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Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by !

(from) A Smuggler's Song Rudyard Kipling

Basic Information

A smuggler is a person who transports goods (or people) across national frontiers (or other barriers) without legal sanction1 and/or trades in the black market at source or destination.

Smugglers can transport their cargos by land, sea or air as required - and even underground in some cases - and can work on almost any scale, from single items to industrial scale shipment of raw materials.

The motive for smuggling can also vary widely - the smugglers may merely be avoiding customs duty on an otherwise legal trade or shipping grey market goods against a price fixing regime, but equally their cargo may be contraband at one or both ends of the voyage. Values dissonance may accrue by cargo, destination and era2. Import/export of illegal immigrants is also a significant branch of the smuggling trade. Often referred to as "people trafficking" this is sometimes voluntary and usually exploitative at best3 … at worst it is a feeder for slavery in the modern era.

Obviously, smugglers need a good knowledge of their transport route and a talent for stealth or disguise (or both) … and the ability to subvert law enforcement at one or both ends probably helps. In many eras, smugglers are liable to be well armed and fairly ruthless - especially when their trade happens to be capital.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • If your PCs need to cross a frontier without the appropriate form of authorisation - or otherwise avoid pursuit by the authorities - smugglers are liable to be of use.
  • Likewise, if they need to accquire contraband supplies.
  • PCs may be smugglers.
    • This may not even be deliberate, if they are in the tramp cargo business and find themselves saddled with a load which turns out to be somewhat illegal.
  • Smugglers also make good villains - especially if engaged in the more dissonant types of trade such as slaving/people trafficking or shipping recreational drugs.
    • Turning over smugglers may give the PCs access to contraband treasure - firearms, drugs, black money and duty free goods.
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