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Prestation is quite simply the process of trading, repaying and incurring favors among vampires.
The system of Prestation is what keeps vampiric society together and tempers the violent isolationism that is essential to the Beast. As a result, Kindred society is a Byzantine knot of favors owed, loyalties sworn, debts repaid, and promises broken.
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.
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. 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.
Prestation debts continue to 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.
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.
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. Veterans of these deadly games also favor maneuvering potential debtors into perilous situations and then rescuing them dramatically, thus placing the hapless victims in their debt.
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. 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). 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 creditors dodging anything that might conceivably be construed as a satisfaction from their debtors.
Many fledgling and neonates have stumbled ignorantly into these webs and have found themselves in horrendous debts and on the mercy of the elders, who use them as pawns in their own games. In turn, they begin to manipulate their younger peers and own childer and keep the War of Ages going.
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 and the formality of favors — becomes worthless.
Those who break the rules of prestation found themselves hunted and deemed untrustworthy even by the standards of undead monsters. In the Camarilla, the Harpies and the Chancellor are responsible for keeping track of the various prestation debts sworn in a domain. Other sects use no designated members, but keep check of prestation developments nonetheless.
As a result, altruism, trust and generosity are rare among the Damned, as everyone expects something in return, even if he didn’t claim it outright. Signs of these traits are seen as a weakness that other vampires will soon exploit. The art of Prestation is one of the reasons friendships seldom survive in undeath.
- V20 Companion, p. 37