Over a decade ago, Wizards of the Coast asked Matthew Colville of Squaremans to write an role-playing game based on Frank Herbert's Dune. The game never saw print, but here are some samples from the RPG.
In 1997 I started working at Last Unicorn Games, a tiny little game company long-since defunct, on the Dune CCG with Owen Seyler. We went on to make the Dune RPG, one of the prettiest and now rarest and most expensive RPG books ever made. in 2000 we were bought by Wizards of the Coast and for a brief time, we were working on a D20 version of the Dune RPG. That book never saw print, alas, but I'm posting some of my work from it for posterity. A very tiny amount of writing was done, it's just a curio. And it's my writing from 10 years ago so it's amusing ("Adventurons" would have been renamed before release, trust me) and somewhat primitive. But it's free, so you can't bitch!
When we started working on the d20 version of Dune, my boss and I sat down and laid out what we wanted from the line. Any time you make a licensed game with classes and levels, you get people saying that it's totally inappropriate for classes and levels. That's fine. But Owen and I completely fucking believed that Dune was perfect for classes and levels, we even talked about how this or that character was multi-classed and what those classes were before we'd ever started working on ANY Dune RPG. It was natural for us.
We wanted to let people create their own Great Houses, Houses Minor, have rules that scaled all the way up from the skirmish level, which is to say a normal RPG, all the way up to planetary battles played out like an RTS. And we knew we could do it. We knew how it would work. We had all the people to do it.
We wanted to *make* a Lansdraad. A real, living Landsraad. The Landsraad would be our version of Licving Greyhawk. People would make their own planets, their own houses, and join the Landsraad. We'd have a website set up for people up upload their info, art. We'd put issues before the Landsraad, just like they did in the L5R newsletter, let people vote.
We seriously thought "there has never been a property better suited for this kind of Organized Play." And now we were at WotC! We could really do it! Some of that work got started, none of it got done. The d20 Dune was canceled. All we have is a tiny slice of on adventure. /sadface.
The Arrakis Adventure
WotC had this incredible mound of market data and one of the things they asked people in their survey was about different properties.
They asked them; "I would like to make an original character" rated 1 to 5.
"I would like to play one of the existing famous characters from this property." 1 to 5.
"I would like to play through new adventures."
"I would like to play through the classic storyline."
Etc…really fascinating shit. One of the most interesting things about this was that answers varied from property to property! Some of the properties were Star Wars, Robin Hood, King Arthur. Star Trek, and Dune. Some properties, people overwhelmingly wanted to make their own stories. Some, people wanted to tell new stories. It was cool.
Well the data said that people wanted to play new, original characters in Dune, but in the Main Storyline, but they didn't want to play the MAIN characters. They wanted the story of Dune to unfold as written, with their characters as sort of Rosencrantz & Guildensterning around. I believe the data indicated they wanted to have *some* influence on events, but not affect major changes.
It came to me to figure out how to make that adventure. Initially I thought "man this is going to be a pain in the ass, that's some pretty fucking specific direction." But that only lasted like an hour. As it turned out, it was *easy*. It was super easy. There's TONS of awesome shit in Dune, the actual novel, that happens offscreen.
You know, Thufir says "We've sent an advance team to Arrakeen to clean out the palace," YOU ARE that advance team. The first member of House Atreides on Arrakis! "We're having the devil's own time clearing out these sabotage devices, but we're almost done," because of YOUR work!
Anyway, we got started on that, never finished it. Hasbro, the literal actual Hasbro, not the Hasbro gamers talk about when they mean WotC, handed down a directive "no more licensed games," and that was that. There were some other issues, it's more complex than that, but beyond the scope of this post. Bi-lal kaifa.
This post originally appeared on Squaremans.