Maelstrom is a LARP event. LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing. Now, before you get excited, it doesn't involve any form of kinky bondage gear (that I'm aware of!) – instead, it involves hundreds of people running about in a field full of tents, wearing ridiculous costumes and carrying latex swords.
But why would anyone do such a thing?
Well, Maelstrom is a fantasy LARP, and it is player driven. This means that there's no staff members sitting in offices deciding on the plot – it happens based on what players do at the events. There's 4 events a year, and you can do almost what you like. Players are (usually) allied to one of a series of different nations, and all of them are in different levels of good or bad standing with the others. So when you're there, you can interact with anyone, but if things get a bit nasty and someone 'forgets' about an alliance you may end up with a knife in your back!
"What do you actually do at Maelstrom?" I hear you cry. Each character starts off with a few skills – I'm an architect, so I have skills at building – and you can use your skills in different ways. Putting up a building obviously takes longer than one event, so I do that between events by logging onto their website. So when I'm actually there, I can go round trying to sell buildings to people, or spending the cash I made doing that. There are also various tournaments to enter, and a casino and a well-stocked tavern.
Other people may have skills that are more useful at the events. Surgeons can treat people who came off worse in a fight, for example. Sorcerers have a variety of spells that can be used; alas, I know little about what they do. Alchemists can make potions that do anything from improving the flavour of food to making you horny. You might think an architect, whose buildings don't appear to affect the event, would be a poor choice. However, buildings can bring in money (guildhouses), resources (mines), or food (farms). These are all useful in the game. Also, smithys and workshops can help train up new craftsmen and allow them to work faster in the future. There is also a whole range of military buildings, which would be helpful if our colony ever goes to war.
So, to sum up: Maelstrom is appealing to me because it's like a blank slate. Roleplaying a totally new character allows you to try out a persona which you would never dare do in real life. You can be reckless, and if you die then you just create a new character and start again. It has the same sort of appeal as games like The Sims, or reality TV - the appeal of a series of interlinked 'lives' which are not real, and yet the player is totally immersed in them.