Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Anarch (Sourcebook) review


THE ANARCH (SOURCEBOOK) is the first supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade's controversial but awesome Fifth Edition. Anarchs have always been something of the middle child of the setting due to the fact they get almost no respect from people who assume they're either part of the Camarilla but whiny poseurs or they're Sabbat-lite in that they're against the Elders but won't go to the extremes necessary to affect real change.

For those unfamiliar with Anarchs period, the basic premise is they are the youngbloods of the largest sect of the setting. Born in the past century or earlier, for the most part, they are vampires who rebel against the neo-feudalist society of the Camarilla. In previous editions, they were still considered part of the Camarilla and protected by its laws. That changed in 5E with the Anarchs formally breaking with the Camarilla by killing its head and declaring open war against the sect. The Camarilla retaliated by expelling the Brujah clan from its ranks, removing its deadliest collection of fighters. This was great timing, of course, due to the fact mortal governments were actively trying to wipe out vampiredom behind-the-scenes.

I personally think this is a good change because I've always felt the Anarchs were given the short end of the stick . I find them inherently more interesting than the Sabbat and the iconic player character type for the gameline. Basically, as Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines showed, the most typical way to explore the game is to be a neonate who gets embraced and immediately finds other vampires stepping on them.

The Anarch (sourcebook) has its ups and downs, though, and I'm less universally positive about it is than I am the main book. Oftentimes, the book is brilliant but there's a few places where it wanders of on tangents and feels less like a supplement on Anarchs than it does on Thin Bloods. The book also overly relies on in-universe fiction when I would have actually just appreciated some more straight up stat blocks and character write-ups. One of the most frustrating parts about Hunter: The Reckoning was the books were almost unreadable because everything from done in an in-character voice. This does the same to an extent (but is better written). However, most of my complaints are in absences rather than failures but I'll get into that later.

First, the good, and it is very good. The Anarchs are finally depicted as a legitimate sect in their own right and a terrifying one at that. They have seized not only California but Las Vegas, Berlin, Cuba, parts of Australia, and a few other locations. They have killed the head of the Camarilla and it's clear there's many Anarchs who advocate open war against the sects. The book's primary narrator of Agata Starek is a homicidal diablerist and psychopath who would have probably been at home in the Sabbat were not for its own elders. We also get the redemption of fan-favorite Salvador Garcia, who has his attempts to sell the Kindred to the Kuei-jin retconned as Camarilla propaganda.

I also appreciated the transformation of the Anarchs from being a mostly-American phenomenon to an international coalition of various gangs and organizations. There's scenes set all across the globe and each illustrates the various flavors of Anarch there. Indeed, the book feels like it's slightly more European than American with the Anarch Free States having made the United States' revolutionary movement a bit staid. I would have appreciated more African, Middle Eastern, and Asian treatment but I liked everything I did read.

The book is also an unofficial campaign supplement for the Brujah, Gangrel, Ministry (Followers of Set) and Duskborn (Thin Bloods). Basically, everything you need to know about playing these kinds of characters is detailed within. It leads a bit off the Anarch theme with the Thin Bloods as they're not Anarchs, they're just Kindred who don't want anything to do with vampire society as a whole. We get some great stories about families struggling to live normal lives, however. The horrifying chat about whether it's okay to give a baby vampire blood or not is awesome, though. One of the stand-out bits of fiction in the book.

I give the book major props for its use of guest stars as well. Characters like Jeanette Voorman, Smiling Jack, Damsel, Theo Bell, and even E (a Thin Blood from Bloodlines) all make appearances with updates on their characters. There's also great little character moments like the fact Salvador Garcia is trying not to be jealous of Theo Bell, who has one-upped him in a way that he can't really match. Killing the Prince of L.A. was impressive but not nearly to the extent killing Hardestadt was.

Now for the not-so good, I am going to say that some fans are going to be irritated by the fact it is doubling down on the "edginess" of 5E. There's a section for example of a BDSM couple of Anarchs that adds nothing to the storyline. I also note that "Rudi's Gang" is already making the rounds on forums and driving the usual suspects crazy. Rudi is an antifa internet activist whose group seems deliberately designed to drive certain gamers up the wall. Truth be told, I couldn't tell if he was attempting to be a parody of the people who hate "Social Justice Warriors" (which I proudly identify as) or the people who hate Social Justice Warriors. Which may be the point.

I feel like Chicago's Anarchs, given they mounted a revolt against Lodin in the thirties and sixties both, should have had a bigger role ideologically in the development of the movement. Finding out what other Anarchs think of Modius and Maldavis would have been interesting to me from an international perspective--ditto the fact Critias is the founder of the Hellenistic Brujah. This is a surprising absence since Patricia Bollingbrook (a.k.a Tyler) has become a major figure revered centuries later.

The book also has the same coherent manifesto of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE:

"What are you rebelling against?" 
"What have you got?"

It's never spelled out why, precisely, Anarchs have such a problem with the Camarilla's system or what their specific grievances are. We know they want to embrace who they want, feed in whatever territories they like, and that's...about it. I feel like a lengthier description of what causes Anarchs to hate the organization would be better. As such, their fury is all the stranger because it's contrasted against the Sabbat's that at least has the Antediluvians and witch hunters backing it up.

In conclusion, this is an excellent book that I recommend for people who want to add some real bite to the Anarchs (pun intended). Some people may claim the Setites have been too radically altered, losing the Brujah from the Camarilla hurts the sect, or that the Anarchs have become Sabbat-lite (when they became Anarchs-hard after 2nd Edition). I think this is definitely gives a lot of much needed context to the setting, though. I feel this book could have used a lot more crunch as well as an ideological basis for the Anarchs but, overall, my experience was quite positive.

8/10

1 comment:

  1. I mean it is true to life of many revolutionary movements which usually had odd bedfellows with the only unifying factor being opposition to the group in charge currently. These movements when they take power usually devolve to in-fighting and the most organized and ruthless end up seizing power.

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