I had been wanting to run a Blade Runner-inspired sci-fi noir game for sometime when Free League released an actual Blade Runner RPG. I typically don’t go in for “official” tie-in games but I had the opportunity to pick the game up on sale. When I took a look at it, I found I was extremely impressed.
I ended up running the game for three friends of mine. I recorded it and I’m really happy that I did because it’s quite honestly one of the best games I’ve played in a while. As a group, I felt like we were really on point with regard to the material. This wasn’t some nostalgic patiche experience, it was a violent and tragic sci-fi police drama of our own making.
There’s lots I could talk about so I’m just going to focus on standout bits I really enjoyed. If you watch the attached recordings and have any questions or thoughts I’d love to hear them.
The game provides random tables for generating a Case File. These gave me the core of what’s going on, a handful of interesting NPCs and a bunch of locations across the city. In hindsight these tables could maybe be a tad stronger in content. However, it was interesting to look at the people and ask myself how they were involved in the rolled situation and then to spread their activities across the rolled locations. This led to creating many additional Minor NPCs along the way.
I really love the time component in this game. It solved a long standing problem I’ve had with investigative games which is simply: how much can the PCs get done in a day? In Blade Runner a day is specifically broken up into four Shifts, and you can only do one major thing in a Shift which is usually to go to a specific location and do something there. This is very effective in the game’s setting of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles.
The thing is you can only work three shifts before you start taking stress damage each additional shift you work. You need to take a shift of downtime which is where a lot of personal character development happens. In this game all three characters kept pushing themselves into extra shifts. Two of the characters only ever went into downtime after being broken by the stress.
The downtime scenes were incredibly diverse. One character has a hostile relationship with his wife. Another developed a relationship with a replicant sparring partner. The third had to deal with his drug addicted daughter and even spent one of his working shifts confronting her dealer instead of making progress on the case. The downtime scenes are so touching, yet so spare that I see a lot of potential to develop that material across multiple scenarios.
Violence in this game is no joke. It’s very easy to by-pass a character’s Health points and go straight to critical and lethal injuries. The odds and weapons favor the PCs heavily which I think is pretty much perfect for a game about policing. The game got increasingly violent as things went on and a lot of the characters the players would have preferred not to harm or capture alive ended up maimed or dead. Violence is traumatic.
Finally, there’s the game’s “XP” system which is measured in Promotion Points and Humanity Points. You earn Promotion Points basically for doing your job as a Blade Runner. You earn Humanity Points for actually trying to protect and care for people. What’s interesting is that two lists are often in tension with one another. You get Promotion Points for submitting evidence to the official record, but you gain Humanity points for withholding evidence to protect people. You gain Promotion Points by capturing suspects but you gain Humanity points for refusing to obey orders on moral grounds.
I was a bit worried that with such a check-list way of dealing with these points that they would become a mini-game in their own right. I was concerned the players would start picking and choosing their actions targeting these reward lists. But that didn’t happen. Promotion and Humanity points were out of sight, out of mind until the end of the session when they became a tool for reflecting on the content of play.