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Boxing Arrakis

by Andrew Peregrine

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Our campaign boxed set, Agents of Dune gives you the chance to take control of Arrakis. It’s been a product that has seen a lot of development, so we thought we’d give you a little insight into the process as well as telling you what to expect from this amazing boxed set.

Originally ‘Heirs of Dune’, it was to be the first product in the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium line. It seemed only sensible for the starter campaign to come first after all. But it turned out to be a tough order to fit everything we wanted into the box in the best way possible. So rather than just crash it together, we decided to take a little time to make sure everything fit together as it should, both physically and narratively. Since we had a lot of it nailed down when the Dune Core Rulebook came up for release, I thought it would be helpful for anyone picking it off the shelf to know a little more about what else was coming up for release. So I added a note in the Core Rulebook that mentioned that we had a boxed set called Heirs of Dune on the way. Unfortunately, just after the Core Rulebook was off to print, we discovered that the new series of novels would be called ‘Heirs’, so we had to change the name. So the lesson of that story is never mention a product you haven’t produced yet!

When we set out to design the set, we had a solid brief from the masters of Modiphius, Chris Birch and Cameron Dicks. They wanted to create something big, more than just a starter set, something that would set you up for running Dune: Adventures in the Imperium for some time to come. But they also wanted it to be something anyone could pick up and dive straight into. No prep, no gaming experience. Even the gamemaster shouldn’t need to have played an RPG before. It was a tall order, as many sets rely on at least a little gaming experience. But we knew there would be a lot of interest from non-gamers with the release of the movie, and anyway, what’s the point of a beginners’ boxed set if it can’t be played by a group of absolute beginners?

On the plus side, Modiphius was happy to put whatever it took into this product. While we didn’t have a blank check, nothing was off the table when it came to considering what we should put in the box. We even wondered about dusting the inside with cinnamon (but ruled that out quickly for potential allergies!). After a lot of brainstorming, we collected a few general costs so we would know what sort of components we might be able to add and how many. With this information in hand, we could pass on to the writers the sort of components they could consider when writing their sections.

Next we had to get onto the writing, which in this case was a challenge. The brief was to create a game that played the minute you opened the box. So there could be no text that was just for the gamemaster to read as they went. Anything like that would put the game on pause while only the gamemaster read ahead. With head of role-playing, Samantha Webb, and our writers Rachael Cruz, Peter Wright, and Mari Tokuda, we set out to find a balance between reading the story aloud and offering plenty of opportunity for the players to not only make decisions, but also learn the system as well.
So, how did we write it? Firstly, we made sure that anything the players and the gamemaster needed to know got read aloud, rather than explaining it to the gamemaster and making them explain it to the players. This way everyone can help each other out with each new rule.

We also made sure we broke it down into bite-sized pieces, as no one wants to talk or listen for too long without actually doing something. So rules are gradually introduced as they are needed, and each time there is some sort of test or roll to put it to use. The results of that test define how the next scene might go, or affects the player character’s resources for the next section.
But what if you need to go over a rule you learned in the previous sections? Do you have to scan back through the text to find the detail again? Thankfully no. Each time a new rule is added, we summarize it in a sidebar so you can easily find it again. In fact, the sidebars run throughout the whole book, so if you see an empty sidebar you know there is nothing new to learn in that section. But we have also used that space to add a few more tidbits about the setting. For instance, the characters travel to Arrakis on a Guild heighliner. Now, you don’t really need to know more about a heighliner for the adventure other than “it’s clearly what brought you to Arrakis”. But we’ve added a sidebar about what a heighliner is, just in case the players (or the gamemaster) want to know more. These snippets are optional, but bring new insight into the setting and add detail to the game.

We also decided to take a few unexpected turns in the adventure. We begin on Giedi Prime of all places, with the player characters learning how to govern Arrakis from the Harkonnens. As the adventure begins, the player characters’ House has been given the governorship of Arrakis, replacing House Harkonnen. However, in this case the Harkonnens have stepped aside gracefully. They have been given more shares in CHOAM in recompense for their service managing Arrakis. So they are about to reap greater rewards, and it is in their interests to see the player characters keep Arrakis profitable. But there are still enemies in the shadows, and learning who wields the knife will be as important as figuring out where it is coming from.

While we have developed this set for beginners, we also didn’t want to alienate experienced gamers. So we’ve also summarized all the acts and scenes as we go, allowing a more experienced gamemaster to read ahead and embellish or adapt the adventure. However, if the group or gamemaster are new to Dune or roleplaying games in general, they may find the step-by-step approach very helpful.

Once we had the manuscript finalized, we could return to components and decide what we needed and what would be fun to add. Everything in the box has a purpose, and is designed to help evoke the setting as you play. There are also plenty of components that will be very useful in other games. For instance, there is a full-size dueling map in the box and an array of cards detailing assets and NPCs that can be used again and again. We’ve also included a full set of custom dice, tokens for Threat and Momentum, and several trackers and rules cards to help you during play. We even managed to put in a whole system for mining spice and building the fortunes of your House on the deadly sands of Arrakis. Best of all, we’ve included a pdf copy of the Dune Core Rulebook, so you always have the full rules for reference. And once you do learn how to play through Agents of Dune, your group can immediately embark on your next adventure.

While there are obvious comparisons with RPG Starter Sets, we’ve made sure Agents of Dune offers a lot more. We’ve very pleased and proud of Agents of Dune, and while it’s been a long road, it’s been a worthwhile one. We hope it will help guide your first footsteps on Arrakis and add another layer to your Dune game. So watch your back, keep your eyes on the shadows, and see if you have what it takes to master the desert planet of Arrakis!

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021