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Point of Divergence

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"Victory over Russia in the spring of ’43—a triumph for the Führer's strategic genius! The Wehrmacht summer offensive of the year before had cut Moscow off from the Caucasus, separating the Red armies from the Baku oilfields. Stalin's war machine had simply ground to a halt for want of fuel.

Peace with Britain in ’44—a triumph for the Führer's counterintelligence genius! ... [A]ll the U-boats had been recalled to their bases on the Atlantic coast to be equipped with a new cipher system: the treacherous British, they were told, had been reading the Fatherland’s codes. Picking off the merchant shipping had been easy after that. England was starved into submission. Churchill and his gang of warmongers had fled to Canada."

A point of divergence is a specific event in an Alternate History Backstory that occurs differently than it did in Real Life. Most alternate history authors will change a single event, creating a "ripple effect", however, the point of divergence may range in importance and realism from a missing horseshoe nail to Time Travel and Alien Invasion.

Alternatively, an older name for this trope is "Jonbar hinge" - a reference to Jack Williamson's The Legion Of Time, in which such an event is pivotal.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Full Metal Panic!, the point of divergence is New Year's Eve of 1981, with everyone born on that day possessing low-level Psychic Powers and knowledge of science and technology far beyond than the current level of human progress; these people have been dubbed "Whispered". The actual cause was the "Yamsk 11 Incident", wherein Russian experiments on a psychic girl named Sofia somehow gave her that advanced knowledge and mind-linked her to everyone born at that moment, making her the "Whisperer" who grants them that knowledge. This in turn spurred more changes: Mikhail Gorbachev was assassinated, halting his Glasnost policy and prolonging the Soviet-Afghan war, meaning the Soviet Union still exists in the early 21st century; meanwhile, Whispereds working on Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" defense initiative produced Humongous Mecha, among other things.
  • In Code Geass, the earliest known change from real world history is the Celts throwing the Romans out of England and winning independence some time around 1 ADnote . However, even in the series' universe this is somewhat suspect; it's noted that the first historical record of this event was a book written centuries later, and there are theories that the whole thing was made up to give Britannian rulers the Divine Right of Kings.

    Comic Books 
  • In The New Universe it was supposed to be exactly like reality until the White Event. The slogan was "the world outside your window."
  • The world of Watchmen was identical to ours until the publication of Superman in 1938. In our reality, that kickstarted the Golden Age of Superheroes; in the Watchmen universe, that lead to ordinary people dressing up as costumed vigilantes and becoming crimefighters, leading to the dystopian alternate universe.

    Fan Fic 
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: The divergence from Game of Thrones' plot doesn't happen until four chapters in, since the Wolf shows up to kill characters shortly before their canon deaths (the Mountain, Ramsay, Littlefinger, the Mountain again). And even once that starts happening, events continue to unfold close to the series' plot (Danaerys still torches King's Landing, but due to the Wolf ordering a visible magic attack originating from the Keep instead of a mental breakdown) and any characters spared are removed from the main plot or outright kidnapped for unknown purposes (Beric, Qyburn, Cersei and Jaime). Doesn't stop Tyrion declaring he'd have been much better off without the Wolf's interference.

  • In the Super Mario Bros. (1993) movie, the prologue explains that the alternate reality of the Mushroom Kingdom was identical to ours until the Chicxulub meteorite impact: in our timeline, the dinosaurs were killed off; in the Mushroom Kingdom, they weren't.

  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, World War II is interrupted by a fleet of lizard-people from outer space (a.k.a. The Race) in 1942. This is both unlucky and lucky for the aliens: if they'd shown up 50 years early they would've swiftly annihilated a planet who had yet to discover military flight, rocketry, and the basic building blocks of nuclear weapons. If The Race had shown up 50 years later they would have been soundly defeated by humans with modern technology that matched The Race but with much greater understanding of tactics and strategy, not to mention several nations having massive nuclear weapons programs.
  • Another Turtledove series, The War That Came Early diverges from our timeline when the German ambassador to Czechoslavakia is assassinated by a Czech nationalist while Hitler is negotiating over the Sudetenland in 1938. This prompts Hitler to invade Czechoslovakia, with Britain and France declaring war on Germany in turn. Germany has to fight to get Czechoslovakia instead of taking it over without a fight, and as a result loses the momentum that let them take most of Europe in real life. Instead they wind up in a bloody two-front slog for most of the rest of the series. On a smaller scale, Jose Sanjurjo in Spain listens to some good advice, leaves a bit of baggage behind, and survives the plane ride that killed him in real life. Because of the early outbreak of World War II, the Spanish Republicans are saved by aid from the Allies rather than being defeated in 1939, and Spain also turns into a stalemate.
  • In still another Turtledove series, the Timeline-191 series, the point of divergence is right before the battle of Antietam. In the real world, a Confederate officer carelessly threw away a copy of General Lee's Special Order 191; the Union found the orders, which not only let them thwart Lee's invasion of the north but almost completely destroyed the Army of North Virginia. In Turtledove's books, the orders are recovered by a Confederate soldier instead, meaning Lee steamrolls McClellan's army and eventually manage to capture the White House, forcing Abraham Lincoln to recognize Southern independence. This also leads to analogues for both World Wars, with the USA and CSA on opposite sides.
  • In his Crosstime Traffic series, each alternate timeline visited has a different POD:
    • Gunpowder Empire: Marcus Agrippa lived long enough to oversee the (successful) conquest of Germania by Rome.
    • Curious Notions: Imperial Germany won World War I, and later occupied the USA.
    • In High Places: The Black Death was much worse, leading to a new form of Christianity and Islam spreading as far north as France. A second timeline visited is speculated to be one where the Romans lost the Samnite Wars, leading to no Roman Empire and technological stagnation.
    • The Disunited States of America: The newly independent Thirteen Colonies were unable to agree on a constitution, leading to them eventually breaking away into their own nations.
    • The Gladiator: The US capitulated in the Cuban Missile Crisis and later the Vietnam War, leading to the spread of communism across the globe.note 
    • The Valley-Westside War: The Cold War turned hot in 1967, leading to The End of the World as We Know It. The main characters from the home timeline are trying to figure out exactly why it happened.
  • The Years of Rice and Salt: The Black Death extinguished the European civilization.
  • Seekers of the Sky: Jesus was killed by Herod's troops and the Redeemer took his place as the Messiah.
  • In Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series, history was changed when Richard I of England was not killed by the crossbow wound he took during the siege of Chalus-Chabrol. He returned to England and John never became king. Richard died in 1219 and his son Arthur took the throne.
  • L. Neil Smith's North American Confederacy series has the divergence as the result of a single word added to the Declaration of Independence, "governments derive their just power from the unanimous consent of the governed." Somehow, as a result, the Whiskey Rebellion was successful and the entire continent became a Libertarian utopia.
  • Harry Harrison uses the Trent Affair as the point of divergence for his Stars and Stripes trilogy, where Prince Albert dies before helping to resolve the incident peacefully, and the British Empire attempts to invade the US, resulting in both the USA and the CSA joining forces against the largest empire in history.
  • In William Shatner's Mirror Universe trilogy, it's revealed that the titular universe split off from the main one when Zephram Cochrane let a coin flip decide whether he would tell the Vulcans about the Borg or not. In the Prime 'verse, he hides the truth. In the Mirror Universe, he tells them, and they believe him, resulting in a much more militant union between the races in an attempt to prepare for the inevitable return of the Borg. Naturally, this is rendered non-canonic by Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, the focal point that brought our timeline into being is Christopher Columbus receiving a vision from God telling him to sail West to convert the Asian heathens to Christ. In the original timeline, he never received the vision, instead continuing his dream of retaking the Holy Land from the Muslims. He ends up leading the most devastating Crusade of all. Meanwhile, a progressive, bloodthirsty empire rises in Central America and, eventually, takes over the world. Their descendants invent Time Travel and sent a holographic message urging Columbus to go West. The goal of the protagonists is to create a third timeline that doesn't result in The End of the World as We Know It, throwing this trope out the window and going for a long-term approach.
  • Averted in the Wild Cards series - while it seems that the arrival of Dr. Tachyon and the virus are the point of divergence for this world, there are characters like Jubal / Jhubben, not a joker but an alien that contradict this. Also, Jetboy and Dr. Tod, two earthling characters in the origins story, already are divergences from our history. That doesn't stop people from claiming the appearance of Tach and the virus are the first changes...
  • In Fyodor Berezin's Red Stars books, the parallel world's history diverges from ours mere weeks before Nazi Germany's invasion of the USSR. A British warship intervenes to aid the pockets of resistance in the Balkans against Nazi occupation, resulting in Hitler having to put Operation Barbarossa on hold in order to divert troops to put down the opposition. This, in turn, gives Stalin the chance to finish his own preparations for a Back Stab and invade the German-occupied part of Poland. As a result, Germany is beaten in under two years (i.e. way before D-Day), and the USSR proceeds to "liberate" the rest of Europe. By the time 21st century rolls around, much of the world is in the hands of a powerful, militant Communist power, with North America being the only region still "free". The reason for the quotes is that the steady losses and liberal use of tactical nukes by both sides have forced the remaining nations to declare martial law and become just as militant as the USSR just to keep up. When the leaders of our world learn of this other world, they're horrified what might happen should the other world's leaders learn of ours.
  • In Tamar Anolic's Triumph of a Tsar, history diverges from "our" timeline when Tsar Alexander II just barely escapes the bomb attack that killed him in real life and lives long enough to follow through on his plans to make Russia a constitutional monarchy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sliders, which deals with parallel universes on a regular basis, often has its main characters deduce the point of divergence between the universe they are currently in and their home universe (Earth Prime). In the pilot, the point of divergence between Earth Prime and the Communist-ruled USA world is the outcome of The Korean War (loss for the US as opposed to a draw). In another episode, World War II lasts for several years longer than expected, resulting in a different president being in office during the Roswell incident. Unlike most other worlds, this guy decides to make the knowledge of aliens public, forming a trade partnership with them. By the turn of the century, the US has ubiquitous Artificial Gravity and near-perfect health, and an almost-successful manned mission to Mars has taken place a few years prior.
  • In The Boys (2019), the point of divergence is World War II. During the war, the Nazi scientist Frederick Vought created the Super Serum Compound V through experiments on concentration camp inmates. As the tide turned against Nazi Germany, he defected to the United States used his serum to create the first successful superhero Soldier Boy. Impressed by his work, the US government pardoned Vought and he subsequently founded the corporation Vought International, which creates his own line of corporate-backed superheroes that have become part of The Boys universe.
  • An in-universe example happens in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Wish", when Cordelia's wish that Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale creates a parallel universe. The town is subsequently completely overrun by vampires led by The Master, because Buffy wasn't around to prevent the events of "The Harvest".

  • For the major universes of We Are All Pokémon Trainers we have the following:
    • AU: Umbra getting sealed in an orb when he was the Ghost Lord, Hoenn getting flooded, Sinnoh suffering the Distortion, and Scolipede and Artemis taking over Unova.
    • PMD-B: The dragons succeeding in turning 99% of humanity into Pokémon.
    • Otherverse: The earliest known divergence is Grings Kodai using Azalea instead of Crown City for his Celebi plot.

    Video Games 
  • World in Conflict. The game asks the question, what if the Soviet Union decided to go to war in 1989 rather than face collapse? The Berlin Wall still comes down in this world, but it comes down when the Soviets blow it down with demolition charges and flood West Berlin with their troops. They proceed to invade Western Europe, with varying degrees of success and failure. Then they decide to launch an invasion of the United States in the hopes of at least tricking the U.S. into pulling it's forces from Europe to reinforce the home front.
  • Resistance: The PoD occurs when Spain decides to heed U.S. demands after the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana in 1898. They agreed to give Cuba independence, averting the Spanish-American War. Then the 1908 Tunguska Event brought with it in this world an alien menace, a virus that infects and turns humans into savage alien creatures. World War II as we know it is averted in this world, but the aliens then invade at the end of 1949 from Russia (which had been slowly overrun in the proceeding decades).
  • Turning Point: Fall of Liberty: The PoD is the death of Winston Churchill from a car accident in 1931, instead of surviving as in Real Life. Without his leadership, Britain quickly falls to the Nazis in World War II. The Nazis, along with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan proceed to conquer their areas of interest, while the Germans built up the military even more. Eventually they launch a full-scale invasion of the United States in 1952.
  • In the Fallout series, the PoD is after World War II. The transistor wasn't invented until the 2060s, leading to desktop computers and robots that use vacuum tubes instead. This also had the world stuck in the social norms of the 1950's, for some reason.
  • In BioShock Infinite, the divergence point is the 1893 World Fair, or rather, the construction of the floating city of Columbia for said fair. More precisely, the divergence point is the baptism of Booker DeWitt, which created Father Comstock and ultimately made Columbia possible. In-game, Elizabeth has the power to use "tears" as divergence points to enter alternate timelines.
  • It's hard to establish where the point of divergence between Real Life and the Alternate Timelines of Shin Megami Tensei IV lies. Sometime before 2013, a suit of Powered Armor called the Demonica was invented, and Japan's Self Defense Force purchased a large amount of them. In 2013 itself, angels entered Earth from the Expanse, conspired to trigger a nuclear war, and started kidnapping innocents and God's Chosen to be spirited out of Earth when the nukes struck. In the chaos, a mysterious piece of software, the Demon Summoning Program, was dispersed through the Internet, giving some humans the chance to strike back. At the cusp of the angels' plan, with a large group of ICBMs looming over Tokyo, a young summoner made his stand, and through his choice created three possible worlds...
  • According to the backstory for Enigma: Rising Tide, the RMS Lusitania was never sunk by a German U-boat, which prevented the US from entering World War I. The Central Powers win the war, with Germany annexing France and Britain. Churchill flees Britain for Hong Kong with the rest of the government aboard the HMS Hood and forms the League of Free Nations, which includes Britain's government-in-exile and Imperial Japan. The game is centered on controlling ships during this world's version of World War II, a Mêlée à Trois between the German Empire, the US, and the LFN. The game even includes an event that is a direct parallel to the attack on Pearl Harbor, except, in this version, it's the Americans performing a sneak attack on the German fleet at Scapa Flow, with Chancellor von Richthofen (yes, that one) giving a speech eerily similar to FDR's and announcing the end to the age of the battleship.
  • In Timelines: Assault on America, the OSS manages to assassinate Hitler in 1942, along with a number of high-ranking Nazi officials. As a result, more competent generals take charge of Nazi Germany and find out what the Americans have done. With that knowledge, they cancel Operation Barbarossa (strangely, the invasion happened the prior year in Real Life) and direct their efforts towards the US, making plans with Japan to perform a simultaneous two-pronged assault.
  • In War Front: Turning Point, Hitler is killed in the early days of the war, and the new chancellor is much more competent. Under his leadership, Operation Sea Lion succeeds, and Britain falls to Germany. However, this also means that Germany never attacked the Soviet Union, and the Soviets build up their forces in preparation to strike at them.
  • Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg, a mod for Hearts of Iron 2 and 4, has their POD be the sinking of the Lusitania. After seeing the threat of America joining the war, the Kaiser puts a stop to unrestricted submarine warfare. Without America to relieve the weary Entente, Germany then begins to pull off multiple other points of divergence, including winning the war in the East and getting grain from Ukraine, evading starvation from the British blockade, which is in turn broken in a Second Battle of Jutland, and capitalizing on the French mutiny during the Nivelle Offensive, which allows them to place Paris under siege, resulting in France's capitulation and thus leaving Britain alone. Britain then sues for a Peace with Honor in 1921, giving Germany supremacy in Europe and radically changing how the world is by the 1940s.
  • In Prey (2017): The divergence is explained in-game with Talos 1's museum. United States President John F. Kennedy survives his assassination attempt and winds up forming an alliance with the USSR. Secretly, this is due to the discovery of alien life orbiting the Moon and the countries focusing on containing and studying it. Kennedy wound up living over a century as well, thanks to Neuromod development.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nasuverse:
    • An unspecified event around 300 AD is mainly responsible for why there are Dead Apostle-centric timelines (Tsukihime, Witch on the Holy Night, Melty Blood) and the Fate timelines instead of timelines where both concepts are prominent. In the Fate timelines, the Dead Apostle threat is mainly under control, unlike in the Dead Apostle-centric timelines. The Material book for Lord El-Melloi II Case Files reveals that the battle between Zelretch and the Crimson Moon took place in 300 AD, but it doesn't really explain what might have gone differently to have caused the divergence.
    • Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA diverges from the main Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero (and Fate/hollow ataraxia) timeline in that instead of helping the Einzberns in the Fourth Holy Grail War, Kiritsugu chose to stay with Irisviel and Illya instead and killed the Einzberns, as well as discovering the truth about the Holy Grail and destroying it with Irisviel's help. The Fourth Holy Grail War continued without them, and judging by the presence of a Lord El-Melloi II (Waver) and Caren being in Fuyuki (as she came to replace Kirei after his death in the main timeline), Kayneth still died and Kirei died. Illya was also born later.
      • It's not entirely too clear what happened to cause the decline of magic in Miyu's timeline, other than that Pandora (Erika) never opened her box.
    • An alien supercomputer embedded in the Moon by Precursors, its subsequent discovery by humans, and the Aylesbury Ritual being held in the 1970s instead of its prophesied time, thus triggering the calamitous Overcount/1999 event is responsible for the divergence of the Fate/EXTRA timeline.
    • Fate/Apocrypha happens because Darnic Prestone Yggdmillennia steals the Holy Grail from Fuyuki during the Third Holy Grail War, causing the Yggdmillennia faction to rise in prominence. And the Einzberns summoned Amakusa Shiro instead of Angra Mainyu.
    • Despite Fate/strange fake having no actual reason to diverge, it just did. Part of it is because Zelretch specifically pins his hope on sending in a Spanner in the Works to avert a possible Bad Future.
    • Fate/Grand Order itself diverges from FSN because of currently unspecified reasons that have resulted in only one Holy Grail War being held in Fuyuki, the formation of the Chaldea Security Organization, and the Evils of Humanity being laser focused on specifically carrying out their plans in this timeline. Beyond the main story, there are also several Servants derived from diverging points in the timeline:
      • EMIYA Alter comes from the Fate/stay night Heaven's Feel Bad End "Superhero" (also known as "Mind of Steel").
      • Assassin EMIYA is a Kiritsugu that was never hired by the Einzberns, so he never met Irisviel, causing him to fall further into despair.
      • The Lion King/Lancer Altria variants are from timelines where Altria mainly used Rhongomyniad instead of Excalibur.
      • The game's second major plot arc, Cosmos in the Lostbelt, features seven alternate timelines, each with their own point of divergence. What sets these timelines apart is that they diverged so much that they would be pruned by the World, for they were seen as dead ends for humanity:
      • The first Lostbelt, set in Russia, diverged in AD 1570 when an asteroid struck Earth and plunged it into a new ice age. The Russian tsar of the time, Ivan the Terrible, ordered his court mages to fuse the few surviving humans with Demonic and Phantasmal Beasts, creating a race of Beast Men called the Yaga. However, the Yaga were forced to spend all of their ability on merely surviving in the Death World Earth had become, and were therefore incapable of advancement and thus pruned.
      • The second Lostbelt, set in Scandinavia, diverged in 1000 BC when Surtr chose to defy his prophesied role in Ragnarok and set the entire world, not just Scandinavia, aflame. It took all of the Norse gods except Skadi to seal him away in a Heroic Sacrifice — but Surtr's rampage scarred the world so badly that it was incapable of supporting more than ten thousand humans at any given time.
      • The third Lostbelt, set in China, diverged in 210 BC when Emperor Qin Shi Huang discovered the secret to immortality. With eternal life in his hands, he set about conquering foreign lands until he had control over the entire planet. However, he hoarded all technological advancement for himself, set about planning the defense of the world rather than expanding outward from it, and left humans in a state of blissful ignorance, lacking education and expected to till the land until they reached a certain age, when they would be euthanized before the troubles of old age could affect them.
      • The fourth Lostbelt, set in India, has no specific date of divergence (the calendar used in that Lostbelt counts the Maha-Yuga Cycle rather than the Gregorian calendar), but is stated to have diverged at the end of the Kurukshetra War (which would put it around 3000 BC), when Arjuna, rather than coming to terms with his inner darkness, hit the Despair Event Horizon upon seeing the carnage that the war brought and vowed to become a god so he could erase evil from existence. He would succeed, merging with nearly the entire Hindu pantheon to become the Lostbelt's sole god, and sped up the Yuga Cycle to weed out what he deemed "evil" and reach his perfect world sooner. However, he ended up accelerating it too much, and between that and his impossibly high standards, he was doomed to drive humanity to extinction.
      • The Fifth Lostbelt, Atlantis, diverges in 12,000 BC, when Sefar, the White Titan that destroyed Atlantis, is stopped early by the Greek Gods (who are Alien AI) fusing together into a Humongous Mecha. With the Greek Pantheon remaining in power, the world gained incredibly advanced technology, but all of humanity was essentially enslaved to the Olympians. Not to mention that Zeus was planning to get rid of humanity anyway as part of his plan to depart into space.
      • The Sixth Lostbelt, Avalon le Fae, set in Great Britain, was initially believed to diverge in AD 510, when Morgan Le Fay was chosen to ascend to Britan's throne instead of Artoria. In truth, it has the same divergence point as the fifth, but diverges in the opposite direction. In this Lostbelt, Excalibur was never forged, and so Sefar was left to rampage unchecked and destroyed the world until it was just an endless ocean. The six faeries who were supposed to forge Excalibur were banished from Avalon forever for their sins, but they betrayed and poisoned the last surviving god Cernunnos to build a new Britain on the foundation of his and the primordial dragon Albion's corpses, and gave rise to the six fairy clans to rebuilt civilization. But since the Faeries lack creativity and are capricious by nature, it all only amounted to them repeatedly exterminating each other. It took Morgan le Fay establishing a totalitarian dictatorship to ensure even the smallest ounce of stability. And on top of that, the remaining humans are kept as literal livestock produced in factories, as said humans are technically clones of the last true human, Cernunnos' priest who the first fae tore apart but kept alive so they could have create more. Also, the land itself is trying to wipe the faeries out as it accumulates their collective curses and sins to birth monstrous Calamities to destroy Britain. And the titular Avalon le Fae is birthed (twice after the first fails) to create the sword that the original six did not in order to correct that sin. Notably, the circumstances of this POD result in it having an EX Divergence Depth, because Sefar effectively reset human history to zero - there is literally no shared history between this world and Pan-Human History.
      • The Seventh Lostbelt, Nahui Mictalan, set in South America, diverged at around 65 million BC. Or at least, it appeared this way - the actual point of divergence is at 300 million BC, when the Chixulub comet arrived at Earth much earlier than expected. The alien fungi it was carrying, which eventually become the Mesoamerican Pantheon and empower mankind in Proper Human History, ended up empowering the dinosaurs instead. Humans ended up evolving much earlier as a result. The problem is that this meant humans were around when ORT, the Ultimate One of the Oort Cloud, arrived. In Proper Human History, ORT's impact with Earth causes the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it then goes into hibernation since the humans it was tasked to destroy don't exist yet. Here, humans were around when it arrived, leading ORT to scour the world. Mankind was wiped out in a mass sacrifice to empower King Camazotz with the strength to defeat ORT, while the dinosaurs (now a race called the Deinos) migrated underground, gaining a new sun in the form of ORT's heart. While the changes to this timeline are more profound than even the sixth Lostbelt, it's still not truly a Lostworld as it still relies on a Cosmic Keystone to maintain itself with the difference being that Lostbelt ORT is that very lynchpin due to having consumed the Tree of Emptiness during its "war" with mankind.

    Web Original 
  • Atlas Altera does not involve a single POD, but instead many ways history might have gone different.