24 April 2013

Alternate Geology

There was a post on the Alternate History Online Facebook group earlier this month on a plan nearly a century ago that would have included the damming of the Congo river to create a pair of large lakes in central Africa. That got me thinking back to a novel by Philip José Farmer, Hadon of Ancient Opar. One of the things in that book was a map of the fictional Africa of that story - showing two giant fresh water lakes in the center of the continent.

I sketched my own version of that map using a map of Africa that included contour lines. I never got around to using it in my old GURPS Alternate Earths role-playing game campaign, but I have since scanned the sketch and colored it a bit. Here is is:

This map is upside-down since it was originally going to be for an ancient Africa, about the same time period as the early dynasties of Egypt. That being the case I put south at the top of the map since water flows down and the source of the Nile was in the south.

This opens up an idea of alternate geology being a trigger for an alternate history. Not only can a different outcome of an important event create a divergent timeline, but a few misplaced mountains, slight change in the speed of continental drift, or other geologic events could have an even greater effect on the course of human history.

Right now I'm going through my old notes for the civilizations I was going to put around those lakes. Some of the names and cultural notes need some updates, but I think I can create some very interesting scenarios.

What other major geological changes do you think would be interesting? How do you think they would change our history?

12 April 2013

Friday Flag - Res Publica Romana IV

This is a very basic flag. The civilian flag of the Fourth Roman Republic. Government, military, and important families have variations on this flag on their standards, usually in silver. Various other tassels and figures are added in these variations but in the 28th century AUC silver is the preferred metal/color. Some of the truly ancient family lines still favor gold trim and emblems on their standards.

I hope to create some short fiction to develop this world in the next week or so.

11 April 2013

Book Review - GURPS Alternate Earths

(image from Amazon.com)

This book covers a lot of territory. In addition to the detailed worlds there are notes on developing a campaign based on travel between alternate worlds.


An alternate world that diverges in 1856 with William Walker successfully conquering Nicaragua. This eventually leads to events that give the Confederacy victory in the American Civil War.

Axis powers win World War II. Diverged from real history in 1933 with the assassination of FDR. By the 1970s Nazi space exploitation is more advanced than anything we have in 2013. It is a dark nasty world, with the addition of more cybernetics it would make an interesting setting for a cyberpunk campaign.

Roma Aeterna
No exact divergence point is given for this world dominated by the Third Roman Empire. It is now 2631 AUC (AD 1878) and Rome dominates the Known World. I say the Known World because many portions of the globe are still covered by 'barbarian darkness'. Unlike many other alternate histories involving the Roman Empire I've seen this one has the technology of the Empire rather backwards and different. All things considered behind what we had in the real world in 1878. A sidebar on scientific advancement in this world telling of the problems they've had is given.

One of my favorite alternate histories. The son of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, survives to ascend to the throne. the Habsburgs never gain dominance over Spain. Changes begin to snowball. The Reformation takes a different course and Jesuits are successful in converting much of Japan.

By 2015 the world has four superpowers. The three nuclear powers are The Swedish Empire (controlling all of Scandinavia, the Baltic states, northern Germany, Poland, Greenland, and parts of what would be northern Canada, New England, and other parts of the north-east US). Next is Christian Japan (which controls India, Australia, southeast Asia, much of China, parts of northeast Asia and an enlarged Alaska). The Empire of Brazil is a slightly larger version of the Brazil of our world (and their government recently collapsed making it a large state where anarchy is practiced). The one non-nuclear world power is France. France is a world power not because of territory but because of their exploitation of space. They don't need nukes when their lunar mass drivers can destroy cities just as well.

Carthage discovered the 'New World' in 508 BC. Over 2,300 years later the Mongol Khaganate dominates most of Eurasia, the Tenochca Empire dominates Central America as well as parts of North and South America. The Songhay Empire controls a chunk of north-west Africa.

This one technically would have diverged with the Big Bang. Science is capable of marvels seen in the old pulp magazines. The more obvious divergence is when Nikola Tesla marries the daughter of J.P. Morgan. By the 1960s the world is rapidly advancing in technology. New inventions are encouraged, the atom isn't feared, and the world appears to be heading towards Utopia. The World Science Council helps guide things along. Mad science and art deco architecture. Loads of fun.

Since I've run alternate Earth campaigns (including one with GURPS using the Shikaku-Mon world as the starting point for a three year campaign) I am a little biased about this book. It has a half-dozen well developed worlds with timelines and notes on cultural differences plus notes on bringing in elements form other GUPRS books into the setting. There are also many other short descriptions of other alternate worlds that follow a similar theme to the ones described here. It is an indispensable resource for an alternate world RPG in any system.

Given the vast utility I received from this book, even glancing at it on a regular basis in the present, I have to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Perhaps some day I'll have to make a series of posts giving the highlights of that old GURPS Infinite Worlds campaign I ran. Could be interesting, what do you think?

GURPS and this Alternate Earths sourcebook are published by Steve Jackson Games.

Page Count: 128
Authors: Kenneth Hite, Craig Neumeier, and Michael S. Schiffer
Year Published: 1999
ISBN: 1-55634-318-3

10 April 2013

Israel in Africa


Jewish settlement of the Uganda region began in 1904. For the first twenty years of its existence Israel was officially a British colony until it gained independence in 1924. Cultural strife from 1904 to the mid-1930s led to a number of skirmishes with native populations. During the Second World War a large influx of people, money, and a number of scientific minds helped to dramatically improve the living conditions in Israel.

During the 'Cold War' period Israel was involved in many covert military operations for independence minded regions of Africa. Israeli mercenaries fought alongside South African mercenaries in a number of regions. Israel was in support of the nation of Congo being broken up into independent states via self-determination but international forces kept the Congo as one state.

In the 1980s Israel began to distance itself from South Africa and continued to champion many African causes. By this time Israeli and South African mercenaries found themselves on opposing sides in some conflicts.

South Sudan gained independence in 2002 thanks to Israeli support. Israel is now one of the most developed nations in Africa.
Location: East-Central Africa
Area: 241,038 sq km (197,100 land, 43,938 water)
Coastline: 0 km; Landlocked

Climate: Tropical; mostly rainy with two dry seasons; semiarid in the northeast
Terrain: plateau with a rim of mountains

Natural Resources: copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land, gold
Arable Land: 22.9%
People & Society
Nationality: Israeli(s) (noun); Israeli (adjective)

Ethnic Groups: Jewish 21.0% (Eurasian origin), Baganda 14.1%, Banyakole 7.2%, Basoga 7.2%, Bakiga 6.2%, Iteso 5.7%, Langi 4.7%, Acholi 3.8%, Bagisu 3.8%, Lugbara 3.5%, Bunyoro 2.5%, Other 20.3% (2011 census)

Languages: Hebrew (official), English (most common foreign language), Russian, Ganda, Luganda, and other Niger-Congo or Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, Arabic

Religons: Jewish 30.2%, Roman Catholic: 20.2%, Protestant: 23.9%, Muslim: 7.4%, Other: 7.2% , None: 1.1% (2011 census)

Population: 38,750,089 (December 2012)

Population Growth Rate: 2.7%

Life Expectancy at Birth: 74.92 years male; 80.21 years female
Capital: Herzliya
Administrative Districts: Toro, Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole, Arua, Northern, Eastern

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive Branch
Chief-of-State: President Tal Muhangi(since 2007)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Raanan Greenblatt (since 2009)
Elections: president largely a ceremonial role and is elected by the Knesset for a seven-year term (one-term limit); election last held 13 June 2007 (next to be held in 2014 but can be called earlier); following legislative elections, the president, in consultation with party leaders, assigns the task of forming a governing coalition to a Knesset member who he or she determines is most likely to accomplish that task
Legislative Branch
Unicameral Knesset (250 seats; political parties are elected by popular vote and assigned seats for members on a proportional basis; members serve four-year terms)
Judicial Branch
Supreme Court (justices appointed by Judicial Selection Committee - made up of all three branches of the government; mandatory retirement age is 70)
Legal System: mixed legal system of English common law, British Mandate regulations, Jewish laws, and some local customs
Overview: Israel has substantial natural resources, fertile soil, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits. Oil deposits have also been recently discovered in the country and will be developed in the coming years.

GDP: $1,104.377 billion (in 2012 US$)
GDP Per Capita: $28,500 (2012)
GDP Growth Rate: 3.8%

Government Revenues: $251.15 billion
Government Expenditures: $274.00 billion
Public Debt: 68.2% GDP
Inflation Rate: 2.2%

Agriculture Products: coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava (tapioca), potatoes, corn, millet, pulses, cut flowers; beef, goat meat, milk, poultry
Industries: Cotton textiles, cement, steel production, chemicals, plastics, high-technology products (including aviation, communications, computer-aided design and manufactures, medical electronics, fiber optics)

Currency: Israeli Shekels (ILS) (3.207 per US$ in 2012)
Electricity Production: 187.08 billion kWh (2010 est.)
Electricity Consumption: 170.82 billion kWh (2009 est.)
Electricity Exports: 5 billion kWh (2010 est.)
Electricity by Source: Hydroelectric 38.2%, Fossil Fuels: 32.7%, Nuclear: 25.8%, Renewable: 3.3%

Refined Petroleum Products - Imports: 468,500 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Natural Gas Production: 1.7 billion cu m (2010 est.)
Natural Gas - Proved Reserves: 18.9 billion cu m (2012)
Telephones - Main Lines in Use: 17.338 million (2010)
Telephones - Mobile Cellular: 18.739 million (2011) Internet Country Code: .il
Internet Hosts: 6.401 million(2012)
Internet Users: 16.045 million (2012)
Airports: 50 (2012), 29 have paved runways
Railways: 2,853 km narrow gauge
Roadways: 73,903 km of which 32,850 km are paved
Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel Air Force (IAF)
Men 18 years of age compulsory service for Jews and voluntary for other ethnic groups. Service obligation 24 months
Military Expenditures as portion of GDP: 6.8%
Transnational Issues
Israel has covert military forces involved in many areas of Africa. They are under international pressure to cease assistance to local revolutionary groups in the Congo.

1) I used the CIA World Factbook entries for Israel and Uganda as a basis for this entry
2) Inspiration for this entry came from a short audio program I listened to: Israel in East Africa by Mark Whitaker

05 April 2013

Friday Flag - Russian Federation

I designed this flag many years ago. Basically it's a Romanov crest on a modern Russian flag. I originally designed it for a world where the United States, China, and most of Europe were devastated by a war (in December 1993) that Russia somehow managed to avoid. Russia became one of two dominate powers on Earth after that and nostalgia for the 'good old days' led to the addition of the old crest to the flag.

Not much of an alternate history, but it was for a super-hero role-playing game so realism wasn't that important.

03 April 2013

Review - Warlords of Utopia

(image from Amazon.com)


by Lance Parkin

The story of 1,000 alternate worlds dominated by an eternal Roman Empire go to war with 1,000 worlds where the Nazis won World War II. It doesn't get much more bad-ass than that. Written in the first person from the point of view of Marcus Americanius Scriptor. He describes how he recovered an item that allowed Roma I to travel to alternate Roman worlds and how the discovery of the Nazi dominated worlds led to war.

That's a lot of territory to cover in 180 pages. Throw in entities and mentions of an even bigger conflict (between the Great Houses and Faction Paradox) and the story becomes truly epic.

From an alternate history perspective there are only the occasional mentions of what some of the thousands of alternate worlds are like and how they diverged. The alternate technology of some of the worlds is interesting but at times unrealistic.

It would have been nice to learn a bit more about some of the other worlds. More descriptions of how they interconnect would also have been something I would have liked (they develop a rather haphazard way of mapping the Romes). Given the scope of the story I can understand why details were glossed over.

Marcus Americanius Scriptor is the main character. The book is written as his memoirs. He is not a nice person.

After murdering an old man for a device that would allow him to travel to alternate worlds he builds up a vast business empire revolving around cross-dimension travel. While there is nothing wrong with enriching himself and civilization with this item, he uses it to gather materials to blackmail political opponents. When one opponent to too noble and incorruptible Marcus just murder him.

Also, after page-after-page about hearing form Marcus about how Roma I was a perfect world and the Roman way of life is superior to everything he turns around and betrays his Emperor and starts a war that nearly led to the destruction of everything he held dear.

He is a selfish, narrow-minded, and disloyal man.

He does, however, have many heroic qualities. His strong will and vision help strengthen his family and does bring wealth through trade to many of the Roman worlds. He is also a great warrior and is able to quickly develop new tactics having to integrate new technologies and weapons into his plans.

He also has that single-minded stubbornness of the pulp heroes of old.

As with many books written from the first person point-of-view I found my self trying to read between the lines and figure out what might have really been going on. Anyone writing their memoirs, especially ones involving wartime, are bound to gloss over and change details that show them in an unfavorable light.

The story is well done. It covers a lot of ground and does it efficiently. Despite some of my complaints about the main character mentioned above he is not a bad one to be the viewpoint character. The first two-thirds of the book are solid. The last third - where the Romans and Nazis are at war - just does not seem believable. Of course what is believable in a story of nearly two-thousand alternate worlds at war? It was more of the swords vs. machine guns scenario. I can see times when the more basic weapons of the Romans would come in handy (and they did have some high-powered crossbows as well as catapults with ranges of a mile or more) but in a normal battle I'd bet on the automatic rifles.

The Nazis would also have adapted to the new type of warfare. They also would have made things much more costly for the Romans by using nuclear weapons on a much broader scale. The war would have lasted a century not the decade described.

I also wonder how the Romans, who have been at peace for centuries on many of their worlds, can be such disciplined and good warriors. Just seems a little odd to me.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Faction Paradox is an unofficial spin-off of the Doctor Who Universe. More information can be found at the Faction Paradox Wiki.
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