A Review of Blade Runner

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Blade Runner looms large over the RPG landscape. Two of the hobby’s biggest games, Cyberpunk and Shadowrun were inspired by Ridley Scott’s science fiction neo-noir full of high tech devices and low life characters. When Free League Publishing announced a Kickstarter for Blade Runner Role Playing Game it was met with excitement but also a little bit of trepidation. Could the game do anything new with the well worn tropes that have been used in games since the 80s? Would players want to take on the role of cops in a time when police abuses of power and systemic corruption are regularly on display? My review copy of the core book and Starter Set recently arrived and I eagerly dug into Tomas Harenstam and Joe LeFavi’s take on a classic setting. Did the game pass the Voight-Kampff test? Let’s play to find out.

Blade Runner Role Playing Game is set in 2037, smack dab in the middle between the original film and its recent sequel. The era is vaguely defined by some of the additional materials like the animated series and the short films that played before Blade Runner 2049. The most important thing to know is that Replicants, at least the new ones made by Wallace Corporation are once again legal on Earth. In fact, some of them have joined the Replicant Detect Unit aka the Blade Runners in an effort to show that Wallace has “fixed” the issues in the older models and to earn back the public trust. Humans and Replicants now work together to hunt down the last remaining few older models, crack down on illegal technology derived from Replicants and to keep an eye on the new models to make sure they do what they’re supposed to be doing. The time period does an excellent job in murking up the morality of what Blade Runners are doing to pull the noir themes to the forefront rather than the cool tech or cops and robbers morality. The art from classic Free League collaborators like Martin Grip continues the dark beauty of these books that started in the ALIEN line.

The system uses the newer version of the Year Zero rules first seen in last year’s Twilight: 2000 reboot. Rather than pools of 6 sided dice, players roll a pair of dice to try and beat a target of six or better on each die. Folks hoping to mash-up ALIEN and Blade Runner were crestfallen when this detail came out but I think that the newer system speeds up play. Having run a few Year Zero games, rolling dice, counting successes, deciding to push and reroll can slow things down. Rather than a key item, characters get a key memory and a key relationship they can use to gain extra rerolls. Here’s where Blade Runner digs into the source material a bit with making memories a key component of play. Players have to justify the reroll by incorporating elements into why they can reroll, which connects their character to the current case in some form. A replicant character might decide they person they’re pursuing is in their false memory and might push themselves to run harder to ask them questions about the person whose memory they have. The human might see their ex-lover even though they know the lover went to the Off-World colonies. Are they back? Is it a mistake? All of these choices deepen the case of the week format of the main game while also offering some great role playing opportunities outside of the investigation.

The focus of the game stays on investigation rather than techothriller heists of other cyberpunk games. The structure of play reminds me a bit of the Android board game from Fantasy Flight Games; players take shifts to investigate crime scenes and then have one “off-shift period” where they handle their personal business. The game seems built to run with split parties where the whole crew is rarely in the same place at the same time. While never splitting the party might be a maxim of many RPGs, here it helps cover the sprawling investigations of films like LA Confidential. It also makes this game much more useful to smaller groups of 2-4. Time management is important as well, since every case has a countdown element that ticks down what’s going on while the blade runners are doing legwork. Take too long and the case might go unsolved or escalate into something that’s taken out of their hands.

The main characters aren’t built to be heroes. There’s some of the usual tough cop talk in the book but that can be chalked up to the setting. It’s meant to be a game where the players are conflicted by the things they do and come to grips with the fact that maybe they aren’t always in the right. Rather than a morality meter as seen in games like Vampire The Masquerade or Force and Destiny, Blade Runner RPG installs the tension within the XP system. There are two ways to improve your character: promotion and humanity. Promotion points give you access to better equipment, resources and favors to do your job, while humanity reflects your character’s personal improvement. The former are awarded when you do the things a Blade Runner is supposed to do, like turn in a secret Replicant, while the latter are given out when you do things a person might do, such as let that illegal Replicant escape and live their life. The one weakness of this system is that players can;t ever really be fired from the Rep Detect Unit since that would push the character out of the premise of the game. I would have rather seen a discussion of how a “retired” character can contribute to the narrative and a player might try to integrate a Blade Runner just like so many long running cop shows have had to do.

Blade Runner Role Playing Game stands out from other dark future games by focusing on investigation and murky definitions of humanity, making it an excellent representation of the source material.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

ngenius

Explorer
Is this coincidence that the most anticipated game of 2022 gets a nice review in 2023 when the hobby is looking for Not-D&D options?

I will give this a go still. Free League is popular.
 



Random Task

Explorer
I wonder if they're going to try and make it a more fully fleshed out future noir world. It's not really cyberpunk I don't think because the heavy body modification better with tech cyberpunk ethos doesn't seem there in Blade Runner. It is more transhumanist if anything.
 

Von Ether

Legend
Is this coincidence that the most anticipated game of 2022 gets a nice review in 2023 when the hobby is looking for Not-D&D options?

I will give this a go still. Free League is popular.

The human brain is built to see patterns and connect the dots -- even if the dots may not even be there. It's why conspiracy theories are tempting.

So tempting that one would rather write a whole post to share their thoughts on an alleged ulterior motive as compared to just clicking on the writer's byline under the title to see has given other games positive reviews in the past for literal years and thus get their answer.

A classic example of how "hard" research can be.

 
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I wonder if they're going to try and make it a more fully fleshed out future noir world. It's not really cyberpunk I don't think because the heavy body modification better with tech cyberpunk ethos doesn't seem there in Blade Runner. It is more transhumanist if anything.

There really isn't a lot in the way of cybernetics in the game. Replicant based technology seems to be more of a mcGuffin but it does lean towards more transhuman stories with memory implants rather than the technothriller heists you see in Shadowrun.
 

BrassDragon

Adventurer
Supporter
The police investigation as a central story driver is what really sets this apart from classic cyberpunk games, which tend to focus on criminal heists / fixer jobs (something which the excellent CY_BORG makes wonderfully explicit).

The clever conceit here is, that while the players think they're investigating something externally (a murder, a rogue Nexus, animal smugglers, the lost archives of Tyrell Corp etc.), the real investigation is internally - questions about who the player characters are, what their purpose is and how they relate to the dystopian world around them.

I don't think every GM and table of players is up to (or in the mood for) leveraging that dynamic to its full potential, but for those who click with it, Blade Runner delivers.
 

BrassDragon

Adventurer
Supporter
I wonder if they're going to try and make it a more fully fleshed out future noir world. It's not really cyberpunk I don't think because the heavy body modification better with tech cyberpunk ethos doesn't seem there in Blade Runner. It is more transhumanist if anything.
It's doesn't have the breadth and depth of something like Cyberpunk RED but it's still fleshed out, with lots of little details on how society functions (or rather, doesn't function). You get notes on the history and districts of LA, the politics, technologies (and how technology changed over time), landmarks and economics.

Still it's important to emphasize that, although the aesthetic of the orignal movie shaped the whole genre, the game has more of a post-apocalyptic vibe ('these are the final days, everything is coming apart and we're clawing at the edge until we can move off-world') ) rather than the now-classic cyberpunk vibe ('technology / consumerism is running amok and we need to get ours before it blows up').

Blade Runner deals with both the impact of technology on society (made explicit in the investigations players run) and the impact of technology on individuals (which is where the players can really express their characters.) It's less about 'can I afford new legs to boost my running ability?' and more 'why are we chasing this criminal up a roof, can't they afford a pursuit replicant?'
 

MGibster

Legend
I wonder if they're going to try and make it a more fully fleshed out future noir world. It's not really cyberpunk I don't think because the heavy body modification better with tech cyberpunk ethos doesn't seem there in Blade Runner. It is more transhumanist if anything.
I started out with the Cyberpunk genre with R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2020, but I didn't read anything by William Gibson until I was in the early to mid 30s with Neuromancer. It was amazing to me just how little body modification there was in this cyberpunk book when compared to the RPG. Mollie Millions has "a lot" of modifications with her mirrored shades, enhanced reflexes, and razor claws, I don't remember if our protagonist, the hacker Case, even has any modifications beyond his liver and pancreas which prevents him from getting high, and Riviera has some implants that allows him to project holographic images. Millions has the most modifications, but they're rather light when compared to the RPG.

I don't believe body modifications are at the heart of cyberpunk. The genre is typified by a dystopian future that happens to feature some wonderous technologies and protagonist who are often misfits, not in control of their own destiny, and are usually anti-heroes. By those standards, Blade Runner is cyberpunk AF.
 

ruemere

Adventurer
Note: With regard to art style, Coriolis preceded Blade Runner.

As for the system, this version is slightly superior as it makes pro characters more reliable.
 

It's doesn't have the breadth and depth of something like Cyberpunk RED but it's still fleshed out, with lots of little details on how society functions (or rather, doesn't function). You get notes on the history and districts of LA, the politics, technologies (and how technology changed over time), landmarks and economics.

Still it's important to emphasize that, although the aesthetic of the orignal movie shaped the whole genre, the game has more of a post-apocalyptic vibe ('these are the final days, everything is coming apart and we're clawing at the edge until we can move off-world') ) rather than the now-classic cyberpunk vibe ('technology / consumerism is running amok and we need to get ours before it blows up').

Blade Runner deals with both the impact of technology on society (made explicit in the investigations players run) and the impact of technology on individuals (which is where the players can really express their characters.) It's less about 'can I afford new legs to boost my running ability?' and more 'why are we chasing this criminal up a roof, can't they afford a pursuit replicant?'

I think one of the differences between cyberpunk like Cyberpunk and cybernoir like this is that here, they're still wrestling with the implications of technology. In cyberpunk, almost everyone's wired. While there are rules to keep people from going too far, everyone usually has a little bit of chrome.

Replicants have been on the Blade Runner beat for a little over a year in the game. There's a lot of story potential for Replicants dealing with now being part of the forces that hunted them and with humans dealing with a shifting power dynamic.

There's also a lost generation of technology that could have all sorts of off shoots. In my game, I plan on memory creation/construction for humans to be a big deal, taking pages out of things like Total Recall and Strange Days.
 


That is an excellent hook - your players are lucky.
It comes from thinking about the setting. Even when Replicants are illegal...that tech isn't going anywhere. Tyrell and the orther corporations have sunk so much money into them, they are going to find ways to keep the money rolling in. When Wallace brings back full Replicants, I can also see it spinning off other technologies to their own companies.
 

Boosty

Villager
Heya, good review. I've been reading through my copy and loving it. I actually think you touched on something so cool to think about: it would be amazing if Free League took a bunch of the mechanics and released an LA Confidental style game with it.

One correction. The book does have a section on what happens when you are suspended or fired on page 167.
 

Heya, good review. I've been reading through my copy and loving it. I actually think you touched on something so cool to think about: it would be amazing if Free League took a bunch of the mechanics and released an LA Confidental style game with it.
I think that's one of the key differences they nailed here. They focused on the noir aspects and put the tech and futuristic stuff in the background. Most cyberpunk RPGs focus on the toys.
 

CubicsRube

Hero
Supporter
I really like the campaign structure and would love to run a police procedural with it.

I love that the days are structured and that events will occur on certain days independent of the players. It helps to give the world a lived in feel IMO and it's the first system I've seen that truly encourages the party to split up tp cover more ground.

I love that you have to not just find your target, but also the facts of the crime and the motivation, and that you have to make the choice to uphold your duty or sometimes your morality. Sometimes that may be easy (a criminal is a criminal) and sometimes that may be tough. But that's the noir part for me.
 

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