As "Dune" is an oldie but a goodie and also one of the most outstanding stories of the last millenium I would like to touch back on our roots and explore the high points, potentials and possibilities of this story for sci-fi fans and gamers.
With "Dune" the book we have an epic story told in the far future with a society still using a medieval heirarchy. For all intents and purposes this is considered space opera. With "Dune" the movie we have the same story but it falls flat somewhere. Perhaps this is just the strange directing style of David Lynch. Yes, some of "Dune" was visually stunning but not all. What really captures this writer about "Dune" is the concept. There were three key concepts that stand out in the story. These super cool ideas were also exploited in the film which made it worth watching for me. I find these three concepts can provide game masters of any genre with a lot of possibilities. Keep in mind these are not the only concepts as the Mentants didn't make it in they can become a great character class for fantasy or sci-fi. The three key concepts are:
Dude I need a nickle bag of Spice...
Spice (melange) lengthens life and expands awareness. Hook me up with some spice. Spice is only to be found on one planet in the whole entire universe, Arrakis. Spice is guarded by the sand worms. The sand worms go by the moniker of "Maker" to the Fremen of Dune. Taking the perspective of Joseph Campbell's mythic quest we can see the the spice is the treasure, the great boon to mankind and the worms are the dragons that lie in wait guarding the treasure.
I found the effects in Dune to be good especially the "still suit" costumes. The effect of causing "blue within blue" was portrayed well, a result of long term spice use. Spice alone has to be one of the best concepts of the last millenium. Most importantly spice is used to aid pilots in intersteller travel. It allows them to "fold space." In the movie the concept of spice was treated exactly as the book which was good to see. Drug use and alchemy has not been explored in many of the campaigns I have been exposed to unless you count the Potion of Invisibility from AD&D. Talislanta offers very cool "Dream Essences" in their campaign but they do not take a pivotal role like the spice does.
Spice or something very similiar can become a very valuable resource in any genre. A fantasy campaign can be centered around a drug similiar to spice. But what if the drug has unforeseen side effects? Perhaps long term use can make one unstable or cause madness, a key theme in "Mage: The Ascension." Maybe it shortens life instead of lengthening it. You can see how the concept of spice can serve as a spring board to get your imagination bounding. Spice or something similiar would be perfect for the interdimensional markets of Atlantis in Rifts. I can already see random tables for side effects and powers. In a magic campaign something like spice can be the source of magic. Of course this would be a limited resource and wars would be fought over it.
Not only is spice a rare and valuable substance but it is found in a harsh and unforgiving environment, the desert. Dune is just one big ball of sand. This is where the catalyst for the story of "Dune" lies. Frank Herbert was a journalist. He was doing a story on ecology and sand dunes. This piece of journalism served as the catalyst for "Dune."
Although ecology served as the catalyst for the story the major undertow of "Dune" is concerned with psychology. Mr. Herbert was a student of Archetypal and Jungian psychology. His neighbor was a psychoanalyst and they would often talk for hours about the realm of the mind and psychology. As it took Herbert about eight or so years to write "Dune" it is packed with themes that didn't make the movie but are excellent literary devices. One that did make to the movie was the use of the "voice." Although I don't think the concept of the voice was intended to be what we saw on the film it is still interesting. To me, the use of the "voice" should have been much more subtle. What comes to mind is "These aren't the droids your looking for." ala Obi Wan Kenobi. Amongst other themes Herbert wanted to address the issues of consciousness versus the unconsciousness, the use and abuse of power and the fact that one must adapt and evolve with the environment rather than rigidly control it. This remains a potent message for the last millenium and the present one as it is timeless wisdom.
It is no surprise that the book exceeds the movie in all facets. As "Dune" serves as type of training manual for the kind of awarness Herbert describes. At first a reader may become frustrated with his use of ambiguity. Through his writing he suggests that one must let go of the need for absolute viewpoints and certainty. He also uses subtle devices to condition us. For example whenever there is going to be trouble or conflict the color yellow is prevalent, halfway through the book if you see the color yellow you know that this foreshadows trouble.
Imagine a device that modifies and amplifies certain sounds and can obliterate solid rock. What if the modified sound was your voice? It's in "Dune." Usually sci-fi features lasers. Yeah, we've all seen those dashed or solid bright blue or red lines that are supposed to represent lasers. But sound as a weapon. Thats different, thats interesting. Once again we have a concept ripe for possibilities. Your secret agent must find the plans for the new compact and ultra-tech, ultra deadly sound gun. Your sci-fi stormtrooping dreadnaughts now have guns that can generate fields, spheres, or rays and this makes them really popular with the ladies.
The scene in which Maud'Dib shows the Fremen how his name can be used as a killing word still vividly exists in my mind. It was well done. Not only does sound kill but the name of the messiah is the killing word. You can see the potential. So what lucky Player Character gets to be the messiah in your next campaign?
It's not exactly like folding your clothes.
No engines, no warpdrives, just the human mind powering the folding of space. I'll buy that. I believe TSR tried something like this in the highly unsuccessful "SpellJammer." Oh well. What Herbet does is take a new twist on the psionic of teleportation. Anybody that can fold space is going to be highly prized and valued. Perhaps one of your Player Characters can take this role, or all of them. Or perhaps they have to save one who has been kidnapped. What if wizards are the only ones who can teleport. There's an art and science to teleportation and only wizards have this arcane knowledge.
In closing, the movie Dune was visually stuning and well cast but it was rather "joyless and oppressive" as Roger Ebert suggested. As the movie in and of itself didn't contain much for conversation I focused on the concepts of "Dune."