By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 04 March 2020
As we all know, you can’t keep a good NPC down! After taking a few months off to get through a chunk of my backlog (not all, but some!), I’m getting back into the saddle and sharing some of what I’ve been reading and working on. This week, I’m delivering on a review I promised due to having funding on my Patreon: the mecha-heavy Lancer RPG!
Mecha and I have a long-standing, love/hate relationship. I love my giant robots and epic-scale battles, and mecha anime and tokusatsu were staples in my youth.
Sadly, I always felt that mecha-themed RPGs were lacking. Mekton Z had a number of convoluted mechanics (that kills conversion got frustrating), Robotech was a bit of a mess, and I won’t even get into the problems I’ve had with MechWarrior/BattleTech. It always fell to loving the theme, disliking the execution, and just never found a mech-themed RPG I could really sink my teeth into.
When a number of friends were talking about Lancer, I was a little worried, but I pulled the trigger when a close friend and fellow creator mentioned knowing some of the crew behind it. Now that the game has been out for the last couple months (and I’m caught up on my life!), I’m here to deliver that review!
Suit up and hold the line! In Lancer, you take the role of a “lancer,” a highly skilled pilot of a “mechanized calvary unit.” Lancers are known to go into any situation, change the tide of battle, and somehow leave with their lives (and mechs) intact.
==What You Get==
Lancer makes planetfall with a 430 page, full-color PDF. The first 85 pages discusses the setting, character creation, and core mechanics, followed by nearly 170 pages of gear and mechs, 80 pages for GM use (NPC stats and running-the-game tips), and then ending with 90 pages of setting.
One of the biggest draws for me when it comes to Lancer is the artwork. I’m generally a sucker for good artwork, but I thoroughly love mecha design. If you are also an aficionado of giant robots, you will adore what is the largest part of the book: the sheer number of mechs provided. Each PC-usable mech includes an image of that mech, and when you combine that with the various other bits of splash art, this proves to be a lovely book.
Outside of a wonky font/layout hangup, the layout of the book is well done. As we have a very basic white background, black text, we don’t get the various splash page hangups we saw with Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory, nor do we have an ink-killer like Star Trek Adventures. The use of color in sidebars/titles helps the important bits stand out, while still being friendly. Combine these with decent spacing and the aforementioned art, and the book is a relatively simple, albeit pleasant, aesthetic experience.
For a game with a lot of moving parts, which seems to be the norm for a mecha combat game, the core mechanic is rather simple. Instead of rolling buckets of dice or adding modifiers until you are blue in the face, a roll in Lancer is often simply a d20, maybe a couple of d6s (that could lead to a bonus or penalty), adding the character’s Grit rating (1-6), and when applicable, a +2 if it’s related to a characters “Trigger” (something they focus on, like “Apply Fists to Faces” or “Lead By Example.” The results for a “LL0” character can range from -4 up to a 29, with most difficulties being near or around 10, and criticals being 20+.
Granted, some things change with mech combat (Triggers are swapped with your Mech’s stats), but the core remains the same, which makes this a bit more welcoming than I expected.
One thing I always loved about mecha-based anime and games was the plotlines and stories involved. While Lancer can come off as “far future with advanced production, giant robots, and war,” I find that it takes some of the more nuanced elements of Voltron, Gundam, Battletech/MechWarrior, and I’m certain many others, and marries them together into something intriguing. I’m not sure if I’d say I “love” it, but it is a solid bit of framework to use for a neophyte the mecha.
If you’re a fan of the above, as well as video games like Armored Core, then you will be happy to hear that you are able to fully custom-build your mech. While all starting mechs are almost identical, the decisions you make as you level up allow you to pick and choose parts, as well as pre-built mechs, to make a mecha of your choosing. How is this a bad plan?
Finally, I have to say that it is worth the money. $25 will net you 430 pages of full-color, art-heavy PDF. If that doesn’t sell it for you, Massif Press has a free “first edition” PDF that is low/light on art, but gives you quite a bit of the Lancer experience. There’s also a collection of other materials to support Lancer on their itch.io page, allowing you to literally try before you buy, as well as have some extra materials to support your game. To me, that’s a win/win!
The first thing I noticed, when reading this from my computer, was the font. For some reason, depending on zoom factor, the font will do some…strange things. Some letters have an unexpected weight emphasis, similar to OpenDyslexic, while other times the thickness of letters would change. I had to spend some time tinkering with it to even make it readable, as it felt that the font selected (or other factors) made it to be a demonic version of OpenDyslexic.
As someone who readily admits eyesight issues, I found this to be a bit frustrating at times and almost unreadable at others.
Finally, some players may find this too daunting. While the core mechanic is surprisingly simple and, I daresay, “elegantly effective” for the style of game, the sheer number of moving parts can be tough to follow. Players gain Talents, which cause modifiers to rolls (like Accuracy boosts), new actions, and other various effects. Players have to track their pilot and mechs, each with their own, rather packed, sheets, which includes gear (with another collection of rules and effects), Systems (installed bits to your mech, with their own effects, rules, and actions), and general status (health, hull, heat, strain, etc). Some people thrive on the sheer amount of book keeping, and with nearly half of the book dedicated to options for gear, this would scratch that itch.
It’s just not for me or my table, especially for a GM-on-the-go; there’s just too much need of physical resources (battlemaps, minis, reference sheets/tokens, etc) for me to want to add it to my event repertoire.
Of course, having the sheer amount of customization provided by this game is going to have a downfall, and this is not unexpected.
After a couple of passes and checking all systems, I’m going to have to give Lancer a stable 3.5 Buns.
I came in for the artwork and stayed for the systems. While Lancer suffers from a wonky font issue (in the PDF) as well as the same bookkeeping flaws of other mecha-themed games, it is by far one of the more user friendly mecha-themed RPGs I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Even if it takes some effort, the idea of building the mech you want and going on adventures in this universe is highly appealing.
If you love mecha designs, an accessible core mechanic, and all of the antics that giant mecs entail, then I would absolutely suggest picking up Lancer.
If you’re not a fan of giant mechs and dislike bookkeeping, you’ll want to give this a pass.
Lancer is published by Massif Press, and was released to Kickstarter backers in late 2019. Print copies are yet to be released, but PDFs of the book, both free and paid versions, can be found on their itch.io store.