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Blade Runner tabletop RPG will ask players to grapple with their own humanity

Kickstarter campaign runs today through May 29

A crowdfunding campaign for Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game, one of Polygon’s most highly anticipated tabletop RPGs of 2022, launches Tuesday. Developed by award-winning publisher Free League in collaboration with Alcon Entertainment and Genuine Entertainment, it sends players into the streets of Los Angeles in the year 2037 as members of the LAPD’s Rep-Detect Unit — better known as Blade Runners. We spoke with lead designer and Free League co-founder Tomas Härenstam to learn more.

“A lot of the surface gameplay is investigation,” said Härenstam. “Players will be going to places, talking to people, collecting evidence. A big source of inspiration was Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and other classic mystery-solving games.”

Of course, every good Blade Runner story needs its protagonists to grapple with existential questions between cases.

“It’s a point that the source material makes,” said Härenstam, “that your humanity isn’t decided by whether you’re human or replicant. It’s not defined by your origin. It’s in your actions and what you choose to do, and that’s really the path that we’ve followed in designing the game.” That path is clear in the process of character creation, which asks players to generate a Key Memory and define a Key Relationship, both of which shape how their character engages with the world. Finding ways to interact grapple with these Key elements during sessions will allow players to earn Humanity points, which can be spent to gain skill levels.

A Voigt Comp test in action. A samurai helmet is silhouetted in the background. Image: Martin Grip/Free League
Air cars cast a spotlight along a futuristic shoreline. An arrest is taking place as the tide comes in. Image: Margin Grip/Free Leauge
A dapper man sits reading the paper as a wet night in LA roils around him. Image: Martin Grip/Free League

Between morally ambiguous casework, players will spend a lot of their in-game time performing Down Time activities. These narrative interludes will allow characters to go their separate ways and explore their lives outside of the LAPD. “It gives us a spotlight into the personal lives of these characters,” Härenstam said. “[Down Time] is where mechanics like Key Memory and Key Relationship come into play, and those function in the same way regardless of if you’re a human or a replicant.”

The Core Rulebook contains over 200 pages of world-building, immersive details, and the official Blade Runner ruleset, not to mention gorgeous art by Martin Grip. Fans will recognize his distinctive style from other Free League projects, including The One Ring: Roleplaying the World of The Lord of the Rings.

Fans of Alien: The Roleplaying Game, Tales from the Loop, and Forbidden Lands will recognize the game’s Year Zero Engine, which appears in a new and developed form tailored to the neon-noir setting. The original Year Zero Engine involves a pool of six-sided dice for each roll, with a six on one or more dice indicating a success; more sixes mean a higher success, and the dice pool increases as player skill and attribute levels increase.

A mock-up of box art for Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game’s boxed starter set. Image: Free League

In Blade Runner, the mechanic has been streamlined. Players are equipped with just two dice: one each for the base attribute and skill associated with the roll. Increases in player competence are reflected in the kind of dice used, ranging from d6s to d12s. Härenstam says this was to keep the game rules light.

“We didn’t want the rules and the dice to dominate the table too much,” he said, “so we decided to scale down the feel of the dice and the mechanics so that they’re a little more in the background than in some other Year Zero games.”

Also included in the Kickstarter materials is the first Cinematic module for Blade Runner, an adventure titled Electric Dreams. Game Runners are given everything they need to create their own Case File in the Core Rulebook, but Electric Dreams serves as the perfect introductory module to help players and Game Runners settle into the world.

“We didn’t want to railroad players,” said Härenstam. That’s why players can interact with the materials presented to them in Electric Dreams and other Case Files in any way they’d like. “Every Case File is an interconnected web of clues — locations, NPCs, evidence — but players will have a lot of freedom to go where they want and talk to whoever they want, and in how they arrive at a solution.”

Any backers that pledge at the $55 Core Rulebook tier or higher within the first 24 hours of the Kickstarter’s launch will also receive an exclusive art print by lead artist Grip. The Rep-Detect Bundle ($95) contains the standard Core Rulebook and the Blade Runner Starter Set, which includes a condensed rulebook, a print version of Electric Dreams, four pre-generated characters for players to jump right in, and a selection of physical handouts representing data files, photos, and evidence for use during the investigation.

Also exclusive to the Kickstarter is the deluxe collector’s edition of the Core Rulebook, available in the Off-World Bundle ($140). This special edition boasts a faux-leather cover embossed with a holographic stamp of the Japanese kanji for “Origin” and will not be printed again. For players short on Chin-Yen, the Diji Bundle ($35) contains PDF versions of the core rulebook and Electric Dreams. Digital versions will also be made available to all backers at higher tiers shortly after the Kickstarter ends.

Stretch goals include additions to the Starter Set such as custom dice, an initiative card deck, a full-color map of future Los Angeles, extra character archetypes such as the Doxie and the Cityspeaker, generator tables for Case File and Key Memory creation, and Crime Scene Photos with hidden clues for players to find.

Players hoping for a cut-and-dried mystery game should definitely look elsewhere, Härenstam says. “It’s not just going to be ‘solve the case, go home, and be happy’; that’s never going to happen in this game. It’s always going to be more complicated than that.”

The Kickstarter campaign for the Blade Runner RPG will run until May 29.


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