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The Fractal Realm

by Jon Preedy

Originally presented in the Chaosium Digest, V17, #12, Jan 12 1997

Call of Cthulhu; the Fractal

The Dreamlands is a very popular and diverse setting for scenarios and even entire campaigns to evolve in (ala _Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath_), but this setting has a decidedly festive, kind of "kick back, relax, and get some SAN points back" feel, no matter how adverse one tries to make the conditions. For the 1990s, without delving into the entirely bizzare use of "Space Mead" (as defined in the 5th edition rulesbook), an attractive, and wonderfully horrific alternative is the Fractal Realm.

The Fractal is an alternate realm populated by energy-based life forms (the "Fractal Creatures" described in _Ye Booke of Monstres 2_) who exist purely it seems, to serve an avatar of Yog-Sothoth. Players entering The Fractal should be given the impression of being thrust into a bad Virtual Reality nightmare with connotations of a Cyberpunk novel. Contrasting technicolour flares, bizarre data structures and swarms of the fractal creatures should be given a decadent, almost Gothic feel, and any Computer Progammers in a party should easily realise that from this realm, they can access any data stored on any computer in the world. And they get free internet time.

Keepers can convert any monster from _Call of Cthulhu_ to The Fractal (within reason) but remember that the only real "servitor race" in The Fractal are the Fractal Creatures in YBOM2 and thus PCs won't encounter Fractal Shantaks or Nightgaunts, are unlikely to encounter Fractal Mi-Go or Moon Beasts (unless something gets broken) and will only rarely meet things like Fractal Dimesional Shamblers. Fractal Dholes may be encountered in the form of high-key polymorphic viruses and Fractal Elder/Outer/Other Gods about as frequently as anywhere else.

Having been unable to find any Mythos fiction on which to base suppositions, I developed this Keepers' guide to the Fractal with only the rules given for fractal creatures in _Ye Booke of Monstres 2_ and books like _Neuromancer_ and _The Diamond Age_ and the movie _Blade Runner_ in mind.

*Welcome to The Fractal. Please wipe your feet.*

Very little has been said about how The Fractal Dimension works, very little has been said of the actual existence of the place, and this circumstance allows keepers to be as diverse and bizarre as they choose.

As The Fractal is a completely energy-based system (Fractal creatures, if they pass through a gate to earth depend upon consumption of Magic Points from living things in order to sustain themselves), the Earth's Fractal is only as large as our currently existing power grid. Picture something to the extent of the telephone grid which is occasionally superimposed over maps of the world, and you'll know the sort of map I'm thinking of.

Access to the Fractal is limited to a certain computer program which is capable of extremely radical mathematical calculus, and as such can only be feasably run on a high-end computer. This program generates a weird flash of technicolour light before shattering the computer screen (allow a Dodge roll for any standing near the screen when it shatters, otherwise 1D3 damage from flying glass), essentially opening the gate to The Fractal.

Entering the Fractal should be kept realistic. The gate under analysis, remember, is only as big as the monitor of the host computer (ie no one of SIZ 16 is going from Earth to the Fractal via a 12" monitor). This does not pertain to Fractal entities such as the avatar of Yog-Sothoth who rules the Fractal, or the Fractal avatars of other GOOs, Old Ones, Outer/Elder Gods, etc, who are capable of changing their shape/dimensions. For effect, a wall-sized bank of monitors is perfect; imagine the horror of the PC's still dusting themselves off when Fractal Cthulhu comes romping through the gate...

Traversing to The Fractal from Earth is a matter of "passing into" the monitor. At this point, the being undergoing "relocation" experiences intense needling of the skin as though they are being charged, and then an intense release of this charge akin to a static shock is experienced (3 magic points are lost) and the hapless invesigator finds himself an amalgamation of polygons in a bad Virtual Reality nightmare (1/1D6 Sanity loss, and 0/1D4 for anyone watching from outside the gate).

Watching this transport from the outside of the gate, PCs are witness to the traveller reduced to a series of pixels on the screen. This image gradually dwindles in size (impress the image of vanishment into the distance here) until it blinks out. The entire process takes about twenty seconds (unless the traveller enters the gate at speed).

The reverse applies to those who manage to gate back out of The Fractal, and those watching the gate for "things" coming through (Thing gets bigger from distance until it reaches its maximum possible size, then "pop"). Three magic points and another 1/1D6 Sanity points are lost on this return trip as well.

Gates, unless heavily guarded should only be opened for short periods of time, lest the Fractal avatar of Yog-Sothoth attempt to pass through to the mortal world (1D10+5 minutes until it tries to break through). Gates may be closed by switching off or rebooting the host computer. Anything still "visible" on the "screen" is terminated at this point, but entities fully in one realm or another remain. Inside The Fractal, gates appear as "windows" with the room where the gate is located a low-resolution image on the window. Gates inside The Fractal are two-dimensional, like a picture hung on an invisible wall.

Anyone who safely gates to the Fractal finds themself in an outpost of Fractal creatures (usually builder and inspector Fractals) the size of which depends on the city that the character was in prior to gating (ie, If a PC was in downtown nowheresville--population 46 including the dogs--then there would be relatively little activity going on due to the lack of usable energy superimposed from Earths' power grid, but if the PC activated the gate in New York then there would be a hive of intense, fervent activity with Fractals of all kinds. A city of this size on Earth may well in The Fractal be the "home" of Fractal Yog-Sothoth.)

*First, I'm gonna crash some airplanes...*

Computer Programmers entering the Fractal will experience joy when they figure out exactly what they are capable of when in this realm.

Firstly, any roll for Computer Use/Programming or Hacking skills receive a +20% chance of success.

Secondly, hackers are not restricted to a single network. They can access ANY data, regardless of its security restrictions, on ANY computer, wherever it is. The only catch will be familiar to anyone who has seen _Johnny Mnemonic_ or read anything by William Gibson. Security software (firewalls etc.) are conscious entities in this realm, and if a given hacker takes too long trying to wipe the criminal records of everyone in his party off the FBI's computer system, then they are gonna get it. The security (Ice) will manifest in a variety of ways (use your discretion, but be subtle until you can strike) and always pursue the hacker until one or the other is nothing but corrupt data. If the Keeper wishes, a budding hacker may run into a Firewall program. Literally.

*BANG-BANG-BANG... Why isn't it dead yet?*

Anything in The Fractal can be destroyed, including inanimate objects (ie, if, when blasting away at Fractal Whomever-it-is the PCs accidentally take out a weirdly shaped inverted Pyramidal structure, then when they get back to earth they might hear that the World Trade Center just lost all its electrical appliances in an unprecedented power surge.)

Normal weapons are generally useless against Fractal Beasties on Earth, the only really devastating weapon not being an AK-47, but a Stun Gun (or Stunner). The reverse applies INSIDE the fractal. As living things are effectively "bitmapped" when they enter the fractal, so is everything non-living that gets carried in too. So, a PC realises that stunners fairly Nuke these fractal bastards and takes one in with him, as well as his trusty .45. Next time he tries to stun a Fractal creature, it and many more will swarm around the stunner (and the PC) and begin a feeding frenzy. The .45 however, releases a "bullet" of negatively charged ions, and a hit counts as normal damage.

Point blank and extended range rules need not apply in the Fractal, but this is a two edged sword. PCs might not get a +10% to hit chance for a point-blank shot with a .22, but they get the full 4D6+2 damage for a successful hit with a ten-guage shotgun, regardless of range.

The only thing is that there are no gun shops in the Fractal, and unless the PCs get a constant supply chain of bullets in, then they are quite likely to be swamped and consumed by the thousands of hungry Fractals.

Melee weapons and close-combat remains unchanged, but the Keeper should describe things differently (eg, on a successful Fist/Punch roll, James Brown finds that his hands sprout claws which rake his opponent for the 1D3+DB damage for Fist/Punch skill). Martial Arts rolls do not affect damage, but a successful Computer Programming roll in a combat situation may (or may not) yield an additional damage bonus, at the Keepers' discretion.

*Mmm, Incapacitated*

Death in the Fractal is just that. Death. Maybe the luckless investigator sees a brief flash of "Game Over", but otherwise nothing is different. Death can occur from:

The latter two occurring if the PCs are sloppy in their hacking work.

Being stuck inside the Fractal Realm when a gate is shut on Earth is a tricky situation for a PC, but not neccessarily a death sentence. Remember that PCs are capable of manipulating data on Earth's computers whilst within The Fractal, thus a PC "trapped" in this situation may send email to his companions back on Earth, he may tamper with Paging services or screw around with televisions in trying to convince other PCs to repair the original computer monitor, and re-open a gate so that their Fractalised companion might return to reality.

This may present a way to introduce players to the Fractal Realm (ie, players get "noticed" by a hacker stuck in the Fractal who hunts them down and "poltergeists" their electronic gear, ala _Ghost in the Machine_, until the PCs agree to open a gate and let him out... Then along comes Fractal Hunting Horror; munchety-crunchety...)

Remember that major beasties in the Fractal are only avatars, ie, the destruction of the Fractal Yog-Sothoth will only serve to piss off the REAL Yog-Sothoth. Moreso for a Great Old One like Cthulhu, who's Fractal avatar is really his only way of screwing people up (presenting a possible link to several of history's plane crashes, power failures...), and if IT gets waxed...

Running a Fractal scenario places a heavy burden on the Keeper to set the mood. It should be suitably fast-paced and convoluted of plot with a lot of wires and joints left un-soldered for room for PCs to return and hack again.

If anyone has ANY notes or quotes regarding the "real" Fractal realm, then please email 'em to me so that I can modify my playing conditions suitably.

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