As I continue preparations for the gaming group’s upcoming foray into a Steampunk Eberron game, I’ve been reading some of the genre’s fictional offerings for ideas.

One vision of a steam-driven nineteenth century London I’ve been quite taken with is that created by author Mark Hodder for “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.”  It’s a Victoriana landscape littered with coal-fired penny-farthings, mesmerism, eugenicist wonders and a cut of men who earned their reputations as African explorers.

In this interview, Hodder explained his world-building process. As a GM looking for world-building ideas of my own, I was quite taken with this section:

In any kind of speculative fiction, world building is important. When you’re dealing with an alternate history, it becomes crucial. …
I began to ask myself questions such as:
“What if these two people had met?”
“What if a solution to this problem had been found?”
“What if this event had never occurred?”
“What if this event had occurred?”
From each of these starting points it was relatively easy to create chains of causes and effects then start to interrelate them.

In a roleplaying parlance, he started with the NPCs (and PCs) who populate his world, then extrapolated their actions (and inactions) and saw where the line of thinking took him.

When creating alternate histories for a roleplaying setting, it’s an interesting exercise. It’s a thought process I’ll be applying to the baseline Eberron setting, to see what tweaks I can make to include more Victoriana elements.

And if your alternate history game includes player characters who’ve supposedly already had a chance to impact their world in the background time before your game begins, it’s a way to involve your players. Ask them the same questions of their characters, and see how the landscape changes.

If you’ve used a similar process to prod the timeline of your historical rpg (any historical rpg, not just a steampunk themed one), I’d love to hear of it. Please share below.