Blade Runner was a seminal work of science fiction. It was a film that challenges the viewer to think about life, existence and what it means to be human. Spawning many journeys into that universe, including a comic, video game, anime, short films, and an eventual sequel, Blade Runner is a universe that demands attention and begs to be explored.
With such a narratively dense world, it was only a matter of time before someone would take a stab at bringing the world to life in tabletop form. Free League Publishing, known for games such as Tales From the Loop, Vessan, and Alien, wants you to journey into the desolate future of 2037. Taking inspiration from the films, and much of the supplemental source material, Blade Runner the RPG is looking to be an exciting journey for fans of the source material and anyone that likes a good story.
To this end, CGMagazine jumped on a call with Tomas Harenstam, the lead designer of the Blade Runner RPG and one of the founders of Free League Publishing and the CEO of the organization. Touching on everything from what sets this game apart, to the process of bringing it to life, the interview dives into why fans should be marking their calendars when the game hits this fall.
CGMagazine: How did Free League and Blade Runner find each other?
Tomas Harenstam: Yeah, it all started, four years ago now, when we had recently released the Tales from the Loop RPG. While that was not our first international game, it was like the third one, it got some attention, so we had a discussion of what if we were to do any license games and Blade Runner was on that list for sure.
Soon after I talked to a guy called Joe LeFavi, who is also now the lead setting writer for the RPG. He wrote the setting, that is, and he also works in Hollywood with brand management, and he has the right connections for us to make a pitch. We ended up talking to Joe, and he helped us pitch to Alcon Entertainment and for this game, and well, the way licenses work, it takes a bit of time of discussions back and forth, but then in the end, it came to be so that is how we ended up where we are now.
CGMagazine: What base system did you think would work for this property and was there any back and forth to really figure out how to make this game feel as immersive as possible setting in the Blade Runner universe?
Tomas Harenstam: On the mechanical side, we decided to use what most of our RPGs use, what we have come to call the Year Zero Engine. It is basically a version of the ruleset that we have been using for most of our RPGs, not all of them, but most of them, and we then adapted and modified quite heavily to fit the particular game, the particular style and the types of stories that the game is designed to tell. So, for this one, we decided to focus pretty much on investigations.
But the mechanics are fairly light, because we felt that we wanted the investigations and the case to expand on the individual character focus that I feel is important to Blade Runner and building that world. We did not want a very crunchy rule system that could get in the way of that. So, that is the thinking going into designing the rules mechanics.
CGMagazine: Did you try to figure out ways to make Blade Runner reach beyond people that already know your RPGs?
Tomas Harenstam: Obviously that is part of the fun. In one sense, just doing a Blade Runner RPG will, hopefully, do that. We do this game because we love it, we believe it is a way to maybe reach a larger audience and that goes hand in hand. But also, we are not just leaning on the brand for this, but also in developing the game further.
We think the way we focus on investigations is also new and welcoming. It is not something we have done in other games before, with many of our past games being more of a sandbox style. [Blade Runner] is more scenario and investigation driven. It is also a different play style from our other games. We always try to reinvent what we do, and then do new things for every project, and this is no exception.
CGMagazine: Now for the classes, how do you figure out what would be included in Blade Runner and was there any discussion to go beyond what you included in the final product?
Tomas Harenstam: Yeah, that is a good question, because we decided fairly early on to focus the game on playing Blade Runners. We get this question quite a lot. Can I play something else in this universe? But we decided to, at least for the core game for now—what happens in the future and expansions is for the future question—but for the base game, we are focusing on playing Blade Runners. That is because we felt there is much to explore in that context, and it also focuses the game in a clear wave.
Since the game structure is casework and investigations, we felt it made sense to keep it to being Blade Runners, investigating all kinds of cases that relate to replicants in one way or another. That narrows things down quite a bit, obviously, in terms of who you can play, but we went into this to find different types of Blade Runners, different character types, and that is how we ended up with the archetypes that we have in the game now.
CGMagazine: Did you take references from both films that exist along with the anime, or did you strictly focus on the original concept from the original movie and branch off from there?
Tomas Harenstam: Ah, no! I mean, I think Blade Runner 2049 is a huge source of inspiration for this game, including the other recent additions to the universe, including the anime and comics and so on. Even though our game is set in 2037, it still informs the setting to a large extent. So, there is a lot from there, along with the short films set in the intertwining years that were released before 2049 came out.
Those were also hugely helpful for us to connect the dots and create a world we set the game in. One of those short films was set in 2036 and focused on reintroducing replicants on earth after they had been prohibited for a number of years. Our game is set one year after that. So, really that gave a lot of the context for us to create the game setting.
CGMagazine: The movies dealt very heavily owithn the roles of replicants within society, do you dive into any of that in the RPG?
Tomas Harenstam: Yeah, and bringing that into an RPG was an interesting challenge design wise. Those are quite deep and complex issues that can be challenging and quite existential. That is something we worked a lot on to get into Blade Runner the RPG. In the game, you can be a replicant or a human just like you can be a replicant later on just like K in 2049. You will have these key moments in the game whether you are a replicant or human, that will be a touchstone for your character.
So, that introspection, that character focus will be there. There is also an option to play as someone who you believe to be human but actually be a secret replicant without knowing it. You can let the game runner or the Game Master have a secret dice roll to decide if you are actually a replicant, but this is a choice to be made as a player, you can open up for the option of possibly, but that is completely optional.
CGMagazine: Looking at your Kickstarter, you outline that this is a game for adults. This is going to deal with complex moral issues, and it is a game that is much deeper than a standard game of D&D, etc. How do you delve into that?
Tomas Harenstam: Of course. As in any RPG, you can play this game any way you want. That is the nature of things. But the way we have designed is to support the type of issues and stories. This is done in several different ways. One way is just through the case files themselves. The official case files, the first one is included in the starter set, is called Electric Dreams, and that will include more complex issues.
I won’t go into too many details to not spoil things, but you also have a key relationship to some other person. Whoever that might be, that will also be a really important part of your character. While most of the game will be on these investigations, every once in a while, you have a scene of downtime, and that will be an individual scene where each character goes off to themselves and that is where we can bring in these key relationships that are interwoven into the investigation where you really focus on each character and what they are and what they.
The game is structured and designed to reinforce these more existential, deeper issues than you might get in a typical fantasy game where you mostly just kill monsters. At the end of the line, it is up to the group, but I think there are a bunch of different tools and elements in the game that support these more mature concepts.
CGMagazine: For people that love Blade Runner and are just learning about this, what would you tell them about jumping into this game?
Tomas Harenstam: I certainly think if someone is a fan of Blade Runner and would like to immerse themselves in that world, this would be a great starting point. Mechanically it is very rules light, it does not involve a lot of crunchy concepts. It is easy to get into, the core of the game is this investigative casework and that is also quite intuitive. It will be going places, collecting evidence. I think that is quite easy to understand even if you are not a role player. This game will have basically everything in a single box to get started, making it a great starting point if you are a Blade Runner fan of any kind.
CGMagazine: Now for people that might not have jumped in on the Kickstarter, when can people purchase this game?
Tomas Harenstam: You can get into the campaign after the fact for a time, and then we will be planning for a proper retail release in the fall, probably November. We do not have an exact date yet. It is tricky now with shipping and supply chain issues. So, it is hard to say for sure, but we are aiming for November.