Alexander Scott’s Maelstrom RPG

When I was a lot younger than I am today, in fact soon after I had found the joy of Role Playing Games (RPG) I also read a lot of Adventure Gamebooks.  I am sure that a lot of you are aware of the series of books Penguin released.  Most of them were written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and followed a choose your own adventure path with a fighting mechanic based on 2d6 rolls added to skill and damage to your stamina.  They were great little stories that began to get a little stale around book 12 or 13.

A highly underrated game of the eighties

One thing that you may not be aware of though is under the heading of Adventure Gamebooks that Puffin had been releasing a gem of a RPG was released.  It was called Maelstrom and was a complete RPG packaged like one of the books that regularly came out in the system.  The author, Alexander Scott was 15 years of age when the game he had written was released.  It went out of print very soon after as did many of the Adventure Gamebook line.  Scott apparently never wrote another RPG in his time, though I hope he is out there somewhere lurking, and maybe even reads the blog so he could comment on the game.

The game touts itself on the front cover as a turbulent RPG of thieves, rogues, magick and mayhem.  It was set in the sixteenth century of Europe.  There are no fantasy races or monsters, just the good old devious human to rail against yet there is magic in the setting.  The magic system was well ahead of its time being that there were no defined spells.  In fact the magic system worked on the basis of the player would describe the spell.  This would then be given one of four different ratings to determine how hard it was to achieve, modifiers would be made and dice rolled.  On a success the spell would go off.  On a failure it did not and the magician may have faced some consequences based on how bad the roll was.

Although the game quickly disappeared from the scene its influence was strongly felt in the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game first edition.  The style of the game was similar to that of Maelstrom, a gritty environment, simple mechanics and even some of the artwork was very familiar.  Of course Warhammer offered a much wider variety than Maelstrom originally did in the way of races and creatures but the heart of Maelstrom was certainly easily apparent in the system that followed 2 years after Maelstrom.

Found some new material for the game
and can’t wait to try it out!

The system was elegant and focussed on some interesting details.  Toward the back of the book you see a beautifully illustrated apothecary of useful herbs and shrubs.  Inside the book is a solo adventure so you can get used to the easiest version of the rules and later there is a module designed to be run by the referee.  The game in essence was run off a percentile roll against a statistic with success made if you rolled under the statistic.  Another strength of the game was a breadth of classes, from your butcher to an alchemist.  It was quite strongly based in the sixteenth century with quite a bit of research being done to make things in the game feel authentic.

I played this game a fair bit when I found it.  Many of my friends in high school played it with me and we had some great games.  It has a strong basis in roleplaying and human intrigue.  I actually sold the copy I owned a long time ago but one of the people I played with +scott desmond found it one day (must have sold it to him or he found it in a second hand store) and gave me a copy back.  I am really glad to have it too.

The good news is I have done a little bit of research and you can now get Maelstrom again as a PDF from RPGNow.  If you are interested it is $10 USD and you can find it here.  The game has been licenced to Arion games by Puffin and they have produced an adventure that is free for the game on RPGNow also.  While I was there I also noticed a PDF that is the Maelstrom Companion and a further expansion for Inns and Taverns made for the game as well.  I have picked these two up to have a look at as well.  A quick update, I found a community for the game on Google+.  Click here to take a look!

If you are interested in a historical RPG with a slight mystical twist I really suggest you take a little bit of time and see if you can get this game.  It truly gave me some great role playing memories and for such a small package it contains some great gameplay.  Until next time, keep rolling!


  1. Maelstrom is indeed a cracking game, and Alex Scott is still out there (i met up with him yesterday). We also just finished a kickstarter for what is in essence a revised 2nd Edition, although the setting has changed to anglo-norman england.

    Good to read this though and despite its age is still an eminently playable game!


  2. Thanks for the update Graham. I am a bit annoyed that I missed the Kickstarter but it is great to hear things are progressing!


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