This morning, Free League launched the crowdfunding campaign for their highly-anticipated new title; Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game. While not much has been released, a few details are available, such as the game’s system, which will run on the Year Zero engine, popularized by Free League’s own Mutant: Year Zero. There will also be adjustments to make this game investigative and mystery-driven, a move away from the horror that Free League has become known for.
io9 was able to speak with lead game designer Tomas Härenstam and setting writer Joe LeFavi over email ahead of the launch to get an inside look at the work that goes on in the background, behind mechanic building and game design.
Linda Codega, io9: Why did you chose this exact moment in the Blade Runner universe to spin out into a game?
Tomas Härenstam: We decided early on to place the game in between the two films. That way, we could more easily draw inspiration from both, as well as giving ourselves more creative freedom. Also, other recent contributions to Blade Runner such as the comics and recent anime take place in a similar era, so we were thrilled when Alcon allowed us to play our part in building and expanding this neon noir universe.
Joe LeFavi: It’s also such a fascinating inflection point for what it means to be a Blade Runner. They’re not just retiring every rogue Replicant on the street anymore. The Blade Runner’s role in keeping the peace for humans and Replicants alike is far more complex now, where there is no easy answer and everybody’s got agendas and axes to grind. The whole system is just a few controversies away from tearing itself apart, and so it was intoxicating for us to explore this tumultuous point on the timeline and consider the many choices and sacrifices our Blade Runners might be forced to make, given the stakes in play.
io9: What kind of character do you play?
Härenstam: The base game is focused on playing Blade Runners. We feel there is so much to explore within this field, and the game structure is built around investigations and casework. That said, we do have plans to expand the scope of the game to other types of player characters in the future.
io9: How does this game define humanity? What makes something human?
Härenstam: This is really the key question – not just for our game, but for the Blade Runner franchise as a whole, and what makes its premise so endlessly fascinating. There is no short answer here, and that’s the point. Exploring this question and finding your own answers is really the essence of the game. In purely mechanical terms, there are some differences between humans and Replicants, but we have designed the game to let both types of characters explore much of the same existential and moral questions. In the end, your humanity is defined by your choices and actions, not your origins.
io9: Free League is well known for the horror elements in a lot of its work… is there any horror in this game?
Härenstam: There is no horror mechanic as such, but there is a stress mechanic that works in a similar way. A character who builds up too much stress will eventually break and react in unpredictable ways. To relieve stress characters need downtime, which ties into the themes of individual character development and introspection. In Blade Runner and noir as a whole, you always see those beats during an intense case where the detective needs to step away from the investigation to nurse a stiff drink, release some steam, or allow themselves a moment of companionship, vulnerability, or introspection. It’s often those small, intimate moments that shed new light on who they are and how the various pieces of the mystery come together in the end.
What part of the Year Zero engine did you adjust to suit the narrative of Blade Runner, and why?
Härenstam: We wanted this game to focus on investigations, moral choices, and character development, so we decided early on to have game mechanics that don’t take up too much mind space or table space. That’s the main reason for using a modified version of the Year Zero Engine with just two dice instead of the larger dice pools seen in other games. Overall, the mechanics are designed to blend into the background and support gameplay without requiring too much of the players’ attention.
io9: What are some of the ways people can customize this game to suit their table?
Härenstam: Each gaming table is its own universe. We don’t tell stories, but rather give players the tools to tell their own stories. That’s what’s so great about roleplaying! To make the Game Runner’s job easier, we have plans for a Case File generator, with which the basics of a complete Case File can be created using just a few dice rolls. Of course, individual Game Runners are free to modify even the fully fleshed out Case Files published by us to fit their group and its preferences.
io9: How long does a game take?
Härenstam: The core structure of the game is based on Case Files, which is what we call the investigative scenario at the core of gameplay. Case Files are generally considered stand-alone modules, which can take up to a few full sessions to complete. The official Case Files published by Free League will also be connected in various thematic ways, offering a possibility to play out longer narratives. Yet we’ve designed Blade Runner in a way where players can create, connect, and scale their own cases any way they want. Much like real life, some investigations are open and shut cases, while others may have unforeseen connections and long-lasting implications on cases and circumstances yet to come. So our Case File system is designed to give Game Runners an accessible, scalable framework for how to structure the investigative process, so that they create their own cases at whatever scope and complexity suit their passions and play styles.
io9: What other media besides the Free League games and Blade Runner franchise helped inspire this game?
Härenstam: Good question! One source of inspiration for the investigative gameplay was actually the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective games from back in the ‘80s and recently re-released.
LeFavi: I have an extensive film noir collection, so I spent far too much time watching my favorite films back-to-back. Studying how each one told stories, explored cities, and pieced together their puzzles. The tools and perspectives you’d need to assess the situation and suss out the truth from all the right and wrong sides. The kind of allies and access points you’d need throughout the city to accommodate an endless range of casework and clues. It was obnoxiously fun reverse engineering everything I love about noir storytelling, and then mining existing Blade Runner lore to give players what they needed to tell their own noir tales in an authentic way that still left much of the city and its greater mysteries in shadow.
What part of this game are you most proud of?
Härenstam: I really think Martin Grip outdid himself with the art for this game, and Joe LeFavi’s setting writing really set the tone for the whole project. Personally, I’m really proud of Electric Dreams, the first official Case File, and really excited to hear how players will respond to it. I also think the way we structure investigations and casework alongside the individual character development in downtime really brings the Year Zero Engine games to a new level.
LeFavi: The deep pulls. Pulling magazines from the newsracks. Sourcing vehicles, weapons, and equipment from prop storage. Finding rationale for how Spinners work from production notes and behind-the-scenes interviews. Plucking the tiniest kernels of canon not just from cinema, but from art books, comics, video games, VR, toys, even concept art, storyboards, screenplays, interviews, set visits, and special features. It was a super fan’s dream just getting lost in 40 years of lore and mining those little details that make this setting feel so real, flawed, and lived in. Nearly bursting at the seams with personality and imperfections. I can’t wait for players to explore it for themselves.
Blade Runner: The Roleplaying Game is already fully funded, and will be crowdfunding on Kickstarter through May 26.
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