Black Market
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Basic Information

The black market (also black1 economy) is generalism for that part of the economy which trades in goods which are explicitly illegal (if the goods are legal, but some aspect of their sale is not, then they would be traded on the grey market). Stolen goods are a interesting, borderline case for market definition - these tend to qualify as black market, simply because whilst they may well be legal when sold normally, the fact that they are, in fact, stolen, makes them illegal to hold, sell or buy in most jurisdictions.

Only in very odd, somewhat dissonant, settings will the black market operate from an actual marketplace - although the indoor market operated by the Thieve's Guild (or other appropriate organized crime) is a staple of (mostly) fiction. Normally black market goods will be sold by arranged meeting, or "under the counter" by legitimate businesses.

Black market goods may not necessarily be immoral, but often are, and are certainly illegal by definition.

The terms black and grey market may be conflated in some sources either for ideological reasons (such as the state having no desire to make the grey market look legitimate and so calling it all black) or because they come from an earlier time period before the concept of the grey market had evolved.

See Also


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Trading on the black market is fraught with risks from buyers, sellers, rival criminals and law enforcement alike (assuming that those parties are even mutually exclusive to one another). Any time the PCs need illicit supplies, a whole sub-adventure may be required.
    • Contacting the black market will probably require criminal contacts, significant local knowledge or street wisdom skills from a PC. Botching the appropriate roll may lead to all kinds of hilarity.
    • Paying may be an issue - even if the people you are dealing with accept credit card payments, it is probably unwise to use one … or at least, to use one that can be traced to you and/or that you have to pay for.
      • Barter transactions - or at least payment in "alternative currencies" are very much a thing. Recreational Drugs, for example, are commonly used traded both as stock and payment in kind - whether exchanging cocaine for weapons with South American insurgents, or inmates paying one another off with cigarettes in a prison economy. Even many low end black and grey market deals "grease the wheels" with bottles of alcoholic spirits whether as payment, sweeteners or petty bribery.
  • Likewise, robbing the black market is a potential source of "treasure" for those willing to take the resulting heat.
  • Where slavery is illegal, slaves are a common black market good, and have plenty of potential for being rescued.
  • PCs in the freight business may find they are contracted to smuggle goods for the black market - knowingly or unknowingly.
  • It bears repeating that there is a difference between illegal and immoral - trading on the black market is perfectly acceptable behaviour for PCs under the right circumstances.
    • And of course, PCs may be selling as well as buying - some of their loot may be of kinds that can only be sold on the black market.
  • In some settings, specific species may be particularly prone to operating in the black market - goblins are a traditional favourite.
    • Example, the Arcanist Jhubert's Urbis setting includes the concept of the Goblin Market - albeit not always fully manned by Goblins.
  • Computer games in particular seem to favour black market dealers who operate from the back of a van, or from a room in an abandoned building - especially where there are weapons to be sold. Smaller items are often sold hanging from the inside of a long coat or (mostly in fantasy games) from the backpack of a suspicious looking peddler. More realistic dealers will probably meet their customers by appointment, bringing with them the goods requested (or their closest offer thereto). Generally the larger and more expensive the goods, the bigger the performance involved in the sale.
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