Pros: One good book
Cons: One bad book
Rating: 3 out of 5
First posted 5/26/1998
Previously posted on RPGNet
“Technocracy Assembled 1” is a re-release of three out-of-print books for White Wolf’s roleplaying line “Mage: the Ascension”: Technocracy sourcebooks “Progenitors,” “Iteration X,” and “N.W.O.”
The back cover of the book states: “In the Technocrats’ ideal world, order rules, creativity is outlawed and the human soul is dead.” In response, I quote Justin MacDonald (with permission): “The very notion that the Technocracy wants to outlaw creativity is insane. That would be almost instant death for them. As soon as the Technocracy stops innovating the Traditions will simply step around them.” Put more simply: without creativity, where would they get their nifty drugs, guns and gadgets?
I have always taken issue with the view of the Technocracy as a sort of soulless mega-corporation. Mage already has the Nephandi if it wants soulless and evil, and the Marauders if it wants plain scary. Where the Technocracy has the potential to shine is in its fundamentally human heart. It’s easy to fight and kill an evil servant of dark umbrood. It’s much harder to kill a man who thinks he’s doing the right thing for the right reasons, just because you happen to disagree with him. Mage, out of all of White Wolf’s lines, has perhaps the best potential to exploit and explore the gray areas of morality. Making the Technocracy out to be soulless and evil – and taking a good part of 207 pages to do it – is a disservice to Mage players everywhere.
But perhaps with my little rant I’ve now convinced you that all three books spend their allotted pages telling you over and over that the Technocracy is baaaaad, and that isn’t the case. Each book is its own creature – one good, one so-so, and one lousy – and they deserve to be judged on their own merits.
The Progenitors are primarily the doctors of the Technocracy: they’re genetic engineers, drug designers, and biologists of all types.
“Progenitors” is a book with much promise and little follow-through. It is important to realize that the Technocracy are not simply mages who use technology as foci; they have fundamentally different paradigms. Many of them don’t even believe in magick. This is a lesson which the authors of “Progenitors” don’t seem to have learned, unfortunately. Just take a look at the cover, reproduced at the bottom of the “Technocracy Assembled 1” cover: it shows a man disintegrating someone with a wave of his hand. Of course, White Wolf art often doesn’t reflect its writing, you say. Well, look at the section on Progenitor “Devices.” They aren’t Devices at all; they’re D&D “magic items:” the “Helix Ring” stores genetic patterns, causes illness, and heals people. I dare anyone to justify that within a Technocratic paradigm (err, no, that wasn’t a request to flood me with email, really). Next, look at the sample rotes. Yes, they really are listed under “Spells,” and yes, they even come off sounding like spells. There isn’t even the pretense of making them look like technology.
The power levels of the sample characters are too high, unless either your chronicle has been going on for years, or you’re playing with a bunch of people who like to min/max their characters or spend all of their experience on Arete and Spheres. If you aren’t, I’d suggest looking in “N.W.O.” for more reasonable levels.
White Wolf hired a couple of geneticists to work on “Progenitors.” I applaud the concept, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The place where it seems to have worked the best is in the history sections; unfortunately, their big spiffy plots aren’t nearly so inspired. Most of them, in fact, are fairly pathetic. The Progenitors are cloning the most beautiful women in history so they can make women buy cosmetics and spend money and time on weight loss programs? Give me a break. I’d suggest picking up any magazine that reports on technological developments (“New Scientist” comes to mind, or “The Technology Review”), running through a few medical-related news groups or web sites, or even picking up a couple of text books to come up with better plots.
For that matter, I’m amazed that the issue of neurobiology is never really addressed except in the unsatisfactory forum of the Pharmacopeists (the drug designers). If the Technocracy really does want to control everyone, then the brain seems like a pretty good place to start.
One fun group in this book is the FACADE engineers, the folk who clone people and replace them. They may not be particularly original, but they’re certainly fun, and the book would have felt incomplete without them.
Iteration X are the cyborgs of the Technocracy. They’re the ones who have computers implanted in their heads, and they often work enforcement.
I’ll give you a warning up front: I have never liked the view of Iteration X as a group of everyone-the-same, bar-coded, head-shaved, no-emotion-or-creativity robot-like people. I think even the Computer X would realize that human creativity is a valuable thing and that it could be used to Iteration X’s advantage (and how are they inventing new biomechanisms without it?). My solution is to say that one faction of Iteration X is like that, but by no means all of them.
Iteration X recruits have a “secondary computer brain” implanted within their skulls. In order to make room for the computer, the parts of the brain that deal with emotional control, expression, long-term plans and complex moral judgments are removed. Now, having taken a few neurobiology courses, I can tell you that it is far from that simple. Of course, when has White Wolf ever allowed real-world limitations to get in the way of a plot? I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad way to do things – fiction authors everywhere fudge the details to make for a good story, after all, and sometimes to good effect. But in this case I think a few good plots could have been had out of making the details a little closer to reality.
Oh, and by the way: if you look at the characters in the sample Construct (the Technocracy’s answer to a Chantry, more or less), you’ll notice that the “roleplaying hints” include the usual emotional expression cues. Apparently when the author got to this part, he conveniently forgot that he’d removed the emotionally relevant parts of his subjects’ brains.
Iteration X Devices are much more reasonable than Progenitor Devices. They have a few odd little things around the edges that made me wince, but at least they look like technology. Some of the suggested foci are a little ridiculous (using a timecard for Time effects?), but most of them are good (tasers, diagnostic scanners, biomechanical probes). The magickal effects again have a few problems, but are far better than those in “Progenitors.” The power level of the sample characters, again, is high.
The N.W.O. are beautifully devious and insidious. They have no computers living in their heads, nor the ability to alter their enemies’ genetic code, and yet they’re far more frightening than the Progenitors or Iteration X. They’re the ones who watch everyone else; they’re the loyalty-checkers, the interrogators, the spies, the teachers and the politicians. This was the section that I was least interested in when I picked up this collection, but it wowed me the most.
The characters used in “N.W.O.” to pass the story on to the reader are more interesting than those in the previous two books, as is the situation they’re in. The concept of a “construct,” a genetically engineered agent, trying to understand what life is like outside of the N.W.O. is wonderful.
“N.W.O.” beautifully communicates the Technocracy viewpoint on magick: “Magick is more than a crime – it is an obscenity.” “Such tasks are similar to rituals or spells used by Traditionalists; however, there is no supernatural component to a procedure.” A Tradition mage might disagree, but the point is that the Technocrats believe that what they are doing is natural. Even when they’re being vulgar it isn’t breaking reality – it’s “pushing the envelope,” or being ahead of one’s time.
The N.W.O. isn’t monolithic and monochromatic, as much as it likes to make others think it is. It’s far more devious than that. As for the actual “Men in Black,” they can be “mindless, soulless constructs,” but they don’t have to be. There’s room for the storyteller to maneuver without having to entirely throw out what she finds in the book.
Most of the effects and rotes in “N.W.O.” are much more reasonable (much more technological) than those in “Iteration X” and especially “Progenitors.” The Devices are also reasonable: vid-cams, light meters, shotgun mikes, fun little things like ejector seats in cars, and subliminal broadcasters.
I wouldn’t suggest reading either “Progenitors” or “Iteration X” unless you’re interested in using those aspects of the Technocracy in your games; they’re mildly interesting reading but certainly not riveting. As for their usefulness – they’re helpful, but they need some work. Don’t expect that you’re going to find everything you need here, pre-packaged and ready to go, unless you want a very uninteresting Technocracy in your game. You won’t be able to just read the book and jump into things; you’re going to want to iron out the wrinkles, plug the holes, and search out some more interesting plots first. “N.W.O.” is both more interesting and more useful than the other two books, but $20 is a lot to pay for those particular 71 pages. Overall, I believe that the book is worth buying if you want to play around with the Technocracy. If nothing else, “Progenitors” may inspire you to go out, do your own research, and come up with something better.