Roleplaying in the Dune universe

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of my favorite SF books. I’ve read several of the sequels but in my opinion the first book was the best. My father owned a hardcover version of the book that had the painting of a sandworm on its cover. From the first moment I saw this cover I was intrigued. Since then I have read the first novel several times. I also enjoyed Dune Messiah to an extent, but IMHO the story started to get a bit too weird for my taste starting with Leto’s transformation in Children of Dune.

Dune RPG cover But it seems although Dune and its sequels (and prequels) are very popular, transferring the story to other media almost always failed. The David Lynch movie was very ambitious but was not really close to the novel. Especially the Dune computer games by Westwood Games were big hits, but they were only loosely based on the story of the book, too, and only focused on war on Arrakis. There was even a pen & paper RPG set into the Dune universe called Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium by Last Unicorn Games. But alas the game was doomed from the very beginning. In 2000 a limited edition of just 3000 copies was sold at GenCon before the company was acquired by WotC. I am not sure if Wizards was just not interested in the franchise or if there were some license problems, but the game was eventually cancelled.

So, what can a Dune fan like me do, if he wants to run a campaign in the Dune universe? You can of course try to get a copy of LUG’s Dune game on eBay, if you are really willing to pay several hundred bucks for this very rare book. That’s even too much for a game collector like me. Aside from that you can search the internet for some fan-created games. I’ve found the following games while researching for this post:

  • Dune – A Dream of Rain (aka D20une)
    This 211-paged PDF is a complete Dune RPG based on the d20 Modern System. For a fan-product it has a pretty high production value and it contains several pages of background information. You can get a copy of the PDF for free at Scribd.
  • GURPS Dune
    The GURPS version of Dune is from the early ‘90s and sadly it shows. Although the rules themselves look pretty decent the presentation is in basic HTML. Obviously the creator of this Dune RPG has taken down the website some time ago, but the rules are still available using the Internet Archive. GURPS Dune has been written for an earlier version of GURPS (probably 3rd Edition) but it should be playable with 4th Edition with some major modifications by the GM.
  • The Dune RPG
    Another game I found on Scribd is called “The Dune RPG” and is based by the system that powers the “Legend of the Five Rings” RPG. From what I’ve seen the PDF is pretty much incomplete and needs some work from an experience DM to be fully playable.

There are probably dozens of other conversions floating around on the ‘net. If you know of any other Dune RPG written by fans, feel free to post the links in the comments below.

I think if I had to run a Dune campaign any time soon, I would just use a game system like PDQ# and be done with it. Why exactly PDQ#? Although Dune is not really part of the swashbuckling genre PDQ# was created for, IMHO PDQ# can be easily adapted to almost any genre. For example I used a mixture of PDQ and PDQ# to run my Ad Astra campaign some time ago. PDQ# is very easy to run and is extremely flexible as a system. Since Dune has a strong focus on melee combat, detailed rules about firearms are not really necessary. If you ask me, Dune is more about politics, intrigue and philosophy than combat anyway. And a narrative game like PDQ# handles this type of campaign probably better than more crunchy systems. Your mileage may vary, of course.

What do you think? Would you like to roleplay in the Dune universe?

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

10 thoughts on “Roleplaying in the Dune universe”

  1. Oh man, I'd love to RP in the Dune world! Actually Dark Sun fills a lot of that realm for me with regards to D&D, but I'd be really intrigued to play in a true to Dune game and see how it goes. I think it'd have to focus strongly on Arrakis, obviously, but allow the players some travel to other worlds and interactions with all of the major factions. I think it could be REALLY fun!
    .-= Bartoneus´s last blog ..Critical Bits for the week ending 2009-11-21 =-.

  2. @Elias: Thanks for the link. I will check it out later.

    @Bartoneus: A true Dune game could be a lot of fun but also a lot of work for any GM. That's why I would prefer playing in a Dune game instead of running one. 😉

  3. I'd love to, but more as a player – I'd like someone who was knowledgable about the Dune universe to GM the game so that I can be immersed in it. I don't know enough about it to run it myself, but the setting opens up plenty of roleplaying opportunities.

  4. Deadgod is right. The answer is Fading Suns.

    Fading Suns has its own setting, but it is VERY Dune-like: an epic space opera setting with noble houses, galactic guilds, mysticism, and secret societies. When I first read it, my initial thought was that it would be near-perfect for Dune.
    .-= Stuart´s last blog ..Thoughts about Swords and Sorcery =-.

  5. I agree that Fading Suns is very Dune-like. A friend of mine has run a couple of sessions for us and as far as I remember everyone at the table had a lot of fun. When I am not mistaken, I have the Fading Suns RPG in my collection and there was even a d20 version for everyone who didn't like the FS rules.

    But I think I would still prefer a proper Dune game.

  6. I'll second the mention of Burning Sands: Jihad. It's Dune with the serial numbers very lightly filed off, written by fans of Dune to be Dune without calling it "Dune".

    Of course, it helps if you like the Burning Wheel mechanics and play philosophy, but even without it the free PDF is worth looking at for inspiration.
    .-= d7´s last blog ..A comment on POD and shipping =-.

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