Lancer (RPG) Review

About a year ago I was introduced to this title while looking for alternatives to Battletech/Mechwarrior. Giant robots were on my mind, and I could not have been happier to come across this recommendation. Truly, I’m excited because independent works like this deserve every accolade it gets. So, check your license levels, print a mech, jump in and join me as we dive into Lancer!

What is Lancer

Lancer is a 2019 sci-fi, mech combat rpg created by Miguel Lopez and Tom Parkinson Morgan and published by Massif Press. Players take on the on the role of titular Lancer, a skilled mech pilot, who travels to the periphery of the known universe in order to undertake the most dangerous missions against pirates, mercenaries, and the like!    

The Book

The Lancer core book is a 431 page comprehensive tome that provides players with everything they need to run a game. There are five primary chapters (renamed sections) that detail everything from character creation, to combat mechanics, game structure and the lore of Lancer.  These sections are easy to follow and understand, allowing for an ease of use when trying to find information.

Regarding artwork, Lancer does not disappoint! The entire book provides a wide variety of unique illustrations of the universe, character designs, and of course the mechs themselves! The illustrations are colorful, vibrant, and have a slight anime-ish flourish to them. The visuals convey a gritty and chaotic sci fi, wild west feel… and I like it! Too many TTRPGs have gone the grimdark route, and I’m glad that this one doesn’t re-tread that often too heavily used backdrop. 

Character Creation & Leveling Up

Lancer is a level-based system, but not in the way you are thinking.  There are no classes, races, etc.  All characters are defined by their license level (LL) which always starts at LL0 and can go up to LL12. Players are made up of the following:

  • Background – This is the origin of the player and can be invoked during narrative play.
  • Triggers – These are the abstracted “skills” that a character possesses. They can be used during narrative play AND have great names like Word on the Street, or Apply Fists to Faces!
  • Mech Skill – Used during mech combat and are divide into four categories:
    • Hull – your ability to pilot/build durable mechs
    • Agility – your ability to pilot/build maneuverable mechs
    • Systems – your ability to pilot/build advanced mechs with better e-warfare systems
    • Engineering – your ability to pilot/build mechs with better subsystems
  • Talents – These are basically feats that can grant passive or active bonuses depending and can progress from Tier 1 to Tier 3. They could allow to hit more accurately with a type of attack, push systems beyond their limits, perform a specific combat maneuver, hack more efficiently, or any number of other useful things!
  • License Rank – This is used for leveling and for mech customization
  • HP – Your hit points!
  • E-defense – How hard it is to hack their electronic systems (in a mech)
  • Grit – It’s a static bonus that improves your HP, accuracy, and saves
  • Size – Represents how big you are compared to mechs 
  • Speed – How far you move on the board

Leveling up is rather simple. Once a mission is complete, characters progress up one LL and can improve triggers, mech skill and talents.  Upon reaching LL12 the character has capped out. Also, if you don’t like how you have arranged your stats, there is always to option to reallocate your point, talents, etc. 

The Mechs!

I believe that the creators took the follow phrase to heart when designing the mechs of Lancer…

Variety is the spice of life.

Wow, just wow!  This is decision paralysis at it’s best! The mechs of Lancer are some of the most varied, unique and interesting designs with a plethora of firepower to boot!  For comparison the Mechs of BattleTech are basically just bipedal frames of various sizes with a collection of interchangeable standard armaments. 

Each mech concept in Lancer ranges in size anywhere from 9ft to 45ft tall and could be bipedal up to Hexi-pedal. The mechs are so high tech that some move beyond the standard steel boxy look, and might be made up of organic parts, or otherwise be trans dimensional. There 30 mechs that are grouped among four main manufacturers:

  • General Massive Systems (GMS) – The most proven of all manufacturers, and also home to the gold standard mech… the Everest
  • Interplanetary Shipping NorthStar (IPS-N) – Battle hardened designs that are designs for punishment and reliability
  • Smith-Shimano Corpro (SSC) – They design sleek, fast and extremely high tech mechs. If IPS-N designs are pickup trucks then SSC designs are formula one racers
  • HORUS – They design mechs that are insane compared to other manufacturers.  They are mechs that are the pinnacle of high tech and many seemingly break the laws of physics (or reality).
  • Harrison Armory (HA) – They make massive machines of war that have a very military feel to them

Each Mech also has four main stats that can range in number from +0 to +6 and cover everything from combat to skill checks, saves and more!

  • Hull – your ability to pilot/build durable mechs
  • Agility – your ability to pilot/build maneuverable mechs
  • Systems – your ability to pilot/build advanced mechs with better e-warfare systems
  • Engineering – your ability to pilot/build mechs with better subsystems

Additionally, each mech fall under a specific role classification (sometimes a dual role):

  • Artillery – Long range hard hitting mechs that usually stay far from the front line.
  • Striker – Close range combatants
  • Controller – Inflict status, movement, overheating or other penalties to targets
  • Support – Increases the combat capabilities of their allies.  They can also heal, remove conditions or protect allies, as well
  • Defender – Can defend allies or just take a ton of damage

Now the best part is that you are not limited to just a single mech. Any character can customize a mech however they like and are only bound by the confines of the mount type (aka what you can put on a mech… like a heavy weapons mount), their LL and System Points. You have the option and are encourage to split your LLs amongst the other manufacturers, allowing you to put certain armaments on other frames. This alone grants a world of customization! 

Here are just some of the options that you could have at your disposal (and I’m barely scratching the surface):

  • Teleportation
  • Building a bunker
  • Chain axes, swords, etc.
  • Teleportation
  • Flight
  • Laying Mines
  • Railguns
  • Invisibility/Active Camouflage
  • Drones
  • Nano-swarms

With enough investment players could create the mech of their dreams! Also, it should be said that the starter mech (The Everest) doesn’t suddenly become a weak option. With enough investment and customization, even the basest frame could become a force to be reckoned with!

NHP (Non-Human Persons)

Some mechs are equipped with an artificial intelligence called a NHP. Said AI is shackled to the mech, providing a number of bonuses for usually one critical system. However, there is a chance that the NHP could become unshackled during the course of play. If this happens, the only option is for the mech to power down and reset. It’s just one of the awesome options of Lancer that make a game exciting.

In case you are wondering there is an in-game reason that you can do all of this. Mechs are essentially 3D printed on demand. Money isn’t really a thing in Lancer, so as long as you have the LLs, you can make it happen!

Long story short: Lancer’s variety does not disappoint!

Narrative Mechanics

Unlike the mech combat, narrative mechanics are fairly simple and straightforward.  Anything that you want to accomplish during narrative play (anything done outside of mech combat) needs to be done on a roll of 10+ on a D20.  In order to assist with certain checks, players can invoke their background for either an advantage/disadvantage (called accuracy/difficulty for this game) or their triggers for a flat bonus (+2, +4, or +6).  Success means the thing was accomplished while failure means that your player pays the price (inflicting harm, etc).  

For instance, if your character has a Criminal background and wants to charm another criminal, they could invoke their background for an Advantage roll and use their charm trigger for a flat bonus. However, if that same character was trying to Charm a law enforcement officer said background would now give them a disadvantage on the same roll, although they could still use the same charm trigger.

The narrative gameplay is designed to be fast, fluid and easy to understand. It also reminds me a little of other narrative titles like FATE or City of Mist, but in a much more compact form.

Combat Mechanics

When it comes to combat focused games there is often a balance point that designers have to hit in order to make the game work. If the game mechanics are too lite the experience feels under-baked and often boring, while games with heavy mechanics often create a sluggish and overbearing slog. Either end of this mechanical spectrum will drive away new players looking to learn something new, or veteran players looking for a challenge. The prime example of this is BattleTech. I attempted to play BattleTech back in the late 1990s only to be left frustrated and confused by the seemingly endless chunky gameplay. 

I’m positive that Miguel Lopez and Tom Parkinson Morgan must have taken these lessons to heart when they created Lancer because it hits the sweet spot. The combat rules are instantly understandable but gain in complexity over time. I could spend another 50+ pages talking about the mechanics, but instead just know that everything from the number of actions you can take to the damage of a weapon has been well structed, providing a solid foundation from which anyone can understand. Mechs themselves have the ability to fight, shoot, hack, or otherwise find creative ways to destroy one another. 

Certain attacks may cause other types of secondary damage (like fire causing mechs to overheat), while certain attack rules may be circumvented with special abilities (like teleporting out of melee). The size of a mech also matters, as a larger mech takes up a larger footprint on the battlefield… unlike some games (Yes, I’m talking about you, BattleTech). Placement, range, terrain, all if it matters without being overbearing. Since all LL0 players start with the same mech, it also eases gameplay a bit, allowing you to understand how to build on your own understanding over time.     

Player Death

The universe of Lancer is a high tech one, and much like a mech, bodies too can be printed.  A dead character can be cloned again… but at a price. Cloned character will come back at the same LL but with a quirk. This is a narrative quirk like a mutation, but it just adds to the uniqueness of the character!

Community Support

It’s certainly not unheard of for game to have online support, but I believe that Lancer has a leg up on the competition. There are two in particular that I want to focus on. If you are going to play Lancer, you have to check this out, as it will not only help organize your characters/mechs, but also help create unique assets for your game (online or off).

Companion Concierge (Comp/Con)

  • Like with any stat based game, there is information that you need to keep track of such as pilots, License Levels, custom mechs, etc. Comp/Con is a digital companion allowing players to create an account to keep track of all of this information. Create as much as you want, import files, and organize everything. This is a vital tool for your Lancer game!

Retrograde Tabletop Minis

  • With all of the customization that Lancer affords, it can be difficult to have a unique visual to represent your character’s mech. Retrograde allows you to create a custom token for your mech down to some of the most minute accessories. Keep in mind that you are not creating stats, but rather just the icon/token. It’s really awesome and can help to put a visual to your creation!


A gigantic chunk of this book is dedicated to the lore of Lancer, and it is wild! The year is 5016U (not a typo) and humanity has spread across the vastness of space. The Union remains the single authority over the core worlds while the periphery of space is a lawless affair. Lancers are specialist, a true cut above the rest, and they are sent out beyond the core worlds to deal with warzones or trouble on some far-flung colonies. It is implied that this era is coming to an end, which gives your actions a bit more weight, as if your character could be reason that the pendulum suddenly begins to swing the other way.   

The truth is, as entertaining as the lore may be… you don’t need it. Lancer could be anything from a military campaign, to space pirating, or even just a series of mech based gladiatorial events that are seen in every corner of the galaxy! Make is what you want, but I do encourage you to read the lore!

The Good

Lancer is one of those titles that stand out among its peers. The setting has style, the mechanics have substance without too much crunch, and the lore is incredible (but also ignorable if you just want to play a game of Robot Jox). Additionally, the game has been created a way to ease you into the mechanics, which is nearly unheard of in many other titles. Lastly, Lancer has incredible online support, making it more accessible to new players or veterans alike. 

The Bad

Like most combat focused titles, Lancer is a game with a steep learning curve due to the myriad of choices. But do not get me wrong, this is a good thing because it also means that you can try every gameplay option, every mech combination, and see what works for you! True, power gamers (or min-maxers) will have a field day with this title, but so will everyone else! 


Lancer is everything that Battletech/Mechwarrior wishes it could be. The monumental effort that went into the mechanics, lore, setting, and balance can be felt in every page. If you have even the slightest desire to play a game with giant robot battles… absolutely give this one a try! 

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