Dune Trader (1992)

Dune Trader (1992) follows Slave Tribes (1992) as the second in a series of sourcebooks intended to open Athas up to traditional campaign play away from the core Dark Sun metastory. (Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this was the intention all along, or if it is an early sign of weakness in the popularity of the metastory). This is one of my favorite sort of RPG books: a cool idea, ripe with potential for an entirely different kind of D&D campaign, that wasn’t entirely thought out, that likely no one ever seriously used and was subsequently left unsupported after initial publication.

The book introduces the Trader class. You read that right: class, not kit. The Trader is a rogue-type character whose abilities focus on poisoning, fast talking and accumulating NPC agents That last ability starts at level 10. The expectation is that a Trader will go along with a group of adventurers through levels 1 to 9 and act as their faceman on trade-oriented adventures. Starting at level 10, the campaign would transition to the building of a formal trading house with the former adventurers acting as loyal agents in ever more high stakes political and economic ventures. It feels very Dune to me, which, I guess, is cleverly right there in the book’s title.

All this sounds super cool and fun. The problem, and it is a big one, is that D&D is so intertwined in tactical combat. If an encounter focuses on combat, the Trader is essentially useless. If the Trader can fast-talk the group out of a violent confrontation, the other characters are superfluous (and they get no XP, to boot). I would love to run the trade game that Dune Trader wants to be, but D&D seems to be the wrong system in which to run it.

Much of the problem comes from making the Trader a full-fledged class. If you homebrew it down to a kit, problem solved. The rules for fast talk are also a great set of guidelines for Charisma checks in general (if you want rules to support your roleplay, that is). I bet my main issue would have been solved had the concept gotten more support, but to my knowledge, it didn’t. Bummer.

Still, the Brom cover is probably worth the price of admission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *