Yesterday’s Memories Today

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.

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5 responses to “Yesterday’s Memories Today”

  1. Hi Jesse,

    I’m going to watch the vids for sure, but I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s OK with you. I perused the game’s text a year or two ago and there’s a few things that were unclear to me. Maybe you could shine some light on those:

    1) I got the impression that the way the scenarios are structured, you go to locations etc during your Shifts, and it seems the authors assume that, depending on where you go and when, this may trigger *predefined* events. Like, the NPCs don’t really have any proactivity of their own, they don’t do anything in the backstage, they are basically just waiting there for you to show up and Event #1 or #2 or #3 triggers. Basically, this would be your typical “plot” writing of scenarios. Even if they do it videogame-like, with branching possibilities, it is still essentially a predefined outcomes structure. My hope is that the way this was designed doesn’t preempt the possibility of GMing the game in such a way that railroading or any sort of *forced* event pre-planning can be avoided. The main text unfortunatly doesn’t have a single example of a scenario (probably for business reasons), and the text is somewhat unclear on how you are supposed to handle those events in practice.

    2) Regarding the combat rules: I got the impression that it assumes you have maps (offices, a factory, whatever) devided into smaller areas, and that those areas factor directly into the combat mechanics (e.g. areas of effect, where you can shoot, etc)? If this is the case, can you even play the game without having area maps with demarcated zones, just using theater-of-the-mind?
    (I think that Marvel Super Heroes was somewhat like this too? I never played it so I could be wrong.)

    I will watch the videos as soon as possible.

    • With regard to the “location crawl” feel of the text I largely agree with you. It does give you that impression, especially since the GM section pushes their “official” Case Files really hard. However, the chapter is not entirely junk. If you just strike out all references to their official Case Files, what remains is quite sensible. Is it ideal? No. Is it workable? Absolutely, yes.

      With regard to locations, I found it very useful to think about where NPCs work, live and relax. Understanding their basic daily routines, situates them in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. And it makes it easier, not harder to make them reactive especially with regard to incidental NPCs adjacent to their life.

      For example, my scenario involves a tabloid journalist. On the list of locations I had rolled randomly for inspiration, I had “Hospital Basement” and I thought it would be amusing to push the idea of the “ambulance chaser” to the extreme and have her literally living where they bring the bodies as a way to stay on top of violence in the city. I also had the KILL Magazine offices in Rag Row on my list. So easy peasy, that’s where she works.

      In play, one character spent a shift to basically run facial recognition software on some security footage of a mysterious woman who fled the crime scene. Low and behold it’s my journalist. When bringing up her details from the police mainframe he observes that she has no known address but is a known employee of KILL Magazine. So where does he go next shift? To the KILL Magazine offices to talk to the head editor. Is he there? Does he know anything useful about her? Sure, why not, why wouldn’t he?

      Was this a “planned” chain of events on my part? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that I assumed the players would eventually identify the mystery woman. And yes, in that I had given some thought about what her relationship with her employer was like. But no, I didn’t have any particular way planned for them to identify the woman. I didn’t care if they followed up on her at all or if they’d chose to focus on other things. And there was no right or wrong time to discover who she was or her whereabouts.

      There’s also this concept of The Countdown. The Countdown is a pre-planned sequence of events but it’s pretty much what the NPCs will do assuming the PCs don’t stop them. It’s very useful to know when something will happen (Shift) and where it will happen (Location) because it sort of becomes a contract with yourself about what’s going on in the background so that you aren’t tempted to speed up or slow things down for “drama” or prevent the players from doing something “too early” or anything like that.

      (I think this may contradict something I posted elsewhere, where I said I was planning on remaining flexible with the sequence of events. That was a pre-play impression. I actually found it more productive to be specific).

      An example of this is when the players went out to the LA Viaduct to find a gang leader, Luca who appears to be involved in the kidnapping of a replicant. They went on Shift 3 of Day 1. That’s the evening shift and I realized that by my Countdown that’s when Luca would have been meeting with Haru to receive the name and payment of his next target. Had they come a shift earlier or a shift later Haru would not have been there. The whole situation would have been different.

      By the end of session one I realized that a lot of the NPCs were now aware that the police were closing in on them. Reactively, I decided they were going to have to move their replicant reprogramming operation. So I rolled on the Location tables to figure out where their new hideout would be. And I updated my Countdown to decide what Shifts this move would take place. As things turned out one the players caught one of the characters in moving and managed to follow them to the new location. Again, had they arrived a Shift later they would have simply found an empty biotech lab that had clearly been cleared out in a hurry.

      And it’s probably worth noting that my entire remaining Countdown was completely destroyed when one of the players shot and killed Seo-joon’s brother Rikki. It simply became no longer possible for the conspirators to carry out their plans as originally formulated. This, in my opinion, is entirely expected and normal. Even the text basically acknowledges that you abandon The Countdown the moment the players invalidate it.

      Going into session three, I had a new revised Countdown entirely based on the change in my NPCs priorities. It inherited one-tiny thing from the previous Countdown that was still viable and indeed that became the climax of the game. Again, not planned, that’s just how things went down.

      I hope that helps clarify how NPCS, Locations and the Countdown represent both fixed known things that help with clarity and communication but are also dynamic things requiring updates and revision as play unfolds.

    • With regard to maps and zones, you’ll notice that I have maps for some of the earlier confrontations. That’s because I had actually found maps for several places I thought confrontations might happen. I think in the videos you see two of them. I had about six of them on hand, I think.

      The zone concept was most useful in the confrontation in the university library. Understanding that the room was divided into three zones and that Eiton was holding a hostage near the back of one of them was nice. Having the map was an effective tool.

      However, in practice, what I discovered is what really matters is ranges. There are basically five: Engaged, Short, Medium, Long and Extreme. As long as you have some idea of how to adjudicate those distances and traverse between them in the environment, you’re pretty much good to go. You’ll notice I don’t use maps in the follow up sessions even though I had perfectly suitable ones on hand for some of those locations.

    • I think I hit the reply button in my first reply at the same time as you did.

      Jesse, thanks again for the clarifications. That helps. I didn’t get to the maps’ part yet in the videos but I’ll get there.

    • Jesse, thank you so much, that clarifies and assuages my concerns regarding the Countdown and the events associated with it. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been holding off on aquiring the game. The other is related to combat/action and if simple theater-of-the-mind is possible, as I mentioned in my first post.

      Thank you for your time in aswering these questions. (I’ve also been watching your linked videos for the last couple of hours and I’m quite enjoying them. I recognised two of your players, which was a fun surprise.)

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