- There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance - Hippocractes
The Progenitors are a fictional organisation in the White Wolf role-playing game Mage: The Ascension. They are one of the Technocracy's Conventions. Within the Technocracy, they represent the scientific fields of medicine, genetics, chemistry and biotechnology. As such, their primary Sphere is Life, but Mind and Prime are also widely studied. While mostly an academically minded Convention, the Progenitors also contribute substantially to external intelligence operations and enforcement activities.
At first glance, the Progenitors are mostly researchers, medics and academics. Most of their Constructs are laboratories and medical facilities, and their organisational structure suggests an academic framework more than anything else. This is mostly due to their historical roots as doctors, alchemists and herbalists; fields which later changed into the sciences of medicine, biology, genetics and pharmacy.
In recent times, however, the Progenitors have become more involved in active and proactive external operations. This orientation can be attributed to the expectation, during the height of the Ascension War, that all Technocratic Conventions would contribute to the war effort. Also, during the history of that conflict, the Progenitors exposed themselves to a degree which engendered active opposition against them. Those circumstances forced the Progenitors to defend themselves and venture further afield in an effort to control their environment, so they could identify and neutralize external threats quickly.
The Progenitors are also vying with the other Conventions for influence and control over the masses. In particular, the Pharmacopeist Methodology (see below) actively works on schemes of large-scale influence through medical and pharmaceutical facilities, the pharmaceutical and chemical industry and its markets, while the FACADE Engineers and Genegineers conduct intelligence operations — both without and within the Union — by means of Intrusion Clones and other biotechnological methods.
The vision of the Progenitors is a world where life is cultivated and optimized. Crops and livestock are abundant, medical care is ubiquitous, and race and gender are meaningless in the face of the genetic equality and flawlessness of all humanity. While Iteration X might seek to overcome biological deficiencies by means of integrated circuitry and machine parts, the Progenitors seek to improve on life itself as much as possible, even create new life to suit their purposes.
Critical voices accuse them of suffering from a God Complex and conducting inhuman practices. Only Iteration X surpasses the Progenitors' attitude that the end justifies the means. The detachment of Progenitor scientists often goes so far that they will consider the most outrageous experiments as justifiable in the name of science.
The Progenitors conduct most of their work within laboratories and through scientific research and development. Whenever methods become tried and true, they are employed on a general scale and spread throughout the medical and pharmaceutical communities around the world to promote the Progenitors' paradigm and the Union as a whole. The majority of their work is directed at improving on life through genetic engineering, pharmacy, medicine and the mastery of all biological aspects of nature. Progenitor Procedures are therefore also placed in two categories: Laboratory Procedures, and Field Applications. These categories not only reflect the boundary between coincidental and vulgar magic in game terms, but are also a description of the complexity of the Procedure. Procedures which require laboratories are long-winded and complex, involving many steps of chemical and biological synthesis and recombination, and require a lot of equipment. Field Applications tend to be simpler, quicker and less refined, on the other hand they are usually based on sound principle and are known to work, even under adverse conditions.
Internally, the scientists of the Progenitors are highly competitive and the Convention is rife with politics and intrigue among the rivalling scientists and lab-groups. This rivalry and competitiveness also provides them with a constant drive for innovation, though, where each lab-group tries to outdo the others. Scientists of this Convention regularly tend to be highly protective of their research and achievements, lest a competing researcher might get an advantage over them and threaten access to coveted lab-space and funding. This attitude also extends to their relation with the rest of the Union. They often loathe to submit all data about their research to the New World Order databases and generally try to avoid the meddling administrators of this Convention. Based on their indisposable position as suppliers of medical care and biological enhancements for other technocrats, they always manage to keep a trump up the sleeve when it comes to manipulating internal relations and dodging regulations.
When faced with opposition, the Progenitors can be sinister and insidious antagonists. They abduct key enemy figures and replace them with specially conditioned Intrusion Clones which report back to them and can be triggered to commit sabotage and murder at the appropriate time. Through drugs, chemicals, food additives, diseases and influence on medical-care facilities they can also strike at their opponents in hidden ways when they least expect it or when they are weak. For this purpose, the Pharmacopeists maintain a cadre of Street Operatives who operate within the black market for drugs, medical facilities, the food additives- and pharmaceutical industry and even in administrative positions of the respective controlling organs on national levels. When faced with aggressive or particularly dangerous opponents, the FACADE Engineers and Genegineers supply the teams of Damage Control with specially bred and engineered attack organisms and bioweapons to strike quickly and decisively at their enemies. Damage Control is mostly used against supernatural opponents like Tradition mages, vampires or werewolves. In serious cases the Progenitors will often employ a multi-pronged approach of Intrusion Clones, biological and chemical weapons and direct application of force.
The Progenitors claim to be one of the Conventions with the oldest roots. They identify as their forebears the first civilization's inventors of agriculture, as well as ancient masters of herbalism and medicine. As such they share common roots with the Verbena, a fact that is even acknowledged by many Progenitors. When the schism precisely occurred is unclear, but during the times of ancient Greece the first recorded predecessors of the Progenitors established themselves as The Hippocratic Circle around 370BC, also referred to as The Cosians. That point marks a clear departure from faith and witchcraft as a basis for healing, towards a scientific appreciation of the processes of life. The Cosians thrived in ancient times, but the middle ages dealt them a severe blow. Superstition and religion took hold in Europe, and in the conflict between faith and paganism, the Hippocratic Circle was declared an enemy by both sides. Many of their Covenants in Europe were routed, eradicated or had to go into hiding, only in China and the Muslim lands their science could endure in the open. It would take centuries until the Cosians could reach the same level of widespread integration they had started to achieve during the golden age of the ancient civilizations.
The re-emergence came with the formation of The Order of Reason at the Convention of the White Tower in 1325. By joining with the other Daedaleans, the beleaguered Cosians could regain a foothold in European lands, and re-establish contacts with Arabian and Chinese brethren. In 1376 they established the first open and public facility in Europe: The Brandenburg Krankenhaus in Germany. This idealistic centre of enlightened medicine and pharmacopeia - open to rich and poor, nobility and commoner alike - became a shining beacon to demonstrate the benefits which the Hippocratic Circle could bring to the people. Throughout the Renaissance and until the modern era, the Cosians mostly worked on pharmacy, medicine and crafting of the living flesh. The works of Francesco Redi, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Oskar Hertwig and Gregor Mendel advanced the Cosian's science throughout the centuries to the point of cellular biology and genetics. When the Order of Reason was reorganized into the Technocratic Union during the reign of Queen Victoria, the Hippocratic Circle renamed themselves into The Progenitors, pioneers of a new humanity. By then, the life-sciences were not restricted to improving, curing and modifying living things anymore, but could aspire to create new life. Hubris and sometimes outright megalomania was the adverse result of such lofty goals, and Progenitor scientists embraced the idea of eugenics following the questionable works of Francis Galton and Alfred Ploetz. Their final fall from grace came with the Second World War, when many Progenitors joined the scientific community of Nazi Germany where they saw an opportunity to engage in eugenic practices on a large scale. Likewise their research made wide use of the medical facilities in Concentration Camps where experiments could be conducted on live humans, which had previously been impossible due to moral restrictions. Naturally they made enemies by such reckless pursuit of their scientific aspirations, and while they were so far mostly considered neutral in the conflict of the Ascension War, Tradition mages and other groups - both supernatural and human - marked the Progenitors as targets. For the first time in centuries, the academic Progenitors saw the need to defend themselves and enlist their own cadre of enforcers.
After the war, Progenitor science advanced in great leaps. Within half a century cloning could be perfected, the generation of artificial life became a staple of many laboratories, and bioengineering was spread throughout the Union as a commonplace method. While they committed to the Union's rejection of fascism after all, the Progenitors appropriated all possible knowledge gained by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during gruesome wartime experiments conducted on those they deemed lesser human beings. Based on this knowledge many new methods of biological warfare were developed for the arsenal of the Convention's enforcers, but also other - more beneficial - advances were possible after the war. During the Second World War, medical care and trauma surgery had to be applied on a massive scale, an environment which favoured the spread of Progenitor inspired methods in medicine. Even so, experiments continued to be conducted under less than ethical standards during the post-war years.
With the dawn of the new century, the Progenitors have established their methods as the mainstream goals of commonly practised life-science. They have their hands in many medical and research facilities throughout the developed world, and have reached a level of control both within and without the Union that is previously unsurpassed. While the masses rely on pharmaceutics for nutritional, medical and recreational purposes, and depend on the extended medical care of their societies, high-ranking technocrats have become dependent on the Progenitors for life-extension treatments too. Iteration-X and the NWO make wide use of Progenitor clones for their "foot soldiers", the Syndicate needs the revenue generated by the lucrative businesses thriving on Progenitor products, and even the Void Engineers could not take their most daring voyages without synthesized food and special medicines to help them endure the rigours of space-travel.
Organizational Structure Edit
The nucleus of the Convention's structure is the laboratory. Laboratories are rarely isolated facilities, except in low-profile street operations. Usually they are clustered into a lab-group under the supervision of one or more Primary Investigators. The labs themselves are mostly staffed by Research Associates who form the bulk of the Progenitor Convention, and Students who form the lowest Enlightened echelon of the Convention. One or more lab-groups together with an educational institution comprise Constructs which are headed by Research Directors. The Progenitors also have un-Enlightened personnel enlisted, but they rarely play any significant role within Progenitor Constructs themselves. Rather, they work as Lab Technicians, Recruiters and Street Operatives among the masses and in smaller facilities in the field.
The Schism between field operatives and scientists working within Union facilities is most pronounced among the Progenitors. Field work means less time devoted on research and internal academic politics. That results in a clear disadvantage in an environment where promotion depends highly on how many research papers one has published and how many patrons are willing to provide support. The whole Convention is guided by Administration, a secretive inner circle of the highest-ranking Research Directors. Administration has no direct role in the actual Constructs, but rather communicates with all of them through directives and notifications.
The Progenitors are divided into three distinct Methodologies:
The FACADE Engineers Edit
The Forced Adaptation and Clone Alteration Developmental Eugenicists have existed in one form or other since the times of the Hippocratic Circle. Their main field of application is the improvement and modification of all life through judicious bioengineering. They are also infamous for their creation of various hybrid species and known as experts of cloning technology. FACADE Engineers mostly work in laboratories or internal education. Only a few of them are directly involved in normal universities and scientific institutes among the masses. They have extensive work to do within the Union, though. They provide intrusion clones, biotechnological applications for Iteration-X and the Progenitors themselves, and often assume the role of paramedics for Field Amalgams. The FACADE Engineers are the most tightly-knit and secretive of the Progenitor Methodologies, being lead by practically immortal scientists who keep on living by inhabiting successive clone bodies.
The Genegineers Edit
This is the youngest of the Progenitor Methodologies. Formerly called the Mutagenic Engineers they were a subgroup of the FACADE Engineers. With the emergence of genetic engineering and cellular biotechnology in the 20th century, the need for a distinct Methodology to cover this field was addressed by the creation of the Genegineers in the 1950s. Members of this Methodology can be found in many universities' biology departments, in commercial biotechnology enterprises and in hospitals around the world. They occupy the middle ground between the withdrawn laboratory research of the FACADE Engineers, and the distinct outward-orientation of the Pharmacopeists. As a modern-minded Methodology, they are less rigid than most of their colleagues, and more interdisciplinary in their approach. Their main area of expertise, however, is the design and creation of new lifeforms, and the modification of existing life on a genetic level. While they do appear modern and innovative, the Genegineers are also most likely to develop delusions of grandeur and lose themselves in detachment and hubris.
The Pharmacopeists Edit
With roots as old as those of the FACADE Engineers, if not older, the Pharmacopeists are also the most externally active Progenitor Methodology. They insinuate experts and operatives into the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, the market in both legal and illegal drugs, universities, state organs charged with food and drug control and of course the medical professions. While Pharmacopeists are regularly conducting laboratory experiments like all other Progenitors, they are equally likely to take their experiments into the field. Most public exposure through disastrous mishaps by Progenitors therefore relates to Pharmacopeist activities. The work of the Pharmacopeists is at the same time very fundamental as it is practical. As experts in chemistry and pharmacy, they provide the foundation for many more complex Procedures of the Convention, but they also provide many disposable drugs and medicines of various degree of sophistication for the Union and the masses alike. Supplementary to FACADE Engineer replacement clones or Genegineer genetic therapy, the Pharmacopeists contribute their own share to the effort to extend life or even reach immortality. Geriatric drugs and optimized nourishment diets can stem the advance of ageing or even extend life indefinitely in combination with other treatments.
Damage Control Edit
The Progenitors maintain a small cadre of specialized enforcers who answer directly to Administration. Those operatives are all highly biologically augmented in capabilities and are provided with sophisticated drugs and medicines by the Pharmacopeists, artificially created attack organisms by the Genegineers, and combat-conditioned clone soldiers by the FACADE Engineers. While Damage Control can not rival the firepower of Iteration-X enforcers, or the subtle effectiveness of NWO agents, they are experts in commando raids and the use of targeted chemical and biological weaponry, which still makes them a force not to be trifled with. Particularly the bizarre creatures they send against opponents can instil a feeling of terror in the enemy that can hardly be surpassed. Other than neutralizing particularly dangerous opponents by force, Damage Control also conducts internal enforcement against personnel who have gone astray. The second task of Damage Control beside enforcement is to cover up incidents caused by mistakes or accidents of other Progenitors. This is done both to placate the masses, and to avoid the scrutiny of NWO investigators. Other than the rest of the Convention, Damage Control does not run any laboratories or engage in educational work, they are purely operatives. Hence the possibility to advance in rank is limited for Damage Control personnel, but they also have to answer to nobody except Administration itself.
Failings and Criticism Edit
For Progenitors scientific achievement ranks higher than ethical integrity. While they are not as militarized and single-mindedly dehumanized as the worst cases among Iteration-X, their academic detachment and tendency towards extreme hubris can make them incredibly callous. The list of factual or rumoured transgressions is long. No other Convention has so openly profited from, and participated, in the atrocities of the Holocaust and the genocidal practices of the Imperial Japanese Forces in Asia. Even after the war experiments on humans did not stop: Drug experiments on U.S soldiers during the Vietnam War, MK-Ultra, illegal fetus harvesting, disease control tests in third world countries and even such outrageous schemes as trying to snuff out undesirable Awakened Avatars or Lycanthropes by means of special birth-control and pregnancy-aid medications. Those and more are tied either by fact or by evidence to the Progenitors. Because of their self-declared mastery over life, FACADE Engineers and Genegineers are very likely to envision themselves as some modern Prometheus and consider themselves above nature, humanity or even on par with divinity. Also the fact that they seem to have the keys to immortality within reach, makes many high-ranking Progenitors develop the megalomaniac vision that they are above "mere mortals". The habitual paranoia of many Progenitor researchers and the complex internal politics of the Convention contributes another share to the malicious side of this group. Hiding much of their research even from the rest of the Union, they avoid accountability for their actions as much as possible, and by supplying high-ranking technocrats with life extension treatments, they extend their web of political favours to be called upon in need throughout the Union as a whole. The Progenitors may hold the keys to a healthier, safer, more prosperous future for all of humanity, but there is much that tarnishes their image as saints in white labcoats.
Representation of the Progenitors in Publication History Edit
The Progenitor convention supplement was the first to be released in 1993 and thus, compared to the later books, it comes across as lacking in terms of new rules. Also, the distinction between Magick and Enlightnened Science was not made as clearly then as it was in later Technocracy-related material. However, the illustrations and story fragments sum up the duality of the group very well. Along with its brother convention, Iteration X, the Progenitors could be said to represent the core issue of the Techocracy at large, which is whether or not it has lost its way and therefore became a sinister and dangerous force in the World of Darkness.
Despite the clear intention of the game designers to cast the Technocracy's conventions in the role of "bad guys" in the setting, many gaming groups and players apparently found the technocrats very appealing and made serious efforts to redeem them. Thus, in the latter editions of the game, groups such as the Progenitors took on a new role as the protectors and wardens of an embattled humanity. With the publication of the Guide to the Technocracy, it became clear that the black-and-white image of the Technocracy was to be replaced by a more ambiguous representation which made characters from such background definitely playable.