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Technocracy Assembled 1
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/14/2019 16:58:50

The parts of this book were reviewed by Mage the Podcast in segments: Progenitors, Iteration X, NWO

Progenitors

Progenitors is the first of the convention books released by White Wolf. The book attempts to outline how a convention in the Technocracy functions, its methods of recruitment, how it relates to other Conventions, and some of the tools they use in implementing those goals. While the book has many rough edges in the same way as many of the first edition books do, it’s packed full of useful information regarding how a Construct could be built, how to build a Technocratic amalgam, and other useful background information that could be used as starting points for Storyteller Characters.

The first section outlines a student’s indoctrination into the Convention and his experiences with the Progenitors. This section reviews history and the idea that Progenitors have always existed in the form of tribal medicine folk forward to dissectionists and into the modern world. The reader is also introduced to some of the methods of covert replacement when a student disappears and is replaced with a better version. After that, there are long sections outlining the Methodologies (subgroups), rotes (spells), and tools used by the Progenitors.

Iteration X

Iteration X was never intended to be a guide on how to run Technocrats, but this book takes a step beyond Progenitors in providing motivation, more backstory, and more meat for how to introduce the clockwork convention.

The book opens with the story of William Smith experiencing his Assay (the process Ciphers go through to become Armatures) during his assault on Greylock Chantry. There are a few times when Greylock Chantry pops up and I think this to be the first. An electrical short causes the DEI in his brain to short out and temporarily go offline and in that moment of cognitive freedom, he does a thought dump on what he’s learned about the Convention and the Awakened world. As with many first edition texts, there are a fair number of ideas introduced and never seen again such as referring to mundane discoveries as “minor sciences” compared to their Enlightened counterparts and vague references to things out in the world (missing HIT Marks, non-communicative Chantries).

The book then runs through the history of the group, tracing its roots back to ancient Greece and China and explain how it’s changed with the times. The organization, its stereotypes, its membership, and a sample chantry along with talismans and rotes (not yet Devices and Procedures) are presented as well as the tantalizing bits that really make the book work. In Mage continuity, Control did not yet exist as a concept and references are merely made to “Central Command” and such but it’s made clear the head of Iteration X is the Computer. Iteration X gains its name from a self-improving algorithm that achieved sentience at a certain point or so the Convention thinks. In actuality, the Computer is really playing host to an entity that desires materialization and is the spirit of tool usage. The Computer has banned access to the Spirit sphere, a ban that would persist until the Dimensional Anomaly.

Once all the pieces are in place, the book comes together as a reflection of the questions Iteration X allows us to ask: Is the machine improving the person or is the person improving the machine? What would it be like to have that voice in your head both monitoring everything you think but also knowing you are never alone, that you’re connected to a greater whole, that your actions have meaning, and that you need never encounter doubt? What is the difference between the Virtual Adepts desire to provide an extension to human tools vs Iteration X’s desire to extend the human? Will technology create a set of heavens or a set of hells?

The other recurring theme is the idea that problems often have two solutions: one that is graceless and effective and another that is harder but more satisfying. For instance, the book says the goal of Iteration X is to make life less painful. There are two ways of doing this; reducing harm or making it so people can’t feel. The book also discusses decision paralysis and shows that you can deal with this by providing decision-making tools or eliminating freedom.

Again, the book was written before the Technocratic Union was considered playable by PCs and this book does its level best to remind you why they are the bad guys. But in the spaces between from which you can see where the group is going to go. This book also gives gadgets and robotic baddies that can prove terribly useful. An easy buy as part of Technocracy Assembled.

NWO

Until the New World Order book, the notion of the Ascension War as a war is largely figurative. Factions attempt to muster the resources they can in terms of nodes and allies and deploy them to take over mind-share of the sleepers. Combat occurs but that’s not necessarily the crux of the conflict. New World Order takes the Ascension War from a figure of speech representing metaphysical contest to an all out battle for reality. All out war means that more extreme measures are reasonable as well as a state of total war meaning that there are no true bystanders. The NWO consider every venue to be a possible front and both bullets and newspapers are equally potent weapons.

This reframing gives real stakes to the Technocracy side. The NWO is pursuing Safety and Security (both capitalized in this book) and simply don’t have the resources to make it a fair fight against the vampires, werewolves, changelings, and other reality deviants ruining everything. The NWO wields media to their whim and one of the central conceits of the book, which I feel now is broken, is that mass media is generally believed. The NWO’s ability to operate freely is dependent on their ability to propagate and control media narratives and rise of cable news and media bubbles hinders this. I’m curious how this will be dealt with in Technocracy Reloaded. Sometimes the disdain for their tools seeps through as the NWO comes out swinging against TV and its purportedly deleterious effects on The Masses. Again, I’m unsure how the NWO will treat the rise of boardgame night, MMORPGs, mobile gaming, social media and other such not-quite-so-massive one to many forms of communication and entertainment.

The NWO also recognizes the malleability of belief in a way the other groups don’t. They appear to know full well about how belief shapes reality and leverage this to subtly make an area hostile to competing beliefs. Even internally, the NWO doesn’t have a consistent history with two scholars arguing over whether the secret societies of the previous millennium shaped the state or whether the state under Queen Victoria shaped the secret societies. But are fascinating options and the Orwellian “he who controls the present controls the past” aspect being on the table as a story option provides story options for an ST with a more conspiratorial or academic focus.

This is the first Technocracy book that doesn’t have a unique way of gathering quintessence a la Progenitors extracting life essence and Iteration X harnessing soul-crushing tedium. In fact, they mention that the need to relocate quickly means few NWO Constructs have nodes. In M20 we’d eventually get the harnessing of quintessence from emotion via a wellspring and its scary to think how much tass could come out of people yelling at their TVs.

Finally, the book gives a large number of Q division style toys and items, finally fleshing out the idea of Requisitions for Technocrats and their ability to generally use pooled resources and punch above their level.

On the downside, the frame narrative of the book is somewhat weak. The changing of the ratkin attack into something else was hard to follow and I’m not sure to what end except to maybe make their actions more sinister. The call-backs to other books are simply confusing while attempting to create an integrated world even if we do get a throw away comment on Esperano.

This is the best Convention book so far and makes me feel like the setting is really congealing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Technocracy Assembled 1
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A Phoenix Rising
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2019 10:06:32

This book is a valiant attempt at advancing the metaplot post M20 in ways that provide interesting avenues for play. The book posits that after some down time, the Traditions are attempting to reform some sort of at least semi-centralized entity to coordinate activities and disseminate information. The book posits a few ways this could be done and a cast of characters that could make it possible. It's $6.00, includes art, and is a good length all things considered.

Notable:

  • A novel Technocrat theory is advanced that the Traditions are necessary as a kind of escape valve for loonies lest they turn into more troublesome elements such as the Nephandi or the Marauders
  • Not only do you get characters you also get organizations which can sometimes prove difficult to invent.
  • There's simply a fat character. Mage seemingly has none of those.

I wish:

  • I wish there were proper modules/adventures/scenes. This is more of a future-facing desire as I don't expect something this brief to have full write-ups.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Phoenix Rising
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M20 Gods & Monsters
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/13/2019 17:27:09

Gods and Monsters fills a number of gaps left in the line up for M20 like Companions, Familiars, spirit-forms, god-heads, and a fair number of Bygones. There are still considerable holes not yet filled but Technocracy Reloaded and Book of the Fallen but a book they have to come out in some

Good parts:

  • Every creature is illustrated
  • The rules for roll-your-own entities are remarkably thorough and cover "sentient cell phone" through "embodiment of an island in the form of a dragon". Which says something.
  • The crossover rules are exceptional and do a remarkably good job of allowing a storyteller to introduce other lines very quickly without buying a 600 page X20 book.
  • Entities are introduced along either a theme or in a family. The section on Yaruba through Afro-Caribbean through Louisianna voodoo is reasonably fleshed out and doesn't have just one example for a given idea.
  • Stats for "normies" are given such as for kids and the old. Sometimes it's useful to know how many health levels a teenager has and such.
  • Areas undercovered by other urban fantasy games are well covered. Characters break most forms of normativity in relationship types, identities, and such.
  • Some of the points of view are very angry and the points of that rage are easy for for an ST to incorporate.
  • Soe vague prior systems are really tightened up or explained. God-forms were often presented as being whatever a viewer's culture expected, but this can get super messy when items don't quite line up.

Bad parts:

  • The art just doesn't pop like other books. None of the illustrations besides the cover and some of the chapter openers are on par with the quality and imagination in other books. They feel like rough drafts. This may be due to budget and I get that but the bar is high and I don't think that bar is met.
  • The points of view are confusing. Mage usually has say three voices. The "systems" voice which explains systems and maybe behind the scenes stuff, the "book author" voice which explains the setting in a somewhat clinical or impersonal way, and "character" voices which bring the emotion to the party. And those parts blur like when describing djinn. In Lost Traditions, djinni are described as cruel and lazy where in this book humans are blamed for everything. Likewise, the hatred of outsiders for some of the Pac Rim entities is either racism or xenophobia in a modern gaming context. If the justification is "colonialism", sure, but I feel that opens the door to a lot of things, again, which is fine, but it felt messy in many points.
  • Some of the descriptions simply went on too long. One avatar type got an entire page where others were a 1/3rd of a page and just if not moreso interesting.
  • No advice is given to the storyteller as to how to run stories with cultures outside their own. There's some explanation in the core rule book but I really think it'd make sense to re-iterate it here.
  • There are errors and some holes. Some things are simply not explained like the Size, Rage, and Gnosis traits. There are some typographic errors. It's a lot of stuff and almost impossible to get right. It's sad that revisions would be so hard so thanks White Wolf.

Overall: Get it. It's $15 and it's 225 pages of rules, entities, and art. That's less than ten cents a page and that's at full price. If somehow that's not good enough, wait for it to go on sale. It's way better than what you could get for $15 on the ST Vault or a used book store.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
M20 Gods & Monsters
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Book of Shadows: the Mage Players Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Terry R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/28/2018 13:48:53

The Book of Shadows is the players guide for Mage 1st edition and beyond. The book is broken down into some major sections and I'll look at them in turn: Part 1 - Secondary abilities and merits/flaws. This section seemed great at the time but I feel it's hard to justify in modern play. M20 took the stance that secondary abilities are more or less specialties which should be cheaper to acquire and mostly a flavor aspect which should rarely come up. In the Book of Shadows, there's some ambiguity as it's hard to say "no, I don't want additional dots in dexterity or alertness but would rather put dots into quick draw". The logical response is "well, that's min maxing and you shouldn't do that in Mage". If a group weren't aware of these abilities and the scenario came up, the group would substitute another ability in and the game would proceed. Strangely, adding these secondary abilities makes the characters less powerful as there are more domains to spread ones dots over. Eh.

Merits and flaws were introduced in Vampire to kind of help tell characters apart but Mage has paradigm in addition to splat/faction plus ones mortal life so there's less of a need to have merits and flaws to tell one Chorister from another. Two Brujah may be anarchists, but two Choristers even both be Christian and have a world of difference due to denomination and such. Again, many of these merits kind of pay for themselves promoting abuse. Quick learner pays for itself in three stories, and sphere adept counter-intuitively encourages a player to pick few dots in their adept sphere so they can save on them in play. Some of the merit and flaws also don't work super well with Mage as a concept. Blind and Deaf feel they're easily overcome with one dot sphere effects. Again, a lot of opportunities for min maxing. While I recognize that's discouraged, it's possible for the system to help avoid this problem by making it harder.

One thing to think about, though, is the use of merits and flaws to flesh out NPCs. Things like Truth Faith are largely flavor for a player but could be vital for an NPC.

Part 2 - Outlines short fiction pieces focusing on each Tradition and faction outside the Traditions. These are largely fine. Each is three pages and includes an illustration which is also largely fine. These pieces tend to hew to stereotype so don't really add much depth here.

Part 3 - The Ahl-i-Batini. This section is fascinating and provides an interesting peek into a group where mortal complications led to difficulties in a Tradition. The one annoying fact is that it makes mention to the Night of Fana occurring in the 500s BCE and involving dervishes. Dervishes are a branch of Sufi Islam which would come about for 11 centuries. Eh, the 90s. The Ahl-i-Batini are a secretive sect and their methods are outlines beautifully.

Part 4 - This section outlines some systems and, while at the time was useful, there's little here that moves forward into later editions. In M20 almost everything is integrated into the core book and this is only necessary if you're playing something prior to about Revised which generally updated the rules. The details on the umbra are shallow and unnecessary if you have access to later books.

Detailed rules are then offered for familiars, Do, and Certamen. These are kind of niche cases but neat but Do comes across as overpowered.

This section is then rounded out by a discussion of rotes and talismans. These are useful and the sphere usage largely holds up to future scrutiny. Again, most of these are folded into M20 and are largely moved into that world whole cloth.

Part 5 - Parables. These are lovely little pieces of allegory about the mage's path to ascension. They're quite cute although not directly usable. I have used these in a game as a direct player reading and for that, it's pleasing.

Later in this section are short fiction pieces focused on the various aspects of the game like paradox, quintessence and tass, and the avatar. These are hit or miss. The paradox one is quite neat, but the others are meh.

Part 6 - Essays by various contributors. These add very little and I don't feel the monomyth holds up.

Overall, I have trouble recommending this to anyone who plans to use M20s copious rule set. Prior, it's kind of a necessity unless you want to roll your own for those.

Additionally, the PDF version is terrible quality and many of the sections with dark backgrounds are unreadable.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Shadows: the Mage Players Guide
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