DUNE #9 - Using Drives

by Andrew Peregrine

<This is an excerpt from the GM chapter of the corebook>

Drives can be one of the more challenging aspects of the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium system to use. While they offer an array of narrative and motivational options, and facilitate architect play, their very flexibility can prove confusing. However, you can use drives in several different ways to fine-tune the style of game to what suits your group.

Which drive should be used for a test is usually defined by the drive statements. The statements are designed to offer a quick narrative description of what a drive means to that character. This allows the player to define their own interpretation of the drive and forgo the need to check the definition of the drive in question before deciding.

However, some players find it more intuitive to start with the drive and see if the statement suits it, and that’s  fine. If the statements are less clear for your group, try asking them to look at which drive is appropriate instead of looking at the statements. Then, having chosen the correct drive they can see if their statement applies to the situation to allow the use of determination. You should use whichever way round your group finds intuitive, and each player can use a different style if everyone knows who is doing what.

When picking a drive, it is important to remember that they define the character’s motivation and therefore the way they are being played. As such, the player should be allowed to have the final say on what suits their character. Having said that, the gamemaster can rule they have not justified the use of a particular drive enough and should either pick another or offer a better explanation. Picking a drive shouldn’t turn into a long argument or be taken into too much depth. The gamemaster should simply ask the player why they are doing the action and see what they say and how that relates to drives and statements.

This can lead to players using the same drive, their best one, all the time. To a degree, this is fine. Characters can play to their strengths and their highest drive is the way they tend to meet most challenges. As elite agents of their House they are often working with a good chance of success. However, the gamemaster can insist a player consider other options. If they don’t, the character’s methods become predictable to their enemies and may offer an opportunity for the gamemaster to apply threat. As a rule of thumb, a gamemaster might gain Threat each time a character uses a particular drive, if it is halfway through the session and they have used no other drives.

While it can seem cumbersome, it is worth taking the time to properly define a character’s drive when making a test. It is easy to be overeager to grab the dice and get rolling. But in Dune a test can often become a game of cat-and-mouse as each side manages Threat and Momentum spends and applies traits and assets.

“The slow blade penetrates the shield”, so take time to figure out the nature of each situation. A short discussion can offer new ideas for traits, Momentum spends, and narration for the scene, all of which offer greater roleplaying opportunities for the group. Knowing why they are doing something can offer the player characters much more agency and help craft their characters. Don’t be too quick to waste the opportunity, but at the same time be aware when the game is losing pace and getting bogged down.

When an action is important, motivation becomes easier. When breaking into a facility, it might be on behalf of the House (Duty) to save a friend (Faith) or right a wrong (Justice) to uncover a plot (Truth) or to prove the strength of your army (Power), etc. But when you are just picking a lock or trying to escape a downed ornithopter, your motivation doesn’t seem very clear. You just need to get the job done or follow your orders.

There are two options in this situation. The first is for the gamemaster to ask the players what their character’s reasons are for doing the mission at all, before they set out on it. They then all pick a drive that suits that motivation. For any minor tests involving the mission, this is the drive they use, representing their overall incentive. They can use other drives and statements as often as they wish. But if they ever get stumped or are unsure what applies, they now have a default to use.

The second option is to forego minor tests completely. Dice rolls aren’t designed to be as common in Dune: Adventures in the Imperium as in many other games. So instead of making a test to pick each lock, make a single test to ‘enter the facility’. The more wide-ranging the action, the more important the test and the easier to determine motivation and drive. This method also makes more sense to take time on each roll, as it defines so much.