By Andrew Peregrine
In Desert Flower, the player characters find themselves caught between the Fremen and the Emperor as a deadly mystery unfolds. But for me, this adventure was an excuse for a party.
While duels, battles and politics are at the core of a Dune game, social occasions also have an important place in the intrigues of court. But what do you actually do at them, and how to you run them and make them interesting in their own right? It’s often been a little tricky in an RPG to use a party as anything more than a background. The player characters arrive, the gamemaster describes the scene, and then they get looking for the NPC they came to find or the scheduled meeting with a guest. Often, if there isn’t a particular thing they are there to do, it is hard to engage without a lot of prep work. Ideally the gamemaster populates the party with tens or even a hundred NPCs, all with stories and connections, and allows the player characters to interact with them.
That is if they do of course. Many player characters, who aren’t specifically social characters, rarely know what to do at a party. The deadly warrior is often the one to stay at the side like a wallflower not talking to anyone, totally out of their depth. While a social occasion is good for a social character, it doesn’t leave much for the fighting types but to wait for it to be over.
So in Desert Flower, the adventure begins with the player characters as the organisers/hosts of the party and it’s an opportunity I used to offer some advice and useful options for running one. As the hosts, each player character has something to do. The obvious job is security, but there are plenty of others just as vital, even if not so obvious. The might be set to make sure everyone always has a full glass, but also to steer away any rivals from turning the party into a confrontation. Some might be purposed to listen quietly to any conversations to see if they can learn any useful gossip. Others might be tasked (as this is an art show) to offer opinions about the paintings on display to spark conversation.
We also take a look at the different skills and see how they can be useful. It was important to make sure that the whole scene didn’t just use Communicate for every test. Every skill can be useful in such an occasion. For instance, there might not be a fight going on, but the tactical ability offered with Battle is still useful to divide and corral the guests if the wrong ones might run into each other.
Obviously, we added a few NPCs to make things difficult. While there is plenty of space for the gamemaster to populate the gathering, we offer a decent starting selection of guests. Each has a motive and a few potential rivalries, so the player characters will have to figure out who is dangerous and who might be a good ally before they go wading in. This also offers a few more story hooks and adventure seeds the player characters might follow up after the party.
So, the adventure also functions as a mini sourcebook for dealing with parties and social gatherings. You should find it useful to adapt to pretty much any social occasion. But that is just Act I, and after the party, you have another two Acts of danger, espionage and murder to contend with. Hopefully, your player characters won’t have too much of a hangover!
Pick up a copy of Dune: Desert Flower at the following: