Adventure Gamebooks
Location England, Earth
References 160
Publication Details
Author(s) Alexander Scott
Illustrator Anthony Kerins
and Jane Walmsley
Cover illustrator Chris Collingwood
First published November 22 1984
ISBN ISBN 0-14-031811-9
Cover illustrator Chris Collingwood
First published Arion Games: January 23 2008
ISBN ISBN 0-14-031811-9

Maelstrom is a one-off multi-player role-playing fantasy gamebook written by Alexander Scott, and illustrated by Anthony Kerins and Jane Walmsley. Maelstrom was published by Puffin in 1984 (ISBN 0-14-031811-9) under the Adventure Gamebooks banner, which also covered the more popular Fighting Fantasy and the related Sorcery! series, as well as the Starlight Adventures and the trilogy of the Cretan Chronicles. Maelstrom has been republished as a PDF in 2008 by Arion Games, under license from Puffin Books.


... I was at school, and doing a lot of role-playing, but it was always difficult to find shops that stocked rpgs. I thought it would be great if you could just go to a bookshop and buy an rpg for the price of a paperback book rather than having to find a specialist store and pay several times as much for one of the AD&D rulebooks. The Fighting Fantasy solo adventures were popular at the time, and some friends of mine had written a book called "What is Dungeons and Dragons?" (explaining D&D to non-gamers, and also published by Penguin), which made the whole thing seem more possible. So I wrote off to Penguin myself and suggested they publish a game in a paperback book.

I was 16 when I started writing the book [and] I'm not sure [Penguin] knew what they were getting!

We went through quite a few different ideas at the beginning. Penguin liked the idea of publishing a game, but they weren't keen on a pure fantasy or science fiction setting. I suggested quite a variety of different settings, and sixteenth century England was the one they liked. After that, they gave me a pretty free hand.

... it certainly sold pretty well, despite having virtually no publicity. There was a large initial print run, and it was reprinted after about a year, as well as going into a Japanese edition.

Despite the fact that
Maelstrom had sold well, Penguin ended up concentrating on the Fighting Fantasy books.

—Interview with Alexander Scott from Imagonem


Enter the world of Maelstrom — the fabulous new role-playing game!

Imagine a band of travellers on the long road from St Albans to London - a dangerous journey in troubled times. Which will YOU be?

*An alchemist - skilled in the dark arts of magick
*A rogue - on the run from justice
*A noble lady - on her way to stir up intrigue at court
*A spy - disguised as a herbalist, carrying vital messages to the King
*Or any one of a host of different characters ...

YOU choose the characters, YOU decide the missions and YOU have the adventures in the turbulent world of Europe in the sixteenth century - either as a player or as a referee.

Complete with Beginners' and Advenced Rules, Referee's Notes, maps, charts and a solo adventure to get you started,
Maelstrom is a great game for three or more players.

Maelstrom - Back Cover (Puffin Books Edition)




Part I: Player's RulesEdit

1: Character CreationEdit

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.[1] 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.

2: Game MechanicsEdit


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.

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.

3: How to PlayEdit

4: The MalestromEdit

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.

5: A Solo AdventureEdit

The book contains a 160 paragraph solo adventure (titled simply A Solo Adventure) designed for assassin characters only. Any attempt to play with a non-assassin character leads to paragraph (44) which terminates the game with a safe arrival home.

It also features 10 endings (not including sections which only conditionally end in death).

(13) contains the warning that "Reading paragraphs at random brings bad luck" while (42) says "Do not read paragraphs that you cannot reach."

(102), much like some paragraphs in Midnight Rogue would do three years later, reads:

This paragraph is not mentioned anywhere else in the solo adventure, so there is no reason for you to be reading it. If, by some chance, you are, then you have either misread the number you were supposed to go to, or you have cheated. However, you have contrived to reach this passage and are not supposed to be here, so go away. By the way, if you ever find yourself in a corridor curving endlessly to the right, you have goofed. There should be no way into it — and there is no way out from it.

6: Advanced RulesEdit

Part II: Referee's RulesEdit

7: Starting PlayEdit

8: Playing the GameEdit

9: Notes of LivingsEdit

10: An AdventureEdit

An Adventure is a multi-player example of Maelstrom role-playing given in the book.

Appendix 1: HerbsEdit

Appendix 2: The SupernaturalEdit


Covers and IllustrationsEdit


The original cover of the book was designed and illustrated by Chris Collingwood.

Maelstrom Cover Variants
1984 2008
Maelstrom Maelstrom
£1.951 US$10.002

  1. Price of 1st Impression
  2. Price of watermarked .pdf download


The interior illustrations were by Anthony Kerins (general illustrations) and Jane Walmsley (herbs of Appendix 1). There were numerous full to part-page illustrations and 6 minor repeated illustrations scattered throughout the text. The paragraphs of A Solo Adventure with a full page illustration were: A Solo Adventure, 15, 31, 40, 46, 56, 70, 75, 91, 119, 135, 146 and 160.

Intertextual ReferencesEdit

Other MediaEdit

Main CharactersEdit

A Solo AdventureEdit

  • Dartyn Gammon
  • Jock Handforsom
  • Magnus Brote - Merchant/Tax Collector

An AdventureEdit

  • Grimbald Knapp - Mercer
  • Philibert Spade - Actor/Minstrel
  • Quentin Hale
  • Willard Grote - Engraver/Mage


A Solo AdventureEdit

An AdventureEdit

  • Barnet East
  • Black Lyon
  • Browns Well
  • Busbyes Folly
  • Checker
  • Cole Harbor
  • Coney Greene
  • Dallington Green
  • Dansick Hall
  • Diall
  • Durham Hall
  • Enfield Chase
  • Finchley
  • Finchley Common
  • Fryan Barnet Chapel
  • Green Street
  • Hadley
  • Hartford Shire
  • High Barnet aka Chipping Barnet
  • Highgate
  • Jack Straws Castle
  • Kentishtown
  • Kicks End
  • Knapsbury Hall
  • Lambeth
  • London
  • Lower Holloway
  • Maiden Lane
  • Manes farme
  • Michael River
  • Midlesex
  • Mile House
  • New River
  • Northend
  • North Mimms
  • Pancras
  • Parr Gaff
  • Pray frame
  • Ridge Hill
  • Ring Cross
  • Sepwell Hall
  • South Mimms
  • Southwark
  • St Albans
  • St Ed Turners
  • St Georges Field
  • St Jermines
  • The Antelope
  • The Bell
  • The Bush
  • The Cardinal's Hat
  • The Cock
  • The George
  • The Man
  • The Peahen and Swan
  • The Red Lion
  • The Rose and Crown
  • The Three Cups
  • The White Hart
  • Upper Holloway


A Solo AdventureEdit

  • Guards
  • Housekeeper
  • Jock

An AdventureEdit

  • Assassin
  • Mercenaries
  • Opportunist
  • Rogues
  • Untidy Men

Further NotesEdit

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The herbal pharmacopoeia present at the end of the book, representing herbal knowledge of the time, has become legendary in role-playing circles and is believed to have been a major source document for many subsequent RPG herbals (only some of which credit Maelstrom).
  • A supplement now exists in the form of Strange Days in Nayland by Graham Bottley, published by Arion Games.
  • "Beasts of the Storm" by Jamie Wallis is a short article in Warlock issue 6 that expands the book to include both real and mythical animals within the game structure.
  • Arion Games published three expansions for Maestrom: Maelstrom Domesday (2013), set in England after the Norman Conquest; Maelstrom Gothic (2017), set in Victorian England, and Maelstrom Rome (2019) set in the Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.




The ModulesEdit

  • Strange Days in Nayland
  • Classic Fantasy Toolkit
  • Classic Fantasy Bestiary
  • Tournaments
  • Inns & Taverns
  • [Purple Mushroom Caves
  • The Maelstrom Beggars Companion
  • The Maelstrom Companion
  • The Sward and the Stone

See AlsoEdit

External LinksEdit


  1. Maelstrom - pg.24
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