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