Maelstrom (role playing game)

Maelstrom (role playing game)
Designer(s) Alexander Scott
Publisher(s) Puffin Books/Arion Games
Publication date 1984
Genre(s) Historical
System(s) Custom

Maelstrom is a role-playing game by Alexander Scott, published in 1984 by Puffin Books as a single soft cover book. The book provided a wealth of information for role-playing in a 16th century or 17th century European setting although the rules could be easily adapted to any time period or location. Firearms (readily available in Europe at this time) are conspicuously absent from the setting.

The game provided a very realistic combat system (especially with all of the advanced rules incorporated), and innovative game mechanics to cover wounds/healing, experience, aging, professions and magic.[citation needed]

Maelstrom has maintained a small but loyal following since it was originally printed in part because of the depth of background and information presented, and because of the innovative game mechanics.[citation needed] The herbal pharmacopoeia present at the end of the book, representing herbal knowledge of the time, has become legendary in roleplaying circles and is believed to have been a major source document for many subsequent RPG herbals (only some of which credit Maelstrom).[citation needed]

Maelstrom has been republished as a PDF in 2008 by Arion Games, under license from Puffin Books.



Unlike combat in most contemporary RPGs, and even most RPGs today, combat in Maelstrom was very realistic. Characters could easily end up with wounds that would last for months or suffer the loss of digits, or limbs. Using the advanced rules a character may well collapse from particular types of mortal wounds, or in combat from sheer exhaustion, especially if wearing heavy armour.

Wounds and Healing

In Maelstrom, wounds are recorded separately and heal in parallel. A character suffering a series of minor wounds will recover much more quickly than one receiving one significant wound even if the total wounds for each character amount to the same numerical value. Characters engaging in bed rest will heal much more quickly than those who remain on the road. With the advanced rules in play characters could suffer cuts, bruises or a variety of serious injuries from their opponents' (or their own) weapons.


Experience rolls are on percentile dice and are made against a specific attribute when the character succeeds in an area relevant to that attribute. When a successful experience roll is made the attribute increases by one point (indicating increased ability in this area). Thus as characters become more experienced they have progressively more difficulty increasing attributes. This produces a negative feedback loop. As the author notes, it is less likely that an experienced character will learn a new trick too often, whereas someone who has no experience in a particular area may well learn something each time they exercise a skill.


Age is a very important characteristic to a character in Maelstrom, unlike many RPGs where aging is not a major consideration in character generation.

All Maelstrom characters start at age 14. As part of building a character the player then chooses one or more professions. The character spends a number of years training in each profession and is normally assumed to have fully completed all training at the start of the campaign.

Age impacts the maximum values that each attribute may have. An inexperienced character may thus have low initial values but great potential while an older character with experience may actually find that their attributes are limited by their age maximum, and continue to decline as they get older. A character starting with many professions will be older than other characters and will thus never achieve the lofty attribute scores a younger character could achieve. Older characters are also more susceptible to disease.


Professions in Maelstrom are not like the rigid class systems seen in many other RPGs from the 1980s. A character may have one, two, three or more professions as long as the referee agrees (a player normally being expected to provide a plausible explanation for the character having studied so many areas). In some cases a character may be expected to refrain from using skills previously acquired on entering a new profession. One example noted in the rule book is that of a mercenary becoming a priest and being expected to eschew previous experience with weapons.

Magic System

Mages in 16th and 17th century Europe are seen as practitioners of ancient magical arts. They are not witches although the authorities often see them this way. Mages must keep their identities hidden from the inquisition and the church and so are expected to have a respectable profession along with their magical skills.

Unlike many role-playing games no list of spells is provided. The list of available spells is assumed to be vast. A mage can attempt to cast any spell that is within the areas of magic understood by the character. Mages can specialise, which provides improved capability in some areas or they may choose to study only certain areas and be unable to cast spells unrelated to their area of study.

When casting a spell Mages contact the "Maelstrom" to warp reality. The more that reality would need to change in order to fulfil the spell the more difficult the spell is to cast. Spells are graded by the referee on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 (representing events that are impossible) being the most difficult. Inexperienced mages will typically be only able to cast spells of grade 1 or 2 and even the most experienced mages will have difficulty with a spell of grade 5. Failure to successfully cast a spell can be dangerous with the severity of the consequences growing with the grade of the spell.

With an optional rule in place, excessive use of magic, particularly in a single area, can cause instabilities in reality.

External links

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