2022’s Blade Runner the Roleplaying Game Core Rules is an alternate-near-future/science-fiction/police-procedural roleplaying game. Tomas Härenstam was lead designer, Joe LeFavi was lead setting writer, with additional writing by Nils Karlén and Gareth Mugridge1.
As one might expect from the title, this is an adaptation of the film Blade Runner … from a certain point of view. It is put out by Swedish game company Fria Ligan (Free League).
I should mention that I didn’t see the film Blade Runner 2049 and have no idea how much of the game is influenced by it. I am also not a fan of the original film, for reasons explained below.
The core plot of Ridley Scott’s film is about a slave hunter who tracks down and murders escaped slaves. While no doubt there are gamers who would like to play such a game, Fria Ligan has wisely opted to set their game in 2037, eighteen years after the events of the film. Replicants have been granted rudimentary civil liberties; they are no longer objects to be destroyed at will2. Replicants serve in the police services alongside humans, protecting society from miscreants (or alternatively, shoring up an unjust and exploitive system; tomato, tomato, potato, potato).
Gameplay is police procedural. The players’ superiors assign cases that the player characters do their best to solve.
The setting is just one city: the rain-soaked Los Angeles of the 21st century. Other cities exist, as do off-world colonies, but player characters don’t leave LA3.
Complaints: as they did for Fria Ligan’s Alien Roleplaying Game, the game designers opted to print the rules on high-gloss paper. I find such paper nigh unreadable. I had to hold the book up and move it around until I found an angle from which I could see the text. Some text is white on a black background, which gives me eyestrain. The game encourages the use of custom dice, although there are work-arounds. FL often does this and I don’t like it.
Otherwise, this is the kind of well designed, slick product one expects from Fria Ligan. The text to page count is sometimes low, but that’s because the rulebook is lavishly illustrated. The rules are explained clearly and succinctly. Because the book has both a table of contents and an index; finding the appropriate rules during play should be easy. Generating characters is a quick, straightforward process. This is for the best, as the combat rules are deadly. (One shot and the player is dead; risk-taking players may need to generate a number of player characters.) Finally, the game is well-supported online.
Every Fria Ligan RPG has at least one amusing quirk. Blade Runner is no exception. The game has two parallel experience systems: promotion points and humanity points. Promotion points are earned by pleasing one’s superiors and determines one’s advancement up through the ranks (or alternatively, plunge down through the ranks as the result of disciplinary hearings). Humanity points are earned though acts of compassion and permit one to improve skills. Promotion and humanity can very easily work at cross purposes and no doubt often do.
Fiery the Angels Fell
A brief overview of the world of 2037, which is not the 2037 to which we are headed. Blade Runner’s history diverges from ours in the 1980s. This is a cyberpunk future of the Reagan Era, not the one that might be extrapolated from our 2023. Nevertheless, many elements will seem familiar.
Fria Ligan is carving out their own little niche in alternative history games. Their Twilight 2000 is set in a world in which the 20th century Cold War went hot, while their Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood imagine a 1980s and 1990s that never were. To the extent that Alien’s continuity is tied to Blade Runner’s, Alien the Roleplaying Game could also count as an alternative history.
Your Blade Runner
The character design section. Players may create and customize both human and Replicant characters. Either choice has advantages and disadvantages. For example, Replicants are stronger and more durable but are second-class citizens. Archetypes (careers) define what skills are available. Most archetypes are open to both human and Replicant with two exceptions: only humans can be streetwise cityspeakers and only Replicants can be doxies (pleasure units hyper-aware social manipulators).
Interestingly, there are only four attributes (Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy), each of which has but four ranks (A through D, from Extraordinary to Feeble). Each rank has a corresponding die type used for tests (twelve-sided for A, down to six-sided for D, Feeble).
Skills & Specialties
Skills are, well, skills, while specialties are useful tricks and knacks. Continuing the streamlined theme from attributes, Blade Runner has only thirteen broadly defined skills. Like attributes, skills are rated A through D, with the same accompanying die type. Skill tests are resolved by rolling a die for the applicable attribute and the applicable skill, looking for results above a target number.
Combat & Chases
How to hurt and be hurt and how to chase and be chased.
Weird prejudice time: many RPGers hate grapple rules. Well, I hate chase rules. I just hate chase scenes.
Is combat a good idea? Well, player health points range from as high at 8 and low as 3. A PK‑D Blaster routinely doles out 2 points of damage and critical successes increase damage. This seems like an appropriate moment to observe that while armor exists, armor is deemed inappropriate for most operations.
A Tale of Two Cities
Background details on the setting, Los Angeles.
The Powers That Be
A breakdown of the political and commercial figures who control LA.
Working the Case
How to conduct investigations.
It might be a good idea to listen to the commentary track on Hot Fuzz for pointers re: paperwork.
Tools of the Trade
An assortment of fun gadgets.
Running Blade Runner
Advice for game masters.
1: Full credits:
Lead game designer: Tomas Härenstam
Lead setting writer: Joe LeFavi
Lead artist: Martin Grip
Graphic design: Christian Granath
Maps: Christian Granath
Additional art: Gustaf Ekelund
Additional writing: Nils Karlén and Gareth Mugridge
Timeline: Clara Čarija, Michael Andrews
Press: Dan Algstrand
Proofreading: Brandon Bowling
Feedback & playtesting: Marco Behrmann, Nils Karlén, Kosta Kostulas, Jonas Ferry, and Kiku Pukk
15,323 Kickstarter backers (who will not be listed by name in this review)
Brand management: Joe LeFavi/Genuine Entertainment
PR manager: Boel Bermann
Event manager: Anna Westerling
Streaming: Doug Shute and Matthew Jowett
Customer support: Daniel Lehto and Jenny Lehto
2: Replicants may no longer be killed at will, but they’re just as vulnerable as the biological humans to police whim. Collateral damage. Killed while resisting police. “You know the score, pal. If you’re not a cop, you’re little people.”
3: Which raises the question, could this game be played as an adaptation of The Thirteenth Floor?