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[Let's Read] Mage: The Ascension Sourcebooks

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  • [Let's Read] Mage: The Ascension Sourcebooks

    In this thread, I intend to read through the Mage: The Ascension books available to me right now in chronological order of release to see how the line has progressed over time and share my thoughts. I don't have many books right now so this will necessarily be incomplete at first. I’ll note where material has changed over the course of the metaplot or been retconned. Let’s begin!

    Technocracy: Progenitors (1993)

    Part One

    This is the first of the Technocracy line, a sort of precursor to the Convention Books. One thing you instantly note in these books is that Technocrats talk quite candidly about “Avatars”, “magick” and “mages”. No mention of Enlightened Science, Genius, Reality Deviants, etc., all the good Technocratic jargon we’ve come to know. The idea that the Technocracy has a separate paradigm from the Traditions doesn’t exist yet – they’re simply the antagonist faction who lie about the existence of magic.

    We start with the journal of a college student, Andrew Greene, studying under Dr. Charles Reid, who will later on in the metaplot be sanctioned and killed by Ethical Compliance for very good reasons. These Progenitors though … “ethics” isn’t even a word in their vocabulary!

    So he gets recruited by Dr. Reid and goes to Richmond college, where he meets two other people - Mary Beth, a young and beautiful blonde woman, and Rob, who is basically a nerd. Reid talks about the Progenitors’ early history up to Dr. Frankenstein, who was an Etherite – well, actually he was an Electrodyne Engineer because the Etherites hadn’t split from the Union yet … anyway Frankenstein makes his monster, his monster kills him.

    Anyway, in Reid’s next lecture we learn that he’s a literal Nazi who thinks the Holocaust was a “roaring success”. He then claims that the Methodologies of the Progenitors date back to Nazi Germany despite namedropping the Pharmacopeists earlier on while talking about Ancient Greece. Did this book even have an editor? He then blames Lysenkoism on vampires (which it might have well been, this is the WoD after all).

    Oddly, after hearing his professor literally describing Nazi Germany as a wonderful place, Andrew does not get the Hell away like any sensible college student would.

    Reid then describes the discovery of DNA and claims the Progenitors only abandoned herbalism in favour of modern drugs … in the 1950s. I thought Technocrats were supposed to drip-feed their innovations to the Sleepers, not lag behind them. Andrew then writes some generic mad scientist stuff in his journal about becoming gods. There’s a summary of the Progenitors’ leadership structure which terminates in the mysterious Administration … who will eventually end up becoming part of Threat Null.

    We then meet some Pharmacopeists, who are basically drug dealers. Mary Beth tells Rob he’s invited to work with Reid and they strike up a romantic relationship. Andrew is pissed at this because Rob is a nerd and Mary Beth dumped him. After this bit of teen drama, we learn about the FACADE Engineers!

    So the FACADE Engineers created mythical creatures in ancient times, which die quickly in the modern day because of Paradox. They are also responsible for cloning ageing Technocrats and transferring their minds (which seems to include the Avatar) into these bodies … but there’s a catch, you’ll see. They also kidnap Sleepers and clone them to spy on the Traditions. Andrew fantasises about becoming immortal and fusing Mary Beth with a donkey, then speculates that the Progenitors really run everything with clones of world leaders.

    And now, the Genegineers. The youngest Methodology, dating back from 1900 ( again contradicting Reid). They do genetic engineering stuff. Andrew once again gets his mad scientist on with puerile teen revenge fantasies against his former girlfriend and Rob.

    Anyway, we are then introduced to the final Methodology, the Pharmacopeists. They use drugs to control society, both legal and illegal. And now, we hit the most infamous part of this book.

    The Pharmacopeists are using various chemicals in soft drinks, coffee, pesticides et al to (DUN DUN DUN) destroy Sleepers’ Avatars en masse!

    Let’s just look at this plan and why it’s nonsensical.

    First off, Avatar-killing chemicals are not a thing in Mage. To destroy an Avatar is a highly-Vulgar Spirit 5 effect, requiring a major ritual, and any magic that affects Avatars has to use Spirit/DimSci. This scheme is probably based on Pentex and it’s whole Banes in eveeerything schtick - a clear influence from Werewolf and its themes, which quite frankly don't really belong in Mage.

    Second, where do the Technocrats plan to recruit once they’ve Gilgulled everyone?

    Thirdly, the Technocracy have the advantage largely because the Masses accept their Paradigm. If all the Sleepers are gilgulled, guess what? They no longer affect the Consensus and the Technocrats lose their advantage. This grand evil master plan is actively counter-productive to the Technocracy’s goals. And remember, this is 1e so the Technocrats know all this and do it anyway.

    Thankfully, there isn’t a reference to vaccines or autism.

    At any rate, this whole stupid thing was retconned in Guide to the Technocracy as a Chorister conspiracy theory, and was then never mentioned again, not even in Progenitors Revised as an example of how bad the old Convention was or a pet project of a few rogues. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    Andrew then goes on about how the Progenitors control Big Pharma and the medical community. We then learn that they manipulate beauty standards by cloning famous women (including Helen of Troy, bizarrely enough) and use it to get money by selling plastic surgery, cosmetics, and diets. Actually a rather sensible scheme compared to the previous one. Rob contradicts Reid in class, which leads Reid to kill him and replace him with a clone. The second reason Reid got sanctioned and killed by his own Convention … murdering his own students.

    Progenitors make Elvis clones for fun, heh. Andrew realises that if he tries to leave the Progenitors Reid will clone and kill him.

    Anyway, Progenitor relationships with other Conventions.

    They work together with Iteration X to build HIT-Marks, but install secret killswitches to prevent ItX from using them against them. They provide the NWO with clones and drugs.

    They work together with the Syndicate to drug the population, but have a contingency plan to sabotage the Syndicate’s products by tainting them with toxic chemicals. This will never be mentioned again.

    They don’t do much with the Void Engineers.

    Also, the Progenitors secretly control the entire Technocracy. You know all those Technocrats who are immortal via cloning? Those clones have secret Progenitor killswitches installed, so the Progenitors can decapitate every other Convention at a stroke should they feel the need. Project Pulse, eat your heart out! This will also never be mentioned again.

    Anyway, the Traditions!

    The Progenitors dislike the Akashics, because the Akashics advocate for alternative medicine. This is pretty much the same as in Revised, but in Revised it’s because the Progenitors view the Akashics’ methods as barbaric and torturous. In this book it’s just because they’re competition.

    Choristers … same old stuff about the mass Gilgul plan, which was retconned into being a conspiracy theory held by the Chorus. I’ve already gone over into why it’s so stupid already, I won’t do it a second time.

    The Progenitors actually like the Cult of Ecstasy because they both deal drugs. But the Cult of Ecstasy cause the youth to rebel and control MTV, so they also kinda hate them.

    They don’t particularly care about the Dreamspeakers but see them as targets of opportunity. Dreamspeakers are also credited with the Gaia hypothesis … ironically in M20 this will be assigned to the Progenitors. Heh.

    Mary Beth writes a negative description of the Euthanatos as serial killers but knows it’s all lies because in 1e the Technocracy don’t have a paradigm of their own but are knowing liars.

    Order of Hermes are seen as primitive and unable to make the full leap to science. There’s a mention that the Hippocratic Circle used to be part of the OoH, but this will never be mentioned again and was probably retconned.

    Progenitors hate the SoO just as much as they hate the Chorus.

    Amusingly, the description of Verbena in Progenitors Revised is pretty much the exact same as in this book.

    Dr. Reid hates the Virtual Adepts, Progenitors are working with ItX to create a nanotech virus to kill them when they link to the Digital Web. This is mentioned in Revised as backfiring somewhat.

    Now, onto other supernaturals.

    Progenitors are researching vampires, believe that “mage” blood (again, in 1e Technocrats didn’t have their own paradigm) could cause strange effects.

    Progenitors are researching werewolves with the help of DNA from Werewolf.

    Mummies are a rumour, and are apparently linked to Atlantis. This was all retconned.

    Progenitors consider fae to be only slightly less dangerous than Marauders. Ironically in Changeling Changelings can literally be injured or killed by going too close to a Technocrat.

    Progenitors know about ghosts and do their own ghosthunting thing.

    The Progenitors hate Marauders and kill them whenever possible – they even temporarily team up with the Traditions to do so.

    The Progenitors hate the Nephandi (but then everybody does, even the Nephandi). Talk of “Demon Hordes” where later books would put “hostile EDEs” along with “magical essences” and “Avatars” - again, in 1e Technocrats didn’t have a paradigm of their own, they were just liars. The Nephandi are mentioned as a justification for the mass Gilgul plan.

    Stay tuned for part 2!
    Last edited by Czernobog; 11-06-2018, 05:24 AM.

  • #2
    Technocracy: Progenitors

    Part 2

    This is the crunch section of the book.

    The text starts off by mentioning that Technocratic magick is tied to their “conception of reality” i.e. their paradigm. But the lore section spent all its time eagerly demonstrating that in 1e the Technocracy doesn’t have a paradigm, with all the blatant talk about “magic essences”, “demon hordes”, and “mages”. It wouldn’t be the first time this book contradicted itself. It gives a list of some common foci/instruments/apparati used by Progenitors, which is nice and then a variant Life sphere used by the Proge- actually it’s just the bog-standard Life sphere repeated and rewritten for some reason. And then we get some rotes, or as they will be called later, Procedures, used by the various Methodologies.

    FACADE Engineers do some crazy stuff with transplanting human brains into dogs (which oddly enough is a pure Life effect rather than Life/Mind) and cloning. Then we get some Mind rotes which culminate at moving a human mind into a clone body. It doesn’t say it, but apparently this transfers the Avatar as well. Also, the text implies that Progenitors can only do this to themselves.

    Pharmacopeists get some neat Life tricks and other rotes, one of which can inflict people with genetic diseases. All of them are incredibly powerful and quite nasty to the victim, with Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome possibly being the worst. Sadly there is no “brew Gilgul concoction” rote. It then goes on to describe another form of immortality, this time being NANOMACHINES, SON!. Then we get a rote that steals Quintessence from people in comas or intensive care, because the writers want to remind you again that the Progenitors are mustache-twirling villains.

    We then get some drugs, which include “mage drugs” (because the Technocracy has no paradigm again), steroids, another reminder of the mass gilgul plan, and birth control drugs. Apparently because the Progenitors don’t keep any records, no one knows who invented them. Then again, they were apparently well behind Sleeper science up to the 1950s. We get told that “it is believed” (by who?) that the Progenitors use them to prevent Kinfolk, kinain and “demonic offspring” from being born. It also refers to kinfolk and kinain as nonhumans – this was apparently before the “werewolf gene” had been retconned out.

    Then we get some Progenitor items, which are mostly neat (ignoring the one that yet again steals Quintessence from medical patients), except for one.

    A “scalpel of a very old design” that is literally a magic scalpel. No hypertech involved or scientific justification even hinted at. It uses Correspondence 3 to cut off body parts while still maintaining blood flow and sensation. It’s even given a fantasy-esque name, the “Scalpel of Correspondence”.

    This is what I mean when I talk about the 1e Technocracy having no paradigm. They talk about demonic hordes, not extra-dimensional entities. Avatars, not Genii. Magick, not Enlightened Science or Reality Deviance. Mages, not Enlightened Scientists or Reality Deviants. Spirit, not Dimensional Science.

    Their worldview is literally the same as the Traditions’, they’re just mustache-twirling evil liars whose evil schemes, in this particular case, literally make no logical sense.

    We get some rough guidelines for making Progenitor NPCs and some creatures produced by them. They’re the sort of thing that bored college students with access to Enlightened Science actually would make, so props for realism, but otherwise they’re pretty useless. A cat with a frog tongue, a chihuahua with bat wings, and a dog buffed up by steroids.

    We then get some monsters made by the Progenitors and used by Damage Control, and they’re just nasty creatures to fight. Revised actually does something interesting with them, making them uplifted beings that are even playable and can be given Enlightenment through certain rare Procedures. So you can play a dolphin or squid character if you really want. Neat. Technocracy: Progenitors just provides various monsters for Tradition PCs to fight.

    We then get some NPCs as part of a sample Construct. First up is Nazi sympathiser and serial student-murderer, Charles Reid. We learn that he controls the entire tobacco industry and DNA from Werewolf. He’s also hundreds of years old, which really begs the question of why he supports an ideology centuries younger than him and feels attachment to a regime which lasted just twelve years. And why he doesn’t spend all his time cooped up in a Horizon realm to avoid the massive Permadox he’s surely accrued. No stats are given for him.

    He hates the Traditions, especially the Virtual Adepts, for some weird reason that is never even hinted at.

    We then have a sample Progenitor amalgam.

    First up, Yurikazi Ishida, who is essentially a bureaucrat – a somewhat bland character with a whiff of stereotype, but at least not a budding megalomaniac or raving Nazi. Sara Burns, a streetwise black woman who seems somewhat stereotypical to me. Then Linda Smith-Nevans, a somewhat stereotypical upper-class Englishwoman who is friends with Charles Reid.

    Then Chain, another stereotypical gangster and drug dealer who changes his skin colour to deal with various ethnic gangs. We then meet Stephen Thundran, who is terrified of his Avatar and sees it as a tormentor, which led him to join the Technocrats. He’s unknowingly dating a Verbena, but his RD is planning to clone and kill her.

    Gina Milano, a character kept immortal but in constant pain, presumably as a result of Paradox from the nanotech immortality Procedure that was tested on her. Lest you be tempted to sympathise with her, we’re told that she’s a sadist who kidnaps men and sexually tortures them.

    Then a Progenitor Horizon realm, guarded by a serpentine monster, called “Fred”. As if he wasn’t evil enough, Reid feeds underperforming students to the monster. It’s a wonder no-one took him out before the Avatar Storm at this rate.

    We get a neat little map of the Realm and some suggested reading.

    Summary

    Technocracy: Progenitors is a terrible book. The lore section tries to draw us in by making us feel sympathy for Andrew’s predicament, but this is killed by the knowledge that he’s not really that perturbed by the fact that his professor is a Nazi sympathiser – and at any rate, he’s a budding megalomaniac filled with lurid mad science revenge fantasies toward a girl who dumped him. The Progenitors are a bunch of conspiracy thriller and sci-fi horror cliches, whose ultimate evil plan literally works against their desired goals and those of the wider Technocracy.

    The Progenitors are unplayable as PCs and uninteresting as antagonists. Charles Reid has just so many “evil” signifiers attached to him even when they make no sense – Nazism, killing his own students for petty reasons, etc. that he becomes unbelievable. The other characters are stereotypical, but not as absurd as Mr. Reid.

    The crunch is decent enough, except for some disastrous anomalies like the aforementioned “Scalpel of Correspondence”.

    The book is also dragged down by rampant self-contradiction in whether Technocrats have a paradigm, as well as other wild contradictions that indicate it really should have gotten a good editor.

    I would immediately jump to the book produced straight after this one, but sadly I don’t have it so it will have to wait. Stay tuned for Technocracy: Iteration X, which makes you realise why Convention Book: Iteration X was so saccharine the moment you finish reading it.

    Comment


    • #3
      I like the parts about the Progenitors having direct and indirect impact on mundane humans. It brought forward the idea and the concept that not only members of the New World Order, but Technocrats of all the Conventions have the goal and the capability of having substantial influence over groups and organizations of mundane humans.

      I like the idea of a class of Technocratic Students being put together for tutelage straight after they were initiated and recruited into the Technocracy.

      I think that the nonsensically villainous parts shouldn't have been in this Convention book.
      Last edited by Muad'Dib; 11-07-2018, 06:40 AM.

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      • #4
        I also like it in the first CB: Progenitors how they defined the ranks of Progenitors : Student, Research Associates, Recruiters, Primary Investigators, and Research Directors. It emphasized the focus on advancing the Enlightened Science of the Progenitors. It also made it clear that the Progenitors are organized as a highly structured institution, that also can operate within the organizations and groups of mundane humans when it is needed or convenient.

        Originally posted by Czernobog View Post
        (...) This is what I mean when I talk about the 1e Technocracy having no paradigm. (...)
        From the ranks of the Progenitors and from the description of the Life Sphere that the Progenitors use ( I consider it to be more than just different names. ) , I do get a distinct idea and impression that the Progenitors, as presented in this book, do have a distinct Paradigm from the Mystics. I think that the description of the Life Effects, with names different from what is written in the M:tA Core Books, is supposed to be an indication of this.
        Last edited by Muad'Dib; 11-10-2018, 02:19 PM.

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        • #5
          I like the parts about the Progenitors having direct and indirect impact on mundane humans. It brought forward the idea and the concept that not only members of the New World Order, but Technocrats of all the Conventions have the goal and the capability of having substantial influence over groups and organizations of mundane humans.
          Yeah. All the Conventions should be trying to propagandise/advertise themselves, not just the Syndicate and the NWO.

          I like the idea of a class of Technocratic Students being put together for tutelage straight after they were initiated and recruited into the Technocracy.
          Yeah, though the attempt to milk it for horror really fell flat as the POV character was such an asshole, to put it mildly. By the time he was all "I can never leave!" I had already lost all interest in whatever happened to him,

          I think that the nonsensically villainous parts shouldn't have been in this Convention book.
          Yep. Technocracy: Iteration X is more thematically coherent (being a mashup of the Borg, Skynet, and various sci-fi dystopias) but it also has some rather silly bits, though nothing as nonsensical as the Progenitors' master plan.
          I also like it in the first CB: Progenitors how they defined the ranks of Progenitors : Student, Research Associates, Primary Investigators, and Research Directors. It emphasized the focus on advancing the Enlightened Science of the Progenitors. It also made it clear that the Progenitors are organized as a highly structured institution, that also can operate within the organizations and groups of mundane humans when it is needed or convenient.
          Yeah, they feel a lot like academics - very unlike CB: Progenitors, which played up "action scientists".


          From the ranks of the Progenitors and from the description of the Life Sphere that the Progenitors use ( I consider it to be more than just different names. ) , I do get a distinct idea and impression that the Progenitors, as presented in this book, do have a distinct Paradigm from the Mystics. I think that the description of the Life Effects, with names different from what is written in the M:tA Core Books, is supposed to be an indication of this.
          Yeah, but when I see in-character text talking about "magic essences" and "demon hordes" it just kinda weirds me out. Then again I am used to the jargon introduced in GTTech, which is actually first seen in Technocracy: NWO (along with the introduction of Social Conditioning).


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          • #6
            What will be your next book project?


            What doesn't kill you, makes you... stranger.

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