Common Ground

I plan to adapt Maelstrom, a game nominally associated with tales of adventure in a historic setting, to run a science fiction scenario. I noted that the many and varied occupations, or livings, in the game bear resemblance to some of the many typical career paths seen in the sci-fi medium. Specifically, I thought a setting like Serenity / Firefly could work really rather well, with some tweakage of character’s abilities.

For example, Maelstrom has a priest orientated toward preaching and dealing with evil spirits. I think a Shepherd might need to some tweaking to draw in more skills around influence and less about exorcism. I might even draw on the more martial template of certain orders of medieval knight, individuals who combined faith and steel into a workable package. Shepherd Book, from the series, would best fit if considered an experienced character with more than one Living, as his back story suggests an understand of the criminal underworld, familiarity with combat, and influence within the bureaucratic structure of the Alliance. I can see some measure of rogue and military officer behind the monastic training, the role of Shepherd serving as a refuge and a cover story, rather than Maelstrom‘s requirement that certain Livings have a ‘cover’ career.

I can envisage various combinations for other types of character, laced with background skills associated with farming, exploration and handiwork. In some ways, my vision for how I could adapt the rules ties into my own in-house desire to expand and develop the approach to skills and talents in Maelstrom. Currently, the game lacks mechanical crunch in this area, which I feel warrants corrections, but others might appreciate for the freedom. If you want to play a blacksmith, you can make certain assumptions about skills and not get bogged down in the mechanics. Alternatively, I prefer a more defined option to dictate key skill areas, both broad and narrow.

I fully intend to use some upcoming down time to experiment and playtest the idea a little. I might take an initial approach to try to apply the current system to a sci-fi adventure without too much tinkering and see where the gaps appear, then work back from there. I wouldn’t want to retool the whole thing if I can adapt what exists now to do most if not all.

Maelstrom currently does most things now with a simple Saving Throw approach. You have a base set of percentile attributes and roll d100 against them to succeed or fail. If you have expertise, you might get a +10% or +20% on the attribute before making the roll. If you have no skill, struggle, stress or otherwise have reason to expect failure, you penalise the attribute by -x%, Referee’s call. If you go with the broad view of someone’s Living, a Mechanic should have the means to fix and maintain mechanical stuff. With a more narrow view, he can bring Knowledge to bear when fixing machines, sense distress in a device with Perception, and deftly shift around the engineering room of a ship in freefall with Agility – all with a small bonus. You could go narrower and define actual, titled skills. Right now, Maelstrom opts for something in the middle ground, though not necessarily with consistency from Living to Living, as some have no specific skills or have very vague ones, closer to the broad view.

When I ran a Maelstrom adventure two years ago at a con in London, I didn’t really use any mechanics beyond some fairly generic requests for Savings Throws. In the heat of the moment, you only need to know if someone succeeded or failed. When I last ran the adventure I plan to play with these rules, I made the rules of the game up as a I went along. Somewhere in between, the combination of a simple rules set and an adaptable adventure might just find common ground.

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