Have you ever thought of using parts of real world history as a basis for your own world's history? The great thing about history is that it already happened. Using it as a shell for your fantasy world does a few things
1) Saves you from coming up with everything from scratch. From scratch is good but it takes time to come up with a cohesive history that works on all levels without sounding forced.
2) Gives a sense of realism since many of the major points you use did in fact happen. Even if the facts are totally changed and skewed (which I am sure they will be) they hold the ring of truth and realism that may just make your world more believable.
3) If told you world is based on colonial North America it is much easier for the players to understand what the world is like in an analogous sort of way. An in depth knowledge of real history is not needed to understand the overview of the world, just the broadest terms need to be defined for them and they won't have to learn an entire new history to easily enjoy your world.
For instance, North America. Without knowing anything you know Indians, The North, The South, slaves, war with Britain, independence, western expansion, war with Indians, civil war.
Right there is all you need to help develop the world.
Indians: Any indigenous species of the land that gets bullied and pushed around. In my world this will be the dwarfs. They originally owned the land and were pushed to the mountains by the invaders.
The North: All you really need to know is that there were two types of settlers and define them how you will but I am going to use the fact that the Northern settlers were community driven and industrially motivated, mostly because of the land was bad for farming and their religion promoted tight communities. (very basic, don't want to argue about the subtleties) So I will make the North the Elves. The elves I will organize in tight communities dotted around the land. I will have them live in the areas that are bad for farming so that is not their main sustenance, mostly live off the land and trade. The elves were the first one to come before "The South" settlers arrived.
The South: Mostly farming. This will be the humans. Farming and livestock are their trades. They have cities but are in a somewhat isolated area.
Slaves: In my world slaves will be found in an isolated area in the NW. It is available by land but secluded by a large area of badlands and Mountains. Defensible ports in the badlands have been made and slaves are only used by one section of the developing country. Slaves will be used exclusively in a small section of "The South" that is on a peninsula sectionalized from the rest. This area is heavy agriculture with a large mining of rare metals available as well.
War with Britain: The humans that settled rejected the rule of those they left and so the announced their own king which erupted in war with their home country. The Elves, because of the war, retreated to a defensibly position in the SE and kept to themselves.
Independence: Human settlements finally had their king acknowledged after years of war. Influx of new settlers to the new kingdom.
Western Expansion. Human settlements, with their newfound freedom, started expanding in all direction. Forced the elves farther into their woods and any dwarves that were left around were forced to mountain living. Elves wouldn't let them in the woods and the humans were everywhere else.
War With Indians. War with dwarves. Almost continuous but more so now as the humans expand their settlements.
Civil War: I am leaving the slaves isolated and now the slave holding humans want freedom from the other human settlements that don't use slaves. Since the slave kingdom is geographically and economically separated from the regular human kingdom the split makes sense. The slave kingdom declares their independence and war breaks out. In but my world "The South" is going to win and slaves will remain. Their own king is acknowledged by the other human settlements and now there are two distinct human kingdoms.
And this is the time that my adventure takes place. This is very generic but the general idea is there.
If you need/want more there are wars against the French, Spanish, and Mexico to mess with as well as the melting pot racial issues that pop up everywhere. All you need to do is look and you will find pretty much any kind of conflict you could want in any history.
The history of Europe is even more fascinating, if not more complicated, and has a wealth of history to be exploited for the fantasy world setting as well.
Has anybody else used real world history in their games? If you have, please share your experience.