Blood and Bourbon
“One bad thing about making a deal with the devil is, he always comes to collect.”
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 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. They are formally referred to by their Latin names.
Nexum Munus (Trivial Boon)
“I will perform a one-time favor for the person to whom I owe this boon. I will grant him succor for the day if it does not place me at personal risk. I will use a Discipline for him if he requires it. I will support his political gambit for a single night. Once he has called it in, my debt is fulfilled. I will not place myself in a position to break my word nor will I betray my clan, my covenant, my Prince, nor any other oaths of loyalty I have taken.”
A trivial boon is a simple favor owed for receiving a minor service, political consideration, or forgiving a social faux pas. This type of boon should be freely offered and accepted, much like a business card. Payment of a trivial boon should involve simple one-time favors or services that take no more than a single game session or a night to complete.
Example Scenarios Involving Trivial Boons:
• Making a formal social introduction to an important Kindred
• Using Dominate to alter a mortal’s memory
• Covering a potentially embarrassing social faux pas in front of the Harpy
• Warning someone about a potential danger to them
• Letting the creditor feed from a single member of your Herd
• Assisting with a task for the evening, such as working security for a salon
• Leveraging one of your disciplines to aid your creditor’s cause
Nexum Minor (Minor Boon)
“I will endeavor to fulfill the debt I owe: I have inconvenienced the person to whom I owe this boon by asking him to do the favor for me in the first place. I understand that I may be inconvenienced by the favors he asks for in return. If needs be, I will secure his safe passage into a hostile city. I will reveal to him secrets I know that could undermine members of my clan or my domain. I will aid in destroying his enemies, whomever they may be. I shall offer physical protection for several nights. I accept this debt because I asked roughly the same of the one I owe.”
A minor boon represents a favor that requires a significant amount of time or effort, but low risk. Payment of a minor boon should involve simple one-time favors or services that take no more than several game sessions or weeks (whichever is longer) to complete.
Example Scenarios Involving Minor Boons:
• Letting the creditor feed from your herd or hunt in your territory for an extended period
• Helping someone find safe passage through a hostile city
• Supporting a political or social agenda that doesn’t undermine your own position
• Revealing sensitive information that could undermine the standing of other Kindred
• Arranging the murder of a troublesome mortal
• Teaching a common Camarilla Discipline, such as Auspex, Dominate or Majesty
A minor boon is also worth three trivial boons.
Nexum Maior (Major Boon)
“I will accept that I have earned a great debt to the one to whom I owe this boon. He has given much time, effort and compromised perhaps many things he believes in to give me this favor; thus I do return it. I understand that if required I would even teach him the immortal powers that the Embrace conferred upon me. I shall aid him in whatever political goal he so desires, even if this means openly standing against my Prince or clan. I would, if he so wished, locate for him or give him property I own or that of others, even if gaining this property is taken at the expense of another.”
A major boon represents a large debt that requires a good deal of time or resources to pay, which may involve risking your personal political or social capital. Payment of a major boon should involve one-time favors or services that take no more than a single storyline or several months (whichever is longer) to complete.
Example Scenarios Involving Major Boons:
• Revealing sensitive information that could undermine your own standing
• Purchasing a major business, building, or land
• Aligning yourself with a political or social agenda that potentially harms your own position with your clan and covenant, such as supporting someone’s bid for praxis
• Stealing a valuable occult tome from the Tremere chantry
• Protecting your creditor’s body and guarding his interests while he is in torpor
• Teaching an uncommon Camarilla Discipline, such as Protean or Obfuscate
A major boon is also worth three minor boons or nine trivial boons.
Until the boon is repaid, the creditor enjoys +1 to all Social rolls against the debtor.
Nexum Cruor (Blood Boon)
“I do accept that the person to whom I owe this boon to is one to whom I owe many things, perhaps more than can ever be repaid. My current existence is dependent upon him. Thus, I owe him things that can never be repaid. I will place myself in danger for him. If my blood is shed, then I care not. If this means I betray my clan and Prince and bring him low, I care not. He has done the same for me, so I accept that I shall do it for him.”
When one Kindred places himself in a potentially life-threatening situation in order to assist another Kindred, the debtor owes a blood boon. A blood boon is a very serious debt, and can never be repaid until the debtor sheds blood on the bestower’s behalf—whether by murdering another Kindred or putting her unlife at direct risk on the creditor’s behalf.
Example Scenarios Involving Blood Boons:
• You assassinate a Kindred rival on your debtor’s behalf, knowing that the penalty for destroying your own kind is Final Death
• Politically aligning yourself with your creditor on a highly dangerous venture, such as overthrowing the Prince
• Offering shelter and protection to someone being hunted by dangerous enemies for an indefinite period of time.
• Divulging clan or covenant secrets that would utterly ruin your reputation
• Divulging secrets other Kindred would attempt to destroy you for, such as the Prince being a diablerist or the Seneschal being an undercover Sabbat agent
• Personally wiping out a nest of vampire hunters that could well be ready for you
• Offering instruction in a clan- or covenant-exclusive Discipline or sorcery that is forbidden to be taught to outsiders, such as Coils of the Dragon, Crúac, Thaumaturgy, and Theban Sorcery.
A blood boon is also worth three major boons, nine minor boons, or 27 trivial boons.
Until the boon is repaid, the creditor enjoys +3 to all Social rolls against the debtor.
Nexum Vita (Life Boon)
“I owe someone a life boon, my life, will, and body is his. The debt I owe can never be repaid unless I save his life. I am his to command for his will and purpose. I will do whatever is asked of me, and if this means that I am to die then so be it. I live only because of him and thus my life is his to command.”
When one Kindred actively risks her immortal existence in order to save another from Final Death, a life boon is owed. There is only one way to repay such a terrible debt—by saving the creditor’s unlife and returning the service in kind. Until that night, the debtor is little better than an unreleased childe and must obey his creditor in all things. Perhaps if he is lucky, the Harpies will decide he has performed an equivalent service by faithfully serving his creditor for centuries, revealing unspeakable secrets that his former allies now curse him for, and completely destroying his own influence base.
Example Scenarios Involving Life Boons:
• Saving the Requiem of another vampire at direct risk to your own unlife
• Protecting a fugitive who is under blood hunt or on the Red List
• Covering up an unspeakable crime, such as diablerie or infernalism
A blood boon is also worth three blood boons, nine major boons, 27 minor boons, or 81 trivial boons.
Until the boon is repaid, the creditor enjoys +5 to all Social rolls against the debtor.
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.
Kindred Credit: Owing Boons
Harpies distrust outsider Kindred who refuse to owe boons. In fact, a Kindred who does not have at least one registered boon to another local member of the Camarilla is not considered a “real” resident of the domain.
The Camarilla depends on the interconnected web of status and prestation to help preserve the Traditions. A vampire who owes nobody has nothing to contain or chain her actions. A vampire who refuses to play by the system is worse than a rogue. Neonates refer to these loners as “vampire hobos,” living on the edge of society and ignoring bonds of loyalty or propriety.
An advantage to owing a boon is that once a vampire offers a boon to repay a debt or forgive an insult, the topic is usually never discussed again. Offer an insulted vampire a boon and, if accepted, you are certain that she will not seek revenge in the future. If that insult is brought up again, the Harpies will socially eviscerate that vampire for ignoring a boon paid in good faith.
Some vampires find offering boons a blow to their egos, as it feels like a loss. However, the only real loss to an immortal is Final Death. Kindred not connected to others via boons lack the basic protection offered by owing an immortal predator a debt. A vampire who is owed a boon will wish to see it collected eventually. Once a boon is owed, a relationship is created. The creditors you owe now have an invested interest in keeping you around. After all, no one wants their debtors to suddenly go missing.
Conversely, young or powerless vampires cannot be bullied into owing a boon to an elder merely because of the vast gulf of social power that exists between them. A service must be provided or a real insult must be levied to result in owing a boon. Lazy elders who try to pick low-hanging fruit will find that the Harpies and other elders scrutinize their transactions very carefully. The Kindred who attempts to erroneously claim to save another’s life will find others angry at them for devaluing boons.
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 other Kindred, such as a Chancellor) 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 Toreador 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 Toreador 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 Toreador 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 Toreador 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 Lancea et Sanctum ritae and Circle of the Crone witchcraft have similar effects. Even among the Anarch Movement, Invictus, and Ordo Dracul, 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, Harpies, 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. The worst may well be unspeakable — but the Kindred rumor mill certainly circulates endless dire stories to discourage other would-be oath-slayers.
WoD: Gotham writes: Camarilla society would fall apart without Harpies—they have value. They set trends and examples for the less experienced. They spread news and rumors and are the vehicle by which prestation operates. Some would ask, “Why not kill the harpies? They are mean and nasty and not very fair… whaaaa! They lie, cheat, and talk shit… let us be done with it!”
Would you kill one who is connected to powerful Kindred? Would you want to kill the people who keep track of your boons? Would you kill someone who will most certainly point out when someone has not honored a boon to you? In this way Harpies are quite useful to even neonates because for all their faults, Harpies do insist that the rules of their game are followed by EVERYONE. If a neonate manages to gain a boon on a more senior or important Kindred, you better believe that those Harpies whom the neonate despised will suddenly be his best friend. They will make sure that his boon is honored when no one else would.
Obviously, the powers that be in a given domain tend to look unfavorably upon oathbreakers. Whatever covenant 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.
Boonbreakers and the Harpies: A boonbreaker is a vampire who has refused to pay on a boon owed. Stigmatizing a Kindred for this reason is the worst punishment a Harpy can levy. The Harpy must first publicly give the debtor a chance to repay the boon. Should the debtor not complete this task to the Harpy’s satisfaction, she declares the rogue vampire a boonbreaker. This has the following consequences:
• All boons owed to and from a boon breaker are null and void. The vampire now exists as a rogue on the edges of vampire society.
• As long as the vampire suffers from the moniker of boonbreaker, she has effectively zero dots in Camarilla Status. Her clan and covenant will likely shun her as well.
Often, debt holders owed by a boonbreaker will hunt down and kill their former debtor. Most Princes will banish boonbreakers from their domains, lest that vampire damage the reputation of the entire city. A boonbreaker may appeal to the Harpy who punished her for mercy, once she has shown a willingness to address her crimes and pay her boon. A Harpy who forgives boonbreakers too often will find her fellow Harpies monitoring her actions a little closer.
Should the Harpy refuse mercy to a boonbreaker, the former debtor may attempt to appeal to a court of Harpies (often referred to as a Murder of Harpies). The boonbreaker may tell her story and offer evidence. The Harpy who declared the debtor a boonbreaker has the option of defending her actions.
At the end, each member of the court will publicly announce her vote. Should the Murder of Harpies overturn the boonbreaker’s status, the awarding Harpy is greatly humiliated. Should the punishment be upheld, the boonbreaker typically faces even more severe ostracism for wasting the Harpies’ time.
On rare occasions, a Murder of Harpies from numerous domains in the region (such as a group of states or a small country) will gather at a regional conclave to pass judgment upon an entire domain accused of ignoring boons. Should the Murder of Harpies decide by majority vote that the accused domain has ignored prestation and station, they may declare an entire domain to be boonbreakers. All boons coming into and out of that domain are considered null and void. Domains suffering from this stigma are deemed very disreputable, and many consider anyone who lives there unaligned. Sometimes entire domains go to war over boons.
Blood Hunts and Boons: A blood hunt cancels all boons owed and owned by a vampire. The very act of a blood hunt negates the existence of a vampire. A creature under a blood hunt is no longer considered a vampire and thus does not deserve prestation. Should a vampire manage to clear her name and have the blood hunt removed, she regains all of her previous prestation. Of course, sheltering a vampire from a blood hunt can itelf be worth a life boon…
Vampires Faking Their Own Deaths: Vampires occasionally fail miserably in politics, and some try to start over by faking their Final Deaths. A wise vampire settles all outstanding affairs before attempting such a gambit. Harpies take a very harsh stance on miscreants who attempt to escape debts to others in such a fashion. A vampire caught in such a desperate move will quickly discover that all boons owed to her have been declared null and void. This does not remove any prestation debt the vampire owed before she faked her Final Death.
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 Archbishop 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 rival covenants within the Camarilla are also often scrutinized, as the success of one sect is frequently the hindrance of the other. How can a staunchly conservative Invictus Prince trust a subject who openly deals with a pack of Anarch terrorists that oppose everything his title represents?
At times, clan unity becomes more important than sect or covenant 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 would-be 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.