Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Lancer

Go To
A mud-and-lasers RPG about mechs and the pilots who crew them.

Lancer is a "mud-and-lasers" RPG about mechs and the pilots who crew them, featuring deep narrative play, gritty tactical combat and broad customization. Written by Miguel Lopez and by Tom Parkinson Morgan, who being known for his work on Kill Six Billion Demons also provides art.

Ten thousand years after the climate crash that ended the Anthropocene, a survivor humanity rebuilt itself and spread to the stars. Numbering now in the trillions, they are a polyglot, cosmopolitan people, organized under a Union. The galaxy is vast before them, and humanity is its mirror. For some, it is a golden age of post-scarcity utopia. For the rest, that golden age remains a dream to be attained.

The players take on the role of Lancers, mech pilots licensed by the Big Five manufacturing corporations, and contracted to any number of causes, whether it be fighting for Union to rectify crimes of previous administrations, or taking on mercenary work for corporate-states and Warlords.

Mechanically speaking, the out-of-mech action is narratively fluid. The meat of the game comes from the Mech Piloting mechanics, with deep customization per individual mech, and each one with unique abilities that allows the player to mix and match to their liking.

Lancer was successfully Kickstarted in May 2019 after making nearly 10 times its Kickstarter goal. The Core Rule Book was fully released in late November and continues to be updated with errata. More supplementary materials have been released periodically, including: "The Long Rim," detailing a lawless region of space and an alternate leveling system based on currency; "No Room For a Wallflower," "Solstice Rain," and "Dustgrave" as campaign modules; and "The Karrakin Trade Baronies," detailing a region of Union governed by feudal houses. A starship-based spinoff called Battlegroup has also been released on Role.

Not to be confused with the character archetype.

Lancer contains examples of the following tropes

  • Absent Aliens: With one unfortunate exception, the absence of sapient extraterrestrial civilizations in explored space is a given.
  • Ace Custom: Practically enforced by the License Level system, as your pilot can use any weapon or system from any mech license they’ve purchased, on any frame (provided they have the weapon mounts and system points to field them). As a result, even two pilots using the same frame can have wildly different abilities, and that’s before accounting for individual pilot traits and talents. In other words, in Lancer, everyone is piloting an Ace Custom.
  • The Aesthetics of Technology: Originating from civilian shipping firms, IPS-Northstar mechs have a very Used Future look to them, with technology that is straightforward and easy to understand. Harrison Armoury looks very militarized, with sharp, boxy edges, a plethora of laser weapons, and highly advanced core abilities. The fabulously wealthy Smith-Shimano Corpro has a more stylized, artsy appearance, with soft edges, bright colors and even flowing ribbons of silk for decoration — their mechs are Impossibly Graceful Giants, on top of having advanced tech on par with Harrison. HORUS mechs, designed by (RA? A cult of RA? A hacker collective? A terrorist cell? It's very unclear), are appropriately chaotic-looking and strange, and wield technology so absurdly advanced that it can re-order reality itself.
  • After the End: The setting takes place over ten thousand years after the fall of Old Humanity, catastrophic ecological collapse having reduced the population of Earth from 15 BILLION at its peak to a mere half million, before humanity was finally able to rebuild itself and reach for the stars once more.
  • Apocalypse How: Earth suffered a Class-2 (Planetary Scale, Societal Collapse) apocalypse due to the long-term consequences of climate change and the abuse of Earth's ecosystem. Humanity survived, but regressed so much that the people of the time before are simply referred to as Old Humanity.
    • The war in Hercynia essentially ended due to Union authorizing the genocide of its native aliens, the Egregorians, via an Unspecified Apocalypse. The No Room for a Wallflower supplement only refers to the weapons involved as TBK, "Total Biome Kill".
  • Apocalyptic Log: Union was bombarded with these when they reopened communications to the stars for the first time in millennia, countless messages from lost colonies and stranded stations calling for help for millennia, playing on loop long after the senders had perished.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The Ungrateful were given this name for not wanting to be treated like cogs in the system of the Karrakin Trade Baronies.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: The Little Wars was the last global conflict on Cradle spurned by the excavation of the Massif Vaults and fighting over its contents, before everyone called a truce and decided that continued war would have only driven them back to extinction.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Mirrorsmoke Mercenary Company mainly focuses on providing large numbers of average quality troops. So the company doesn't have the highest standards for enlistment, nor does it ask too many questions about a recruit's past.
  • Artificial Gravity: Union still isn't able to manipulate gravity for sustained periods, but there are multiple mechs that can generate temporary gravitational effects and nearlight ships use it for Inertial Dampening.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Numerous examples. A key part of the setting is that Old Humanity created five extremely advanced intelligences (the "Five Voices"), which were later used by Union to simulate the universe and predict possible outcomes of any number of situations. However, due to what can only be referred to as a causality paradox, and despite having no capacity to do so, they caused RA to spontaneously manifest.
    • The setting’s companion/concierge units (comp/cons) are the most ‘realistic’ example of this trope - a powerful, user-oriented personal computer unit that has tremendous processing power, and that can simulate intelligence for one’s own convenience, but which doesn’t have any actual consciousness.
    • NHPs (Non-Human-Persons) derived from the Deimos incident typically manifest themselves or are contained through, technology, but they explicitly defy the trope, because there’s nothing artificial about them.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Zizagged. RA vanished after apparently going rampant, and their relationship with Union is very complicated, occasionally antagonistic. NHPs derived from the Deimos incident are shackled to prevent them from causing similar havoc, but if a mech with an NHP takes sufficient damage the NHP might break loose of its shackles and go rampant. However, it's very important to note that neither RA nor NHPs are artificial intelligences - they're more akin to extradimensional beings held within computers.
  • Balance, Power, Skill, Gimmick: The four primary mech fabricators. IPS-Northstar mechs have fairly practical setups and boast the largest selection of weapon unlocks (Balance); Harrison Armoury mechs are extra durable and wield big, hard-hitting energy weapons that require careful heat management (Power); Smith-Shimano Corpro mechs are fragile, but fast and difficult to hit (Skill); and HORUS mechs have bizarre special abilities and stronger tech actions (Gimmick).
  • The Battlestar: IPS-N's battle carriers have the wing or escort capacity of a carrier combined with the durability of a battleship but slightly fewer weapon slots and lower defense than other companies' battleships. While HA Farragut-class carriers have a primary weapon slot and 2 wings by default and have a modular slot that can be used to install an auxillary weapon, a third wing, an escort or a system; meaning it can act like a carrier with a gun or a flimsy battleship without a superheavy weapon.
  • BFG/BFS: Superheavy weapons take an extra weapon mount and require a full turn to fire once. In exchange, they usually do more damage per hit than anything else.
  • Boarding Pod: Most ships in "Battlegroup" that can perform boarding actions are dedicated escorts, though they're treated as add-ons to capital ships. Options include organic marines, robotic subalterns, and mechs with chassis wings that allow them to act as fighters.
  • Bug War: The inhabitants of Hercynia, the Egregorians, appeared to play this straight, being bug-like aliens possessing some kind of overmind guiding them.
    • The No Room for a Wallflower supplement explains that the matter was much more complicated: Egregorians were fully sapient beings - they had a collective memory, but were individually intelligent like humans. They originally interacted peacefully with human colonists, but they were divided in multiple nations that were in conflict. One such nation accidentally contracted cholera from the human settlers, and was attacked by a coalition of its rivals, which drew the humans into the conflict. The Second Committee didn't realize this, and approved the use of Total Biome Kill weapons on the planet to kill all of the Egregorians, even the ones which had fought to defend the humans.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Directly referenced in relation to technologies derived from RA’s manifestation. Known as paracausal studies (due to their effects not following normal causality), they are the reason the humanity of the setting has FTL travel, galaxy-wide communications, and similar technology.
    • The technologies displayed by the Aun Ascendancy are similarly so advanced that they may as well be magical. However, its exact manifestations (hard light, manipulation of the dream-like space known as the Firmament, etc) have a decidedly more psychic presentation.
  • Death Is Cheap: Zig-zagged. Advancements in cloning technology allows for the growth of a new body to be quite easy, but overriding their subjectivity with a imprint of the recently deceased's memories can be complicated, expensive, and even illegal when flash cloning is involved.
  • Deus Est Machina: RA is a god-like intelligence created from the unconscious minds of the Five Voices, and is by most definitions a deity, showing itself to be capable of manipulating physics to an extent that is effectively magic. However, it is very explicitly noted that RA is not a machine intelligence - it simply manifested itself originally through machines.
    • As part of RA’s manifestation on Deimos, a number of sentient entities similarly capable of manipulating physics and expressing themselves through machinery appeared, and ultimately became acknowledged as Non-Human Persons (NHPs).
  • Easy Logistics: Zigzagged. Even with Printers, post-scarcity doesn't mean post-need.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: The capital of Union, though now called Cradle.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Every NHP is a downplayed example of this. In its default state, an NHP is an extradimensional entity whose subjectivity, thought process, and perception of reality is so wildly different from that of a human as to be utterly incomprehensible; it's only by shackling one inside a casket that humanity can reduce an NHP to a form that can be meaningfully interacted with.
  • Flavor Text: Items, abilities, and weapons usually come with at least one paragraph of flavor text describing what they are and how they work — except for particularly reality-bending items, which usually come with at least one paragraph of flavor text that doesn't. All the SSC Dusk Wing's flavor text, for example, is excerpts of a surreal Apocalyptic Log from the pilots who first encountered the Eldritch Abomination the Dusk Wing's technology is derived from, while the HORUS Pegasus has an incomprehensible Trait that only exists for flavor, and its Mimic Gun is given a single, ominous sentence: "This is not a gun."
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The Ten were a series of massive generation ships that were sent out at sub-light speeds to establish colonies on worlds able to sustain them, as a last ditch effort by Old Humanity to avoid total extinction.
  • Generation Ships: The standard space ship model Old Humanity used for colonies prior to its collapse. Due to advancements (or rediscoveries) in technology by Union, however, this led to the problem that later colony ships with faster speed could reach and colonize planets before earlier ships, despite launching millennia after. The ensuing conflicts of who owns what planet are noted to be fairly terrible, and are directly responsible for the Aunic people’s hatred of Union.
  • Geo Effects: Even in the far future, and with the usage of mechs, using terrain to one's advantage is still a very useful strategy, and units taking cover in or behind pieces of terrain can increase chances of survival dramatically.
  • Global Currency: Union reluctantly acknowledges that not all worlds can be post-currency utopias just yet, so in the meantime they've introduced manna to better facilitate trade. "The Long Rim" includes rules for buying license levels using manna.
  • Grey Goo: Called "greywash" in-universe and used in starship munitions that slowly eat away at enemy ships, while HORUS' Balor mech chassis is largely made of it, it usually doesn't have reproductive capabilities so the spread is limited. Ships can also be equipped with "whitewash" nanites designed to counter greywash.
  • Heart Drive: An NHP's casket houses its consciousness in this plane of reality. NHP minds cannot be transmitted (legally) over the Omninet, so direct transfer from one casket to another is the only way to copy or back up an NHP, and if the casket is destroyed that incarnation of the NHP is irrevocably lost.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The genocide of the Egregorian aliens of Hercynia at the hands of Union's Second Committee prompted a social revolution in Cradle.
    • The No Room for a Wallflower supplement further details that many of the Union ground troops on Hercynia were executed on grounds of refusing to commit genocide. Little wonder, then, that the surviving Union troops stranded in Hercynia after its devastation mostly decided to make peace with the surviving Egregorians.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Union initially grew under the promise that the mistakes of their ancestors would not be repeated, and plenty of worlds joined under this promise.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Most warships with nearlight drives have an emergency "nearlight eject" function where they accelerate to .995c almost instantly, using temporary artificial gravity to keep the crews from becoming chunky salsa. Even then the ship has a strong chance of taking damage.
  • Insistent Terminology: Nearly every time the rules refer to "Cradle" they then immediately clarify they're talking about Earth's new name. One wonders why they even bothered changing the name, if they always have to follow up with an explanation.
    • Zigzagged. While Union insists on referring to it as "Cradle," the Karrakin Trade Baronies and Aunic peoples each claim to be the true heirs of Humanity, and refer to their ancestral home as Earth.
  • Lightspeed Leapfrog: A slower-than-light variant. The generation ship Armstrong launched during the waning days of Old Humanity, taking generations to get to their destination, their original purpose turning into a religion as they went. When they finally got there, they found that Union had sent a nearlight craft to that same world and established a colony a century ahead of them. The descendants of the Armstrong's colonists, the Aunic people, never forgave Union for its presumption.
  • Lost Colony: Various disasters caused the isolation and/or destruction of many worlds settled by humanity.
  • Master Race: The modus operandi of the Second Committee of Union (AKA: SecComm), for they believed that humanity had been tested and survived its greatest hardships, and in accordance to that it was therefore humanity's right to claim the stars and populate them freely, with an ends justify the means approach to humanity's continued survival, human rights be damned. The in-universe term for this mindset is "anthrochauvinism"; a rough and blunt summary of the mindset is "humanity's the best, screw non-humans, don't worry about future generations."
  • Matter Replicator: Downplayed. Printing technology in the setting is essentially 3D printing on crack, and explicitly doesn't adhere to normal physics, but it still has its limitations such that they're not magic create-anything machines.
  • A Mech by Any Other Name: Largely averted, as the most common name for fighting robots in Lancer is simply "mech," short for "mechanized chassis" or "mechanized cavalry." "Chassis" and "frame" are also relatively common terms. "Frame" also refers to the designation of a specific kind of mech, similar to how make and model are applied to cars.
  • Mech vs. Beast: The "monstrosity" class of NPC represents alien creatures big enough to fight on the mech scale. Sparr in particular is known for its megafauna that the natives hunt using mechs.
  • Mega-Corp: The Big Three corpro-states (Interplanetary Shipping-Northstar, Smith-Shimano Corpro, and Harrison Armory) all qualify, each having multiple worlds under their direct control and their own dedicated paramilitary forces. Despite their existence being inherently anti-thetical to the stated anti-capitalist, post-scarcity mission of the Utopic Pillars, they are allowed to exist within Union space both for purposes of galactic stability - even those not willing to buy into such high minded ideals that Union espouses are usually willing to do business with a corporation for being familiar - and because these corpro-states generally hold enough territory and military might that even if they couldn't defeat Union's forces in a direct fight, they could bleed them enough to make doing so generally not worth it.
  • Mini-Mecha: Typical (i.e. Size 1) mechs fall into this category, standing 15-25 feet tall. Smaller (Size 1/2) mechs are more akin to Powered Armor, while larger (Size 2-3) mechs straddle or cross the line into Humongous Mecha territory.
  • Money Is Experience Points: "The Long Rim" introduces two alternate systems for using manna to buy license levels. A general version where each character license level costs 1,000 manna, and a more granulated version that breaks down level features into something closer to a point build system.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: During the Hercynian Crisis, Union's Second Committee fielded mechs for the first time in a military setting. The name of the model of mech? Genghis Mk. I- Worldkiller.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Union's primary directive is to prevent the human race from ever again coming as close to extinction as it had, by any means necessary.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: The No Room for a Wallflower supplement plays this straight: Poor containment of waste material caused the natives of Hercynia, the Egregorians, to contract cholera, which was one of the factors that led to their war with Union.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: Enforced in-universe by the First Contact Accords made with RA, which prohibit research into posthuman development. Given how much havoc RA wreaked immediately prior to the establishment of the Accords, no one wants to incur its wrath by violating the prohibition too openly; despite this, it's heavily implied or outright stated that Union, Harrison Armory, Smith-Shimano Corpro, HORUS, the Horizon Collective, and various other groups are all quietly looking into the subject.
  • Overdrive: After taking their actions (2 Quick Actions or 1 Full Action), a pilot can overcharge their mech to gain one extra Quick Action for that turn. This comes at the cost of incurring Heat, the amount of which escalates with each successive overcharge (first time is 1 Heat, then 1d3, 1d6, and finally 1d6 + 4) until the next Full Repair.
  • Overheating: All mechs have a Heat Cap, which measures how much Heat damage it has taken, and acts as a secondary health bar of sorts - should a mech overheat, they need to make an overheating check or possibly suffer a reactor meltdown. Some mechs exploit this by having some abilities and weapons deal more damage as long as their Heat Cap is filled at least to half (a condition appropriately called the Danger Zone).
  • Painfully Slow Projectile: A couple of NPCs have this. The Rainmaker's Hound Missile and the Ultra's Wolfhound Missile shoot an incredibly powerful missile that nonetheless moves slower than most mechs do.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: The premise behind Size 1/2 mechs.
  • Post-Scarcity Economy: As a part of Union's mission statement to ensure humanity's long term survival, one of its core tenets is to make sure everyone's basic needs are met. Food, water, shelter and fair work is available everywhere the Omninet is available.
  • Restraining Bolt: Part of the process of limiting an NHPs' true power is to contain them into folded-blinkspace minds, and socially conditioning them to make them able to easily interact with humans. The process is appropriately referred to as 'shackling', and the hardware in which these consciousnesses must be contained are called 'caskets'.
  • Sapient Ship: All capital ships and some escorts have built-in NHPs, a few NPC ship archetypes built by the Janus Combine have advanced comp/con AI and no organic crew to speak of. During combat the NHPs on each side form a gestalt consciousness called a "fleet legion" and battle the opposing legion electronically just as they battle in realspace.
  • Sentient Vehicle: A number of level 3 licenses allow players to add an NHP to their mech, allowing it to operate on its own to an extent. However, they have a chance of going rampant once sufficient damage is taken.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The term “paracausal” was popularized by Destiny, where it means basically the same thing — stuff that defies the laws of physics, and so might as well be magic.
    • The flavor text for the HORUS Pegasus's Ushabti Omnigun forms a loop, like the flavor text for Destiny's similarly paradoxical Vex Mythoclast. Both also discuss the weapon's relationship to causality.
    • The Karrakin Trade Baronies contain many references to Frank Herbert's Dune.
    • The Swallowtail has a system referred to as a Markerlight. For extra points, its description quotes Macbeth.
    • One of the lines on the COMP/CONnote  homepage reads "Failed to read /local/domain/0/gms/dummy_plug."
    • The Sparri developed a martial art involving the SSC Atlas chassis called Jäger Kunst.
    • Word of God states the primary influence was Titanfall, and it shows best in the basic mecha designs ('clunky' and patterned after infantry rather than super robots or Gundam-styled bots with a distinct blocky sci-fi aesthetic) and an emphasis on mech and pilot combat. Several of the mechs are directly based on their Titanfall equivalents as well; the Genghis shares the general shape and flame-based role of the Scorch, for example, and the Metalmark is a mashup of the Ronin and Northstar (spindly samurai sphere robot).
    • Anime like Gundam and Robotech have their share of influence on the game - the Horus Hydra chassis is a Shout-Out to Gundam's AMX-004 Qubeley, with a similar aesthetic and an emphasis on Attack Drone combat.
  • Sleeper Starship: Most modern starships have stasis tanks, but after a century in stasis people start to suffer necrosis so most early starships were Generation Ships instead. In the present day of the setting most colonized planets are within twenty lightyears of a blink gate and travel is near-light speed so passengers only spend a few subjective months in stasis.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: In Battlegroup ships are classified as "capital ships" capable of independent nearlight travel and escorts/wings that effectively operate as capital ship systems. Capital ships are further classified as frigates, carriers, and battleships. Wings include squadrons of Space Fighters, bombers, Attack Drones, and mechs with chassis mount attachments. While escorts are basically all ships between fighters and frigates.
  • Sub-Lightspeed Setting: While blink gates provide shortcuts between core worlds the majority of colonized planets are only accessible by near-light ships traveling fast enough for Time Dilation.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: Blinkspace is effectively this trope, serving as a parallel dimension that humanity doesn’t entirely understand but still uses. ‘Folding’ blinkspace is used to restrict NHPs from their full potential and limit them to a human frame of mind. The Firmament used by the Aun is another form, but little is known about its mechanics.
    • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Traveling through Blinkspace is essentially instantaneous and the key to Union retaining interstellar hegemony. It takes many resources to make blink gates, however, so the setting is still meaningfully restricted in terms of how fast people can move through the galaxy. Furthermore, in order to set up the Blink Gates, they still need to make the initial journey the long way.
    • Subspace Ansible: The Omninet is essentially a galaxy-wide version of this, connecting most of humanity’s cultures and governments through the Blink without the lag that would be normally caused by interstellar distances.
  • Surreal Horror: A lot of the flavor text associated with NHPs dips into this, with many examples of dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness rambling that is vaguely threatening to the reader, and what is legible often speaking of sanity-shattering Time Abysses and casual Mind Rape.
  • Talking to Themself: The Five Voices, a top-secret chorus of five supercomputers used by Union to run precise forecasts of the entire galaxy, are 'bicameral minds' with no internal monologues (i.e. consciousness) with which to reason information out. Instead, they register said reflections in the form of an internally-generated "external" monologue, which they perceive as not coming from within themselves but from another, 'higher' being.
  • Theme Naming: Every mech frame is named after one of the "Five M's" depending on who manufactures them:
    • GMS names its mechs after the tallest mountain in the Himalayas (e.g. Everest, Sagarmatha).
    • IPS-N names their designs after naval commanders and other aspects of marine history (e.g. Nelson, Tortuga). There is one partial exception - Caliban, a monster (sometimes a sea monster) stranded on an island in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Fittingly, it was designed to carry out war crimes.
    • SSC names their designs after butterflies and moths (e.g. Death's Head, Monarch).
    • HORUS mechs are named after mythological monsters (e.g. Manticore, Pegasus).
    • Harrison Armory names their designs after military leaders (e.g. Sherman, Tokugawa).
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Not only do some weapons like Tactical Knives natively possess the Thrown trait, the Hunter talent specifically gives you the ability to throw auxiliary melee weapons that absolutely should not be throwable, such as self-replicating segment knives, blowtorches and your mech's own fists.
  • Time Dilation: Relativistic lighthuggers are standard for interstellar travel in the present day of the setting, so while voyages may take decades in objective time the passengers only experience a few months. The rulebook suggests simplifying time dilation to a factor of 1:10, disregarding acceleration/deceleration time so that a 20 light-year voyage takes 20 years outside the ship and 2 years on board, while a single light-year takes just over a month and Cradle to Alpha Centauri would be 5 months.
  • Tricked Out Time: It's implied a lot of alien tech, and at the very least the Lich mech, propagate weird Time Paradoxes to ensure their continued existence in the "present", ranging from somehow reviving on the spot, to weird data entries at least 15,000 years in the future.
  • We Help the Helpless: Albatross teams have this as their modus operandi, being focused on first-response and triage - with a decidedly idealized aesthetic of being wandering knights/gunslingers/ronin.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Played with. Union decided as part of their utopic ideals that human dignity and life should always be upheld… but this was before Union discovered non-human sapient life in the form of RA and Deimos Entities. In light of this, they were forced to acknowledge the latter entities as Non-Human Persons, NHPs. Unfortunately, NHPs are sufficiently alien beings that they cannot exist in a natural state with humans - all NHPs need to have their true potential be intensely limited and for them to undergo social conditioning so as to be able to interact with humans and for them to stay limited. The entire process is complicated by the alien nature of NHPs, but suffice to say it is extremely controversial in and out of universe.
    • The original inhabitants of Hercynia, the Egregorians, were bug-like aliens. The human-supremacist Second Committee did not hesitate in approving for their genocide - this was one of the factors that led to them being overthrown. The No Room for a Wallflower supplement further clarifies that Egregorians were fully sapient and intelligent beings, and essentially people not too different from humans in mentality - the survivors are understandably upset at what the Second Committee did to them, but not to such an extent that peace is completely, absolutely impossible. One possible ending for the supplement is that the Egregorians end up fully acknowledged as NHPs, and obtain full rights to their planet, allowing them to explore the rest of the universe if they so choose as part of Union.