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 content is planned for release in 2020.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 settings 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 ones own convenience, but which doesnt 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 theres 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. They can be be unshackled deliberately or otherwise for game effects. 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.
- 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.
- 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 RAs 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.
- Cloning Blues/Clones Are People, Too: The setting features several kinds of clones. The typical, 'facsimile' clone is genetically identical to the donor, and is in all senses their own person, someone that grows at the same rate as a normal human. Meanwhile, "flash" clones are grown in artificial birthing chambers and have their growth accelerated so they mature to adulthood in around 5 years, and the process is noted to be traumatic and error-prone. Further complicating the matter is that it's possible (though ill-advised) to do 'whole-subjectivity' clones, implanting a clone with accumulated memories of the original donor.
- During the Second Committee of Union, clones were typically used as slaves for mass labor or military use, and were not considered people in their own right. In the current day, facsimile clones are legally allowed only with informed consent; most other types of cloning are highly illegal.
- 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 RAs 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.
- 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 peoples 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.
- Heart Drive: An NHP's casket houses its consciousness in this plane of reality. NHP minds cannot be transmitted 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.
- HeelFace 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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'.
- Subspace or Hyperspace: Blinkspace is effectively this trope, serving as a parallel dimension that humanity doesnt 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 mechanincs.
- 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.
- The Alternet: The Omninet is essentially a galaxy-wide version of this, connecting most of humanitys 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.