By Rachel J Wilkinson
When I think of Dune, I think of epic stories that take characters across the Known Universe, from shady dive bars in Carthag City to Imperial dinners in Corrinth City, from back rooms deals with spice smugglers to tense political negotiations among the Landsraad, and from secret desert dalliances to pollical marriages benefitting the Bene Gesserit. In my opinion, Dune stories should feel big and Empire-impacting. But, let’s be honest, there are only so many words we can fit on a page, which is why I was excited to be on the writing team for Masters of Dune.
Masters of Dune has players taking over the feudal right to oversee Arrakis from House Harkonnen, much like House Atreides did in the novel. Only instead of simply being a stand-in for a story already written, Shaddam IV of House Corrino is concerned that House Harkonnen has grown too powerful and needs to put a smaller House he can control in place.
The story starts with the player characters’ House (or House Nagara if following from Agents of Dune) in control of spice operations on Arrakis and the discovery that House Harkonnen is their true enemy. But how do you keep the Emperor and the Guild happy while the Harkonnen dog your every move?
Each chapter in Master of Dune is a choice players can make. Do they confront the Harkonnen on Giedi Prime? Do they ask the Fremen or Bene Gesserit for help? Do they go to the Great Houses? What about the Guild? In this campaign book, the chapters represent possibilities without forcing the group onto rails.
My contribution was Chapter 3. In it, player characters travel to Kaitain to give their first report on Arrakis to the CHOAM Board of Directors and the Emperor. Regular in-person meetings of the Board are rare, but Shaddam IV uses the recent change in the governorship of Arrakis to strongarm the Directors into appearing in person. Then, he uses this opportunity to throw a multiday party for himself in Corrinth City, complete with a military parade… you know, like you do when you rule the Empire.
Unless someone says, “Rachel, you must write an adventure where people shoot at each other,” I tend to focus on social and political plots. Admittedly, combat has never held that much appeal to me. Maybe it’s my LARP background rearing its head, but as soon as a storyteller or gamemaster tells me to take out my sheet, I sigh. I would much rather roleplay than roll dice, which is not a knock on sheet jockeys and min-maxers. I salute you, my friends. No yucking other peoples’ yum here.
Suffice to say, chapter 3 leans heavily on social and political interactions. I like when every character (both player and supporting) matters. It can be easy to take the random courtesan or pilot for granted in an adventure, but in Dune, any one of those people can be an assassin, spy, or future ally. And so, the story I wrote focuses on the exchanges and interactions player characters have with those around them.
The story is also built on the ideas of charm, deceit, and clandestine meetings. I intended to create an atmosphere of courtly intrigue where secrets and gossip are the currency of the realm. And player characters will have a chance to interact with some canon characters. I won’t let the cat out of the bag here, but one of my favorite characters from the novels drops in unexpectedly on the player characters while visiting the Contemplation Tea Room.But hey, if fancy parties and political negotiations aren’t your thing, Masters of Dune gives you seven other chapters written by other writers to choose from. This book can appeal to different people and play styles. Not only do you have multiple adventures with varied objectives, but each writer brings their style to the story. A favorite chapter can inspire a gamemaster to tailor the others or as a jumping-off point for creating something new for their players. But most of all, because of the collaborative, multitrack nature of this campaign book, Master of Dune does well to capture that sense of epic scope that is central to the Dune universe.
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