[GURPS Dune] - May Your Knife Chip and Shatter


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Bless the Maker and all His Water. Bless the coming and going of Him. May His passing cleanse the world. May He keep the world for His people.

I've just started a GURPS (3rd ed) game set in the Dune universe. The players are Fremen, living in Sietch Bissal, a single thumper from Arrakeen. The game starts in standard year 10,174 (Dune started in 10,191, so about 17 years before the start of the first book). Pardot Kynes is alive and well, and has a son, Liet Kynes. Kynes has convinced the fremen that he can turn Dune into a temperate planet with grass, water open to the air, etc, and the first steps towards that have started (though it's expected to be several centuries before the work is complete).

The game is run over IRC every Wednesday evening. So far, we've had a character generation session, and one game session. I'll write up the first game session and add it here as soon as I get time. For now, there is a web site at www.phillipsuk.org/dunerpg, which is primarily intended as a resource for the players. It has IRC logs of the game sessions, character sheets, background information, and rules information.

The Characters

Character sheet

Raghba is a twelve-year-old Fremen boy - now the adopted son of the Naib. The Naib doesn't really have that much time for him these days, and neither does his mother, who is far more interested in maintaining her position of power over the Naib.

He's just approaching the age at which he'll ride his first maker, and is looking forward to it. He's particularly looking forward to stepping out of his dead father's shadow.

He is tall for his age, about 5' 2", and is just beginning to fill out his frame. His dark hair is still glossy with youth and curls around his face. His voice - if it were to stay in one octave for more than a sentence at a time - is developing a friendly but commanding tone, but he smiles less and less these days.

His father, Da'Summ, called out the leader of the sietch in an attempt to gain control of it, but was killed in the ensuing duel. His mother, Ibhama, was taken as the naib's wife, and he and his brother Qaliilan (5 years old) were taken in as his sons.

Other members of the tribe wonder why his father made the challenge - it wasn't well supported, and Raghba feels that they are judging him as cut from a similar hot-tempered, arrogant mould.

He has studied hard, and learned a lot from his elders. He tires to be patient, clear-headed and a good Fremen; but he is, at the same time, only twelve. There are a lot of lessons that life has yet to teach him.

Zahra (flower)
Character sheet

Zahra is dark of skin and hair, with the piercing eyes of a Sayyadina. When she stands, she seems to be somewhat taller than her rather average height should allow, but now she sits with the grace and poise of one who is very aware of her own body, and her surroundings.

Aged 6, accepted as Sayyadina
Aged 16, married Nudjum (stars)
Aged 21, had first child - a son, Inad (stubbornness)
Aged 28, had second child - a daughter, Aghani (songs)
Aged 29, Nudjum died in a sandstorm
Now 30
Zahra sat back to rest for a moment, and took a sip of the warm, odd-tasting water from the catchpockets of her stillsuit. She and the others had been in the desert for several hours now, salvaging what they could from a wrecked harvester. The Harkkonen wretches that had manned it were long gone - lost to Shai-Hulud. There were a few trinkets that might fetch a few coins in the Arrakeen markets, and a couple of half-empty litrejohns, but the harvester itself and most of the equipment was beyond repair. She smiled to herself as she noticed a kangaroo mouse scampering up the dune. As she watched, it stopped, turned, and darted directly toward the harvester, disappearing from sight into the sand beneath it. Instantly, she was on her feet, scanning the horizon. Although she could see no sign of the storm, she could feel it coming, she knew it was there. She called to the others, and began to run in her uneven, almost hap-hazzard gait toward the rocks just over the next dune. She did not look back to the others: the desert would not be forgiving if she dallied. The warm wind was picking up, and the sand was starting to swirl. As she reached the edge of the rocks, the storm was beginning to bite. She paused, and counted her companions into the safety of a cave. There was one missing: Nudjum. It was too late to go back out to look for him, and Zahra knew his water was lost to the desert.

Character sheet

Matthis is shorter than most. His thinness is more due to poor diet than constant exercise. His "beard" is several days' stubble and his hair dark brown. His eyes are (to you) ridiculously pale.

Matthis is a village fremen, who wishes to go back to the old ways. He was lucky not to be killed for his water when he arrived at the sietch (arriving on the back of a sandworm probably helped)

Character sheet

Name - Properly, I am named Mash'al (which means 'torch'), but the trouble that I have caused the Harkonnens (and the notoriety rather than fame that I imagine that has gained me in the sietch) has earned me the name Shihab (which means 'flame' or 'blaze').

Age - Character gen rules say that my expenditure on skills cannot be more than twice my age. I've spent 55 points on skills, so I'll be age 27.

Code of Honour - I will not accept any suggestion of cowardice, nor allow an insult to go unchallenged.

Wife: Shadiya
Daughter: Zahirah

Shihab is a shade under 6' tall and has the wiry athleticism common to all desert fremen. His hair and beard have a reddish tinge and his face is often set in a frown.

Background - My father, Salman, was exceptionally cautious; cautious enough, in fact, that he gained a reputation for cowardice. More than once he was named as such, but ignored the insult rather than duelling his accusers. When I was 6 years old, a raid went awry and there were many who blamed my father's cowardice. More than one wanted his blood but it was only when Hamzah (a proud and noted warrior of the sietch) made an accusation that my father demanded a duel - a duel that he lost, thereby proving his cowardice.

Hamzah became responsible for my mother and I for the space of a year. He honoured Halimah in that time and, at the end of that year, he gifted Halimah the water rings he had for killing Salman and she became his second wife. His first wife having proved barren, my half-sister Johara remains the only child of his body, but he has always treated me as his own son and has taught me what my true father did not - pride, self-respect and how an insult should properly be answered.

I, however, remain the son of a coward and must strive every day to escape my father's reputation. I will not accept an accusation of cowardice and, I must challenge any man who insults me. Now that I have a wife and child of my own, I sometimes wonder how much of my father's faint-heartedness was actually rooted in care for his family and I begin to understand why he challenged Hamzah when he stood accused by so many others. Whatever I may suspect, I cannot find it within me to forgive or emulate him. I must prove myself. Better my daughter should inherit a legacy of honour than one of cowardice.
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Da'Summ Was My Friend

I'd intended this to be a "getting to know you" session. After all, with the exception of Matthis, all the characters have lived in close contact all their lives. We got through more than I expected - I'd thought that Raghba's first ride would be done in the next session.

Earlier in the day, a worm arrived at the sietch with a single rider. The guards assumed at first that it was a messenger from another sietch, but as the worm got closer, they realised that the rider didn't carry a crysknife, and his stillsuit hadn't been made in a sietch.

It transpired that Matthis (the rider) was a city Fremen who wanted to get back to the old ways. Normally, of course, he'd have been killed for his water, but the fact that he arrived riding a worm stayed the naib's hand. The naib decreed that the newcomer would not be a burden on the tribe, since he was a wormrider, and so he was accepted into the tribe and given water rings for the water he'd brought with him. Da'Summ (Raghba's father) questioned this decision. When Naib Hayawiyya stood by it, Da'Summ issued a tahaddi challenge, which he lost.

There follows a traditional ceremony where Da'Summ's possessions are distributed. The newcomer, not knowing the tradition, caused some bad feeling when he took some time to pay his respects for the dead man, but eventually took Da'Summ's face mask and declared that he would live by his example.

Later, people are socialising in a communal area of the sietch. Shihab questions Matthis, in what could be seen as almost an interrogation. "You have said that you will follow Da'Summ's example, but his example was that the sietch should be kept strong. How, then, will you do that?". The others, knowing Shihab, might have come to the conclusion that he was simply trying to get to know the newcomer. Perhaps he was even trying to be friendly?

Meanwhile, Zahra, the sayyadina, goes to Naib Hayawiyya with a suggestion for a sietch name for the new arrival - Addalw (bucket). "He is empty. He lacks training, knowledge, understanding, and he is weak. But he could be filled with all of these things.". The naib discusses this with Shihab, as an elder of the sietch, and the name is agreed on.

We cut then to a month later, and it is time for Raghba to ride the great maker.

After the ritual words have been spoken, the naib hands over a pair of maker hooks and a thumper, then joins the rest of the troop to watch and wait. Raghba takes his time, carefully plants his thumper, chooses his position and waits. As he waits, Shihab explains to Matthis that while some would say that the size of the worm is of no import, tradition says that the older and larger the worm, the greater the things that might be expected of the one who rides it into adulthood.

Then the worm arrived. A big worm. "Damn, that's big. That's really big. That's a damn grandfather worm...". Raghba competently opens one of it's segments, and is drawn to the top, as Matthis admits to Shihab that he didn't use a thumper to call his worm - he used an ornithopter and it's Harkonnen crew.

Once the rest of the troop are aboard the worm, Raghba decides the destination, as is his right. They will go to the wind trap at Cave of Riches.

At Cave of Riches, Raghba and Matthis get their first glimpses of a hoard of water. Matthis, as a city-dweller, had no idea such things existed, while Raghba knew of their existence, but is stunned by the sheer volume of water.

There is some discussion about Raghba's sietch name, and eventually he is named Faris, the noble rider.

Shihab, having expressed some doubt as to whether Matthis should have been allowed to see the wind trap, is mollified somewhat when the naib decides that Shihab should take both Matthis and Faris on a raid against the Harkonnen.


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It's easier to be terrified by an enemy you admire

Not a great start this week. Zahra's player was on holiday this week, so I knew she wouldn't be around, and had planned around that. Matthis' player was tied up with other things, and wasn't sure he'd be able to make it. Just as I was wondering how to work around his non-arrival (this session was planned to be a chance for him and Raghba to prove themselves against the Harkonnen), he arrived. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good session.

We open with Mash'al, Raghba and Matthis sat taking coffee with Naib Hayawiyya. Zahra is off somewhere, probably in one of the cities. The naib tells them that they've had word that the Harkonnen are planning to visit the village of Oxtyn. It's not known why, but this is an excellent chance for Raghba and Matthis to wet their crysknives.

After checking that Matthis can fly an ornithopter, the naib instructs them that, if the Harkonnen arrive in an ornithopter, then they are to capture it intact. Umma has said that they would be useful. Mash'al asks about the villagers - are they to be evacuated to avoid Harkonnen reprisals? The answer is a simple no - the villagers are not the naib's concern. He instructs them to kill all the Harkonnen and take all their equipment, so the Harkonnen won't know what happened, and may assume that the desert killed their men, but in any case, the villagers are not of the tau.

Outside, Mash'al summons a worm. Not properly concentrating on the task at hand, he makes a slightly sloppy job of mounting, but does so without any real drama. The three dismount close to, but out of sight of, Oxtyn.

As they approach the village, Matthis peels off to investigate the most likely ornithopter landing site, and one of the villagers approaches to greet them. Licallo, the villager, tells them that they're too late - Doctor Kynes left not long before. The news that the Harkonnen are expected in a village that the Umma just left causes Mash'al and Raghba some consternation, but neither voices their concerns.

Mash'al informs Licallo that the Harkonnen are expected, and asks how many of the villagers can fight. Licallo shows no interest in fighting, but Mash'al intimidates him into trying to organise a defence. Unfortunately, on being told that the Harkonnen are about to attack, most of the villagers panic ...

Just as an ornithopter approaches.

As Licallo tries to calm the villagers, our heroes ignore them and take up ambush positions, planning to use their maula pistols to thin the Harkonnen numbers as they pass. The 'thopter lands and 14 troopers jump out, one with a laser rifle, two with maula pistols, the rest with laser pistols. The one with the rifle, spotting Matthis, yells a warning as he fires at Matthis. Luckily, the shot goes wide.

All three fremen return fire, Raghba hitting the one with the rifle, Mash'al hitting one of the men with maula pistols, Matthis missing. The poison in the darts takes effect immediately, taking two Harkonnen out of the fight. The Harkonnen return fire, two at Matthis, the rest firing wildly, unable to find targets. None of them hit.

The next round of firing from the fremen, Raghba misses but Mash'al hits the other maula pistol wielding Harkonnen, and Matthis hits the already-paralysed rifle user. Three of the Harkonnen fire and miss, but Mash'al has now also been spotted, and some Harkonnen start taking aim at him and Matthis.

Raghba takes a shot as Mash'al and Matthis take the time to aim. The Harkonnen fire at Matthis. One misses, one hits but does no discernable damage, while the third inflicts a nasty burn on his head. Just as they are about to fire at Mash'al, one of the Harkonnen recognises him and yells to the others that he is to be taken alive. Adjusting their aim slightly, they fire, and one slightly grazes Mash'al's arm. Meanwhile, a soldier spots Raghba and fires, but only manages to damage his stillsuit.

As Raghba draws his crysknife, Matthis takes a final shot before doing the same. Mash'al, wanting to hold back and let the young ones have their glory, keeps his crysknife sheathed, using his maula pistol as three Harkonnen run at him, swinging thier pistols, one managing to connect with his face.

Raghba and Matthis both run at the Harkonnen, each stabbing a Harkonnen. Mash'al fires at, and hits, two of his attackers. Matthis is hit and badly hurt by a laser pistol.

Mash'al introduces himself to his attackers: "I am Mash'al, who you have long hunted - and with reason. I am your death...". The reply is cut short as a dart penetrates the speaker's chest. Raghba, meanwhile, has taken another out of the fight, and Matthis, though badly wounded, goes into a frenzy, sinking his crysknife deep into a Harkonnen belly.

The remaining two harkonnen make a run for the ornithopter, but both Raghba and Matthis charge at them, while Mash'al hangs back, waiting to see how Raghba and Matthis handle the situation, ready to intervene if required. Both Harkonnen are hit and paralysed by the poison in the tips of the crysknives.

Finally, with all the Harkonnen dealt with, Mash'al ensures they are all dead, spilling as little water as possible. All the bodies and equipment are loaded onto the ornithopter, and Matthis takes off, heading back to the sietch.


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You seldom find real loyalties in commerce

We started with the party returning from last session's fight against the Harkonnen. I wanted to give them a chance to bask in their glory. Note that, if you read the IRC logs, the players nicks will change between their sietch and public names, depending on where they are. I've stuck to their public names here for the sake of simplicity.

When the ornithopter arrived at the sietch, it was surrounded by several guards. Mash'al threw a Harkonnen corpse out of the door to indicate that they were friendly, but the guards didn't let down their guard until Matthis and Raghba get out, followed by Mash'al.

Entering the sietch, our heroes find the Naib, Hayawiyya, sitting with three empty cushions, four empty coffee cups. He gestures to them to sit, and pours drinks for them all. Hayawiyya is given a full report, with much mutual back-slapping on the part of the warriors. As Zahra enters the sietch and joins them, Shihab reveals that Umma (Pardot Kynes) had been at the village just before they arrived, and that the villagers panicked when told that the Harkonnen were on their way.

Zahra, having been to Arrakeen, reveals that the Beast (Rabban Harkonnen, governor of Arrakis) has offered a reward of half a million solaris for a crysknife, and a quarter of a million solaris for the Umma, if he is delivered alive. Mash'al believes this explains why the Harkonnen arrived at Oxtyn shortly after Umma left, and asks Matthis to check that there is no way for the Harkonnen to track their lost ornithopter.


Several weeks later, after Mash'al and Matthis' wounds have healed, the naib gives the four a mission. They are to take some spice to Arrakeen, to pay the sietch's contribution toward the Guild bribe. A crate is brought in, holding 12lb (24kg) of spice, with suspensors to offset the weight. The value of this much spice is around 3 million solaris. The naib leaves them to sort out the details. They split the cargo between them, with each of them carrying a quarter. It is decided that the party will pretend to be traders, and find some items that can be sold (old stillsuits that don't function well, and are not worth repairing, anything of no use from the recently-captured ornithopter). Their cover story is that Matthis (whose eyes are still a relatively light blue, marking him as a city fremen) has been trading with a family from the desert (the others). He will appear to be in charge once they are in the city. Before they leave, Shihab points out that his face is known, and that if he is recognised by the Harkonnen, they will all be arrested or killed, so it would be wise to get in and out as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

In the city, Matthis takes the lead. Mash'al gets a feeling that something isn't right, and so they take a detour to avoid what looks like it may be a potential ambush. They find their destination, a tavern named Al-Xishf Al-Muzakki ("The Grown Fawn"). It's a reasonably quiet tavern, with a few customers, but not too many. Some of the customers have the blue-blue eyes of natives, some don't. None are wearing Harkonnen uniform. Zahra spots the Guild representative, and suggests that they sit at the next table.

Zahra says "Let us hope we find good trading today" in Chakobsa, the native language of desert fremen, but largely unknown outside the desert. Jasta Mason, the guild representative, says in the same language, "You wish to trade?". Matthis does most of the talking, surprising Jasta, who notes that he has the eyes of a city man, but that the others are of the bled. Jasta warns them that they will have made a powerful enemy if they cross the Guild, but if the delivery is as pure as usual, then they won't question it. Matthis informs Jasta that they will also find they have a powerful enemy if they cross them.

The barman suggests that the new arrivals might wish to buy drinks as they start to hand the spice over discreetly, and Matthis buys a round. Shihab, being presented with a drink, finds himself in a quandary. He can't pass up the opportunity to take on moisture, but equally, needs to keep his face hidden. Zahra, noticing this, asks him to sit with her, guiding him to a position where he has his back to the room while she watches the room, so that he can take his drink.

Having got their spice, Jasta and his two bodyguards leave. Matthis notes that Jasta didn't seem to like him. Mash'al points out that it is not necessary to like someone to trade with them, and suggests they leave. Matthis orders the rest out, and they depart with their "merchandise". Not long out of the tavern, Mash'al's instinct warns him of danger again. He spots a group of six men, overhearing one say, "We'll have this one - those eyes are worth a fortune", and warns the others. Raghba is spoiling for a fight, but Mash'al wants to avoid the attention of a fight, so he tries to intimidate them. Unfortunately that backfires badly, simply making them charge. Zahra, knowing that she only has a little training in it, tries the Voice, but it fails, and so a fight is unavoidable.

We had to leave it there, so next week's session will start with the fight. Mash'al rolled a critical failure on his intimidate roll, hence why the six men charged. I don't really have any rules worked out for the Bene Gesserit Voice. Zahra decided she was going to try, so I gave her a difficult target and let her roll. It's not something I'd allow her to do whenever she wanted, since it could be a real game-breaker, but in that situation, I decided that she could have a go - it was a simple instruction: "LEAVE! NOW!", and it was important enough for the character to try anything she could think of.


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I've never quite understood why there aren't more Dune campaigns out there. To me, it's the LotR of SciFi and a fantastic series to read.

I've enjoyed your campaign write-up so far. Looks like a great game you've got going there! :)


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I've never quite understood why there aren't more Dune campaigns out there. To me, it's the LotR of SciFi and a fantastic series to read.
I'm a big Dune fan, and I've wanted to either run or play in a Dune RPG for years. One friend suggested that it wouldn't make a good campaign, but he seemed to think the players would have to be leaders of a Great House. The Dune universe is so big and complex that there's plenty of scope for other characters.

My wife would argue with your assertion that it's "the LotR of SciFi", though - she says it's fantasy, not sci-fi.

I've enjoyed your campaign write-up so far. Looks like a great game you've got going there! :)
Glad you're enjoying it :) I'll try and post another installment this afternoon. Might be a short one, though - work is very hectic today.


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Prize Umma

We started this session with the characters fighting a group of six off-worlders that had evidently decided they were easy prey.

Mash'al and Zahra threw crates at the attackers (they'd been carrying items that were apparently for sale in crates fitted with suspensors), while Matthis and Raghba ran at the attackers, fists and feet swinging. The fight didn't last very long, but was notable that one of the attackers grabbed Zahra, rather than simply trying to hit her. He didn't keep hold long, though, as Raghba landed him a solid kick in the kidney, taking him out of the fight. After a short fight, the standing attackers run off. Mash'al stops Matthis drawing his gun to fire, pointing out that weapons are illegal.

Rhagba and Matthis search the bodies, finding some trinkets and enough water on each of them to keep a Fremen for a week. Zahra, however, has another idea. On her instruction, the bodies are dragged into a dark alley, where they strip them and put them into the damaged stillsuits that they had brought as part of their cover story. The hope is that, with suspensors helping to hold them up, anyone spotting them will simply think that they are drunk, and being taken home by thier friends.

Unfortunately, all this takes time, and a Harkonnen two-man patrol happens by, hears a noise in the alley, and demands to know what is going on. Zahra, thinking quickly, convinced the patrol that the two now-dead men were sick, and manages to stop the patrol investigating without causing a fight.

They carried on through the city, and, as they headed into an alley, noticed two men at the far end, looking like they were waiting to ambush someone. Zahra realised that they were wearing Harkonnen uniform, but had the deep blue-blue eyes of the desert Fremen. She sneaked forward, but stumbled noisily. One of the men turned, holding a maula pistol and crysknife. He fired the maula pistol at Zahra, but shot himself in the foot. As he falls, a shot from Mash'al's maula pistol hits him.

The second man turns at the commotion, glances at Zahra, out onto the street, then runs, stabbing at his comrade with his crysknife as he goes. He doesn't get far, though, as a shot from Mash'al hits him, the poison taking effect immediately. Matthis tries to pull his pistol, but fumbles and drops it.

Zahra shows the "Harkonnen's" eyes out to the others, pointing out that they are the colour of those that live in the desert. As she does so, the Umma leaves a building on the far side of the street, and heads in their direction. They have a short chat with the Umma - he seems to assume that they've been sent with a message, they point out that the bodies are Fremen in Harkonnen uniform, and suggest that they were wanting to claim the bounty that has been placed on Umma. Promising to repay his water debt, the Umma leaves.

After making sure that there was no way to stop the poison killing the men (no-one was carrying an antidote), Mash'al cuts out their eyes ("I'll not let anyone know that eyes such as there's have loked on the umma as a prize"), they collect and blood the men's crysknives and head out of the city.


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Crude, but effective

The title comes from a phrase that Zahra used to describe Mash'al on several occasions. Unfortunately, a computer breakdown meant that Matthis' player couldn't join us. Mash'al's player also had some connectivity issues later in the evening.

Raghba checked the two unconscious men, and determined that they probably wouldn't die of the poison (it's roughly about a 50/50 chance of death, but because it paralyses the victim, it's usually spells death in battle). Mash'al and Raghba got to work swapping the stillsuits from the off-worlders onto the Fremen (adding low-slung hoods to hide the mutilated eyes), while Matthis stood guard and Zahra went to find a suitable route out of the city. As Zahra returns, Mash'al notices that one of the Fremen has regained consciousness, and punches him until he loses consciousness again. Raghba does the same to the other, having noticed that he is conscious but trying not to show it.

Zahra leads the group out of the city, taking quiet and dark streets where possible. No Harkonnen patrols are encountered, and the water seller that passes them realises that they are wearing desert-made stillsuits, and thinks better of it. They make it safely over the shield wall, into the open bled, where Raghba plants a thumper to call a worm, while Mash'al lashes ropes around the prisoners, so that they can be dragged onto the worm if need be. The worm that comes is a big one, of a size that is normally only encountered in the deep desert, but the party manage to get on with only a little difficulty.

The worm deposits them by the sietch, by which time the prisoners are conscious. As the party enter the communal area, Zahra throws back her cloak to reveal the litrejohns of water, which are quickly taken away to be stored securely. Naib Hayawiyya asks about the spice, and is pleased to hear that it was delivered without incident, and that the guild didn't indicate that they wanted to increase the bribe (it is suspected they may do so soon).

On being told that the prisoners were waiting to ambush the Umma, Naib Hayawiyya momentarily loses his temper, but quickly gets it under control. He sends Matthis to help with work on the captured ornithopter, then bids the others to follow him with the prisoners. He takes them to the chamber that is normally used to drown a little maker and create the water of life. He fills the pool about a foot deep, and informs the prisoners that they will be drowned if they don't give him the answers he wants.

During the interrogation, one prisoner claims that they are from Sietch Jacarutu (a legendary location and one-time sietch located in the deep desert. It's people had been cast out from wider Fremen society for heinous acts, which included water stealing and unwarranted murder). They also reveal that they weren't planning to kill the Umma, they intended to capture him alive, to claim the Harkonnen bounty. Unfortunately no-one had really bothered to check on the prisoner's wounds, and both died during the questioning. There is some discussion as to whether or not the prisoners could really be from Sietch Jacarutu, and the bodies are taken to the death stills.


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We won't be playing tonight, as three of the four players can't make it.

I'm posting this mainly to let people know that I've noticed that people are following links from here that are now broken. Sorry about that :( I don't seem to be able to edit the earlier posts to correct the links, but I've added an error page to the web site that directs you to a working page.
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