Q1: A Primer on Dune

Before we can get to Rex, we need to get to Dune. Before we can get to Dune (the game), we need to briefly examine Dune, the landmark science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. Rex is so much fun, for me, because it is derived so beautifully from my favorite book, Dune.

Dune was released August 1, 1965, and won the Hugo award and the first ever Nebula award. It is the first in a highly imaginative six book series, and the predecessor to some novels that his son wrote that we will neither discuss, nor acknowledge.

This book is over 50 years old, and as such, it’s truly a revolutionary piece of fiction. I remember it being an incredibly difficult book to read when I was in junior high, largely because it predates the fiction upon which so many other works are so derivative. Star Wars would not follow for another 12 years! But, beyond that, the book is also prefaced with an enormous glossary of terms that explain the objects and ways of society. This is top tier worldbuilding on the same scale as Tolkien.

In many ways Dune bears a striking resemblance to what we’d call fantasy these days. The weirding ways of the Bene Gesserit are much akin to magic. The feudal system of the empire is, well, feudal, and the near religious ban on “thinking computers” locks this intergalactic society in a harsh, sometimes subsistence level status that is not unlike some of the direst corners of Middle Earth.

Aside from the plot of Dune, which I will not spoil, there exists an incredible universe built upon great and minor houses, not unlike those in Game of Thrones.

The emperor is from House Corrino, and his power is derived from his Sardaukar. Imagine the greatest warriors in the known universe, like the Spartans of Halo.

You have the great houses, such as the Atreides and the Harkonnen, who rule at the emperor’s pleasure on their fief planets. But, they command large economic wealth and power from within their version of the senate. Plus, all of the Great Houses have a store of atomics. Their use would violate the Great Convention, yes, but they have them, nonetheless. Sometimes a threat you cannot wield is still a threat. There are more great houses than these, but let's focus here. 

Beyond this, you have the minor houses and shadow organizations. The Bene Gesserit have a millennia old breeding program to create the Kwisatz Haderach -- effectively, “the one.” They place highly trained women as concubines in the great houses and have literally created a network of the hand behind the throne. The Ix are said to ignore the conventions of the Butlerian Jihad and create thinking machines. But, this cannot be proven...and somebody is paying for these machines. The Bene Tleilax are masters of genetics and flesh. They create Gholas, which are clones, but also the far more dangerous Face Dancers, which can change shape and mimic others. 

You have the Guild. They are a neutral force that transports everyone from planet to planet. Without them, all interplanatery commerce and communication would cease. Even the Emperor cannot dispatch his Sardaukar without the Guild’s blessing.

But, and this is the key: all of them require the Spice Melange. It is an incredible substance that extends life. It grants the Bene Gesserit their powers. It allows the Guild to fold space and move their ships. It is more powerful than oil, or gold, or spices of the 16th century, and it is only found in a single place in the known universe: Arrakis.

Arrakis is a horrible desert planet that is known as Dune to many. It makes Tatooine look like a day spa. It is so hot and desolate that water is more precious than currency. Despite these hardships, the planet’s steward harvests the spice. They do this at great cost and effort, as they must survive the elements and sandstorms that shred skin to the bone, dodge worms the size of football fields that consume spice harvesters whole, and avoid the deadly native Fremen. At the beginning of the book, the control of Arrakis has passed from the Harkonnens to the Atreides. The Atreides know this is a trap, but the first step to avoiding a trap is to recognize it. These two great houses? They hate each other. 

The Fremen are a nomadic people who have settled on Arrakis. They live in hidden underground caves, called Sietchs, and they are distinct with their blue in blue eyes, caused by the spice. They are mysterious and believe in a prophecy that one will come from off world to save them.

When you first read Dune, you are bombarded with all of this. The first chapter introduces you to the main characters, a significant life trial, the Gom Jabbar, the Bene Gesserit, and more concepts. It is so different  that it takes your mind time to adapt, like your eyes reacting to the sun after a long afternoon movie. The book is not black and white, or good versus evil. It is built around the concept of wheels within wheels. Everyone has plots, and objectives, and are willing to sacrifice some things, but not others, to meet their aims. Loyalty is constantly questioned and betrayal is one blade tip away.

I can go on forever, but I shall briefly mention the methods of warfare and finish. There are lasguns, projectile weapons, and blades in the world. The reason for blades, is that most people have personal shields which block projectiles or weapons that are moving above a certain speed. Plus, if a lasgun hits a shield, it creates an atomic explosion, which is frowned upon. Therefore, the use of blades is given a premium focus, but due to the blocking speed of the shields, it forces warriors to move quickly, then slow their movement as the blade penetrates the shield. It’s fascinating, and odd!

Dune renders the use of shields ineffective, as the sand shreds them, which opens up new possibilities for warfare. The other thing is the notion of kanly, which is a method of warfare that prevents the death of innocents and forces strict rules of engagement. As such, assassination is just fine. It’ll keep you on your toes!

If you have any thoughts or memories of Dune, please share them in the comments! Next, I’ll take a look at the tabletop landscape when Dune was first released, as well as when Rex was released. Following that, I’ll teach you how to play the game. Then, we’ll get into the good stuff.