House of Caine
The Tangled Web We Weave
One of the most vital, yet often overlooked aspects of Vampire the Masquerade is the trading of Boons. The word itself is almost nebulous. A NPC says “sure, I will aid you, for a boon” and the player’s blood runs cold, he stammers “Oh, most generous, but no thank you” and then runs for the hills, or decides to take some action to achieve the same goal, often through direct, dangerous and violent means. There is a belief that boons are a tool for the storyteller to play his players. What is really is is a means for the player character to instead become a player, provided he is willing to get his hands dirty. Below follows a quick guide to boons, why they’re important in Kindred society and what types of boons there are.
What is a Boon?
After the blood, prestation is the most precious resource within Kindred society. Kindred weave webs of intrigue, swear oaths, make and break promises, follow obligation, all within the framework of prestation. To put it simply, the wise Kindred grants favors. The fool incurs them.
Boons have different levels of weight and significance to them. A trivial boon might be lending a vessel to another for feeding purposes. A life boon might be to switch your position on an issue on the Primogen council at the time of a vital vote. Yet boons can be flexible. The trivial matter of lending a vessel to a vampire might become a minor or major boon if the other Kindred is starving, for instance. Another factor might be the age of the Kindred offering the boon. Demanding too steep a boon, or demanding a boon from a superior in the first place can be a good way to lose face if not artfully handled. Below are the four categories 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.
Why honor the boon?
Really. Why? Let’s say you tell another Kindred you will owe him a major boon if he uses his influence in construction to bulldoze your rival’s haven. After you’ve gotten what you want from him, when he comes asking for you to step up and do your duty, why not just give him the finger and walk away. Because, if one Kindred can walk away from paying his dues unmolested, then what is to stop everyone else from doing so? Elders have spend centuries accruing prestation. If no one were to honor their boon, then their currency would be worthless. That goes for everyone who is owed a boon. And so Kindred society comes down hard on the little vampire who would seek to escape his obligation. Social ostracism, having the offender’s assets seized, a night in the stocks at Elysium, mutilation, all of those things and worse will come down upon the Kindred who does not honor his promises.
And yet boons also offer safety. If someone owes Kindred around town boons, they will wish to see him safe. If he were to face final death, then they bloody well cannot call in their markers, now can they? Also, the Kindred owed is enjoys a measure of safety. The first person to be suspected in the case of a murder is the person indebted to the boon holder. Murdering ones way out of prestation is a good way to face the final death, brutally. Prestation provides stability, which is why the practice is the life-blood of the Camarilla.
Playing the game
Boons usually come to be in one of two ways. Either a Kindred can request a boon from another, putting himself in prestation debt to see a task accomplished. The other way is the potential creditor can state “you will owe me a favor at a latter date.” The clever Kindred never specifies the nature of the boon. It is kept vague for a reason: for the boon to have any value, other Kindred must know about it. Say the Brujah Primogen owes you a boon. It comes time to call it in, and she denies ever having owed it to you. Since you have no way of confirming it, your boon is now useless. Thus, when a boon is established, the Harpies are the first to know. Yet the boon must not be more defined than “major,” “minor” etc. or it becomes less valuable. If everone knows the Brujah primogen owes you a vote on the council, all will watch for your agenda. However, if they know the Brujah Primogen owes you a minor boon, they know you have a weapon, but not where you will direct it. It also gives the vampire holding the boon flexibility in its application.
Since the boon becomes public knowledge, naturally it affects the Kindred’s status. The one who is owed several boons enjoys a boost in status, why the indebted suffers from it. Age plays a great part here as well. If a neonate owes an elder a minor boon, then no one bats an eye. Such is the way of things. However, if the roles are reversed, then the elder would lose significant standing in the eyes of the Harpies. What self-respecting elder owes a boon to a mere childe, even a minor boon?
Another important part of prestation is boon swapping. The Kindred holding a boon is well within her rights to offer the boon owed him to another Kindred for any number of consessions. Never mind that the indebted Kindred might be worse for wear by suddenly owing his boon to another, potentially less amicable creditor, it is also a nice social snub. You care so little about the other Kindred’s clout that you’re willing to pass his debt on to someone else, who might find more use for him.
Finally, Prestation can work across sect lines. While your average Anarch or Sabbat pack might not have a concept of honor and favor trading above the “i owe you one, bro” street-level honor, the elders of those factions know well the importance of prestation. Such prestation debt is usually more hidden, since dealing across sect lines might be seen as treachery, or at least grounds for censure. Still, an underground economy of boons exists between the sects. Less scandalous are boons owed to independent clans, but only by margins.