How to do Dune: The Roleplaying Game well?

While some of the coversation below seems focussed on the raw mechanics of how dice will be rolled, I am more interested in how the Dune RPG will be set up as a gaming premise.

It’s a tricky setting to get right. While Dune is often held up as a classic of the space opera genre, the original book especially had little in the way of detailed space travel. Indeed, the original book presented the journey to Arakis as akin to sitting in you spacecraft while part of a hualage on a giant craft. That was it! Most of the drama was based on inter-House politics, the cognitive processes and observations made by hyper-aware characters and then the survival on a desolate, desert planet. Of it’s time, the brutal ‘real politik’ themes were somewhat akin to that of Game of Thrones as a point of reference - but more alien in feel.

So how does the game make the setting playable as a premise? Should it be set on Arrakis? What time period (before or after the events of the book?)? Do we base it on minor houses only, or could the characters of the book be playable? How does one handle the various mental powers of the various groups and trainings? How can you make the game focus on politcs?

All thoughts, welcome.

I really liked the never officially produced LUG version’s setting - prejihad great and minor houses, each one with its own flavor.

And the skill list was eye-popping candy (subordination anyone?)!

To be perfectly honest, I do not think any kind of derivative material (RPGs, computer games, board games or TV-series/movies) can ever live up to the book(s). They are just so perfect in their own way.

That said, the RPG should not really try to focus too hard to replicating the books but rather the rich universe that Frank, and his son Brian, built up. We could have the factions we all know (and love), but unlike most games there is no “big bad” (unless you play in the Butlerian Jihad era with Omnius, Erasmus and the Titans). Rather, it will be an intrigue and rivality game as I think of it. Might be boring, who knows…

For myself I hope the RPG starts out covering the the era/time on Arrakis by the first book.

I absolutely loved the first book and liked the other two books, though I don;t think they were of the same caliber as book one.

The rest of the books I felt never lived up to being a tepid meh. I haven’t even read them all and a few that I started I never finished.

Dune is great and it will be a challenge to bring it to the RPG table. The follow on books will decrease the possibility of success in direct proportion to their material contaminating the resulting product.

I do think Modiphious has a solid track record and will do a great job on it regardless of the material the decide to use. They have a proven track record of bringing a setting from the original source material to the table while retaining the original feel.

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I’d like to see the approach adopted by Cubicle 7’s The One Ring (and also Adventures in Middle Earth, to a degree) which has the game started small scale in a specific location and then broadens the range with supplements.

So, the core book would be squarely based on Arrakis, possibly immediately before the Harkonnen/Atreides switch over. So the characters might come from any House, or affilation, but be stationed in some way on the harsh environment that is Arrakis - plotting for advantage. You could also play a Freman campaign, perhaps.

The big misdirection about much of the Dune novels is that it isn’t really a space opera, but is really more interested in exploring the ‘inner space’ of personal awareness and introspection. Not sure, yet, how that should be done.

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I believe the new movies’ slant will also color the game.

They might, although I wouldn’t count on it.

They’ll be coming out after the RPG, froom what I’ve heard, and the medium is different. Licensed RPGs are better being developed from source, I feel, and I’d use Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle Earth and The One Ring as examples of that.

I’ve got high hopes for the movies, however, and hope they manage to give a boost to the popularity of the RPG too.

^ This; hence the tie in.

Isn’t the point of any RPG to simply give players the ability to create their own stories? For instance, I don’t want to role play as Frodo, but I would happily role play in a universe full of canonical depth that would allow me to get in a bar brawl in the Prancing Pony with a dwarf and I could imagine what that universe is like. I could tell my own heroic story, but it wouldn’t need to be returning a ring to a volcano. That story is told and understood. Playing that scenario, in fact, could result in changes to the canon of the Lord of the Rings. Frodo already rolled his dice, so to speak. So why would that be any different in Dune? There is a structure there that allows your character to act in the universe but not necessarily act in the story. The idea that there isn’t a “big bad” really comes down to what the GM wants in their game. Maybe your big bad is a spice smuggler. Maybe your foil is a different sort of underworld figure. It is hard to imagine, though not focused on in the books (I haven’t read them all), that there isn’t simply intrigue at the village/hamlet level. Theft, murder, espionage. Yes, some of that would be possible at the house level but if you play something like D&D you are rarely the king of a mighty kingdom doing battle with your neighbor. That might be a background in your setting, but you are more likely a thief/fighter/wizard slogging it out in the sewers and dungeons trying to get a little coin for your pocket. I don’t see why Dune would be much different in terms of character creation, motivation, and play. I’m trying to imagine a game where you pull strings on a political scale, and it is a snooze fest. I want to be able to wear a Weirding module and “Muad’Dib” some dudes trying to kidnap a princess… er, ambasador.

Honestly, I just hope it is a rule set that tells me how to roll dice for actions, gives me some ground rules, and flavor, about what makes Dune unique (What happens when I shoot a laser at a Holtzman Shield?) and then stands out of the way to allow me to craft a story.


LOL@Wierding Module… that movie should never have been made, it is an abomination.

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I guess that everybody will want different things. I have read the main book and the 2 sequels that come in line, not yet Frank Herbert’s last trilogy nor the Brian books. And though Arrakis is a great deal in that universe, it is richer and bigger than that. I would like to explore it.

To have new stories set in Arrakis without breaking canon and taking part in major events would be difficult. Either I should focus on smaller stories (Fremen resistance vs Harkonnen during occupation? that would be cool) or feel a mere expectator of bigger events (I think there is a semi-official adventure for the previous Dune game set in the margins of the main book that when I read felt way too rail-roaded to me).

There are two main themes explored in Dune: Mysticism and Intrigue (plans within plans within plans).

Intrigue is mostly among Houses and Organisations like the Bene Geserit and the Guild. The former ones would be dificult to roleplay, but the Houses would be great.

Previous game had a House creation system I think. The Song of Ice and Fire rpg has a really great one that has even seen some unofficial improvements. I’d love to play a House in the years prior or posterior of the events in Dune (wouldn’t need even to be set in Arrakis). A House with its own planet and characteristics like wealth, value, army power… as well as values and feats attached to each of those (ex. Sardaukar or Fremen something like “natural warriors” as an army feat, spice something like strategic resource as a wealth feat. To create a House from scratch with the players being the noblemen and/or taking roles within it would be great to form a “party” with a strong sense of belonging, although that could be compromised: who is the heir’s fiancee/concubine more loyal to, her parent’s House, the Benne Gesserit or her current House?

About classes, I would avoid go DnD overpowered leveling classes and would go for something more like Traveller terms: a specialization is needed, but characters can change their roles and learn new things. Lady Jessica was grown as a Benne Gesserit and is now a Noblewoman. Gurney Halleck was a Smuggler and is now a Warrior (only to become soon a Smuggler again). One - the first one - could be the main one giving the most powers/skills and others would just give it more diversity. One doesn’t learn all Benne Gesserit or Mentat skills if not dedicating it’s whole time to it after all - unless of course you are the Kwisatz Haderach.

About House/Character traits I like games when it is mandatory to take a flaw, like recently with V5.

I have not that many thoughts about the mystical side, but all those legends, cults and predestinations would worth exploring as well!

No argument here. I feel like “rules” can help flesh out what form mysticism takes, and truthfully the GM is the bringer of the intrigue. I’ve played intriguing games of D&D, or if you are Modiphius oriented sort; MYZ. That just comes from the story you tell, or how you explore the world. A rule set can’t really make that happen. It seems to me that what I’m reading from people is simply a matter of what you want to do with the rules that Modiphius gives you, but not truly talking about what rules they want.

For instance, I prefer light rule sets. I want to know the background and some flavor in the way of equipment, creatures, and environment. If it was a Star Wars game I’m saying that I want a book to tell me about lightsabers, Rancors, and Bespin. After that, I really want room to just play. I like the story and the interaction, but the more someone has to look at a book to figure out whether they convince a guard that he wants to let them pass without a bribe based on the character’s +2 to speech skill and the guard’s sub-par wisdom… blech. That’s not my idea of role playing. I want to hear the character say “Jimmy, ya fat lunk. How many years has my family employed you and you still can’t remember me? I hardly think that is a way to treat a member of this esteemed house. And on top of your considerable lack of respect towards my heritage, did I catch a hint that you might be willing to take payment to disregard your duties? I hardly think that would go over well with the captain of the guard. Now open this door and you might be lucky enough for me to forget this whole mess. Next time, just open the door!” and then maybe the GM tells me Jimmy isn’t his name, and his family has been employed to guard this very door for several generations. In fact, because of his family’s celebrated ability to remember a face, they have almost been bred for the job. I want an RPG that will let me attempt heroic things and maybe not getting by Jimmy through a series of dice rolls and chart checks.

I also happen to like the movie. LIfe’s too short to go around bummed out about something as inconsequential as a movie. It’s just fun, man! Bare chested Sting and Patrick Stewart!

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Oh, I wasn’t advocating for a rule-hard system! I just think a ruleset can shape roleplay, although roleplay must rule everything.

Also, on the House creation system, I think just the process of creating the House would shape that sense of pride, belonging and even loyalty. Even Yueh felt loyal to the Atreides. Your House now just doesn’t have a fancy name players choose, players made it and it is theirs - just for the GM to put them in trouble (bwahahaha!)

Usually besides Social conflict rules, the setting ones shape the game. How difficult is to get rid of a rival house, or even just defend yourself, if you both belong to the Landsraad? And what about petty houses?

More than rules about everything I would preffer a good well defined setting and light rules about it. GM delivers the intrigue, but he will do better if he has the tools for it.

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This is an interesting topic and I am keen to see how the authors will approach it. From a game mechanics point of view Modiphius did great job on the other RPGs based on “hard canon” settings, my favorite is of course the Star Trek.

And from this perspective the first book can work well - the team of mortal PCs simply struggling to survive in the world thrown into the upcoming space jihad seems to be a great starting point.

On the side of the discussion about the setting, I full agree with “Mysticism and Intrigue” dynamics, where I would actually add, the for the Intrigue part the world of the Dune is actually a high-feudal society (for instance Major Houses = Higher aristocracy of the end of medieval times, Minor Houses = Gentry, Bene Gesserit = Holy Church, Bene Tleilax and the Guild = medieval merchant republics and guilds like Hansa).

So anyone who tried to play a medieval style fantasy based on the mess of complicated feudal societies of Europe, Close East, India or Far East, would actually find Dune as a great base for such games. (Spoiler alert: including sword fight duels, treacherous cousins, professional mistresses and an evil emperor on top of everything ! :wink:)

BTW (just occurred to me) “Dune: Mysticism & Intrigue” is a great RPG title !

EDIT: Now I envisioned it: A successor of old but bankrupting Minor House, a forsaken Fremen disclosed from jihad, a heretical Bene Gesserit acolyte and a banished Guild navigator in the hunt for the Eternal Space Dragon ! :grinning:

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The core life of people in the Dune Universe is the medieval “Farfeluches” system. The RPG should be designed to bring such stories to life. A life governed by the Great Houses of the Landsrad, An economy controlled by the CHOAM, Educated by the schools such as the Bene Gesseret, The Ginazi swordmasters and the Tlilaxu mentats.

The game should allow the scope for low ranking people at the edges of society, members of the Houses small and great, and even scions of the Great Houses. It should also allow for the exiles of Tupile as well as the fremen of Arrakis, depending on the campaign the gamemaster wishes to tell. perhaps the emperor sent more than one specialist to Arrakis along with a certain Planetologist? Maybe there are distaff cousins of the Haarkonen on distant worlds sharpening their knives to take away the barony in a night of blood? What are the rules of Kanly? After all the Forms of Kanly must be obeyed!!

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Just be sure to not lose the first and original Book in the process. Mysticism and intrigue wrapped around guerilla warfare and rebellion against a powerful oppressor. A significant portion of Dune fans loved the original book. Ground their way through book 2 & 3 hoping for a continuation of what was brilliant in the first book, And currently use the follow on things as props to keep a table level. I inherited several of the “house” books from a friend and after multiple tries to start them wound up giving them to Good Will except for the one that levels a work table in a friends shop. Political intrigue is wonderful in a book or on the screen where the author/production team control every aspect of what everyone does and all the events in the world follow the script. But in an RPG players will want to do something. There have been some well done political/social conflict games in the past. And they all meet the same fate. the 2 or maybe 3 people that think it is the greatest game on earth are in the corner while the other 60 gamers play something else.

I am not saying don’t make political intrigue/social conflict a part of the game. But definitely make it so it can be easily not used by the action crowd. It is far easier to begin with an action oriented game and then slowly add in intrigue than try to start with it. A game steeped in political intrigue and conspiracies and such sounds fantastic. But it is extremely difficult to run and maintain over a period of time and while there are many GM’s and players that can rise to that challenge. They are not as numerous as those just wanting to play a causal fun game once a week.

Dune is miscategorized as Space Opera; it’s really right on the divide between Planetary Romance (such as Flash Gordon, John Carter/Barsoom, the Doc Smith Fuzzy series) than space opera. It’s not about the travel; it’s exploring world through time, and a concept (in Dune’s case, Hydraulic Despotism) through that world. Also, like Flash, JC, Armageddon 2415, and several other planetary romance settings, the tech is really Space Fantasy - there is no reasonable extrapolation from things that are scientifically plausible, but really magic tech.

Approaching it like, say, Traveller, or Star Trek, Stargate, or either BSG isn’t going to give the Dune feel.

In a pre-Muad’dib Empire, It’s politics affecting (ideally) one world’s House and their political effects; off-world are jaunts for effect upon their world (not unlike a few stories in the Flash Gordon tales), not exploration.

In the Jihad, pick a world and either defend it or capture it. Or, with a mature enough (emotionally and interpersonally), PVP it with players leading both factions.

Likewise, a house vs house war (such as the one vs Richese) can be handled just like a jihad…

A planetary takeover is a campaign in itself.

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Although I agree that most of the action doesn’t tend to occur in space, space travel is nevertheless central to Dune’s basic premise. That is - the economies of the galaxy is essentially driven by the production of the spice, Melange, because it allows space to be folded and large distances circumvented.

This makes the idea of having the singular location, Arrakis, for the total production of spice in the galaxy to be allegorical to the situation in our own world in the middle east and the production of oil. That is, Arrakis, like the middle east has an inordinate amount of geopolitical influence on world affairs because our economies are so addicted to the product it makes.

I don’t think the genre is really considered ‘romantic’ as, like with Game of Thrones, it’s underlying theme is ‘real politik’. It’s ‘wheels within wheels’ of plots and Machiavelian intrigue - it’s just too cynical to be romantic.

It does also have scifi elements that aren’t complete fantasy too. A central concept, again, looks at how human evolution might occur if machines - especially artificial intelligence - were to be restricted. It suggests that humans might evolve with near superhuman ways - like the Mentats or Spacing Navigators - while other disciplines, like the Bene Gesserit would also develop too. In this sense, it could be seen as having the same formative themes as the more recent Transhumanist scifi. It’s also similar to the philosophical proposition of Hegel’s ‘Master and Slave’ thesis. The emphasis, however, is more on inner space than cybertech - and so the sci-fi elements are more subtle and mystical in their flavour.

The actual sciences discussed - particularly geology/planetology - are actually quite scientifically sound, The technology used, because of the restrictions in the setting, are actually quite mechanically plausible too. Even the handwavey bits (like folding space) are no less rational than usual space travel concepts like jump or warp space.

So no, I don’t think it’s miscategorised - at least not the books as the movie is all over the place - and indeed I personally rank it as the greatest science fiction novel of them all.

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@Trippy : You have amuch lower plausibility threshold, than I…

Mentat? Maybe.
Bene Gesserit ancestor memories? Not a chance.†
The Voice? Nope.†
Ghola recovered memories? not a chance.†
Personal force fields? unlikely. Force fields which increase in resistance with the speed of the incoming by a margi that makes a bullet bounce but a knife get in? push that to physics broken; violates thermodynamics.
Gravitic thrust marginally plausible.The Corrino lighter is big and doesn’t burn holes in the ground in landing. Either gravitics or psionics needed. Suspensor globes as well.
Bene Tleilax face dancers? vaguely plausible, but highly unlikely. Definitely “No Longer Human”
Addictive psionics-inducing life-extending substance? Dubious at best.† A story contrivance to allow examining the hydraulic despotism. (Which, in at least one interview, Frank Herbert states was the whole theme of the series. Not just the first book, the whole series.)
Overdosing on said life expanding drug turns you into an inhuman being with massive levels of teleport? Story contrivance only. ‡
Folding Space? Just as implausible as John Carter’s two-body life…

Also: Planetary Romance has nothing to do as a genre with romantic actions by the protagonists, nor with the Romance Genre, but instead a fantasy setting on another world with a space/future tech explanation. Essentially, PR is Swords and Sorcery happening on other planets while Earth exists. Barsoom and Flash Gordon are the archetypical titles of the PR Genre.

† Psionics might explain these, but the contexts of the Ghola really don’t fit it well. And, to date, only one psionic ability has been replicated in controlled experiments… the ability to shift the mean of the output of computer random number generators. Telepathy and chronovoyance both have shown no chance. Mind Control via the voice? it must needs be a telepathic attack for the effects given in the text.
‡ The story contrivances make the setting work.

That a setting is full of magical BS doesn’t make it unfun, but it does move it out of SciFi and into Fantasy. Some Space Opera and all Planetary Romance are just fantasy in space.

Psionics isn’t scientific at all and Dune doesn’t have psionics at all, despite the clumsy representation in the movie.

The Bene Gesserit don’t use psionics, just finely trained skulls of observation, psychological maniputaion and a long term tracking of genetic programming. To me that sounds a lot more scientific than a lot of other science fiction out there.

The ‘planetary romance’ genre takes a romantic perspective of science in general, and a certain attitude to boot. You could argue that Arrakis is an exotic planet just like those found in planetary romances, but the geological detail found in its descriptions are far more considered than those found in pulp comics and fiction. Flash Gordon is really nothing like Dune at all - it’s a really bad comparison, flatly.