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Major House Atomics

One of the key things (there are many) that seems to help define a Major House from a Minor is that they have House Atomics.

These are last ditch weaponry as to use them against an enemy would call down the great convention against the aggressor.
Paul split hairs at the end of the first book by claiming they weren’t used against an enemy, but against a natural feature (the shield wall).

So my question here is where do the Houses get them from?

There seems to be some non-military uses with things like stone burners from Dune Messiah, which I see as a form of mining tool?
Does this mean that there is a nuclear industry out there that can be tapped to acquire Atomics. Are they carefully maintained heirlooms passed down the generations.
Is the acquisition of Atomics a key element of becoming a Major House or are they things you acquire because you have become a Major House?

What are peoples thoughts?
I’m mulling a plotline for my players which has them attempting to acquire some of the Atomics from a defeated Major House which is why I am thinking about this.

Tough questions . . . as you point out, there’s not much in canon to rely on.

I feel like this is similar to our previous discussion on projectile weapons, i.e. Herbert sort of sidesteps the “hard science” of the practicality of the technology in lieu of an in-setting explanation that they are simply never used (except, but they are used, aren’t they?!).

To your first question, my sense is that the Houses themselves must leverage the technology through their own R&D (or, buy them, assuming the Imperial House or Landsraad has a monopoly on the market). That would imply some sort of governing protocols and enforcement capability.

I’ve only read Messiah once and, for the life of me - then and now - I’ve never understood the use of a stone burner. IIRC, Frank kind of, sort of explains but I can’t remember (and, I haven’t looked up the entry online). I have to believe that there must still be some uses of fission/fusion technologies given the setting but would certainly think they are HIGHLY circumscribed by the Landsraad and Emperor.

Seems to me that having them is definitely a marker of a Major House (whether through production, acquisition, or gift really could be played out - I assume all of those as possibilities).

Your plot line seems like a cool riff on CoD: Modern Warfare, where a defeated Major House loses control of their atomics and now either the victorious House or an Imperial strike force is sent in to secure them.

One of the cool things about the setting but does require a bit of improv.

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I think some of this mirrors what Frank Herbert had to work with at the time.
It’s always seemed weird that atomic weapons would be the most destructive things humanity could make given another 10,000 years. (sadly)

This makes me think that actually, given the age of the technology, such weapons are pretty simple for any House to build for themselves, and the big ones are potentially planet destroying.
(Even destroying the shield wall probably took what these days would be considered a tactical nuke)
As using them is against the Great Convention, this oddly makes them better suited as threatening intrigue assets rather than warfare ones now I think of it :slight_smile:

The quick background is that one of the character of the House Minor has good connections with the Spacing Guild.
They have asked her to reach out to the remains of a defeated Major House and negotiate the handing over of the House Atomics in return for safe passage to Tupile.
The Spacing Guild can’t act directly as this would tip off the enemy House and potentially escalate things before agreement could be made.

Once they have completed the negotiations though they will have a pile of locations of the Atomics (conviniently in separate shigawire recorders). Do they pass up this golden opportunity for 1 or 2 to not get passed on to the Spacing Guild and take them one step closer to Major House status?

Nice . . . wheels within wheels.

I wonder what the Landsraad or the Emperor (not to mention the house’s nominal feudal overlord) would think of that. Who knows, they could possibly be in on the deal.

I also wonder if the Great Convention has a role to play in the oversight of family atomics or, at least, describing protocols for their oversight in the case of open House-to-House warfare. A corrupt Judge of the Change (or, something suitable to warfare) might turn a blind eye to an accounting error . . . .

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Correct me if I’m wrong. But if the use of nuclear arms against humans is punishable by extinction, would it not be simple to detonate a nuke on your own world and put the blame at your enemy’s door?

Unless there’s something like a “fingerprint” proving the origin of the weapon used like it was done in Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of all Fears”. In which case some body would have to keep a registry of those fingerprints and the would-be framer needed to locate the other house’s stash of atomics and steal one of them.

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This was essentially the plan of one of my players (though using a lasgun/shield interaction), complete with planted evidence and faked interrogation recordings…

I put a kibosh on it in my game by saying that the Guild and Landsraad would deal with all sides just to be certain and it wouldn’t be pretty.

It seems like it could be a specialty domain of a house to produce them as its area of expertise (Military Produce).

Additionally, it could be argued that many worlds have sufficient uranium to mine and refine into weapons grade fissile material.

I think that if we can do it now, any developed world in the time of Dune could do it.

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I guess, when a breach of the great convention comes up, the Landsraad and/or the Imperial House would start a very thorough investigation. Possibly a very trusted and influential person would be running the investigation, BG truthsayer assistance would be granted, mentat support would surely be used to analyse all clues, question the accused, house the target house, everybody. It’s not easy to hide the clues of such conspiracy.
Technical clues: sure, you may be right. It may also be possible in your saga to identify the weapon itself based on radiation readings, specific engineering ‘fingerprints’, the readings of the Guild’s satelite sensors… why not.

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I’m unclear how exactly you would ever be able to actually use your House atomics against an enemy.

Presumably the Guild would detect it if you brought atomics onboard a Heighliner (whether through physical sensors or via presicence) and if they didn’t want you bringing them they simply wouldn’t allow you to dock your frigate aboard.

The core book mentions slower, non-Guild FTL ships, but I believe (going from memory here, I don’t have the book in front of me) that’s a matter of months or even years between Star systems, which would preclude any kind of tactical use of atomics. The only real value of that would be as a deadman switch arrangement, where a strike is launched only if your House is totally wiped out, which I suppose is deterrence (assuming there’s no capability to detect and destroy a slow FTL ship once it returns to sublight travel when it nears its target).

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The trick would probably be to have the components shipped separately and build the nuke on the targeted world. I am no nuclear physicist, but as far as I know a fission bomb consists of

  • a certain amount of certain isotopes of uranium or plutonium, most probably in a sphere,
  • a certain amount of explosives placed in plates around that sphere
  • electronic circuits to make sure the explosives go off simultanously to create a sudden wave of pressure that makes the uranium or plutonium go BOOM.

A fusion bomb with considerably higher power of destruction consists of a conatiner filled with a hydrogen isotope and a fission bomb for a fuse. So find a way to get the uranium or plutonium shielded from detectors (and perhaps a personal shield can not only keep a fast-moving projectile out but also fast-moving particles like neutrons in?) and the job is half done.

Yup, all Houses have starships capable of sublight or in some cases faster than light travel. But it still takes a very long time to cross even from one system to a neighboring one. Even the fastest FtL drive isn’t even slightly close the the foldspace ship’s ability to cross the entire galaxy in a moment. So you can get about a little bit without the Guild, but any distance longer than the Dune equivalent of popping to the local shops is not worth doing unless you travel by Guild ship.

I think the dead man’s switch aspect is the key one here. If everyone holds atomics then people become a lot more cautious in their attacks.
You either wipe the House out in one fell swoop or you fight more restrained and dont push them to the brink.
If the House doesn’t have Atomics you can be more brutal and slowly crush them over time.

Plus there may be a holdover from the Butlerian Jyhad. You want the big guns on your side just in case.

The Guild may be able to detect the weapons, but as long as they aren’t being used I think they will turn a blind eye.
They strike me very much as rules lawyers (admittedly where they helped to write the rules).
The moment they are used they will arrange merry hell on the perpetrators, but up until that point the worst they will do is charge you extra for insurance purposes.

Though I do wonder just what the Guild is doing with all those Atomics it has from the Houses that have fled to Tupile. It must have the largest stockpile in the Universe.

Although they are not mentioned specifically, atomics must have been used by the fleets of Muad’Dib when they wiped all life from a dozen or so planets during the Fremen Jihad. Those fleets were transported to the doomed worlds by Guild Heighliners. As the Imperial House, the Laandsrad had to stand by and watch as he ordered the “sterilization” of those worlds. Scary stuff.