Blade Runner is something of a powerhouse of 80s cinema, with a whole slew of modern-day media products citing it as an influence. Trying to turn Philip k. Dicks’ Seminal cyberpunk story into a movie was a big job, as is the idea of trying to turn Blade Runner into a tabletop RPG. Nevertheless, the mad sods at Free League have gone and done it, releasing the first edition of Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game. We’ve been lucky enough to get a look at the core rules so we can give you our first impressions of the book and whether it lives up to the epic legacy of the film and book.
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game - What Kind of RPG is it?
One of the most critical aspects of understanding a new TTRPG is understanding precisely what kind of RPG it is, and in the case of Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game, it’s about as close to a traditional RPG as you can get. Games are split up into individual Case Files (Adventures) where players take actions against the enemies and world controlled by a Game Runner (DM/GM) and where all of the outcomes are decided by the roll of polyhedral dice, in this case from D6 - D12.
Basically, if you’ve already played a TTRPG before, you’ll be familiar with most of what you find here. From character creation to actually running and playing a game, the systems are pretty typical stuff, though there are a few unique elements from the source material that keep it fresh and are used incredibly well. When you’re creating a character, you have to decide between being a human or a replicant, with replicants being generally stronger and tougher than humans but suffering from various social drawbacks due to the way replicants are treated in society.
You can even elect to have the game master roll in secret for human characters to determine if any of them are actually replicants without realizing it, with their secret presumably coming to light during the course of a campaign. There’s also a key memories mechanic that ties well into the themes of the film/book since memory is key to who you are and also the key, in many cases, to replicants discovering their identities or questioning their own sentience. All-in-all, these elements do go a long way towards making the game feel fresh enough for a TTRPG veteran while still being accessible to folks who have no RPGs under their belt, or at least very few.
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game - What’s In The Book?
In many ways, from the get-go, Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game feels like it's targeting fans of Blade Runner first. The opening sections of the book talks about the history of the Blade Runner universe, literally presenting you with a timeline of events that led up to the present time as the players will experience it. While it’s not uncommon to have some world-building at the front end of the book, it does feel a little clunky, especially when compared with the breathing room you’d find in the opening pages of cy_BORG.
That said, the Core Rules are certainly more than well-written. You can feel love for the source material ooze from the words, not least of all thanks to the glowing testimonial from Tomas Härenstam, CEO of Free League Publishing himself, about his history with the franchise. It’s also true that most of the information is presented in an easy-to-digest manor. Everything is well laid out, with the information contained in individual text boxes with clear headings to make quickly referencing the rules at a later date much easier. Of course, the use of many diagrams, images, and tables should also go without saying.
Complaints about lore-dumping aside, the way Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game presents information is a master class in how to get it right. Even with the lore-heavy sections, such as the Section titled: A Tale of Two Cities, having every relevant paragraph labeled and sectioned off means it’s so easy to zero in on specific information for pretty much any situation, whether you’re writing out a new game for your players, or you’re a player yourself trying to prove a point.
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game - In-Game Content
Sadly, Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game doesn’t include any pre-made content for you to run through outside of a case-file generator given at the end of the book. If you get the starter kit, you do get the first Case File in the “The Immortal Game” campaign, entitled “Electric Dreams.” So if you’re buying a PDF copy of the book, then you’ll have to come up with your own starter Case File to get started out with.
There’s nothing really wrong with not including a Case File in the book itself. Many RPGs these days don’t do it after all (you won't find any adventures in the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, for example). However, in this case, it feels like a missed opportunity. A lot of the flavor text feels like the narrator at the start of a gritty cyberpunk/noir story, and it feels like it would lend itself well to self-contained adventures. It possibly would have made the game even easier for newer players to pick up, especially new GMs, if they’d included a short example of a Case File in the book itself, possibly even prompting more sales of starter kits containing further adventures. Either way, it’s only a small niggle.
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game - In The Details
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game does a good job of adapting the film into an RPG, even if the result is something that feels like it’s more likely to turn movie fans onto RPGs rather than RPG fans onto the movie. Everything is well laid-out and easy to reference, and the further chapters in the book go into a lot of detail on all the different facets of runnings and playing games.
There are entire chapters dedicated simply to the sorts of equipment that you’ll find in the world beyond the starting equipment that you get when creating a character, and further chapters on running games and the world in which everything takes place. If you want to run a really information-driven game, you’ll find pretty much anything you could need in these sections, and this feels like the sort of game where that is a benefit to both players and GMs.
Since the game is structured around detailed ‘Case Files’, you can come up with a lot of information for your adventure before you start while still retaining a loose structure. All of the adventures take place within the same context, a bunch of ‘Blade Runners’ working for the authorities have a mission to complete. While that is a bit restrictive in terms of what you can really do with a story, it also means that everyone is on the same page with tone and context from the get-go.
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game - Final Thought
At the end of the day, Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game is almost exactly what it promised to be: a well-constructed RPG that is an almost 1:1 translation from screen to page. It’s got the tone that movie fans will love, even if it fails to wow hardcore RPG players. The proof will ultimately be in the play. It’s possible that over the course of a long-winded campaign filled with hard-bitten future cops, some spark will show itself, but only time will tell that.