MAELSTROM ROME is derived from Maelstrom, a RPG from England which came out in the 1980s in paperback form covering nasty and brutish role-playing in tumultuous Elizabethan England. The game combined authentic historical outlooks with mysterious supernatural manifestations called the Maelstrom. The game has been re-adapted for the Ancient Roman period and set in the year 50 CE.
Characters are generated with characteristics and with skills called Abilities, by going through a series of careers or occupations called Livings, one by one from the age of 13. Total freedom of choice in your Living is not guaranteed due to limited social mobility. It matters on the Livings roll charts whether you are of the Patrician class, a common Freeman, or a Slave. Characters also roll for random incidents because of their Living, which can sometimes be debilitating. For accurate historical reasons, female characters are barred from certain Livings and all branches of the military. Surprisingly, women could be Gladiators, but were extended no special favours, nor would they fight only other women! Sometimes a change in class, or enslavement, may occur.
Each Living grants certain benefits and new Ability Ranks, marked by the Roman numerals I to VI. The game involves percentile rolls but an increase in Ability is not always a straight increase in percentage chance, but sometimes other benefits or new capabilities, so the Ranks must be carefully noted down and their benefits tracked. Combat is rolls for the character and the opposition, to determine which has the greater degree of success, and the outcome is determined on a table. If both characters have hit the same degree of success, the HIGHER percentage roll wins. A more skillful character will have a broader range of higher numbers which are successful in the same success band than a less skilled character, so this makes some sense. The better character may win most "ties", but not always.
The rules are somewhat old-school and may take some preparation for more modern RPGers. The great strength of the game is the coverage of the attitudes of Roman society and of each character type: they were very conscious of relative social status, routinely looked down on non-Romans (except for Greeks, which was a prestige culture of trade and learning), and were family-oriented. The structure and ranks in the Roman army were also extensively covered. This suggests fabulous role-playing possibilities as players encounter a wide cross-section of Roman society. Additional sections covered period weapons and armour, the geography of the Empire and short notes on the various regions and foreigners, a year-by-year history of the Roman Empire up to the present year (note that the Coliseum or Flavian Amphitheater was not begun yet!), a section on herbalism, and diseases common at the time for which the herbs may help.
The aspect of the Maelstrom seemed to me less developed, although it begins with tables of random supernatural occurrences that happen to the player-characters, to add a sort of "X-Files" overlay to the game plots. Some characters can use lesser or greater magic forces and Curses, so this ties in to the Maelstrom. Overall, the game is strong on historical detail but with a somewhat complex game mechanic and an average, career-oriented character generation. NPCs can be popped out quickly because each character occupation was given a typical set of Abilities and gear in their description.