More Human than Human – Blade Runner RPG

Blade Runner

The Role Playing Game

Author: Tomas Härenstam & Joe LeFavi
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Page Count: 240
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $24.99
Print – $49.68

Rain. A constant rain falls on the city of angels, though to look up, one can only see massive towering structures that block the sky. Neon illuminates congested walkways of bustling citizens as they go about in huge commercial complexes. Among the crowds lies two factions engaged in a delicate dance with each other. Human in appearance, Replicants move freely among the crowd, completing tasks for which they were built and some up to nefarious activities. To keep Replicants and their sympathizers in line, a specialized police force of Blade Runners has the authority to investigate and retire rogue Replicants when proven guilty.

Note: Free League Publishing provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. Please visit our Product Review Request page if you want Rolling Boxcars to review an item.

Blade Runner: The Role Playing Game is based on the Blade Runner movie series set 18 years after the first movie’s events. Players take on the roles of Blade Runners in Los Angeles 2037 with the backing and authority of the Los Angeles Police Department. Blade Runners investigate Replicant-related crimes and deal with them according, but not until given clearance based on the evidence gathered. Players will work on Replicant-related crime scenes, gathering evidence, submitting reports to their superiors, and getting authorization to retire, if necessary, their suspects. Blade Runner: The Role Playing Game is a gritty future-noir crime investigation game that will test the player’s morality as they face tough ethical decisions as Blade Runners.

Game Mechanics

Blade Runner: The Role Playing Game uses dice pools based on character attributes and skills. Each is recorded with a letter that represents a die type. The attribute and the skill dice form a player’s dice pool. A result of six or better is one success, and results of 10 and higher count as two successes. The task at hand determines the number of successes needed to complete the task. The game uses an eye icon on its specialty dice for success and a unicorn giraffe (it is what it looks like to me) to represent one’s.

If a dice pool results in no success or not enough, the player may opt to push the roll. Pushing a roll allows the player to reroll all dice, even ones with successes, to possibly gain more, but must accept the new role even if it is less than the previous. As a penance for pushing a roll, the character reduces one of their attributes by one. Humans can only push a roll once, while Replicant Blade Runners can do it twice.

Players may sometimes be granted an advantage or a disadvantage on a roll. When advantaged, an additional die type is added to the pool matching the lowest die value of the dice pool. The lowest die type is removed from a player’s dice pool when disadvantaged. A player will always have a minimum of one die to roll. If you are familiar with Free League’s other games, you’ll find the dice mechanic is similar.

Character Creation

All players take on the roles of Blade Runners but with a twist. Blade Runners can be human or Replicant. There is even an option to play a Replicant and not even know it—the Gamemaster knows and will reveal the truth when the time is right. To allow your Blade Runner to stand out from the others, players choose from seven archetypes to use as a basis for their character’s personality. The seven archetypes are Analyst, Cityspeaker, Doxie (Replicant only), Enforcer, Fixer, Inspector, and Skimmer. Each archetype features a key attribute, three key skills, and a starting amount of Chinyen Points (money). If players wish, they can skip choosing an archetype and simply choose their key attribute, three skills, and allow the Gamemaster to determine their starting Chinyen Points.

Once players have their archetypes established, they determine how many years they have been on the force, followed by determining the character’s attribute values. A character’s attributes, Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy, are ranked with the letters A-D. A is the highest value, and D is the lowest. Each letter corresponds to a die-type D12 down to D6, which makes up a player’s dice pool. Health, physical limits, and Resolve mental limits are calculated based on the values of your character’s attributes. Next, players choose values for their skills. All skills start at D and increase based on their years spent on the force. There are thirteen skills, with twelve of them linked to an attribute. The thirteenth skill, Driving, is linked to the manipulation skill for their vehicles. If a Blade Runner has been on the force for at least a year, they can choose to have a specialty in a skill. Specialty examples are provided with each archetype.

Players choose key memories, relationships, and a signature item for their characters to provide further depth and means for the Gamemaster to work characters into stories. These elements aid Blade Runners when used in the game and are tools for the Gamemaster.

The last steps are to equip your Blade Runner, determine their appearance and dwellings, and give them a name. Blade Runners have standard-issued gear but may request specialty items from the department or acquire goods on the black market.

Characters may improve their skills and attributes with Promotion and Humanity points. Promotion points raise skills, while Humanity points raise attributes. The cost of raising each are outlined in the rule book.

Setting Background

The planet Earth is on borrowed time. It no longer has the means to sustain its inhabitants. Its population, those who qualified for space travel, quickly abandoned it for the moon, Mars, and other off-world colonies. Those unable to afford or meet the qualification for space travel, known as Specials, were forever trapped on the doomed planet. Centralized governments collapsed as mega-corporations took control. The only governing body to survive with power was the United Nations.

The Tyrell Company, a mega-corp, unveils its first Nexus Andriod, a Replicant. It is an advanced humanoid automaton capable of menial labor, a disposable workforce to compensate for the great exodus. It wasn’t long before Nexus units began to malfunction, refuse, or abandon their duties. The Los Angeles police department quickly established a new division to deal with these criminal cases and fugitive Replicants. The Tyrell corporation continued to introduce new Replicant models with the Nexus 6 replicant line. They became virtually indistinguishable from humans.

After a decade of servitude and exploration, Replicaints began to turn on their masters. A Nexus insurrection began to form. Though most Nexus are used off-world, the United Nations bans all Nexus 6 from Earth and forms a special police unit, Blader Runners, to protect Earth’s borders and eliminate trespassing Replicants. Society divides on the subject. Some rejoice at the ban, while others sympathize with Replicants and aid them in evading retirement.

Chaos ensues when the news of Eldon Tyrell, the mega-corps leader, is killed at the hands of a Nexus 6. The Tyrell Corporation quickly tries to save face by releasing a new line of Replicants, the Nexus 8, a more amiable Replicant. To win favor with the public and the UN, the Tyrell Corporation provides a database with all the names and locations of all known Replicants on Earth. The list leaks to the public, causing riots and resulting in Replicants becoming fugitives from vigilantes. Growing support for Replicant rights increases as pandamonium on Earth and beyond reaches its apex.

The Blackout, humanity’s darkest hour. The day it all came to a halt. An unidentified group of terrorists detonated an EMP in the stratosphere above Los Angeles, plunging the city into darkness. For ten days, utter chaos prevailed as all machines became inoperative. When power was finally restored, the worldwide datalink that held the world’s most important information was completely erased, as were all their digital magnetic backups held in secured facilities. Bank accounts, medical records, and any digital information were gone forever. Finance markets and infrastructure collapsed overnight. The Replicant database was also gone, which led many to blame the “Blackout” on Replicants.

The UN outlawed all Replicants from Earth, making all Earth-dwelling Replicants eligible for permanent retirement. Not long after the Tyrell Corporation fell into bankruptcy, the Blade Runner division expanded its jurisdiction to encompass any Replicant-related crimes, including any human involvement in obstruction of the prohibition. Things didn’t improve until industrialist Niander Wallace stepped in to save humanity.

Wallace freely shared technologies to defeat Earth’s infertile soil, solving the planet’s food crisis and helping to expand off-world colonies. Wallace created a new worldwide database, Wallace Datalink Network, reconnecting humanity. People began to trust Wallace and hail him as a hero and savior of mankind. With this new sense of trust, Wallace could enact his next move. Years prior, Wallace purchased the Tyrell Corporation and all its assets and developed the Nexus 9, a Replicant able to serve and obey without question. With his clout and influence among the masses, Wallace convinced the UN to allow Replicants back on Earth.

Wallace established a new headquarters in Los Angeles, making it the tallest tower in the city. The LAPD also expanded its headquarters, receiving extra funding from the Wallace Corporation for its Blade Runner division. The Wallace Corporation is the city’s biggest governing force, followed by Blade Runners in Los Angeles. The Wallace Corporation has a vested interest in the Blade Runner Division. It works closely with it to ensure that malfunctioning Replicants are dealt with quietly.

Playing the Game

In Blade Runner, you are Blade Runners, police officers of a specialized unit within the Los Angeles Police Department that have access to two different worlds. The world above, the 100th floor of towering skyscrapers, and below the 100th floor down to street level. Above the 100th story of a building lies the elite of society. The higher the floor, the wealthier they are. The opposite is true for those who live below floor 100 to street level. These are two diametrically opposed ways of living, and as a Blade Runner, you get to witness the differences firsthand. No other person in this society has the privilege or the means to move freely like Blade Runners.

The whole premise of Blade Runner is to play a police officer—investigate a Replicant-related crime, gather evidence, write reports to your superiors, and exact justice when authorized. But the mandate for Blade Runners is different than it once was. No longer are they to only locate and eliminate Replicants. They now must protect and stand up for a Replicant’s rights on the streets and in the courts.

A Blade Runner’s day is broken into four shifts, three working, and one rest shift. Characters can only investigate one location per shift, so splitting up the party is highly encouraged. After three work shifts, the characters must make their fourth shift a rest period where they can regain health and mental stability. Players must keep track of their character’s investigation on their Case File Time Tracker sheet. The sheet has a week’s worth of space, separated into each day’s shift, with an area below to write what was discovered.

Investigations begin with a briefing from the Blade Runners’ superior, Deputy Chief Holden, or another superior. Each case has a countdown with a series of specific events known only to the Gamemaster that will occur during the investigation. The number of Countdowns is dependent on the number of players. Blade Runners will then need to visit locations, talk to NPCs, gather evidence, and compile it in their reports. To aid players in conducting a successful police investigation, a standard procedure of steps is provided. There are seven steps, claim your territory, document your facts and central questions, profile persons of interest, form a hypothesis, build your case, maintain cover, and cover your ass. Using these seven steps, Blade Runners will move up in the ranks as they close case after case.

Blade Runners hold an unusual amount of autonomy within the police department and society. They have access to sensitive files, a crime lab, contacts, resources from the Wallace Corporation, and informants that most do not have. They have vehicles and equipment at their disposal, which most humans don’t. Blade Runners may not be liked by the populace, but they certainly are respected. When they request an audience, most are quick to oblige.

Final Thought

Blade Runner is about playing a police officer, working a case file, and seeing the guilty party brought to justice in this very dark, thankless futurist society of Los Angeles. It is a cop noir with moral decisions and situations that players must navigate. Gameplay should push players’ characters to the edge.

The game’s setting is set around the time of the movie’s sequel, Blade Runner 2049. I can’t comment if the game uses any content from the film. I did watch it, at least the first hour of it. Sometime after it, I fell asleep and never rewatched the parts I missed. Personally, I’m disappointed in the game. I was hoping for a little looser game set in the time period of the Tyrell Corporation. The only type of character you can play is a Blade Runner, though I should note that future releases will include other playable characters.

You may have noticed I skipped over certain parts of the rulebook for this review. These include but are not limited to the combat and gamemaster sections. The missed sections contained what you would expect. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in them, though with Blade Runner’s focus on police activity, the combat section does have rules for foot and vehicle chases. Also missing from the main rulebook were any adversaries or an introductory adventure. There is a broad overview of criminal elements in Los Angeles but nothing substation or fleshed out. I believe the Starter Set will fill in some of these holes.

The most significant aspect of Blade Runner is its most criticized—only playing a Blade Runner. While this upset some, it is the first game I am aware of that has players as police officers having to follow a set of procedures while working their case. It appears regimented when looking at it on paper, but I imagine it is more enjoyable when playing. Whether it is your cup of tea or not, it is always great to see roleplaying pushed in a direction that hasn’t been before.

~Stephen Pennisi

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One Comment Add yours

  1. I’ve got the BR core book, and plan to run the “Case” in the Starter Set for my game group.

    Liked by 1 person

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