I’m a huge historical and alternative history fan. The large majority of alternative history on the market centers around disruptions in the US Civil War time frame or in Medieval Europe. However, I’ve also recently read a great book about an alternative Rome, where Julius Caesar wasn’t killed on the Ides of March. You can find that book here on Amazon. I highly recommend it. Now, the suggestions below are for books and eras that I don’t believe already have a setting. If you know of one that uses them, please let me know because I’d be excited to learn about them!
1) Jean Auel’s Earth Children/Clan of the Cave Bear:
Imagine a prehistoric setting where Modern Man and Neanderthal Man were in competition for resources. Now imagine Modern Man is part of a society where sexual equality and gender equality were much closer than we see in modern society. This society is enlightened sexually and permissive and accepting of trans and non-gender conforming people, as well as being highly mystical. The society of Neanderthal Man is highly gender conformed due to the specializations of brains that the author explains they possessed. You see, Neanderthals or Flat Heads or the Clan as they are known in the world, per Mrs. Auel, have the ability to retain genetic memory going all the way back to the beginning of life on the planet. Modern Man, in contrast is quicker to gain new knowledge but they lack the ability to remember things in the same way. The world is deep, engrossing, and could easily be built into a Savage Worlds or Fate campaign.
2) Harry Harrison’s The Hammer and the Cross:
Unless you are a major Viking Age history geek… like… me… you probably aren’t familiar with the aspects of this series that are historical and which are outright fictitious. It gets easier after the first book, but the first book on the surface appears to be a historical fiction novel set during the time of the Danelaw in Northern England. Shef is a young slave that rises in social status by making alliances with the invading Vikings, and eventually becomes Emperor of the North. Factoid: there was never an Emperor of the North, but damn there are times I wish there was. On top of this, there is a resurgence in the Norse faith, reorganized and centralized to mimic some of the more Monotheistic faiths; it acts as a counter-point to the rise of Catholicism in Northern Europe. So you have a world where Norse Paganism and Christianity are more equally matched, and the gods seem to interact with humanity at turns and starts. I’d run a game set in this world using the Chronicles of Darkness system and possibly a modified Dungeons and Dragons.
3) Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory:
This series is much more about people than it is about anything else. Turtledove can write stories about families with no connections to power, and stories about those in the Presidency and other similar positions. These stories weave together to build a powerful narrative. I think there are now 4-5 trilogies in this timeline that begin with the South winning the US Civil War. It ends with a Fascist Government rising to power in the Confederacy during the same time frame in which Nazi Germany rose, and it dives into some dark and terrifying places. This creates a deep, immersive alternative history world that doesn’t need supernatural enemies to bring horror to life, but I think it would be interesting to use some of those elements in Turtledove’s reflection of America. Running a Achtung! Cthulhu game in the Southern Victory world would be interesting, as would running Call of Cthulhu, or classic World of Darkness.
So, there you have some suggestions for alternative history/historical fictional worlds in which you could run some RPG campaigns. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of options and ideas. Which worlds would you be interested in running a campaign for? What historical fiction novels give you great ideas?
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.