The Snowflake: Multiverse-Based Weirdness

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eaton eaton's picture
The Snowflake: Multiverse-Based Weirdness

Currently working on the core backdrop for a series of adventures that will form my next campaign. I'm taking some inspiration from Warren Ellis' Planetary and leading towards a climax in which the PCs will have to destroy the gate network to prevent the exsurgent virus from using an infected group of hypercorp exhumans to colonize a "pristine" reality where the Fall never happened. Will post additional notes as updates to this first post, and discuss additional ideas if any others are interested.

Snowflake? WTF?

Welcome to the multiverse, a six-dimensional matrix of collapsed probabilities we call "existence." Colloquially known as The Snowflake due to the shape of its simplest euclidean representation, the multiverse consists of 46,656 (6^6) non-intersecting universes. To avoid ambiguity around the nature of the "U-word," this document will refer to each universe as a "facet" of the snowflake.

Many facets exist where the Fall never occurred, the gate-builders were never wiped out, TITANs never discovered the gates and succeeded in wiping out humanity, etc. At least three distinct systems of physics and geometry are known to exist, and researchers speculate based on the Snowflake's structure that a total of six will ultimately be found.

The Multiverse Behind the Curtain

In the Eclipse Phase game world, there are three deep mysteries: the Pandora Gates, Psi powers, and the Exsurgent virus. This homebrew campaign offers the Snowflake as an underlying explanation for all three.

  • Pandora Gates are *not* gates to other Facets. Rather, the gates exploit side effects of the Snowflake's structure to link distant points in the same Facet. While traveling through a gate, entities are briefly passing through one of the non-euclidean geometries of the snowflake's second known system of physics. 1 Similarly, power to maintain the gate network is driven by entanglements with the snowflake's third system of physics 2.
  • The Exsurgent virus was not intentionally unleashed by an extrasolar race; rather, it is a naturally occurring parasite that exploited cross-facet contamination introduced by the gatebuilding project. The astonishing information density required by many of the virus' tricks 3 is possible only because much of its complexity exists in another facet entirely. For those familiar with the C programming language, the Exsurgent virus is effective because it exists in one facet as pointers to more complex genetic and consciousness structures in its "home" facet.
  • Psi Sleights are another consequence of this facet entanglement. Common manifestations include cross-ego information bleed, spacetime distortion, and the violation of facet-local physics norms. The weird experiences Asyncs have when encountering or traveling through Pandora Gates are rooted in the cross-facet entanglement exploited by both the gates and the virus.
  1. In technical terms, both spacetime and magnetism are "hopelessly fucked up" in the epsilon facet-branch. Gates are knots of epsilon-space; the "coordinates" entered into a given gate are better understood as instructions to twist and pull at the knot, producing different destinations in alpha facet-branch space. ↩︎
  2. In the zeta facet-branch, an accelerated cycle of material expansion and collapse produces intense but regular spikes of exotic radiation. For those who care, the echoes of these spikes are measurable in other facet-branches as blackbody radiation. ↩︎
  3. e.g., transmission of a full viral exploit and genome alteration package via short audio bursts in a basilisk hack. ↩︎

Where does this lead?


Plenty of places. For the purposes of the campaign I'm putting together, the snowflake going to be exploited by a group of exhuman separatists who met during an ill-fated gatecrashing mission and decided to set up their own hypercorp-cum-eschaton-cult. This gate mission infected several of them with diverse strains of the exsurgent virus, and trapped one of them in gate-transition for nearly four years subjective time (mere moments by the rest of the group's reckoning). She witnessed the true shape of the snowflake, confirming some edgy theoretical work by a couple of hypercorp researchers, but also went pretttttttty mad. In the aftermath, they went all-in on the idea that Exsurgent transformation is the next step in human evolution, but they also think that transhumanity's defeat at the hands of the TITANs was a killing blow. Embracing the virus could put them on top for a little while, but they've decided that the post-Fall situation is just too bleak for their ambitions.

The solution, of course, is to find a new unspoiled eden and set up camp. Not an exoplanet, of course — moving to a new point in this compromised universe is just kicking the can down the road, after all. No, this group of co-conspirators believes that they can, with sufficient dedication and exsurgent-powered sociopathic daring, use the same tricks that the gate-builders did to bridge the divide between facets of the snowflake. They want to turn themselves into genuine post-humans using the tool of the exsurgent virus, and colonize an otherwise unmolested facet of the snowflake where the TITANs never rampaged. There are a couple of avenues for this that they will attempt over the course of the campaign — experimenting with exotic exsurgent strains, infecting their own forks with varied strains of the Watts-McLeod virus in an attempt to breed a facet-sensitive consciousness, and even reverse-engineering some of the gatebuilders' tricks to affect a cross-facet jump of their own. Those things may not work, but they're ambitious projects that they believe justify a scorched-earth policy towards this particular facet of reality. It's already trashed, why not use it for parts and built a bridge to the new world?

(Naturally, uncomfortable questions present themselves: Is this how the Fall happened to "us" in the first place? Does Firewall's mission include protecting other facet-realities from their own Falls? Can transhuman survivors in "our" facet ethically escape to a different one? Is this just a big metaphor for colonialism? The answer to all is 'maybe, depending on whether the PCs get their paws on a Fenrir.')

PCs' first encounters with the conspirators will happen via bog-standard Firewall investigation and cleanup missions. It's just that this time, there's another player trying to get to the Exsurgent outbreak before Firewall. Mind The WMDs could work as a kick-off, with one of the conspirators leading the anonymous team of olympians that chase the PCs throughout that adventure.

Baribal Baribal's picture
Since I can't quite wrap my

Since I can't quite wrap my head around all the possibilities and implications quite yet, I'll start with a request for clarification: So there's six main branches with 6^5 universes each, and each main branch has a system of physics distinct from the other main branches, but consistent throughout the main branch itself, and the three known main branches are designated epsilon, zeta, and (knowing humanity's self-centeredness) presumably alpha?

Questions for people who also happen to accidentally blow up solar systems in the course of their research: Can a main branch be detached from the snowflake and isolated, simultaneously destroying the gate network and the exsurgent virus? Are there other known technologies that this would affect, like the Factor's reactionless drives? If not the alpha branch is detached, but zeta or epsilon, which one does the exsurgent virus reside in? If it is the zeta branch, are the energy requirements of the gate network sufficiently low to be provided by transhuman technology, so that gate travel can be kept up, or at least stranded gatecrashers be evacuated after the gate network's crash?

Questions for trope connoisseurs: Do you have plans for the other three branches, or are they going to be left unexplored? Right now they're kind of hanging there like Chekhov's Gun, waiting to be fired, and personally I'd feel weird if the campaign ended and someone could ask "But what about the other half of the multiverse?" Unless, of course, the answer to the first block of questions would be "No, they can't be detached, but they can be brought into contact with their diametral counterparts, causing mutual annihilation." Which in turn, would beg the question "Wait, so someone could also do that to the alpha / alpha-prime pair???"

Question for cosmological exoxenocryptozoologists: What things other than the exsurgent virus could come crawling out of those other branches, and why didn't they? Is the exsurgent virus merely the only known first contact? Ore there other entities in hiding? Or were they all subsumed by the virus?

A few other uncomfortable questions: Wouldn't leaving other alpha-branches uncontacted not only mean that they're kept safe from direct contamination through what is in transhumanity's reach, but also that they're left unprotected and unwarned with regard to vectors outside of that reach? If cross-facet travel is possible, why hasn't it happened yet? If the exsurgent virus knows about its theoretical possibility, doesn't that imply the likelihood that it is actively researching, maybe even exploiting, that possibility, to spread itself throughout the alpha branch? Is that why the TITANs went away, to find more vulnerable targets first and re-invade with bolstered forces? For that matter, can sub-branches be detached / brought to annihilation, so all infected alpha branches can be cauterized?

Morgan's Butchery | Body bank, morph individualization and upgrades | Psychotherapy and Psychosurgery, therapeutic and recreational | http://eclipsephase.com/comment/59484#comment-59484

Baribal Baribal's picture
Also, does this tie into the

Also, does this tie into the Lars-Mueller Conspiracy?

Morgan's Butchery | Body bank, morph individualization and upgrades | Psychotherapy and Psychosurgery, therapeutic and recreational | http://eclipsephase.com/comment/59484#comment-59484

eaton eaton's picture
Quote: So there's six main

Quote:
So there's six main branches with 6^5 universes each, and each main branch has a system of physics distinct from the other main branches, but consistent throughout the main branch itself, and the three known main branches are designated epsilon, zeta, and (knowing humanity's self-centeredness) presumably alpha?

That's what I'm working with at the moment. I chose epsilon by implication of psi-epsilon sleights, many of which leverage weird physics, and yeah, 'alpha' is transhumanity's baseline physics because aren't we always number 1?

Quote:
Can a main branch be detached from the snowflake and isolated, simultaneously destroying the gate network and the exsurgent virus? Are there other known technologies that this would affect, like the Factor's reactionless drives?

I don't think so. In this housecanon, the gate network seems like a big, terrible hack despite its wildly advanced technology. It's hoovering up energy from zeta-branch to punch through epsilon-branch just to reduce travel times in alpha-branch, and causing lots of problematic consequences along the way. (Not the least of which is opening a path for the exsurgent virus.) I like the idea that some Factor tech might exploit the underlying weirdness, perhaps by bleeding energy into zeta-branch where its signature is dwarfed by the branch's naturally vigorous emissions.

I'm thinking of the Snowflake as a sort of "rules of physics underneath the rules of physics" system, so disconnecting a branch would be a weird stretch, but it seems sensible that different kinds of weird tech that works on flake/branch mechanisms would interact with each other in unexpected ways. i.e., Asyncs having trippy visions while going through gates; the exsurgent virus demonstrating actual lucid independent thought rather than subversion of a host's thoughts while close to a gate, proximity of Factor Reactless drives giving a –30 penalty to all exsurgent actions due to interference with the links that bind them, etc.

Quote:
If not the alpha branch is detached, but zeta or epsilon, which one does the exsurgent virus reside in? If it is the zeta branch, are the energy requirements of the gate network sufficiently low to be provided by transhuman technology, so that gate travel can be kept up, or at least stranded gatecrashers be evacuated after the gate network's crash?

I'd say that the exsurgent virus resides in the alpha branch, but a different facet of it than transhumanity. I'm still kind of winging it with some of this stuff, so if that feels clunky or not-right, it might require more attention.

Quote:
Do you have plans for the other three branches, or are they going to be left unexplored? Right now they're kind of hanging there like Chekhov's Gun, waiting to be fired, and personally I'd feel weird if the campaign ended and someone could ask "But what about the other half of the multiverse?"

I'm kicking around something like time, fundamental constants of the universe, etc being out of whack in those branches. If things get too weird, it seems like they'd just be utterly inaccessible to transhumanity or our tools. Like, the zeta branch is effectively just a branch of universe/facets that cycle so rapidly through the big bang, expansion, and collapse that the oscillation is measurable as the low-level hum of blackbody radiation in our alpha branch. Any thoughts?

Quote:
Unless, of course, the answer to the first block of questions would be "No, they can't be detached, but they can be brought into contact with their diametral counterparts, causing mutual annihilation." Which in turn, would beg the question "Wait, so someone could also do that to the alpha / alpha-prime pair???"

And you thought annihilationist cults getting their mitts on antimatter weapons was a worst-case scenario.

Quote:
Question for cosmological exoxenocryptozoologists: What things other than the exsurgent virus could come crawling out of those other branches, and why didn't they? Is the exsurgent virus merely the only known first contact? Ore there other entities in hiding? Or were they all subsumed by the virus?

Working answer: yes, there are things that make the exsurgent virus look downright amiable and cuddly. Perhaps they work on different timescales, or they have slipstreamed into facets other than ours, or they're already here and in true Elder God fashion they're just too enormous to notice us or be noticed by us, etc. The exsurgent virus is just 'threat zero' for our particular facet of the alpha branch.

Quote:
Wouldn't leaving other alpha-branches uncontacted not only mean that they're kept safe from direct contamination through what is in transhumanity's reach, but also that they're left unprotected and unwarned with regard to vectors outside of that reach? If cross-facet travel is possible, why hasn't it happened yet?

To pre-emptively answer your next post's question, this is connected to the Lars-Mueller Conspiracy, and cross-facet travel inside the alpha branch is their ultimate goal. They want to find a facet untouched by x-threat superpredators, and go there by hook or by crook. Basically, leave this popsicle stand and find a slice of reality where their vision of exsurgent-powered posthumanity is the apex species again.

One plot element I'm toying with is having the PCs encounter a trail of wrecked psyches as they pursue other adventures: Lars Mueller can't yet figure out how to physically travel to other facets, but they begin working with ego-transfer technology that lets them ego-nap a sentient entity from sufficiently compatible alpha-branch facet and switch places with it. Perhaps those egos, over in their own facet, are working on similar research and meeting Lars-Mueller halfway without realizing it. Either way, Lars-Mueller forks are disappearing, and in their places are terrified, traumatized egos who remember a very, very different history where the fall never happened… yet here they are, trapped in a post-Fall hellscape with no idea how it happened.

I'm looking forward to letting the PCs interrogate someone who, it slowly becomes clear, believes they're basically trapped in hell — aka our reality.

Quote:
If the exsurgent virus knows about its theoretical possibility, doesn't that imply the likelihood that it is actively researching, maybe even exploiting, that possibility, to spread itself throughout the alpha branch? Is that why the TITANs went away, to find more vulnerable targets first and re-invade with bolstered forces?

I'm still envisioning the exsurgent virus as a very opportunistic predator, rather than one with a grand plan. The first exsurgent infection, in this reckoning, probably happened to one of the gate-builders. There may be other alpha-branch facets where gatelike technology was developed too, and that would give the virus a path into those facets. But now that you mention it, I really like the idea that the TITANs made their great escape not to a distant exoplanet in our own facet but a completely different unspoiled one.

Baribal Baribal's picture
eaton wrote:In this

eaton wrote:
In this housecanon, the gate network seems like a big, terrible hack despite its wildly advanced technology. It's hoovering up energy from zeta-branch to punch through epsilon-branch just to reduce travel times in alpha-branch, and causing lots of problematic consequences along the way.

This also opens up a few questions about *how* the gate network was bootstrapped. Can gates go anywhere, or just to other gates? If the latter, how were gates spread throughout the galaxy in the first place? If the former, were the gate builders probing their alpha space through their corresponding epsilon space for boundaries of areas with strong gradients between low and high mass density, and hoping strongly to not open a gate into a sun (again)?

eaton wrote:
Quote:
If not the alpha branch is detached, but zeta or epsilon, which one does the exsurgent virus reside in? If it is the zeta branch, are the energy requirements of the gate network sufficiently low to be provided by transhuman technology, so that gate travel can be kept up, or at least stranded gatecrashers be evacuated after the gate network's crash?

I'd say that the exsurgent virus resides in the alpha branch, but a different facet of it than transhumanity. I'm still kind of winging it with some of this stuff, so if that feels clunky or not-right, it might require more attention.


Wait... So the exsurgent virus is here due to cross-contamination from a different alpha branch? Or do you just mean the infectious vectors, with the bulk that provides the power behind its effects being in epsilon- or zeta-space?
I think that at this point it'd be helpful if you figured out the player's options to resolve the campaign, and adapt the rules governing the para-physics accordingly to let those options be possible.

Quote:
Do you have plans for the other three branches, or are they going to be left unexplored?[...]

I'm kicking around something like time, fundamental constants of the universe, etc being out of whack in those branches. [...] Any thoughts?
In my opinion science fiction shows have already jumped the shark once they introduce either parallel universes or (backwards / acausal) time travel. Those open the doors to "But why hasn't the universe been invaded from there / from the future already?" so wide that suspension of disbelief becomes a challenge. So, no, not really, only that you should have a really good argument for either why such an incursion hasn't happened yet, or why nobody noticed it happening. And since causal backwards time travel is *really* hard to do in an RPG, since it'd be in direct contradiction to the maxim of empowering players to have influence on their surroundings, I'd recommend not touching the direction of the arrow of time with a c*1s long pole.

eaton wrote:
Quote:
Unless, of course, the answer to the first block of questions would be "No, they can't be detached, but they can be brought into contact with their diametral counterparts, causing mutual annihilation." Which in turn, would beg the question "Wait, so someone could also do that to the alpha / alpha-prime pair???"

And you thought annihilationist cults getting their mitts on antimatter weapons was a worst-case scenario.

Well, yes, but if the bulk of the exsurgent virus rests in another dimension, and the possibility of causing mutual annihilation exists, then ridding the game world of the evil magic at the cost of the good magic does seem like an interesting way to end a campaign to me. Maybe the McGuffin to do it is only applicable to that main branch pair somewhy, or maybe that "Hey, wait a minute..." is left as an exercise to the reader (and Firewall's list of x-risks, replacing "false vacuum collapse").

eaton wrote:
Quote:
[...] Is the exsurgent virus merely the only known first contact? [...]

Working answer: yes, there are things that make the exsurgent virus look downright amiable and cuddly. Perhaps they work on different timescales, or they have slipstreamed into facets other than ours, or they're already here and in true Elder God fashion they're just too enormous to notice us or be noticed by us, etc. The exsurgent virus is just 'threat zero' for our particular facet of the alpha branch.

To build on that as a Lovecraft fan, the exsurgent virus might be Eclipse Phase's equivalent of Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Other Gods, powerful and malevolent, but at least understandable in word and action in human terms; Then the equivalent to the Other Gods would be the entities to which asyncs have contact according to the v2 strain rules.

Quote:
Either way, Lars-Mueller forks are disappearing, and in their places are terrified, traumatized egos who remember a very, very different history where the fall never happened… yet here they are, trapped in a post-Fall hellscape with no idea how it happened.

To go further down the Lovecraft hole, this reminds me of "The Shadow Out of Time", and by genre convention, those egos would now be in the care of psychosurgeons who are convinced that those egos have had their memories edited for some twisted purpose, and expertly so (since they can't find any trace of boundary between the real and the implanted memories), and intend to just cut out the area of divergence as a whole (or, if that's too grim, somehow mark those memories as feeling unreal), and help the ego thus brought back into compliance with true history to deal with what happened in the meantime.

Morgan's Butchery | Body bank, morph individualization and upgrades | Psychotherapy and Psychosurgery, therapeutic and recreational | http://eclipsephase.com/comment/59484#comment-59484

eaton eaton's picture
Quote:To go further down the

Quote:
To go further down the Lovecraft hole, this reminds me of "The Shadow Out of Time", and by genre convention, those egos would now be in the care of psychosurgeons who are convinced that those egos have had their memories edited for some twisted purpose, and expertly so (since they can't find any trace of boundary between the real and the implanted memories), and intend to just cut out the area of divergence as a whole (or, if that's too grim, somehow mark those memories as feeling unreal), and help the ego thus brought back into compliance with true history to deal with what happened in the meantime.

Oh...

Oh.

That's dark.

eaton eaton's picture
Quote:To go further down the

>yoinked for duplicate<

Baribal Baribal's picture
eaton wrote:Quote:To go

eaton wrote:
Quote:
To go further down the Lovecraft hole, [...]

Oh...

Oh.

That's dark.


Could be worse, depending on how similar the branches in question are, and in which jurisdictions that ego finds itself. If the answer to the former is "very", then the latter could entail "According to your brainprint, you are already active , and with your memory set, you are obviously a heavily modified alpha fork. That also means that you are not a person, legally speaking...", whatever *that* in turn entails in that jurisdiction...

Morgan's Butchery | Body bank, morph individualization and upgrades | Psychotherapy and Psychosurgery, therapeutic and recreational | http://eclipsephase.com/comment/59484#comment-59484

eaton eaton's picture
That, actually, would make a

Quote:
To build on that as a Lovecraft fan, the exsurgent virus might be Eclipse Phase's equivalent of Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Other Gods, powerful and malevolent, but at least understandable in word and action in human terms; Then the equivalent to the Other Gods would be the entities to which asyncs have contact according to the v2 strain rules.

Niiiiiiice.

Quote:
depending on how similar the branches in question are, and in which jurisdictions that ego finds itself. If the answer to the former is "very", then the latter could entail "According to your brainprint, you are already active , and with your memory set, you are obviously a heavily modified alpha fork. That also means that you are not a person, legally speaking...", whatever *that* in turn entails in that jurisdiction...

That, actually, would make a pretty interesting plot hook. A lost fork of a Firewall agent, or an argonaut VIP, or something along those lines, is discovered in the middle of a psychotic break. The problem is, the "fork" has wildly divergent memories and the VIP/agent in question has absolutely no record of spinning off the fork in the first place…

That would explain how a random crazy person ranting about weird memories would get onto the team's radar...