By Simon Berman
When the book was in planning, Andrew Peregrine asked the contributing writers of Dune what each of us might like to work on in Power and Pawns: The Emperor’s Court. I practically sprained my wrist replying to his email to ask for the Sardaukar. There’s nothing juicier for a writer than the villains, and there are few villains in the Dune universe more villainous than the legendary Sardaukar, the Emperor’s Blades.
The Sardaukar are the most feared warriors in the Known Universe. These superb fighters are the lethal whip with which the Padhishah Emperor punishes those who displease him. By the time of Paul Atreides the Sardaukar have been undefeated for millennia and the nature of their training and origins are a mystery to all but a few within the imperial House itself. They are known mostly by their reputation as the most terrifying combatants in the universe, a single Sardaukar being the match of ten or more of even the finest soldiers serving the Houses of the Landsraad. Merely the rumored presence of the Sardaukar has been enough to stifle dissent against the Emperor or those in his favor.
It was an irresistible opportunity to delve into the deeper secrets of this cult-like army of soldiers and expose their techniques and philosophies, strengths and weaknesses. When we first encounter the Sardaukar during the events of the novel Dune, Duke Leto Atreides had begun to guess at the origins of the Sardaukar on the Emperor’s prison planet, Salusa Secundus. The planet’s environment is inimical to human life, having been blasted into atomic ruins in the distant past, and the prisoners incarcerated there are the most hardened criminal scum to be found anywhere. It is, of course, from these brutal survivors that the Sardaukar corps draws its recruits. Those chosen to join the Sardaukar endure both brutal training and bloody rituals as they are inducted into not just an elite fighting force, but a mystery cult that venerates the Emperor as an object of worship.
Life for the Sardaukar is one of tremendous contrasts. They endure periods of grueling combat training during which they lead lives of Spartan discomfort, particularly in the early years of their service. But as they rise through the ranks, they are rewarded with recreations and pleasure palaces that would turn even the most jaded nobles of the Landsraad green with envy. They remain lethal killers who sometimes live like pampered princes, a combination that ensures undying loyalty and an almost mystical esprit de corps among their ranks.
While most characters in Dune: Adventures in the Imperium will never learn these secrets, those players who choose to portray Sardaukar (only after receiving their gamemaster’s permission, of course!) will be well versed in them. The Sardaukar are now a full faction template for play. While these characters are not suitable for every campaign, there are now options to portray a single Sardaukar advisor or bodyguard on loan from the Emperor, or even a campaign comprised entirely of Sardaukar soldiers.
In the former, Sardaukar will be challenging characters, mistrusted by their compatriots as their loyalty is ultimately only to the Emperor himself. Nobles “gifted” with the loan of a Sardaukar are rightly wary of such gifts, knowing that everything observed by their attaché will be reported to his superiors. All Sardaukar characters have the mandatory Talent Unquestionable Loyalty (House Corrino). While few members of the Landsraad lack secrets they’d prefer the Emperor never learn. However, the benefits of having a peerless killer and military expert at their disposal is a difficult offer to decline, especially if that noble’s House is being threatened militarily.
Gamemasters who choose to run a campaign centered on the Sardaukar themselves will have numerous options. They could focus on the characters as an elite band of specialist combatants operating as an insurgency or otherwise behind enemy lines. In such a campaign the characters would likely choose from new Talents like Hidden Blade, allowing them to secrete weapons or parts of complex devices upon their person. They might also choose new Talents like Loyal Unto Death, ensuring that victory is within their grasp even when their lives are surely lost.
Broader campaigns could focus on a group of Sardaukar characters overseeing an entire military campaign on behalf of the Emperor or in conjunction with the military of another House, as they did with House Harkonnen against the Atreides on Arrakis. This kind of campaign would see the characters engaging in both strategic conflict and political maneuvering, making the new trait Military Counselor highly valuable. They would, of course, also remain personally dangerous combatants should the need arise.
In any circumstances, the Sardaukar are now a fully fleshed out part of the game, and their wicked blades will cast long shadows everywhere on behalf of the Emperor.
Power and Pawns: The Emperor’s Court is out now!