Wrecker
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Give us a wreck or two, good Lord;
Winter along this coast is hard.
Grey frost creeps like mortal sin,
No food in the larder, no bread in the bin.

One rich wreck, or maybe two,
Food and stores to see us through,
Til Spring leaps up like break of day
And fish return to the empty bay,

One rich wreck, for thy hand is strong,
A brig, or a merchant one from up along.
Caught on your twisted tides, good lord,
Drawn by our false lights to the shore.

(from) Tall Ships Show of Hands

Basic Information

Wreckers are costal dwellers who seek to enrich themselves by luring passing shipping to shipwreck itself along their shoreline, with the intention of then looting the wrecks. Entry level to the wrecking profession is illegal salvage of wrecks that occur anyway - little more than petty theft, often incited by disagreement with the state over who owns debris washed up on the tideline.

More malignant wreckers do their work by extinguishing existing coastal lights and sometimes by lighting their own, causing ship's navigators to mistake their course and collide with reefs and rocks along the shore. This tends to quickly escalate to murder - of lighthouse keepers at first, often followed by that of surviving seamen from the wrecks. This can then lead to conflict with Coroners, customs officers, police and others responsible for wrecks … and murder investigations.

Involvement with smugglers is also to be expected - if only to fence the stolen salvage.

Works from the late medieval into the early 20th Century - times that are advanced enough that mariners expect lights, but not so advanced that ships can navigate freely without them, nor have the seakeeping to avoid most coastal hazards.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Good villains for a costal game - whether a purely mundane, Daphne DuMaurier sort of game or something more eldritch with Deep ones and/or cultists.
  • The old school, budget RPG Dragon Warriors included a pretty usable scenario in their module The Elven Crystals.
    • Which, incidentally, gives pause for thought as to what "lord" the wrecker's prayer (as used in the flavour text by Show of Hands) might be addressed to… wreckers might have some twisted or downright pagan practices in their religion.
    • Plot wise, perhaps a heretical priest appears at a starving village to replace their previous minister - possibly sent by an unknowing bishop, and possibly having murdered the real replacement and stolen his identity - he then persuades a desperate congregation to join him in the wrecker's prayer and, after a bit of ambiguity - is it magic or just careful placement of a false beacon? - the first wreck occurs. The priest then leads them deeper into blasphemy, sacrificing shipwrecked survivors and - perhaps - using the resulting power to bring more wrecks. The whole scenario can be worked out without the PCs ever necessarily being sure whether any magic took place or not…
  • Characters can be introduced in media res by having them wrecked and washed ashore … and then hunted by the wreckers around a strange and hostile coast.
    • For a solo adventure, you could even have a mugging the monster type scenario where the PC is - unknowingly - a revenant who turns out not to have actually survived. Best played as a one-off.
    • Speaking of which, the monster-muggers could simply wreck a ship that was carrying something really quite unpleasant back from overseas. Start, perhaps, with a hippopotamus or crocodile that is extremely brassed off with its time in the hold.
  • This is sort of like Piracy without the mobile element. So you might riff off pirate tropes, themes, or costuming.
    • Easily done given that the coasts of South-Western England were dotted with small ports whose seamen could quite happily combine the careers of fisherman, pirate and smuggler - and who might not be adverse to a bit of wrecking either. As noted in the pirate page, the cliched "pirate" accent is that of South-Western England.
  • In the novel Dracula, the HMS Demeter washes up ashore with no crew left alive. If you wanted to subvert expectations and woobify the vampire, you could reveal that disaster was caused by wreckers instead of the Count's uncontrollable hunger.
    • This would go well with the stealing the bomb plot above - in this case the beast in the hold is a vampire that wanted to be somewhere else.
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