Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Look at Lancer

This is such a rad cover.

So Tom Parkinson-Morgan (Abaddon) of Kill Six Billion Demons fame just launched the kickstarter for his mech RPG Lancer.

Being a huge mark for anything that man has creative input on, I thought I'd finally get my ass in gear and do a read through of the beta document.

The Basics

It runs on Shadow of the Demon Lord bones (what I always want to see!): d20 + bonuses, try to beat 10. Target number varies in combat for attacks and save rolls.

Boons and banes appear as Accuracy and Difficulty. They work the same as boons and banes.

Skills can add bonuses, as well as a general Grit bonus of 1/2 player level.

I don't know how much I like Grit. At level 6 you only fail on a 6 or less before skills and Boons are even calculated. Seems to be an extra number that doesn't need to be there.

Cycle of Play

Split between missions and downtime. You level up after every mission. More Shadow shows itself. I like that the game is based on this framework, makes it good for stringing together sessions.


Characters have:
  • A background
  • Four personal skills at +2
  • +2 to a single mech skill or  +1 to two
  • 3 talents (you can do a special thing, each has 3 levels)
  • Your gear
Okay, all good so far.

What I don't like here is that it's falling to the PbtA "renaming things that already have names" method of game design. There's no reason to name "get a boon / bane because your background is relevant" as "Invoke" and spend four paragraphs on it. Or naming pilot traits / skills as "triggers"- they're traits. If I say "character traits", everyone knows what I am talking about automatically.

Just say "if your background is relevant, you get a boon / bane". The wheel is perfectly functional, we don't need it re-invented.

Note Well: I have a bizarre, irrational hatred of this sort of mechanical name-changing. Read forward with bias acknowledged.

The more flavorful descriptors of traits ("Blow something up" instead of "Demolitions") is fun and pretty easily understandable, so I am not against that in practice.


They're like big characters. They have stats, they have skills, they have a base frame with a special ability and certain number of slots for modules. Neat. I can get behind it, will be a lot better when it's formatted and I can read it better.

The mech designs are fucking fantastic, of course.


Downtime has certain actions you take between missions (like preparing reserve resources for future missions or other assorted options that have a lot of PbtA influence. At least they are named appropriately). Before a mission starts, you get briefed on the goal and can make preparations, before cutting directly to deployment. I like that. No futzing around. We're here for mechs to fight each other and that is what we are gonna get.

Got some good tables, that's all good.

But then we get to the part where we get multi-paragraph descriptions defining and codifying things like briefs, goals, stakes. A bullet point would suffice. We get this. Anyone opening up this book will get this. Small children will get this.

Being able to push a failed roll and risk major consequences, that's good. Like that as an idea.

From this point on there are a lot of subsystems. Combat and movement and whatnot. It's what you'd expect.

You can clone characters and there's a table of glitches, that's cool.

Big list of equipment tags, also cool, I like tags.

List of backgrounds is not connected to character generation section in the beta.

Then there are about four hundred pages of equipment, mechs, and lore. The mechs in particular border on unreadable in their current state - each takes about 4 pages, single column, and they overlap. That'll be fixed in formatting.

The Bad

This book is too goddamn big. The beta is 566 pages, and there's 71 + 38 + 46 + 174 = 329 additional supplement pages in the docs folder. Unformatted, sure. Mostly artless, yeah. Nit too big.

In the year of our beloved Holocene 12019 this amount of bloat in an RPG book is ludicrous. By Dan standards. Dandards. Too many words. Too much wasted space. It's Shadow of the Demon Lord at its core and you can fit those rules on five pages or less.

There are just too many words.

Likewise, I'm sad to say "there should be less lore" (it feels like blasphemy!) but there needs to be less lore. Minor factions (not the main corporations) can get 2-5 pages of 12 point, single spaced, single column font. Just cutting direct lore dump would drop it to 452 pages.

Lore doesn't help me run a game. Flavor does. The major corporations overflow with flavor, and I can get that all from small descriptions and art. I can take one look at one of those HORUS guys and know exactly what I can use them for. This is the greatest strength of the book and should be leaned into hard. More art, fewer words.

Final Thoughts

I love this idea. I love the core mechanics. I love the art. I want to love it as a book, but to put things into perspective my DCC hardcover is 476 pages (with, it should be noted, quickstart rules at 47 pages total including 2 dungeons). If your core book is 100 pages longer than DCC and has a further 329 pages of supplements it might be a bit too big.

Now, the properly laid-out pages on the Kickstarter have dual-column formatting, so shorter it will probably be. Hopefully this is me going on and on about nothing. But it makes me hesitant to say "yeah, I'll go for the hardcover." The Kickstarter still says 560 pages, and that's a book to be read and looked at, not used. If any would be worth it, it would be this one, but...

I can get over my irrational fear of renaming mechanics that already have functional names.

I trust it will turn out great, grand and wonderful.

But 560 pages is unwieldy as hell no matter how you slice it. I want to actually run this game, which means I the referee and my players need to be able to reference information fast and efficiently with 1 physical book at the table and the pdf on my computer. I'm thrown out of whack by this, because such an issue is a solved problem. It's been a solved problem for years. That the solution has not traveled particularly far saddens me.

Final Final Thought

The pdf better have some incredibly thorough bookmarks and internal hyperlinks.


  1. I like my RPG mechanics to be as close to International Scientific Vocabulary as I can get them. Weird that way.

  2. Someplace -- the KS description I think -- made a virtue out of loading every rift with lore, which kind of sent up red flags. It seems like there are many people really grooving on the arts of inflection and innuendo these days -- lore dumps strike me more and more as sideways solutions.

    But still mulling because a couple of my home players had such fun with Battletech at a con.

  3. Oh man, on one hand: I HAVE A NEED.
    On the other hand: will there be more chaff than wheat here?
    On the third hand: I've enjoyed lore quite a bit from this author before.
    On the fourth hand: but not nearly this much.

    1. On the plus side, you now have all the arms you need for angel-based martial arts.

      From the look of the beta, it does seem that chaff levels are dangerously high.

    2. Oh man, you really weren't kidding. Just glancing at the beta document made me phase out.

  4. Been a fan of Kill 6 Billion Demons since the beginning, best reference point for weird planar shit in games. And I'm a big mecha fanboy.

    So Lancer has been on my radar for a while. I've got the kickstarter hearted right now until pay day rolls around, I make a point to back kickstarters at the last second so I don't get surprised when the bill comes for something I backed a month ago.

  5. Yeah I'm not attached enough to big mech battles to deal with that many pages.It sounds like they desperately need to reduce or make a quickstart rules with zero lore and supremely condensed rules. People will still buy the big book for the art.

    1. Quickstart rules with zero lore and supremely condensed rules should be standard for every game everywhere, really.

  6. It's certainly not an OSR game, but it looks really interesting to me: one of the reasons I use the GLOG so much is the character complexity, and this has a *lot* of that, from what I saw reading the beta. The multiple combat systems are interesting too.