*Originally published at British Fantasy Society
Published decades ago, Frank Herbert’s award-winning Dune spawned a series of novels and is now a tabletop roleplaying game from Modiphius. The game puts players into the complexities and nuance of Herbert’s deep space interpretation of the future of human civilization. This adaptation of the classic story is primarily focused on the novels to develop the game, rather than any other media.
There’s a lot to like about this book, and it is very readable, containing everything needed to pick up and go with minimal effort. The art is fantastic, and although it feels a bit dark, it captures the atmosphere of the novels. Additionally, Dune’s massivetimeline is annotated, listing each book as they relate to the game’s lore. This is great for referencing the original source material, and for newcomers. Predictably, the default setting is Arrakis, the planet Dune is namedafter. Arrakis is nicely outlined, but it would have been helpful to have visual aids since there are only a couple of cities on Arrakis.
Need friends and enemies? There’s a useful NPC gallery containing some of Dune’s most important personalities, as well as NPC archetypes that can easily be re-skinned. What’s more, there’s even an introductory adventure module that can be run to give people a taste of how the game plays without having to prepare the material. Resources are plentiful to assist people just to easily dive right in.
Some of the rules are innovative, for example, there are two ways to create characters. Players can take the time to develop a fully-prepared persona, or create a skeleton that grows as a campaign progresses. There’s even “troupe-style” play where players use ‘supporting characters’, basically, NPCs, that are important, but not necessarily managed by the GM. This adds complexity to the game, but these secondary characters give players a different presence at the table, a fun twist on gameplay.
One aspect of the system that stood out is Assets. How this appears to work is that a player could spend Momentum to introduce an asset to help them overcome an obstacle or a conflict, for example by calling in a debt. In principle, this is a pretty nifty idea, but in practice, this could be problematic. GMs will need to be alert, and ensure assets fit the game’s scope.
Beyond designing characters, players construct a House. The rules for this process are simple, containing pros and cons for the scale of the House. Unfortunately, the characters are supposed to all belong to the same house. While this makes perfect sense, it would be fun to have rules allowing characters to be members of different, even rival houses.
What makes this game stand out as a TTRPG is in the chapter for Gamemastering on how to implement Dune’s themes, such as religion, the effects of spice, the scale of the environment, and so on. What’s in the book is great, but a bit academic. Here’s an example from incorporating faith,
When incorporating elements of faith and religion into their stories, you should try to balance these meta-narratives implicit in the setting against the characters that experience these concepts as authentic expressions of themselves and their beliefs.
The section is vital to making Dune unique, but it could be presented with language that was a bit less opaque. As an RPG, Dune has resulted in a remarkably comprehensive book. There are areas that are lacking in detail, but this is a game that is loaded with opportunities for supplements. It would be stunning if Modiphius wasn’t already working on these. Like any other game adapted from existing media, it’s going to be for fans of Dune before anyone else. However, there is a lot in the core book, and it all feels very open for anyone that might be looking for a well-developed science-fiction line.