Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 26 May 2024

More Than Human

The year is 2037. Under the darkness of a world soiled by war, pollution, and ecological degradation, in the shadows spun by neon, simulacra skulk, hiding amongst those they want to be like, and they will do anything to survive and become more like the masters they once served. The Wallace Corporation is the wealthiest company in the system, having made free technologies and scientific advances that has ensured the survival of mankind with a reliable supply of food and an advanced communications network replacing the one that was destroyed along with vast swathes of human knowledge and digital data. These though, are not the only advances it has made. Using advances made on Tyrell Corporation technology and patents, the Wallace Corporation has introduced the Nexus-9, a replicant design incapable of lying or harming humans of its own accord. In response, the United Nations repeals the UN Replicant Prohibition Act of 2023, passed in response to the killings committed by Nexus-6 models in the late teenies, and classifies the Nexus-9 as a ‘safe’ Replicant, granting them the status of second-class citizens with limited rights. Replicant Detection Units of the world’s various police forces are still responsible for investigating crimes related to replicants, especially the previous models, such as the Nexus-8, and some even begin to employ Nexus-9 units as investigators. It means that Replicants are hunting and ‘Retiring’ their own. It means that the investigators of the Replicant Detection Unit charged with tracking down Replicants, known as ‘Blade Runners’, are hunting sentient beings that look like themselves and act themselves, but are not, strictly speaking, Human. This is a future when what it is to be Human is beginning to be lost, when empathy is all that separates mankind from that which is not only faster and stronger than it us, but also threatens to replace mankind. The year is 2037 and in the city of Los Angeles, under the cacophony of neon, culture clashes, and the watchful presence of the Wallace Corporation, Blade Runners stalk the streets, gun in hand with the power to question all and the responsibility to answer for everything they do. Some Blade Runners have been on the force for decades, the Nexus-9 Blade Runner units mere months and even then, are only a year old despite being fully formed adults, will have to prove their conduct to beyond reproach, but both are police brothers.

This is the setting for Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, perhaps the unlikeliest of roleplaying licences. The film Blade Runner has always been regarded as a cult classic and then an accepted classic Science Fiction film, a neo-noir meditation of what it meant to be human and not only impossible to obtain the licence for, but also impossible to adapt, since after all, what was it that the Investigators would do and how exactly would you model what was human and what was not? When news broke that Free League Publishing had obtained the licence to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049, the official sequel to Blade Runner, the question became not if there could be a licence based on Blade Runner, but could it actually be good? Not wanting to answer that question has delayed this review of the Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game again and again, because if there was the possibility that it could be good, there was also the possibility that it could be bad. Fortunately, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is from the same publisher that released Alien: The Roleplaying Game—and that adaptation has proven to be good.

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game shifts the time from the 2019 of Blade Runner and the 2049 of Blade Runner 2049 to 2037. The Player Characters are all ‘blade runners’, members of Los Angeles’ Rep-Detect Unit, tasked with investigating all crimes related to Replicants. This includes tracking down older Replicant models that have gone rogue and are on Earth still illegally or have committed some other crime, as much it does anti-Replicant hate and crimes against Replicants. As a team they will be assigned ‘Case Files’, or scenarios—such as ‘Case File 01: Electric Dreams’ in the Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game Starter Set and the recently released Case File 02: Fiery Angels—and expected to work together as a team. They will face not only the sometimes-terrible nature of the crimes they have to investigate—and the challenge of doing so—but also of political interference and interest in their efforts, both from within their department and without, and ultimately moral quandaries and situations in which they will be forced to question their Humanity and it means to be Human. The roleplaying game clearly highlights these at the start of the book as well as its key themes of ‘Sci-Fi Action’, character drama, corporate intrigue, moral conflict, and soul searching. It also notes that keeping track of the passage of time is important—this being done in shifts, used to measure investigative actions and downtime, that the necessity of investigating clues within a Case File means splitting the party, and that the moral dilemmas within a Case File may lead to Player Character versus Player Character conflict.

An Investigator in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is simply detailed. He has four Attributes— Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy, and thirteen Skills, three per Attribute. The thirteenth Skill is Driving, which is derived from the manoeuvrability of the vehicle being driven. Both Attributes and Skills are assigned a letter, A, B, C, or D. Each letter corresponds to a die type, A to a twelve-sided die, B to a ten-sided die, C to an eight-sided die, and D to a six-sided die. Skills can have Specialities, representing dedicated areas of expertise, such as ‘Origami’, which lets an Investigator heal a point of Stress by folding an exquisite Origami figure or Sycophant, which grants the Investigator an extra Promotion Point as he ingratiates himself with his superiors. Thus, an Investigator is either Human or a Nexus-9 Blade Runner, and it is also possible to play a Replicant who is not aware of being a Replicant. In terms of the number of ‘Years on the Force’, the Blade Runner is either a Rookie, Seasoned, Veteran, or an Old-Timer. A Replicant Investigator can only be a Rookie. The ‘Years on the Force’ determines the years served, the number of extra points to assign to both attributes and skills, skill specialities, and both Promotion Points and Chinyen Points. Chinyen Points are the currency in the Los Angles of 2037, Promotion Points represent the Investigator’s standing within the department and have multiple uses. In general, Replicants have higher physical attributes, and limited skills and no specialities, whereas Humans tend towards the reverse. A Replicant will also have less Promotion Points and Chinyen Points.

An Investigator also has an Archetype, representing his role in the investigative team, his expertise, and the work he carries out for the LAPD. There are seven Archetypes—Analyst, Cityspeaker, Doxie, Enforcer, Fixer, Inspector, and Skimmer. The Skimmer and Cityspeaker are only available for Human characters, whilst the Doxie is only available for Replicant characters. The Analyst is a forensic specialist; the Cityspeaker works the city through his contacts and may have worked undercover; the Doxie is akin the kick-murder squad operative seen in Blade Runner, but can read suspects too; the Enforcer uses force and violence when necessary; the Fixer uses contacts and networks to help solve crimes; the Inspector is an old hand and relies on experience; and the Skimmer who is taking kickbacks on the side. Lastly, every Investigator has a ‘Key Memory’, a ‘Key item’, and a ‘Key Relationship’. These three have different effects in play, but should ideally come into play during an investigation. The ‘Key Memory’ can be used to gain advantage on an action; the ‘Key item’ can be used to gain a lost point of Resolve, and the ‘Key Relationship’ is used by the Game Runner to create scenes in a game and interacting with the ‘Key Relationship’ will earn the Investigator Humanity Points.

The character creation process is straightforward. Some elements the player has to choose, such as assigning points to his character’s attributes, but the rest can either rolled for or randomly determined. Tables are included for the latter.

Name: Remedy
Type: Replicant
Archetype: Doxie
Years on the Force: Rookie
Appearance: You are a thing of beauty. Quite literally.

Strength: A/D12
Agility: A/D12
Intelligence: B/D10
Empathy: C/D8

Health: 8 Resolve: 3
Promotion Points: 1 Chinyen Points: 1

Hand-to-Hand Combat: B/D10, Insight: C/D8, Mobility: C/D8, Manipulation: B/D10, Observation: B/D10

When Did It Happen? – Just a few weeks ago.
Where Did It Happen? – In the derelict housing projects of Los Angeles Hills.
Who Was There? – Your romantic partner
What Happened? – You saw something extraordinary that you cannot explain.

Who Is It? – Romantic Partner
What’s Your Relationship Like? – Hateful
What’s Going On? – They are suspected of a crime.

A necklace

Mechanically, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game uses a variant of Free league Publishing’s Year Zero engine previously seen in Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying in the World War III That Never Was. To undertake an action, a player rolls one die for the Attribute and one die for the Skill. Rolls of six or more count as a success. Rolls of ten or more grant two successes. In general, unless rolls are opposed, only one success is required to succeed at an action. An extra success enables an Investigator to get more information, perform a task faster, or help an Investigator with a task. An easy task gives an Investigator an Advantage. In which case, his player rolls another die, equal to the lowest die in the pool. Conversely, a difficult task removes the lower die in the pool altogether. If any roll is unsuccessful, a player can choose to Push the dice roll and roll again. However, if a one—or the Origami Unicorn—is rolled on the first roll or the Pushed roll, the Investigator, if Human, will suffer a point of damage if the attribute rolled was Strength or Agility or a point of Stress if the attribute rolled was Intelligence or Empathy. If a Replicant, the Investigator will always suffer Stress rather than damage. A Human can Push a Skill roll once, but a Replicant can Push a Skill roll twice.

Only in combat do more than the one extra success count, indicating that more damage has been inflicted or a critical injury. Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is not a forgiving game in terms of combat and all firearms have a high ‘Crit Die’, so the Investigators should not engage in combat lightly. The rules also cover vehicles in combat—some vehicles can be armed, but for the most part, one vehicle will be ramming another. The rules for chases cover chases on foot, and then by ground vehicle or in the air.
For example, Remedy has been following a suspect, Ramirez ‘Ram’ Smith, whom she thinks has links to the Replicant Underground. She has tracked him down to the Grand Central Market, where all manner of dishes and foodstuffs—legal and illegal—can be found. As her and her partner’s spinner touches down, she leaps out of the vehicle, just in time to see her quarry duck into the heavy crowds carrying a package of some kind. The Game Runner call for an Observation test to determine if Remedy can see him. Remedy has a rating of B/D10 for both Observation and Intelligence, meaning that her player will be rolling two ten-sided dice. Ramirez ‘Ram’ Smith only has a rating of D/D6 for Stealth and B/D10 for Intelligence, so the Game Runner will be rolling a six-sided die and a ten-sided die. However, he is in a crowd, so the Game Master rules that Remedy will be at a disadvantage. This means that Remedy’s player has to remove the base die for Remedy’s Intelligence, so her player will only be rolling one ten-sided die.

The Game Runner rolls an eight and a two, giving ‘Ram’ Smith one success. Remedy’s player rolls a four, so she has no successes. Remedy’s player decides to Push the roll and describes how she leaps up one of the streetlights that a food stand has tapped into illegally for power and onto the food stand’s roof. Remedy’s play takes up the ten-sided die for her Observation skill. This time though, she rolls an Origami Unicorn, meaning that not only has she failed, but she also suffers a point of Stress as even from this elevated height she cannot see her quarry. In the meantime, the proprietor of the food stand yells at her in Cityspeak to get off his roof! The Game Runner tells Remedy’s player that although she cannot see ‘Ram’ Smith, she did see someone else moving purposely through the crowds and that she was fairly certain that it was her partner! This is the cause of the Stress.
In addition to gaining Stress because rolls of one or the Unicorn Origami are made on pushed rolled, it can come from working more than three Shifts without a Downtime Shift and simply from Stressful situations. When the number of Stress points is equal to, or greater than an Investigator’s Resolve, the Investigator is broken and will suffer from randomly determined Critical Stress effect. The tables are different for Humans and Replicants. A Replicant will generally begin play with lower Resolve than a Human and react in a more extreme manner than Human would, though this can be a negative reaction or a positive one. In addition, if an Investigator is broken by Stress, his Resolve can be reduced by one, and should his superiors become aware of it, a Replicant would have to take a Baseline Test.

In terms of background, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is firmly placed between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Its focus is primarily on the city of Los Angeles, now a mega-city that extends up to San Francisco and down to San Diego, and to the irradiated edge of Las Vegas. It does include some details about the places beyond the confines of Los Angeles, such as The Archipelago, what was Santa Barbara, now voluntarily flooded to turn its wealthy estates into heavily guarded and isolated compounds. There are details of Off-World and even the idea of getting Off-World is discussed, but it remains a dream for nearly all of the remaining citizenry on Earth. Even when it comes to Los Angeles, it concentrates on the main sectors of the city’s Downtown, noting particular locations such as the LAPD Headquarters, DNA Row where the best bioengineers and tech vendors can be found, and Animoid Row for the robot animals in the city. This is accompanied by descriptions of life in the city-climate, technology, communications, and so on, which the Game Runner can use to describe world around the Investigators.

A companion chapter looks at the powers that be, though concentrating on Los Angeles. This includes various corporations, the LAPD, numerous United Nations organisations, criminal gangs—including the Replicant Underground, and of course, Niander Wallace and his corporation. Seen as the saviour of mankind, he remains a mysterious figure, though a newspaper interview with him adds a nice sense of verisimilitude. The aims and relationships with the Wallace Corporation are examined, as they are likely to clash if the Investigators’ inquiries get to close, and this includes a discussion of the various models of Replicant, from the Nexus-1 all the way up to the Nexus-9. Another in-game newspaper highlights the divide in views on the acceptance of Nexus-9 Replicants in general society, despite their official recognition as individuals with limited rights. Many believe that Nexus-9 Replicants are part of a corporate effort to steal jobs and act accordingly. Others, such as members of the Replicant Underground, object to Replicants being Second Class citizens and campaign for better rights for them, and more. The assignment of Nexus-9 Blade Runners to the Replicant Detection Unit has its own issues, as each Nexus-9 Blade Runner has to prove that it is capable of fulfilling the role, which includes hunting its own, without showing the signs of emotional and mental stress that drastically affected earlier models.

Much of this modelled by two of three points which can be earned over the course of play. Chinyen Points represent an Investigator’s income and are primarily used for purchases beyond normal expenses in combination with a Connections skill roll. Promotion Points are earned by investigating a Case File efficiently and by Replicants passing a Baseline Test, but can be lost for misconduct or poorly investigating a Case File. A Replicant Blade Runner whose Promotion Points is reduced to zero must make a Baseline Test. Promotion Points are spent to gain Specialities for an Investigator’s skills, to gain access to specialised equipment from the LAPD, or exchanged for a Chinyen Point, representing a pay rise. Humanity Points are earned as determined by a Case File, as well as an Investigator bringing his Key Memory and Key Relationship into play, and by a Replicant Blade Runner failing a Baseline Test. Humanity Points are used to raise an Investigator’s skills. Of the two it is easier to gain Promotion Points rather than Humanity Points, so consequently, it is easier for an Investigator to improve via Specialities rather his skills.

The LAPD’s Replicant Detection Unit is presented in some detail, fans of Blade Runner will be pleased to note that Dave Holden, now known as ‘Iron Lung’ due to the injury suffered at the start of the film, heads the unit after Harry Bryant retired. This covers its organisation, departments, resources—including those provided by the Wallace Corporation, and day-to-day operations including standard procedures and the perils of being promoted or decorated too often. Complementing this a section on standard and non-standard Replicant Detection Unit equipment. There are old standbys detailed, such as the Voight-Kampff Machine, the Pfläger-Katsumata PK-D 5223 Blaster, and the ESPER Machine, and these are joined by the Post-Traumatic Baseline Test, the PK-D FKM890 Blaster, and Digital Companions. Plus, of course, there are the Spinners. All of this equipment is nicely detailed in a fashion that fans of both films will appreciate. All covered is shopping in general and buying goods on the black market.

For the Game Runner, there is general advice on running Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, setting the scene, setting the mood, and so on. The bulk of it is dedicated building and running Case Files, the investigations that the Replicant Detection Unit assigns to its Blade Runners. Broad actions within a Case File are split across four Shifts each day, with one of them being designated a Downtime Shift when the Investigator will rest and see to personal details. It will be necessary to split the Investigators up over the course of a Case File—and the roleplaying game encourages the players to do so—as there is invariably far more to a Case File than they can cover just going from scene to scene. Fortunately, the Blade Runners can stay connected and even be involved in a different scene, if only remotely, via the KIA—or Knowledge Integration Assistant—that they all carry as routine. However, the number of leads and sperate scenes is exacerbated by a Countdown, which means that the Investigators will be working against the clock, which can trigger events and even bring a Case File to a close before an investigation has had time to be completed. However, as important as Case Files are to the play of Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, solving them is not the point of the roleplaying game. Rather, they are a means by which the Blade Runners can be challenged by difficult personal and moral dilemmas, can be confronted by who and what they are, and be forced to make choices.

Unfortunately, there is no Case File included in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game. So just from the core rulebook it is difficult to see either the game play or the moral dilemmas in practice. For that, the Game Runner will need either Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game Starter Set or Case File 02: Fiery Angels. Although disappointing, there are good reasons as why there is no Case File in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game, and that really is due to the handouts required, since as an investigative game, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is dependent on visuals. Just as in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. That said, there is a set of tables for creating the basics of a Case File that the Game Runner can then flesh out.

Beside the lack of a Case File, there is the issue of the divide in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game in the focus on Human and Replicant Blade Runner—more on the latter than the former. This is intentional, since Replicants are the focus of the setting in general. It shows in their physical capability versus their emotional capacity, which hinders their response to Stress and potentially their ability to work as a Blade Runner. It shows in their need to prove themselves as Blade Runners by gaining Promotion Points lest they be seen as less than ideal additions to the Replicant Detection Unit. And the best way of gaining Promotion Points will be to successfully investigate a Case File and that is unlikely to be to the benefit of other Replicants. This is the core moral quandary in Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game. Yet mechanically, the way to prove that that a Replicant Blade Runner is emotionally capable of undertaking the role is to improve his Empathy Attribute, and that requires Humanity Points. The primary ways of gaining these are to engage with his Key Memory and Key Relationship, the others being to investigate a Case File in a more humane fashion, often against the Replicant Detection Unit’s directive and interests and fail a Baseline Test, indicating to his superiors how he is not suitable for the role. In comparison, the Human Blade Runner is not faced with this near constant balancing act, either mechanically or narratively, and most of the moral dilemmas the Human Blade Runner will be part of Case File’s story as well as with his Key Relationship, and so narrative based rather than mechanical.

Physically, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is stunning book, its artwork bringing the energy and sense of movement of the streets of Los Angeles to life contrasting with the almost sepulchral atmosphere and stillness of its interiors. Everything is swathed in darkness, broken by blasts of neon shining off the ever-present rain. The book is also well written and engaging and well organised.

Despite not being set in the period of Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049, but somewhere in between, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is going to satisfy fans of both, by detailing the world and exploring its core moral questions. The only downside is that without a Case File of its own, it cannot best showcase how those core moral questions can examined, or some of the nuances present in the setting. For that, the Game Runner will need a Case File of her own or an official one from the publisher. Nevertheless, Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is a very good adaption of a licence previously thought unadaptable, let alone available, and a very good introduction to both the world and the questions it raises


Free League Publishing will be at UK Games Expo which takes place on Friday, May 31st to Sunday June 2nd, 2024.


  1. Thanks for the thorough review. I've run 6 sessions of it so far, through the starter set. Four sessions with one party and two with another. The system is fun the run and play. However, I do have a few minor complaints. 1) I don't like the Chinyen system. 1 Chinyen point is supposed to represent a big chunk of money, but when my players drop into places like Doc Badgers, they want to buy a bunch of little things. A lockpick for example. There's no adjudication for small items. also, I wish there was a larger table of gear to understand how it might function and increase rolls, etc. There's also no table. I want an extensive gear table.

    2) It feels wrong to me that hand-to-hand combat is equally deadly to gun combat. A strong character with a punch is equally likely to get a crit as a gunshot. I decided to make a small homebrew adjustment and for H2H crits, I reduce the crit die by one. So if the crit die is a d12, I make it a d10, etc.

    Other than those quibbles, we really enjoyed the game.

    1. Remember that unarmed combat only inflicts crushing crits. So only a 12 is instakill. (As per Tyrell) Gun damage with piercing crits is much more deadly 8, is an instakill

  2. Just loved the way the game encapsulated the noir fell when I played the starter box