I remember seeing Blade Runner in the theaters in 1982 and being stunned by the visuals, the noir flavor, and the “big questions” that the movie asked. I was 15 or 16, at the time. The movie stuck with me, and with the release of the director’s cut, cemented as my favorite movie. I was adamantly opposed to the sequel movie, almost offended by the very notion — even though I had preferred the director’s, then the “Final Cut” more than the original release version. (I especially like that the Final Cut is just a cleaned up release of Ridley Scott’s workprint — a giant “up yours!” to the producers that mucked with the picture before release. Then I surrendered and watched Blade Runner: 2049 because Denis Villeneuve is a superb director and the original writer was in. I was not disappointed: although it’s long at three hours, the movie is gorgeous, well-acted and written, the movie score by Hans Zimmer blends well with the original Vangelis soundtrack, and the pacing is better than the original. Overall, I found it to be a better movie.

So I was all in when Free League, the Swedish RPG company that’s given us the excellent Tales From the Loop, Forbidden Lands, and Alien, announced their Kickstarter to push Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game out the door. (You can still do a late pledge!)

The game is up to the usual Free League standards, with atmospheric art that evokes the world of the movies, straightforward writing for the rules and good interstitial pieces to set the tone (a difficult task, as I can attest to, having started in RPGs doing the latter, then graduating to the former.) The layouts are clean, and similar in style to the Alien RPG. The game is set in 2037, after the revocation of the ban of replicants and draws from the two movies, the Black Lotus animated series, and hints from a few of the books and comic books. The players can play a replicant or a human, and the differences show up in their attributes vs. skills — humans are usually around longer and have higher skills; replicants are younger (unless you’re one of those old models…) and have higher physical and mental attributes, but lower skills in general. There are rules for key memories and relationships that can be roleplayed for “promotion points” that allow you to improve the character. There are also “humanity points” that allow a character to become more human or empathic, and lastly there’s a Chiyen point — essentially the “currency” of the world. This is not a game where you sweat money; you either have chiyen to buy something, or you’re reduced to basics until you get some.

The characters, like most FL games based on the Mutant Year Zero ruleset have four attributes: Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy that tie to certain skills. There are three generalized skills under each (for instance Connections, Insight, and Manipulation under Empathy). The dearth of skills in the MYZ systems worked well for Tales from the Loop, but my players thought them a bit lacking for Alien, so I was interested to see what they thought of the changes made for Blade Runner. The main differences are, similar to their Twilight: 2000 RPG reboot, the characters are graded on their skills and attributes with an A-F scale (although players are never lower than D in Blade Runner.) These equate to a die d12 for an A down to d6 for a D; players roll their skill and the attribute die and want to hit a 6 or higher to have a success. Ten or higher is a critical success.

The simplicity of the d6 die pool from Alien is gone, but the group seemed to prefer this for several reasons. 1) There’s a visual and tactile difference in your abilities with different die (and for those who like different dice, this can be more fun!) 2) It’s more simple that simple the d6 die pool but we found — strangely — your ability to get a success was enhanced with the two dice. We’ve had games were well over a dozen dice were rolled and no successes. 3) With an advantage or disadvantage, you gain another of the lowest die you were rolling, or on a disadvantage, lost that lowest die.

Combat is vicious, and more so than Alien. The damage is set for weapon types plus the number of successes rolled and taken from your health, which represents stamina, pain, etc. Critical success roll a die based on the weapon (or your Strength for HTH and melee) and do some form of damage that lasts, similar to Alien. Additionally, you still take stress like in Alien, but it comes out of your Resolve — your “mental health”. Critical damage to your resolve can break you temporarily. I found I thought this would be an excellent 2nd Edition for Alien, which is already pretty bloody deadly. For this initial release of the game (I have the “early release” beta of the PDF), the characters are all assumed to be members of the LAPD and Blade Runners of some sort, but with a bit of finagling, you could fudge civilian characters without much trouble.

The setting is outlined over 80 or so pages. There’s information on the government, media, Wallace Corporation, etc. There is also a decent bit of material on the structure of the police department, how promotion points play into commendations, promotions, or use for gear or other benefits. There’s a nice section on police procedures and how to work a crime scene that would make a good handout.

Some art from the book.

Our first play session was just a few days ago, and afterward I talked to the group about the experience. We all seemed to prefer the use of different dice. (I was skeptical, but it works better than the d6 pools.) The addition of a DRIVE skill that wasn’t tied to your attribute, but rather the maneuverability of the vehicle was a nice touch. The ability to aid other players by throwing in a skill die into the pool was a good addition — during their sweep of the streets after they caught a triple homicide, the character with the best EMPATHY+CONNECTIONS rolled, while the other two players involved rolled their skill and added successes.

So…is it worth it? The core book is likely to be somewhere in the usual $60 range. It’s got good art, a playable system, and loads of information to be able to hit the ground in this universe. I’d say yes, it’s worth it. Even at the $130 or so my pledge was gives me the starter set, the core book, and all the digital add-ons. I don’t feel I lost out at that price, either.