GAME PRODUCT REVIEW
GURPS ALTERNATE EARTHS 2
Kenneth Hite, Craig Neumeier & Michael S Schiffer, Steve Jackson Games
Reviewed by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell, 1999
The original GURPS Alternate Earths was one of SJ Games' most successful books, so it is hardly surprising that a second volume has now been published. In case you missed Alternate Earths (AE1), that book described six parallel universes similar to our own world, but in which history happened differently. Alternate Earths 2 (AE2) provides another six worlds in similar detail.
The descriptions of the worlds are preceded by a chapter of advice on using this type of setting in a game, but without duplicating many of the guidelines in the first volume. For example, a section on how to conquer such worlds is now included, which may be of particular use to the GM. It describes a militaristic villain organization for PCs to combat across multiple parallels. Indeed, one of the six worlds covered is the home world for just such a villain, and is intended for use with the 'Infinity Patrol' campaign described in GURPS Time Travel. While the other worlds in AE2 are also designed for the same campaign, they can mostly be used in other settings without much difficulty, so long as the basic mechanics of alternate realities are similar. I say "mostly", because a weakness of this book, like its predecessor, is that the worlds described cover a range of different "present" dates; one, for example, is an alternate medieval setting where the Vikings had greater long-term success. In my experience, most campaigns using alternate worlds employ a Sliders-style concept of "same date, same place, different history". Even more so than in the first volume, the GM will be required to put in a lot of work to adapt some of these worlds to such a campaign.
AE1 has already dealt with the obvious settings of the genre, most notably Nazi victory in WW2. That leaves the new volume free to explore rather less familiar settings. Three of these were actually listed in paragraph form in the introductory chapter of volume one (further such brief descriptions are also included in AE2). One of those original paragraphs explored the possibility of British victory in the American War of Independence, and speculated as to two possible outcomes - unfortunately, the new, expanded version has taken the less interesting of the two, describing a grim world where democracy is unknown. But that's not too great a flaw, as the setting would be easy to adapt if you prefer a "Glorious British Empire" outcome.
In general, though, the worlds presented here are interesting, and at least relieve a GM of the most difficult parts of alternate world creation, namely the creation of detailed timelines and ensuring that there are plenty of possibilities for gaming inherent in the setting. Players who are amateur (or professional) historians will doubtless find details to quibble about in the course of events, but that's difficult to avoid.
The high points of the book are the worlds of Ming-3 and Caliph, where the Chinese and Moslems respectively have replaced Western civilization as the dominant force in the world. In the case of Caliph, we even see an alternate world that has already traveled to the stars and encountered alien races, opening up the potential field still further. Finally, in Aeolus, we see a world in which the USA is replaced by a religious dictatorship ruled by Protestant fundamentalists (I bet they don't allow RPGs there!), another generally interesting concept.
As in AE1, each world comes with a rough political map, descriptions of history and culture, advice on player characters and details of native weapons and technology. All of these details are likely to prove helpful to GMs and should serve as a springboard for more detailed fleshing out as required, should your campaign spend any great length of time in one parallel.
On balance, then, Alternate Earths 2 is not quite so appealing or useful as its predecessor, but is not without merit and will certainly be useful to anyone planning on running a campaign incorporating cross-time travel.
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