Maelstrom (role-playing game)
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|Publisher(s)||Puffin Books/Arion Games|
Maelstrom is a role-playing game by Alexander Scott, originally published in 1984 by Puffin Books as a single soft cover book. The game is set in a 16th to 17th century British setting – the Tudor Period and the Elizabethan era – although the rules can be adapted to other locations or time periods. Firearms (readily available in Europe at this time) are conspicuously absent from the setting, mentioned only in passing in the initial rulebook.
Maelstrom has been republished as a PDF in 2008 by Arion Games, under license from Puffin Books, along with seven supplementary rulebooks and resources such as The Maelstrom Companion, the Beggars' Companion, and several modules and settings resources. These are all available for online purchase at RPGNow.com in PDF format (see external links, below). The Maelstrom Companion provides guidelines for the in-game purchase and use of period firearms, as well as new livings and other developments.
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Wounds and healing
Characters can easily end up with wounds that would last for months. They can suffer the permanent 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. They could suffer cuts, bruises or a variety of serious injuries from their opponents' (or their own) weapons.
In Maelstrom, wounds are recorded separately and heal in parallel. Damage is rated on a numerical scale, a knife doing 1–6 damage for instance. When the sum of a character's wounds exceed his or her Endurance, that character falls unconscious.
Characters heal at the rate of 1 point per week assuming bed rest (and 1 point per month otherwise); this rate is per wound. A character suffering a series of minor wounds will recover much more quickly than one receiving a single significant wound. Treatments from a Doctor, Herbalist, or a Barber-Surgeon will increase the rate of healing – or possibly decrease it if a roll vs skill is critically failed.
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. 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. All Maelstrom characters start at age 14. As part of building a character the player then chooses one or more livings. The character spends a number of years training in each living 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 livings 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 (called Livings) in Maelstrom are not like the rigid class systems seen in many other RPGs from the 1980s. A character may have one, two, or more livings as long as the referee agrees (a player normally being expected to provide a plausible explanation for the character having studied so many areas, and having to spend a number of years training in each). In some cases a character may be expected to refrain from using skills previously acquired on entering a new living. One example noted in the rule book is that of a mercenary becoming a priest and being expected to eschew previous experience with weapons.
Following is a partial list showing a range of the Livings a character may choose from, from both the core rulebook and the Maelstrom Companion. (Some livings are divided into sub-sets of a main category, this is denoted by parentheses.)
- Professional (Clerk, Doctor, Architect, Scrivener, etc.)
- Priest / member of religious order / Pastor
- Craftsman (Armourer, Bladesmith, Tailor, Painter, Mason, Engraver, etc.)
- Trader (Butcher, Fishmonger, Vintner, Grocer, etc.)
- Rogue (Beggar, Thief, Burglar, Assassin, Trickster, or no specialty)
- Travelling player (Minstrel, Musician, Actor)
The Maelstrom core rulebook provides a sample of how characters of different livings might interact as an adventure begins:
"A group of four players and a referee have met to play Maelstrom. The players are Patrick, Adam, Sue, and Michael. The session starts with the players deciding what characters they want. Patrick decides he wants a noble, but the referee decides that a noble would not be appropriate for the adventure he has in mind. When the players have decided what characters they want to become, they go ahead and deal with character creation.
"Patrick creates a tailor. This character is also a mage, though none of the other players know this. Patrick wanders outside with the referee to fix this, and they decide that Patrick will either communicate by notes or go outside to talk to the referee when he wishes to cast a spell. Patrick's character is called Simon LeFevre, though his French origins are somewhat doubtful.
"Sue creates a bladesmith called Mary Venn. Michael's character becomes a mercenary called Diggory Williams, though he decides to pose as a labourer. Adam's character, Christian Porelight, becomes a labourer.
"Once the characters have been created, the referee takes the players outside individually to explain what their purpose is in this adventure (a journey to London). Simon (Patrick's character) and Mary (Sue's) are being paid to guard someone called William Grote (a 'non-player' character, played by the referee) who is travelling with the party. Christian (Adam's character) is taking a large barrel of ale by horse and cart to a tavern in London. Diggory is searching for witches, though he will tell the other players that he is looking for work." [Maelstrom, pg. 109]
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 Church and secular authority, and so need to have a respectable profession along with their magical skills.
No list of spells is provided, 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.
The living of mage is rare as well as it is outlawed. In Maelstrom, a campaign success is quite possible without a single player or non-player character mage in the party, and with several game sessions taking place in between each occasional appearance of a non-player character mage. Moreover, the game rules allow the option of playing the entire campaign without the supernatural element, if desired.