Welcome to Dune!
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DUNE: A Dream of Rain is a d20 System game based on the novels by Frank Herbert. While the game takes place on a galactic scale, most of the action is set on Arrakis, now the most important planet in the known universe. Important because it is the only known source of a spice that permits space travel, extends human lifespans and even allows humans to alter their consciousness.
The game is a world of wild adventure and political intrigue, where heroes battle with a lasgun in one hand and a knife in the other. Where a forgotten culture becomes one family’s only hope for survival and miraculous technologies expand the limits of human potential.
While psionic powers exist to a certain extent in the form of Prana Bindu training and the so-called “weirding way,” “magic” as such, does not. It is a well known science fiction axiom that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but I draw the line quite clearly here.
The DUNE Universe is considered to be technologically advanced with a few major anomalies. Most of these anomalies can be attributed to the various advancements afforded by the Holtzman discoveries. They include: faster-than-light travel, faster-than-light communications, force shields, and contra-gravity. These elements all exist in an otherwise ‘standard’ sci-fi setting. The second major deviation from the standard world of advanced human technology is the almost complete lack of any computers or thinking machines within the DUNE universe.
Computers above a simple abacus are very rare; those above the power of a modern calculator simply do not exist. This seemingly gaping hole in the technological fabric of the universe is filled by several elements, the most notable of which are the Mentats. Mentats are “human computers” trained from birth to perform complex logical and analytical functions at very high rates of speed and reliability. The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood also performs several similar duties, although with a strikingly different purpose and ideological motivation.
This is DUNE
Sandworms. Noble Houses. Maula pistols. Sardaukar. Fremen. …the Spice.
DUNE is space fantasy at its best: full of action, intrigue, and adventure. The heroes are larger than life and the villains are utterly evil. In the DUNE universe, advanced computers have long been forbidden due to the Butlerian Jihad, a rebellion against thinking machines, and as a replacement human skills have been developed to an astonishing degree:
Mentats through intensive training learn to enter a heightened mental state in which they can perform complex logical computations.
The Spacing Guild holds a monopoly on interstellar transport. Its navigators use the spice/drug melange to gain limited prescient abilities, enabling them to safely guide Guild Heighliners to their destination by folding space.
The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood has developed almost inhuman powers through many years of physical and mental conditioning. When a Bene Gesserit acolyte becomes a full Reverend Mother, she gains her ancestral memories — the complete memories of all of her female ancestors. She cannot recall the memories of her male ancestors, and is terrified by the psychic space within her that the masculine memories inhabit.
The Sisterhood is conducting a breeding program to develop a superhuman male who can recall both his male and female ancestral memories, as well as the ability to see (and thus control) the future. They refer to him as the Kwisatz Haderach. This recall is due to an ordeal known as Spice Agony and involves overdosing on melange, which no man has ever survived.
Against this background, Dune chronicles the conflict between the aristocratic House Atreides and its enemy the House Harkonnen, behind who lurk the combined powers of the Emperor Shaddam IV, leader of House Corrino, and the Spacing Guild.
While the other noble houses including House Atreides and House Harkonnen do not individually approach the power of the Emperor and are in competition for fiefdoms, financial and political power, and Imperial favor, they are collectively represented in an assembly known as the Landsraad, which provides a check and balance against the power of House Corrino and the Emperor.
On the fringes of the Galaxy are the shape-shifting Tleilaxu and Ix, a planet whose history is lost in the mists of time and whose society is dominated by technology.
The Fremen are the native population of the planet Arrakis. They are a hardy people, used to the hardship and deprivation of their desert-planet. They await their Messiah because of a legend planted intentionally across the Universe by the Missionaria Protectiva, a division of the Bene Gesserit dedicated to religious manipulation. The Messiah legend is intended to ease the path of the Kwisatz Haderach when they bring him into being.
The Harkonnens are ordered by the Emperor to cede stewardship of the planet Arrakis (known generally as Dune) to the Atreides. The planet Arrakis is extremely arid and inhabited by giant, menacing worms which live under the sand (the Fremen call them Shai-Hulud).
The Fremen, adapted to this harsh climate, are obsessed with water and consider the worms holy. Dune is the sole source of melange, also known as “the spice” that gives limited prescience and prolongs the user’s lifespan; with it the Guild Navigators see a path through fold-space, and the Bene Gesserit can enhance their abilities. The spice is the most valuable commodity in the universe and it is found only on Dune. Thus, the planet is the political fulcrum of the Universe.
The DUNE: A Dream of Rain Roleplaying Game supports adventures and campaigns set in four distinct eras.
In the current year of 10,191, the Corrino Empire (and later, the Atreides Empire) is a roughly feudal system ruled by the Emperor of the Known Universe, Shaddam IV. His control varies wildly depending on local governmental control. The Empire of House Corrino is based on a triumvirate of power: the Emperor, CHOAM, and the supposedly neutral Spacing Guild. The various Houses rule local planets as fiefs and systems on the appointment of the Emperor as vassals. The Landsraad consists of the various Houses, as a sort of Imperial Senate.
CHOAM (Combine Honette Ober Advancer Mercantiles) is an economic body concerning trade profits which ties the various houses together by economic means, not unlike a contemporary corporation and its shareholders. Directorships in CHOAM represent potentially vast wealth and economic influence.
A crude distinction between a major and a minor house is the size of the fief they control. Minor houses are limited to a planetary or smaller scale of local government.
Major houses are elected to representative positions in the Landsraad, and control one or more star systems. There are those who would argue that the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood holds as much influence if not more than any of these branches, but their power is a subtle and dark one.
Though very active in politics, they do not usually let their presence be known in an overt manner. Communication is common throughout the universe at virtually instantaneous speeds at a range of 250 light-years (77 parsecs) without the need for re-broadcasting, though ships traveling through fold-space cannot be contacted by any known means of communication.