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Projectile Weapons

Shields and projectile weapons - I have always struggled to square the circle around permissible technology, especially on Arrakis.

I understand the literary conceit in use - to give combat that visceral, close quarters feel and reinforce the setting (which I like) - while, at the same time, chafing against it because projectile weapons a.) seem to be in general use within military conventions and b.) seems like it would play a role in an Arrakeen urban environment (shields attract sandworms - although, I kind of remember something about how cities are protected from worms).

Clearly, there’s probably no right or wrong answer (only, perhaps more or less true to canon) but what does the board think of projectile weapons and, more specifically, player-owned pistols, rifles, etc.?

Are shields ubiquitous enough in Arrakeen to nullify the advantages of projectile weapons? What about in the open desert?

Going purely from the books for how the technology was described Arrakis was an anomaly in the Imperium in regards to Shields not being used.

The Baron described artillery as a ‘special innovation’ that ‘cannot go against a shield’. That suggests that shields are fairly ubiquitous for infantry and military buildings.
On Arrakis they were used against the cliff caves to seal them in and not against the infantry directly.
Off Arrakis that also prevents normal firearms from having any effect. High speed bullets are useless and anyone wielding them would get killed by the people who were armed with blades.
There are short range, slow weapons called Maula pistols that could theoretically penetrate a shield. But they have a range of about 40m and are mainly used for poison darts, making them more of an assassins weapon.
So over the last 10,000 years people have just stopped making them. With the loss of manufacturing comes a loss of knowledge which further reduces their effectiveness. You can probably acquire a master crafted hunting rifle for sport in the same way you can have a sword made nowadays, they know how to make them, but using them on the battlefield? Why bother if they can’t damage their opponent.

The major settlements on Arrakis are all within what is called the Shield Wall. A large natural barrier that stops the worst of the desert sandstorms and also the Sandworms from getting into the Northern regions. So shields will be fine to use in the cities as the main reasons they don’t work elsewhere on Arrakis is static charges from sandstorms shorting them out and Sandworms becoming enraged & attacking the source. Eventually a few thousand tonnes of armoured alien worm will sink through your shield and squish you.

It is a plot point that Paul arms the Fremen with ‘Archaic’ weaponry such as rockets and similar. Gurney Halleck is shocked when the Carrier is brought down by one. It isn’t specified anywhere in the books as to why he is shocked, though.
My head canon is that with all your military protected from projectile weapons the only target for them would be civilians and non-combatants. Which given the Great Convention is probably considered the equivalent of a war crime as you are destroying valuable property and CHOAM takes a dim view of that.

From my personal view I would allow my players to have Maula Pistols or ranged ‘hunting weapons’ like crossbows or similar, but I would draw the line at gunpowder weapons. They simply aren’t seen as viable off Arrakis and even there it is only of use outside the shield wall where only the Native Fremen live. And really they are just a bunch of rabble. The Harkonnens will probably wipe them out soon. Nothing for the rest of the Imperium to worry about…


Yup, there are a lot of complex reasons, mostly around tradition and convenience.
While shields are common for the nobility, they are not especially common for the lower end of the social scale.
As Thalim points out as well, they drive sandworms wild so using one outside a city (even a small one) is basically suicidal.

Essentially a lot of weapon use comes down to what makes people feel safe. Nobles like to feel safe, and so they like to have shields around their houses. If everyone agrees not to use lasguns or the like, they all get to keep their shields and that lovely feeling of safety. A lot of the rules of the Great Convention are really there like ‘no fighting in a church’ or ‘Holy ground Highlander!’ because they give people a place to be safe they can trust, which do one wants to ruin.

So some weapons might prove devastating in this set up, but using them would break the accepted rules of combat that means everyone escalates everything. Then everything would get very messy indeed.

Probably not everybody can afford to equip themselves with shields, so projectile weapons can be useful in fights with bandits, renegades, poorer smugglers or lower-than-infantry irregular troops of a house. I like to imagine the peak of projectile weapon technology in the imperium as 19th century revolvers and such, maybe even just muskets, but that is just a flavor and feeling for me and wouldnt change the game

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I would accept the idea of a serf revolt wielding a variety of old guns, the sort that you could make or repair in a metalshop. Alongside knives, swords, agricultural implements, whatever they could get their hands on. Peasant revolts are a staple of feudal settings.

I guess it depends on where you aim your game. The moment House troops get involved it turns into a massacre, but you could get a very evocative scene out of it.

Appreciate the discussion, @CountThalim, @Andy-Modiphius, and @hasimir_fenring.

For context, I had in mind a mid-level smuggler premise in mind, sort of a lieutenant and operative of Esmar and Staban Tuek, so likely hovering around the socio-economic level that may or may not be able to afford the protection of shield technology.

That in mind, I think we might have hit upon something in the discussion that I’ll throw out there - by and large, Dune is about characters that are in a sense protected from shields, literally Holtzman shields and figuratively their retainers that, in effect, make projectile weapons somewhat moot (or, at least superfluous).

That’s something I hadn’t really thought about when contemplating playing in the setting. The idea I had in mind now sounds almost a little too cyberpunk instead of Dune and probably something I might need to run in architect play.

That said, mechanics-wise, from what I understand of conflict is that damage in the RPG is largely a narrative construct, defined from context and the table. With that in mind, I’m not sure I see an issue with home brewing a pistol, assault-rifle, sniper-rifle, etc. as long as it’s not unbalancing (subjective, of course, but the idea is to be within the damage limitations of other weapons/assets). Thoughts?

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Would you be planning on running on Arrakis itself then if you are playing a smuggler?
If so then you do get to have a but leeway when it comes to shields not being in play as anyone who ventures outside the Shield Wall probably has a healthy fear of them which would carry over to inside the cities as well.

Mechanically I don’t see any issues with the idea. It just becomes an asset with variable strength usable at range.
Literary I would have more issues with the Assault-Rifle analogue. They are weapons of a style of war which no longer exists.
Pistols & Rifles are useful for personal defence or hunting, I could see those coming up without breaking my immersion in Dune too much.
Sniper-Rifles… If I imagine it as a fancy hunting rifle/Vietnam era sniper rifle I can process it. The sort of Military grade Sniper Rifles nowadays… Not so much.

Trying to sort my thoughts I think if it is something a civilian could get hold of in Canada I would roll with it. (UK is too strict and US seems too relaxed)
They won’t appear in my universe, but that is just my preference.

Definitely Arrakis-based early and perhaps mid-campaign. I’d love to explore the space around the Tuek’s smuggling enterprise as they try and balance the transition from Harkonnen to Atreides and back again. Feel like there are some cool stories to tell around what happens off-screen as they collaborate with the Atreides and then actively take part in resistance to the re-established Harkonnen fief.

I definitely understand the objection and appreciate your thoughts. I do recognize canon is relatively quiet on the topic, as in almost completely, the world has moved on. However, what we do see in both the planetary fief change and the subsequent resistance speaks strongly to me of special ops forces engaged in a shadow war (practically everything in the Imperium seems to be dominated by covert ops) and that’s where the idea of close-quarter combat rifles comes into play, especially in the open desert. Seems hard to pull off taking down harvesters and/or Harkonnen patrols with just melee combat (granted, I do need to go back and re-read the sections where Herbert describes the Fremen taking Gurney’s harvester and the rules do support rocket/missile launchers, of course).

I agree that I do not want to set-up a guns-blazing, Wild West, machine gun-toting free-for-all. There are games for that - this is not it. Absolutely no the correct tone. I’m talking small-scale, hit-and-run ops that you might find in a gritty spy film or modern police procedural. Something close-up where combat may very well (and, likely will) come down to who is better with a knife or in unarmed combat.

Taking out a Sardaukar Bashar and his troops at 1000m doesn’t sound like fun, will admit.

Again, appreciate you talking through it with me, helps me better understand what I want out of it.

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That is one of the areas I have considered myself. Though I was approaching it from the position of Hallecks people having survived the initial attack and are now wanting to wage a guerrilla war of revenge against the Harkonnens

I’m just rewatching the miniseries and realize that they’re far too generous with portraying rifle usage.

Since conflict is highly restricted and regulated in the imperium there is probably no market and no supplier for warfare weapons we would imagine nowadays. Combatants have to think on a smaller and simpler scale.

The idea of a special ops hidden mission would fit nice into the duniverse, but maybe better conceptualised in what we would consider a 19th century setting(if not earlier) than 2021 high tech environment

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Also, while we’re talking - do you know what technology seems most out of place? Lasguns.

Why the Great Convention excluded laser technology, I’ll never know. Ubiquitous Holtzman shields and lasguns don’t mix, kids.


It is strange I grant you.
Shields are ubiquitous, but Lasguns don’t seem to be particularly rare. The Baron agrees to leave some with Rabban for use in hunting down the Fremen.

Which is very odd given the use of Atomics against people is banned (at risk of planetary annihilation) but careless use of Lasguns could generate the same effect.

I addressed it in the first game I ran by saying the two couldn’t be easily distinguished and would bring down the same result on the Houses concerned. (I.e, No Iain you can’t use loophole abuse)

It is addressed in God Emperor of Dune as Leto has banned Shields throughout the Empire.

so true, maybe they’re a remnant from the Butlerian Jihad like Atomics

My first instinct was that they might be used against armored combat vehicles but those certainly have shields too, havent they?

Seems like we’ll be spending a lot of time inventing scenarios where shields cant be used :smiley:

One thing in Dune. that I always found strange is that the universe is full of dedicated assassins that are willing to give their life to accomplish their mission, plenty of lasguns and shields that will detonate, the true question is:
How the House leaders are still alive?
On arakis smugglers should use firearms. Same for fremen. They are not blocked by social conventions.
Unless the Space guild has an objection on carrying firearms in cargo.
In this case longbows and crossbows should be used on Arakis, with poison on it for the Dune touch (I agree that Dukes of Hazard dynamite arrow aren’t in the good mood)

FWIW, I did re-read the section where Gurney’s smuggler crew are ambushed and ran across this line: “Gurney moved one hand toward his own knife, kept his eyes fixed on the other’s knife. If they dared use rockets, they’d have other projectile weapons.”

Caveats, of course, the rest of the chapter (and, indeed this sentence) are full of references to melee combat. And, even here, Herbert doesn’t define what he means - these could be the maula pistol from earlier or a slow pellet stunner. We don’t know.

Re: lasguns, I swear it feels like Frank was trying to make a statement (perhaps in defiance of classic sci-fi tropes?) that lasers just aren’t going to play a role in his story. So, he devises a way to neutralize them. It’s interesting, to @betatester’s point - I would expect lasguns to be banned and gunpowder weapons to still be in use.

Also, in my re-reads (I read the dinner party chapter in addition to the Gurney-smuggler ambush), I have to hand it to Frank - I love his writing style. So evocative, he captures in a few sentences what it would take some other authors to describe in a couple of paragraphs. It is amazing what he was able to craft in one book (not even a tome at that!) - today’s publishers would have him spread it out over a trilogy of at least 500 pages each.

Granted, I’d be happy to read that just to get more Dune but just saying. There is something fresh about that style, even though it’s more than 50 years old.

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One thing I will say about this topic is that is has altered my views a little bit.
I came into it with the view of “No guns, you don’t get those in Dune”, a very stark, binary view based on a pure reading of the novel and not thinking around it.

Over the course of our discussion it has shifted to “Great Houses don’t make use of guns as they have plentiful shields and can train their troops in melee, but lower down the pecking order guns are a part of the arsenal, albeit a poor persons weapon

I love these sort of topics where I get to think about why I hold a position and question the assumptions I have made.
Looking forward to more of them. :heart_eyes:


Several years ago, I was thinking of a campaign of Dune (Sorry folks it was a fan made RPG, very professional nevertheless, with very interesting ideas for example on doctors Suk, but sadly with no scenarios). I tried to understand why Great Houses don’t use lasers on shields.
The best answer I have found after intensive thinking is that it could be assimilated to the use of a nuclear weapon because of the reaction.
On the other hand, it will be an easy way, if you manage to put the blame on another House, to make a political strike.

Frank Herberts unique human-centered message is that even 20.000 years into the future, a skillfully wielded sword is more powerful than cutting edge weapon-technology. This is a universe where religious, cultural, emotional and irrational forces are far more powerful than weapons, technology and science; with wonderful and horrible consequences.
Its more important how you fight, than if you win. (no copyright, you can take that as a drive statement :grin:)

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