Review – Anarch (Vampire: the Masquerade)

Without a doubt, the biggest roleplaying game (re)launch of 2018 is the fifth edition of Vampire: the Masquerade, the flagship game of the World of Darkness from White Wolf Entertainment. The core book first appeared at Gen Con 2018, and the first two supplements – Camarilla and Anarch – released in PDF format last week. As you can tell from the title, this article is about the Anarch book (our review of Camarilla was posted a few days ago).

The Quick Take: The biggest takeaway I have from Anarch is that it is a book about the Anarch Movement, not really. It is, to some extent, a book about Anarchs. The bulk of Anarch is an extended collection of 2-3 page vignettes of individual vampires, or small groups of them. But not all of them are Anarchs. And even many of the ones that are Anarchs don’t have any particular tie to being Anarchs – they could just as easily have been stories about Camarilla vampires. If you’re looking for a “Guide to the Anarch Movement,” this is not that. Anarch is, rather, basically just a collection of snippets of ideas about what vampires might do. It’s a good collection of snippets, but it does make it a book that might not meet some expectations. Anarchs also adds rules for the Ministry (formerly the Followers of Set) to V5.

What Is The Anarch Movement?

In Vampire: the Masquerade, the Camarilla has always been the ‘default’ social structure for the game. Once ostensibly speaking for all vampires, it has now closed ranks, extending its protection only to formally expected members. They’re not the only sect of vampires out there. The Sabbat still exists, charging into the Gehenna War in the Middle East. The Ashirra is a mostly regional organization of Muslim vampires. And the Giovanni seem to still be a going concern.

Who are the Anarchs? They’re basically everyone else. Nothing more.

From reading the V5 core book, one gets the impression that there is now a more formalized Anarch Movement that stands in opposition to the Camarilla. Maybe that’s the case, but there’s no significant indication of that here.

Rather, the Anarchs are just everyone else. They’re vampires who aren’t part of the Camarilla. Maybe they never wanted to me. Maybe they wanted to be, but the Camarilla didn’t want them. And they don’t fall into one of the other, smaller sects. So they’re “Anarchs” by default.

There is no broader Movement presented in Anarchs. There are a handful of vignettes that reference or include Salvador Garcia, once Baron of Los Angeles in the Anarch Free States, and noted Anarch philosopher. There are vignettes that include people who hate the Camarilla. There’s one story that mentions Theo Bell killing Hardestadt.

This is to what I expected from one of the first pair of supplements for a new edition of the game. Supplements that are titled as being about one of the two sects of vampires presented in the V5 core book. What I would have expected, and what we mostly got in Camarilla, is books that talk about how those sects work, their politics, how the vampires in them tend to live, and what rules or principles guide them. Anarch doesn’t have any of that, beyond the principles of (1) we aren’t the Camarilla and (2) we still follow the Masquerade.

The Vignettes

It’s hard to systematically review or summarize the vignettes, so I’m going to note a few repeating themes or elements, and maybe some that stood out to me:

  • There’s a history lesson on Carthage, because you can’t have Brujah without a history lesson on Carthage (although most of the Brujah who really care about Carthage are probably still in the Camarilla);
  • There are a few other history lessons, including French Revolutions, the initial formation of the Anarch Free States, and the Brujah’s control of the Soviet Union … although I’m pretty sure that last one is really not at all an Anarch thing, just a Brujah thing;
  • Salvador Garcia, author of the Anarch Manifesto, shows up repeatedly;
  • I think the Kuei-jin are basically being written off, combining material here with what’s in the Camarilla book;
  • The ‘Concave of Prague’ comes up a couple of times, but there isn’t anything specific about why Theo Bell acted the way he did; the best notion would be that he learned of the Camarilla pointing the Second Inquisition at the Sabbat/Anarchs and objected … strongly;
  • Dee’s right, dressing like a goth and/or punk is still the way to go if you’re a vampire. Although their are plenty of t-shirt options beyond the Misfits (I’m pretty sure that’s not the lesson I was supposed to take away from this scene);
  • The Camarilla is right that the Anarchs, while generally in favor of the Masquerade, are really bad at it;
  • For example, there is a whole series of articles from a character who is basically an Anarch travel blogger … I’m sure that will end well for everyone involved;
  • Other repeat performers are Agata Starek (killer/diablerizer of Camarilla, and other sorts) and Rudi (leader of a discussion circle);
  • Speaking of Rudi, if you were worried that there was a reference to a Brujah who was a member of the alt-right in the core book, you may be glad to know that there are multiple references to vampires associated with Antifa and/or otherwise involved in Nazi punching/killing (there are also multiple discussion of how vampires tend to mess up any mortal movement they get to involved with);
  • There are a couple of shout-outs from beyond the RPG, including a vignette (Vegas Nights) involving the Voerman sisters from Bloodlines (including a specific reference to the best song from that soundtrack, Chiasm’s Isolated, which played in the club in Bloodlines) and one called Night Circus, which I choose to take as a shout-out to World of Darkness: Midnight Circus;
  • There are also several broader culture shout-outs, such as 24 Hour Party Bloodsuckers and the Electric Vitae Acid Test;
  • There is an online discussion group for Cleavers on when it is or is not appropriate to feed from (or feed blood to) your children – it has the deliberately provocative title of “Is it OK to Feed Vitae To a Baby?” and
  • The Bahari (followers of Lilith) make an appearance in “Revelations of the Dark Mother.” Because that was one of my favorite classic Vampire books, and my longstanding fondness for things Lilith-related kept coming up in some of my recent articles, I’ll note that this is one of the many sections that is just as applicable to a Camarilla city as an Anarch one.

The Clans

I feel obligated to call this out as a section, because it was a thing in the Camarilla review. But it does not have the same emphasis in Anarch. Just as the main section of Anarch does not present a cohesive picture of the Anarch Movement, the sections on the individual Clans don’t have much to say in the way of generalizations about those Clans.

The Brujah get the most page count (8 pages), but half of that is imagery (see below), and about half of what’s left is an emphasis that Brujah are more likely to be involved with mortals, and more likely to push change. Similarly, the Gangrel end up with about a page, which makes it sound like nothing much has changed for the Gangrel, except now they charge the Camarilla more than they used to. While the Camarilla clans got multiple sections each like how they were involved in kindred society, how they were involved in mortal society, and ‘sins of the blood’ (mostly about feeding habits), the two Anarch clans only get something about vampire.

There are also sections on Caitiff and “Duskborn” (thin-bloods). The Caitiff section mostly repeats things already known, but they do get a ‘sins of the blood’ section about how tend to do more harm to humans than they think of themselves as doing, because they stay involved more and then just wreak havoc. The Duskborn section has the most information (except for the Ministry, see below), which is helpful because they’re the brand new thing to the game. Even the in-character bits for the Duskborn are batting 1.000 at helping get a handle on a generic sort of Duskborn perspective. Although I probably didn’t need a page on how a Duskborn might turn back into a human.

In addition to these ‘Anarch Clans,’ there are brief segments on “traitor clans” – members of the five Camarilla Clans who are not in the Camarilla (what in previous editions would have been referred to as antitribu). Each has they’re own name, which is a nice touch – Unchained Malkavians, Red Nosferatu, Abstract Toreador, Ipsissimus Tremere, Free Ventrue. Not that those particular adjectives necessarily mean anything, mind you – there isn’t really anything any more ‘abstract’ about a Toreador who isn’t in the Camarilla. But nice, regardless.

For the most part, however, these ‘traitor clan’ sections don’t say much about the vampires in them. Rather, they seem to emphasize how few are in them. Malkavians, Nosferatu, and (to a lesser extent) Ventrue are about why members of that Clan don’t become Anarchs. Only the Tremere section makes much in the way of positive assertions – House Ipsissimus is essentially the Anarch House. It doesn’t have much definition beyond a fondness for Aleister Crowley, but it’s something.

The Ministry

Much as the Anarch book overall leaves a lot of questions open about how/if the Anarch Movement functions, the Ministry section leaves a lot of questions open about what the Ministry really is at this point (only a couple of the vignettes are about the Ministry). Are they really any different from when they were the Followers of Set? When they have members who are religious about beings other than Set, is that genuine? Or is it all just a long con by the elders in Egypt?

The Ministry gets a full write-up, like the Banu Haqim did in Camarilla, so there’s more content on them than any of the other Clans, including mechanics and the full treatment of everything from the core book (e.g., archetypes) and the Camarilla book (place in vampire society, place in mortal society, sins of the blood). We get the basic information on the Ministry – they like to tempt and corrupt, they often have blood cults, at least some of them still tell origin stories about Set. We just don’t get details on how things might have changed on a day-to-day basis.

What we know of their broader situation maps with what was presented in the Camarilla book. The Ministry and the Banu Haqim wanted to join the Camarilla, the Camarilla met with both factions, the meeting with the Settites got blown up (by the Banu Haqim, who wanted to eliminate the competition), the Banu Haqim got to join, the Settites didn’t. This vexed the Settites, but from what we can see they aren’t much associated with the Anarch Movement except in that, as mentioned above, an Anarch is just a vampire who isn’t the Camarilla.

Mechanically, the Ministry gets Obfuscate, Presence, and Protean as their Clan Disciplines. They do not have access to Blood Sorcery (and, unlike the Quietus, which used to be the signature discipline of the Assamites, their Serpentis powers have not shown up in their Clan Disciplines as much). Their Clan Bane, as it did in the past, still relates to their aversion to bright light. There is one new Discipline power, a Presence/Protean amalgam that lets the vampire use snake-like eyes to mesmerize someone and hold them in place.

Art, Layout, Design, Editing, and Such

I led this section of the Camarilla review by commenting that the cover of that book was amazing. So let me lead this section by nothing that the cover of the Anarch book is not amazing. While the Anarch book overall does not suffer from this as much as V5 or Camarilla, the cover of Anarch is the epitome of my least favorite aspect of V5 art – it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with vampires. Sure, there’s that nifty black circle, but who’s in front of it? Looks like some random couple out for a stroll.

Camarilla revisited a lot of the photo shoots from V5. Anarch does not. It has non-photographic art. Lots of it. That doesn’t mean I adore every single image – but it does mean that many, many more of those images can feel like vampire images. I like the simple picture of Dee (p28), the full-page art between The Night Circus and Delusions of Humanity (p61), someone who may or may not be a Salubri (p114), and what I’m presuming is an installation piece from the Toreador section (p163).

Unfortunately, because the Brujah are here, we get a lot more images from their photo shoot (including a lot of full-page shots), which was my least favorite part of the art in V5. I’ll just leave you with this two page spread, and you can decide for yourself if these folks standing around is to your liking:

The editing was noticeably better in Anarch than in Camarilla. Layout and overall graphic design were still good.

Mechanics/Lore Sheets

These are really one and the same, except for the information on the Ministry. Lore sheets are often very narrow, but that’s OK, because you really only need that exact one if you want to get a little kick from tying a character into the canon world.

The lore sheets here include: Salvador Garcia, Agata Starek, Hesha Ruhadze (the signature Followers of Set character from Vampire revised), the Church of Set, Descendent of Xaviar (Gangrel only; Xaviar was the Gangrel justicar who sort-of took the Clan out of the Camarilla decades ago); Descendent of Tyler (Brujah only; she was one of the leaders of the original Anarch Revolt); Ruins of Carthage (some aspects Brujah-only); Blood Plagued (this is a reference to the Trilogy of the Blood Curse, an old set of Vampire novels), and Anarch Revolt.

Final Thoughts

Coming back around to the conclusion I gave you at the beginning, the thing that stands out the most about Anarch is how little it is about Anarchs. It’s primarily a set of vignettes about vampires. Yes, those vampires are generally Anarchs, but the fact that they’re anarchs doesn’t matter for most of the scenes. I want to say there’s something like 10-12 pages of vignettes that speak to broader issues, so it isn’t that there’s nothing. But this might set up a potential disjoint between expectations and what’s being delivered.

I don’t take issue with this sort of book per se. It does at good job at what it’s trying to do. But I do wish there had been more material here to make the Camarilla/Anarch pairing feel more like the old Guide to the Camarilla/Guide to the Sabbat/Guide to the Anarchs books from Revised – a broad look at the general tendencies of those sects, to give players a better grasp of the usual way of things in the World of Darkness. That seems more like the sort of book that would be really helpful with the launch of a new edition, when you’re drawing in new players.

3 thoughts on “Review – Anarch (Vampire: the Masquerade)

  1. Awesome review! I felt the exact same about everything. It needed more information about the Anarchs as a Movement. The lack of Chicago information was also criminal.

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