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Pressure Points: An Ancilla's Guide To Prestation

by: Mitch A Legacy Article from Sanguinus Curae

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A recent gangster movie went something like this:
Boss: "I need a favor."
Gangster: "I don't work for you anymore."
Boss: "Well then, I'm calling in your debt."
Gangster: "But I didn't borrow it from you, I borrowed it from Tony."
Boss: "Where do you think Tony got the money?"
Gangster: "Damn."

If you're going to exist in the world of prestation -- the system of boons and favors among the Kindred -- you better be good at it. Whether trying to acquire something or resisting someone else's influence, here are some tools to work with.

This article is interested only in prestation, so if you can conduct business just by convincing someone it's "the right thing to do," you don't need this article. Likewise, prestation is a system of boons and favors, not commerce. If you can simply buy or trade something, it doesn't fall into this category. Disciplines also aren't discussed here. Prestation is not enforced through Dominate or the threat of Potence; it's created by clout and deals. For additional reading, any book on negotiating is a great start. But vampires work outside the law so this article looks at things from that perspective.

For the purpose of this article, the Kindred who starts the process is the initiator. The Kindred who has something the initiator wants is the subject. It assumes the initiator wants something of the subject's, and the subject is not willing to part with it. Maybe it's something that can't be sold because it's intangible. (The Sabbat don't respect honor, so it's safe to say that prestation is mostly a Camarilla issue.)

Winning and losing are not useful terms in prestation. If you owe a powerful Malkavian elder a dozen boons that you're paying off, do you suppose he would let you get staked? He doesn't want to lose one of his investments. So maybe all that "debt" can work in your favor. Of course owing a dozen boons to a Malkavian elder may be worse than Final Death anyway!

ACQUISITION

Let's assume you need something. Better hunting grounds, influence on the vice squad, a more secure haven, what-have-you. Odds are, another Kindred already has it or can get it for you. There's no way to simply purchase the item from them. In that case, you need a plan of action to get your subject to give you what you need.

Priorities

As initiator, your priorities are limiting options, maintaining positive outcomes and winning the secrecy wars, as described below.

Most importantly, the subject must feel that they have to do it. Given a choice, the answer will always be no. So your subject can't be given a choice. Give them negotiating room, but not room to reject your offer wholesale.

Next the subject can't walk away with a need for revenge. Prestation isn't about violence or arm-twisting. It's about political influence and win-win situations.

Of final importance is secrecy. It would be best if the subject doesn't know why you want something and no one else knows about the deal until after the fact. Similarly, it's favorable to you if you influence their decision with things they had no idea you could pull out, like in the gangster example at the beginning of the article.

Action Plan

Research
As the title of the article suggests, you need to find pressure points to influence someone's decision. These are weaknesses or mistakes made by other Kindred that you could exploit. This research period is pretty much permanent for elders, who always watch for any opening to gain leverage on other Kindred.

Introductory Offer
At some point you have to actually make an offer, Kindred-to-Kindred. (Again, if a fair trade occurs, prestation does not. It's just another business deal.) This must be face-to-face as well. No one is going to hold up a favor made through proxies. "Oh I didn't realize that butler of yours was serious!"

This offer should probably be made where the initiator seems strong and the subject seems weak. The Prince will call you to his offices at an inconvenient time (for you). An elder will discuss the matter on his domain. You should do the same. Everything from the lighting to the time of night can influence your subject's decision.

You should reveal just enough of the dirt you've dredged up to make them worry. Limit their options. Encourage them to just say yes. Be their best friend and a prospective partner -- or their worst nightmare.

Increase Pressure
If the subject refuses they won't do it directly with the word "No." They will dodge (see below). You probably won't have a choice but to let the matter drop ... for now. A classic mistake in negotiating is assuming no means no. No means maybe.

Steadily increase pressure on the subject to get them to change their minds. It helps to come at them from surprising directions every time. Prestation is like war: it isn't about destroying them; it's about making them surrender.

You may require more pressure on strong subjects or those that don't get along with you. Or you may require less influence on weak subjects or followers of yours. The only rule is not to waste anything. A weakness of theirs you unnecessarily reveal can't be used later!

Success
Assuming you have enough to influence your subject and they agree, you have to formally accept. In Kindred society, prestation is public. Perhaps it's unofficial like casually mentioning it to a harpy, or more formalized by having it documented by a seneschal.

And don't forget positive image-management for yourself. You can gain status if you make it seem easy. Don't act too eager for praise, though.

In the end, the initiator owes the subject a favor or boon. The level may me mitigated by pressure, but if there was just a trade of goods you wouldn't record it with the powers-that-be anyway.

Failure
At some point you may realize you can't get what you want. Retreat becomes necessary. There are two points to consider: the personal backlash and the social impact.

Don't let the subject see you as weak. Disinterested is the best mood to affect. Make sure they know you don't care anymore and can go on about their business. Distance yourself from them and their allies. Don't allow them to counterattack.

Watch the spin-factor after incidents like this. If you have to back down, the harpies will see this as a weakness. And that means someone else is about to start this whole cycle again ... with you as the subject!

RESISTANCE

Priorities

Assuming you don't want someone to be in debt to you or don't want to give up the favor, your priorities as subject are closing loopholes, controlling escalation and making demands, as described below.

If you have no visible weaknesses, there's nothing to exploit. Close any loopholes in your social and commercial circles. Keep up appearances; continue to go out. Don't appear to go into hiding or develop a siege mentality. It's just business as usual!

Your next priority is keeping the request for a favor under control. Act like you're in the driver's seat. Don't let the situation devolve into threats, intimidation or violence. Don't retaliate just because someone is putting pressure on you.

Eventually you may have to make demands. Set the value of the favor very high, but not impossibly high. Try to get more than it's worth. Haggling and negotiations have killed more deals than anything.

Action Plan

Recognition
Surprise wins a lot of battles. The summary of a lot of quotes by Sun Tzu and Napoleon is "don't get surprised." So keep your feelers out. Keep an eye on Kindred activity in the city. Talk to your allies, contacts, etc. Early recognition that you are about to be put in a bad situation is key.

Reaction
Once you have had an offer for something you don't want to give up, carefully consider your reaction. The best option is dodging.

Ask a clerk in a store if they have something you know they don't have. Will they say "No"? Of course not. They will look around, leave you standing there for a while, offer to order it, or suggest other products. This dodges the real answer: we don't have it and there isn't squat I can do about that so go away.

Next, ask someone who owes you something if you can have it back. Will they say "No"? Of course not. They will hem and haw, joke around, change the topic and make any promise to get off the subject. This also dodges the real answer: you're never going to get it back so shut the hell up.

Use that. Act like a politician and don't answer the question directly. It's an ages-old tactic to give an answer that doesn't even fit the question. Stall or delay, but never say "No."

Other possibilities are endless. You could get rid of the item in question to someone else, possibly for safekeeping. (The article assumes you want to keep it though.) You could ignore the offer for a variety of reasons. Act busy as a means of stalling. Just do anything but discuss the issue with the initiator.

Control Escalation
If the initiator has, well, the initiative, you may be forced to respond to every nasty tidbit they bring up about you, every possible rumor they spread, etc. To get proactive, you have to be in the driver's seat.

The most obvious tool at your disposal is prestation itself. If others owe you, call those debts in. Make them work for you. That's why you collected them in the first place.

You could enact your own acquisition plan, trying to get dirt on the initiator to trade for the dirt they have on you. Rumors, gossip and half-truths are the currency of prestation. So if they want you to shut up about something, they will probably be quiet about something on you.

You can over-react to your own benefit too (brinksmanship). Vampires are deadly predators and every one has a Beast inside. You could act offended by someone intruding on your domain and take it to higher authorities. Of course this risks the ire of the authorities.

Success
It's hard to define victory when you're the subject. You may be able to avoid the deal or make a sweet trade: they get your item for a big favor to be named later. If there is a deal, make sure you don't look like you got the short end of the stake. Of course, the initiator should make sure the recorders of status know about it.

If you avoid the whole situation altogether, just count your retainers and move on. Unless they made some grave error, in which case you should pounce on them and turn the tables!

Failure
If someone approaches you for some invaluable, priceless item with a trivial favor to trade, then uses hardball tactics to pressure you into making the trade, then yes, you might "lose."

The initiator wants to look good among his allies and neutral parties, so sometimes you can negotiate for more just for appearances. Get them to sweeten the deal, even if the trade is a minor boon. You may be able to stretch it into something more.

TURN-ABOUT

The sad fact is that the initiator is trying to get into debt with the subject. In the end they may get what they want but at a very high price ... up to and including a Life Boon. And after the fact, even if the favor was small it can be blown out of proportion. Minor boons can take decades to pay off.

LONG-TERM

With repeated successful exercising of these skills, you gain Status. It becomes easier to ask for favors without expecting each to become a battle. In a Camarilla chronicle, Kindred with serious prestation skills should acquire titles too.

Obviously this can only come about during play, but Storytellers should keep a record of prestation successes and failures for characters so that they can logically be assumed to get better at it. Or at least their reputation will precede them!

REMINDERS

Prestation is a system of Kindred owing Kindred. Avoid trades or selling things or you'll never get any boons. Prestation only occurs when an intangible is owed from one Kindred to another. Anything else, no matter how unfair, is just your average, every night deal.

Winning and losing are relative. Prestation is the game the elders and ancillae play. One step back may be needed to go two steps forward. You can't build up a credit rating without owing debts and then paying them off. The best "mistake" a neonate can make is to become indebted to the right Primogen.

As Storyteller, I like to create a lot of connections between the Storyteller characters, and a list of boons between Kindred helps to construct it. Like coterie diagrams, notes on who-owes-whom are a great way of making your political chronicle believable.

EXAMPLE

Stefan the Nosferatu is the secret sponsor of a rising young singer; he became entranced by her voice at her debut. From the shadows, he wants to encourage her career to move to more modern music than the operas that her parents forced her to learn.

He knows that Gregory the Toreador has a lot of influence in the local clubs, specifically a section known as "the Galaxy" because it has created so many stars. If Stefan could get the singer into the jazz clubs, she could be discovered. Stefan could try to pay Gregory for some help but he knows how wealthy Gregory already is. So Stefan needs to influence Gregory to "lend" him some influence in the Galaxy clubs.

Stefan knows what effect a Toreador could have on the young, mortal singer, so he decides on an alternate motive for needing influence in the clubs. William the Ventrue is a mutual foe of both of them and William's mafia contacts frequent these clubs. Stefan wants to get close to them under Obfuscate to learn more of the Ventrue's plans -- or so he will tell Gregory.

At Elysium one night, after Stefan asks a few questions about the Galaxy clubs, Gregory notices and asks Stefan why he's interested. Stefan quietly hints at his plan to listen to mafia members in those clubs, but wishes he knew who had influence there so that he could get better access. Gregory says he'll look into that, but offers no help. Everyone knows who has influence in the Galaxy clubs, so Gregory was dodging Stefan.

A few nights later, Stefan drops a tidbit of information within earshot of Gregory: the managers of the most successful club have been skimming the profits and Stefan has the evidence. The IRS could be brought in at a moment's notice. Gregory isn't pleased with the idea of his best club being raided -- probably at night -- by armed federal agents. Later, he approaches Stefan and explains he may be able to help. Stefan offers a trivial boon in exchange for access to the clubs. Gregory considers it. Before he can leave though, Stefan offers to share anything he finds out about the mafia members with Gregory.

Is Gregory going to let a Nosferatu into his clubs to spy on anyone there for only a trivial boon? Not likely. He scoffs and declares this would be worth at least a major boon.

Stefan seems to carefully consider, then brings out the big gun: someone in Gregory's position doesn't have much room to make declarations. After all, Stefan knows the profits that are skimmed from the clubs go straight to Gregory and he uses them to bribe city officials. Then the City Council does nothing about the corruption in the Galaxy clubs. The Prince has declared all elected mortal officials his domain, and they are off-limits without his approval.

Gregory is caught with little room to move. It might just be easier to allow the Sewer Rat access to the clubs and than to risk the anger of the Prince. So he negotiates up to a minor boon. Like civilized Kindred, they shake on it.

Stefan casually mentions his new feeding ground in the Galaxy clubs, courtesy of Gregory, to a Harpy who can never keep his mouth shut. In no time, Kindred know that Stefan is an accepted fixture in the Galaxy clubs and that he owes Gregory for that.

Everybody wins; nobody loses. Except for William the Ventrue. But that's another story.

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