I wasn't planning to get this book, as I've never been terribly interested in the Progenitors, who were originally an entirely unsympathetic Convention of the Technocracy. They built dinosaur people, helped the Iterators create the Terminator-like Hit-Marks, made very short lived replicants for the NWO, and even were rumored to be working on a pill that would kill someone's avatar permanently. Some Progenitors even considered putting it in the Sleepers' water supply, forever preventing the populace from Awakening.
After reading the recently released Convention book: NWO, which radically updated the black clad spooks and leaders of the Technocracy, I knew I couldn't miss out on any of the rest of these books. The premise of these new Technocracy books is that the "Time of Judgement: Ascension" never happened, the Avatar/Dimensional Anomaly has cut the Technocracy off from their leadership and best scientists who were offworld in the Umbra. After ten years, the Union has rebuilt itself and reinvented itself as a force for good - if you believe their propaganda. These books do not diminish the Technocracy as a valid enemy - they still want to hunt down and stop the Traditions in the name of stamping out harmful superstition - but they are no longer monolithic in their evil.
While the NWO book was about refocusing the Technocracy on the things that matter, the Progenitor book is about rectifying the mistakes of the past. The Union is diseased and on the brink of war with itself as well as with the Traditions, and the Progenitors plan to heal it. Each portion of the book is named according to the steps of diagnosis and treatment. My review will follow these chapter headings.
I don't always read White Wolf intro fiction, but when I do, it's always in the Technocracy books. The intro and epilogue fiction isn't just good fiction. It shows how a Progenitor player character can operate. It showcases interactions with dissidents, traditionalists, and a party of Technocrats from the other conventions. The fiction immediately lets the audience know that this book is going to be a great resource for players. Progenitors don't just sit around in their labs making evil concoctions to test on unwitting sleepers; they have passionate beliefs that they ruthlessly apply to everything they do.
Chapter 1: Troubling Diagnosis
Theme: New Heroes and Old Lines - Progenitors are guilty of inaction and that's going to change.
Mood: Treating the Future - Progenitors will heal the technocracy and make the world safe for sleepers.
Chapter 2: Patient History
This chapter goes into the history of the convention from their roots as Cosians to their heyday as biologists with offworld laboratories to their current struggles. There's a surprisingly nuanced discussion of the optimal health care system for sleepers that's worth reading, a new partnership with the Void Engineers, and a new ethical focus for the Convention as a whole.
One thing I was surprised about was how much they despise the Traditions, who they see as superstitious peddlers of harmful snake oil. They grant that the cures sometimes work, but the Traditions don't have a plan for institutional medical care that works even when mages aren't present. I suspect that quite a bit of their intel on the Traditions comes from the crafty NWO spooks, who have skewed the reports specifically to enrage lovers of science based medicine.
For example, the Sons of Ether are probably not responsible for the popularity of homeopathy, but the Etherites have a solid enough reputation as cranks that the charge sticks. There's also a lot of bad blood due to the fact that Dr. Frankenstein, an Etherite, stole his research from an aberrant group of necromantic Progenitors back in the nineteenth century.
For people who are looking for the dark side of the Progenitors, this is a big part of it. Real life scientists oppose homeopathy and faith healing because it doesn't work and causes people to turn away from effective medical care. Progenitors hunt down and murder the faith healers and homeopaths whose powers work. These new ethically focused younger action scientists that are all the rage? They're the ones who want to restart the pogrom against the Traditions. As a Storyteller, I think this adds quite a lot of conflict and tension that I'm going to find useful when setting up either a Technocracy or a Traditions game.
Also of note is the fact that they keep tabs on the weirder things in the World of Darkness, and pay particular attention to Vampires (Homo Sapiens Mortis) and Werewolves (Canis Morphae). This becomes important in Chapter 3.
Chapter 2: Residency
This chapter is about the Methodologies that make up the Convention. No space is given to which Methodology gets which specialty sphere, but this can be houseruled based on Player/Storyteller preference. The focus here is on giving players and storytellers resources to make nearly any kind of badass scientist they want. The big three Methodologies (Fascade, Pharmacopoists, and Gen Engineers) are represented as well as the new quasi-methodology "Applied Sciences". There are also several other minor methodologies listed for agriculture, veterinary science, and a few other narrow fields. This is the chapter that made me really want to play a Progenitor. There are so many options and almost all of them are really fun sounding. There is also plenty of information on how the Convention operates, and what ranks exist.
Chapter 3: Prescriptions
This is the chapter we've all been waiting for - the chapter on sample implants, foci, procedures, enlightened devices, and sentient non-human creations. There are too many to review, but I'll mention a few that stuck out. Some of them highlight the new ethical direction that the convention has taken, and others are more of a reminder of their past.
This chapter also provides a list of plot hooks, famous Progenitor NPCs, and info on mixed and unmixed amalgams (Technocrat cabals).
Body Modifications come in three varieties with different advantages and disadvantages: adaptive prosthetics, biomods, and xenotransplants. The last one on that list is somewhat disturbing. Chapter 2 mentioned an alliance with the Glass Walkers, but one of the available transplants is a werewolf heart, which allows a progenitor to simulate werewolf rage and abilities with the expenditure of Prime energy. Definitely makes you wonder how well this alliance has been going.
Almost all of the procedures are really imaginative and useful, but one is worth further discussion: Manufacture Enlightened Drugs. Remember the avatar-killing pill from the Guide to the Technocracy? Not only is it missing, but there are now drugs that will boost the abilities of one's inner Genius/Avatar. This is not only symbolic of the new direction of the convention; it's really damn cool and in keeping with the style of the Progenitors without being game breaking.
I do have one small criticism/misunderstanding about one or two procedures: I think Adaptive Chemistry Matter 3, Prime 2 should not require Prime since transmuting matter from one form to another is just a matter effect. Prime is used when you are creating matter from nothing or manipulating primal energy. This doesn't matter very much, because the sphere system is not easy to learn and rotes are often less about following the wording of a rule and more about explaining an approach to solving a problem. Maybe, since transmutation is impossible in the Progenitor paradigm, Prime is used to make new atoms from the raw energy.
- End digression.
The section on bioengineered creatures is very good. Some, like the Cephalomorphs (sentient squids and octopuses) and the Cetaceomorphs (sentient dolphins), seem reminiscent of David Brin's classic SF Uplift series. If this isn't cool enough, there are rules on stating these as player characters. The Dracomorphs (modified dinosaurs) and the Sauromorphs (lizard people) were similarly excellent and should prove useful to both players and storytellers.
This is a satisfying ending to the intro fiction, which I won't spoil here.
If it isn't obvious yet, I loved this book and I have been convinced that I need to get the next installments so that I can run a technocracy game.
The art was also good, although the cover art is a reuse of the top half of a cyborg from the Guide to the Technocracy. Here, it's reminiscent of the Promethean atrocities the Progenitors committed in the 19th century.
I wholeheartedly recommend that if you like Mage, you should get this book, get the NWO book, and get the next two in this series when they come out.