Path of the Black Flag Chapter 1- Fantastic Anarchy

 What is Anarchy?

For the purposes of this book, an Anarchy is a society that exists without a government. Examples of such societies will be discussed in the Appendixes. Anarchism is the ideology and methodology of bringing about and participating in an Anarchy. An Anarchist is a  person who believes in and practices Anarchism.

The word Anarchy means ‘without rulers’. It is usually taken to mean the opposite of Hierarchy. Hierarchies are societies where people are ranked in stations or levels, with those of a higher level being more important than, and commanding the people of a lower level. Virtually all governments are hierarchies, especially feudalism, which is the most common form of government in fantasy. While the hierarchy of government is the most basic form of hierarchy that Anarchists oppose, it is not the only one. Slavery is another example, as is discrimination of a group, such as a gender or ethnicity. Different types of governments and hierarchies are discussed in the Traits section.

Most Anarchists also consider the hierarchical relationship between an employer and an employee, or a master and her servant, to be just as bad as the relationship between a liege and her vassal. While the employer/employee relationship may seem more voluntary than a lord ruling over peasants, they still view it as something to be opposed. Some Anarchists consider employer/employee relationships to be voluntary enough to accept, and most Anarchists do not oppose economic transactions between equals. A few Anarchists consider the very notion of buyers and sellers, of merchants and customers, to be hierarchical, and thus something to be opposed.

Churches are another concern for Anarchists, as the relationship between the gods, the priests, and the worshipers does resemble feudalism, and is often used to justify it. Some few Anarchists insist on not coming to the gods as anything other than equals. Others accept the superiority of the gods, but will have no other authority over their lives, including that of the priests and clerics.

While all of this describes what Anarchists are against, it doesn’t really give much detail as to what Anarchists are for. Unfortunately, no matter how hard it is to get Anarchists to agree on what to be against, getting them to agree on what to be for is even more difficult. Different Anarchists simply want different things, and have different conceptions of liberty and hierarchy. Those motivations and orientations are discussed in Traits section.

Introducing Anarchy into Your Game

One objection to introducing Anarchy into a fantasy role-playing game is that there was no Anarchy in Medieval Europe. Or ancient China, or Iron Age Sumeria, or mythic Greece, or whatever historical or fictional setting the game is loosely based on. They simply didn’t have Anarchy or Anarchists in them, so there’s no reason to include Anarchy in the game.

In a sense, that’s true. Historically, while the word Anarchy was used (in a pejorative sense) in Western society since the time of Ancient Greece , the first recorded use of it in a positive sense was in 1703, and the first person to publicly call himself an Anarchist was French political writer and socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1840. So while putting Anarchy into a steampunk game might be a more natural fit, there’s not much for it in the quasi-medieval Europe most campaigns are set in.

Except….

While they may not have called themselves Anarchists, and may have rejected the word Anarchist (which was, for most of its history, a pejorative term), History is filled with proto-Anarchists, quasi-Anarchists, and Anarchists-In-All-But-Name, in every major culture and time period. From the Diggers of Renaissance England, to the ninth century Mu’tazilite and Najdite Muslims, to the Daoist hermits of Classical China, to the Cynics of Ancient Greece, you can find people and communities quite hostile to hierarchy anywhere, well, you can find hierarchy.

Now, while those people and communities might be practically Anarchist, that doesn’t mean they resemble the mental image of Anarchists people of today have. That image, of relatively modern Anarchists, was formed in the 19th century, in the background of Imperialism, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment, and so many other social factors, that simply didn’t exist in the Medieval period.

But it’s likely that your campaign has social factors that more than make up for that. Magic, human and non-human races living together, actual gods and outer planes, the occasional dragon, relatively high levels of gender equality, a lack of death due to infectious disease that people in the Middle Ages could only dream about….there are more than enough social factors that could to lead to people being Anarchists in just about every fantasy role-playing game.
Another objection that can be raised is that most people find politics confusing, or depressing, or boring, and they don’t want to bog down their campaign with it. That’s a fair concern. Politics can be confusing, depressing, and boring.

But politics is already infused into fantasy role-playing games. All those quests issued by kings and nobles? Politics. Every orcish invasion, every dragon demanding tribute through kobold flunkies? Politics. Whenever the rich and powerful do something that affects large numbers of people, that’s politics. That’s drama. That’s adventure.

Anarchy is politics, but from the other side. Whenever there’s a peasant revolt, that’s Anarchy. Whenever workers and slaves rise up against their masters, that’s Anarchy. Whenever people defy the Law to live and love as they choose, that’s Anarchy. All these attempts at change put those people at odds, in conflict, with the rich and powerful who want things to remain the same. This conflict can draw adventurers in, on one side or another, for goodness, for glory, and for financial incentive. That’s drama. That’s adventure.

Not everyone is going to be enthusiastic about having Anarchists as heroes, and having Anarchy as a desirable goal. That’s understandable, and if you or your GM are not keen on having Anarchists winning, it is beyond the scope and not the place of this book to try to convince anyone otherwise.

But if Anarchist won’t make compelling heroes, there is certainly a long history, both in literature and politics, in making them compelling villains, or at the very least compelling and/or interesting minor characters. Here are three different ways you can introduce and use Anarchy in your game and campaign.

Approach 1: Anarchists are Evil

The Anarchists are a bunch of smelly malcontents, probably in the pay of a foreign power, intent of wrecking the great institutions that have given the people so much. The have an irrational hate of tradition, of family, of the Gods, and of working hard and playing nice with others in order to better themselves, and for the common good. They are crazy, cowardly murderers, who will kill without remorse.

This sort of campaign works well with characters who want to play some version of law enforcement, and with primarily lawful characters. Paladins, and inquisitors of Community, War, and Justice deities would be an especially good fit.

Approach 2: Anarchists are Misguided/Harmless/Useless

The Anarchists mean well, but they are hopelessly naive about how the world really works. They don’t realize that sometimes you need a boss, a king, and a city guard. Their utopian dreams sound nice, but they’re just that, unworkable dreams. The best thing to do is to try to get them to channel their energies into something more productive, like saving the kingdom from the evil duke.

This approach works best for light-hearted, apolitical groups. If the players are just getting into role-playing games, or prefer a looser style of play, this approach might work.


Approach 3: Anarchists are Awesome

The Anarchists are right. All the kings & queens, all the high priests, all the greedy merchants, they’re just oppressing and exploiting the poor and suffering. They get the poor humans to fight the poor hobgoblins, to distract them from realizing that the true ally of the poor human is the poor hobgoblin, and their true enemy are the ones making them fight. The true adventure is joining with the peasantry to throw off the tyranny of the State.

Chaotic groups, and players interested in defying some of the conventions of standard fantasy role-playing games, may find this approach interesting. If the GM is interested in deconstructing some of fantasy tropes, using this approach could be useful.


Obviously, it is possible, and perhaps beneficial to mix and match the approaches, depending on the circumstances. Anarchists, like everyone else, have differing motives, and differing levels of competence and/or sanity. It is quite possible for Anarchist group A to be evil, Anarchist group B to be deluded, and Anarchist Group C to be awesome (of course, one of the favorite tricks of the ruling class is to set the ‘good’ Anarchists against the ‘bad’ Anarchists.)

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