sin.
  • Persona 3 Portable has a female option to see what would happen if the quiet and introverted male protagonist were a bright and optimistic girl instead. The answer? Possibly aside from Shinji's life being extended some (he would still die shortly thanks to the suppressants), not much of anything.
  • Bioshock Infinite uses this to provide a meta commentary on the nature of video game storytelling and how the player interacts with it, through the theme of "Constants and Variables." There is always "a man, a lighthouse, and a city," and while there are a few points in the story where you are presented with a binary choice, it has no effect on the ending or the path you take through the story. Certain events are fixed, such as the fact that Booker never rows to the lighthouse, the coin always comes up heads, and he always picks ball #77 at the Raffle, even after being explicitly told not to. On a meta level, the plasmids and weapons at your disposal, as well as environments that support multiple approaches, mean that the number of ways a given playable encounter can pan out are effectively infinite, just as the title suggests. But the major beats of the story, especially the ending, will always happen exactly the same way no matter what.
  • In Steins;Gate, the main characters are successfully able to alter the circumstances of Ruka's birth so that she is born as a normal female. However, literally every single other thing about her—appearance, behavior, relationship to other characters—is exactly the same. The only real change is a minor event earlier in her life that results in an artifact important to the plot being broken in the new timeline.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, only the GDI campaign is considered canon. Yet, no matter which campaign is played, Vega will "borrow" Kane's alien ship, the GDI base in Hammerfest will fall, and Kane will create a mega Tiberium missile. The difference is that in the Nod campaign, Slavik managed to retrieve the ship's content, Hammerfest remained in Nod hands ( and was used as the staging ground for their missiles to destroy Philadelphia), and the mega missile is fired off. But in the GDI campaign, it was McNeil who recovered the ship's contents, Hammerfest was eventually recovered (and Nod attacked it in the first place for the Disruptor sonic crystals), and the missile becomes scrap metal. Oh, and Umagon gets captured in both campaigns, although both the causes and aftermath of the captures are different. Also, Slavik would be rescued as he appears in the expansion Firestorm.
  • According to Word of God, the Mega Man (Classic) and Mega Man Battle Network series are a divergence centering on what branch of research was primarily funded and which was cut, either robotics for the former or network A.I. for the latter. Somehow, most of the robots and A.I. in both universes share the same names, abilities, weapons, appearances, and general motifs for no apparent reason, and most of the people involved are on their same respective sides of good and evil. Furthermore, Dr. Wily's Battle Network incarnation is a roboticist just like in the Classic series. Instead of trying to take over the world because of his jealousy towards Dr. Light for being recognized by the scientific community over him, Wily retaliates against society for pushing internet technology over the field of robotics.
  • Pokémon:
    • The Delta Episode of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire implies this of the Pokémon timelines: the mechanic of Mega Evolution, discovered in the ancient past by Rayquaza putting a stop to the end of the world, is a well-hidden secret, though numerous Trainers of varying degrees of skill and plot importance have access to it. The Delta Episode implies the existence of another world, almost identical, where Mega Evolution wasn't discovered — this world being the setting for all games prior to Generation VI (with Pokémon X and Y showing that the catalyst for Mega Evolution itself was the firing of AZ's ultimate weapon 3,000 years earlier). Aside from a few details, the same Trainers exist and operate in almost the same capacity without the Mega Evolved Pokémon, many of which are drastically different or have world-ending power.
    • Speaking of Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, a small-scale example of this trope comes in the form the Battle Frontier seen in Emerald. This facility, which was a replacement for/expansion of the Battle Tower from Ruby/Sapphire, does not exist in the remakes' timeline, instead having been "replaced" by the Battle Resort. However, the Battle Resort itself is suggested to be the predecessor to the Battle Frontier, as a man at the Battle Maison located within the Resort appears to be recruiting for Scott, the Battle Frontier's owner, and mentions that the position of Pike Queen has been scouted, most likely referring to Lucy, the Frontier Brain of the same title in Emerald. Pokémon Sun and Moon confirms this even further, as it features Anabel, who is implied to be the very one from Emerald instead of the one in the Mega Evolution timeline; she mentions being from Hoenn and having a tower to guard despite having lost her memories — but as noted above, the Battle Frontier hasn't yet been built at the time of OR/AS. Interpol refers to her as a "Faller," someone who has explicitly traveled between dimensions via Ultra Wormholes.
    • Zig-zagged heavily with Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon. Despite being touted as an "alternate" version of Pokémon Sun and Moon with a drastically different story, the alterations to the plot of Sun/Moon are minimal prior to the events at Po Town and the second trip to Aether Paradise. Most notably, the only significant changes are the appearances by the Ultra Recon Squad and the Aether Foundation's collaboration with them to investigate the Ultra Beasts, whereas Sun/Moon suggests Lusamine and her top subordinates had been looking into the matter of UBs for some time but hadn't seen one in person until a stray Nihilego warped into Aether Paradise's conservation area. Although Lillie's backstory seems to be unchanged, Lusamine's villainous traits are downplayed while their motivations are made more (openly) sympathetic and understandable. Spoilers!  Necrozma also plays a more direct role in the story as opposed to being relegated to the post-game, and while Lusamine still wants to use Nebby's power in order to open a gateway to Ultra Space so that they can "love" and "protect" Pokémon, more of their actions feel genuinely altruistic as a whole — to the point that they declare their main goal is not to have a world of beautiful Pokémon all to herself, but to stop Necrozma from harming their world (Lillie and Gladion included) after hearing the Ultra Recon Squad's tales about the Blinding One. So, instead of the player pursuing them to Ultra Space with the help of Solgaleo/Lunala and Lusamine fusing with a Nihilego (while becoming even more mentally warped in the process), things go quite differently. More spoilers!  Even so, certain other events like Guzma and Plumeria disbanding Team Skull happen as they did in the original games and the story ends on a very similar note overall.

    Web Animation 
  • In the DC Super Hero Girls universe, the Kryptonian Science Council actually heed Jor-El's warnings but Krypton blows up before the evacuation fleet is ready, and Superman, Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog — and possibly Zod and his men- - are the only survivors. And even though Zod isn't banished to the Phantom Zone, he still despises the House of El.

    Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive multiverse. In the main story world Tedd has serious self-esteem issues. In the "alpha dimension" Tedd — but not his friends — exists and apparently has enough of self-esteem issues to flip out, become Evil Overlord and try to kill his alternates. In yet another Alternate Universe ("Second Life") aliens fought in the American Revolutionary War, Ellen's best friend and crush are both Half-Human Hybrids, but... guess what? Tedd still exists. And still has self-esteem issues.
    • Dan said, at some point, that every possible dimension has a Tedd.
    • Besides there always being a Tedd, all female versions of him shown so far are in relationships with Elliot.
      • And all female versions of Elliot shown so far, sans the Second Life universe. (Though Tedd's counterpart wanted a relationship with Ellen, the closest thing to a female Elliot that universe had.)
    • Interestingly, there's some Conversational Troping here which suggests Dan isn't generally a fan of this trope.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Chuck Goodrich, The Mayor came from the future to prevent a zombie apocalypse. However, somehow, increasingly ridiculous global tragedies always end up occurring in the new future, and it's always Chuck Goodrich, Astronaut Chrononaut who finds a time portal in space that allows him to prevent it. It has yet to be revealed whether there's a reason for this or if it's just Rule of Funny.
    • Anthropic Principle. If they weren't his future selves, they wouldn't ask him for help.
    • There's sort of a reason for it. When you travel back in time to fix something, you don't actually prevent the Bad Thing from ever happening; you create a quantum split at the point you emerge in the past that creates two universes; one where you didn't arrive, thus creating the timeline you lived through that was so shitty you had to go back and fix it, and one where you did arrive, thus allowing you to avert the Bad Thing you came back to prevent, but in all likelihood there's going to be another Bad Thing that's just as cataclysmic rolling down the track in its place, which will send the newer, younger you traveling back through time to fix that (Chuck has apparently done this at least five times).
    • Future King Radical Hand Waves it with: "Time travel is a difficult art with few experts. There's a reason it's always Chuck Goodrich. He's the best." It eventually transpires that King Radical himself is his world's Chuck Goodrich. King Radical is just his regnal name. He came through the portal to save his own universe at the expense of the Doctor's universe.
  • Homestuck:
    • In the post-scratch session many things that you'd expect to have changed stayed pretty much the same. For example, Jane and Jake still talk in Anachronism Stew-style old-timey speech, plus Jake still has an interest in firearms and fisticuffs.
    • Also, while not nearly as much is known about pre-scratch Alternia (Beforus, actually) as post-Scratch Alternia is — despite the drastic difference in troll society, some things appear to have stayed the same. The trolls still had two 6-letter names, trolls were still adopted by lusii, and it was implied that the quadrant still existed (although it probably wasn't enforced as strictly).
    • Part of this is somewhat justified, due to the nature of what the scratch actually is. A reset button built into Sburb, to reset the ENTIRE UNIVERSE in the event of an unwinnable scenario, designed to make the new players much more capable than the previous.
  • In DM of the Rings, the players are being railroaded through the plot of The Lord of the Rings by a Dungeon Master with an iron fist. However, Legolas's player slips the DM's notice for just a little too long, who winds up killing Gollum during the events of Fellowship of the Ring. Despite this, Frodo and Sam still make it through Mordor, though largely because their players quit (again, because they were sick of the railroading) so the DM turned them into NPCs so he could gloss over the events of their journey.

    Web Original 
  • Decades of Darkness:
    • Napoleon manages to win the battle of Waterloo, only to lose against the Prussians under Blücher afterwards, making "Waterloo" in this world the synonym of "a victory claimed too early".
    • Most people in-universe think that the secession of New England was inevitable, going as far as stating that "Americans and Yankees are different people."
  • Despite a background universe that features superheroes and villains, man landing on the moon in 1962 instead of 1969, four alien invasions, a general higher technology level, and so on, the Global Guardians PBEM Universe has pretty much followed the real world's timeline.
    • In addition, the setting's "multi-verse" is based on the idea of the multiple-world hypothesis, in which every time any person makes a choice, a new alternate timeline is branched off that reflects those choices. However, timelines that are based on irrelevant choices (for example, having toast and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal) tend to re-merge further down the time stream with all of its similarly irrelevant alternatives.
  • In Green Antarctica, something happened so that Antarctica didn't have the glaciers and ice sheets that they did in OTL. Yet World History still went on the same until the Tsalal got into the picture.
  • In Keit-Ai, this is necessary for the plot to work. Otherwise, the alternate universe versions of the boy and the girl would end up too different from them, resulting in a different story altogether.
  • In Red Dawn +20, the Chernobyl disaster still happened as scheduled, but this time, instead of Soviet engineering incompetence, it was American military intel incompetence that destroyed the reactor. Intel said the reactors weren't online when they were set to be targeted. Oops.
  • In Red vs. Blue Church gets the opportunity to save himself and his friends, but despite every butterfly he tried to stomp on, some other event kicks in and the only thing he changed is that he is the one who cause him team's eventual demises. Except It all turns out to be a ruse by Gary, who traps him in a simulation of a time loop.
  • In one dimension of WAOA, Aurora was a Dragonborn. Her habits haven't changed at all. In fact, she sent a cake with moon sugar inside it. The end result was predictable.
  • In the Whateley Universe, despite the fact that the world has a Lovecraft Lite mythos, ancient Sidhe, mutants with superpowers, and supernatural monsters, the world is pretty much the same as what we're used to. Apparently, all the great scientific and medical advancements thanks to super-inventors have been cancelled out by bad stuff due to supervillains and mad scientists.
  • On WrestleCrap, Rewriting the Book has some stories that end up like this in some way.
    • In "What if Vince McMahon wasn't the Higher Power?", Jake the Snake is the Higher Power, winds up getting control of the company and Stephanie... and in the end, the Ministry is dissolved and Vince is removed from TV albeit by order of Austin, who gained control of the company from Jake in a match.
    • In a recent story about what would happen if Goldberg's streak hadn't been broken, regardless of everything that changes as a result of this, WCW still collapses. Word of God says that this was the whole point of the story (that WCW's eventual, inevitable collapse wasn't due to one particular incident, but that they would have found some way to screw up and fail no matter what).
    • If DX had gotten into the Norfolk Scope Arena that fateful night, WCW would still have collapsed, apparently (but they would have gotten bought instead by ECW, which wound up becoming successful and eventually becoming Ring of Honor in all but name).
  • Fandom circles on websites like Tumblr or Livejournal tend to invoke this deliberately with the joke "AU in which everything's the same except _____".
  • In Warp Zone Project, things stay pretty much the same after Charles Darwin's children get earased from history to keep only one of his descendants from existing.
  • One of the Chuck Norris Facts plays the trope for laughs. Chuck Norris travels back in time and saves JFK. JFK is so surprised and grateful, his head explodes.
  • Alternate History Hub has a very somber example with What if the 'War on Terror' never happened? The 9/11 attacks never occur and America never invades Afghanistan or Iraq. Instead, the attitude of America as the invincible sole superpower continues on into the early 2000's, as does the rule of stagnant dictators like Saddam Hussein. However, the Great Recession of 2008 still occurs, sending the world into a financial crisis. The Arab Spring still occurs as well, sparking revolutions across the middle east and another civil war in Iraq. The Saudis fund Wahhabist terrorist groups through oil money, refugees start pouring into Europe and America, and drone strikes are used by the west on terrorist bases. The biggest differences are that the World Trade Center still stands, a full military invasion by America never occurs, and the simply gets an extra decade of peace.
  • In the Red Panda Adventures episode "The World Next Door", a time traveler from an Alternate Timeline secures the Red Panda's aid by offering the full case file on an upcoming Villain Team-Up that, in his universe, killed the Red Panda's sidekick the Flying Squirrel. How useful the case file would be was up in the air, as the two universes have vast differences. A trusted friend in one is a supervillain in the other, the Red Pandas' masks are different, and there are at least two confirmed Gender Flips between counterparts. Despite that, when the day comes and the Red Panda Revenge Squad assembles in "A Dish Best Served Cold", the villains' roster is essentially the same as the case file minus those differences and their plan, right down to the death trap used, goes almost identically to the alternate world's version. So much so that the villains are perplexed when the Red Panda names it before they do, notes the death trap they just created had been thwarting him for four years, and rattles off details on its inner workings he could not possibly know. The only difference is who is in the trap, as the hostage is the Red Panda's youngest agent, a teenage boy named Harry Kelly, instead of the Flying Squirrel. Even then, however, the Flying Squirrel was one of the two Gender Flips, being a teenage boy in the other world.
  • Dirty Laundry: An Alternate 1980s has its own page.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror V" segment "Time and Punishment", which begins as a parody of "A Sound of Thunder" and gets progressively weirder — but no matter what changes Homer makes to history, there's still a Simpsons family, and they're still living in the same house. (Granted, the house is in various permutations of history a McDonalds, a Sphinx with Bart's face, and a giant shoe a la the Nursery Rhyme, but the Simpsons live there nonetheless.) The story ends with everything normal, except for people having long, forked, prehensile tongues. "Eh, close enough."
    • Weirdly, forks as eating utensils still exist and are set out on the table, even though the rest of the family does not seem to need them.
    • For that matter, some of the opening credits' "sofa gags" might constitute close parallel universes of their own.
      • In another Treehouse of Horror segment, Bart acquires the keys of a Time machine and travels back to 1974 (so he can get a comic book cheap). While there, he finds out that if his parents never met, he would be rich. So he splits his parents up and travels back to 2012 (the present when the episode aired). Even though Marge married a rich man, he, Lisa, and Maggie are still born. The mansion they live in is in the same place as his old home as well.
  • On Danny Phantom, in "Masters of All Time", Danny goes back in time to prevent the accident that gave Vlad ecto-acne and his powers... and he succeeds in this, but Jack gets hit with the blast instead, becoming half-ghost in Vlad's place. Apparently somebody had to fill that role. Not only that, but Jack's ghost form has the exact same costume that Vlad's has in the real timeline... with no real explanation as to why this should be.
  • Family Guy has the episode "Road to the Multiverse" where Brian and Stewie travel through different alternate realities including one where the Japanese won World War II, another where people have two heads and another one where dogs are the dominant sentient species and keep humans as pets. In all of them Quahog and the main characters exist, with the only apparent exception being a world where the last Ice Age didn't end and the town's place is occupied by a glacier. The first world they visit is even stated as one where Christianity never existed, and yet St. Peter's Basilica still exists and is identical to ours... except the Sistine Chapel consists entirely of Jodie Foster's portraits painted by John Hinckley Jr. Also, in EVERY universe Meg is a Butt-Monkey, and she's still one of the ugly girls including in the universe where everybody is attractive.
    • In a more heartwarming example, there is the episode "Forget-Me-Not," in which Peter, Brian, Joe, and Quagmire wake up after a car crash, with no memory of themselves or each other. This trope comes into play when it is revealed that the entire situation was fabricated by Stewie, who wanted to challenge Brian's claim that he and Peter would be friends regardless of how they met. Turns out Brian was right, as the two end up defending each other in the end of the scenario. Stewie even admits that the two are destined to be friends. D'aww.
      • Also, the sensation of a cutaway exists despite the fact that none of them have memories to cutaway to.
  • In Futurama, the crew is sent back in time to Roswell, creating the famous UFO crash landing (it's Bender's mangled body). Though an effort is made to not alter history, Hilarity Ensues and Fry ends up becoming his own grandfather. At this point, the Professor is just fed up and mounts a full-blown assault on Roswell Army Air Field with the Planet Express ship, stealing a radar dish so they can return home. History is not affected in the slightest.
    Professor: Choke on that, causality!
    • On the other hand, if the alternate universes presented by the What-If Machine in the "Anthology of Interest" stories are accepted as true, then Fry becoming his own grandfather is a set point in time that can't be avoided (in the AU where he never goes into the future, his destroying the Cryo-Chamber destroys the universe). In other words, the events of the Roswell episode are quite possible all part of a Stable Time Loop - the assault and its aftermath might well be events unrecorded by history (especially given its unreliability back in the 1940s-50s, including the lack of advanced technology to record such events as faithfully as in the present). But who can say for certain?
      • In The Why of the Fry, we learn that Nibbler deliberately sent Fry to the future because of this time loop. If Fry stayed in the 21st century, he never would have gone back in time to become his own grandfather, and he never would have had the delta brain waves needed for him to be able to take down the Brain's Infosphere.
    • In the film Bender's Big Score, Bender goes back in time hundreds of times and steals all of history's great treasures, including the Mona Lisa, the mask of King Tut, Michelangelo's David, and a mess of other things. This doesn't change anything, because he's using "paradox-free" time travel, which invokes this trope - the universe automatically corrects any problems that would be created, usually by any spare temporal duplicates that can't be made part of a Stable Time Loop (for instance, if you traveled back in time and stopped yourself from traveling back in time) abruptly dying. Of course, at the end of the movie, he ends up creating hundreds of these temporal duplicates, in a manner that makes half the events of the movie impossible, at which the universe gives up and cracks open.
  • An odd variation in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic during the season five finale "The Cutie Remark". Starlight Glimmer, the villain from the season opener "The Cutie Map", reveals a time travel spell developed by Star Swirl the Bearded and refined by her and uses it to go back in time to stop Rainbow Dash from performing her first Sonic Rainboom, which allowed the Mane Six to get their Cutie Marks at the same time. When Twilight and Spike go back to stop her, all of their attempts to use force to invoke Set Right What Once Went Wrong ends up invoking this trope - Starlight wins and the Sonic Rainboom is stopped. Caught between endlessly trying to stop Starlight or letting her win, Twilight decides to Take a Third Option: Dragging Starlight into the next altered timeline and showing her what damage she's caused.
    • Played straight in that all the characters still have the same cutie marks anyways. Also, each time back to the present, only one villain is shown to be in power, with no Villain Team-Up.
  • In Adventure Time Finn asks the Literal Genie Prismo to make it so the Lich never existed in the first place. He wakes up in an alternate universe where the Mushroom War never happened, Finn is a farm boy with a prosthetic arm, and Jake is just a normal yellow dog. The "war" happens anyways, only Jake is turned into the Lich instead thanks to the accidental detonation of the bomb.
  • There's a less extreme example in Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Yesteryear", in which Spock died at the age of seven because he failed to go back in time to save his own life. Nothing changes on the Enterprise except that the first officer is an Andorian we've never met before. Everyone we know but Spock is still alive, in the same positions, and they are still on the same assignment. A Myriad Universes story explores the alternate universe in more detail and follows the life of said Andorian. There's no major difference in the timelines until the events of Star Trek II, at which point divergences begin to happen almost exponentially.

Alternative Title(s): Butterfly Nets