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Convention Book: Syndicate $11.99 $8.99
Average Rating:4.7 / 5
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Convention Book: Syndicate
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Convention Book: Syndicate
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Michael A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 18:26:04

Convention Book: Syndicate, the latest in the long-awaited revised line of Convention Books, is an uneven book but one which ultimately won me over. I'm a long-time fan of the Technocracy in general and the Syndicate convention in particular and I realize that it's difficult to flesh them out beyond "they're the ones who have all the money" and White Wolf proved that difficulty the last time they wrote a splatbook detailing the Convention by making them mobsters, Gordon Gecko clones and generally unsympathetic jerks all around. This book does a lot to mitigate that and explain some things in greater detail and, while still falling short of it's Primal Utility ideal, does a good job of humanizing this Convention.

After a short story introduction which follows a Syndicate operative through her travels and travails shutting down a lab that has developed an outside of the Concensus cure for cancer, we begin with a chapter covering the Syndicate's history. This is, in my opinion, the worst written of the chapters. It comes so close, so often to getting the point of the convention but each and every time it falls back into the "they're the guys who are all about the money!" trope. It also manages to gloss over centuries of history in a few short paragraphs and then spend far too long going over the last decade and a half. The history is neither well-focused nor terribly interesting as presented. The chapter also gives a quick run down of how the Convention generally views it's allies among the other Conventions (ranging from "these guys are our bread and butter" to "we're running an economic and psychological cold war against these jerks") and it's enemies among the Traditionalists, Marauders, Nephandi and the like. I enjoyed this section and it's nice to see them slowly moving the Technocracy Civil War metaplotline forward.

Chapter Two: Human Resources is probably the best chapter in the book. It details the organizational structure of the Convention, giving examples of how one moves up and down and around the org chart of the Convention, how an Enlightened person is recruited, rewarded and reprimanded. It then finally does a much more effective job of explaining the paradigm of the Syndicte. They're not about money, they're about value. Money (and what it can buy) is just the most common way of expressing that value. There is then a brief two or three page writeup of each Methodology within the Convention, covering Disbursements, the Enforcers, the Financers, Media Control and even a disturbing blurb on what became of Special Projects Division which may be my favorite part of the entire book as it is dripping with unresolved plot hooks and connections to other White Wolf games.

Chapter Three: Movers and Shakers is the crunchy rules heavy section of the book. It begins by providing sample Syndicators from each of the Methodologies, then goes into detail on running Syndicate-centric games, provides a sample Amalgam and the guy who runs it. There are some new(ish) Syndicate rotes, many of which are mostly reskins of pre-existing rotes from older Mage books. There's a Technocratic reskinning of the Prime sphere which they chose to call Primal Utility (because "Worth" or "Value" are, presumably, too easily comprehensible to the average person). Like the Data reskinning of Correspondence sphere found in the NWO book or the Dimensional Science reskinning of the Spirit sphere, it's mostly a paradigmatic reinvisioning of the standard effects with one or two very minor changes. It's good and can be used to further distinguish a Technocratic character from a Traditionalist one, but the name will keep bugging me though really that's a pretty minor issue. After explaining the "new" Sphere, there are a few Hypereconomic Procedures designed specifically with Primal Utility in mind. None of which utilize the sphere below the third level showing that even the Technocrats don't know what to do with Prime 1 and 2. Finally there are six sample archetypes included only one of which, at the time of this writing, are correctly constructed using the character generation rules from the corebook and the Guide to the Technocracy.

As I stated at the beginning of this review, the Syndicate is my favorite Convention in the Technocracy and one that it is very, very difficult to grok. But in the end, I think that the authors managed to do so and convey that to the readers in a well-written, concise and entertaining manner. I'm not in love with this book, but I am happy to have added it to my collection.

If you'd like more World of Darkness discussion, check out our website at http://darker-days.org



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: Syndicate
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2013 04:04:56

The 4th in the series of Convention Books detailing the sub-factions of the Technocratic Union, Convention Book: Syndicate turns the spotlight to the group grounded in perhaps the strongest stereotypes. Often shoved into the concept of Enlightened Accountants, the Syndicate are portrayed as one of the most powerful factions of the Technocracy in the days after the Dimensional Anomaly.

The book doesn’t waste time getting into a display of the post-DA world, where the Syndicate now has a slew of new things to play around with. Crowdsourcing, the Occupy Movement, Social Media turning reputation into currency… all of these have a profound effect on the Convention, and they are wise to start riding the wave of these changes.

As with the other books, Convention Book: Syndicate moves on to discuss the history of the Convention from it’s origins in Ancient Rome and tracks it all the way to Queen Victoria’s Technocratic Union and finally back to the Post-Dimensional Anomaly modern times.

The Syndicate’s take on all the other factions is always amusing, but their approach to the Traditions is hilarious. Ruining the Tradition’s baseline for mortal belief by commoditizing the things that make their cultures “cool” is brilliant. It’s not as flashy as laser guns and cyborgs, but the effectiveness of drawing away people from the Traditions by giving an easy alternative to mortals is sheer genius.

The next chapter deals with the Organizational Structure of the Syndicate, and goes on to discuss their methods and how they deal with each other internally including Reprimands. The meat of the chapter however lies in the Methodologies of the Syndicate. Among these number Disbursements, Enforcers, Financiers, Media Control… and a side bit talking about the Special Projects Division.

Among all the Methodologies, SPD is considered one of the most notorious to the fandom given their ties to Pentex. There’s a hefty bit about them here, but sadly no hard answers as to what happened to them after the Dimensional Anomaly. As always, it’s left to the Storytellers to decide their fate with a few options and hooks in the book.

The following chapter talks about the movers and shakers of the Syndicate, detailing several luminaries of the Convention, details on how the Syndicate’s Amalgams work, and examples of their holdings. Among these are PAXCorp, a team of lawyers and managers who file lawsuits and close deals to stop alleged infingement… and using bullets and sabotage for the really stubborn ones.

The next portion deals with the Procedures used by the Syndicate, which show a large number of interesting Adjustments including Branding, a procedure that can alter how observers react to the Syndicate agent simply by the way he dresses and carries himself. Another favorite is the Hypernarrative Influence, where a Syndicate Agent taps into sterotypes of narrative to influence a course of action. Such as getting a group to “Split up and cover more ground” despite common sense dictating otherwise.

The book also covers the Syndicate’s unique spin on Prime. Rather than being “the stuff of magic” Prime for the Syndicate takes on the form of Primal Utility, the basic psychological-mathematical junction between reality and human desire… and the very basic unit of hypereconomics. It’s a complex idea, and one that is a little harder to comprehend compared to the “Correspondence as Data” by the N.W.O.

The last part of the book shows off a slew of interesting pregenerated characters that break the standard Syndicate mold. The Microfinance Mogul and Miss J. in particular are good examples of how the new Syndicate works and how their jobs of fiddling with numbers means more than people might think.

Overall Convention Book: Syndicate is an impressive volume and another must-have in the Mage: the Ascension line. They’re much more playable now… but there’s always that undercurrent of malice that swims beneath the surface that makes the book equally useful to the GM using the Syndicate as an antagonist faction their games.

Onyx Path has done wonders with the World of Darkness and continues to do so with this line. If this is the caliber of writing to expect from them, I will have little to no issues with forking over more cash for a Deluxe Edition of the Mage: the Ascension 20th Anniversary Book.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: Syndicate
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Andrew M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/02/2013 16:32:17

Convention Book: Syndicate raises the bar for Mage: the Ascension supplements even higher than the Convention Books that came before it.

Following the style of most of the other books in the cMage line, the story of the Syndicate in 2013 is told from a combination of subjective in-character and objective out-of-character perspectives, but everything is geared toward giving the Convention a chance to explain themselves, to try and convince you that even if you consider the Cash Baskets a net loss for the Technocratic Union and for the world, they are most certainly not just moustache-twirling corporate fat cats trying to get rich off of the Awakened's hard work.

The first chapter covers a lot of history. The saga of the founding of the Technocracy is retold from the perspective of the Syndicate, starting with the Brotherhood of the Rule in Rome, and working all the way through the ups and downs of the volatile market that is consensus reality, right up through the late 2000s recession and the promising new markets of 2013. There's even more of a very human, sympathetic, narrative voice in this story than in the academic analyses of the NWO or the clinical diagnosis of the Progenitors, because the Syndicate considers themselves to be the face of the Union, working on the ground level and understanding better than anyone else in the Technocracy the logistical and pragmatic needs of the day to day operation that is selling the masses the reality they want to buy.

The history covers the same basic facts that every telling of the Technocracy's history covers, but with details relevant to the Convention filled in, and also serving some important purposes that gives the book its soul. The Syndicate, and the High Guild before it, have been betrayed and screwed over in ways no other Tradition or Convention has ever been, and this part of the story is told more clearly than in any cMage book before, There's a clear and coherent progression from past to present which explains exactly why they act the way they do, and what they think about how it turned out. They're aware of how underappreciated they are, and not too happy about it, but that's the price they're willing to pay in order to be the ones who control the Union's mundane details while the other Conventions are off dreaming about their Utopias.

The other major win in the first part of the book is that the Syndicate's philosophy and paradigm gets a much more detailed explanation. Numerous pages and sidebars explain how and why the Syndicate is much bigger than money - so much the case that money is actually a minor element of their true purpose, and how they're hoping to phase out money someday and run the world on a pure and objective system of value.

The second chapter, like the other Convention Books, is a look at how things are done today. No completely new Methodologies here (there's no room in the budget or the Time Table for that sort of funding sink project), but the existing ones get a lot more clarity and some character that makes them relate-able and playable. The structure of the Syndicate is explained as well. The Dimensional Anomaly forced them to scrap the old model, but the new blood in the Syndicate is pretty confident that the old model was too dated to survive. To be successful, a corporation must adapt to the needs of the market, and so goes the Syndicate.

The third chapter is once again the chapter of new toys and characters. It's full of value and fun (and some very amusing and relevant references), but the killer app here is a new take on the Prime sphere that is unique to the Syndicate. It's called Primal Utility, and it re-casts Prime as the ineffable stuff of pure possibility and objective value - let the Traditions and the other Conventions keep thinking that it's some sort of mana or rocket fuel, in the meantime the Grand Financiers recognize that what they're really working with is the ultimate Liquid Asset. Primal Utility does away with solidified tass and primium tanks and focuses on the advantages gained by expressing Quintessence and Nodes in completely abstract, symbolic terms, which are much easier to represent on a budget request or transfer to an offshore account.

One other thing that struck me is that, like Convention Book: NWO, there are a lot of extra bits and pieces of value that are relevant to the Technocracy at large. Some of the shorter sections and sidebars provide answers to some of the head-scratching or game-stopping questions that the esoterica of cMage can generate, as well as some hints about what else is going on in other parts of the post-Revised Mage-verse.

Like the other Convention Books, this one seems ready to support this Convention as heroic or villainous, though as compared to Progenitors and NWO, there's less depiction of outright villainy. I have not yet found anything in this book that equates with things like Room 101 or the brutal and dehumanizing Processing rote, but to be fair the Syndicate's evil side has gotten plenty of screen time in the past, and this book does not look at the Syndicate through rose-colored mirror shades. Past mistakes and evil on the Financiers' part is admitted, but also justified as necessary risks and operating costs.

I was entertained by the writing, and there's a lot of content packed into this book that will be useful for GMs and players. In my opinion this is worth every dollar, or euro, or Juice point, or whatever unit of value the Syndicate has you using at the time you read this review.

Be seeing you!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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