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!
[5 of 5 Stars!]