DUNE #19: Agents and Architects

By Andrew Peregrine

One of the most useful aspects of the Dune: Adventures in the Imperium system is the option to engage with a problem as an agent or an architect. As an agent, a character deals directly with a conflict. They might get in a knife fight or threaten a non-player character in person. But as an architect, they can be a puppet master, sending in a squad of soldiers to fight their enemies or sending an anonymous blackmail letter to an enemy.

While this might sound complex, it’s actually quite straightforward. Most problems players have reported come from the assumption that applying either option is more complicated than it is. Which mode the players and gamemaster use is defined only by the way the player decides to approach the situation and doesn’t require any shift of mode or rules change.

Whether you are using agent or architect play, resolving a situation is just the same. The only difference is the potential consequences of the result of the test. If an agent fails, they may get personally injured, as they are in their enemy’s firing line. An architect is unlikely to suffer any further consequence than failure as they aren’t close enough to an enemy to get hurt. However, an agent ‘on the ground’ may have more options to capitalize on success or take a different tack after failure by virtue of being in the situation personally.

The mode of play used depends on the assets each player uses, and the group as a whole can even mix both modes depending on their strengths. So, which you use is very much a player decision based on their approach, rather than something the gamemaster decides for them.

For instance, the players discover that their enemy is hiding in a safehouse in Arrakeen and decide they want to raid the place and take down their nemesis.

One player may prefer the direct approach: their character has a knife and a focus with it, so they want to go in as an agent to face the enemy in close combat. Another character may have a group of soldiers as an asset and decide to enter the conflict as an architect, commanding the soldiers from some distance away. Both characters can do this in the same way as if they had both gone in with knives or both sent in military units. For both characters, the test involves Battle. The Drive depends on why they are initiating the conflict – something that might be the same, whether they are acting as an agent or architect.

The real difference in the two approaches depends on the results of the conflict. The knife-wielding agent might suffer physical damage if things go wrong. The architect might lose some of their soldiers but won’t even get scratched in the altercation. However, if the enemy wins the conflict and tries to escape, the agent might be able to chase them and try again. The architect, having lost their asset, is unable to pursue their target further.

In general, agent-level play is a good way to make sure you can cover all the bases in a conflict and improvise when things go badly. Architect-level play is good for keeping the player character safe and possibly maintaining their anonymity when attacking their enemies.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you are an agent or architect in a conflict. Both are simply helpful terms to guide the gamemaster when interpreting the results of a conflict if players have used different assets. The rules allow you to use either style without using different mechanics.