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Friday, 5 November 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


For Free RPG Day 2021, Modiphius Entertainment released not one, but three titles, two for existing roleplaying games, one for a forthcoming title. The one for the forthcoming roleplaying game is the Achtung! Cthulhu Quick-Start (reviewed here) for Achtung! Cthulhu. The first for the existing roleplaying game is the Star Trek: Adventures Quick-Start (reviewed here), an introduction to Star Trek Adventures, whilst the second is Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide for Dune: Adventures in the Imperium. As with other quick-starts, it provides an explanation of the rules, a complete adventure, and six ready-to-play Player Characters. All of which comes in a full colour in the sandy shades of Arrakis punctuated by the colours of the sample Player Characters.

A Player Character in Dune: Adventures in the Imperium is defined by Skills, Focuses, Drives, Traits, Complications, and Assets. The five Skills are Battle, Communicate, Discipline, Move, and Understand, whilst the five Drives are Duty, Faith, Justice, Power, and Truth—both of which are rated between four and eight. Focuses represent skill specialisations, such as Deductive Reasoning for Understand or Dirty Fighting for Battle. Traits can be Talents, which make a test possible or make it harder or easier depending upon its nature. So the Bene Gesserit Talent of Hyperawareness grants a Bene Gesserit Sister the ability to ask two questions rather than one when spending Momentum to Obtain Information, whereas the Bold Talent can be selected by anyone and when used with the Battle skill, the player can additional twenty-sided dice by generating Threat for the Game Master to use, the player can reroll one of the dice in the pool. Assets include equipment, contacts, and so on, for example, a personal shield or someone in a criminal gang on Arrakis. Although the six ready-to-play Player Characters in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide have Statements attached to their Drives, the explanation for these and how they work is saved for the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium core rules. Lastly, each Player Character begins play with a point of Determination, which can be spent to ensure that one die rolled for an action is considered to be a one and thus a critical result.

Dune: Adventures in the Imperium employs the 2d20 System first used in the publisher’s Mutant Chronicles: Techno Fantasy Roleplaying Game and Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of , and since developed into the publisher’s house system. To undertake an action, a character’s player rolls two twenty-sided dice, aiming to have both roll under the total of a Skill and a Drive. Each roll under this total counts as a success, an average task requiring two successes. Rolls of one count as two successes and if a character has an appropriate Focus, rolls under the value of the Skill also count as two successes.

In the main, because a typical difficulty will only be a Target Number of one, players will find themselves rolling excess Successes which becomes Momentum. This is a resource shared between all of the players which can be spent to create an Opportunity and so add more dice to a roll—typically needed because more than two successes are required to succeed, to create an advantage in a situation or remove a complication, create a problem for the opposition, and to obtain information. It is a finite ever-decreasing resource, so the players need to roll well and keep generating it, especially if they want to save for the big scene or climatic battle in an adventure.

Now where the players generate Momentum to spend on their characters, the Game Master has Threat which can be spent on similar things for the NPCs as well as to trigger their special abilities. She begins each session with a pool of Threat, but can gain more through various circumstances. These include a player purchasing extra dice to roll on a test, a player rolling a natural twenty and so adding two Threat (instead of the usual Complication), the situation itself being threatening, or NPCs rolling well and generating Momentum and so adding that to Threat pool. In return, the Gamemaster can spend it on minor inconveniences, complications, and serious complications to inflict upon the player characters, as well as triggering NPC special abilities, having NPCs seize the initiative, and bringing the environment dramatically into play.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but offers more options in terms of what Momentum can be spent on. This includes creating a Trait or an Asset, either of which can then be brought into the combat, and keeping the initiative—initiative works by alternating between the player characters and the NPCs and keeping it allows two player characters to act before an NPC does. Where Dune: Adventures in the Imperium differs from other 2d20 System roleplaying games is the lack of Challenge dice, and instead of inflicting damage directly via the loss of Hit Points, combatants are trying to defeat each through the removal of Assets and attempting to create—cumulatively—Successes equal to or greater than the Quality of the task or the opponent. Minor NPCs or situations are easily overcome, but difficult situations and major NPCs will be more challenging to defeat and will require extended tests.

The system is intended to cover the various types of situations which can occur in a story in Dune: Adventures in the Imperium. So, individual duels, skirmishes and open battles, espionage, and social intrigue. However, this is not well explained in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide—or at least not well explained enough for somebody who has not roleplayed to grasp with any great ease. Anyone with more experience will see that the iteration of the 2d20 System presented here has shifted into more of a narrative, storytelling style of play, where the aim is not necessarily to kill an opponent, but defeat them, and thus make that adjustment. Anyone with that experience may have more difficulty doing so, and an example or two of how the combat system works would have not gone amiss.

Overall, the iteration of the 2d20 System in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide and Dune: Adventures in the Imperium lies at the simpler and easier end of its implementation. It is not as simple as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom , but is roughly on a par with Star Trek Adventures.

‘Wormsign’ is the given scenario in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide. It can be run using the same cast as the core rules—they are given as the pre-generated Player Characters here in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide—or with those of the players’ own creation using the core rules. This means that it can be run as a sequel to the scenario core rules or as a standalone or beginning scenario. The Player Characters—a Mentat, a Criminal, a Servant (Spy), Bene Gesserit Novice, Swordmaster Apprentice, and Reformed Spice Smuggler—are all intended to be in service with one of the houses. The default is House Atreides, but it could be another house awarded a spicemining contract if the campaign involves one of the players’ and Game Master’s creation. It should not be House Harkonnen, or an affiliated house.

Consisting of six scenes, ‘Wormsign’ sees the Player Characters sent out over the Shield Wall on Arrakis into the desert to investigate the activities of a group of spice smugglers. When they discover their operation it is relatively small and the Player Characters have choice as to what to do—destroy it, arrest the smugglers, co-opt them into their house’s own operation, or cultivate them as contacts, but this opportunity does not last long, when the forces of a rival house intervene and attack. Then if that is not challenging enough, ‘Wormsign’ ups the ante with a wormsign and the incoming movement of a worm! The scenario becomes a fight for survival and if the Player Characters do survive and act with any degree of probity, they may come away with further potential allies.

Now this all feels in keeping with a story set on Arrakis, but ‘Wormsign’ manages to be both challenging and unsatisfying… The Player Characters are faced with some fierce choices. Go one way—in fact, go more than one way—and the likelihood is that they will end up dead, and there is little in the way of warnings as the possible actions. In the final scenes, they have the opportunity to interact with Fremen, and only one means of doing so is provided. To the point where no stats are provided for the Fremen and the Game Master is told that they will avoid any kind of physical conflict. In the event that they even fail at this, the Player Characters fail at this, they have another struggle to survive, which the Game Master will need to develop. Ideally, the Player Characters should survive the scenario, make contacts with both the spice smugglers and the Fremen, and get back to Arrakeen. However, this is not all that interesting by itself and very much feels like the middle part of a campaign or the first half of a scenario, as if there is a second part to come.

The Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide is not quite the introduction to Dune: Adventures in the Imperium and roleplaying on Arrakis that it deserves to be. In the hands of an experienced Game Master, there is a reasonable scenario and adventure to be had from the pages of Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Wormsign Quick-start Guide, but for anyone with less experience or who lacks access to the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium full rules, the combination of underwritten—or at least under explained—conflict rules and the underwhelming nature of the scenario means that running the quick-start will be much more of a challenge.

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