Most civilisation is based on cowardice. It’s so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.From “God Emperor of Dune” by Frank Herbert
Session 0.7 – Enemy Character Creation
In this seventh part for session 0, it’s time for a new hand to take the reigns for the Planned Character Creation process in our first Collaborative Game of Dune: Adventures in the Imperium. In this post, I take over from The Old Bard to create an antagonist to pit against Alessandra of House Maestoso.
You can read the other posts related to Session 0 by clicking the appropriate link below:
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.1 – Introduction
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.2 – House Creation
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.3 – Enemy House Creation
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.4 – Character Creation Overview
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.5 – Planned Character Creation
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.6 – Character Creation In Play
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.7 – Enemy Character Creation
- Dune RPG Collab Game 1 – Session 0.8 – Additional House Creation
Planned Character Creation is detailed in Chapter 4: Planned Character Creation beginning on page 108 of the core rule book.
Planned Character Creation
This method is designed for players to create their characters before the game begins. It’s recommended that players create characters together, as a group; this will allow the players to discuss their concepts, bounce ideas off one another, and come up with ideas for how the characters know and interact with one another—are they friends, polite colleagues, rivals for their masters’ esteem, or virtual strangers? As the characters all work for the same House, they already have a natural reason to work together, and creating characters together can follow on naturally from House creation.Dune: Adventures in the Imperium – Chapter 4 – Planned Character Creation – Page 108.
I will keep this post rather brief, skipping over the background mechanics for individual character creation since The Old Bard has already covered those in detail. Refer to previous posts on the steps involved with each stage of the process.
As a reminder, the process is broken down to 8 steps as follows:
- Step One: Concept
- Step Two: Archetype
- Step Three: Skills
- Step Four: Focuses
- Step Five: Talents
- Step Six: Drives and Drive Statements
- Step Seven: Assets
- Step Eight: Finishing Touches
Step One: Concept
As I read the Bard’s description of the setting for House Obsidian, a character concept formed in my mind of a young man who is denied his birthright as the first born son owing to the fact that his mother was Lord Mordecai’s mistress and not his official consort or wife. This sets up an interesting backstory in which a very talented, ambitious, and skilled noble, who should be leading his house, is instead forced to find his place in life without serving in any official capacity.
There are many directions this concept could have gone, with becoming a spy so he could maneuver within the shadows and launch complex schemes the most obvious choice, but I wanted to make personal conflicts and his quest for justice the defining aspects of his character, so I chose to make him a fighter instead.
With no actual military rank, title, or real status, other than the respect demanded and given due to his bloodline, this provides a great deal of flexibility for doing pretty much whatever he wants, when he wants, and with whom. That’s useful for all kinds of adventures but let’s add some additional aspects to round out his character, including a very close relationship with his younger half-sister Lady Lilith, the actual Heir, who helps him any way she can, his unwavering sense of duty in bringing glory to his house (recognized and appreciated by his father’s advisors if not by the man himself), and his unrelenting focus on ensuring that his sister’s eventual rule becomes the greatest the house has ever known, and she their most legendary ruler, and we have an interesting character with lots of potential. But not one, contrary to the classical literary tropes, who wants power for himself.
Oh, and let us not forget his visceral, profound, and unconcealed hatred of everything – and everyone – associated with House Maestoso.
Step Two: Archetype
Since this character will be a Warmaster there are several options for the battle archetype. Since he sometimes needs to operate stealthily from the shadows, does not serve in the military, and has no leadership position, I choose Duelist as opposed to Warrior, Sergeant, or Tactician, which includes the matching Duelist trait along the suggested (but not required) Slow Blade talent.
Mastery of the blade is a valuable skill in the Imperium,
and those who are especially capable are highly soughtafter
by the rulers of noble Houses, serving as bodyguards,
champions, favored gladiators, and even tutors,
teaching their skills to others in the House. Because
of the prevalence of master duelists as instructors to
the young scions of a House, many young nobles find
themselves becoming duelists in their own right, even if
only for a short while before they take on other courtly
Dune: Adventures in the Imperium – Chapter 4 – Battle Archetypes – Warmaster – Page 114.
- Trait: Duelist
- Primary Skill: Battle
- Secondary Skill: Move
- Focuses: Dueling, Short Blades
- Talents: The Slow Blade
- Drives: Duelists—particularly those who work as champions and bodyguards—are often believers in
might makes right, feeling that Justice is enacted
by their blades. Others are reliant on Faith—in their
prowess, in their tools, or in a higher power—to
keep them alive in their deadly profession.
Step Three: Skills
The primary skills have already been defined so they get allocated the most points (6 to Battle, 5 to Move). I’ll bump those up by one each using 2 of the extra 5 bonus points In order to reflect the character’s dedication to his mission, two additional points will be applied to Discipline and one to Understand. Communicate remains at 4, his weakest skill.
Step Four: Focuses
A starting player character has four focuses, representing areas of expertise and specialization beyond their broad skills. These focuses will each be associated with a single skill, which represents the skill which will use that focus most often.Dune: Adventures in the Imperium – Chapter 4 – Step Four: Focuses – Page 119.
The default focuses of Dueling (Skill: Battle) and Short Blades (Skill: Move) seem to be appropriate based on the Archetype and background, so I’ll leave those as is. Kanly is the obvious choice for the Understand skill but Discipline has a lot of potential options. After reading through the examples on Page 103 of the Core Rules, I select Composure for this skill. Staying calm in stressful situations would seem to be a trait someone who is constantly striving to be recognized for their accomplishments would have and beneficial for a determined warrior.
As a side note, the focuses are all presented as examples and the text states "...There is no singular, fixed list of focuses...". This is an interesting departure from other game systems like D&D where Feats, Traits, Features, and the like are all fixed, with defined parameters, effects on game play, and situational usage. While there remains a great deal of flexibility and room for experimentation there (along with clever re-interpretation, something the Old Bard excels at), the Dune method of leaving things open and allowing for new Focuses, Talents, and Assets to be created on-the-fly, presents a completely different approach. It will be interesting to see how these actually apply in the game mechanics.
Step Five: Talents
A starting player character has three talents, representing special abilities, advanced techniques, and other significant benefits. These are abilities which define a character, helping them to stand out and feel special.Dune: Adventures in the Imperium – Chapter 4 – Step Five: Talents – Page 120.
The default Talent of The Slow Blade needs to be augmented with two additional talents. Drawing from the list starting on Page 127, there are quite a few that would be beneficial in certain situations (for example, Rapid Recovery or Subtle Step) and some that provide more general advantages, such as Intense Study. Others only apply to certain Archetypes, like Verify (Mentat) or Voice (Bene Gesserit).
It’s unclear if additional talents can be earned during game play or awarded by the Gamemaster. As I’m still uncertain how combat encounters operate, if there is a leveling up system with associated rewards, or if assets can enhance talents, I select two that fit the initial character concept: Improvised Weapon and Nimble.
Step Six: Drives & Drive Statements
Drives are an interesting component in the process. Ranking a character’s motivations by applying points seems a bit stringent but I suppose with such a heavy emphasis on role play, the most common questions will be centered around whether a character should, would, or could take a particular action described by the player in a given situation. As such, there needs to be some sort of scale to measure against, so scoring each motivation and weighing them against each other is as good a method as any, I suppose.
The descriptions of each Drive are a bit vague and different sections of the Core Rules say different things but after some discussion with the Bard I settled on the following.
- Faith – 4
- Duty – 7
- Truth – 6
- Justice – 8
- Power – 5
At first glance, these may seem a bit out of order but after several readings of the descriptions I felt an interpretation of Justice as a desire to see a perceived wrong righted to be appropriate. The text makes it clear this drive isn’t just about good vs. evil or order over chaos. This would certainly be the primary motivation for this character, considering his entire life is centered around what he perceives as his birthright being unjustly denied, so I apply the most number of points to it, followed by Duty, Truth, Power, and Faith.
(Note: While he does, in fact, desire Power, he doesn’t want that for himself. Instead, he desires to enhance the power of his house, and specifically his sister, so as a Drive that would seem to take a back seat to both Justice and Duty).
Each of the top three Drives needs a corresponding Drive Statement, so I’ll finish this section out with the following:
- Justice: By my deeds I will be recognized as the rightful heir to the leadership of my house.
- Duty: Above all, bring glory, power and riches to my house.
- Truth: I will discover the secrets of any house or faction with powers mine does not posses.
The Justice statement provides a benefit and potential problem all in one. That’s going to cause him difficulties, without a doubt. But it also provides a strong basis for determination, focus, and ability to overcome obstacles. I may be pushing the envelope a bit on the others in terms of benefit/obstacle balance but they seem to fit so until we learn more about the game mechanics these should be suitable.
Step Seven: Assets
This is another portion of the process that is completely open to player imagination. The Core Rules again offers a list of examples but does not bind the player to choosing only from that list. Since an asset can be anything from a Crysknife to a legion of Sardaurkar, this can be a very challenging list to complete, especially given that the initial limitation is three total assets, and you can pretty much make up anything you want your character to have. Lacking any clever ideas at this point, I go with a Personal Shield and Slip-Tip (mostly because the description made me think of the spring-loaded poison blade that Feyd-Rautha uses in the original 1984 movie, which I always thought was exceptionally cool).
Step Eight: Finishing Touches
Just a few more options to choose here and we’ll have completed the eight steps of Planned Character Creation.
The Core Rules discusses Traits on page 123 but there isn’t actually a place for this on the provided Character Sheet, except for a general block entitled “Personality Traits”. The Old Bard chose Honorable, following the example description, so I’m assuming that’s where this goes, even though the rules make it clear that a Trait doesn’t have to be an accurate description of the character; instead, it can be a projection the character wants others to perceive (which means it would actually be an artifice not a trait but I digress).
After some deliberation I settle upon Cunning and Impetuous as traits. He is young and holds strong to his convictions, so it follows that he should make his fair share of rash decisions with little regard for consequences and even less concern for being wrong (the strongly convicted always believe in the true North of their own internal moral compass). I actually want him to make careless, bull-headed decisions as they will undoubtedly enhance the game play and frustrate the measured considerations of The Old Bard’s characters.
Each player character has an ambition, which guides their long-term actions. A character who takes steps to achieve their ambitions will become more capable, more influential, and generally more effective.Dune: Adventures in the Imperium – Chapter 7 – Ambition – Page 123.
This one is rather easy – his singular ambition is to prove himself worthy in his father’s eyes of being the true heir. It doesn’t matter that he has no desire to actually lead or take control of his house. He wants to be perceived as capable of doing so and, in fact, believes that becoming the “power behind the throne” is a greater accomplishment than gaining said throne. I haven’t fully developed that idea; perhaps he admires one of his father’s advisers whom he regards as the true ruler, or perhaps he sees weaknesses in his sister’s character that he can augment. Whatever the case, it should resolve itself during game play and provide a useful plot point that can be used for (or against) his ambitions.
I followed the Bard’s lead and tried letting the AI bot come up with a name but it mostly provided a bunch of gibberish. It did generate a first name I liked – Sorin – but I needed a last name that didn’t match the house as his status precludes him from using that. I could have fiddled with prompts for a bit but instead I just screwed my thinking cap on a bit tighter (let’s not forget that we’ve all been plucking D&D character names out of thin air since the 70’s so we don’t really need a byte monkey trained on a tiny sample of our previous grey matter output to do that for us) and came up with a few ideas of my own. I settled on Malorius as it sounded properly ominous and befitting the bastard son of a malevolent Duke. So there we have it – Sorin Malorius, illegitimate son of Lord Mordecai Obisidian.
This is mostly dictated by his house, home world, and archetype. I can’t imagine the denizens of a mostly polluted, techno-centric, industrialist society wearing anything other than black or grey, so black garb that functions as some kind of light armor would seem to be the right choice for a warrior of the ruling class. I was very tempted to go with distinctive facial tattoos but decided against it as he will need to interact with various cultures on different planets. But I do foresee him having intricate tattoos on his body to represent various important missions, accomplishments, failures, and other life events. Hopefully these can also have some sort of functional use in game play as well (this idea comes from the Barker & LLewelyn series of books by Will Thomas, in which the enigmatic protagonist Cyrus Barker has tattoos of various secret societies, allowing him to gain the acceptance of, and interact with, underworld elements all sorts).
Other than the devotion to his sister, and the father who doesn’t pay him much attention, the only other relationship I’ve given any thought to is his mother, whom he loved very much but died when he was a boy. Anything else will have to come about during the game.
Having sorted out all the character details for Sorin Malorius, it’s now over to MidJourney to generate some images.
I used the following prompt to generate a base image:
A character in the Dune universe. Male, early twenties, long black hair, very pale light grey skin, piercing black eyes. Regal bearing. Wearing dark warrior clothes in a dystopian setting of a polluted, hyper-technological world. Ultra realistic. --aspect 2:1
That gave me a starting point with the following choices:
Not bad. I chuckled at the one in the lower right as it was basically the same “flowing hair in the wind” concept as the Bard’s chosen image for Alessandra Maestoso. A bit too angsty-goth for my liking but the upper left image had potential. A few more upscaling clicks, alternative generations, along with a bit of zoom adjustment, final color alterations in Photoshop, and I ended up with one that fit the requirements:
As an aside, I’m not overly impressed with what ChatGPT can do as I’ve worked on language models and cognitive training for some time. It’s nothing new, it’s just become mainstream and buzzworthy (the core technology behind it is well over a decade old). But what MidJourney can create is seriously impressive. Programmers who work with image manipulation algorithms know how much math is involved and how much computing power is required to crunch pixels. A system that can generate realistic images in a few minutes from a brief text-based instruction set is seriously awe inspiring. I shudder to think how much cloud compute that platform is consuming but it sure is fun to play with.
Finally, I’ve decided to skip secondary character creation for now. As I’m already serving as the DM for a weekly D&D session, I don’t have much spare time to devote to additional RPG pursuits, so I’m going to stick with just one character. Perhaps a secondary character will be required at some point; if so, I can generate one on the fly but I’m hoping we will encounter some interesting NPC’s that we can turn into playable characters. Time will tell.
Taking all the above into consideration, we arrive at the following character description:
Sorin Malorius is the unacknowledged first born son of Lord Mordecai Obsidian, ruler of House Obsidian on Auromos. Despite being a bastard, Sorin possesses the innate skills, intellect, and determination of his House. His main ambition is not to claim his father’s title but to support his sister, Lady Lilith, the legitimate heir to the Barony, in solidifying their House’s power and glory. His passion for justice, duty, and truth fuel his every action. His loyalty to his House and his sister is unwavering, making him a pillar of the Obsidian family, even if not in name.
Sorin is known for his skill in battle, his formidable presence, and his steadfast loyalty. He’s especially adept in dueling and uses short blades with lethal precision. His calm under pressure and readiness for a fight are renowned, making him a force to be reckoned with. However, his tactical genius is not only limited to physical combat. With his understanding of Kanly, he’s a formidable player in the dangerous games of houses.
Sorin has an unwavering devotion to his House and his sister. Despite their father’s neglect, Sorin and Lilith have formed a close bond, supporting each other in the intricate dance of politics and power within the House. Secretly, he desires for his sister’s power and fame to eclipse that of their father, perhaps even becoming a Countess in her own right, and in the process elevating Obisidian from a Minor to a Major house of the Landsraad.
His enemies should beware, for Sorin will stop at nothing to see his House rise in the ranks, particularly against their rivals, House Maestoso. His ultimate dream is to see House Obsidian recognized as the leading minor house, with his sister Lilith as the reigning Baroness. Even though this ambition seems far-fetched and dangerous, those who know Sorin know better than to underestimate his cunning and determination. His talents and skills have earned him admiration from his father’s advisers and the ruling elite of House Obsidian, making him a powerful ally and a dangerous foe.
Initial Character Description & Sheet
And below is his initial character sheet:
I generate the character sheet and put all the proper things in the proper places. At this point I have to say I’m more confused than ever by this game. No armor class? No hit points? Weapons and armor don’t have stats? What about initiative, perception, saving throws? How the heck is all this supposed to work? I have no clue, I’m relying on the Bard to show me the way. At the very least, it should make for some interesting conversations (and blog posts).
Till next time!