I hear sometimes from GMs who stumble a bit on how to run autonomist habitats. This is not a surprise, as none of us actually live in a society like that, so even those of us familiar with anarchist ideas and practice don’t have the frame of references that would easily bring many of the mundane details to mind.
For this piece, I’m going to focus primarily on anarchist habs. A lot of autonomist habitats might be run on different principles (particularly the Extropian ones), but enough are similar to anarchist forms of organization that this should provide a good base to start from. I am pulling on my own personal experience with anarchist theory and organizing to illustrate how I think some of these things may work. I am not an expert, however, and these ideas are based mostly on the flavor of anarchism I align with (anarcho-communism). There are many other anarchist ideas out there that could apply, so I encourage you to do your own reading and theorizing.
First Things First
If you need a refresher on how anarchists operate in Eclipse Phase, go (re-)read section on pp. 153-160 of Rimward. It covers most of the basics. I also strongly suggest reading the section on Rep Economies, pp. 176–179 of Rimward. It goes over some finer points of how rep functions.
Misconceptions and Biases
A lot of the difficulty people have conceptualizing an anarchist society comes from misunderstanding what that means or having an ingrained bias against such a thing even being possible. That’s too big of a hurdle for me to cover in this piece, but I’ll just remind you that capitalism has only been around for a few hundred years, and that for most of our history we humans have existed without using money and using more cooperative forms of organization. There are also real-life examples of anarchism working in practice, though eventually wiped out by enemies, such as the Paris Commune, Makhno’s Ukraine, the Korean People's Association in Manchuria, and the Spanish Civil War. There are also modern movements holding territory with anarchistic elements, such as the Zapatistas and Rojava. You could also look at developments such as the squatting and autonomist movements in Europe, the free software movement, the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens, and so on.
2 Main Things to Grasp
There are two major principles of anarchist organizing that I think are helpful for people to grasp.
Opposition to Hierarchy
The number one critique that anarchists have of other political models is of hierarchy and power. When you give people power over others, that power inevitably gets abused and people get exploited. All forms of anarchist organizing work to minimize these sorts of power relations as much as possible.
In game terms, this means PCs will often be dealing with a group of people operating collectively rather than a single authority figure. Groups are a bit harder for GMs to run than single NPC, but my advice would be to give that group a single face. Most likely this would be the person tasked by the group to interface with the PCs; just remember, they likely have no authority on their own, they report back and consult with the group for decisions. If the group plays a major role, you might want to have 2 or 3 NPCs that serve as the group’s face, as this gives you an opportunity to express different factions within the group.
Solidarity and Mutual Aid
Anarchists believe it is essential for people to cooperate and work together. This means providing solidarity with others that need it. This is the societal equivalent of helping your friends move. When you have other people’s backs when they need it, they will have yours when you are in need yourself. This sort of thing extends from helping someone in a crisis to rallying a crew to assemble and install a new habitat module.
In game play, this means that anarchists are generally a more supportive, helpful lot—especially if they like what you are doing. Need help breaking into a hypercorp’s asteroid lab? Going to the anarchists in the region and asking for backup is not the worst move, especially if you have decent @-rep.
Who Makes Decisions? How Are They Made? How Do Things Get Done?
This comes up a lot, so it’s worth revisiting. Decisions are made by the people involved/affected by the decision. If you ask a tech workshop to modify a drone for you, the folks working in that shop decide whether or not to do it. If you want to attach a new module for your biohacking lab to a neighborhood spar of a cluster hab, you’ll want to bring that up to the people that live on and use the other modules in that spar. If you want to repurpose the habitat’s comms array dishes, you’ll need to make the request to the working group that runs the hab’s comms—or quite possibly to the whole habitat population. If you want to take the only shuttle the habitat has to visit a nearby asteroid, you’ll definitely need to clear that with the local residents first.
Decisions used to require discussion and meetings. Lots and lots of long meetings. Thanks to the mesh and muses, these talks and decisions are now facilitated much faster online, though it depends on how much debate and discussion the decision requires. Some decisions reach a straw-poll consensus quite quickly, others take days of back-and-forth discourse to hash out. Your muse, trained on your personal preferences, acts as your proxy for minor decisions and solicits your input for major matters. Some muses are better trained for this than others, or given more leeway by their owners.
Anarchists often strive for consensus. There is a specific process to this, where a proposal is made and discussed, opposition (if any) is voiced, and amendments are proposed and either incorporated and discarded. The idea is to modify the proposal to a state where everyone can accept it, even if they aren’t entirely happy with it. Proposals can be blocked, even if the majority favors them, but this is reserved for situations where people have severe and/or ethical concerns. Contentious decisions of this sort require more discussion, amendments, or counter-proposals, or they result in a split within the group. A more common result is for a dissenting minority to “stand aside” and let a proposal pass, with their objections noted, and perhaps with them abstaining from any involvement in bringing the proposal to life.
Not everyone uses consensus. It isn’t necessary for minor matters and isn’t feasible for emergencies where time is relevant. The most common fallback is to use some type of majority vote (simple, 2/3rds, etc). Some anarchists are also not opposed to electing people or small groups to positions of coordination or limited leadership, particularly for combat or time-sensitive matters. However, this is not the same as leadership in other political systems, where authority is rarely questioned and leaders are granted often unlimited leeway and and rarely held accountable. Anyone granted such decision-making power in anarchist circles is held to higher standards, where their position is immediately revocable, their decisions sometimes questioned, and they are held accountable for their choices afterwards. Such leadership is also strictly limited in terms of time and scope; no one gets to hold on to power for any extended period.
On larger scales, anarchist groupings join together into confederations and similar decentralized structures to network and coordinate. For example, small engineering syndicates on different habitats may work together to coordinate large projects such as the design, manufacture, and repair of ships. Each syndicate sends a delegate to convey their input to the larger group (as distinct from a representative, who would be empowered to make decisions on their own).
Though this decision-making stuff is not exactly glamorous, it does provide opportunities for roleplaying and plot. PCs can attempt to influence collective decisions through persuasion and guile or by judicious deployment of rep favors with the right people. Factional differences may come to a head, derail the process, or provoke a split. Minority blocs might turn to the PCs to help turn a decision in their favor.
Entry, Visitors, and Non-Anarchists
How Is Entering An Anarchist Hab Different?
If arriving physically, by ship, your ship will still be contacted and managed by the hab’s space traffic control systems. Much of this will be automated/run by AIs, but essential tasks will still be overseen by transhumans—either volunteers or residents who rotate responsibility for such duties. Information about arrivals will be shared publicly on the local mesh. Given hostile factions and the frontier nature of space, any approaching ship will likely be interrogated about their origin, purpose for visiting, cargo, etc. Ships that are suspicious or from non-autonomist jurisdictions might be turned away, perhaps with warning shots from habitat defenses. All ships will be subjected to security scans for potential risks, and potentially even searched by local militia upon arrival. Beyond that, there is no customs or other security measures unless the locals consider you a potential threat.
If farcasting in, the primary difference from other polities would be that you are unlikely to have your mind and memories thoroughly invaded by security services—anarchists consider such violations to be particularly egregious.
How Do Anarchists Handle Morph Availability?
On anarchist habs, morphs are considered a community resource. Anyone who needs one, gets one, choosing from what’s available. The availability of morphs will largely depend on the number and size of the body bank co-ops/collectives that the locals have organized. Smaller habs likely operate a single morph exchange that is largely automated and staffed by volunteers. Larger habs like Locus and scum swarms have a number of genehacker/roboticist spaces or singular specialists that dedicate themselves to making morphs available, often customized according to their specific whims. If the number of available morphs is limited—as is often the case—then you end up on a wait list. Many habs probably keep an assortment of synths and other easy-to-produce morphs on hand for emergencies, and some locals may be willing to swap out morphs if someone else makes an argument for why they really need the one they’re currently using. If you hope to jump the line or push for a specific morph, you’ll need to make your case to the body bank crew, the local community at large, or the local morph exchange mesh channel, where things like the overall needs of the hab and rep scores will be considered. All of the above is abstractly covered with Availability and Rep Tests, but GMs can also incorporate Persuade or Deceive Tests to provide modifiers or determine the outcome.
How Are Visitors Introduced To Anarchist Ways Of Doing Things?
Mesh guides, FAQs, and help channels monitored by volunteers are available to new arrivals, just like arriving at any hab, except they aren’t trying to sell you something. Some habs might offer ALI guides that can accompany newcomers, answer questions, and brief them on how things are done. Smaller habs might have nothing; newcomers will need to rely on asking the locals how things are done.
How Do You Find A Place To Stay?
Anarchists do not hold private property, so any living space not currently in use by another is available to be used. Since most anarchist habitats are clusters, swarms, or beehives with limited available living space, coffin-style living quarters and cubicles are common, with shared kitchens, showers, and living spaces. Housing ALIs track available living spaces and handle assignments, requests to relocate, and so on. Often, couples/triads/polycules and families with children are prioritized for larger and more private spaces, along with anyone who might have a need of such for their art, work, or other reasons.
If all living quarters are claimed, other unused spaces might be converted into temporary crash spaces. Otherwise, individuals are expected to take the initiative and fab a new module (clusters) or excavate a new space (beehives) on their own as needed. Often communities will come together with multiple residents volunteering to help out and expand their space as needed.
How Are Non-Anarchists Treated?
The degree to which non-anarchists are accepted into anarchist spaces is going to vary greatly, dependent largely upon how well the person fits in and the individuals in question. Some anarchists will go out of their way to be welcoming and helpful and to show newbies the ropes. Others may lack any tolerance for people who fail to grasp anarchist practices or even view outsiders with suspicion or hostility. Hypercorp personnel are likely to be treated coldly, particularly if they are management or otherwise have authority. Hypercorp workers, particularly indentures, may be viewed as potential recruits. Ultimates and Jovian military personnel are viewed as fascists and are unwelcome in most anarchist spaces.
Those who exhibit bigoted and authoritarian viewpoints, are scornful of anarchist methods, or otherwise cause trouble will find their rep dinged, be taught a lesson with fists, or escorted to the exit. Locals trained in conflict resolution might step in and attempt to resolve problems and help the person better acclimate. Particularly egregious violators, fascists, sex offenders, egonappers, and so on will be handled more severely and possibly airlocked.
Can I Walk Around in Full Combat Gear?
With no laws or police, there is nothing to stop you from walking around armed—and in some anarchist habitats, personal weaponry might be a common sight. There are caveats, however. Each anarchist hab will likely have their own level of acceptance over what amount of armaments is considered reasonable. In tightly-knit, stable, and/or secure habitats, there’s no need for people to carry weapons around on a regular basis, and someone doing so is an indication of trouble or that they intend to use those weapons. Residents are more likely to be armed in habitats that face a potential risk (Chat Noir), that host a lot of non-anarchists (such as Locus), or that neighbor non-anarchist areas (Kronos Cluster). Even then, however, the weaponry is most likely to be personal and concealed. Unless you’re headed to the gate installation or working on the habitat’s defense systems, walking around with heavy weaponry or combat morphs like a reaper will definitely draw attention. Folks who are serving militia functions/training might be an exception.
If you do draw attention this way, what happens will depend on the context. If you are known and/or displaying a decent rep score in your public AR profile, you will likely get people asking you directly if there is something wrong and if they should be concerned. If you are unknown and/or otherwise shady, people are likely to steer clear of you, post about you on the local mesh, and tag the local militia about a potential threat. This may draw a response from automated security bots that stop you to ask a few questions, all livestreamed on local mesh channels. Or it may trigger a response from either the local volunteer conflict mediators or the militia who arm up themselves and investigate the potential problem—most likely both. Any sort of aggressive or threatening behavior is likely to result in rep dings as well.
What About Vigilantism and Mob Justice?
Anarchists believe in direct action, meaning they do things directly themselves rather than appealing to someone in authority. With no police to call on and no one to rely on but themselves, anarchists take more of a direct interest when things get ugly or weird. In practice, this means you are less likely to get bystanders who mind their own business than in other polities. If someone on an anarchist hab sees you doing something uncool, there’s a not insignificant chance that you will be called on it. This can range from rep dings and blasting you live on the mesh to verbal or physical confrontations.
Anarchists are also dedicated to justice, and have various mechanisms for pursuing this (we’ll be covering this more in Blackvein’s Underworld Guide), but in the heat of the moment, intervening in a problematic situation will likely take precedence over a measured response where the full backstory is sussed out first. If, for example, you are chasing down an exsurgent who passes as normal, a bystander who simply sees you trying to chase and kill someone may intervene and call for backup.
Like all transhumans, anarchists are not immune to their emotions or getting carried away with things. The people who work together to protect their habitat may adhere to a stronger set of ethics and principles than your normal security goons, but they also have their own biases, misinformation, and share of bad days. If you are caught carrying explosives and suspected of Jovian sympathies, or get caught hacking the hab’s life-support systems, it is not outside the realm of possibility that whomever catches you just decides to airlock you or shoot you and sort out the mess later. After all, stacks can be recovered; habitats can’t. They may get rep dinged for their rashness and face accountability for their actions later, but that won’t help you in the immediate circumstances.
Property and Getting Things
So, No One Has Private Possessions?
Sorta. Anarchists make a distinction between personal effects and private property. Personal effects are your clothes, memorabilia, and other items that are intended for personal use and which you use on at least a semi-regular basis. No one’s gonna take away your underwear or shoes and yell “property is theft.” That rock you carried with you from Earth, the tools you regularly use in your shop, your favorite gun—those are all yours. However, anarchists steer away from “propertarian” thinking, so if there’s an item you no longer use, it’s considered returned to the commons, fair game for anyone to take it and use it. If someone in an emergency needs a tool or other item that is in your possession, no one’s gonna hesitate to take it from you, but they’ll probably try to return or replace it later.
Everything else is considered a shared resource, belonging to everyone. Unused gear, real estate, infrastructure, the natural world—no one owns it. People share and use it as needed. If there are disputes about how these resources are allocated and used, then they are shared as equitably as possible. This is often simply an administrative function handled by ALIs that set schedules for use, rotate the resource on a regular basis, or allocate it via lottery. Alternatively, the local community weighs in and strives towards a consensus decision on how those resources are allocated.
So People Just Give You Things For Free?
Yes, assuming you need it and there isn’t a wait list or schedule for using it. Most things can be gotten from a fabber or community gear library anyway. Hoarding things you do not have a need for is a fast way to get your rep dinged.
What About Rare Things Like Shuttles or Reactors?
Anarchist communities will be more restrictive about who has access to rare or dangerous equipment, particularly if their habitat relies on it. Gaining access to such things requires convincing the local community to approve it, which would be covered by Rep Tests or other roleplaying.
Are There Bars? Restaurants? Other Service-Oriented Places?
Yes and no. Some anarchists will get together and establish places like cafes, bars, and places you can get food. The “service” part will be self-serve or handled by ALIs and bots. These places are usually run by collectives who want to have their own social space or who really want an outlet to show off, say, their chef or mixologist skills. They are open when they feel like it and provide their services freely to others.
Other collectives, co-ops, and individuals would certainly provide other types of services to their community: repairs, counseling, coding, design, healthcare, body mods, etc. It would be a mistake to treat these like a business transaction or a customer-service relationship, however. The people that do this sort of work do it because it is something they are interested and passionate about, or because it is something their community needs. They work at their own pace and on their own terms and do not need to put up with any of your bullshit. If you don’t like, it do it yourself.
How are the Logistics for Fabbers and Feedstock Handled?
The same way almost everything is handled—someone decides to do it. Open access to nanofab is an essential part of a functioning anarchist society, so it is something that anarchists are motivated to make happen. On most habs, there is likely some sort of infrastructure committee that residents are free to join that handles the planning and logistics for things like making new fabbers, placement, acquiring feedstock, recycling, running feed lines, repairs, and so on. Such as body is likely empowered by the community as a whole to manage basic logistics, with any major decisions submitted to the residents for discussion.
Aside from people and groups setting up fabbers for their own use in their own spaces, most anarchist communities likely have neighborhood fab spaces where an assortment of fabbers can be freely used. Depend on need and demand, there may be a print job queue. People that hog up fabber time frivolously get rep dinged.
Basic feedstock is easy to come by, and anarchist communities are good about recycling stuff that’s not being used. Acquisition of rarer feedstock elements requires networking with other anarchist groups or dealing with outsiders.
How Do Different Collectives/Habitats Exchange Goods/Resources?
Within anarchist circles: freely. If the fabbers are all booked and your bot-hacking collective is in urgent need of a tool or part, you can check the community gear library or put out a call on the local mesh to see if someone has one. This is a gift economy—things are given freely, there is no need for an exchange of something of equivalent value. A lot of inner system types may have trouble with that, feeling that they need to give something back in return—but it’s neither expected nor necessary.
The same is true even when dealing with anarchists outside of your habitat. If your hab has an issue with its air recycling that requires a re-design of some systems, but no one local has the expertise to do that, you put out a call on the appropriate anarchist mutual aid channels. Ideally, an anarchist engineer or collective in another part of the Solar System sees your request, and makes the time to design your part. The same is true of other resources that cannot be locally sourced—ship design, biohacking, collecting raw materials, coding, etc. There are a number of anarchist ship crews that make it their purpose to collect ice, volatiles, and other necessary elements and deliver them to whatever anarchist habs need them. Some of these are former hypercorp rockhoppers and gas miners who like being good at what they do, bouncing around the system, working on their own terms without bosses, and partying it up with the locals when they visit.
Anarchists often deal with non-anarchists too. In these situations, the terms may be more barter- or favor-oriented, or perhaps based on an exchange of mutualist credits. Some collectives and syndicates even sometimes work deals with sunward types to sell their labor, art, artisan goods, code, hacked blueprints, or whatever, and then use those credits to acquire needed things from the inner system or to send financial money to inner-system political movements or prisoners they support.
How Should GMs Handle Open-Source Blueprints?
Open-source nanofab blueprints are freely available in anarchist habs, either directly loaded onto the fabbers themselves or archived around the mesh. Most of the fabbers and archives will allow anyone to upload new blueprints (though some items that poses a security risks to the hab might get flagged for review by whomever maintains it). Deleting blueprints might be harder, probably requiring hacking, as the maintainers don’t want to lose their libraries (and they probably have backups stashed elsewhere anyway). Rules for finding and using open-source blueprints are covered on p. 314, EP2. These rules also cover some potential drawbacks.
Some players may view the availability of such blueprints as a bonanza and try to hoard as much gear as possible (or to top off their own massive archive of blueprints). As discussed on the sidebars on p. 313, EP2, it’s OK to let the PCs do this a little bit–let them have what they need. If they start abusing it, however, the rules on open-source blueprints provide a few methods to keep them in check. Remember that anarchists are not keen on people hogging all of the fabber time or hoarding gear that they’re not using. Along with potential defects, malware payloads, and the fact that the open-source prints may not work on locked inner-system fabbers, you have several options for keeping things under control.
A Short List of Things You Won't Find on an Anarchist Hab
- Exchanging Goods for Money
- Fast Food Places
Things Going Wrong
What Are Some Problems an Anarchist Hab Might Face?
Anarchists have some good ideas on how to do things, but no system is perfect. Everyone has flaws and some people will always find ways to exploit loopholes. Here’s a short list of some possibilities:
- Assholes and sociopaths
- Informal hierarchies that become entrenched
- Parasites and slackers
- Hab-hopping offenders
- Manipulative people who accumulate social capital and abuse it
- Lack of accountability
- Collective proccesses that become overtly bureaucratic
- People that game/hack rep networks
- Factional disputes, infighting, and splits
- Issues incorporating non-anarchists
- Rare and scarce resources
- Sabotage or even outright attacks from hostile factions
- The spread of misinformation and paranoia
- Collective discussions bogging down and taking forever