Is Dune as good as people say?

EDIT: To clarify, while I discuss stuff like movie vs. book and the real-world political implications of the story, neither of those were my intention for this thread per se. As I say in the comments, I don’t think it makes sense to think about worldbuilding and campaign design in a vacuum, and especially given that worldbuilding is my favorite part far and away about TTRPG; in other words, particularly given that this is a TTRPG forum and within the context of TTRPGs, this thread was intended to discuss the gaming potential for Dune. For instance, I felt with the movie that it was very Game of Thrones-esque which could be an interesting perspective on Dune from a domain play or social intrigue perspective. Likewise, the idea of a non-computational scifi society of borderline superhumans could also be interesting from a tabletop perspective, and I’m wondering if there are hidden gems in the books not explored in the movie.


I watched the new Dune movie recently, and I mostly enjoyed it, although it did have some problems. I read the first book (and never quite finished the second book…) in middle school, and I remember enjoying it, but one of the smartest people I’ve ever met calls it his favorite book so I feel like I need to reread it now as an adult and with my current perspective. I enjoyed the movie enough to make me want to read the book; from what I vaguely remembered and also from what I could sort of feel out, I could tell that the movie was clearly glossing over a lot of details or background that likely would have been elaborated in the book and have been super interesting.

So without spoilers, do people think Dune (the book) holds up? Is it as brilliant as people say? Does the problematic white exceptionalism / white savior stuff from the movie get subverted later like I vaguely remember, or is that a thing I’d have to compartmentalize in order to appreciate the rest of the book?

And again, without spoilers, are there any particularly noteworthy details, pieces of lore, subtext, etc., that may or may not have been fully present in the movie, that might make me appreciate the setting more?

Because ya, this feels tentatively like something that if I reread it I would enjoy it and find a lot of inspiration in it, but I think I just need like one or two more enticing factoids to get me all the way there.

Well … I love Dune. I’ve read it multiple times and I believe it holds up. The “white savior” stuff is definitely one way to read it, but I never really bought into that. For one thing, I would suppose that Atreides is of Greek heritage. I suppose that’s “white” but in the end broad brushing all European stock as white is using a pretty big brush. And the Fremen aren’t characterized as being of any particular color, and they are total badasses with a super cool culture. But the biggest argument against that reading perhaps is that Paul DOESN’T save them. He basically ruins their culture – this is especially true if you read on into the second and third book. IOW, “white savior” isn’t what you think it is - if that was Herbert’s intent, it wasn’t to glorify colonial imperialism or anything, it was to point out the dangers of a charismatic leader. That’s my take anyway. Paul is a savior in some ways - but he’s more of a catalyst for change and arguably maybe not good change. Do you believe the Harkonnens really could have pulled off genocide if Paul didn’t stop them? I don’t. Not based on the way Herbert writes Fremen.


What you refer to wrt to Paul basically ruining their culture is what I vaguely remember from the second book, so that’s encouraging.

And I guess “white savior” is a loaded term, when really it’s just colonialist in general regardless of a one-to-one real-world “race”/ethnicity analog, but in any case, it sounds like it subverts that idea or at least explores it thoughtfully at least by the second book, which is encouraging to hear.

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The second book is a little slow, but I do love it and I think it “completes” the story. The third book falls a little flat. I feel like Herbert rushed it. It has some really cool revelations in it, but it takes the story in a new direction and sets up God Emperor. Dune Messiah is heavily philosophical/political. Children of Dune is a bit more pulpy and is kind of a bridge plot. God-Emperor goes back to being more philosophical. I read books 5 and 6 but barely remember them other than the Bene Gesserit of the future use sex as a weapon heavily and the Duncan Idaho golem is a big deal.


I was very young when I read the first 1.5 books and I remembered thinking the second book had a lot of cool ideas but I just lacked the patience for it at the time, but I suspect if I reread them now that I would appreciate them much more. I rarely reread/rewatch things, but given how long ago it was and how seminal it is and how incomplete I think my experience was, I want to revisit it.

First, I want to be careful about posts like these. Yes, Dune is a source of great inspiration for RPGs, but I think it would be helpful if you edited your post and explained how it relates to RPGs for you - if it is inspirational, how so? We want to be very careful about edging into off-topic territory, because it is a breeding ground for bad actors.

As to your actual post… I’m confused. Are you asking if an adaptation of a movie from a book you’ve read will subvert the trope you’re familiar with? Do you not remember what happens? Did you read the second book? Genuinely trying to understand what you’re hoping to take away here. Do you feel uncomfortable reading/endorsing it somehow?

Regardless, it was written in 1965. It absolutely smacks of Orientalism and of Herbert’s owned biases. Is it valuable? Well, only you can answer that I think. If I may, here are some relevant links to the White Savior narrative.

By Haris Durrani

By Ali Karjoo-Ravary

By Emmet Asher-Perrin


Ya i didn’t mean for that to be the main point of this thread haha, I just thought it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge it, but I was actually interested in all the kinds of weird scifi and social intrigue type stuff and if or how that could be gameable or influence worldbuilding. I don’t think it makes sense to seek TTRPG influence strictly from TTRPGs, that seems kind of culturally recursive. I can edit my main post later to clarify in more particulars, but basically ya, I think the movie is leaving stuff out, I don’t remember the books too well, I’m wondering what the movie may have missed that would be interesting and inform my worldbuilding or campaign design, etc.

I think that would be helpful. We (the mods) really want to avoid non RPG-related conversations. Of course things like politics are welcome here (they never actually go away, do they?) but whatever the topic, it should relate to RPGs.

We decided to not have an off-topic section for a reason!

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Ya I guess I took it as a given that I meant more so in how it might inform worldbuilding or campaign scenario design, but I’ll clarify later, sorry for the confusion!

I watched the new Dune movie last night. There were some interesting things about it visually, but a lot of failures I thought especially in sound and costume design. The major thing that felt novel and decent about it was the scale of the spaceships, desert, and locations. This was something enjoyable that felt fairly true to the book in a good way.

Otherwise it was Dune, a product of the 1960’s. I thought it failed to grapple with the orientalism of the original in a meaningful way, and costuming and music choices instead managed to accentuate it unnecessarily. A failure and a lack of imagination I think - someone could consider how human culture might evolve in 8000 years - instead of giving us space Lawrence of Arabia (Lawrence was an obvious influence, but the book manages to extract the interesting and realistic elements of Lawrence’s autobiography rather then the mythologizing far better then the movie). For example: I wish they’d decided they could do it without fake adan as the major music/soundtrack element (it seemed like the only other parts of the soundtrack were “scary ghost whispers” and “BWOM”). I’m sure with a little imagination a desert could be otherworldly and vast without someone keening in pseudo-Arabic.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the Western as a genre, Dune isn’t a space Western, but it has similar issues in that the original work (which for 1965 was making solid efforts to subvert and transform some of the worst imperialist/colonialist aspects of the genre) has issues we recognize today with racial existentialism, exotification, and justification of colonial attitudes. In the Western there’s almost always a core settler/native conflict and since the earliest incarnations of the genre (Fenimore Cooper’s 1827 Prairie?) Western authors have often been trying to tell a story about individual freedom vs. civilization but usually also by defining one excess of evil with native characters.

Is the Western a genre inherently about colonial subjugation and genocide? Certainly by the 1970’s (I think of Elmore Leonard’s 1953 Bounty Hunters) the revisionist Western was grappling with some of these issues, but the Classic Western reamained. At its best (and many revisionist Westerns still do this - even something like Blood Meridian) the genre depends on presenting native peoples as doomed noble savages who reveled the secrets and wonders of the wilderness to white protagonists, or a sort of dangerous wildlife that protagonists fight to show the untamed danger of the wilderness. At its worst and most commonly its presented native people as monsters who prowl, kill and torture driven by their base inhumanity.

If that makes you think of D&D it should - Gygax were much used the Classic Western mythology of evil races and untamed wilderness to build implied setting, so like Dune (which is far less offensive) it becomes a worthwhile question if one doesn’t want these imperialist/colonialist mythologies in ones game or adventures on how to deal with them. I saw yesterday someone was writing a Maori “Western” (New Zealand having been devoid of people and discovered by the Polynesians in the 14th century - only 300 years before the Dutch showed up to start colonizing it) but I wonder how well that will work - if an unpeopled wilderness can be substituted and the issues of imperialism elided. It sounds like it could be a cool setting regardless, but will it be a “Western”?

So with Dune, and I think the filmmakers struggled with this, the question is can it be Dune without the reflection on 19th - 20th century imperialism in the Middle East, or should it be? If no (and I think anytime you talk about a resource extraction conflict between distant powers in a desert it’s gonna be there), can you do it in a way that isn’t a version of Lawrence of Arabia as popularized in the mid-20th century. How much of the real, deeply flawed and weird Lawrence can you bring in, how much can you sell it American audiences with him as a secondary character in a larger anti-colonial struggle that is still going on and which the US is deeply involved in.

Anyway - unformed thoughts - but Dune is a work to think about on a few levels.


About the new Dune movie, I enjoyed it immensely. I had the privilege of watching it with kids who saw it with “fresh eyes.” I found it stunningly beautiful, and I was pleased to see somebody’s vision of a sci-fi classic come to life after decades of waiting for another take. I might have done something different here and there, but who am I kidding? As if I could do better!

For me, Dune is about the dangers of messianism, and the shift from hope for renewal to programmed genocide, told through a pastiche of twentieth-century names and terms.

If you folks want to read about orientalism and the history of the discussion since Said’s problematic book of 1978, here are some references for your interest. Yes, role-playing game material can be found in any of these, potentially. More than that, such readings may help you to grapple with mixed feelings about portrayals of imaginary people and places and objects in your games, especially when they are based on imaginary versions of real people about whom you may know little in fact. Personally, I think we can’t avoid cliches but that goodwill and a modest effort to purge hurtful ones go a long way.

Then there are the four books recently reviewed here:

Note that all of these books are published by university presses. This means that they were blind-peer reviewed by other experts and published by non-profit organizations. It also means that they are scholarly books, not everybody’s choice due to their density and jargon. If you had time to read only one, for contextual-historical overview, though, I’d suggest Lockman’s. That’s what I tell my students; colleagues of mine at other universities assign Lockman’s book, too.

Back to Dune: There was some pseudo-Arabic but there was also real Arabic in the movie (some of which is straight from Herbert, of course). There was likewise a bit of real Mandarin Chinese. Given that the movie was delivered in real English, hardly an “authentic language of the future,” I don’t have any problem with using real languages as representing different languages of an unthinkably distant future.

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Dune the book is very fun, its problems honestly only make it a more engaging read cause it turns you brain analysis on, and it is certainly chock full of rpg inspiration, shield fighting in particular is a handy thing to steal if you want a sword fighting sci fi game

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Ya the movie skims over this but i do vaguely remember in the book a detailed explanation of how those light shields work and how they changed the nature of warfare and led to the renewed prominence of melee combat.

The new movie rather butchers shield fighting with all its guns that shoot through shields and space bombs that slow down to pass through them. In the book one of the big plot points is that the harkonnens traitor took down the big city wide shield so they snuck antique gunpowder artillery in for their surprise attack. And yeah its a really neat thing to put in an rpg, cause it naturally encourages problem solving by the players about how to get around them.

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I thought in the book lasers don’t work on shields because it causes explosions or something.

ya that’s what i vaguely remember as well

Yup they cause an atomic-esq explosion! I think in the later books (which I haven’t read) this is even utilized by some insurgents once or twice.

This was a weird one for me, because it shows a projectile fired from a gun penetrating a shield, but not some of the hand movements during the knife fight at the beginning. This means the hands are moving faster than the dart fired from the gun. That’s totally fine, but I’m not sure they really conveyed that in how the knife fight was filmed. I feel like it makes the shields very unclear in their purpose and operation.

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