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Convention Book: N.W.O. $11.99
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Andrew M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/04/2012 10:00:48

I'm glad to see that this book exists, because out of all of Ascension's elements, the Technocracy is most badly in need of updating, and the Conventions, aside from Iteration X, still needed a Player character-friendly treatment. Unlike the Progenitors, who can justify their existence with modern medicine, or the freedom-loving Void Engineers, the New World Order is harder for the average new player to feel sympathy for - older books present them as a combination of The Party of 1984 and The Village from The Prisoner. This makes for some fun bad guys, but it doesn't keep up with Mage Revised's presentation of the Technocratic Union as a Player Character faction.

In this mission, the book succeeds admirably, without ignoring the elements of the Technocracy that make them an antagonist for Tradition PCs. The book presents the best and worst of the New World Order. There is a rote for the brutal sort of identity reassignment processing that makes people fear getting into the black sedan with the guys in suits. However, the book is presented from the perspective of the NWO, so that sort of brutality is seen as a necessary evil of sometimes questionable utility - not something that every agent likes to use, but one that they find they might have to when there are no other good options. In my reading of the book, there was more than enough room for the Storyteller to interpret this in a forgiving way, assuming most operatives to be good people who are occasionally forced to do bad things, or to read the NWO as the thought police that they have appeared as in previous books.

The next function of the book is to be a setting update. While I felt that trying to fit plot-advancement information into such a focused book diluted the content a little, it still felt like a success overall. The plot elements that were introduced made sense and helped to establish a Technocratic narrative to keep PCs interested. The metaplot has been toned down, aside from the existence of the Avatar Storm and other big picture elements from late 2nd edition and Revised, but the activities of the Technocracy are put into perspective in relation to the real-world events of the last decade. The Economic Crisis of 2008 is blamed on the Syndicate, much like the Depression was blamed on them in the Guide to the Technocracy, and there is a focus on the rise of social media, something that the New World Order should be very interested in (and they are!).

One plot element that I was surprised by, but eventually came to like, was the rise of the Extraordinary Citizen, which is the Technocracy equivalent of a Sorcerer. There have been no more or fewer awakenings each year in the last decade, but in the world of Mage, Social Media and the Internet have caused a dramatic increase in people who can go slightly further beyond the capability of normal mortals. This made sense to me, as the dramatically increased access to information and education, as well as the ability to create opportunities seemingly out of nowhere, would logically allow more people to discover secrets and cutting-edge techniques, which work, but don't blow open the minds of those who use them. It's also great in a game balance level, because it becomes easier to justify using Sorcerers as allies or antagonists. When played beyond 2 or 3 Arete, I have found Mages to completely defeat mortals without much difficulty. If the world is suddenly full of Sorcerers and it's suddenly not hard to become one, Sorcerers can more easily become a regularly appearing class of minor allies and antagonists. For example, maybe the Mayor of a city, not technically part of an Ascension War faction, can still be important to the story if he or one of his advisers has some good mind tricks.

Finally, the book presents a satisfyingly long list of new rotes, devices, and a variant on the Correspondence sphere called "Data", meant for use exclusively by NWO agents, Virtual Adepts, and other Mages who have an entirely Technological, information-based conception of Correspondence magics. It replaces the typical sympathetic magic table with one based on degrees of separation between a person and any identifying information related to them - for example, their personal email address or credit card number might be equivalent to a Verbena having someone's hair or blood, where a throwaway email address or source code someone wrote a decade ago might be worth the magical equivalent of a vague effigy or outdated photo. This makes the new sphere valuable on its own just for making VA and NWO procedures more believable - there's no reason an Operative or a hacker would need someone's blood to scry on them via security cams - but it also changes slightly the idea of what can and cannot be targeted using the Correspondence sphere. Now Internet data and ideas themselves can be targeted and enchanted, as evidenced by the suggested Data rotes, which do things like attach certain emotional resonance (Mind 2) to specific bits of information on the Internet, no matter what server or workstation or smartphone it happens to be downloaded to. It took me days to figure this out, but it blew my mind after I thought about it for a while - this Sphere explores the sympathetic links between related ideas instead of related objects. I was so impressed with this that I immediately included it in my own game, replacing Correspondence with Data on the character sheets of all of my Virtual Adept and New World Order NPCs.

The rotes and devices were fun to read, most of them either very original or stylish and interesting updates on classic Technocracy ideas. They will all find a home in my game, especially "Truth" Serum and the Nondescript Van, which may be my new favorite Wonders/Devices.

The book is presented in the standard Revised Tradition/Convention book format, down to the last detail. It's as though Ascension never went out of print. The art is appropriate, and some of it does a good job of appropriately following the unique Ascension style, and I have no complaints about the rest.

While I worry that the book tried to do too much in too little space, being a major setting update and an in-depth look at an important faction in a hundred-and-change pages, what is done is done so right that I feel that giving the book a review of less than 5 stars would be doing the book a disservice. I can't help but be excited for what comes next in the series of new Convention books. This one was unquestionably worth the asking price.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Convention Book: N.W.O.
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