Lancer Builds Mechs Beautifully


Cover art by Tom Parkinson Morgan from Massif Press’s Twitter.

Mandica slows her breath to relax as the blood rushes to her head. Sitting in her Death’s Head, she stabilizes her aim. Her mech may be perpendicular to the floor and standing on a wall, but that’s no excuse to miss. She fires her cyclone pulse rifle, ripping apart the enemy support mech to prevent it from healing the opposing hacker. The hacker then delves into Mandica’s systems, causing them to overheat and impairing the Death’s Head. Teri, Mandica’s ally Blackbeard pilot, quickly runs up to the hacker and slashes at it once with their tungsten-tipped chain axe, and twice with their nanocarbon sword, demolishing the hacker before it could do any more to hurt her friend.

All this can happen in one round of Lancer, a tabletop roleplaying game, which is a system of rules for players to work with the Game Master (GM) to tell an interesting story. It’s like Dungeons & Dragons, except instead of being a fantasy game, it’s science fiction, focusing on piloting giant robots, or mechs. The world described in the Core Book is incredibly interesting and in depth: 11,000 years after an apocalyptic event on Earth, the galactic government of Union is trying to make up for their colonialist past. With a myriad of interesting factions and locations, there’s lots of ideas for a GM to base a campaign, from the rival houses of the Karrakin Trade Baronies to the kaiju-esque Vast of Sparr.

The game is divided into two sections: narrative play, and mech combat. Narrative play is fast and loose. Whenever it would be interesting if an action would fail, roll a d20, adding a 2-6 bonus based on how much the skill is trained, and if it’s a 10 or above, it’s a success. Mech Combat is considerably more crunchy. Players choose between 2 quick actions or 1 full action, alongside movement and the ability to overcharge. Overcharging is taking a quick action at the cost of making it more likely for the mech to overheat.

Character creation is easy but deep. There are 4 major manufacturers of mechs, and players can mix and match weapons and systems with the frame of their choice. Each manufacturer has their own distinct aesthetic, from the sleek and stylish SSC, to the reality breaking horror of Horus. One of my favorite things about the system is that the starting mech, the GMS Everest, isn’t sucky. It’s a solid striker at all levels of play.

The customization is great. The shifting Mimic Gun can be put on the missile-focused SSC Monarch to stack weapon talents and deal 4 conditions on a critical hit. Take the enormous Combat Drill and put it on the probability warping HORUS Pegasus to guarantee good damage if dice always seem to roll low. Take the berserker system SEKHMET and put it on the uncontrollable HA Enkidu to rip and tear through the enemy line, though hopefully allies aren’t anywhere nearby, or they might be torn up too. The options are endless.

If it’s not clear yet, I love Lancer. Every piece of flavor text makes me want to run a campaign and every mech system makes me want to make a new character. If any of this sounds intriguing, the player-facing content is free from Massif Press’s page. If making a character seems interesting or overwhelming, Comp/Con is an excellent resource that streamlines the process.