"For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
- – Old proverb
Alternate History is a form of Setting Aesthetics and a genre of speculative fiction based on asking the question of "what if history went differently?". Nominally independent from Science Fiction and Fantasy, but often overlapping one or the other. There are plenty of historical events which could have gone differently (if certain decisions were made or factors were slightly different), and if they had it would have drastic consequences on subsequent events.
Exploring the implications of various scenarios where history happens differently, and how the Butterfly Affect creates different worlds from our own, is an exciting narrative exercise which often creates compelling settings for books, movies, TV shows, and games.
Alternate History settings are often described by their "point of divergence' - the event(s) that cause the setting to become different from our world.
Weird Wars is a particularly-popular subgenre of alternate history, especially World War II. Adding magic to WWII is practically a cliche at this point.
- "A 19th century Austrian Civil Servant has a chance encounter which leads him to fall in love with and marry the daughter of an Italian Chef results in a world without Adolf Hitler. No Hitler means the Nazi Party becomes a minor footnote in history and the European Theater does not rise to power during the Antebellum years. Without the Nazi Party, Germany does not instigate WWII."
Does the USSR start WWII decades later by annexing surrounding countries, without the deterrent of nuclear weapons? Does the Western world actually become peaceful? While Hitler's existence and qualities are a very famous and well-trodden alternate history question, it still has a myriad of possibilities. The answers that authors give to these kinds of questions, for any scenario, can underpin some very interesting settings.
/tg/ Alternate History Games:
- GURPS has written up dozens of alternate histories, some with very obscure points of divergence.
- Deadlands is an alternate Wild West, the point of divergence is the American Civil War continuing due to the reintroduction of magic.
- Team Yankee is an alt-history wargame, the point of divergence being a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe in 1985.
- Crimson Skies is a skirmish game, with a more severe Spanish Flu eventually leading to the breakup of the USA.
/v/ Alternate History Games:
- The Command & Conquer: Red Alert series has a time-travelling Albert Einstein assassinating Hitler as the point of divergence.