Review – Anarchs Unbound (Vampire: the Masquerade)

Many have largely moved on to the V5 era (including us), but that doesn’t mean that that the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire: The Masquerade ceased to exist, and I recently had the time to give my copy of Anarchs Unbound a real read. As one might guess from the title, Anarchs Unbound is dedicated to the Anarch Movement – it’s history, philosophy, reality, and technology. It was originally released through Kickstarter, but remains available on DriveThruRPG.

The usual more detailed stuff will follow, but the short review is that Anarchs Unbound is great. I can’t say that Anarchs Unbound is the best V20 supplement, because Beckett’s Jyhad Diary exists, but that seems like a really unfair comparison, given the massive size of the love-letter to the pre-V5 metaplot that was the Diary. So I’ll just say that Anarchs Unbound is the best ‘normal’ supplement for V20.

Anarchs Unbound opens with a ~15 history of the movement (from a strident Anarch point of view, of course). Maybe a third of this is the ‘ancient history’ part of the tale (the Anarch Revolt, the Convention of Thorns, and onto the relative disappointment of Anarch activity in the New World) one third on the 20th century up until about 1990 (the not-really-anarch Soviet vampires and the rise of the Anarch Free States), and then a third beyond that. The material in the modern era primarily focuses on some terrorism and technology-related matters – the effect of the security state after 9/11, the internet, the distribution of the digital manifesto Anarchs Unbound (“WHY DO YOU OBEY?”), and the use of economic warfare by the Red Question collective to force the Camarilla to call of their hounds. It’s a good presentation, with sharp writing and enough detail to weave an interesting tale without so much that it gets bogged down.

The second chapter, “The City Upon the Hill,” talks generally about how Anarch domains are run in modern nights – their aspirations and how they often fail to live up to them (as they quote from the Devil’s Dictionary, “REBEL, n. A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it.”). It’s mostly told from the point of view of what passes for an older vampire among the anarchs, speaking to her childe. She knows that her childe hates her for being the sort of controlling “I know better than you” sort of vampire the anarchs are supposed to be against. And she believes that her childe is generally right in concluding this. Although at least, she thinks, she is aware of it and isn’t as far gone as most of the ‘anarchs’ who have been around for decades. Her commentary is entertaining and biting. The difficulties of supposedly treating mortals better and giving vampires freedom while still having to maintain the Masqeurade. How to keep order in a society that reflexively objects to central authority. The failings of community voting and communal responsibility. How the way Anarchs cultivate favors and political goodwill is shaped by the need to avoid the appearance of elder-style prestation games. The general tendency of it all to fall into autocracy anyway. And, in my favorite bit in the book, a rather self-aware discussion of members of the various clans are seen in the Anarch Movement, despite the Movement’s supposedly post-clan ideology. That broad survey is followed by a rundown of particular territories either in the hands of the Movement, or with a significant presence – Boston, California, Madison, Saskatchewan, Venezuela, Krakow, Scandinavia, Liverpool/Manchester, Perth, and Mombasa.

Turning back to the Red Question and Anarchs Unbound, there’s a bit of a strategy guide for how to succeed as an Anarch (or is it all just a trap to prompt elders into overreaction in order to increase support for the Movement?). Strong, violent prince? Provoke them to overreact. Weak Prince? Set the Primogen (the real power) against each other. In Sabbat territory? Good luck with that. All with tongue planted very firmly in cheek. After this POV presentation, there is the usual switch to third-person, this time for a more detailed history of vampires and technology – iterating Shrecknet, Fangster/Fangbook (encoding Thaumaturgy rituals into software to let those with Auspex see vampires-only messages on social media), and then Bloodspot, which let used unknown magic to let any vampire create websites only vampires could read (all of this presumably blown away in the post-V5 metaplot).

Finally, there’s the usual crunch in the back. New backgrounds mostly include links to Anarch social structures, although there’s also one for always having guns on hand (isn’t that what Resources and/or Streetwise are for?). Similarly, the merits and flaws focus on having a good or bad reputation in the Anarchs, although you can also pick up a Sugar Daddy in another sect. More space, however, is dedicated to Disciplines, with 11 combination Disciplines and 6 Elder Disciplines (*insert snide comment about what kind of ST lets players run around as 7th generation ‘anarchs’*). I apparently like Combination Disciplines with witty names, as some of my favorites are Internet Famous (a combo Presence/Thaumaturgy power that issues commands to everyone who follows the vampire on social media) and Suck It Up (a combo Animalism/Protean power that allows the vampire to draw a pool of blood into themself without doing something so crass as crouching down to lick it off the ground).

In addition to the really fun contents, if you’re lucky you might still find around one of the deluxe versions, with ‘stickers’ (“my sire was at Thorns and all I got was this blood bond”) and blood spatter (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort) on the back. But the part I got the biggest kick out of was the bookmark which, instead of the usual satin ribbon affair, is a rope – keeping it real, Anarchs.

But whatever the details, I just really liked reading Anarchs Unbound. It had a great mix of hope and humor and pathos. It had characters and situations that were interesting and ideas that could readily spark ideas on how to use Anarchs in a game. I highly recommend it to anyone looking into V20.

One thought on “Review – Anarchs Unbound (Vampire: the Masquerade)

  1. Amazing review. I loved the Anarchs Unbound supplement and think it was light years ahead of the V5 one. I wasn’t a big fan of the Red Question since Ayn Randian Anarchs strike me as the kind of people who are anti-Cammie only by virtue of being too young to join. I also think it’s problematic to claim the 2008 Housing Collapse was a boon for Anarchy versus corporate malfeasance. However, it showed an amazing variety of Anarchs and how they’re both idealistic as well as hypocritical.

    Keep up the awesome reviews.

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