Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game’ Offers Us The Neo-Noir Cyberpunk We Need

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A year out of the flick’s thirty year anniversary, Blade Runner continues to be one of the most influential sci-fi films ever made. Mixing the plot and themes of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with an early-80’s anxiety about corporatocracy and a classical noir aesthetic, the film influenced the creation of the entire cyberpunk genre as well as basically any science-fiction in an urban setting. So with all that, combined with the recurring success of TTRPG’s like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk RED, why has it only taken this long to turn it into a tabletop game!?

Announced to coincide with the movie’s anniversary, Blade Runner: The Tabletop RPG is a great addition to the Free League line of games and a fantastic translation of the film to a denser, more complex form. It does so by using the tried and true Year Zero system as well as plenty of expansion on the film that draws as much on it as its PKD source material.

Rainy Streets, Dark Corners

Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game megastructure
The megastructures of Los Angeles stretch miles into the smoggy sky

As you’d expect, this game plops you down right into the dark world of the movie, as a Blade Runner (cops) for the LAPD. Now, this isn’t actually set during the movie, and it seems that it’s been constructed to actually not allow for Deckard, Pris, or other characters to make appearances. Obviously fiction is malleable, but it’s about 18 years later and the world has changed a bit. Replicants are now banned (making Blade Runners more needed than ever) and the world is recovering from “The Blackout,” a catastrophic shut down of the interstellar network that made all Replicants go basically invisible and caused the outer colonies to go a lot more isolationist. It’s a bold move to go so far from the source, but it’s clear they did so to open things up a bit more for players.

How’s It Play?

Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game art

Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game uses the d6 based Year Zero system similar to most other Free League games like Forbidden Lands or Vaesen. Your abilities are Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy. You choose a basic archetype to flavor your character (Analysy, Cityspeaker, Enforcer, Fixer, Inspector, or Skimmer), as well as how long you’ve been on the force. An interesting twist on the character creation process is the Replicant question. If you want, you can have your GM roll a die and see if you’re secretly a replicant. As per the setting, your Blade Runner won’t know it until it’s somehow revealed, though when it is there’s some stat boosts that come with the existential terror. You’ll also have a key memory and key relationship that form building blocks for your character development, which not just add flavor but can help you with skill checks and the like every now and then.

Skills are the normal things for a cop like investigation, firearms, etc. The feat equivalent are specialties, more involved things like Musician, Bodyguard, or even Origami that have more powerful uses.

Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game
Some runners pinned down behind a taxi

You spend the game working “Case Files” that takes you between the neon soaked rich parts of LA to the slums, dense and rotting from the inside as more and more people come to try to escape the nightmare of the wider world. It’s made of megastructures hundreds of stories tall, and you’ll get the chance to explore each one. You’ll even get to drive one of those dope Detective Special Spinners.

The Verdict?

Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game

If you’re a fan of the movie, I’m not sure why you haven’t made up your mind yet. Go get this game and live out your Harrison Ford dreams. They nailed the aesthetic as well, keeping the colors muted but bright and having shadows encroach on everything.

For everyone else, I still think this is a worthwhile pickup even if you haven’t seen the source material (though you really should do that). It’s kind of like getting a chance to try something after playing it’s imitators. Blade Runner has a grit to it that most Cyberpunk lost, a genuine noir quality. You’re not some hoopy frood with a robot arm jacked up on bloop or what have you. You’re a regular person in a dark, depressing world. And you also might not even be a person in the first place!

There’s plenty of drama to be mined from the setting and the existential questions it raises, and I’m excited to see what they might do as they release info on the other planets and rest of the world in greater depth.

You can grab a copy of Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game as well as accessories like dice and a GM screen on the Free League shop or your FLGS, with the core rulebook going for $49.35. You can also find a digital copy at DriveThruRPG for $24.99.

Images via Free League Publishing

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  • Dan Arndt

    Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM. Has an MFA and isn't quite sure what to do now. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Indianapolis.

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