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A Look Inside Dune 2d20

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Dune occupies a strange place in the pop culture pantheon. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel spawned a series of sequels and is beloved by many sci-fi fans. Though it’s been cited as an inspiration to everything from Star Wars to A Game of Thrones it has yet to have a direct adaptation that’s broken through to a bigger audience. The 1984 David Lynch film has become a cult classic but even its fans hope for a better adaptation someday. The 2000 miniseries was more faithful to the novels but has been mostly consigned to used DVD dustbins. A tabletop RPG released near the time of the miniseries, Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium suffered a tragic fate due to the sale of the company. Only a few were printed for an advance release at Gen Con and those have since become collector’s items.

The impending release of a new Dune movie looks to change that. The classic Avalon Hill game was recently republished by Gale Force 9. Dire Wolf created Dune: Imperium as a more modern board game design. Modiphius secured the rights to the RPG and recently released the PDF. They sent along a review copy which gave me strange, prophetic dreams of writing this review. Is it worth killing an Emperor for or does it make the gom jabbar look lovely by comparison?

Like most of the licensed games put out by the publisher, Dune: Adventures In the Imperium uses a variation of their house system, 2d20. Players add a trait plus a skill and roll 2 twenty sided dice to try and get under that number for successes. A metacurrency called Momentum for the players and Threat for the GM lets both sides of the screen manipulate the roll. Lead designer Nathan Dowdell stripped the system down to its core and built it back into something much more narratively focused. One of the big signs of this off the top is the lack of challenge dice in the game. Everything runs off the 2d20 rolls. Reading this book has helped me understand my other 2d20 games better because of the focus on the basic mechanics.

Another element of Dune’s narrative focus is how characters are built. There are five skills (Battle, Communicate, Discipline, Move and Understand) that can combine with five drives (Duty, Faith, Justice, Power and Drive). The most powerful drives are defined with Truths, small statements that can add or subtract difficulty from a roll if you use the truth. This Smallville style character construction offers some interesting insight into how and why a character might do something. Someone with a strong Justice drive but a connected truth like I believe in the Emperor’s right might have to pick a different drive if they end up hiding someone they love from Sardaukar troops.

Truths are also how the game handles specialized gear calling them assets. Assets have certain ratings from 0-4 that help to determine the difficulty it is to overcome something. On a small scale, if a character has a subtle knife of 2 against a personal shield of 3, that means whatever difficulty the GM sets for a successful attack (usually 2) will be at an additional +1 to difficulty. But if the shielded character knocks the knife away, the difficulty to be harmed would be a near impossible 5 successes.

These mechanics are also on display in the larger scale warfare Dune is known for. The book calls out Agent and Architect play, a play style reminiscent of Ars Magica Troupe play using the supporting characters element of Star Trek Adventures. It’s assumed players will be playing the major movers and shakers of their House but they can also play the poor unfortunate souls that have to hold the knives and follow the orders. I like the risk and reward element of this aspect of play. A main character doing the dirty work themselves is more likely to be successful because they’ll have better stats and be able to handle any consequences better, but a supporting character who fails can die in a dramatic fashion and be plausibly denied should their failure come to light.

Characters are also assumed to belong to the same house, be it one from the books or, more likely, one of the players' creations. I like the idea of an instant connection between characters of being bound as a house. Players decide on what their house is known for throughout the universe and decide on the size of their house. The bigger the house, however, the more enemies it has, an idea the players decide on too. These set ups are a great way for players to connect to a big setting like this whether they decide to be a minor house intriguing their way through the background of the main narrative or taking an opportunity to tell their own version of a later book they didn’t like.

The one area I wanted more information was support of a dynastic style of play. The book has some great advice on playing games in this universe, but it doesn’t have the random event charts dynastic games like Pendragon or Song of Ice And Fire have. It’s nice to be in full control of a house's destiny, but sometimes players key off of an unexpected event to bring a story into focus. Given how well done the lifepaths were done in Star Trek Adventures, I hope to see something like this in a future supplement.

Dune: Adventures In The Imperium is an excellent game of narrative intrigue and action that should please fans of the books and films alike. It is available in PDF now and pre-orders in hard copy from retailers worldwide. There are three limited edition books available from certain stores: Amazon gets House Harkonnen, local retailers get House Corrino and Modiphius gets House Atreides.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider using the links to purchase the game or share this review with your friends. Thank you for your support of your local game writers.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

eyeheartawk

Works 60% of the time, every time
I can't help but feel like we're back in the 90s where companies forced properties to fit their house system rather than use mechanics that thematically fit the property. But hey, maybe every game needs meta-currency dice pools, right?

I'd rather spend $400 on the Last Unicorn version than this from the sounds of it.

Modiphius.
We'll give you 2D20 until you love it, however long that may take.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Great to see The Most Anticipated RPG of 2021 get its due.

The 2d20 system is also slowly getting more broader recognition like other small non-DnD/d20 ones like Savage Worlds or FATE, or dare I say, GURPS
 




TrippyHippy

Adventurer
But what do you do as a player in Dune the RPG? Play as Fremen #57533?
You collectively play members of a House, that you design together. This House is then involved in the various political conflicts that exist in the setting of Dune - either at an Architect level (planning and orchestrating strategies and ruses), or at Agent level (carrying out the groundwork). Your role is defined in relation to the House.
 

Erik Alt

Villager
So it could be set in any other milieu, and whatever the players do will not affect the story of the novels in any way. I just don't get games set in worlds where the players do not matter.
 


TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I can't help but feel like we're back in the 90s where companies forced properties to fit their house system rather than use mechanics that thematically fit the property. But hey, maybe every game needs meta-currency dice pools, right?

I'd rather spend $400 on the Last Unicorn version than this from the sounds of it.

Modiphius.
We'll give you 2D20 until you love it, however long that may take.
The rules differ in one significant respect to other 2D20 based RPGs in the abstracted Drives rather than Attributes. This allows for a more seamless transition from the more remote Architect to the more hands-on Agent level play. The point about the influence of Ars Magica’s Troupe-style play in the review is correct, but it is actually one of the few games I have seen written for this mode of play that makes easy to make scene-by-scene transitions for playing characters at multiple ranks in the same scenario.

My experience with other 2D20 RPGs doesn’t amount to much, so I cannot talk with authority about them, but I did playtest Dune before this release. I found that there is a learning curve to master the game, but the various meta-currencies do create a sense of tactical intrigue and teamwork in the game as a payoff. They detail conflict in various arenas (Dueling, Skirmish, Warfare, Espionage, Intrigue) and work primarily on the maneuvering/controlling of Assets as objectives. I’m not sure if this was the case in Conan or Star Trek. So while you could argue that they all share a house system, I don’t think they all play the same way.
 
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eyeheartawk

Works 60% of the time, every time
The rules differ in one significant respect to other 2D20 based RPGs in the abstracted Drives rather than Attributes. This allows for a more seamless transition from the more remote Architect to the more hands-on Agent level play. The point about the influence of Ars Magica’s Troupe-style play in the review is correct, but it is actually one of the few games I have seen written for this mode of play that makes easy to make scene-by-scene transitions for playing characters at multiple ranks in the same scenario.

My experience with other 2D20 RPGs doesn’t amount to much, so I cannot talk with authority about them, but I did playtest Dune before this release. I found that there is a learning curve to master the game, but the various meta-currencies do create a sense of tactical intrigue and teamwork in the game as a payoff. They detail conflict in various arenas (Dueling, Skirmish, Warfare, Espionage, Intrigue) and work primarily on the maneuvering/controlling of Assets as objectives. I’m not sure if this was the case in Conan or Star Trek. So while you could argue that they all share a house system, I don’t think they all play the same way.
Sure.

I'm not even saying it's bad per se. I'm sure it plays fine and fits within its stated design goals. But I think it's reasonable to assume that the design started with the conclusion that, of course, it would use 2D20 and worked backwards from there.

That's the problem, really.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Sure.

I'm not even saying it's bad per se. I'm sure it plays fine and fits within its stated design goals. But I think it's reasonable to assume that the design started with the conclusion that, of course, it would use 2D20 and worked backwards from there.

That's the problem, really.
I think they used their system because that's their system, then altered it to fit Dune. This seems a very reasonable design choice.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Sure.

I'm not even saying it's bad per se. I'm sure it plays fine and fits within its stated design goals. But I think it's reasonable to assume that the design started with the conclusion that, of course, it would use 2D20 and worked backwards from there.

That's the problem, really.
Well no game system is designed in a vacuum, and sure, 2D20 is used by Modiphius as a marketing brand that they want to support. However, this would be true of any other system - 5E, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Storypath/Storyteller, BRP, Traveller, PbtA, Fate, GURPS, etc. I mean you cited that you would prefer to use the old LUG version of Dune, but that was designed with a house system too - the ‘Icon’ system was also used for all LUG’s Star Trek games at the time.

You could argue that each game should go beyond a house system, and make a ground-built, bespoke system with each new game/setting, but the counter-argument is to ask why would this be better than simply adapting a core system that both the designers and audience are already familiar with?

The broader point still stands that Dune: Adventures in the Imperium seems to be built with an intent to create a very specific mode of play, regardless of what the core dice mechanic is.
 
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Psikosis

Explorer
Really looking forward to this game. Dune is a terrific setting, and there's so many interesting things to do and places to explore. The system sounds pretty flexible. At least it won't get in the way of a good time. All in all, this looks like RPG treatment the setting deserves!
 

eyeheartawk

Works 60% of the time, every time
Why exactly is that a problem?
What, making the most fundamental of mechanical game design decisions on factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the game you're trying to make?

Why, nothing at all.

I just don't see the need. There's no reason to beg the question like this anyway. Almost nobody buys games for the mechanics anyway, conventional wisdom tells us that this is one of the least important factors when deciding to buy a game. Like, who plays Starfinder because they wanted to play a game with mechanics that are half Pathfinder 1 and half Pathfinder 2 and not because of goblins in space and whatever those little mascot space critters that Paizo puts on everything are.
The rules differ in one significant respect to other 2D20 based RPGs in the abstracted Drives rather than Attributes. This allows for a more seamless transition from the more remote Architect to the more hands-on Agent level play. The point about the influence of Ars Magica’s Troupe-style play in the review is correct, but it is actually one of the few games I have seen written for this mode of play that makes easy to make scene-by-scene transitions for playing characters at multiple ranks in the same scenario.
I'm not particularly interested in point by point critiquing the mechanics, but with the dice pools with positive and negative values within them and being driven by drives it sure sounds like Cortex Prime but with more steps. Like, wouldn't all this work better and more smoothly in a ground up narrative design than kind of kludging it into 2D20?

I don't particularly care for narrative games, but if that's what the goal is you should make the best possible version of that without "brand identity" considerations that have little to no impact on the success of the game itself comprising the vision. I mean, is there a person alive who would be excited to play a Dune RPG but then not play it because it's not 2D20?
 

Dire Bare

Legend
What, making the most fundamental of mechanical game design decisions on factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the game you're trying to make?

Why, nothing at all.

I just don't see the need. There's no reason to beg the question like this anyway. Almost nobody buys games for the mechanics anyway, conventional wisdom tells us that this is one of the least important factors when deciding to buy a game. Like, who plays Starfinder because they wanted to play a game with mechanics that are half Pathfinder 1 and half Pathfinder 2 and not because of goblins in space and whatever those little mascot space critters that Paizo puts on everything are.

I'm not particularly interested in point by point critiquing the mechanics, but with the dice pools with positive and negative values within them and being driven by drives it sure sounds like Cortex Prime but with more steps. Like, wouldn't all this work better and more smoothly in a ground up narrative design than kind of kludging it into 2D20?

I don't particularly care for narrative games, but if that's what the goal is you should make the best possible version of that without "brand identity" considerations that have little to no impact on the success of the game itself comprising the vision. I mean, is there a person alive who would be excited to play a Dune RPG but then not play it because it's not 2D20?
Still not seeing the problem.

The idea that a game company publishing games using their house system is somehow poor design . . . . nope. Not everybody's a fan of 2d20, and I'm sure some will feel it's not a good fit for Dune. And that's fine. But plenty will find the game plays very well.

Certainly, a unique system created from scratch for Dune could have been a good match as well . . . . but it's not a better choice than adapting an existing system, just a different choice.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I'm not particularly interested in point by point critiquing the mechanics, but with the dice pools with positive and negative values within them and being driven by drives it sure sounds like Cortex Prime but with more steps. Like, wouldn't all this work better and more smoothly in a ground up narrative design than kind of kludging it into 2D20?
No. The game system is designed for purpose, with very specific design goals and features.

It isn’t like Cortex Prime.
I don't particularly care for narrative games, but if that's what the goal is you should make the best possible version of that without "brand identity" considerations that have little to no impact on the success of the game itself comprising the vision. I mean, is there a person alive who would be excited to play a Dune RPG but then not play it because it's not 2D20?
All this illustrates is your own personal tastes. Your argument is predicated on that particular point alone. I don’t like the Icon system particularly, yet I still bought Dune: Chronicles in the Imperium at the time which only illustrates that Dune is a popular brand in itself rather than a value judgment of the system itself. And that works both ways.
 


imagineGod

Legend
I can assure you I picked up Starfinder because I was looking for D&D in space but WoTC is reluctant to bring back Spelljammer so at least Paizo went full on with Starfinder.

Other D&D in space is from third-party Kickstarters so of limited support. Contrast those to Paizo books on lore and mechanics and most importantly the Adventures Paths each year.

I recently pledged to Ruins of Symbaroum precisely because this new version is specify for 5e. And that is despite the original Symbaroum books created by Jarnringen existing for purchase. So have many backers onthis Free League's latest Kickstarter if you read the comments.
 

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