While power over one’s fellow undead may be the truest currency of the Damned, boons and favors also enjoy a healthy trade. The process of trading, repaying, and incurring favors, known as prestation, is the cornerstone of the vampiric social structure. Put simply, a clever Kindred grants favors, while a foolish one incurs them — and becomes a servant to his promises and his debts. A vampire who calls in as-yet unearned favors from other Kindred too often soon finds his entire existence dictated by the obligations he has incurred. In exchange for whatever tokens of help he requested, he becomes a puppet of those who came to his aid.
Kindred society is a Byzantine knot of favors owed, loyalties sworn, debts repaid, and promises broken. From the highest Prince to the lowliest fledgling, the coin of the Kindred realm — after blood, of course — is the boon.
All sects and all Kindred practice prestation, whether they admit to it or not. Granted, some play loosely with the custom while others observe it strictly. In some domains, a titled vampire keeps track of what boon is owed to whom and by whom (see “Chancellor”, in Titles) while in others, the social pecking order is a less-structured mire of precarious trust.
That is perhaps the greatest irony of prestation: that it’s built upon the trust of one blood-drenched monster for another. In the world of the undead, trust is a rare and priceless commodity. Yet the whole of the Kindred social contract, whether owed by elder to neonate or even across the lines of sects, balances upon these promises.
One Kindred’s promise to another is known as a boon. Boons come in a variety of significance, from a trivial boon to a life boon. In some domains, boons operate like credit, in that a vampire must owe a boon for another vampire to extend him a boon; other Kindred must see the individual vampire as trustworthy. In other domains, the opposite is true — the more debts a Kindred owes, the less capable of repaying those boons she is assumed to be. The one universal truth among all domains, however, is that a boon is a boon and there’s no way to get out of it other than to satisfy it or to have it excused by individual to whom it’s owed.
Critics and observers of Kindred society hasten to point out that the terms of boons scale with the capacities of the vampire owing the debt. It might be a minor boon for a Prince to pardon a transgressor of the Traditions but a life boon for a fledgling to perjure himself before the Archbishop in order to excuse a straying Priscus. Unfortunately for the debtor, the “exchange rate” doesn’t always favor them, so the Priscus pledging a life boon to the neonate is truly undertaking a significant debt, particularly if that neonate quickly works his way up the ranks of the Sabbat and finds his own definition of “life boon” appreciating.
Boons also transcend sect and even the authority of any local luminary or leader. The old adage of guilt by association applies here, too, making for some troublesome relationships. If a Kindred owes a life boon to another, and that other Kindred is declared the subject of a Blood Hunt, it doesn’t erase the boon. So what is a vampire to do? He’s damned if he honors the boon (aiding the subject of a Blood Hunt) and he’s damned if he doesn’t (forsaking a sworn promise). Some Princes and Archbishops allow forgiveness of boons in these cases, but the controversy of the special circumstances tends to follow those who receive special dispensation to excuse them from their promises. Cainites are, of course, a fickle group.
Of course, these complexities illustrate why the systems of boons and promises are so tangled.
Weaving the Web
The process of establishing a prestation debt is simple. A Kindred either asks another of her kind for assistance in a matter, in return for a favor of some sort at a later date, or a Cainite assists another in a time of misfortune — with the understanding that the favor will be repaid later. The wisest among the Kindred keep very close records of favors owed, and take great care not to mire themselves in more debts than they can afford to satisfy at any given time. Among the more formal sects, including both the Camarilla and the Sabbat, prestation debts can be called in at literally any time, so it’s wise policy to make sure that one has the capacity to honor a boon, regardless of circumstance.
Not all boons are accrued voluntarily, however. Elders are proven masters at maneuvering younger Kindred into positions where they have no choice but to ask for help, placing themselves in an elder’s thrall. The nature of relationships among the Damned plays an exceptionally large role in this social dynamic, of course. Indeed, one Kindred’s Mentor may well be another’s master. For example, a holding company manipulated by the elder Meshenko Kovich might purchase the building in which a promising neonate has established a nightclub, and immediately start harassing her with breaches of contract, “proactive” health code inspections, zoning bureaucracy, and lease increases. Eventually the neonate has little choice but to seek protection, which leads her to the Kovich’s doorstep. The elder extends the favor, and the neonate has made her first foray into the Damned’s spiderweb of prestation. If it sounds a bit like a neighborhood protection racket or the quasi-feudalism of organized crime, well, it is.
Veterans of the deathless, harrowing chronicle of Kindred obligation also favor maneuvering potential debtors into perilous situations and then rescuing them dramatically, thus placing the hapless victims in their debt. One such tactic involves letting knowledge of a vampire’s haven slip to a rival or even a hunter, then swooping in as the enemy makes his move. From the rescue it’s only a short step to granting the neonate some amount of privilege in her own territory (“Yours is clearly unsafe”), and, slowly, night by night, vessel by vessel, favor by favor, the victim owes her entire ability to exist to the graces of the not-entirelyaltruistic benefactor. On the other side of the coin, some Kindred adopt the tactic of swearing as many boons as possible as a form of protection, operating on the theory that their manifold creditors will want to keep them in one piece in order to collect. This tends to work better in Camarilla domains than it does in Anarch or Sabbat territories, and few among the Tal’Mahe’Ra would tolerate such nonsense.
Types of Boons
In general, the society of the Damned recognizes four classifications of boons.
Trivial Boon: These are the easiest boons both to acquire and to satisfy. A trivial boon might consist of aiding a hungry Kindred in the finding of blood, talking a hostile vampire down from a potential frenzy, getting a neonate past the bouncer at the hottest club in the Rack, or offering crash space for a blood-drunk acquaintance who stayed out too close to sunrise. Trivial boons are easy to perform and usually have very little downside other than the effort required to execute them. Still, the Kindred observe their passage and exchange. After all, no one knows when a fellow might suddenly turn truculent and need to be reminded of the myriad little things others among the Damned do for her sake.
Minor Boon: Minor boons require a Kindred to go out of her way to perform or pay off. They may have a small but permanent downside associated with them, or they may involve some amount of risk. This risk needn’t be physical. In fact, for many Kindred, the risk of social embarrassment or loss of an academic resource might be more distressing than physical harm. Examples of minor boons include casting a vote in favor of another Kindred during a convocation of elders, providing a vessel in a desperate hour, or hiding a Kindred (no questions asked) from a revenge-crazed Malkavian howling for her blood.
Major Boon: A major boon can alter the flow of Kindred affairs in a domain, directly or indirectly. Boons like these invariably invite some amount of personal risk or a significant investment of effort. Again, risks taken need not be physical — a cagey Toreador might bankroll a wild pack of Caitiff to run amok in a hated Tremere’s domain, risking exposure and loss of her own status and income. (Then again, once the Caitiff stake and dispose of the Tremere, the Toreador will be able to swoop in and take the Tremere’s holdings... until the Caitiff tire of her and beg another boon to erase their debt to her or cover up their involvement in her unfortunate disappearance.) Major boons don’t often take place on the spur of the moment, instead representing a steady investment of time or resources with an expected long-term outcome. That said, a Cainite desperate enough for a favor may well pledge a major boon for a quick but momentous action. Examples of major boons include having a vampire declared the subject of a clan-wide vendetta, convincing a Prince to rescind a grant of hunting grounds, providing another vampire’s police Allies information on the illicit activities of a Kindred gang, or casting the opposite of an expected vote in a policy council with the other Bishops.
Life Boon: The life boon is the rarest and most valuable of the boons observed by the Damned. Ironically, these are usually the boons most often promised or called in on a moment’s notice, despite their gravity. As their name intimates, these boons are often all that stands between a Cainite and Final Death. They don’t have to arise under those circumstances — a contentious Anarch may promise a life boon to a rival pack of Anarchs in the interests of taking down a mutually despised Baron in exchange for honoring her own claim after the deed is done — but the majority of life boons are dire and sworn under great and imminent duress. Some Kindred relish the additional irony of the boon’s title: Given that vampires are undead, it’s a delicious schadenfreude to determine just what another Kindred would give up life to obtain. Examples of life boons include the obvious salvation of a Kindred from peril, but may also involve hiding a grievous secret, protecting a mortal lover, or offering an alibi without knowing what sort of horrific crime the boon-pledging Cainite is trying to hide. Some honor-bound vampires will even die to fulfill a life boon, so great is their sense of duty or their debt. Of course, such Kindred are rare in the World of Darkness.
Most young Kindred learn the art of prestation (if they’re lucky) as the art of giving and granting favors. Modern Kindred often define it as “you scratch my back, I scratch yours.” Unfortunately, many neonates learn of prestation only through being taken advantage of by skilled elders, cruel sires, or backhanded Mentors, giving them no chance to learn under beneficial conditions. Should one expect any less of the Damned?
Many an inexperienced or desperate Kindred (fledgling and ancilla alike) has found himself in horrendous debt due to his ignorance of the various strata of prestation. This is not entirely through his own error. No few Cainites of august Status brokering deals have assisted the matter by choosing not to inform a Kindred about his potential mistake or by deliberate misinformation when it suited them. This, of course, gives them the opportunity to help the unfortunate by extending another debt to ameliorate the first one.
The sanctity of the prestation system is very important to any Kindred who benefits from the existence of hierarchy and the status quo, particularly those elders who have spent centuries cultivating vast networks of debts. If it suddenly becomes acceptable to break one’s promise, then suddenly the whole of Kindred society — the entire, centuries-spanning temple of obligation and the formality of favors — becomes worthless. Needless to say, few elders of any sect intend to allow that to happen. Those investments in favors are major resources in the mini-Jyhads every Kindred plays. As such, every vampire, regardless of sect or clan, whether debtor or indebted, has a vested interest in keeping the formality of the prestation system intact. Anything less represents the complete breakdown of Kindred society: the lawless id of the Beast.
While a given domain may have rigorous conventions in place for recording and observing who has sworn boons to whom, the completion of a boon is comparatively simple. Once the Kindred who holds the boon declares it satisfied, that’s it; it’s done.
That said, some account housekeeping may be necessary. In domains where the Harpies (or another title; see “Chancellor”, Titles) track prestation, the satisfied Cainite may need to report the completion of a boon. In very formal domains, a boon may have to be discharged (or established) at Elysium or another gathering of the domain’s vampires.
Of course, given the nature of the Kindred, such a simple social contract provides its own potential mire. If the Nosferatu Primogen tells a Gangrel ancilla that her boon is discharged but then “forgets” that she declared the boon satisfied, what option does the Gangrel have? Who’s going to believe some filthy Outlander? In fact, if the Nosferatu plays hardball, who’s even going to believe that a Primogen was in such dire straits as to need the help of a Barrens-prowling upstart?
A Cainite is only as good as her word, and if this Nosferatu Primogen just keeps having these ancillae claiming she’s abused the social contract, well, maybe there’s something to the accusation. Even across sect lines, a vampire willing to fuck over another Kindred so obviously and gracelessly for personal gain deserves whatever comes to them. It’s not so much that Cainite society wants to protect the poor, disillusioned Gangrel ancilla, it’s that they don’t want to get fucked themselves, and if they can hamstring a potential rival who’s playing quick and dirty on the route to power, well, so much the better. In fact, the Prince might be interested in knocking the backstabbing Nosferatu Primogen down a peg, and if it keeps a too-ambitious Gangrel ancilla in his place, well, that’s two for the price of one. If power were so easy to seize, every shit-heel fledgling with a lying tongue would be his own Prince.
To this end, some heavy-handed domains ensure complicity with the rules of prestation by creating their own safeguards. Several uses of Dominate can ascertain whether a given boon has been honorably satisfied. The Tremere have rituals that can wring lies from a forked tongue, and certain Sabbat ritae and Tal’Mahe’Ra witchcraft have similar effects. Even among the Anarch Movement, good old-fashioned torture can extract a confession of a defaulted promise (though with greater margin for error).
While the Kindred who attempts to sneak out on a debt has it bad, the one who kills his boon-holder to avoid paying suffers infinitely worse treatment (if his treacheries come to light). In most cases, the elders of a domain hold most of the boons, so they would be the most likely targets for “debt relief” if murder was easy absolution from a sworn boon. To deter desperate Kindred, elders and other opinion leaders among the Damned tend to come down hard on those who kill to escape honoring their obligations. For any Kindred who chooses Final Death instead of repayment, the best he can expect is likely the Lextalionis or being placed on tap at the next Blood Feast. The worst may well be unspeakable — but the Kindred rumor mill certainly circulates endless dire stories to discourage other would-be oath-slayers.
Obviously, the powers that be in a given domain tend to look unfavorably upon oathbreakers. Whether a Prince or Seraph is the ultimate authority in a city, it comes down to the matter of trust. A Kindred who breaks a promise demonstrates that she places her own interests above those of others. And when the survival of the Kindred relies on keeping the existence of the Damned a secret from the mortal world, a vampire who can’t be trusted to keep a promise can’t be trusted to keep a secret. Most Cainite leaders reason that bloody, final satisfaction is often the safest course. A treacherous Kindred will betray again, so remove him from the domain. It’s better to be safe than staked and sunburnt.
It is for this very reason that the vampires of all sects observe (to some degree, at least) the conventions of prestation. Trading favors across sect lines allows access to resources and tactics that aren’t always available to those who don’t want to look past their own ideology. If the Archbishop doesn’t want this duplicitous Giovanni in her domain, why on earth would a Prince want him? Vampires of other sects are still vampires, and a rogue who backs out on a promise tonight may back out on a promise to you tomorrow night. Enlightened self-interest is the motive behind all of the Traditions, after all, whether it’s a Prince or Monitor enforcing them.
This isn’t to say that all is well and good when Cainites from different factions pledge prestation to one another. Hardliners of every sect may take an “usversus- everyone-else” position, calling into question the boon-swearer’s loyalty. A Kindred who appears to benefit too greatly from working “outside the rules” of her own sect may lose Status or be stripped of titles. They may have to tithe vitae, accept blood bonds, or resort to operating behind the sect’s back. Then again, in more liberal domains, no one may raise an eyebrow — indeed, they may pave the way for others to expand their interests as well.
The most difficult relationships of inter-sect prestation are, unsurprisingly, between the Camarilla and the Sabbat, given that the philosophies of the two are diametrically opposed. However, boons granted between members of the Camarilla and the Anarch Movement are also often scrutinized, as the success of one sect is frequently the hindrance of the other. How can a staunchly conservative Prince trust a subject who openly deals with a pack of terrorists that oppose everything his title represents?
At times, clan unity becomes more important than sect loyalty, and members of the thirteen great families of Kindred (and, as frequently, members of marginalized bloodlines) can close ranks against outside influence. Particularly among Clans Nosferatu, Gangrel, Malkavian, and Brujah, a promise to one’s own Blood carries more weight than the sometimes de facto allegiance to one’s ideology. Note that most of these clan loyalties belong to those clans that are typically disenfranchised or otherwise less than fanatical about the artificial construct of sects. When the powers that be push clan identity to the side, those who are undermined take solace in what’s being suppressed. The Nosferatu are certainly the most active in this regard, and the vast information network that connects the Sewer Rats does so without regard for ideology or geography. A secret is a secret, and the value of information is greater than any Ventrue or Lasombra wouldbe tyrant may suggest.
As ever, Kindred politics makes strange bedfellows. Those with entrepreneurial minds or unorthodox approaches may well find their greatest adversaries amid their own supposed ideological peers. Small minds make for vicious controversy.
Boons As Commodities
Like a slatternly Blood Doll, prestation debts circulate through the ranks of the undead. As banks trade assets, boons move constantly among Kindred, being retrieved, dangled, held in promissory escrow, and otherwise shunted around so that it becomes dizzying to keep track of who owes what to whom. Few domains have any formal system for trading favors. Such arrangements operate more along the lines of, “Katherine the Toreador owes me some consideration, so I’ll tell her to grant you an audience if you send word to Pavel the Nosferatu that I could use the help of a few loose tongues to turn some attention toward Carlos the Tremere’s deal with the Prince’s dogsbody.” All but the most informal domains do observe some sort of protocol, however. The Lick whose debt moves from one debtor to another must learn about the transfer, otherwise she runs the risk of denying a perfectly valid settlement for what she thinks is a perfectly valid reason, causing the whole network of prestation to collapse.
As an added benefit, letting an inferior know that the Kindred passing the boon didn’t even feel his debt was worth maintaining is a pillar of the Kindred social order. Moving promises from one Cainite to another is as much a function of prestation as swearing them in the first place.
The Practice of Prestation
It is not in a vampire’s best interest to cash in the favors she has acquired immediately. After all, a Kindred known to owe another a boon is likely to come under suspicion if the boon-holder disappears (see “Cheating,” above), with potentially fatal consequences. As a result, Kindred in most prestation arrangements are as safe as can be expected from any of her debtors.
Enlightened self-protection isn’t the only reason to maintain a favor. As long as one of the Kindred has a debt hanging over him, he must always be aware of the possibility of having his marker called in. He can’t act as freely as he might otherwise, for fear of being called on to repay his debt. You can’t out the Toreador Harpy at Elysium for engaging in a deal with a Tzimisce from across the river if the Harpy’s Ventrue coterie-mate knows that you have a dalliance with the sheriff’s mortal lover, for example. Holding a debt over a vampire and insinuating that repayment might come due at any moment is an effective method of paralyzing a Kindred, quelling his ambition, and forcing him to reserve some of his resources against the possibility. This game of move and counter-move takes on the characteristics of the sect in whose domain it is practiced. Bloody vendetta characterizes Anarch domains, social brinksmanship is the way of the Camarilla, and the Sabbat practices fervent bullying (with a side of fire and zealotry).
Furthermore, a Kindred who owes another a debt is perceived as being inferior to the vampire to whom she owes it. This perception only applies to those who know about a debt, and many Kindred who dig up dirt on a powerful peer let the whole domain know about it as quickly as possible. If the Cainite performs this sequence effectively, the creditor gains prestige while the debtor loses it. Even better, the longer the debt can be sustained, the more prestige accrues to the creditor. It is in the interest of the vampire holding the favor to hang onto it as long as possible, though most creditors take care to avoid pulling their debtors’ leashes too hard or too often. Once the boon is discharged, most sects look the other way when an abused debtor takes vengeance on a harsh creditor.
Assuaging Social Debt
Few Kindred like the idea of having lingering debts. It’s socially embarrassing, financially painful, and potentially hazardous. As a result, most Cainites seek to pay off their prestation debts as soon as they can safely do so. Those who have extended the favors have a vested interest in prolonging those debts, so the result can be a game of cat and mouse, with the debtors frantically attempting to do their creditors favors and the creditors dodging anything that might conceivably be construed as a satisfaction from their debtors.
Debts among the Kindred rarely take specific shape. Few vampires request a detailed service. Rather, debts are vague and amorphous, assumed to fall into a category the favor-granting Kindred considers her expertise, or something that puts the indebted Kindred at a greater but delayed disadvantage. “I’ll simply ask for your help with something down the road.” This ambiguity works both for and against the creditor. The indistinct nature of the debt helps keeps those on the owing of prestation deferential, as they work to abate their debt with flattery or obsequiousness.
Along those lines, since the nature of most Cainite debt is undefined, it is common among the Kindred to grant some sort of lesser consideration to their creditors in hopes of canceling the boon. Particularly energetic or devious vampires may be able to maneuver their creditors into situations wherein they can appear on the scene and render assistance, thus wiping out the imbalance. Such attempts should be made very carefully, though — if they backfire or are found out, the instigator just sinks deeper into debt and becomes a target of derision as well (assuming he’s not eliminated as some sort of collateral damage if things truly go off the rails). The mouse who pulls the thorn from the lion’s paw is still a mouse, no matter how clever she may believe herself to be.
What form payback takes depends on the size and type of debt incurred. It is considered bad form to ask for excessive repayment of minor debts. In such cases, depending on the sect in which the boon exists, the debtor may laugh off the request (potentially even canceling it in observation of the absurd entitlement that accompanied the attempted discharge) or even demand some sort of martial satisfaction. More often than not, those who would parlay their boons into disproportionate fortunes find themselves socially bankrupt. Kindred society hasn’t remained static for five centuries by letting the indebted gain the upper hand.
On the other hand, few Kindred choose to abate a debt by asking for too little. Doing so is a sure path to being made a target by the Harpies, in addition to canceling any status gain made by acquiring the debt in the first place. It is for this reason that the less “sophisticated” clans rarely choose to engage in prestation with those perceived to be more quick-witted than they. It’s bad enough to get fucked on a deal, but being exposed as a fool afterward only makes getting fucked more difficult to bear.
In truth, the actual repayment of the debt is almost incidental to the process of prestation. It is the boon itself that matters — the artistry of the creation, the dispersal of the obligation, and the webs of allegiance strung by favors owed. Actually paying off whatever is demanded is somehow anticlimactic in all but the most dire circumstances.
When a debt is finally repaid, however, more often than not it is done so publicly. Sample forms of payments include privileges (especially that of creation, if a Prince or Priscus is the debtor), favorite ghouls or mortal pawns, assistance in financial or martial arenas, tutoring in Disciplines, or even the performance of publicly humiliating acts. Favors often involve one Kindred lobbying another on a third vampire’s behalf, usually in matters of Embrace or interference in the mortal world. Asking for a service that is overly hazardous or demanding that one’s debtor break the Traditions is forbidden by long custom, even across sect lines. (If nothing else, getting one’s debtor killed ensures that you can’t use him again.) On the other hand, a sufficiently subtle vampire can blur the edges of these restrictions, and prestation has been used to eliminate any number of incautious Kindred. The Harpies and other opinion leaders of the various sects usually end up being the ultimate arbiters of whether the repayment is suitable, though in most domains they hold no official capacity in this matter.
Sects and Boons
Every sect observes boons in some capacity, and honors the concept of the boon across sect lines. The fact that, on the whole, vampires are willing to acknowledge their social obligations before their factional allegiance speaks to a long and ingrained — perhaps even physiological — need to make good on a statement. The superstition that one must ask a vampire into her home before he can cross the threshold may have its origin in the gravity with which the Damned regard their promises.
It comes as no surprise that the Jonsonian wit and ingrained traditionalism of the Camarilla provides a home for the formalities of prestation. In fact, some suspect that the very roots of prestation lie in the rigid will of the Ventrue and the elaborate rituals of comme il faut upheld by the Toreador. This isn’t precisely true — several extant Kindred communications dating back to the Dark Ages make guarantees of promises among Kindred — but the eminent powers of the Ivory Tower, the Rose Clan and the Clan of Kings certainly know how to make use of prestation. Other Camarilla clans often see the established rules of prestation as convenient tools and pragmatic investments.
The Brujah and Gangrel tend to play very loosely with prestation, but many have their own ideas of honor and duty that observing prestation allows them to display in front of others. They often like to flaunt this at Elysium and other sect gatherings, showing that — despite their comparatively low social status — at least they’re not lying hypocrites like the Camarilla’s leadership.
The Tremere codify their network of mentorship duties along the same lines as prestation, offering training to other Warlocks in exchange for mystic secrets, access to occult resources, or standard favors represented by the custom.
Malkavian observation of prestation is unreliable, but the Clan of the Moon has no vested interest in subverting the tradition, unless they’re calling into question the entirety of Kindred social contract. Indeed, prestation often gives a grounding in reality to the more cripplingly fractured Lunatics, reminding them of what they promised to do and providing context for other Kindred activities.
The Nosferatu frequently find themselves trafficking in “black market” prestation, keeping their boons “off the books” in exchange for secrets and leads on what might provide more interesting information in the future. Most often, the Sewer Rats don’t hide behind lofty ideals like honor or value. They simply want to have as many of the “beautiful Damned” in their filthy pockets as possible. Nosferatu social debts are quite liberal, and a Nosferatu whose secrets aren’t worth the promises he demands for them quickly falls out of favor among those seeking information.
Of all the sects, the Camarilla is most invested in the pomp and circumstance of prestation, as well as “balancing the books” in public displays of who owes whom. It is certainly the sect most likely to engage the services of a titled Kindred who maintains a roster of such social debts. In some domains, this roll of promises is read at gatherings of the Kindred, as a reminder that the welfare of the Kindred relies on everyone’s honoring promises. It also provides a venue of redress for those who feel their boons have been unsatisfactorily discharged. Some recall the long-ago nights of kings and chamberlains, when the Prince herself was often the adjutant of grievances among the court. Such formal domains often resemble the dangerous aristocratic minefields of Louis XIV’s court or the whims of Henry VIII’s. Indeed, it’s possible to walk away from such an accounting owing someone else a boon for declaring satisfaction on the original boon... but such shifting debts and allegiances are the trademark of the Camarilla.
The Camarilla is unique in that it allows for the open transference of boons among Kindred. So long as all parties agree, a Kindred can name another of the Damned as the recipient of his boon. Alex LeMont, for example, may owe a Toreador a favor while a Malkavian owes him a favor, and if everyone is amenable, LeMont may simply pass the Malkavian’s favor to the Toreador, removing himself from the recursive mire of prestation. On the surface this seems simple, but in practice, in a domain with fifty-plus Kindred swapping promises of obligation to one another, the knot of prestation rapidly becomes Gordian. Indeed, those who traffic in favors often prefer these complex webs of duty, the better to occlude their promises and hide behind numerous blinds of favors, the satisfaction of any of which might negate a hundred other favors across the city. A clever Kindred like LeMont may never have to worry about his favor being called in, as it becomes a liquid prestation asset that’s more valuable in the form of currency than it is in practical satisfaction.
By comparison, the Sabbat practices less prestation than the Camarilla, but it definitely exists. Indeed, most Sabbat prestation occurs along the lines of “I owe you one,” or resembles the bonds forged among soldiers at war. It’s less rigidly defined, and definitelyrecorded far less frequently. Formal pledges of prestation in the Black Hand happen almost exclusively among the higher tiers of the sect. Many elders of the Sabbat predate its formation, and old habits die hard among vampires used to swearing duty in the petty kingdoms of the Old World.
It’s largely absent at the pack level, who by design watch each other’s backs. Many promises and favors are traded between packs, especially in established or wartime domains where packs have very specific purposes and benefit from diversifying their abilities.
For the Lasombra, debts of duty and honor strike deep chords, owing to the aristocratic history of the clan and their medieval involvement in the canons of the Church. After all, rare are the promises that can’t be fulfilled by ordering one’s faithful minions to handle onerous tasks. Boons pledged and purchased are not unlike the indulgences bought and sold in the nights before the Reformation, and thus carry significant weight among the Keepers. The Lasombra are also the most likely to traffic in boons sworn to non-Sabbat, as they are skilled at cultivating networks of promise and politics.
The Tzimisce consider the formality of prestation far more odious than the Lasombra, following their own ancestral lines. To the Tzimisce mind, when the master of the dom chooses to reward his szlachta instead of flaying the skin from their bones, he grants privilege with that very act. Suggesting that such boons might be owed or pre-sworn is foreign to their punitive minds, especially as they grow older. The world exists to be bent and shaped like the bones of a disappointing minion, not strung along with the promise of reward or favor. Young Tzimisce seem a little more disposed toward the mutualism of prestation, especially as they rise through the ranks of the Black Hand and can use boons as an edge over their own elders.
Among the antitribu and more esoteric bloodlines of the Black Hand, prestation is a necessary evil. The elders do it, the founding clans of the Sabbat do it, so it’s best to learn the rules and take advantage when you can. Some clans are better disposed to this than others — the Ventrue antitribu, Toreador antitribu, and Assamite antitribu use prestation adeptly, and the Sabbat Nosferatu in particular make good use of trading favors with members of the Camarilla, Anarchs, and even the occasional Tal’Mahe’Ra. Among the Brujah antitribu, Serpents of the Light, and Panders, prestation most frequently takes the form of streetlevel honor, while the Gangrel and Malkavians of the Black Hand find the practice pointlessly convoluted, difficult to grasp, or asinine — who would make a promise to an unreasoning tool of the Beast?
Unlike the Camarilla, the Sabbat on the whole observes no trading of boons. It’s too “soft,” and “too much like the Ivory Tower,” in the opinions of many Sabbat. The Black Hand’s position is that the transference of boons places too much emphasis on whoknows-whom, favoritism, and an incomprehensible network of obligations. Especially at the middle and field tiers of Sabbat activity (which make much show of gaining results and being meritocratic), it’s better to burn down a hated elder’s haven than to destroy it with mortal bureaucracy. A philosophy of action now! is more appropriate to the shovelheads and charismatic ducti. Among the upper echelons of the sect, some favor-trading is inevitable, but it’s almost always on the level of comparatively minor boons, and is viewed as a recourse of last resort.
The Anarch Movement
The Anarchs frequently find themselves torn on the question of prestation. On the one hand, a formal system of obligations is a useful thing, and good organization is often what gives the opposition an edge over entrenched powers that be. As a given city’s Anarch Movement moves from being the rebellion into the authority, however, what was once an effective tool for subversion remains an effective tool for subversion, much to the chagrin of many nascent Barons, who find the transition from fighting oppression to stabilizing a young and angry domain difficult.
Curiously, many technologically-adept Anarchs integrate their observance of prestation into social media and personal data devices. Using code words, hashtags, and other methods of preserving the integrity of the Masquerade, the Anarchs have created a reliable record of boons, provided one knows where to look and how to interpret the information. Thus, the Anarchs tend not to use vampiric offices and titles to maintain the social contract of obligations — that’s archaic, anyway — and instead claim and discharge their boons where other online Damned can track their reputation and make their own decisions. Much in the way online auction sites display their users’ integrity or social media systems estimate their users’ amplification and influence, Anarch prestation is a readily available piece of data that fellow Anarchs can take into account (or entrenched elders can intercept...).
Currently fashionable among the Anarchs is the practice of swearing blood oaths when committing to boons. It adds an air of formality, of useful traditionalism, to what otherwise might be an empty promise.
More on Prestation and the Anarchs
We Anarchs resent the impenetrable web of secret obligations that binds our elders across all sects to each other, makes even the simplest affair an opaque tangle, and poisons every attempt to establish a rule of law. Some of us resent it on principle, while others resent only that they don’t get to play too. In any case, we agree that we want to order our existences differently.
But my dear, I speak now of is and not should — not the high values I’ve hoped you would share with me, but the knowledge necessary to survive in a corrupt world. I am not saying you must play this game, especially in the traditional fashion. I hope you don’t. But I am saying that we all dwell on the chessboard. We move ourselves or we are moved. It’s that simple. If you wish to make your home among Kindred (rather than running off to become autarkis, as I’m currently considering) then this will always be true, and prestation will always be the unofficial seventh Tradition.
Another eternal truth is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. All utopian ideals aside, almost no one wants to labor for nothing. Kindred require very little materially, but what we do need, blood and safe shelter from the sun, we need very badly. And what we want, we want passionately! So while we’re more capable of dwelling apart from our fellows than mortals are from theirs, we do in time tend to seek them out for this or that favor, if not for some company in our monstrousness.
This is why there’ll always be prestation among us, just as there’ll always be trade among the living. I’ll speak in a moment of domains where they struggle nobly against this propensity, where all is held in common, how that ambition succeeds or fails. But in all other cases, it’s tit for tat among the Anarchs just as it is anywhere else.
We simply don’t call it that. A boon is a “favor,” not a “boon.” Ironically, we’re even worse about hiding our personal obligations to other Kindred than Camarilla Kindred are, because such stigma attaches to playing so-called elder games. As a rule, Anarchs prefer an exchange that can be completed immediately, because it feels more like an honest bargain than some vague debt to be called in (possibly centuries) later. This can be a great inconvenience, however. It means you often must wait to ask assistance from someone until you can find something to offer that she’ll want right now. Anarchs are also more likely than vampires of other sects to accept actual money as reward, not only because they’re so rarely rich, but also because it avoids the tawdry and confusing business of keeping a debt ledger. Collecting on debts is difficult among us in any case, because we tend to be more mobile than Sabbat or Camarilla — and a good deal more prone to Final Death than the latter. (Some among us have tried to institute modern recordkeeping systems to counter this problem: alphanumeric tags attached to individual Kindred in cloud-stored databases, which tell those who know the code to whom he may be indebted, who vouches for him, whether he has a price on his head, etc. Personally, I suspect all such attempts will fall prey to the same problems that plague mortal rating sites for nightclubs or whatnot — security flaws, fake reviews, grudge campaigns, “sock puppets” I believe they’re called?… and I hold out less hope for the appearance of any serious Anarch virtual currency such as they often propose.)
In short, we have prestation, but we’re particular about it. This does have the happy effect of making it harder for even the wiliest Baron or most despotic cultist to amass power in the way the moldy elders do. Yes, it’s an advantage to have a reputation for being owed a lot of favors, so long as the details are vague, but let those sordid details escape, as they usually do, and you’ll find your fearsomeness increasingly counterbalanced by popular contempt. You’ll be considered “just like them,” and plotted around rather than plotted with. Some, naturally, are willing to accept power at that price.
In a general sense, the True Black Hand has higher concerns than worrying about whether promises made among the monsters of their sect are fulfilled to every party’s satisfaction. As it plumbs the harrowing mysteries of the realm of the dead and pursues the esoteric knowledge that looms outside most Kindred’s realm of perception, the brinksmanship and petty power-mongering usually associated with a complicated system of boons is a secondary matter at best for the vampires of the Tal’Mahe’Ra.
This isn’t to say that the sect is unconcerned with status. Quite the opposite, actually — members of the True Black Hand simply acquire their status by unearthing secrets, puzzling out cryptic mysteries, or collecting exotic artifacts more than they do making grand shows of magnificence at frivolous parties. In this sense, the Tal’Mahe’Ra has a complex system of fealties, oaths, cults, and apprenticeships that take the place of the web of promises the other sects foster.
The True Black Hand places more value on circles of mystery and internal secret societies than it does on promises sworn in desperate circumstances. With the innumerable secret wars taking place constantly around it, the Tal’Mahe’Ra often simply assumes its members will help each other when necessary because such behavior is in the interests of the oft-fanatical sect.
Deep-cover agents of the sect frequently cultivate prestation as part of their pretense of belonging to the other sects, however. Indeed, for all the absence of “traditional” prestation inside the Tal’Mahe’Ra, the sect regards the obligations it has established outside the faction seriously, the better to keep prying eyes and unwanted attention from the rest of the darkling agenda.
What can be said, reliably, of those who hide themselves in shrouds of secrets, and whether or not the fulfill a promise that may or may not have been made?
Indeed, simply finding a Kindred who has engaged in the commerce of prestation with the Inconnu is like seeking fragments of the Book of Nod at a strip-mall bookstore.
The only example Kindred society has of the Inconnu’s prestation practices can be traced to a written document found sealed in a jar in a burned church on the outskirts of Genoa. Notably, the boon exists in written form and specifically invokes that “the power of Christ shall strike me dead should I stray in this faith.” Whether this is simply florid phrasing or an expected outcome eludes confirmation. However the recipient of the boon, a Kindred named in the boon as “Dondinni,” still exists, according to rumor. Did the debtor satisfy the boon? One must find Dondinni to ascertain the answer, assuming such an ancient and eminent vampire would choose to share the truth.
For the clans that remain outside the sect structures of other Kindred, prestation is a double-edged sword.
It compromises some amount of their independence to play by the same rules as the sects, effectively acknowledging the prominence of the other Kindred factions. However, the elders of these clans are so familiar with boons and prestation that playing the system comes as second nature to them. Given that prestation operates across sectarian divisions, they don’t have to buy into any single sect’s policy or ideology.
Observing prestation also allows the independents to have a Kindred resource of common value —beyond blood, that is.
The Assamites rarely work in terms of prestation. Instead, most of them negotiate their contracts in terms of hard cash and precious vitae they can turn to their holy cause. Still, on occasion, Assamites will use prestation to buy into the social strata of a given domain, especially if the Assassins seek to establish a long-term presence there. Growing intimacy be tween the Assamites and the Camarilla power structure make this increasingly frequent in Ivory Tower domains.
By contrast, the Giovanni have little trouble buying into the prestation system. Indeed, some Giovanni even offer “exchange rates” for boons, buying favors (from the sects that observe prestation transference) in exchange for more liquid resources, both monetary and sanguinary. While the Giovanni are too few to have a huge impact on the global state of Kindred prestation in this regard, no few elders and keen ancillae balk at the notion of the Necromancers cornering the market on the shadow economy of promises among the undead.
Clans Ravnos and Setite have a bit more difficulty invoking and earning prestation. Even when they can convince someone to accept a promise from them, they often find themselves on the receiving end of screw-jobs. After all, even if someone does think that the Toreador Harpy granted a favor to a Follower of Set, whose interests would it serve to take the Setite’s side? Especially in the domains of the other sects, Ravnos and Setite vampires find themselves secondclass citizen when prestation comes into question.
Among themselves, the Ravnos observe casual (and unreliable) conventions of honor that confound outsiders.
The Setites, on the whole, would rather exact payment on their own terms, and potentially secured through mastery of the Blood.