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GURPS is a tabletop role-playing game. Its name is an acronym for Generic Universal Role-Playing System. It is designed to allow players to role-play in any setting they can imagine. In the latest edition (4th ed.) the default setting is one in which the player characters are agents working for an organisation that can travel between alternate timelines.
GURPS supplements are usually detailed, well written and well researched, and may be worth purchasing even if you are not a GURPS player.
GURPS supplements detailing alternate timelines include Infinite Worlds, Weird War II, Steampunk, Alternate Earths and Alternate Earths II. You can find out more about these TLs on the GURPS wikia, which also has an entry about the Chaos TL by Max Sinister (inspired by Centrum, see below).
GURPS supplements dealing with historical topics include Age of Napoleon, Arabian Nights, Aztecs, Celtic Myth, China, Egypt, Greece, Imperial Rome, Japan, Middle Ages I (medieval England), Old West, Russia, Swashbucklers, Timeline, Vikings, Who's Who 1 (biographies), Who's Who 2 and World War 2.
GURPS supplements dealing with technology include Low-Tech (up to 1450), High-Tech (1450-present), Ultra-Tech (the future), Bio-Tech, Robots, Space, Steam-Tech and Warehouse 23 (weird science).
Many of these supplements went out of print with the launch of the 4th edition, and may be difficult to get hold of.
Tangents is another tabletop role-playing game based on travel between alternate timelines. It appears to have been inspired by the TV series Sliders and is nowhere near as good as GURPS.
Aeolus breaks with our history in 1688, when the favourable winds which allowed William of Orange to safely cross the English Channel and invade England in the real world never materialised and his fleet was lost in the attempt. King James II was therefore never driven from his throne, and subsequently executed the anti-Catholic parliamentarians who had invited William to take the throne. After this victory, James' Catholic sympathies were displayed openly as he ignored Parliament and allied with France. The eventual reunion of the Church of England with the Church of Rome in 1745 drove British Protestants to North America en masse; a series of succession crises and wars throughout the 19th century left 20th century Europe discontented and dissatisfied. Central Europe experienced a series of republican revolutions in the 1940s; the Republican Alliance that emerged is pinned between the Habsburg Dominions across northern Eurasia and the Bourbon Dominions of western Europe. In North America the Kingdom of Louisiane under the House of Orleans controls the most territory, though the Grand Duchy of Aleska and Mexique are also of considerable size. The American Commonwealth, a near-theocratic Protestant nation governed by a Lord Protector appointed for life, is smaller, of a size with Nouvelle France, the sole remaining colonial possession in North America.
The character of Aeolus is of a world with near-modern technology (the current year is 1941) in which political thought is many years behind its course of development in our world. Fortunately for the Republican Alliance, the presence of Mikhail Gurevich and Henri Coanda has given them sole possession of jet aircraft technology and, indeed, the only airplanes on the planet.
Armada-2 So named because it is the second world discovered by the Infinity Patrol in which the Spanish Armada was victorious over the English in 1588, Armada-2 is a world just now (in current year 1812) emerging from the shadow of Catholic Spanish hegemony, with Sweden and industrialised Egypt and Huguenot Nouvelle France.
Attila A parallel where city-razing Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan destroyed first Beijing and then all the cities of Europe, where now their descendants (in current year 2004) rule an entirely nomadic Europe. The world was mistakenly named for Attila the Hun by early Infinity Patrol researchers who were confused as to which nomadic leader was responsible. Meanwhile, Japan trades across the Pacific Ocean with the urbanised tribes of North and South America, and city-states dot Africa, where steam engines have just been developed.
Azoth-7 When Isaac Newton discovered the secret of the philosopher's stone in 1693, he paved the way for an Alchemical Revolution that has left Azoth-7 dominated by the magical might of Britain, Venice, Prussia, and Spain by “current year” 1780.
Bonaparte-4 In this parallel the French emperor Napoleon sacrificed the romance of an Egyptian campaign (which he conducted in 1798 in our timeline) for a stealthy invasion of Ireland, granting him victory over Britain. By current year 2024, the world is divided between French, Japanese, Russian, and Brazilian Empires, along with the United States and the Russian Republic, and the world has achieved a stage of technological achievement and social disaffection and tension reminiscent of cyberpunk fiction.
Britannica-3 The success of the rebellion of James, Duke of Monmouth against James II of England in 1685 is the point of divergence between our own world and Britannica-3; wiser and more Protestant rule in Britain meant that tensions with the North American colonies never reached the point of rebellion as they did in real history. Despite the rise of other strong European powers, the world is free of major conflicts, which can be attributed to the strong influence of Centrum in this parallel.
Caliph is perhaps the strangest of the Infinite Worlds settings. The current year is only 1683 but the world is technologically far in advance of our present day. The point of divergence which made this possible is the invention of the printing press in the Abbasid Caliphate during the 9th century, which enabled the emergence of an Islamic Renaissance and consequent technological development about seven centuries ahead of real history. Calculus was devised in the early 11th century, oil-powered steamships were first built in the mid-13th century, and man first walked on the moon in 1434. The globe is divided between Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam (which comprises the four Muslim caliphates, the allied Christian Firanj [France] and China) and Dar al-Harb, the House of War, or those lands not governed by the dictates of the Ulama and the Islamic Shari'a law they define and apply to the Dar al-Islam. The secular Jamahariya Alliance (based in the New World) controls a third of the globe along with its ally, the totalitarian Caliphate of Hind (India); they are currently pushing for further conquest in an ultra-tech world that has not seen global war in centuries.
Humanity has also spread to the rest of the solar system and to colony worlds in four other star systems accessible through FTL stargates. All humans living “beyond planetary atmospheres” are claimed as subjects of the corporation-dominated Rightly-Guided Stellar Caliphate (which did so ostensibly to preserve humanity in case the fighting on Earth became genocidal in nature). Along with the reality of extraterrestrial life, the Stellar Caliphs also recently developed mainframe artificial intelligences called djinn, who are accepted as equals in Muslim society.
Campbell Named for the early death of influential science fiction editor John W. Campbell which occurred in this parallel but not in real history, Campbell is a world notable for the poverty of its scientific advancement. While military applications of scientific research advanced rapidly enough, science as an intellectual pursuit became associated exclusively with death, destruction, and catastrophe, leading to an anti-scientific wave of pacifist Luddism and charismatic religious revival in the 1960s. Lacking the positive fruits of scientific inquiry, the world heads (in current year 2004) through ecological disaster and failing economies to a nigh-inevitable showdown between its capitalist and communist societies.
Centrum is a major part of the Infinite Worlds setting. Its point of divergence is the successful crossing of the White Ship, meaning that William Adelin, the sole male heir of King Henry I of England, was never drowned. This not only prevented the succession struggle between his sister Matilda and Stephen of Blois (and the Anarchy which followed Stephen's accession to the throne), but also led to Eleanor of Aquitaine becoming even more important to Centrum's history than she was to ours. Married not to Henry II of England but to William Adelin's son Robert the Crusader, Eleanor ruled in her husband's absence and during their son's infancy, establishing an incredibly powerful Anglo-French Empire by her death in 1204. When Mongol invasions prevented expansion into central Europe, the Anglo-French explored the Atlantic Ocean and discovered the New World. Chinese technology imported by the Mongols and royal patronage of Roger Bacon's scientific inquiries meant that, although scientific progress in Centrum was slower than in our history, it maintained a head start of around a century.
Eventually, the Anglo-French Empire dominated not only Europe but most of the globe. In 1902 the nuclear obliteration of London by parties unknown decapitated the AFE and kicked off a decade of civil war that killed more than half the world's population (mostly through unrestricted biowarfare). A military-industrial cabal based in Terraustralis (Australia), the Centrum, imposed draconian social controls in order to survive this Last War, and eventually ventured out with the aim of reconquering the globe and incorporating all humanity into a single, rational culture and social order. The development of “parachronics”, the parallel-jumping technology central to the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting, enabled Centran society to quickly recover from the war.
The current year in Centrum is 2025, and much of Centrum's efforts focus on resisting the influences of Homeline (the parallel from which the player characters are from) over the parallels Centrum itself can reach and manipulate.
Centrum Beta One of the most important parallel Earths from the Infinity Patrol's point of view, Centrum Beta appears to be an exact copy of the home parallel of the Patrol's great rival Centrum - except that the current year is only 1895. Understanding Centrum Beta as it is now might give the Infinity Patrol the key to understanding and besting Centrum proper.
Cornwallis takes as its point of divergence from our history the decision of Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot to not criticise the extravagances of Marie Antoinette as he did in the real world. Without the queen's enmity, King Louis XVI heeded his advice against interference in the American Revolution over that of the anti-British Charles Gravier, and also implemented Turgot's Six Reforms, which prevented the French Revolution in this timeline.
Without French support the American colonies' cause failed and the Tories in Britain acquiesced to a Second Restoration of true royal power. Monarchism became the order of the day in Europe, which eventually came under the sway of Czar Alexander II's Russian Empire. By the mid-1960s Russia found itself facing a Quintuple Alliance comprising Britain, Prussia, Austria, France, and Spain; the Great War ended in 1976 by the flight of the Romanovs and the establishment of the Russian Republic (which eventually became the Russian Dominate under General and self-declared First Citizen Boris Gromov).
The current year in Cornwallis is 1984, and the world is carved into colonial slices by Russia (which holds Korea, Japan and Alaska) and the Five Thrones. Mercantilist economic theory holds sway, resulting in a restrictive network of tariffs, rail gauge changes and state monopolies throughout the globe (although the theories of Friedrich Hayek are having a stimulating effect in his native Austria). The American colonies are pinned between the Atlantic and treaty boundaries set by Britain to protect the Native American peoples of the interior. Oregon Country has been used for decades a dumping ground for undesirables of all sorts (including Jeremy Bentham, Eric Blair and survivors of the “Lincoln-Lee” rebellion of 1861). Russia has been generally ignored by the Five Thrones after its defeat, but First Citizen Gromov has rebuilt its industry and plots to export revolution throughout the world.
Dixie posits an alternate history where the Southern filibuster William Walker, as president of Nicaragua, chose to protect Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company rather than turn on his tycoon supporter. Without Vanderbilt's opposition to his regime in this timeline, Walker was able to conquer Cuba and make his Nicaragua the most powerful nation in Latin America. During the American Civil War, Walker's ships ran the Union blockade and ensured that Southern troops were well-supplied, leading to their victory over Northern forces and the independence of the Confederate States of America.
The current year in Dixie is 1985, with the world dominated by the U.S.A., C.S.A., the Russian Soviet Republic, and the United Republic of India.
Ezcalli is dominated by the Tenochca (Aztec) Empire. In this world, Carthaginian explorers landed in South America in 580 B.C., two millennia before contact between the Old World and the New in our history. The early exchange of biota resulted in the decimation of the American peoples by Eurasian diseases, but the low technological disparity between the two continents at the time meant the newcomers could not take full advantage of this before new populations with resistance to the diseases developed. More importantly, the introduction of American animals and crops (especially the potato) gave peasant farmers a greater ability to feed themselves and prevented potentates from controlling their subjects through grain imports. This caused the nascent Roman Empire to fly apart in the 1st century CE, and the successor states were still squabbling a millennium later when the hordes of the Mongol Empire arrived.
Europe and Asia are now covered with a half-dozen Mongol khanates (the greatest of which is the Khanate of Ch'in) and dozens of semi-independent petty kingdoms that are easy targets for steam-powered Tenochca slave raids. The Tenochca have coaling stations around the world and their continental lands now stretch from the Ohio River to the northern Andes. North of the Tenochca Empire's American territories are the iron mines and weapons factories of the Hotinosavannah League (the Iroquois) to the east and the Tlingit Confederacy to the west. Africa is home to Zoroastrian Egypt, the rapidly arming southern state of KwaZulu and the Songhay Empire, inheritors of Christianity and Roman civilisation. The current year in Ezcalli is 1840.
Friedrich This parallel world is named for the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa, who in this timeline managed to be the great imperial unifier and conqueror that the vagaries of fortune prevented him from being in our history. In current year 1219, seventeen years after his death, Friedrich is notable for being a hotbed of activity by the SS Raven Division from the Nazi-dominated parallel Reich-5, who seek to turn his Holy Roman Empire into a First Reich and breeding ground for Aryan warriors.
Gallatin Gallatin is named for Albert Gallatin, the dominant member of Thomas Jefferson's government in the absence of Alexander Hamilton. Without Hamilton to defend and explain the Federalist Papers, the U.S. Constitution of 1787 was never ratified and the independent colonies Balkanised into nine separate republics across the continent by 1860. In current year 2004, Gallatin's great powers include Texas (whose nuclear arsenal shields the other American republics), German-dominated Europaverein, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Japanese Empire; peace is maintained by the fear of mutual destruction in an atomic war.
There is a map of Gallatin by Diamond on page 14 of the Map Thread *link. It is slightly different from the description given in GURPS Infinite Worlds; in Diamond's map there is no Ohio Association and Canada has less territory.
Gernsback is a parallel that seems drawn straight from a 1930s science fiction adventure story (it is named for the editor Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories in which many such tales appeared). Its point of divergence is the marriage of Nikola Tesla to Anne Morgan, daughter of banker and financier J. P. Morgan. In our history the pair were friends, but Tesla died penniless; in Gernsback, their marriage stabilised Tesla, whose inventions went on to revolutionise the world, especially his perfection of a technique for broadcasting electrical power wirelessly. Tesla's brother-in-law J. P. Morgan, Jr. and his companies became instrumental in helping the world's economies recover from the ensuing stock market crash. German and American influence was crucial to the success of the League of Nations in Gernsback; when atomic power was developed in the late 1930s, its World Science Council was placed in charge of nuclear research.
Josef Stalin's Soviet Union saw the potential of atomic energy as a weapon, but the League of Nations sought to forestall the misuse of knowledge in this manner by invading in 1951. The current year in Gernsback is 1965; the League of Nations dominates a world which is economically dominated by the World Science Council and socially frozen (especially in matters of race and gender) in the 1930's. The appeal of Gernsback as a setting is less in its alternative history than in its alternative science; its technological development followed a completely different path in the 20th century than did our world (flying cars are ubiquitous, but the transistor has yet to be developed).
Midgard diverges from real history in 860, when the Viking captains Hoskuld and Tyri set out to sack Mikligardr (Constantinople) while emperor Michael III “the Drunkard” was campaigning against the Saracens. In our history their fleet turned back; in Midgard they captured the city and were given the secret of Greek fire by religious dissidents, enabling them to destroy the Byzantine fleet on its return. With the riches of the city, a garrison left to hold it, and Greek fire, the Vikings' future raids against southern Europe were vastly more successful. Combined with the effects of the invasions of Europe by the Bulgars and Magyars, Christian Europe had no hope of survival.
The current year is 1412; the pre-eminent Norse powers are Danemark (Denmark), Svearika (Sweden), Gardarika (a Varangian-founded territory stretching across northern Eurasia), and Vinland in North America. Christianity still exists, but it must compete with Norse paganism and Thorism, a syncretic religion where Thor fights on man's behalf in Heaven in return for fealty in the afterlife. Other political entities of note include the Ming Empire, the Yanomami Caliphate and the Kingdom of Sikel.
Ming-3 is a parallel almost entirely dominated by a Chinese empire whose fleets of exploration under Zheng He (Jeng Ho in the text) were never scrapped as they were in our history; the scenario credits the mother of the Xuande Emperor with having persuaded her son to put a final end to his voyages (her husband, the Hongxi Emperor, having opposed them during his short reign), and posits a plague that ended her life and her influence over Xuande. The plague also forces the imperial household to remain in the southern port city of Nanjing instead of moving to Beijing; accordingly, Zheng He's fleets were sustained, reached every corner of the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Amphibious delivery of soldiers and supplies was developed out of necessity during a war with Annan province (Vietnam), which stood China in good stead when it found the need to pacify the lands in its naval trading sphere: Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula, southern India, various Arabian ports, and the eastern coast of Africa from Mogadishu to Mozambique.
When Portuguese vessels entered the Indian Ocean and seized the port of Goa in defiance of Chinese authority, a fleet was sent to round the Cape of Good Hope, captured European ports on the west coast, and landed at Lisbon in 1519. War with Portugal led to war with Spain under King Charles I which ended in victory for the Chinese and the seizure of Spain's Mexican possessions and their gold. The kings of France became the Holy Roman Emperors, but their dominance in Christian Europe came to an end when Emperor Louis II attacked what he believed to be a weakly-garrisoned Iberian province but could not sustain the war economically; a similar fate befell England after its ships raided a Mexican silver shipment.
The current year is 1859; Nanjing is the effective capital of the world, the vassal realm of Datsin controls Europe from Poland to the Pyrenees, southern Africa is a de facto independent nation and a cosmopolitan outpost of Chinese culture on the edge of relatively-unexplored central Africa, and the Americas are increasingly being populated with Asian rather than native subjects of the Empire. Unfortunately, imperial control is beginning to break down and many fear the Emperor has lost the Mandate of Heaven.
Reich-2 (so named because it was the second parallel world discovered by the Infinity Patrol in which Nazi Germany had won World War II) is an alternate where Halifax became the British Prime Minister, negotiated an armistice with Germany, and then allied with Japan (by supplying them with oil and rubber) to break up the German-Japanese power-bloc. The current year is 1961, and the five great powers - Germany, Britain, USSR, Japan, and the US - are in a cold war, building orbiting nuclear missile platforms, and engaged in proxy wars throughout Africa, SE Asia, and the Middle East.
Reich-5 takes as its point of divergence from real history the successful assassination of president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt by Giuseppe Zangara in 1933. While vice president-elect John Nance Garner attempted to implement Roosevelt's New Deal, he was unable to unify the country. U.S. politics seesawed back and forth between radical right- and left-wing administrations, with the country as a whole uninterested in the European conflict, until the Union Party under William Dudley Pelley seized control of the nation from Democratic president Henry Wallace following a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1944; the German invasion of Canada in the following year gave Pelley an excuse to arrogate to himself dictatorial powers. His theft of the 1948 election from Robert Taft (running on a combined Republican/Democratic ticket) prompted a civil war that was ended by a Nazi invasion of the United States and their development and use of the atomic bomb in 1950.
The current year in Reich-5 is 2005. Greater Germany dominates Europe, Africa, and India, and the U.S.A. is little more than its puppet state, with a resistance movement only just recovering from a brutal defeat in the Uprising of '76. The Japanese Empire controls China, Australia, and the entire Pacific Rim.
Reich-5 has gained a tentative foothold on the Infinite Worlds. An ill-advised raid by Spetsnaz troops from the Russian Federation of Homeline (the home reality of the player characters) resulted in the capture of a world-jumping troop carrier, a handful of live prisoners, and the corpse of a scout with a genetically-linked psionic world-jumping ability. A quick-thinking local Brigadeführer made a deal with the Ahnenerbe to take possession of the booty (and to keep it all secret from the mainstream Nazi hierarchy); their scientists and sorcerers are using occult rituals and horrific medical experiments to slowly spread their power across the worlds.
Roma Aeterna diverged from real history when Nero Claudius Drusus survived his German campaigns and founded a different Julio-Claudian dynasty than in our history. Their patronage of the Heronian Academy led to a more rapid development of industry, which produces in the Roma Aeterna setting a very different world in which the Third Roman Empire based in Hesperia (roughly corresponding to Mexico and Texas) rules much of North and South America, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and India. The only other significant political entities in the world are Serica (China) and its North American kingdom Fu-Sang (centered on San Francisco), Taehan (a growing empire based on the Korean Peninsula), and the isolationist South American kingdom of Huaraca. The current year in Roma Aeterna is 1878.
Shikaku-Mon (the name means four-cornered world in the local version of Japanese, because of the four super-power nations that dominate it) is a setting proceeding from a point of divergence in the early 16th century - the survival of Juan of Aragon, son of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, to ascend the throne of Spain as John III. Without the Spanish throne to inherit from John's sister Joanna of Castile, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was unable to fight France, Turkey, and the Protestants of Europe as he did in our history. Combined with the redirection of Sebastian of Portugal's attentions from Inquisition and Crusade to missionary activity in Asia, especially Japan, the changes to world history are innumerable.
The current year in Shikaku-Mon is 2015. The Westernised and Christian Japanese Empire controls 40% of the globe but 65% of its inhabitants, most of whom are ethnically non-Japanese subjects held to be inferior peoples. The totalitarian synarchist Swedish Empire is similar to the Soviet Union; it controls much of the upper half of North America and exiles dissenters against the state to labour camps in the far north. The Empire of Brazil is a relatively progressive nation which dominates South America. The Kingdom of France is a scientifically- and technologically-advanced nation with a permanent settlement on the Moon. Shikaku-Mon can be said to partake of its own brand of cyberpunk themes.