Mud, Lasers, and Giant Robots - A Review of Lancer: The Mech RPG

Mud, Lasers, and Giant Robots - A Review of Lancer: The Mech RPG




Lancer is my current tabletop RPG obsession. It's a game where sufficiently advanced technology chruns through the mud and dust at the edge of the human frontier. You are a Lancer: an elite mech pilot beholden to no one, or to your friends, or to a megacorporation, or to a cause, or to hyperadvanced enslaved math ghosts from beyond reality. Humanity is racing towards a post-scarcity utopia, and you're on a crash course with whatever is in the way. You, Lancer, are here to make the difference.

Your tools are ingenuity, passion, and a giant freakin' robot.

About This Review

I plan to talk about why you should play Lancer instead of giving a play-by-play of the mechanics. I will focus on the things that make this game stand out from industry standards like Dungeous and Dragons. 

More traditional reviews can be found all over the internet. Here are some of my favorites!


Why Should You Play Lancer?

It's free for players and cheap for the GM

Massif Press offers a free, stripped-down version of the core book with everything you need to participate as a player. And, frankly, you don't even need this thanks to the amazing companion app discussed below.

All the game master rules are available in the full rulebook for $25. The full Lancer book was also part of the big Bundle for Racial Justice, so you may already own it.

The full book is worth the money, as it contains all the setting information, the absolutely gorgeous art, and everything you need to run the game.

It has the best companion app ever made

One of the hardest parts of playing a tabletop RPG is character creation and management. Dice. Paper. Pencils. Ten million options. Math. It's often more like homework than fun. For game masters, it can be a chore to create encounters and track all of their abilities.

Enter Comp/Con.

Comp/Con is everything D&D Beyond wishes it could be. It sets a new standard for companion apps.

Wanna create a new Level 0 character? You can get it done, mech included, in nine clicks. It'll even let you click for a randomized character name. You can have a viable character ready to play a game in ten seconds.

Leveling up is just as easy. Customizing your mech? Also dead simple. And it eases playing the game, too. You don't even need to print a character sheet if you don't want to: you can just load Comp/Con on your phone and use your finger to add/remove health, heat, etc.

But wait! There's more!

Game masters can import a file (found with their core book download) that will enable an entire GM-related section. This mission designer allows them to plan out entire campaigns, leave notes, define NPCs, create encounters, and add rests. You can do it all. And then you can run the encounters within Comp/Con and it will track turns, health, everything.

Frankly, Comp/Con has set such a high standard that GMing other RPGs now feels like a chore.

When everything is overpowered, nothing is

Player abilities are all powerful and impactful. As a result, it is difficult to make a truly "bad" character. This makes the game very forgiving to newbies.Experienced players will be delighted to find new combos.

And, if a player doesn't like the choices they made, there are re-spec options available at level-up.

Be anything you want

The system is incredibly flexible. You can create virtually any kind of character, or mech, you can dream of.

Feel like being a space pirate in a mech with chainsaws for arms? Lancer has your back.

Want to be a highly-augmented man of the stars whose life is spent at near lightspeed and thus has been alive for 1000 actual years (30 subjective), most of which is spent as part of an order of space paladins dedicated to wiping out guys like the previous suggestion? Join the Albatross today, stay for a millenia.

Want to roll up into a one-horse town as a grizzled veteran with an eyepatch and a cowboy mech? Son, that's in the official art.

Accidentally blow up a moon, and spend your life on the run from a titanic corpro-state? Then discover you're actually a clone of the original, and they're still after you because killing you once wasn't enough? So you build a titanic armored mech with an automatic shotgun and never, ever leave it? That's one of my players in the game I'm GMing.

Do whatever you please. The game supports it.

The art is stunning

I mean, seriously. Go google image search for "Lancer RPG Art" or just scroll through the kickstarter page.

The art is done by Tom Parkinson, the mad genius behind the (absolutely stellar) webcomic Kill Six Billion Demons.

Combat is tactical. Narrative role play is rules-lite.

I absolutely love this system. A lite rules system for role playing allows your players the freedom to do whatever sounds cool or appropriate. They simply say what they want to do, then the GM assigns a difficulty and describes the consequences of failure. If the players wish to continue, dice are rolled. Whatever happens, happens. A bar fight, a tense negotiation, a stealthy infiltration, and a meme-based political smear campaign all follow the same rules.

But sometimes you simply must jump in a giant robot and wreck things. Mech combat is quick, brutal, and very tactical. There's no initiative, like in D&D. Instead, the players and NPCs take turns acting. A player goes, then an NPC, then a player, and so on. Players can go in any order during the round, so they're encouraged to set up combos off each other. Cover is important, and abilities that control or lock down characters are very useful.

You're going to want some kind of map for mech combat. Lancer can use squares or hexes or, in a pinch, even just measuring in inches. There's good support for virtual tabletops. And if you can't find minis, just print off a paper mech from Retrograde Minis. Click the mech section and go hog wild. Every mech there is based off a Lancer PC or NPC mech.

Lancer's setting is fascinating

Players with the full rulebook will find that half of the book is dedicated to the setting and worldbuilding. There is detailed information about NPC factions, technology, history, and much, much more. I haven't been booked by such a sweeping, interesting RPG setting since Planescape.

The interstellar government is called Union, and it controls most of known space. Union's has two oft-conflicting goals: relentless expansion into the unknown and bringing utopia to those worlds already established. Through technology and sheer will, Union's core worlds are approaching a post-scarcity utopia. But on the fringes, Union's control slips, and utopia is a dream for one's great-grandchildren.

Away from the core worlds, conflict arises in the vacuum of Union's control. There are dozens of organizations of all types, but four major corporations loom over them all. On the frontier, their power often exceeds that of Union. Each has its own goals, and those rarely align with each other or with Union itself.

A shadow lays over it all. Hyperadvanced, noncorporeal information singularities have begun to appear throughout human space. The first calls itself RA, and it shook Union to its core. RA manifested on Deimos, the smaller of Mars' moons. In less than two months, it manifested, resisted all efforts to contain it, took control of machines throughout the Sol system, forced a set of Accords on Union, and, before the ink was even dry, fucked off to who knows where, taking the entierty of Deimos with it. Echos of RA's presence reverberate throughout Union space as it does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, seemingly unbound by the laws of physics or causality.

And RA was but the first.

To learn more about the writing behind Lancer, check out this interview with Miguel Lopez, the lead writer of the core book.

You're convinced. Now what?

You can start playing with ease!

As a player, visit the Lancer Discord and look for games that are recruiting. There are always some.

If you want to GM, get the core book somehow and recruit some friends.

And I could be convinced to run a couple of Roll20 games for Shackers...


Comp/Con sets a new standard for digital character creation and GM tools.

The art is outstanding.

Narrative play allows for fully free-form role-playing with a minimum of dice rolls.

Mech combat is tactical and brutal with a minimum of downtime for players.

The core setting is well fleshed out with hundreds of narrative hooks.

The game is very newbie friendly thanks to impactful player abilities and free re-spec at level up.


Real-life tabletop gaming is difficult during a global pandemic

From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 13, 2020 8:32 AM

    I wrote a review of Lancer: The Mech RPG. It's my new tabletop RPG obsession, and I can't wait to share it with you.

    Read more: Mud, Lasers, and Giant Robots - A Review of Lancer: The Mech RPG

    • reply
      November 13, 2020 9:22 AM

      This looks amazing.

      • reply
        November 13, 2020 9:24 AM

        It is amazing. Have any questions?

        • reply
          November 13, 2020 9:26 AM

          Just reading about it on my raspberry pi, which is my primary desktop until I replace my Mobo. Seeing what I can get going on there. :-)

        • reply
          November 13, 2020 10:15 AM

          I had fun using the web app, built a character and a mech. Ran well on rasp pi. Is there a way to share my build with you via app or just copy pilot starblock text?

          • reply
            November 13, 2020 10:19 AM

            On the Pilot Roster, click the gear icon to the right of your pilot. Click "Cloud Settings". Click "Create new vault settings". Copy/paste the Pilot Share Code that appears at the top.

            Then, to import, you can add a new pilot and click Cloud Import and put that code in.

            Here's a LL2 character I made for a game I never got to play: 354aa7cd9601f0e76d87ee45f27805eb

            • reply
              November 13, 2020 10:20 AM

              Sorry that should say "create new vault record" not "create new vault settings"

            • reply
              November 13, 2020 10:21 AM

              83d55b671c6b22d15a7c184d5a5d5c13 is my code, shadebane / snakewasp . The art was made by a friend of mine, its a snakwasp :-)

              • reply
                November 13, 2020 10:25 AM

                The only issue I see is that you have the Duelist talent, which affects "main" melee weapons. As in "a melee weapon on a Main weapon mount." You only have a melee weapon on your Heavy mount.

                Replace Duelist with Executioner and you've got yourself a good all-rounder who can sneak past the front enemy lines and lay the smack down.

    • reply
      November 13, 2020 9:33 AM

      I was gonna say that art kinda put me in mind of Moebius (which I first spelled as Meo and now Meowbius exists), but Kill 6 Billion Demons, yes. Obvious now. Also heavily Moebius inspired. Also some Geof Darrow in Parkinson's stuff. Speaking of which there should be new chapters up for me!!! So big up for that.

      • reply
        November 13, 2020 9:39 AM

        OH NICE! Books 3 and 4!!

        • reply
          November 13, 2020 9:53 AM

          Kill Six Billion Demons is a treasure!

          We just finished Book 4. Book 5 starts with a bang. Literally.

          • reply
            November 13, 2020 3:14 PM

            Kill Six Billion Demons is amazing. I'm floored that something so interestingly drawn is being done by a single person.

            For those who haven't heard of it before, here is where you begin:

            • reply
              November 13, 2020 3:31 PM

              He writes it, too. Tom is a god damn artistic savant

              • reply
                November 13, 2020 3:52 PM

                Check that GitS pagethrough in the Cartoonist Kayfabe Cortex. Shirow did everything solo too. A lot of the Mangaka still do.

              • reply
                November 13, 2020 4:08 PM

                I assumed it, but I didn't know for sure. Yeah, it's an amazing comic and I just ordered the first two paperback books because I want to hang onto it.

    • reply
      November 13, 2020 9:48 AM

      Hey did you know there's a Lancer game system for Foundry VTT?

      • reply
        November 13, 2020 9:49 AM

        I did, but I have't used Foundry myself. I didn't want to recommend something I hadn't used.

    • reply
      November 13, 2020 10:26 AM

      This is some dope ass shit ConfusedUs. I'd love to play sometime, if I ever find the time.

      • reply
        November 13, 2020 11:07 AM

        I would absolutely be up for running a one-shot mission for Shackers on some night. Spend 2-3 days, 2-3 hours each, spread across a few weeks or something.

    • reply
      November 13, 2020 10:30 AM

      That web app damn. Super slick. I kickstarted it way back but haven't had the time to crack open the hardcover yet but I guess ought to now.

      • reply
        November 13, 2020 10:31 AM

        I regret not buying a physical copy so hard. I only backed the digital level.

        If you decide you don't want it, I will absolutely buy it off you.

        • reply
          November 13, 2020 10:40 AM

          Sorry :( I honestly backed it almost exclusively for the art lol

          Maybe they'll do a second printing if the good word keeps spreading.

          I read they have a fleet combat module coming out on a new virtual TRPG platform?

          • reply
            November 13, 2020 10:59 AM

            Hey that's totally cool!

            They are producing a fleet battles RPG in the same setting! It's been in public playtesting for a while. There's a channel on the Discord.

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