GURPS Lite Review

GURPS Lite cover

GURPS Lite is a free PDF offered by Steve Jackson Games as an introduction to GURPS for new players.

Lite presents the boiled-down essence of GURPS in just 32 pages. To condense the material down, Lite strips many of the options available in the Basic Set and pares the lists of advantages, disadvantages, and skills. Nonetheless, Lite is 100% compatible with Basic Set—it is not an alternate system.

Because Lite is such an abbreviated presentation of GURPS, there are a lot of difficult choices to make about what content to include and what material is reserved for the full presentation in Basic Set. This review will evaluate Lite over three main questions:

  • How easy is it for a new player to begin playing GURPS with Lite?
  • How easy is it for a new gamemaster to begin running a GURPS game with Lite?
  • How well do the rules included in Lite fulfill the GURPS goal of “Anything you want”?

The Basics

The first section runs just over two pages and introduces the three main mechanics in GURPS: success rolls, reaction rolls, and damage rolls. The presentation of all these mechanics is clear and straightforward.

Lite introduces the idea of task modifiers and gives a couple of examples, but does not explain how to choose the modifiers. Players may not need this information in order to play, but it is important context to help understand what the numbers mean. GMs, on the other hand, really need the longer discussion of modifiers in Basic Set in order to be able to run the game. It would have been nice for Lite to include the Task Difficult Modifiers from Basic Set so players and GMs could have a frame of reference for these numbers.

Characters

The Characters section is almost half of the length of Lite, which reflects how GURPS front-loads calculations into the character creation process. The presentation of the four basic attributes is clear. The secondary attributes are described, but options for modifying them are left to Basic Set. This is a reasonable compromise given the space constraints.

Advantages and disadvantages are presented through an abbreviated list of 20 advantages and 22 disadvantages. The list doesn’t include options for magic, psionics, or other supernatural powers, but for mundane and cinematic characters the lists are reasonable.

Likewise, Skills features a shortened list from Basic Set. The chosen skills are reasonably representative of mundane characters. Weapon skills are presented as a collection of Melee Weapon or Missile Weapon skills; the individual skills still exist, but they are presented underneath the collection’s heading. The same is done for Influence skills.

This section also includes several subsections dealing with aspects of the character’s social background: appearance, tech level, language skills, wealth, and reputation. While the presentation is clear, it’s not obvious that the gaming value of this material is worth the amount of space it gets. For purposes of this document, it might be better to have a shorter presentation of social/background dimensions (maybe appearance and status/reputation) and leave the other elements for Basic Set. In particular, the inclusion of Tech Level details for characters presupposes a cross-TL campaign style, which is probably unnecessary.

Equipment

The equipment list contains a basic selection of weapons and a very short list of armor options. There is enough here to play a game, but equipment won’t be the focus of the campaign. The lower tech levels are reasonably represented, but it would have been nice to have a couple of additional lines for TL7+ weapons.

Playing the Game

This section includes details for physical tasks, mental tasks, combat, and injury. These sections feel unbalanced. There is a lot of detail about specific physical feats like climbing, hiking, or jumping; the level of detail stands in stark contrast to the paucity of detail for how to assign task difficulty with other skills. A player or GM who wants to have the characters run a race has very detailed rules; he or she is on their on for picking locks. Again, a better treatment of generic task difficulty would be a better fit for this kind of book.

The combat rules in Lite are fairly comprehensive. Given how frequently combat is a focal point for RPGs, this section feels reasonable. There are abbreviated lists of melee, ranged, and defense modifiers, as well as wounding modifiers; the included list is a good starting point for most games. There are lots of combat options in Basic Set that are not mentioned in here, including tactical combat, close combat, and mounted/vehicle combat, but again the choices feel justifiable on the basis of the page length restrictions.

The final subsection on Injury, Illness, and Fatigue includes condensed versions of Basic Set rules. These rules include HP and FP loss charts, shock, mortal wounds, dying, recovery, first aid, and a number of hazards like cold, fire, disease, and collisions. As a quick reference for most common situations, this section feels well balanced. However, the inclusion of rules for knockback, mortal wounds, and shock might be too much detail for new players.

Overall Review

GURPS Lite is a great reference for new players, but it probably isn’t sufficient to run a game on its own. Its strongest sections are the streamlined treatment of character creation and combat, which is very useful for starting adventures with mundane characters.

The treatment of basic mechanics is clear for new players, but new GMs would need Basic Set to set reasonable modifiers for tasks.

Unfortunately, Lite is not suited for a true “anything you can imagine” campaign. High point level campaigns, supernatural forces of any sort, future tech levels, and cinematic powers simply aren’t possible without the rules in Basic Set.

New players can effectively use Lite to understand attributes, skills, the basic GURPS mechanics, and combat. As long as the GM knows Basic and can fill in the gaps, Lite is a solid handout to guide players into their first GURPS game.

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