Generally a fence buys goods from a thief at far below the market value and then sells them on to the general public whilst disguising - or at least obfuscating - their illicit status. The fence will sometimes rely on simple stealth to avoid punishment, and frequently on the tacit or explicit connivance of his customers, but may also maintain a respectable "front" business as a cover for his illicit dealings.
Historically, pawnbroking was a popular front for fences, especially those handling "general household goods", but less reputable members of any business may launder some percentage of "black" merchandise through an otherwise legitimate operation (for example using parts from stolen and disassembled cars as cheap, off label "reconditioned parts" in a auto-repair workshop). Increasingly modern thieves may try to cut out the middleman and sell directly on line, but this is not yet a foolproof (or even fool-resistant) method of work.
The fence may also commission thefts (besides merely buying any knocked off goods that arrive at his counter) and/or coach and train thieves to make them more productive (viz. the thieves' kitchen run by the fence Fagin in Charles Dickins's Oliver Twist).
Game and Story Use
- Where a thieve's guild, or other organized crime exists, they are likely to run the local fences … or be the local fences … or at least keep a directory.
- This may be how they keep thieving to be a "closed shop" in thier manors - you can't fence goods without a union card, and anyone trying can be easily detected.
- PCs looking for goods stolen from them might well tour the local fences.
- Likewise those looking to get deeper into the black market - although establishing credibility might be a problem.
- Once identified, a fence may be a good place to hire a contract thief for a specific job.
- PCs may find themselves unwittingly receiving stolen goods from a laundering fence.
- If you don't mind legal and moral matters, these people are probably a good source of cheap goods.
- Also, a good place to dump more questionable loot - subject to status and being aware that you'll get nothing like book value.
- PCs innocently selling used goods to a fence with a legitimate front might be pegged as thieves, either by the police or the guild. Or both…
- The Thief should probably know at least a few of these.
- Note the role as mentor to thieves - in a small town, the fence might be as close as you get to a guild.
- Also, Fagin - as an idea to develop NPCs from.