Saturday, February 22, 2020

(M:tAs) NWO

I'm sensing a subtle change in the Mage: the Ascension canon. Progenitors and Iteration X were straight-up sci-fi horror, all about the Technocracy's wicked deeds and how their callous science would lead to the corruption and mutilation of the human form. NWO doesn't go so far as to make the titular conspiracy heroes, but they do have a much stronger protagonist energy than we've seen from the Technocracy so far.

I suspect it's because of the growing complexity of Mage as a game. The 2nd edition core suggested that the Ascension War wasn't as one-sided as 1st edition made it seem. The rise of the Technocracy was not inevitable, and there's still the possibility that the Traditions might win. With the stakes of the conflict becoming the fate of reality, instead of just survival, the Technocracy starts to become a viable player-character faction. They don't completely dominate reality, they have to work at it.

The result is a book that doesn't quite know what it is. On the one hand, it's a baroque conspiracy theory thriller - the Bavarian Illuminati and the Knights Templar organized under the direction of Queen Victoria to rewrite history to remove all mention of the supernatural. On the other hand, it's espionage action, where front line spies engage in deadly games of cat and mouse with their ideological rivals. And it does neither thing especially well.

It's not the worst case scenario, though. George Bush gets quoted a few times in section headers, but ironically, not his famous "new world order" speech. So at least we were spared the sight of right-wing talking points being recycled as a fantasy organization. There is the "world advisory council," that has that aesthetic of "sinister because it's bland," but despite being a shadowy organization of mages that influences the world's governments, not much is said about its politics.

Still, we are on track to seeing the peak 90s Technocracy. There's this idea that the experts are in charge and they're using data-driven policy to enact a hyper-rationalist agenda that makes no account for the individual, and I think that's a very post-cold-war way of looking at. George Bush could say that there would be a new world order centering around the Americanization of global politics because after the fall of the Soviet Union, there didn't seem to be any other options. There was one power, with one philosophy, and as the sole survivor, it must have seemed "correct" in some way. Humanity was finally figuring its shit out, and when it did, that would be the end of history.

Subsequent decades have proven such theories . . . premature. Yet this is the way the Technocracy is going to develop in future books. They are the experts who know better than you - capitalist, globalist, and classically liberal. They don't actually trust you to make decisions for yourself, but they also don't worry about the participatory nature of western democracy, because they have things firmly Under Control.

That's honestly why I think Mage's time has passed. We now live in a world where experts are outsiders, shouting to be heard, where the power players are clearly trimming their sails to weather the chaos of a superstitious populism, and where it's clear that no one is in control. The capitalists are not an Illuminati, pulling strings behind the scenes, but rather vultures who can survive just as well in times of both growth and decay. There doesn't have to be unity, because a divided population lets you target marketing to both sides.

Though, to be entirely fair, the world was probably always like that. The 90s just got really carried away with the collapse of the USSR.

Anyway, the really interesting thing about NWO as a book is that it presents a version of the Technocracy that explicitly knows about magic, even to the extent of distinguishing between coincidental and vulgar effects and instituting rules to mandate the former. I'll admit, this doesn't track with my understanding of the organization. I'd always pegged them as a combination of soft sci-fi inventors and Aeonverse-style talents (basically, superheroes whose powers take the form of impossible good luck and genre tropes). The notion that they use spells, even with the fig leaf of "psionics" struck me as wasting the potential of mage's metaphysics. Consensual reality doesn't seem quite so wild if magic always looks like magic.

But then, the rules can't handle anything else.

Overall, NWO is a pretty forgettable book. Despite being about mind-controlling secret agents who control the world's governments, it's not as over-the-top evil as previous Technocracy material, but it's also not quite sympathetic enough to the Technocratic worldview to act as a true players' guide. It's an in-between thing with an unclear purpose. But maybe that's fitting for an organization whose goal is to use truth itself as a tool of control.

Ukss Contribution: Sleepteachers - technomagic beds that let you control people's dreams, ostensibly to educate them, but also, you know, for brainwashing.

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