Review: Camarilla & Anarch

Paradox Press/ White Wolf is slowly putting out accessories for the fifth edition of Vampire: the Masquerade (with some help from Onyx Path and Modiphius Entertainment). The first two supplements for the game were released in the winter of 2018 and designed to complement the core rulebook, even being sold as a special slipcase edition along with the core rules (which had been released a few months prior).

These two books focused each focused on one of the key sects in the game: the Camarilla and the Anarchs.

What They Are

Both books are  201-pages, with mostly white pages (apart from a few solid black pages for contrast) and coloured art. Like the Core Rulebook, the illustrations are a mixture of abstract and realistic art, and photographs of individuals in costume.

These books were the subject of some controversy upon release, which resulted in the dissolution of (the recently reformed) White Wolf, as well as the re-editing of the books. I won’t be touching on the excised content much, apart from agreeing it was in poor taste, and instead reviewing the books for the content they still have. 
In case anyone is wondering, it doesn’t appear that any content was added to Camarilla in place of the excised text, nor did the page count change. Content was simple spread out while smaller images were enlarged to fill half a page or a full page.

Each book focuses on the eight core clan of the game, detailing their place in the sect, along with one additional clan in each book. The majority of the text is written as in-world excerpts, articles, emails, and transcripts, with many being formatted as such. Variant fonts are common.

Each book focuses primarily on one sect of vampires. The Camarilla as the older sect, being the organized group with a clear hierarchy and focus on status and power. The Camarilla has been the default sect since the beginning of the game, and the “masquerade” that gives the game its name is a key part of that organization. This book also included details on the Banu Haqim; formerly known as the aasimites, who have been renamed and refocused to try and draw attention away from some of the more racist elements—which made them potentially unflattering caricatures—without having to “reinvent the wheel” or invalidating too much lore.

The Anarchs were a lesser part of the game prior to 5th Edition, being dismissed and forgotten for the first two editions and only receiving a book late in 2nd Edition Revised. In V5 they’re a much larger part of the game (largely taking the place of the Sabbat as the opposition/ alternative to the Camarilla). Like the name implies, the Anarchs are more rebellious and individualistic. Their book also includes details on The Ministry, the renamed Followers of Set/ Settities, focusing away from the “cult” aspect and racist tropes the clan had developed. 

(Vampire had a lot of problems with race and representation….)

As a Canadian white dude, it’s not my place to say authoritatively if this rebranding and refocusing is sufficient. But, for purposes of quick review, to me it feels like the Ministry is sufficient removed from its past, while the Banu Haqim still has some aspects of ” the Other” at work, with a dash or Orientalism; while it’d be easy to create a Banu Haqim that feels like a member of the clan but doesn’t conform to the stereotypes, there are few examples in the text.

The Good

The books are full of flavour. They’re just an enjoyable read. Even if you have every previous White Wolf and Onyx Path book ever published for the World of Darkness, there will be something new here. Because the majority of both books are written in-character and with a first person perspective, there’s just a lot of new takes and details. Furthermore, the many sub-topics and different subjects means that if one part fails to capture your interest, you don’t have long before the next entirely different section comes. There’s also lots of different characters, both new and old, offering many different takes on vampires and members of each clan and sect.

Also, because of the point-of-view tone, it’s easy to ignore or re-write sections of the book, dismissing them as authorial bias or misinformation. It’s easy to drop whole chapters as an “unreliable narrative” or even propaganda. 

I found Camarilla to be the better of the two books in regards to usable information. It struck a better balance between presenting information and being entertaining, and is by far the more usable book for newcomers. (Conversely, if you already have one or two Camarilla-focused books, this one will be more redundant.)

Among the more consistent framing devices in Camarilla was the thoughts of Victoria Ash, who ostensibly writes the introduction to the book and key sidebars or chapter introductions throughout. Ms. Ash is almost the “signature Camarilla” character for the book. I liked the inclusion of a regular voice, which added some consistency to the otherwise disparate narratives. So many characters in Vampire are, well, assholes. Not just monsters, but selfish and generally unlikable. So it helps to have a somewhat personable figure in the book.

The Bad

The books still have a problem with trying to be “edgy”. Desperately fumbling to be mature but only managing to be “inappropriate for children.” Camarilla wasn’t that bad, but I definitely rolled my eyes in a few places while reading Anarch (but maybe after reading Anarch I simply became numbed to needless provocation before reading Camarilla). The most prominent example was the extended section about how vampires don’t need to feed only upon those individuals society says are conventionally attractive, and they should feed on whomever catches their interest. Pretty common sense. But the example was a porn shoot, contrasting socially desirable “blonde porn girls” with the stagehand who towels off the talent. It could have just as easily been a concert with a pop star being the expected subject of desire contrasted with a sweaty roadie. That works just fine. But the book went for “World’s Biggest Gangbang.” Because that’s more ‘adult.’

Like the Core Rulebook, the books alternate between a one-column, two-column, and a weird three-column layout. These books tend to use a two or one-and-a-half columns more often than the core book, making then somewhat more readable. But there’s still a lot of three-column pages, which I found awkward to read on my tablet. It’s not a big deal, and it does make the books look distinct and unlike other games without necessitating fancy borders or distracting trade dress. 

Because so much of the text is written “in character” the books aren’t always that informative on their subject. They’re not comprehensive. I found this to be a much larger problem with Anarch, which had to cover a lot of topics while also detailing a less well-explored sect. There were quite a few topics where, after two or three pages, I only had a limited idea what the heck it was trying to say about the subject. Places where my limited lore failed me and I came out of a section no wiser or more informed. There were quite a few spreads and sections that seemed like filler: these were clearly trying to show the diversity and variety of Anarchs across the world and their very different lifestyles, but took multiple pages to get its point across. It was very space inefficient. 
To do some armchair book design, Anarch would probably have been better served by limiting the side perspectives to excerpts from articles that gave the key highlights while having longer informative articles on key aspects of the sect (like the Salvador Garcia psuedo-manifesto 40 pages in, where it finally explains terms like “baron”).

The padding and page-filler makes the lack of new game content all the more irritating. There’s one new clan in each book. Anarch has a single power while Camarilla has two Blood Sorcery rituals. Despite only 7 of the 13 core clans being covered in the core rulebook (not counting the myriad bloodlines and fallen clans) each book here only introduces one new addition. Less than two pages of new mechanical content. A casual reader might mistake this as alternative history fiction rather than a roleplaying game supplement. We’ll presumably need to pick-up four or five new books over the next three or four years to “get ’em all”. 

Similarly, there’s still no additional adversaries for Storytellers to use against their players or sample characters to help populate a city. Given some clans are regularly presented as antagonists, the absence of powers for the Lasombra and Tzimisce (plus whatever the Giovanni is called now) is irritating, making it difficult to use such foes. With several sections of Camarilla devoted to the “Ghenna War” against the Sabbat, it’s frustrating that you can’t actually tell those stories.

Adding insult to injury, just a single book later, the Lasombra are potentially leaving the Sabbat for the Camarilla (as detailed in Chicago By Night). Which Camarilla even hints at, so this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for a later sourcebook! Content specifically relevant to the topic of that book was omitted to make a later book more appealing of a purchase. I dislike that. And it makes Camarilla out-of-date after just a year.

The clan chapters each begin with Victoria Ash’s opinions regarding romancing members of each of the clans, which feels somewhat shallow. It’s an interesting perspective, and differentiates the stereotypes of the clans, but it makes Victoria Ash come across as overly preoccupied with romantic affairs. Having looked her up on a World of Darkness Wiki since, it does sound like her focus on romance is a “humanizing” element she uses to keep the Beast at bay, so it’s not out of character. But it comes off as only partially relevant. 

If you don’t know of “Victoria Ash” or her place in the lore of Vampire: the Masquerade, then seeing her name dropped so often can make the books somewhat problematic. This is not limited to her: both make frequent use of proper names. Some are long standing characters with rich backstories in the setting who have been the focus of entire novels, while others are brand new to these books, and it’s often not explained which is which or whom is whom. You’re just meant to know.

The Ugly

Both books are very focused on the “current era” of Vampire the Masquerade. Despite being about immortal beings just as capable of being the centerpiece of chronicles set in the 1920s, 60s, 80s, or 2000s the books are rooted (entrenched even) in the late 2010s. There’s no way to play a Tremere before the fall of the Pyramid or advice on a Camarilla game in the early ’90s when the Brujah and Gangrels were members.

Each clan gets a section explaining their role in the Camarilla or Anarchs, but Anarchs is really awkward when describing the place Noferatu and Malkavians fit in the sect. It repeatedly says Malkavians aren’t in the Anarchs but doesn’t ever satisfactorily explain why. It spends three pages dancing around the issue. Which is extra frustrating for two reasons. First, there are canon Malks among the Anarchs, including Jeanette Voerman, the famous baron from the Bloodlines videogame. Second, players in an Anarch chronicle might want to play a Malkavian, and it’s the game’s goddamn job to tell players how that works and give them the tools to play what they want and not tell them they’re doing it wrong.  

The Awesome

Like the Core Rulebook, I rather like the elegant way Vampire 5e has updated the setting. It’s shifted the focus away from the games of elders to younger fledglings (aka new player characters) while also making the setting more active and prone to change and upheaval. But it’s doing so in a way that seems to still respect the past and acknowledge a lot of what was previously published. It doesn’t invalidate the lore people took care to memorize and absorb during prior editions.

Final Thoughts

It’s nice to see roleplaying books that don’t forget that lore is important as rules, and that you need to make gamemasters excited about the world to interest them in using the rules at all. Vampire the Masquerade has always been an industry leader in focusing on the setting and incorporating in-world text. 

But…

I think they went a little far in Camarilla and Anarch, focusing too heavily on presenting in-world text and realia text. The books focused more on being “in character” that presenting information needed to run or play the game. And new mechanical content for the new edition—the content that could only be found in these books—was exceedingly small. 

It’s hard to recommend these books over past books, which are often easily found in used book stores, available as cheap PDFs, or even print-on-demand. Heck, it’s almost hard to recommend these books over the World of Darkness wiki While I feel much more comfortable with my Vampire lore having read these books, a fair amount of that was also likely absorbed from said wiki while looking up name-dropped characters and rando proper nouns. Like the Ashirra.

These were enjoyable to read and informative. They got me in the mood to play a vampire game, and entertained me enough that I feel they more than worth the cost of the PDFs. And they certainly offered a lot of inspiration for types of vampires and different ways of presenting the Kindred. But they were not “slipcase with the core rulebook” good, and certainly not essential. And they’re probably not even the definitive books on their subject matter. If you played Vampire before (either tabletop, the card game, or Bloodlines) then these books probably contain enough information to nicely expand on the core rulebook and get you playing or running the game. If you’re a novice who is unfamiliar with the tropes and terms then snagging some Vampire 20th Anniversary or 2nd Edition revised products might be more enlightening.

Shameless Plugs

If you liked this review, you can support me and encourage future reviews.

I have a number of PDF products on the DMs Guild website, including a bundle of my Ravenloft books including the newly released Cards of Fate. Others include my first level 1 to 20 class, the TacticianRod of Seven Parts, Traps, Diseases, Legendary Monsters, a book of Variant Rules.

Additionally, the revision of my book, Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding is on DriveThurRPG, available for purchase as a PDF or Print on Demand! (Now in colour!) The book is a compilation of my worldbuilding blog series, but all the entries have been updated, edited, and expanded to almost two-hundred pages of advice on making your own fantasy world.

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