Friday , July 19 2024

Review: Blade Runner RPG – Fiery Angels Case File

The smog and grime of this city constantly gets in my nose and eyes. It is prevalent and invasive, and feels like home even when I am gagging on it.

I look to my team, fellow Blade Runners all, but some are not as they seem. Do we all just blindly follow the rules? kill on contact? distrust all replicants?

I have been on the job for years and something is different now. Wallace Corp is too powerful, the echoes of the past are loud, and Tyrell’s creations keep manifesting even though everyone says they are all gone.

Cadence is a friend, and also a replicant, a new gen guaranteed by Wallace Corp to be obedient and faithful. But I see her glances when we find a new skinjob to retire. I even find myself doubting whether this is the right approach.

Every new one we meet seems to be more real than the last. They have hopes and dreams like we do. They aren’t rampaging monsters like in the old days. Do we need to to evolve like they do? Approach how we act and move as Blade Runners?

This is on my mind as we are outside this warehouse, all of us, replicants and humans, just Blade Runners entering a dangerous situation. I have choices to make. Do I act without mercy and retire on site or take time to talk, understand and perhaps even help?

I look at the team. We have been trough a lot and there is a dynamic of trust tinged with wariness. I signal to them it is time and draw my sidearm. I whisper, try to make this as calm and peaceful as possible: only retire if there is no other option.

I guess I made my choice; based on their looks, some of relief, some of disbelief, I guess theirs are still evolving. I tip my hand and enter the building. Hopefully we all make it out and change for the better as we do it.

I have been playing role-playing games for over 30 years and I have dabbled in a lot of systems and when there are real chances to truly get into a character I just love it. The Blade Runner RPG system by Free League publishing is that rare system that encourages immersiveness and character depth, and it can be a magical experience.

The core system was released in December 2022 and I was a proud kickstarter of the system thanks to my love of RPG systems and deeper love of the Blade Runner universe. I ran my longtime group through the starter case file and then made a second homebrew campaign building on what we established in the first run.

The reason this worked so well for us is that the system encourages adding substantial details to the characters in the form of a key memory, relationship, home, item that has meaning, appearance, and time on the force. These details can be rolled, or at DMs discretion manually created.

If you are inclined as a DM, and this is encouraged in the modules, these details can be referenced, nuanced, and added to in every campaign whether progenerated or homebrewed. By leveraging these special notes a player can dive deeper into their character and truly get immersed in the world.

A perfect example is the character Cadence. Her key relationship was a replicant sister that was a Doxy who got in and out of trouble. During the first campaign I sent the player DMs as the sister Lyssa expressing her problems. Cadence was able to react to these and explore the relationship both in messaging and on the streets in the game.

Once the homebrew campaign happened I made Lyssa a foil for Cadence to worry about. The group backed her up and went to see how they could help Lyssa. It turns out she was allied with the criminals and is now a recurring villain. I injected her as a partner to a main villain in the Fiery Angels case file while as I continue to weave threads.

The magic of involving and giving the players consequences during cases really adds to the draw of this system and I was pleased to see that in the Fiery Angels case file there were plenty more opportunities to do this.

Kicking off shortly after the events of the original case file, Fiery Angels tasks the players to look into unknown replicants after a legacy model was detected using a Voight-Kampff test. The team is tasked by the deputy chief to look into these rogue replicants with the help of a senior Blade Runner who will be working with them.

Without spoiling the plot of the case file, it involves characters from the first campaign, replicants that are not part of Wallace Corp’s seemingly perfect Nexus-9 line, and pressure from corporations. There are double- and triple-crosses, some great surprises, and plenty of options for choice and deviation from the main plot.

The folks at Free League Publishing truly get right a few things about the Blade Runner universe and how to craft a great system. First they get the fact that this cannot be a black-or-white universe; the cops here are not always good, but they cannot always shoot first and ask questions later, and everything should be questioned.

Replicants are evolved – yes, they are essentially programmed citizens – but just look at the turmoil in Ryan Gosling’s K from Blade Runner 2049. They can be obedient, but they also have agency, feelings, and pain.

The Blade Runner system and the Fiery Angels case file delve into this and truly give the players choice. If they want to play this by the book and retire replicants on site they can, but the system will give them hard choices to make.

Alternatively they can question the ethics and morality of the systems and police structure and try to help or capture replicants if they feel it is justified. At times both approaches may be at odds in the party and that can be great to explore as well.

The mechanics of the game have not evolved from the core rule set, nor has there been any large introduction of items, tech or weapons. Instead the focus was on evolving the story. This has some pros and cons.

While the mechanics are very, very good, including some great roll20 integration, I do find some things like healing, progression, armor, and stress a tad confusing. If you have replicant players the reactions to “breaking” are a little too strict and rigid considering the flexibility of the systems.

More tech, gear, and weapons would have been great as well as there is little in the way of “rewards” in this system. You are Blade Runners doing your job, I get that, but we are wired in RPGs to get loot or at least upgrades when a tough situation is settled, and this system can be lean.

Thankfully a good DM (ahem, me) will just make up their own stuff, which I did. My players were excited for the nano vest armor and vibro whip they got from an intense battle.

Overall I was impressed with the narrative arc Fiery Angels took. I had to tweak some things based on where the characters went in my homebrew campaign, but found that the overall threads were similar.

My standalone campaign focused on shadow replicants that were undocumented and assumed destroyed based on physical defects during creation. Instead they were being used as disposable shock troopers. Without ruining any of the story, this dovetailed nicely with where Free League is going with Fiery Angels and the upcoming Replicant Rebellion expansion.

For anyone looking to get into a really cool sci-fi role-playing-heavy system I can’t recommend the Blade Runner system and Fiery Angels case file highly enough. Playing through this has been the most engaged I have seen my group in ages and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with future files and expansions!

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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