"Were you born to resist or be abused?
I swear I'll never give in - I refuse
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best of you?"
- Foo Fighters, "Best of You"
The anarchs were first conceived in the hatred that fledgling vampires developed toward their sires over the centuries. More specifically, the anarchs grew out of the feeling of being trapped in an eternity of servitude to powerful elders, the Blood Bond, clan obligations, and the demands of one’s sire. The anarchs were shaped by the ways that elders abused younger vampires and mortals alike, and they were nursed by the desire for change and power. Long before the modern era, some vampires were brave enough to run away, through werewolf-infested territory, and start new lives elsewhere. A few would even kill or diablerize their sires before they left. Some would try to live by their own rules, and to hell with other vampires. There have even been attempts to live with mortals as brothers. It was never easy to disappear, however, and runaways could easily end up bound to another elder vampire.
Ages of frustration built up and finally exploded in the Anarch Revolt, a conflict that lasted through the late 1300s and into the 1400s. Younger vampires rose up en masse, across Europe, and attacked their sires. The Tzimisce found a way to break Blood Bonds and all hell broke loose. By the end of the 1400s, the rebels were forced to deal with the newly formed Camarilla and many surrendered to save their skins. But that doesn’t mean they ever gave in as they had before. The anarchs had tasted something closer to freedom and wanted more. They worked behind the French Revolution. The discovery of the New World opened the way for anarchs to travel alongside similarly disenfranchised, risk-taking mortals. The development of the United States was embedded in rebellion and conflict, but it offered anarchs more hopes than the Old World. The Princes of the New World were typically weaker than those of Europe and the Camarilla in the United States was often threatened by the Sabbat. This left the anarchs more room to tug on their leashes and fight for territory.
In 1944, the Anarch Free States were formed through much of California. So far they’ve held their own, and the anarchs defend their territory from the Camarilla and Sabbat alike. Most anarchs don’t know much about the history of Kindred rebellion beyond a few stories about Carthage and philosophical arguments favored by some Brujah. The reason for this is that so many anarchs have died, moved on, or gone back to their sires that the anarchs don’t have many elders to tell them about former nights. And those few who fought in the Revolt, or the French Revolution, don’t talk about what they saw.
The rise of Carthage is touted by the Brujah as a major achievement, not only for their clan but for the cause of freedom. By Brujah accounts, the ancient city was a place where vampires lived alongside knowing mortals, in a general peace. The jealous clans of Rome moved against the city, bringing elders and methuselahs to face those of the Brujah and the clan’s allies. The battles raged until Carthage was burned and its fields sown with salt. The youngest Brujah don’t tend to speak of Carthage much, unless they have been schooled by real traditionalists, but some still burn with resentment at the fall of the Brujah dream.
The Anarch Revolt was a major era for all vampires. Even though it is named for the anarchs, they did not come together as a coherent group at the end of the conflict. Instead, the most rebellious vampires fled to create the Sabbat and most others found themselves under the laws of the Camarilla.
The creation of the anarch Free States was a major power play that continues to have repercussions. The prince of Los Angeles was destroyed and the anarchs published their intentions to maintain freedom from outside authority. While parts of Northern California, most of Washington and Oregon remain in Camarilla hands, the success of the Free States fuels rebellion and offers some hope. It’s not that the Free States are perfect; living there is not easy. The general rule is that you get what you can take and keep what you can defend. But no prince has risen and the Camarilla has not made major headway into the area. After centuries of regulated domination, this is progress.
The anarchs differ from city to city. In some places, the Camarilla is so powerful that dissenters can do little. Some anarchs flee their sires for the open road or at least another place to call home; a number of them make their way to the Free States. Some anarchs stay and try to hold their own ground. These vampires defend their havens and try to live by their own rules as much as they can. Some anarchs try to create a group out of the younger and less powerful vampires in the city, to share information, provide support, and even scheme to gain more power. The brave (or foolhardy) work to weaken local elders however they can without getting caught. Most anarchs make it priority to be their own masters and not be someone else’s pawn, although that can be very difficult.
Anyone might decide to “go anarch” for a little while; it is almost expected that a certain amount of young Kindred will try it for a short time. Only some decide to join groups of anarchs or live in the Free States. The Brujah and Caitiff tend to stay in the anarchs once they’ve joined and they make up most of the membership. The Nosferatu and Gangrel might offer occasional aid, but very few will join directly. There are scattered members from other clans who join to get away from sires or princes. A few even come from insular clans like the Setites, in order to hide out from enemies. If a vampire is going to try to escape the Sabbat, they tend to have more luck hiding out with the anarchs than with any other group.
As a player, it can be fun to thumb your nose at authority and be at the center of some mayhem without delving into the inhuman lifestyle of the Sabbat. As a Storyteller, the anarchs provide a middle ground between the Camarilla and Sabbat. They can offer regular opportunities for spying and sabotage. They can also offer different looks at Kindred power dynamics. Anarchs might have charismatic leaders, councils with elected representatives, or trial by combat in order to be heard. The anarchs can also show the ways that old patterns impress themselves on the best intentions; some leaders might rule just as ruthlessly as any prince, or use the anarchs to gain the princedom.
In many books, the anarchs are described in terms of modern day gangs. Biker gangs are mentioned often, and there are only so many leather-clad vampires you can read about before it just gets silly. While some anarchs might choose to use gangs for power or cover, that really doesn’t give a good image of the anarchs as a whole. It took me a while to realize that there is a lot more to the sect than drive-bys and roving packs of Harleys. It also took me a while to figure out how they fit in the average city. The books like to talk about the anarchs like they’re just a part of the Camarilla and in some ways, they are – but deep down, they’re not. That’s part of the point. Some of the books also like to go on about the philosophy behind revolution, but a good portion of the sect doesn’t care about that. They just want to belong to themselves, and maybe each other. They want the freedom and power to choose how they’ll live. The very nature of the Cainite condition goes against such choice – elder blood is more powerful, and the Blood Bond is still potent – and the fabric of Kindred society has been resistant to it. Even in the Sabbat, the elders tend to rule. Some Kindred play at being anarchs like teenagers playing at being bad, and the books do a good job of describing those kinds of vampires. For lasting anarchs, however, you might want to really think about them on your own and decide what they’re going to be in your game.
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