I’ve been doing a lot of research into Victorian culture as of late (partially out of personal interest), and actually have a very large map of London 1889 on my wall (Booth’s Poverty Map). Obviously for Empire of Bone I’m not planning to do a highly historical version of London - a wide-spread event which causes a large chunk of your population to become walking dead sort of precludes that. However, I do think it’s fun to include parallels and equivalencies to historical developments at that time. it allows for some tongue-in-cheek humor and subtle wit that some people enjoy when they delve into the background. Plus the history nerds love it!
Originally I was thinking of including of some sort of cataclysmic event that changed the course of human history and throw in “walking dead” as a side-effect. There’s plenty to choose from: The Black Plague on 1348-50 killed off 30-60% of European population, the Great Plague of London killed of 20% of London’s population. The cholera pandemics of the early early-to-mid 1800s killed tens of thousands of people.
Part of the trick is also finding a story catalyst that doesn’t significantly change the style of the world you’re trying to build. Would Victorian society have existed if whatever “undead plague” event happened back in the 14th century? If being undead effectively means immortality I think there’d be a lot of 14th century notions sticking around for a long time afterward.
So what if the event happened within more recent history and with a bit more subtlety? If you establish the event happening in the early Victorian era it would make a lot more sense for the Victorian societal trappings to still exist. And instead of having ravenous dead erupting from their tombs it’s more like dead uncle Edward popping by for tea. It isn’t like ravenous dead won’t erupt from their tombs during the course of the story campaign, it just doesn’t happen right away.