Monstrous Lore: Fractal Giants

Atop a winding mountain ridge, along the meandering edge of the coast or beside a twisting river deep in the rainforest, societies of fractal giants study the phenomenon from which they take their name: the fractal, a repeating geometric pattern that these giants are capable of visually and cognitively perceiving in myriad places in nature. By using their innate ability to change in size from tiny to gargantuan, fractal giants constantly rediscover this pattern manifesting everywhere, capable as they are of narrowly focusing in on the minute repeating-but-unique geometry of flakes of frost or gain a broad awareness through contemplative meditation on the tempestuous chaos of weather systems. The wisdom and insight they gain from harnessing their investment or detachment often proves invaluable to outsiders, and so fractal giants are often sought out for their wide-ranging perspective — or they may seek to broaden it further through adventuring.

Self-Similar at any Scale

Fractal giants are encountered far less frequently in comparison to many of their giant kin. Even where fractal giants do appear, they may not be immediately identifiable as such: the colours of their hair, eyes and skin is as variable as those of any giant, and they may greatly differ between two different fractal giants.

However, there are subtle characteristics that most might overlook, but which other fractal giants have an uncanny ability to hone in on: whorls of hair that almost seem to corkscrew into spirals, with strands crinkled in exactly the same way, even though they may be different lengths; a curious set of identical rotational symmetries that each and every one of their fingerprints shares; a hairline fracture in a tooth that almost perfectly mimics the pattern blood vessels in the corner of one eye. Their mode of dress and any material culture they create often contains some element of the motif for which they are named: the fractal, a complex pattern that seems to repeat itself within itself, at any scale. But these too may not be immediately obvious; fractal giants tend to live in small, far-flung communities that, because of their relative distance from one another, do not always share the same elements when it comes to styling themselves, making clothes, building settlements, and so on.

One particular characteristic that all fractal giants do share, however, is the ability to change their size for a short period of time; they can shrink themselves down to become tiny, or they can grow to gargantuan proportions, allowing them to experience living at vastly different sizes, with the shift in perspective that it brings. Over time, fractal giants learn to adapt to living at different sizes, and if they find living at a particular size to be more convenient, they can permanently change to their favoured size by focusing through meditation and acclimatising to life at a different scale.

The process of changing size, even temporarily, requires a great degree of concentration and energy, and any break in this concentration causes the process to revert, which is often physically and mentally exhausting. As such, most fractal giants employ some form of meditation, in a space they have ensured will be able to properly accommodate them after their shift in size, so that when they have successfully grown or shrunk, they can maintain their focused concentration. They can remain in this state longer at sizes closer to their favoured size — so a fractal giant who tends to spend most time at Medium size would be capable of remaining in the Small or Large size category for longer than they would Tiny or Gargantuan.

While in their altered size state, fractal giants use the perspective they gain at a different scale in various ways: they can shrink down and narrow their focus onto the edge of a piece of metal they’re working to detect flaws in its tempering, or they might grow to gargantuan size above a forested valley to better study the way the tops of the trees move in the wind in a way that reflects the health of the ecosystem. Different details are available at different scales, and fractal giants understand the value in being able to find balance between a broad overview and a narrow focus, and, where possible, merging the two. Their ability to change size also proves useful when trying to hide, to disguise themselves, to scale or navigate obstacles, or for the purposes of intimidation: fractal giants endeavour to find ever-more-creative applications for their ability.

Narrow and Broad

Two paired concepts reappear over and over throughout fractal giant society, in various different forms: the narrow and the broad. Both terms refer not only to their ordinary widely-understood meanings, but also to clusters of philosophical concepts, social structures, lifestyles and perspectives that permeate fractal giant society in a way not immediately obvious to outsiders: to a fractal giant, the spectrum of narrow and broad is as commonplace, foundational and complex as the spectra of morality and order. Narrowness and breadth appear in everything from how fractal giants practise religion or worship, to their roles and responsibilities in society. The narrowness of an individual life must be weighed against the breadth of all life; the breadth of awareness that comes from learning a little bit of everything is just as valuable to a fractal giant as the narrow art of honing and perfecting a skill.

The concepts of broad and narrow are interconnected with another motif at the heart of fractal giant culture: the fractal itself. Fractals are a type of pattern that seems to be self-similar, but at any scale; magnifying any part of a fractal pattern will reveal that its smaller structural elements resemble the structure as a whole. This pattern is used ubiquitously throughout fractal giant culture, but it often eludes the first glance: it can manifest in fractal giant art in the form of a cape with a triangle motif, which, on further inspection, seems to be made up of smaller triangles just like it; another fractal giant society might have built a colossal statue venerating one of their leaders, which holds an identical copy of the statue in its hand, which itself holds another, even smaller version of the statue. A fractal giant writer might pen books housing stories-within-stories-within stories; a poet, aided by their idiosyncratic manner of using the Giant language (see “Fractal giant names” below), might create a poem using bizarre, reflective wordplay that seems to move in between realistic, figurative, metaphorical and anagogical in strange riddling patterns. The exact material elements or visual iconography of fractal giant culture might be vastly different between two fractal giant societies, but the underlying motif of the fractal can often be detected with closer inspection. Much like the broad and the narrow, the fractal also reappears throughout the philosophy, religion and history of the fractal giants; to them, the pattern describes everything from the interconnectivity of life on scales from tiny insect habitats to the lives of gods and titans to how different planes of existence can mirror one another. To some fractal giants, however, the fractal might instead signify the ultimate futility and meaninglessness of life, or the purposeless in trying to fully understand a universe of infinite complexity — their radical thinking oscillates between order, neutrality and chaos almost by definition.

Because of these core themes at the heart of their society, fractal giants’ interests, motivations, priorities and perspectives can often seem wildly out of proportion to those not used to following their lines of thinking. A fractal giant who has spent years studying the intricate details of the way certain flowers display reflecting patterns all the way down to their roots may struggle to convey to an outsider how this insight fulfils and nourishes them in some way, reminding them as it does of all the ways it might mirror their own life. A fractal giant who regularly meditates on the wide and rolling horizon, and realised the vastness of the universe and their relative minuteness in it might be thought to have their head in the clouds too much to properly be capable of focusing on more day-to-day terrestrial affairs. In worse cases, fractal giants might be accused of seeming anywhere from morbidly obsessed to cruelly detached, when in fact this is rarely the case; although fractal giants might sometimes clash with others in terms of how they prioritise, they are rarely so unequivocally focused or laissez-faire that they refuse to compromise where needed or take action when necessary. More commonly, fractal giants are actively sought out for the unique insights, and they may gain a reputation from their concentrated studies, their ability to see the bigger picture and plan accordingly, or their ability to merge seemingly trivial insights with far grander concepts.

Fractal giants can be found in myriad different environments, from within deep forests to the tops of mountains, and they tend to move in phases of settling and nomadism. Where fractal giant societies do form, they tend to lie close to environments and biomes that display some kind of fractal nature, such as a coastal town that runs the length of a shoreline, or a village at the crossing-point of weaving rivers, with other settlements dotted around their self-similar tributaries. Each fractal giant society is self-governed, determining their own understandings of authority and community based on their individual members’ narrower vocations and skills and the community as a whole’s broad interests, relying on each other to compromise in situations where their narrow and broad values clash. Fractal giants often become wanderers, wayfinders or adventurers, seeking new places from which they can find the fractal pattern manifesting, and may then settle down for a while, only to begin travelling again when the mood strikes them. All giants are remote in their own ways, and for fractal giants, it is their tendency to oscillate between settling in farflung regions only to become itinerant seekers some time later.

Fractal giants’ ability to change size is also reflected in the architecture of where they set down roots, either recently or historically; in fractal giant communities, one might find a cluster of houses that would fit any Medium-sized person, as well as houses built almost identically sitting nearby that would fit a Small person, and beside them, rows of houses that can only accommodate those of Tiny size, which themselves look almost like miniature replicas of the houses around them. This can give fractal giant neighbourhoods a perplexing visual effect to outsiders, but which has a soothing, familiar sentiment for fractal giants. The ruins of eons-old fractal giant castles, fortresses and towers often have an uncanny feeling, in that they use repeated shapes of windows, doors, staircases and other architectural features, but at varied sizes — a distant glance at a fractal giant ruin might show a set of gargantuan windows that, upon closer inspection, seems to have been made by a tessellated pattern of tiny windows of the same shape. Older fractal giant structures tend to have an ornate, grotesque quality to them — their builders clearly eschewed simple or straightforward designs in favour of extravagant spiralling ornamentation at varied scales, visually-confusing mise-en-abyme, and design motifs repeated and tesselated together.

The position of fractal giants in the Ordning is contested: they rarely appear in extant histories of the giants, leading some to conclude that they may have appeared in the world long after their kin, or remained hidden or isolated from other populations of giants. Trying to place them in the Ordning hierarchy in terms of size is, for obvious reasons, a challenge, not least because fractal giants can be tiny or gargantuan, but even those that are roughly the same size as other giants can vary in height, from the smaller stature of hill giants to the colossal form of the storm giants. Pragmatically, their rank in various giant social settings has varied, but because of the social conventions of the Ordning, giants who are being tactful will be careful to tiptoe around the issue of where fractal giants should be positioned in the order for fear of causing offense, either to fractal giants themselves or to giants of other rank. This position of having all positions and none tends to suit fractal giants who are invested in the Ordning just fine: if they are skilled in diplomacy, they may be able to use their variable position in the Ordning as leverage to negotiate, make deals or apply social pressure.

Fractal Giant Names

Fractal giant names fall into two categories: a narrow name, which is used most often both within and outside of fractal giant society, and a broad name, which is almost exclusively used between fractal giants.

A fractal giant’s narrow name tends to be fairly condensed (although usually still highly polysyllabic), with a kind of internal rhyme or repetition that gives the names a lyrical quality when spoken. Other giants will find the names familiar enough that they are recognisably the name of some kind of giant, but the structure or sound of the name will seem off in some way.

The syntax and structure of a narrow name actually functions as a kind of formula or code for what fractal giants call broad names, which are much longer, poetic developments of the narrow name. Most fractal giants will be able, after a few moments, to understand the syntax of a narrow name and be able to develop multiple different broad names from it (sometimes eliding vowels or taking other creative liberties with the sound or structure), each of which sounds passingly familiar to the narrow name, but with the letters and sounds of the name being recombined and interpolated in various configurations, often forming rhythmic sounds as well as phrases and clauses that can be largely understood by anyone fluent in Giant, though any fluent speaker will detect a kind of dialect to the way the words are spoken that make it identifiably strange to them, if they are not aware of fractal giants’ use of language.

Each of these broad names can be considered a viable poetic adaptation of the narrow name, although this kind of poetic recombination can also be used to insult as much as hail: a name such as “Hra’alvalavr” might be spun up into the very complimentary “Va’al h’lar v’ h’ a’alar” (approximately “the one with the sun shining around them”), or the rather more offensive “Hal’a’ vahalar a’ v’ aar” (”possessed by the demon of bad taste”).

Fractal giants use the same writing script as other giants, but when communicating between each other, they also have the option of using a number of conventions to better suit their unique perspective: a complex system of compound diacritics, subscript and superscript allows a fractal giant to embed additional layers of meaning, words and imagery into what to untrained readers appears to be a heavily ornamented way of writing Giant script. This allows fractal giants to write coded messages into writing that even other giants can’t read, condense elaborate poetry into single words, or provide detailed instructions for a complex task in a relatively short message. Some fractal giants have also experimented with introducing these techniques when using scripts other than Giant, though to limited success: two fractal giants who can both read and understand Common may have completely different idiosyncratic methods of encoding meaning through the diacritics, subscript and superscript, and it may take some work for them to properly “decode” the fractal pattern each uses in their writing. This method of writing in scripts other than common tends to be done only where numerous fractal giants agree to adopt the same linguistic conventions.

Calls to Adventure

  • A fractal giant mage contacts the party to ask their aid in exploring the Ammonite Temple, an gargantuan sprawling complex built by fractal giants centuries ago, with endlessly self-similar tunnels, rooms and corridors. But hidden within it is a building that houses a miniature version of the Nested Temple itself, which the party can enter with the help of a size-shifting spell. Hidden somewhere within that Nested Temple is a wonderous treasure that the mage will reward them with — so long as they don’t get lost within the nested — and interconnected — structure of the temple.
  • After a tempestuously stormy night where the thunder seemed to shake the ground itself, the folk living in a village in a valley discover something has engraved a gigantic message into the side of the mountain: anyone fluent in Giant knows that it’s a warning, but there are curious markings all around the word that suggest there might be more to the message — tiny lights and minute sparks can be glimpsed in the minute holes in the cleft rock. A fractal giant might help the team translate the message — or enter it.
  • Somewhere far out in the desert is the Old Man of the Oasis — a gargantuan fractal giant sitting at the edge of the oasis, appearing to be perpetually frozen in place, staring out across the sand towards some point on the shimmering horizon. It’s said that throughout history, the Old Man of the Oasis has intervened to prevent certain cataclysmic events all over the world, and could be asked to do so again by anyone requiring such a miracle — provided they can find a means of getting his attention.