Chapter 2: Like Tears in Rain

John Carpenter's Escape From New York may have been the first in a line of memorable cyberpunk-themed films, but it was Ridley Scott's Blade Runner which has been widely recognized as the definitive cyberpunk movie. I admit, it's a little discomfiting to be planning to cover several dozen classic cyberpunk films, and yet reach the pinnacle of excellence on only the second try. But then again, it took Mr. Scott a half-dozen tries to get it right (and there are those who argue that he still didn't succeed), so maybe he deserves the title for all that hard work. Especially since numerous polls have placed Blade Runner among the top three science-fiction films of all time, beside Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Blade Runner, of course, is based upon Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, with the title taken from an Alan E. Nourse story entitled The Bladerunner by way of William S. Burroughs' Bladerunner (A Movie). There are so many differences between the source material and the movie that it would take all the space I've got just to talk about them; thus, I won't. I do recommend you read DADoES, however, even, and perhaps especially, if you've already seen the movie.

Of course, even if we just focus on the movie, there's the question of which movie we're talking about. Blade Runner is not one movie, but several, each of which has a unique combination of elements, dialogue and scenes which totally change the tone and meaning of the film. There are dozens of differences among the five films that the world has seen, as well as the various drafts of the screenplay: in one, Deckard kills Rachel at the end of the film; in others, he rides off into the sunset with her. But once again, there isn't space to go into the myriad differences.

What I will discuss here are the thematics and cinematics which make Blade Runner what it is, the things that carry throughout all the versions of the film, the things that have made cyberpunk what it is today (as well as what it isn't). And the first place to start is with the cast, comprised of a surprising number of then unknown actors:

The Anti-hero: Harrison Ford as Deckard, the Blade Runner who in some versions also narrates the story. At that point, Ford was best known for two heroic roles: that of Han Solo in Star Wars and Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Replicants: Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, leader of the Replicants, at that point a relative unknown who got his start in German films; Sean Young as Rachael, Deckard's love interest, another relative newcomer whose biggest role to that time had been as Louise in Stripes; Brion James as Leon, previously appearing in such stellar flicks as KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and Corvette Summer; Daryl Hannah as replicant Pris, a nobody who'd soon bare all as a mermaid in Splash; and Joanna Cassidy as Zhora, best known for her role as Sally Bullock on TV's Dallas.

The Authorities: Edward James Olmos as Gaff, whose screen credits included such disparate films as Wolfen and Zoot Suit; M. Emmet Walsh as Captain Bryant, an accomplished actor who'd been in films like Serpico, Slapshot and Cannery Row; and Morgan Paull as Holden, previously seen in films like The Swarm and Patton.

The Victims: William Sanderson as J.F. Sebastian, who'd soon go on to "star" as Larry on TV's Newhart; Joe Turkel as Tyrell, best known as Lloyd in The Shining; and James Hong as Hannibal Chew, Eyemaker, a character actor who'd been in everything from TV's Kung Fu to 1980's satirical Airplane.

Not exactly a star-studded cast; aside from Harrison Ford and M. Emmet Walsh, most of the main characters were newcomers who would see their careers take off after this film--most notably Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah, both of whom went on to some degree of fame throughout the '80s thanks in part to their replicant roles.

It's hard to say exactly what it was about Blade Runner that had such an impression. The film was loathed by many critics, scorned by the public, and only truly came into its own a decade after its release when the cyberpunk phenomenon truly took off. Perhaps it was the film's view of a dark future that really made people take a second glance; after being spoon-fed Star Wars and Star Trek, Blade Runner was decidedly different. And, thus, memorable.

The film is set in the year 2019 in Los Angeles. The past is not discussed at length, but the presence of immense corporations, ubiquitous technology and ever-present overcast skies seems to indicate that Ridley Scott's world is much the same as the world presented in R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk, making it extremely easy to slide this plot line into an existing campaign setting.

Enter Deckard, a Blade Runner whose job it was (is) to hunt down replicants, android-like artificial life forms who were outlawed on Earth after they mutinied on an off world station. He's the typical cyberpunk anti-hero:

DECKARD is standing near the noodle bar waiting for a seat. He's in his thirties, wiry, athletic, rumpled, used, unshaven. He's holding a newspaper, made of tissue paper, open while he glances at the blimp passing NOISILY overhead.

Forced out of retirement, Deckard is put to work tracking down a number of new replicants who have hijacked a ship and landed in the Los Angeles area. It takes some convincing, but after Deckard learns that a fellow Blade Runner was put on life support after a run-in with one of the replicants, he agrees to the task, albeit reluctantly:

DECKARD: Not me, Bryant. I won't work for you anymore. Give it to Holden, he's good.

Deckard turns to go.

BRYANT: I did.

Deckard freezes and turns back.


BRYANT: He can breathe okay... as long as nobody unplugs him.

The only means of detecting replicants is by administering an Empathy test known as Voight-Kampff, a device which measures the constriction of the pupil and the motion of the eye during a series of questions designed to elicit an emotional response. Since replicants do not have a great degree of empathy, a lack of response seems to be the determining factor. This is what Holden was doing when the replicant he was testing, Leon, decided to gak him. Now it's Deckard's job to find out why the escaped replicants attempted to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation, and to kill them all before they try it again.

"They" are all Nexus 6 models, a dangerous lot which includes a combat model named Roy Batty, Leon, Pris and Zhora. (The exact number of replicants to be found depends on which version of the movie you see, and how deeply you want to delve into the mythos. Roy, Leon, Pris and Zhora make four. Six supposedly escaped. If we count Deckard and Rachael, we get six. Further confusing matters is the fact that in different versions of the script, Bryant indicates that either one or two of the replicants "got fried" trying to enter Tyrell Corporation. We won't dwell on that; suffice to say that Deckard has his work cut out for him, because these are some badass androids.) The driving motivation of the replicants is, as it turns out, their desire to find their creator, so he can somehow increase their lifespans beyond the built-in four-year limit they currently have.

The first step for Deckard, however, is to test the Voight-Kampff machine to see whether or not it's working on the new Nexus 6 models. And that means a trip to Tyrell, where he meets, and tests, Rachael. It is this conversation which reveals that Rachael is a replicant, her memories implanted using Tyrell's 16-year-old niece. And Rachael has no idea what she is.

DECKARD: In a magazine you come across a full-page photo of a nude girl.

RACHAEL: Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian?

DECKARD: You show the picture to your husband. He likes it and hangs it on the wall. The girl is lying on a bearskin rug.

RACHAEL: I wouldn't let him.

DECKARD: Why not?

RACHAEL: I should be enough for him.

Deckard's next task, now knowing how difficult it will be to discover the replicants, is to do some detective work (Confusing matters is the fact that Rachael and he are falling in love, and he has to break the news to her about her being a replicant.) He busily ransacks Leon's apartment with Gaff, gathering evidence in the form of a strange scale and some photographs. Tracking down the origin of the snake scale, he eventually discovers, and kills, the first of the replicants, Zhora. Shortly thereafter, he's accosted by Leon, who's promptly killed by Rachael. She may be having humanity issues, but she can certainly fire a weapon. Of course, because she's a replicant (and knows it now), she's also dangerous...

BRYANT: Home! A killer like you! I figured you'd be up all night slaughtering phonies. Four to go, thought you'd just leave 'em dead in the alleys for us to pick up. Haw! Haw! Come on, Gaff.

DECKARD: Three. There's three to go.

BRYANT Four. That tit job you vee kayed at the Tyrell Corp... disappeared. She didn't even know she was skin till you put the machine on her. Some kinda brain plant, says Tyrell.

Deckard has already noticed that Gaff is looking down the street in the direction Rachael went.

What Deckard doesn't know is that all the while, Pris and Batty have been doing some detective work of their own, tracking down Tyrell through J.F. Sebastian (by way of Hannibal Chew, Eyemaker). And by the time Deckard does track them down (delayed as he is by his dalliance with Rachael), it's too late for all of the unfortunates who've crossed paths with the replicants... and almost too late for Deckard too.

The final showdown in Sebastian's building is fairly predictable from a Hollywood standpoint. Deckard retires Pris, gets his fingers broken by Batty, dangles off a ledge and nearly dies. The twist comes when Batty saves his life at the last moment before settling in to die himself, and in so doing becomes more human than he would have been had he let Deckard die. The final soliloquy by Batty (ad-libbed by Hauer) is pure cyberpunk:

BATTY: I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those... moments will be lost... in time, like... tears... in rain.

But as dramatic as that scene is, it's the last few moments of the film which raise the most questions, and truly make it the cyberpunk classic it deserves to be.

Having done his job and killed the dangerous replicants, Deckard's now faced with Gaff, who makes it quite clear that Deckard and Rachael are now on the termination list. But he gives them a fighting chance, giving Deckard back his gun and giving them a chance to get out of town. In some versions of the script, the last we see of Deckard and Rachael is them stepping into an elevator. In others, we actually see them ride off into the sunset, Deckard's voice-over confirming our suspicions:

DECKARD: (V.O.) I knew it on the roof that night. We were brothers, Roy Batty and I! Combat models of the highest order. We had fought in wars not yet dreamed of... in vast nightmares still unnamed. We were the new people... Roy and me and Rachael! We were made for this world. It was ours!

It's quite obvious that there are many elements of Blade Runner already found in every Cyberpunk campaign. But putting aside the sprawling skyscrapers, the omnipresent rain and darkness, the gleamy-dark street-punk attitude, and the general sense that all is not right with the world, there are a few key things to remember about this particular plot line:

1. If John Carpenter's Escape From New York was about Cool, Blade Runner is all about Empathy. Whether you choose to insert real replicants into your world, or replace them with androids, cyborgs or genuine cyberpsychos, the real difference between them and "us" should be their lack of Empathy. This is easily represented in their statistics, but more importantly should be represented in your role-playing.

2. The replicants aren't necessarily bad; they're just trying to survive, and what cyberpunk anti-hero isn't? Sure, they've killed some people, and sure they'll kill again, but does that make them any worse than the police they're trying to get away from? Hardly. There is no black and white here, only shades of gray. Or chrome, if you like.

3. This is, above and beyond all else, a film noir detective story. The characters are going to have to chase down every clue and detail on their own, and when they do discover the truth they're probably not going to like it very much. Particularly if you want to be truly sadistic and reveal to the players that their characters are also replicants.

4. Life is not trivial. Each of the replicants has only a few years to live, and while they may take lives to further their own causes, nobody's wading through pools of blood on the way to the nightclub. Even the police aren't exactly eager to pile the bodies up--throughout the entire story, the "good guys" (Deckard and Rachael) only kill three replicants, and two of those (Leon and Pris) are killed in self-defense. Hardly the bloodbath that many cyberpunk campaigns turn into when "Friday Night Firefight" stretches into "Saturday Night Firefight" and "Sunday Night Firefight" and so on.

The main players in this little drama are varied because of their unique personalities and motivations (or lack thereof). Blade Runners are just cops (perhaps with some heavy artillery if they're facing cyberpsychos instead of mere replicants), and everyone else is just trying to survive. That said, the only real fuzzy area to define is that of the replicants themselves.

In Blade Runner, the replicants are identified not only by name, but by code as well. For example, Roy Batty's code is N6MAA1816: N6 stands for "Nexus-6"; M stands for "Male"; A stands for "Physical Grade A"; the second A stands for "Mental Grade A"; and the last 4-6 digits stand for the year of creation, January 8, 2016 in Batty's case. The other replicants are coded as follows: Pris, N6FAB21416; Zhora, N6FAB61216; Leon, N6MAC41717; Rachael, Unknown, likely Phys. C, Ment. B; Deckard, Unknown, likely Phys. B, Ment. A.

Using the Physical and Mental codes, you can get a rough guide to their appropriate statistics. Physical affects Reflexes, Movement and Body; Mental affects Intelligence, Tech, and Cool; Empathy is always 2; Luck and Attractiveness are left to pure chance (or the design of their creator, as the case may be). A grade of "A" indicates a score of 10 points in the appropriate categories; a grade of "B" indicates an 8; a grade of C indicates a 6. Rolling randomly for Luck and Attractiveness, you can quickly generate a whole army of replicants; a "Roy Batty" type model follows as an example, and indicates just why the replicants are so dangerous:


Replicant, combat model, N6MAA1816

 INT [10]    REF [10]   TECH [10]   COOL [10]
ATTR [ 7]   LUCK [ 5]     MA [10]   BODY [10]
 EMP [ 2]    Run [30]   Leap [7.5]   Lift [400]

Armor: [ Head:12  Torso:30  R.Arm:12  L.Arm:12  R.Leg:12  L.Leg:12 ]

Save:10   BTM: -4

    Cybernetics: Skinweave, Muscle & Bone Lace, Kerenzikov Boosterware,
                 Pain Editor, Memory Chips (as appropriate), Chipware
                 socket, Subdermal armor, others as appropriate
Special Ability: Combat Sense  [10]
         Skills: Awareness [ 7], Martial Arts [ 7], Melee [ 9],
                 Athletics [ 7], Stealth [ 5], Strength Feat [ 5],
                 others (and variants of above) as appropriate
    Possessions: As appropriate


There are a number of ways to play this one. The characters can be wandering around and accidentally wander into the middle of a shootout between some Blade Runners (or cops) and replicants (or cyberpsychos). Or the characters could be hired on as assistant Blade Runners to help track down some particularly sneaky replicants. Or the characters themselves might suddenly be wanted by the police, only to discover that they are not really human, but artificial life forms with implanted memories.

Whichever path you choose, the thing to keep in mind is that it's not about strapping on chrome cyberarms and loading up with guns and wandering into the alleyway, guns blazing. In the entirety of Blade Runner, there are only about a dozen gunshots fired: a half-dozen shots at Zhora, one at Leon, four at Pris, and one missed shot at Batty. That's it. Twelve gunshots, four dead replicants (one of whom dies of natural causes), a few victims of the replicants and a few injured Blade Runners. No gunfight lasts longer than a few seconds, no battle longer than a few minutes, and most of that is spent trying to run away and maneuver for position. This is not a battle of bullets and blood; it's a battle of minds and humanity. And, if your players are into that sort of thing, about forbidden love.

I put it to a vote last week, and you responded overwhelmingly in favor of Blade Runner, 17 to 13. But since so many people seem to be fans of Tron, I see no problem with lingering a bit longer in 1982. After all, if Jean Giraud could contribute to both Blade Runner (via visuals from his story "The Long Tomorrow") and Tron (via costume design), then we can certainly involve ourselves in both films as well. And as always, let me know what you think about what you've seen so far. I appreciate your feedback and suggestions for how to make this a more useful and informative resource. Or if you just want to call me nasty names, that's OK too, I suppose.