Based on this: www.spartangames.co.uk/product…
This world appears to have diverged from ours at first glance in the 18th century, Prussia being even more improbably successful than OTL, Russia pushing for the Pacific harder, and French and American Revolutions going off a bit differently. However, the existence in Antarctica of the relics of an ancient and mysterious civilization indicates that this world’s history may have diverged in unseen ways from ours in prehistoric times: indeed, there are those who suspect that unseen forces and manipulators may have long been meddling in human history. Curious artifacts and mysterious archaeological digs have a way of disappearing...and one wonders how Japan returns to the rule of female emperors in spite of many centuries of highly sexist Chinese cultural influence. (There were a couple of Chinese empresses, but they don't come off very well, shall we say, in the histories).
It is a Steampunk sort of world, in that technological progress has moved along rather faster than OTL from the mid-18th century, with a basic British rail system in place as early as 1800 and airplanes developed by the 1830s: however, things received a tremendous boost with the discovery of the Wells Chasm in Antarctica by a multinational expedition in 1845. A vast crevasse in the ice at the foot of what OTL are called the Ellsworth Mountains, seen to emit a strange glow from what should have been black depths, turned out to lead to a seemingly endless series of chambers carved under the mountains: what would come to be known as “The Vault”, a repository of strange science and technology, innumerable artifacts, untranslatable writings on thin sheets of metal, more comprehensible charts, diagrams, and models, all illuminated by a constant glow emitted somehow by the stone walls themselves.
Initially a grand international research center, after no less than three nations made efforts to seize the vault for themselves, the local scientific community, after beating back the latest effort with weapons they themselves had found in the Vault, in 1857 declared themselves an independent nation which would act as a neutral guardian of the knowledge for all mankind. This was not particularly liked, but given that the alternative was global warfare for control of the Vault, and then war against the scientists and whatever peculiar gadgets they were able to reactive or duplicate, the major powers grudgingly accepted this.
The “Covenant of Antarctica” was able to claim all of the continent as a defensive zone and make it stick, and has unfortunately begun to develop some characteristics of a normal nation: patriotism, and the belief that all other nations suck. It’s population has grown greatly, with not only independent-minded scientists but also mercenaries, adventurers, people with plans to make a fortune, and religious eccentrics all making their way to Antarctica through the one immigration port on South Georgia Island: although the technocratic government vets closely all new citizens, a desperate need for manpower has often prevailed over pickyness, the populace has grown much more diverse over the last decade and a half, although the total remains under 200,000, a quarter of this in its two main towns. Under the benevolently absolute rule of Lord Barnabas Draynes Sturgeon, an eccentric British scientist of noble birth, (his supposedly elected position has not been challenged by anyone outside the eccentric fringe for a decade), the Covenant has developed into an odd mix of nation-state, mining/industrial corporation, and public research institution.
Given the Antarctic climate, the local lifestyle is a bit like colonists on a hostile planet, their architecture mostly underground. And like life on a space station, all citizens have their duties and responsibilities (as put forward in the Covenant which is this state’s founding document) as well as rights: the society which is emerging is not kind to screw-ups. (There are no airlocks to throw anyone out of, but shutting someone outside in the Antarctic in their undies is almost as lethal, if not quite as fast). Thanks to the most important product of the Vault so far, the limitless source of energy known as the Aetheric Accumulator, energy for heat, light, etc. is plentiful: in a drive for self-sufficiency, the Covenant has invested in the building of vast artificially lighted underground farms, and created lakes warmed above the freezing point for aquaculture. Given the reasons people emigrate, the biggest current annoyance is a shortage of women, only about 1/3 of the population, and the Covenant has a variety of programs in operation trying to attract brides from abroad.
The biggest export of Antarctica (along with new scientific inventions and processes which they hold the patents for) are the products of mines, Vault-derived technology enabling Covenanters to profitably mine the continent’s rich mineral resources in areas no other nation could. The most important of these is the superheavy Element 270, known (to Lord Sturgeon’s embarrassment) as Sturginium: the blue-green crystalline substance, which seems to form veins radiating away from the Vault (some wonder if it is somehow being slowly generated by the vault) possesses a number of characteristics that make it extraordinarily valuable.
Sturginium, properly alloyed with other elements, allows one to create metallic armor that is both incredibly light and incredibly strong: allowing one to create a genuinely armored dirigible that can still fly, a ridiculously huge tank that won’t sink into the ground, or Samurai combat armor in which a soldier can run while at the same time deflecting machine gun bullets. (It could also have all sorts of useful civilian applications, but the military tends to monopolize it). Careful exploration has revealed thin and scattered deposits of the “miracle element” world-wide, but the only deposits rich enough to be mined relatively cheaply are in Antarctica.
(It has a number of dangerous characteristics: it is very toxic in its pure form, and if too much of it is put in one place, an odd reaction takes place: the Sturginium itself does not heat up or become radioactive, but instead strange energy bubbles, emitting intense heat and light, form near the Sturginium but not directly on it: these are very dangerous to anyone who comes in contact with them).
The rest of the world suspects the Covenant on holding back on them, and they’re right: Lord Sturgeon and his inner council of scholars and scientists have become increasingly worried about what the bellicose nations of the world have been doing with their discoveries, and they have been increasingly reluctant to release important discoveries to the world. With the outbreak of global war, Lord Sturgeon has declared an embargo of new technology on all combatant nations, which have responded by cutting off all patent payments. But simply withdrawing aid is not enough: Lord Sturgeon plans to force an end to the war, and the automated factories of the Covenant are going into overdrive. The Covenant’s professional troops number under 15,000, but they are backed by a technology matched by nothing else on Earth…
The most powerful of the “conventional” nations are the Britannic (formerly British) Empire, the Federated States of America, the Prussian Empire, the Russian “coalition of nations” (Russia does the collating), and the Nihonese Empire AKA the “Empire of the Blazing Sun.” The Federated States of America is a bit more loosely joined together than the OTL US of the time, but is even larger and richer. Jefferson managed to pull off what he called a “devil’s bargain” limiting the westward expansion of slavery while making the retention or abolition of slavery a fundamental right of the states, not the Federal government. As he had hoped, slavery slowly died on the vine without new lands to exploit, but a lot of states have some rather nasty “negro control” laws, and South Carolina remains stubbornly attached to the Peculiar Institution, which will probably end in blood one of these days. There was a brief civil war, but it was not to protect slavery or to break up the union: it was a matter of reasserting state sovereignty in the face of increasingly centralizing federalism, was led by the Texans, and was joined by some northern states. It led to the second Constitutional Convention and the replacement of the old United States by the Federated States to lower that emphasis on “unity.” A less centralized and standardized system has made assimilation of the Mexican states (a still on-going procedure) easier than OTL, with less fear of Catholics in Washington forcing Papism on the country.
The Federated States of America, although still playing catch-up to Britain and Germany-Prussia when it comes to total industrial output, is nonetheless a formidable economic power, and in a world where Oceans seem little barrier to the might air fleets of the great powers, distinctly more heavily armed than the OTL US of the time: the one thing pretty much all the state governments can agree on is the value of a strong defense. Current policy is one of friendly relations with the Britannic Empire, and by joining the British in an attack on Japan, a triple play could be achieved: the “Asiatics” could be driven to the western edge of the Pacific , FSA-Britannic friendship would be cemented, and not least, the FSA would get to impress the world with the power of its new fleet. Such a shame about stumbling into the Russian navy in a thick fog.
(The Japanese AKA Empire of the Blazing Sun fleet showing up late and harassing and sinking many of the survivors of the brutal fight was adding insult to injury).
The Socialist Union of South America arises from a rather different series of American wars of independence: the Portuguese monarchy never fled to Brazil, and Brazil’s early history was radical, revolutionary, and fragmented into several different states for a while. From this turbulent era arose a *Communist movement not too dissimilar to OTL, but from the beginning more rooted in the countryside and peasantry than in any (largely non-existent at first) urban Proletariat. After successfully absorbing the rickety dictatorship of Gran Columbia, the Socialist Union has become a bilingual Portuguese-Spanish state, with ambitions to eventually unify all of Latin America.
Although Argentina has found a protector in the Japanese and the Chileans in Britain, its principal enemy (and useful unifying boogeyman) has long been the United States and later the Federated States. In spite of severe ideological differences, the SUSA has established an alliance of convenience with the Britannic Empire, the largest buyer of its raw materials and the largest exporter of industrial goods to the SUSA, which it sees as a deterrent to further FSA expansion southwards. Currently the government is trying hard to modernize and industrialize, often with somewhat coercive methods (no warm and sunny gulags so far, at least).
Prussia had an even better run in the 18th century than OTL (the Secret Manipulators conspiracy theorists like to point at Prussian history) and benefited from this world’s Napoleon kicking Austria-Hungary to pieces: there was an attempt to put Humpty Dumpty together again after the revolutionary wars, but it failed to take: under Prussian leadership, Germany underwent a grossedeutsche unification by the 1830s, drawing in (with some grumbling) even the Dutch. Although authoritarian and militarist, the Empire is less centralized and by necessity of numbers less Prussian-dominated than OTL Germany, with a number of the local princes and kings still wielding some true influence: the Habsburgs, who still rule Austria, are notorious for throwing obstacles in the way of the Imperial administration. To the British, given the Prussian Empire’s steady growth in wealth and size, combined with its success in catching up in science and high-technology, their former allies have become Menace Number One, while the Germans are all too aware of Britain’s efforts to seduce France and Italy away from their current alliance with the Prussian Empire: they see the outbreak of war between the Britannic Empire and the Empire of the Blazing Sun as a way of removing British influence from the continent for good.
Currently France is a republic with universal male suffrage, but it’s a grumpy, pugnacious democracy. France has had a rather bad 19th century, and has lost all of its colonial empire abroad, and even lost lands to the League of Italy, which allied to Prussia in a timely manner to get a share of the spoils. The current right-wing nationalist government has decided, like Petain’s France, that their only way forward is in alliance with the Germans: unlike the Nazis, the Prussians are happy enough with the notion of France as their Plucky Sidekick. They have joined in the war even more enthusiastically than the Germans (indeed, some feel that French provocation of the British actually pushed the Germans along their path to war), hoping to pick up mucho colonial land at the expense of the British and incidentally remove the painful pustules of British enclaves along their coasts.
And if they gain enough land and new subjects, perhaps their role of sidekick will be open for reexamination in the future…
The League of Italian States, arising from alt-Napoleon’s interest in creating a defensive network of allies from the Dutch Republic to The Republic of Hungary, expanded through a combination of skilled diplomacy and kicking other nations when they are down: they are not really trusted by anyone, and although currently allied with the Prussians, the Prussians are going to be keeping a close and beady eye on them. They aren’t really all that interested in fighting the British, their current ambition is to expand their influence in the Balkans and north Africa at the expense of the Ottomans – which may be harder than they think. Italian politics are generally rather murky and impenetrable to outsiders: Italy is a decentralized unit with over twenty jostling member states, although the Kingdoms of Sicily, Savoy-Sardinia, Lombardy, and the Republic of Venice tend to dominate and can usually boss the rest around fairly effectively when they agree on something.
The Ottoman Empire has been taking important modernizing steps of late, and is prepared to take on the Italians if the British will pledge support, or the Russians if the Germans give them a better deal. The Italians have been particularly annoying of late, and have recently sent a good part of their men and equipment north to help the French and Prussians stave off any British landings on the continent. On the other hand, France is (at least theoretically) on the same side of the war as Italy, and the Ottomans have good relations with the French, which has been a major investor in the modernization and industrialization of the Ottoman state. (The Suez Canal in this world is a joint Ottoman-French property). War also offers an opportunity to clamp down on their vassal, the Egyptian republic, which many at the Sultan’s court feel has been getting a bit too big for its britches recently.
The Empire of Britannia is a bit like a higher-tech version of our British Empire, but even more arrogant and high-handed. They’re not blind, however: the Britannians know that the dominance they held in scientific and industrial development for nearly two generations has faded as a result of the Vault and the great advances made by the Germans: scientific research and development is far more professionalized and government-sponsored than in our Britain of the time, and if there’s an unexploited square foot of the globe left somewhere, it’s not Britannia’s fault.
India is still ruled by the East India Company, and as further profits are sought in development of its resources, is beginning to look rather steampunk itself, in the grimmer, grittier manner. New industries are springing up (all firmly under the control of John Company and its corporate partners) and toxic smogs are becoming a feature of India’s great cities as well as those of Britain. On the positive side, there is generally more tolerance for local culture and peculiarities in this world than in ours: advanced as this world’s steampunk technology is, the biological sciences are less developed, and the notion of some races being inherently inferior in an evolutionary manner has not yet caught on outside of small groups of scientists and obnoxious thinkers: the earlier success of Japan and the relatively better position of China compared to OTL may in the future help prevent things from getting as bad as in our world.
Britain itself is rather more built up and industrialized than in our 1870: only the introduction of the Aetheric Accumulator has prevented the air of the cities from becoming truly toxic, and while most people now get their heat and light from Aetherically generated electricity, the vast industrial complexes still produce a truly rich and wonderful variety of toxic fumes. There is some talk of building a dome over central London to keep out the smoke.
The Russian Coalition (like OTLs Soviet Union, Russia maintains a thin skin of local autonomy and federalism over a structure of tyranny) is ruled over by the Neo-Rurikid dynasty: the revolution which overthrew the last of the corrupt and incompetent Romanovs brought an adventurer to the throne who claimed descent from the previous dynasty, and nowadays no subject of the Czar dares suggest his family tree is anything but Kosher. The Neo-Rurikid dynasty so far retains its original dynamism, and the modernization of Russia proceeds at as furious a pace under the son as it did under the father, greatly aided by a defector from the Antarctic Covenant, who has shared science secrets which have allowed the Russians to develop new weapons as deadly as any in the world. The population of Russia has expanded even faster than OTL with a Czar concerned with such things as adequate sanitation of peasant villages and extensive anti-famine measures, and if not quite as large in the west as our Russia in 1870, it has even more people. The Czar has joined the war in hopes of breaking up the threatening Prussian colossus to his west (and also to bring Poland-Lithuania firmly under the Russian thumb, although he has been sensible enough to not say such things where any Pole could get wind of them). Much to the Czar’s distress, he finds that Russia has somehow stumbled into a conflict with the US, and while carefully avoiding any public show of contrition over the events north of Japanese Oahee, has sent secret orders to his diplomats to try and quietly defuse the situation with Washington City.
Poland-Lithuania, which reemerged due to Russian revolution and Prussia struggling for its life against Napoleon’s legions, post revolutionary wars found itself in an unenviable situation comparable to our Poland in the 1930s, sandwiched between two hostile powers; after Napoleon’s defeat (largely thanks to the far greater than OTL technology advantage already held by the British) they were forced to give up quite a bit of territory to the Prussians in exchange for protection from the bellicose new Russian regime. Now, as Prussia seems poised to consolidate its position as master of Europe, Poland-Lithuania has switched sides, hoping to regain its western holdings: although liberating Polish minorities from Berlin’s yoke is popular in Poland proper, the eastern nations under Lithuanian rule are rather more skeptical, and fear that Polish gains in the west may be balanced by concessions in the east. But as the government points out, allowing Russian forces voluntarily through their country is probably better than having them force their way through.
China has done a bit better than OTL, having successfully fought off Russian efforts to rob them of Manchuria proper after taking Outer Manchuria, the Self-Strengthening Movement is on a more solid basis, aided by Antarctica’s willingness to share scientific know-how with anyone regardless of race or religion, and the country has avoided the frightful mess of our Taiping Revolt. Still, modernization lags greatly behind other powers, and internal divisions have left the emperor’s authority very weak in some of the outlying provinces: modernization has been hampered in many parts of the country by imperial fears of what overly ambitious underlings might get up to: Xinjiang and Mongolia are very nearly independent countries only united with China through fear of the Russians. Currently, the “new great wall” project is building an immensely long line of cheap concrete pillboxes, land mines, trenches, etc. along all the easy approaches from Russia to the Han heartlands and Manchuria: it’s enormously expensive, but it also acts as a massive public works program, draining potentially rebellious impoverished peasants from their native provinces. On a smaller scale, the southern border is also being fortified in case of Britannian incursion. (There is also the Empire of the Blazing Sun, but the emperor is confident that even a dwarf pirate _woman_ like the Japanese Empress would be too sensible to try and subjugate China proper). The biggest question is what to do with the renegade Japanese general and his troops (the Empress of Japan hadn’t really been ready for a war with Britannia, and his exceeding of orders in Malaysia had made it inevitable). As a sword for hire, he could be a powerful arrow in China’s quiver: on the other hand, giving him over to the Japanese government would win much credit with the Imperial court. Decisions, decisions, as the world begins to burn: the one thing China doesn’t want to do is get drawn into the war (unless one side is really _clearly_ winning).
The Empire of the Blazing Sun (a mistranslation originally, but the Japanese decided it was badass enough in English to avoid correcting the Gaijin) was knocked out of its isolation when Russians tried to take over Hokkaido in the 1770s: this eventually led to a period of instability and the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1822 to an enemy they had consistently underestimated, the daughter of the reigning emperor, who after her father drank himself to death made herself the first Empress of Japan since almost legendary times. Under the Empress and now under her grand-niece, Japan has modernized as fast and as successfully as OTL, and has built up an empire through a combination of bluff, negotiation, and bribes as much as by conquest, most notably when they forced the Dutch out of their East Indies empire without a shot being fired through a combination of demonstrating massive naval superiority and offering _such_ a deal to the Prussians who at the time were busy absorbing the Netherlands into their imperial system, although they had to fight a war with China and then _another_ war with Russia before they confirmed their rule over Korea.
Japan is possibly the most distinctively unique of the major powers in its use of technology: it has developed a chemical weapons industry which owes very little to either the Vault or foreign skills, and the sophistication of its combined-arms structure is second to none. At the same time, more of the feudal past survives here, and Samurai in Sturginium-reinforced armor still vie for honor on the battlefield (admittedly, supplementing swords actually capable of cutting through a tank cannon with poisoned gas grenades, incendiary weapons, and scoped rifles if the enemy is so dishonorable as to fight from a distance). Ninjas also abound, although since they lack Magical Chakra Powers they mostly stick to their traditional roles of spying, assassination and general-purpose sneaking around.
The war with the Britannian empire started with a dispute over the access of Japanese traders to Malay markets, and then blew up when a Japanese general decided to avenge a nephew dishonored and driven to suicide by burning down Singapore, which even the most conservative nobles and samurai agreed was a bit of an overreaction. The Empress is annoyed, but the British have long competed with Japan for control of the many isles and peninsulas of East Asia, and the East India Company has long been a thorn in the flesh of Japans’ great commercial companies. A fight would happen sooner or later: if it has come sooner than desired, well, the best must be made of it.
(To briefly sum up: the Empire of Britannia is fighting the Japanese, the Prussians, the Italians (who want to fight the Ottomans), and the French. The Russians and the Poles are fighting the Prussians, more as co-belligerents of the British than as actual allies. The Ottomans are biding their time and planning to strike where opportunity beckons. Free Australia is supposedly neutral but is supplying a lot of mercenaries to the Japanese. The Federated States of America finds itself somehow at war with both the Japanese and the Russians (for now), the second of which annoys the British but may be hard to get out of due to public hostility towards the Russians. And the Antarctic Covenant plans to spank everyone once they get all their ducks in a row. )
Technology is basically steampunk, a combination of Aetheric Accumulators, steam engines, and crude internal combustion engines driving tanks, planes, dirigibles, etc. while the general populace usually sticks to trains and trolleys. The elderly and well off often have lungs or hearts enhanced by mechanical aids, and the arthritic or gouty are often carried about in metal-legged “crab chairs.” Admittedly, due to less development in the biological sciences, disease and infections remain somewhat of a problem: the electronic sterilizer is a bit of scorched earth technique for fighting bacteria, and sometimes people find themselves having to replace more and more of themselves with brass and steel as bits of flesh are removed along with infectious organisms. Wires bring music and news to people’s houses, although oddly enough radio is as yet largely undeveloped. (The fact that Aetheric Accumulators in operation tend to really futz up radio signals with interference may have something to do with this). Computers are still clockwork and gears, and huge, but some new developments involving specialized crystals promise to miniaturize them: rumors are that the Germans are already building crystalline brains for their war robots. Skyscrapers are being built, although they tend to be heavily obscured with statues, pointless pillars, and other bric-a-brak from the point of view of someone from OTL. (A few structures of Abu Dhabian hugeness have been built with the aid of Sturginium alloy, but as mentioned earlier, that is mostly reserved for the armed forces).
On the battlefield tanks and armored cars mix with hulking walking machines, massive “land battleships”, flying machines larger and tougher than one would think possible (due to those marvelous Sturginium alloys again), armor-plated dirigibles that also act as flying aircraft carriers and by use of overpowered Aetheric Accumulators can create artificial lightning lashing down at any pointy object below them. Poison gas and incendiaries are widely used, as well as man-portable rocket launchers. Several nations also deploy submarines.
Some nations have a special technological edge, having managed to figure things out from Covenant releases of technology that others haven’t. The Prussians are leaders in robotics, and although the semi-autonomous Iron Men are not too bright, the larger, crew-carrying models can be a fearful sight (at least until enemy long-range cannon range in on them. Big target, anyone?). The French appear to have developed a form of partial gravity neutralization, allowing them to float their ships above the surface of the water for greatly increased speed and even launch raids inland on relatively level seacoasts(ships only, so far: the machinery used is apparently quite bulky). The Russians have developed a form of tank that can burrow underground like a mechanical mole, and new types of flying machines that can match anything the rest of the world can build. And there are rumors of stranger weapons: weapons that use sound, weapons that use light somehow focused into a beam, chemical catalysts capable of consuming entire cities in un-extinguishable flame…
Of course, what the Covenant has is better than what anyone else has, but most think that their manufacturing capacity is too low for this to matter: better machines can be swamped by sheer numbers of inferior ones. So, even if their giant walking machines move like living things than clumsy metal, and their Iron men are clearly far more versatile than the German variety, and their ships can hydroplane at speeds that other fleets cannot approach, they are at best strong enough to defend their own frozen fastnesses, and not a serious factor in the war.
What the rest of the world doesn’t know is that the Covenant has for some time been working with what another world would call Von Neumann machines; Covenant manufacturing capacity is rapidly approaching the point of self-sustaining growth with no human intervention required. And then there is the whole “long range teleportation” thing…