[Let’s Study] Dune: Adventures in the Imperium, Part 3 Systems

Now that we’ve had a chance to look over House and Character creation, let’s move on to an examination of the mechanics of play for Dune Adventures in the Imperium.


The heart of everything in the system falls in Traits. Traits are essentially keywords that serve as descriptors of things that are True in the fiction of the game. Traits can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Personal Traits
  • Situation or Location Traits
  • Equipment Traits

The purpose of Traits is that they modify the difficulty of a Test. This is done by a simple statement of logic such as:

“Because I am [Personal Trait], this activity is…” and finished with either “easier”, “harder”, “possible” or “impossible.” If accepted by the gamemaster and the players, then the Test can be attempted, made more or less difficult, or altogether not allowed.

That said, the book also goes on to explain that just because it’s impossible now doesn’t mean that the same Test can’t be attempted once the situation has been changed to make it possible.

Traits cancel each other out, with both sides bringing Traits into play until a final Difficulty of the Test is sorted out.

Skill Tests

The 2d20 system relies on rolling a pool of 20-sided dice (d20’s). The basic dice pool begins at 2d20, with a maximum of 5d20.

To make a test, the GM first determines the Difficulty Rating of the task. This is the number of successes needed by the player to perform the action, and ranges from 0 (Simple) to 5 (Epic).

The player then rolls their pool of d20’s against a Target Number set by the Skill+Drive Pair used for the test. For example, a riveting performance could be a Charm + Power test so a character with Communicate 7 and Power 8 would be rolling against a Target Number of 15.

Each of the rolled d20’s are then compared to check if it succeeds. Those dice that rolled equal to or lower than the Target Number count as a successes, while those that roll over it do not. Also, if the character has a focus that applies to the roll d20s that roll below the character’s Skill counts as 2 successes!

The more successes, the better.

If the number of successes meets the Difficulty Rating set for the task, then the player character is considered to have pulled off the action.


Rolling a 20 on a die generates a complication. The Narrator then gets to either slap on an interesting complication to the situation or saves it as Threat.

Drive Statements

Okay, so we’ve sort of gone over the basic dice rolling, but there’s more to Drives than you might think. Players don’t automatically just get to pick whichever Drive is most suitable to a situation. Instead when choosing a Drive, a player has to make a couple of checks:

  • IF the chosen Drive has a Drive Statement that supports the action, THEN you may use that Drive, and additionally, spend Determination on that roll.
  • IF the chosen Drive has a Drive Statement that does not support the action then the gamemaster can then offer you a point of Determination for you to make a choice:
    • Comply with the Drive Statement, and immediately suffer a Complication which could include failing the test OR
    • Challenge the Drive Statement upon which you can make the test but immediately cross the Drive Statement off of your sheet as your character no longer believes in it.
    • Refuse the point of Determination and pick a different Drive.
  • IF the chosen Drive does not have a Statement then it can be used without further checks as long as it makes sense for the Test.

Improving the Odds

Of course, given the Difficulty of some tasks, it helps to be able to add more dice or otherwise swing things to your favor. The system lets you do this in several ways:

  • Spend Momentum – Momentum can be spent to buy additional dice before a skill test. A player can buy up to 3d20 this way, but the costs go up for each additional die.
  • Generate Threat – The player may also opt to generate Threat instead of spending Momentum. The costs are the same as you would if you were buying dice with Momentum.
  • Spend Determination – Determination is a powerful resource with multiple uses, but can also be spent before rolling to set one of the dice you would ordinarily roll as having automatically rolled a 1, hence counting as 2 Successes, OR after rolling to re-roll your entire dice pool. Take note that Determination can only be spent on a Skill test where the action agrees with the Drive Statement.
  • Get Help – Each assisting character makes a roll of their own based on how they’re helping and rolls 1d20. Any successes generated here are added to the skill test you’re making.

Momentum and Determination

Dune has two metagame resources for players: Momentum and Determination.

Momentum is generated whenever a player rolls more Successes than the Difficulty of the Skill Test. This Momentum may be immediately spent to modify the outcome of the Skill Test, or be banked in a shared pool of Momentum that can be used by all the players.

Momentum can be spent to buy d20’s for a Skill Test, Creating a Trait in the scene or situation, Creating an Asset or Obtaining Information from the gamemaster.

Determination is a much more scarce resource. Players start with a single point of Determination at the beginning of each adventure, but can gain more during play. Player characters may not have more than 3 Determination at once.

Determination is spent to buy an Automatic 1, to re-roll the entire Skill Test, Declare a new trait or trigger an Extra action.


The mechanics of 2d20 take a little bit of getting used to. It’s quite easy in play but it does require that the people try it first rather than relying purely on reading the rules to get a sense of how quick it is in play.

What *is* new for me though are the Drive Statements. In some ways it’s an interesting roadblock to just picking the most powerful Drives in a character sheets, and an clever means of introducing a way to recover spent Determination. I’m curious to see this in play honestly, and will likely take to running Dune as a one-shot as soon as I can.

Join us In our next entry in this series, where we’ll look at the mechanics of Conflict!

If you’d like to get a Physical or PDF copy of Dune Adventures in the Imperium, you can grab it over at the Modiphius Website or PDF in DriveThruRPG [Affiliate Link].

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