The Rules-Light GURPS Shopping Guide

GURPS has a wide variety of published rulebooks, and the list of PDF supplements is one of the largest in the industry. As a result, it can be overwhelming for new players to determine what books to get. Many of the books offer specialized rules for specific genres, abilities, or settings, but some resources are useful across a wide variety of games. This post will highlight GURPS books that are useful to the rules light crowd.

If you are curious about GURPS but fear that the rules are intimidating, this list will point you towards rulebooks that support streamlined, simple mechanics.

As a bonus: until 15 December 2016, Steve Jackson Games is running a GURPS PDF special. All GURPS PDFs are 40% off! If you’ve been thinking about getting started with GURPS, or adding some books to your collection, now is the time!

GURPS Basic Set: Characters and Campaigns

GURPS Basic Set
GURPS Basic Set

If you want to play GURPS, the two volume Basic Set is all you truly need. You can create your characters, build settings, run campaigns, engage in combat, and do all the core elements of roleplaying from these two books. Volume 1, Characters, covers the rules for building and equipping player characters; Volume 2, Campaigns, focuses on running the game, resolving actions, and interacting with the world at large.

When reading the Basic Set, remember that the core rules of the game are simple: there are success rolls, reaction rolls, and damage rolls. Everything else is optional detail, and it can be changed or ignored as appropriate for your game.

GURPS Action 2: Exploits

GURPS Action 2: Exploits
GURPS Action 2: Exploits

Action 2: Exploits is officially the GM book for faced-paced action hero games. Unofficially, this is one of the most useful GM supplements—period. Exploits contains advice on stock adventuring skills, tips for quick-and-dirty difficulty estimates, and guidelines for different phases of adventures, from setting the narrative hook through cleaning up afterwards.

For rules light games, Exploits has particularly valuable suggestions on using difficulty modifiers to set the difficulty for adventure scenes, using complimentary skills to overcome larger challenges, and what rules options to turn off in order to keep up the pace.

GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic

GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic cover
GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic

Ritual path magic, or RPM, is a great rules light alternative to the default GURPS magic system. Magic in the Basic Set (and in the GURPS Magic supplement) is a skill-based system that has lots of pre-built spells. The drawback is that each spell is its own effect, and there are a number of rules for different types of spells that need to be learned as well.

By contrast, RPM is based on a simple casting system. Players create their intended spells by describing the spell effects. The spell description determines how much energy the spell requires, and then the character gathers the energy using the appropriate magic skill.

How to Be a GURPS GM

How to Be a GURPS GM cover
How to Be a GURPS GM

How to Be a GURPS GM is a crash course in running roleplaying games in GURPS. It walks a new (or new-to-GURPS) game master through how to set up a campaign, direct character creation, build encounters, and run the adventure.

For gamers that want to run a rules-light version of GURPS, there’s a lot of advice about which game options to use (and what to turn off). The advice is particularly detailed for adjusting combat complexity, which is valuable because combat can be one of the more overwhelming parts of GURPS games.

Other Resources

Of course, one of the benefits of all the GURPS publications is that there are worked examples of almost any situation you can imagine. If you want inspiration for running a social encounter-heavy game, GURPS Social Engineering awaits. If you want to play a game with psionic abilities, just turn to GURPS Psionic Powers. There are books for genres (including fantasy, horror, superheroes, steampunk), books for technology and equipment (if you want to play a stone-age survival campaign or a futuristic space war), and just about anything else you can imagine.

If you’ve wanted to see how GURPS can handle any particular type of game, the GURPS PDF sale is a great opportunity to expand your collection. Again, all GURPS PDFs are 40% off at Warehouse 23, the online store for Steve Jackson Games.

And, if you have other GURPS books to recommend—especially for rules light gaming!—please share them in the comments.

Action 2: Exploits Review

Action 2: Exploits is written for action-oriented campaigns of larger-than-life heroes that must rescue the hostages, disarm the bomb, infiltrate the cabal, or pull off the heist of the century. When the clock is ticking, the adventurers are under fire, or the evil villain has an unexpected trick up her sleeve, the game needs to keep up with the pace of the action.

The first volume in the Action series (Heroes) covered PCs that are suited to high-action games; this book focuses on the situations those PCs face and how the GM can run the game to create the high-intensity, edge-of-your-seat experience that characterizes the action genre.

This supplement weighs in at 50 pages and is available from Steve Jackson Games for $9.99. It is divided into six chapters, each of which addresses a different aspect of the action genre.

Challenges, Not Headaches

Although this chapter is only two pages long, it introduces several useful rules. Basic Abstract Difficulty is a twist on task difficulty modifiers that allows the GM to modify the difficulty of different phases of an adventure in order to speed up play and create a crescendo of challenges. Complimentary skills are ways for characters to use their skills to assist in more complicated tasks. Finally, the teamwork rules explain how to handle situations when the team as a whole needs to perform a task (like sneaking around) if only some of the PCs have the relevant skill.

The Basics

This chapter explains how to find an adventure, acquire gear, move to the destination, and interact as a squad. There are enough details to jump-start a GM’s creative juices, and the scenarios translate well to other genres of games.

There’s a really helpful sidebar on page 10 with a list of go-to skills that can be catch-all skills in action games. Players and GMs would do well to include these skills on character sheets and templates.

Tricks of the Trade

In this chapter, action plots are deconstructed into four main phases: Assessing the situation, Analyzing the information, Acting on a plan, and Avoiding, escaping, or cleaning up afterwards. For each phase, this chapter gives lots of examples of challenges and relevant skills.

Whether your characters are going undercover, bashing down a door, falsifying records, or shopping for security technology, this chapter will be useful for plot ideas. There are some stats and equipment lists, but the focus is on genre tropes rather than crunch.


Action stories are full of fights and chases, and this chapter provides a ton of rules for gaming these situations. The rules for combat are focused on fast-and-furious play, cinematic heroics, and tough guy talk. On the other hand, the chase rules are extremely detailed—a GM could run a chase scene as a form of tactical combat with all the options this chapter introduces.

Although both sets of rules are written from the perspective of action stories, the mechanics translate well to other genres. If you want to game out a star cruiser chasing a smuggler’s ship, a Western standoff, or an army unit holding the line against a horde of zombies, there’s something in these rules that can be useful.

When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes it’s fun to play through what happens when the heroes don’t make it through unscathed. This chapter gives cinematic rules for post-combat medical care and repair jobs, once the heroes have made it out alive. If they didn’t make it, then the rules for capture can be helpful for keeping the adventure going.

Directing the Action

The final chapter is a GM’s guide to action style campaigns. There are ten examples of genre tropes with references to the rules the GM can use in order to tell that kind of story. There’s a sidebar with a list of rules to not use in order to maintain a fast-paced feel to the campaign. Finally, there are suggestions for how characters can assist each other and how to make sure specialist PCs have something to do.


GURPS Action 2: Exploits
GURPS Action 2: Exploits

Action 2: Exploits is one of my most-used supplements. Some of the rules, like complimentary skills, are so useful that they should be considered for inclusion in a future version of the Basic Set. The techniques for running a fast-paced game are helpful in almost any genre—especially for gamers looking to run a simpler version of GURPS.

In addition, this volume is a great reference for action genre tropes, and the encounters suggested in Exploits can be used by GMs of all genres for inspiration. Even GMs who want to run a rules-heavy game can use the example situations—they will just want to bring more rules into the campaign.

Exploits does not have many stat blocks or crunch, but this is an intentional decision in line with the kinds of games this supplement is written to facilitate. The most crunch-heavy part of the book is the chase rules, and these capture the feel of an action chase so well that they don’t feel out of place despite the obvious differences in degree of simulation.

Overall, Exploits is a great value. The cross-genre appeal of the rules, as well as the detailed examples of action genre tropes, makes this supplement handy for anyone who wants to game out high-adrenaline situations.

This volume is particularly useful for making GURPS an easier game to run and play. The mechanics for complimentary skills, abstracting difficulty, and teamwork are helpful for speeding up play, and the advice on what skills to include and what optional rules to ignore is useful for getting the game going in the first place.