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Blade Runner RPG Interview With Lead Designer Tomas Härenstam

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The Blade Runner RPG is the latest tabletop game to adapt a popular property and drop it into a roleplaying setting. The highly-anticipated project was fully funded on Kickstarter in just 3 minutes, and it’s since gotten over $1 million in contributions so far. Promising the sci-fi noir found in the films, along with themes found in the Phillip K. Dick novel upon which the movie was based, the Blade Runner RPG is already shaping up nicely.

Coming soon from Free League Publishing, the Blade Runner RPG is set to be the latest adapted tabletop game from the publisher behind games like The One Ring RPG, set in J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and the popular Tales From The Loop. In a world of Replicants and neon lights, the film Blade Runner has since been hailed as a classic, and a follow-up, Blade Runner 2049, was also well-received. For a world teeming with lore and complicated characters, it makes the ideal setting for a roleplaying game.

Related: The Blade Runner RPG’s New Replicants Vs. Runners Gameplay

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The official Blade Runner RPG drops players on the streets of futuristic Los Angeles. They’ll roleplay as titular Blade Runners with unique specialties, personalities, and even memories. Free League Publishing’s Tomas Härenstam is the lead designer for the Blade Runner RPG, and he recently took time to discuss the project with Screen Rant.

Blade Runner is such a cool property for a tabletop RPG. Can you tell us how the idea of making a Blade Runner RPG came about?

Tomas Härenstam: Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite science fiction properties. A few years back, we had a brainstorm about dream franchises to base RPGs on, and Blade Runner was a given on that list for me. Soon after, we pitched for both Blade Runner and ALIEN with the help of our partner Joe LeFavi and his Genuine Entertainment, and it’s amazing to now see both games becoming reality. These properties are true passions for us at Free League.

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The Blade Runner RPG is taking Free League’s Year Zero Engine “to a new level.” For any of our readers unfamiliar with that, can you explain what sets that engine apart?

Tomas Härenstam: What has now become known as the Year Zero Engine was originally the ruleset developed for one of our earliest games, Mutant: Year Zero. It is a rules-light system that is very adaptable to various settings and easy to tweak to bring out the specific themes of a game. A key element is pushing rolls, which means re-rolling dice at some cost or risk.

This has been used for the Alien RPG, Tales from the Loop, and Forbidden Lands, so how is the Blade Runner RPG taking it to a new level and expanding it further?

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Tomas Härenstam: Most YZE games use a pool of six-sided dice (D6s) to resolve success, but the Blade Runner RPG instead uses a two dice system where larger dice with more sides (D8, D10, D12) represent higher competence and a better chance of success. The reasoning behind this is that we want the Blade Runner RPG to focus mainly on the casework and character development, with the game mechanics subtly reinforcing the tone and feel of the game without taking up too much table space or mind space.

 Do you have any favorite pieces of Blade Runner lore the RPG is using?

Tomas Härenstam: Wow, that’s a tricky one, there is just so much! Joe LeFavi, who is also our setting writer, has really been digging deep into the lore – not just the films but the video games, comics and other media as well. I do like the fact that David Holden – the Blade Runner who gets shot at the beginning of the first film – is the player character’s superior case officer in the RPG.

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Is it important to know a lot about Blade Runner and its world before playing the game? How easy is it, say, for someone unfamiliar with Blade Runner to be able to give the RPG a try?

Tomas Härenstam: It certainly helps if you have seen Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 at least once in your life, but you don’t have to be an expert on the property by any means. The RPG will include everything you need to play, and the game mechanics themselves are also easy to learn for beginners.

Can you give us some details on how the gameplay and story aspects, like investigating cases and encountering Replicants, will work?

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Tomas Härenstam: The casework is structured in Shifts, with four Shifts per day. Each Shift, the player characters will travel to a location to search for clues and question NPCs, which will in turn give them leads to new locations. Physical handouts like photos, data files, maps and more will play a large part of this. After three Shifts of casework, each character needs a Shift of personal downtime, which is a great opportunity to play out individual scenes focusing on personal character development. On top of that, there is a countdown of events that will occur independently of the player characters, often raising the stakes and pushing the characters to make progress and making sure the game never bogs down.

Where on the Blade Runner timeline is the RPG set?

Tomas Härenstam: The game is set in 2037, one year after Replicants were re-introduced on Earth by the Wallace Corporation. We chose this year because it lets us draw on both films while still giving us creative freedom, and the fact that this is a really interesting and pivotal time in the Blade Runner timeline.

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Very cool! What are some iconic locations and characters we can expect to see in the Blade Runner RPG?

Tomas Härenstam: There’s a bunch of them, also in the initial case file called Electric Dreams that is included in the Starter Set. We don’t want to spoil anything, but there will be an opportunity to meet Taffey Lewis at his infamous club The Snake Pit as seen in the first Blade Runner film.

How about iconic Blade Runner vehicles and weapons? How are they playing a role in the game?

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Tomas Härenstam: The core book will include detailed descriptions of the iconic Blade Runner blaster as well as the awesome flying Spinner cars and the Spinner Cycle seen in Blade Runner: Black Lotus. They are definitely among the most important tools that the player characters will use during their investigations.

The Blade Runner RPG was funded on Kickstarter in 3 minutes! And it keeps getting backers! Is there anything you’d like to say to all the people who are excited about this project and supporting it? 

Tomas Härenstam: Thank you so much for your support! We can’t wait to share this game with you!

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Next: Death In Space TTRPG Review: Sci-Fi Roleplaying At Its Finest

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