Here’s what I’ve brainstormed so far about the alternate history we’ll be playing in. These things may or may not come up in game play, but I want to create a sense that in many ways this really is a different society – not just history with lightning guns (as cool as those are!)
Feel free to comment upon my ideas and add your own!
Steam power has existed in the middle east since at least 150 BC. Rather than falling out of favor, however, middle eastern and Asian cultures continued to develop the technology. Slowly and quietly at first, until the establishment of the Silk Road, and later the colonial powers, made it possible to trade this technology far and wide.
Of course, the nurturing of a potentially powerful technology from such an early time means that some of those colonizing attempts may not have worked out the same way they did in our timeline. Feel free to speculate about what might have changed outside of the US’s borders.
The United States still came into existence after the Revolutionary War against the British – American guerrilla tactics were especially useful against a British army that couldn’t move quickly thanks to large steam powered contraptions necessary to move equipment and personnel while in hostile territory.
While still a colony under the British, the American colonies engaged in the French and Indian War – which ended with minor losses for the French, drawing the new border between British and French colonies at the Mississippi. After gaining independence from the British, the US wanted to continue expanding westward and truly establish themselves as an independent power capable of expanding their borders. However, after several border skirmishes, the US agreed to withdraw and maintain their boundary at the Mississippi.
In the aftermath of this minor war, the French granted many Native American tribes sovereignty of lands including what we know as Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. The Tribes, both those that have traditionally called these lands home and those who were forced to relocate here, have since subdivided this territory into a number of distinct nations, but are allied for economical and political gains. For the French, this had the added benefit that should the US decide to take up western expansion again, they would first have to make it through the Native lands before the French would have to be concerned.
The French maintain colonies in Louisiana and parts of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Minnesota and much of eastern Canada. Britain and France continue to disagree about their precise borders in Canada. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is also contested between France, the US and Native American interests.
Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming were never successfully colonized by the Europeans, and continue to be held by the Native American tribes. While culturally distinct from the melting pot Native American settlements granted by the French, they trade goods and knowledge of the European colonists in order to protect their lands from the ever-expanding desires of the imperialists.
Until recently, Russia maintained a strong imperial presence from Alaska, down the western coast of Canada and into the Pacific Northwest. However, Russia has slowly been withdrawing from the area as the formerly lush hunting opportunities have dried up. The land hasn’t been formally ceded to anyone else, but Russia isn’t protecting its borders, leaving much of the area in flux.
New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California and Nevada all continue to be part of Mexico, while as of 1836, The Republic of Texas is the newest nation to be established on the North American continent.
19th Century US History
After their expansionist desires were thoroughly rebuffed by the French and Native Americans, the United States retreated for the better part of a century to become a very isolationist culture. With a strong independent streak and need to prove they could make it on their own, the US willfully ignored many developments in the rest of the world – including the abolition (or at least extreme control) of slavery and the slave trade that other Western nations adopted.
As the industrial revolution kicked into high gear near the middle of the 19th century, and steam engines made travel by land, air and sea relatively affordable – and even luxurious sometimes – the US began to recognize the value in encouraging immigration into the country. If they couldn’t expand to assert their dominance over the land, perhaps they could encourage the elite of other country’s to come to them, so the US could assert intellectual dominance over other civilizations.
Of course, it wasn’t only the rich who were eager to escape to a new land. To travel from Europe to the United States, boats were the cheapest mode of transportation, and the cheapest port to arrive in was New York City. As the city quickly became the prototype for the American Melting Pot, those with more money elected to travel farther south, by either boat or Zeppelin, to southern cosmopolitan cities such as Richmond and Atlanta. Quickly the North/South divide established itself, as the North turned much of its industrial might over to steam powered machines. The South, ruled by the rich who preferred to keep the poor in their place by using them as physical labor when not exploiting them outright as slaves. As the North tried to force steam labor upon the South, tensions rose. Finally, after the election of steam-enthusiast Abraham Lincoln in 1861, states in the South began to secede from the union, sparking the Civil War.
As the South had a clear aversion to the advances that steam technology had brought, they were quickly outgunned. While a reversion to the guerrilla tactics that had served their ancestors well against the British were successful for a time, the North’s superior firepower was overwhelming, and resulted in the reunification of the country in 1865.
It’s now 1877. Reconstruction policies in the South have concluded or been abandoned. The US hopes to put this dark part of its history behind it, and looks forward towards the 20th century.
Curious about what was actually going on in the world to use as inspiration for some alternate history tweaks? I’ve found Timelines of History and Historical Timeline to be helpful