What is the Demesne Expansion?

The Demesne Expansion is a near-future, “what-if”, built on the back of the post-World War Three Earth. New geopolitics meets new horizons, and new technologies of exploration and war.

What is the Demesne Expansion?
Photo by Greg Rakozy / Unsplash
demesne (/dɪˈmeɪn/ di-MAYN) Land attached to a manor and retained for the owner's own use. Possession of real property in one's own right.
“In that first step into the stars, mankind uncorked their own bottle, and opened the Pandora’s Box of humanity into the universe. Even in the first world there was conflict between the old and the new. Some would have the masses spill out and multiply freely across the stars. Others would prefer that the Colonials remember and revere their heritage on the Old World. Me? I just want my belly full and my frame’s engines roaring before the next fight.” -Anonymous Frame Pilot, 2250s

The Demesne Expansion is a near-future, “what-if”, built on the back of the post-World War Three Earth. New geopolitics meets new horizons, and new technologies of exploration and war. Set in the year 2255, the Demesne Expansion explores how the colonization of far-flung solar systems would redefine the term "superpower" in a technologically driven frontier. What does the colonist of the future look like? What trades do they ply, and how do they survive in the harshness of space and foreign worlds? What do the politics of colonization look like when there is no prior claimant save for the first to plant their flag? How does a planet that until now has been the center of the human universe cope with the change of becoming a backwater? And what does nationhood and citizenship mean in this new era?

Most important of all, where is your place in the War of Influence?

Through the lens of the ever-increasing demand for mercenary mecha pilots, the Demesne Expansion offers a rich setting to explore these questions in, adding a reimagined balance of lethal combat, careful preparation, and a newfound focus on electronic warfare. With a plethora of new manufacturers, mechs (referred to as "Frames" in setting), systems, and weapons, the Demesne Expansion opens up a whole new sandbox to explore for veteran or rookie Lancer players alike. The familiar tools of Lancer's combat are augmented by new, more impactful reserves, stronger and more prolific electronic warfare, and higher lethality borne from a less fantastical, more grounded technological base. Whether you’re a grizzled Colonist, fighting for your independence and sovereignty, a foot soldier in the army of an Old Power from Earth, or just a mercenary for hire, Lancer will feel like a new game with this content pack, and (we hope) will recapture that fresh feeling of wonder in the same easily approachable format as the core Lancer experience.

We intend this to be a loosely defined “total conversion” setting, in that the Union, and its planets, polities, and corporations, do not (yet?) exist. Most Core and homebrew content is not recommended to be used alongside the Demesne Expansion, especially the mecha and licenses; we have made significant departures from the balance of the Core game. Some weapons, frames, and equipment may feel underpowered, or simply obsolete, while others may feel out of place or unbalanced. GMs are encouraged to restrict their players to Demesne-only content to get the best experience out-of-the-box. We are working hard to create a wide enough sandbox to fill the niches created by the base game, and our additions to it. However, if you find content packs that play nicely with the Demesne Expansion, please let us know, so we can feature them and share with other players.

Why did we create the Demesne Expansion?

Here at Tenebrae Press, we have a deep background in the exploration of civilizations: what drives cooperation and conflict at the scale of nations and how individuals shine through in moments of desperation. Whether that's through tabletop RPGs, multiplayer video games, or our shared love of real-world history, we have found a love for the narratives and epics that weave through the scales of nations and peoples carving their place out in the world they occupy. Fundamentally, this means we have a very anthropocentric view of the world, as that domain contains some of the more challenging questions and problems that technology might redefine, but not necessarily solve. Science fiction is a wonderful medium for exploring those ideas and is just plain fun even when a work isn't.

Given the kinds of stories we like to engage with, it was hard to deny some of the faults with the world of Lancer RPG. The most compelling part of any science fiction narrative is exploring the human condition as it interacts with and may be changed by technology. Even in worlds with giant robots, advanced cybernetics, and alien lifeforms, the root of a great science fiction story follows from genuine human experiences and challenges that would exist in any other great narrative work and are woven into the fabric of our lives. Despite their fantastic elements, the best of these stories retains some form of realism with respect to how they handle the people within them.

The setting of Union is confusing in this respect. It tries to simultaneously set the stage for grand conflicts and human narratives yet defines out a setting where the hardest challenges humanity must face have a straightforward solution with no ambiguity. Union is directly and overtly referred to as a utopia and its pillars are the framework for perfect, if not yet realized, society. While it is neither of our intentions to mire our work in disputes over political persuasion and the validity of political systems, we could not make this argument without addressing that Union is implied to be a futuristic retread of the efforts of the Soviet Union to achieve communism, post-scarcity, and equality. Given those parallels, there’s a degree to which we feel that such a setting should at least be grounded in the ways humans fail to deliver on such promises of utopia, open to the idea that political systems evolve, fall short, and even unravel. Lancer instead portrays a Soviet Union without the famine, political intrigue, hypocrisy, and many other elements of the real human system at the center of its narrative. It heavily implies that all choices that people may make in opposition to Union are selfish. The product of this decision with respect to world-building is not a complete human story; it is instead one that is indisputably subject to the biases of its authors and abandons realism where its creators felt best to pull punches. We would take umbrage with any story that did the same for capitalism, monarchism, fascism, or any other ideology that mankind has devised or may devise moving forward; we’d find a version of Starship Troopers without the least bit of self-awareness to be distasteful rather than clever.

In lieu of what is humanly achievable, the perfection of Union’s ideals is established through a handwave of massive and fantastic proportions: the root of Union’s policymaking lies in GALSIM, a truth-sayer oracle of NHPs that take all the imperfection and legwork that humans require to run a civilization and trivializes it to a matter of producing forecasts from its myriad universal simulations. Union isn’t a utopia that mankind gets to build and struggle with for itself in that context; the Committee doesn’t get to be the place where the “real decisions” are made; the idea behind Union isn’t allowed to be shrouded in doubt. The perils of governance, politics, and society which people and their systems faced are instead resolved by the presence of a omniscient computer to say “no” when appropriate. It's Star Trek, without the captain's ego shaping the universe, and Babylon 5, without the manifest destiny of leaders and their peoples.

The Demesne Expansion represents our attempt to put those human flaws and ideals at the forefront through the framework of Lancer's gameplay. It paints an imperfect universe, marked by ambitious peoples and identities reaching out across the stars to achieve goals and destinies that they themselves might not fully understand or foresee the repercussions of. It is a hypothetical future for the sandbox of ideas that our contemporary world represents. Rather limiting our world to one where the utopia of the Union is inevitable, we set a stage where the world's ideas and ideals in the same competition we see today even as our technological capacities grow exponentially. In allowing the potential for the renewed global conflict looming over our heads today to play out in this world, we have tied a very real near future to a distant one and given a sense of human continuity to the world of the Demesne that Lancer's core setting lack. At the same time, we strive to give the players and GMs meaningful choices as to what a "better world" looks like and allow for dialogue and debate to occur surrounding those ideas.

The most compelling stories humankind have told over the years are the exploration of our condition, imperfection, and how it and the world around us meet. By putting those ideas back in focus in the setting of the Demesne, we hope to build a foundation from which players, GMs, and content creators can build greater epics than ever before and explore just what it means to be human in a world of giant fightan' robots.

How we plan to release the Demesne Expansion

The Demesne Expansion is packaged in two parts, following the same model as Massif Press release of the original game:

1) A free Player’s Guide to the Demesne, containing the necessities for creating pilots and frames, as well as any tags, traits, actions, or tables needed for play. This content pack will also come with Lore and Setting information released on the tenebrae.press website, to help ground your characters in this new world. Content released this way will be open source and available at no charge, forever, period.

2) Paid content in the form of prebuilt scenarios, NPC packs, GM’s Guides and specialty expansions. These will be add-ons for GMs looking to bring well-crafted experiences to their table, with narratives that explore the facets of the War of Influence, from small skirmishes to the great wars across the stars. Plus, any purchase of a scenario or paid expansion pack will get you access to the Members Only section of Tenebrae Press, where we showcase work-in-progress content, hold community Q&As, and post polls to help determine what we work on next.

It's our goal to keep the game as financially approachable as possible and keep the core experience open to as many people as possible. For us, this is a labor of love, and a chance to share a world we've built with our fellow mecha enthusiasts.

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