Books we want: An updated GURPS LITE

Do we really need a new GURPS LITE?

No. There’s nothing about GURPS LITE that demands a new version. It has always been, and still is, a well-made and perfectly playable introduction to GURPS.

A read through the work, though, suggests a number of ideas for small improvements, additions, and, yes, subtractions.

Even if none of those are pressing, LITE has been out there for a whole bunch of years. With LITE as the first GURPS that many people will see – and the only GURPS they’ll see if they aren’t impressed – isn’t it worth revisiting the book once in a while to make sure it’s putting the best face on the game?

An update (or not…): Written in 2017, this page was based on what was then the latest version of LITE, released in August 2004. In March 2020, an update did come out – but I don’t see a single change to content, beyond the date, a couple new pages of ads, and a couple of changes to line breaks. So the version of LITE that this article speaks to effectively dates to 2004.

Space: The final limitation

Not-a-spoiler: Many suggested “improvements” will involve adding something. You know: A little more of this rule, a little bit of that table… until, whoops, GURPS LITE is now GURPS SHOPPING FOR JEANS IN THE “HUSKY BOYS” SECTION. (That’s recycled Letterman humor.)

Suggesting a dozen “improvements” is a simple task even I can do; keeping LITE svelte is the hard job that SJG accomplished. But let me note that some suggestions require no extra space. Others take advantage of existing unused space. There are also some great opportunities for recapturing precious space.

Enough of that. Here are the ideas:

Easy (?) improvements

These are things that are simple and wouldn’t require much space.

Buff up Talents

LITEs list of Talents (p. 10) has a fair bit of white space at the end. I think one more Talent could easily fit in there.

A bigger issue with the Talents section: LITE offers a cut-down skill list, so its Talents are diminished to match. That’s fine. But take a look at the costs. Outdoorsman, for example, is pared down to 5 skills in LITE, yet costs the 10 points of the full version (which itself has been accused of being too expensive).

SJG no doubt made the intentional decision to keep the Talents’ full costs. I agree that we don’t want LITE and Basic Set offering different costs for Outdoorsman. But here, GURPS can have its cake and eat it too. Just give the truncated LITE Talents their “proper” costs – and also rename them. That means repricing LITE‘s Artificer, Outdoorsman, and Smooth Operator to 5, 5, and 10 points, respectively, and renaming them to, say, Mechanically Inclined, Survivalist, and Smooth Talker.

There. LITE gets Talents with proper GURPS costs. Players of full GURPS benefit, too: they can nab three new budget-priced Talents by dipping into LITE. Best of all, this change would add no extra volume to LITE.

Give Brawling some punch

Let’s give poor Brawling skill (p. 14) its damage bonus in LITE. (Karate gets its damage bonus a page later; Brawling’s bonus is just as important, yet doesn’t require as many words as Karate’s.)

If possible, also note the use of Brawling with teeth, claws, and horns. That’d show off LITEs use with more than just humans.

List Survival types

It’d be nice to see names given to just a few of the “many different types of Survival skill” (p. 17).

Add more weapons

LITE doesn’t need more weapons. But it does mention flail, smallsword, blowpipe, javelin, shuriken, and a bunch of guns in the text, all without stats for these.

If I could add only one to the Weapon Table, I’d go with javelin. Thrown Weapon (Spear) already has an entry on the table, so javelin wouldn’t require a whole new skill entry. It would also give LITE one thrown weapon with a Range that’s not STx1.5!

Beyond that, it’d be great to see an entry for flail (given the considerable discussion of the weapon on p. 15). If we could ask for even more, I’d vote to add glaive as a more wieldy polearm alternative to halberd; saber for its genre importance (Swashbucklers! Pirates! Duelists! Soldiers even in the 20th century!); and club and thrown rock as weapons that transcend all genres and TLs.

There are great ways to make room for these; see below.

Add weapon quality

GURPSweapon quality rules greatly expand weapon choices and hint at the game’s rich handling of technology and gear options. All without taking up much space. Could they be packed into LITE?

Maybe asking too much?

The following feel like lesser priorities, or more demanding of page space. But if there were a way to make these work…

Add skill defaults

Skill defaults are one of GURPS‘ important defining concepts. LITE offers defaults to attributes, but not defaults to skills. It’d be great if those could be packed in, though it’d certainly be a space-eating addition.

Offer more advantages

LITE‘s list of advantages is very short (though I do appreciate that it’s a fun, heroic selection). Even a couple more choices would help play up this great strength of GURPS. Damage Resistance and Claws are two possibilities that are simple, useful in any genre, and perfect for bringing animals, non-human races, and monsters into a LITE-only game.

Offer more skills

If I had to suggest a mere three skills to add to LITE, I might go with Fast Draw (a GURPS classic), Forensics (important for modern adventures), and Professional Skills, perhaps with Law Enforcement as a very useful example. (Or, heck, double up here and make Forensics the sample Professional Skill. Either way, Professional Skills is a single skill entry that opens up a huge range of character-defining possibilities.)

Add a couple of hit locations

Hit locations is a whole new topic that’d definitely eat up space. But hit locations are a great defining feature of GURPS. They’re realistic and fun, and they give players something to do with high combat skills.

The topic wouldn’t take up too much space if pared down to just Vitals and Skull, or even just Vitals, which could be described with simply the damage modifier and no other complications. (Arm and Leg would also be nice, but they’d require further space to detail the special effects of limb damage.)

Offer other uses for high combat skills

Would it be impossible to squeeze in multiple blocks and parries? Or Deceptive Attacks?

I’d advise LITE to leave these out if it were just a matter of adding combat crunch for the sake of detail. But these items are more important than that. First, they address what might feel like “bugs” to GURPS newcomers. Multiple defenses let PCs at least try to deal with massed foes. Deceptive Attacks break down an old GURPS sticky point: “unbeatable” (and thus boring) high defenses. (This is especially needed in LITE, which leaves out the Feint maneuver.)

More importantly: along with Hit Locations (above), these combat options give players something to do with a PC’s high skill. That’s very important in showcasing a core feature of GURPS combat: it’s not a system in which you just whack away at a foe’s hit points, but a system in which you make choices about what to do with your combat skills. LITE should offer a taste of that.

Allow a little fancy footwork

LITE lacks tactical combat, so it’s no surprise that the retreat option is missing. Unfortunately, that really hampers defenses compared to full GURPS. It also saps a lot of the flavor from Karate and fencing skills (and thus from genres like kung-fu masters and Musketeers).

Hm. Perhaps LITEs “Defending” section (p. 28) could squeeze in this text: “Any fighter gains +3 on Dodge and +1 on Parry for unhampered use of retreats and other footwork. (Increase the Parry bonus to +3 if using Karate or fencing skills.) Assume any fighter enjoys this bonus unless grappled, on poor footing, in tight quarters, not standing, etc.”

That brings LITE fighters up to the GURPS norm in ability to defend themselves. (To complete the picture for Karate and fencing skills, LITE should also note that these take a skill penalty equal to encumbrance level.)

In summary: Yes, this addition would take up precious space. On the other hand, it’s fairly simple stuff. And where Karate or fencing skills are concerned, the addition would highlight how a combat skill in GURPS is more than just a name – it can be a way of fighting, with its own flavor.

Easy places to save space

Here’s where I try to pay for that greedy wish list of additions:

Drop unneeded Weapon Table entries

  • Drop the Punch and Brass Knuckles entries. The information is duplicated on p. 26.
  • Drop the “Goat’s Foot” entry. It’s unneeded on the Weapon Table, as the tool is already described on p. 19. Just insert the device’s weight and cost into that text. (Better yet: Save even more space by dropping it entirely from the book. It’s fine for the rules to keep the time required for cocking, but is there any need for LITE to get into obscure crossbow cocking hardware?) Use the line saved on the Weapon table to add javelin under Thrown Weapon (Spear) skill, for reasons noted above.

Tighten up Weapon Table entries

Many weapons take up two lines on the Weapon Table by listing two damage options (such as separate sw and thr damage). However, it looks possible to list both damage stats in one line, like this:

Shortsword	sw cut / thr imp

That may not work well in Basic Set, as the two lines may represent different modes of use, with different Min ST, Parry characteristics, etc. But in LITE, weapons that take up two lines use the second line for nothing but a different damage score. Putting both damage scores into one line will save a bunch of lines. (The one exception is Spear; its second line offers alternate damage for the use of two hands. But Spear also has a footnote below the table. Suggestion: Drop the second line for Spear in the Weapon Table, and instead write the footnote like this: “[1] Add 1 to damage if used with two hands. Also, can be thrown (one-handed). See…”

By my count, this simple consolidation of damage scores will save eight lines on the Weapon Table!

(Side note: My example above notes sw damage before thr damage, following the order of listing on LITE‘s table. But if both stats are listed on one line, I’d suggest placing thr before sw, as that’s the order of appearance in character stats.)

Save Jumper for Basic Set

The most obvious place to save a bit of space: Drop the Jumper advantage. No offense to the advantage and its nifty Infinite Worlds importance. But it’s used in few games as is; what are the chances that a LITE-only group is going to do anything with it? LITE isn’t the tool for delving into complex dimension-hopping. As tough as it may be to say goodbye, LITE should let this one go.

Tighten up paragraphs

The professionals at SJG hardly need to be told this, but for completeness:

Cast a mean eye toward any paragraph that leaves just a word or two extending into a final line. Pare those ruthlessly to tighten up paragraphs.

A more specific suggestion along those lines: For almost all skill listings, follow the lead of Computer Programming (p. 14) and start the text with just “The ability to…”, not “This is the ability to…”. If that tightens the text overall by a few lines, poof, there’s space for another skill.

It’s time we talked about that “Thrusting Broadsword” business…

Look, GURPS. On the Weapon Table, in both LITE and Basic Set, can we drop that “non-thrusting” broadsword (and its larger relatives in Basic Set), once and for all? Nobody ever buys one. No movies or novels ever depict one. Why is it there, seemingly for all of GURPS eternity?

Yes, these blunt-tipped swords exist in reality, but nobody cares. For GURPS as a whole, it’s more than enough to turn “Blunt tip” into one of the game’s many sword options, and just provide the game effect. (Specifically: Subtract 1 from thrust damage, change imp to cr, and reduce cost by $100. Or, to make this a nice flexible option for any sword or knife, call it -20% cost, maximum -$100.)

Done. Save this bit of information for Basic Set. Or relegate it to Martial Arts. Or even a future supplement called GURPS Odd Historical Weapon Options That Nobody Will Use.

Wherever the option should appear in GURPS, there’s no need to eat up precious space in LITE. This small change will save two Weapon Table lines in LITE (and would save even more lines in Basic Set).

Look what 3e did!

No one wants to be compared to the older sibling who did things better. But before brushing off too many suggestions for a revamped LITE with “there’s just no space”, let’s take a look back at what LITE for 3e (October 2001 Edition) accomplished. Along with the same basics found in LITE for 4e, it offers:

  • More weapons – two full pages of tables! (With javelin! Smallsword and saber! Twice as many bows, plus a prodd! Two flails instead of none! Three polearms and three knives, not one of each! Sling skill and weapons! Baton and light club! Two-handed axe and maul! More pistols, more rifles, and beam weapons! And even rock!)
  • A bigger character form
  • A full-page sample character (though, yes, it’s ol’ Dai again…)
  • Basics on non-humans and animals
  • Stats for 11 riding and draft animals (vs 0 in LITE for 4e)
  • A Tech Level table! (Edit: Actually, LITE for 4e has a brief one too; it’s tucked into the discussion of Starting Wealth on p. 18.)
  • A short section on jobs
  • THE GURPS MAGIC SYSTEM! Sure, it’s short, and leaves key questions untouched (like what’s the range for spells). But you get the core basics plus 14 spells in under two pages. (This is a nice tribute to the simplicity of GURPS‘ default magic system.)

LITE for 3e manages all that in the same 32 pages as LITE for 4e. I’m not quite sure how it achieves this miracle. Some cramped layout at the expense of appearance, perhaps, but overall I’m impressed.

Revamped LITE for 4e, you’ve got some big (or at least tightly-packed) shoes to fill! I know you can do it…

A few picked nits

Tiny things to clean up in LITE for 4e:

  • p. 6 says “You must roll under your Dodge on 3d to duck or sidestep an attack.” I believe this should be “…roll your Dodge or under…”
  • Camouflage is misspelled on p. 10.
  • A little suggestion for the character form in both LITE and Basic Set: The form is fine, with nice spaces for height and weight and appearance and all that. But what’s missing is a space for something really important: character concept. You know: “Grizzled asteroid miner”, “Idealistic hero seeking to prove herself”, “Wandering mercenary on a quest for revenge”, and a million others. In short, the all-important note on what this character is. Especially for a GM building up a roster of characters, this should be the key item at the top of the form!

The wrap

That’s about all I have (with a few even less practical extras as an Appendix below). It’s not a big list; again, LITE is fine as it is! I just think it could use a bit of dusting and primping after all these years.

What do you think? Are any of the above ideas really improvements? Would you add yet a few other tweaks? Or would you go further and suggest a much more radical reworking for a modern LITE?

Appendix: Stuff that’s presumably out of the question

What else would be fun to see in LITE if space weren’t an issue? A hundred things, needless to say. So there’s not much point in exploring that thought.

Still, I’ll point to a couple of items that would really boost the comprehensiveness and usability of LITE, if only there were a way to make them work.

Animals, races, monsters, aliens…

Clearly, there’s no way to include big lists of these creatures. But, keeping in mind that where LITE can’t deliver the goods it can still give a peek at GURPS‘ potential, I’d welcome a simple note to the effect that animals, races, monsters, and so on are built and played in the same way as PCs in GURPS. (This may not be obvious to players of all game systems.)

In an ideal world, LITE would include at least one sample animal (dog? horse?), one simple non-human race (Elf?), and one monster, just to show how it’s done. The text could serve to deliver important points for LITE GMs, like this: “For a character that isn’t a PC, the GM shouldn’t worry about its point total, or the point costs of its abilities. In addition, the GM should feel free to make up any needed abilities that aren’t covered by these rules. For example, to make a monster more dangerous, give it the ability to breathe fire – say, a flame that can be used up to three times in a fight as a regular Attack (roll vs DX) to hit a single foe for 1d+2 damage, unless blocked or dodged (parry not possible). Inventing things like this is a key part of the GM’s job!

Alas. As nice as a critters section would be, it’d be a really hard fit for LITE‘s tight quarters. Then again: Note above that LITE for 3e squeezed in basics on non-humans and animals, plus stats for 11 animals!

Gear List

With no equipment on offer beyond weapons and armor, there’s not a lot of use for the Wealth advantage using LITE alone; the advantage could almost be dropped from the book. (On the other hand, Wealth certainly feels needed for completeness and does become important if LITE is combined with a source book, so I’m happy with it staying.)

Buying and using gear is half the fun of many games. So it’d be great to see a starter selection of gear in LITE. But… what in the world should it include? Even a half page of adventuring gear would eat up princely real estate by LITE standards, while barely hitting the highlights of a proper shopping list.

I’ll assume this is another impractical wish.

A whole new kind of LITE

Many people have pondered far bigger changes than I offer above. Like this suggestion:

Instead of GURPS Lite as it exists today… publish individual genre Lite variants: GURPS Lite Fantasy, GURPS Lite Spies, GURPS Lite Space Marines, whatever.

Now that’s thinking big! These more focused LITEs would offer much greater immediate play value. They could also be as broad or narrow as SJG likes: as vast as GURPS LITE Space, or as focused as GURPS LITE Bug Hunt: Marines vs Xenos.

But… As individual books, these would fail to showcase the “play anything” nature of GURPS. (As a whole, they would still succeed there.) And who over at SJG would be creating and maintaining this library of freebies?

Similarly, it’s fun to imagine a LITE split into GURPS LITE: Characters and GURPS LITE: Campaigns. With 32 pages each, these books could cover so much more ground than the current LITE. I’ll bet that my entire wishlist, plus a bunch of exploits and GM tips and so much more, could fit in with room to spare.

But… At 64 pages, the paired books would take a hard veer away from the “LITE” concept. Production would be another big workload for SJG. And either of the above ideas takes SJG into the realm of giving away a lot of its core RPG.

It’s fun stuff to think about… for the armchair designers who don’t have to actually publish the books. For my part, I’ll stick with my modest suggestions above – a damage bonus for Brawling, better Talent costs, a javelin on the Weapon Table, those little things. They may not be very exciting, but I think they’re very doable.

And you? What do you think?


  • SCAR

    Some good and interesting ideas.

    For a comparison – the Vorkosigan Saga book includes its own version of Lite which runs to 44 pages.

    • tbone

      That makes sense that the built-in (“Powered by GURPS”, right?) versions of LITE wouldn’t need to be 32 pages; they’d be as long or as short as needed to properly game the setting. (I don’t think I’ve seen one myself, though, other than the one in the WWII book.)

  • Exegeek

    I like the idea of genre specific “second” Lite books: GURPS Lite Xtras?

    eg GLX Fantasy, SciFi or Supers. Fantasy would add some magic/ classic races. SciFi a range of UltraTech weapons/ armor.

    • tbone

      It sounds like you’re suggesting pure settings books for LITE (not scenario/adventure books with some baked-in settings). I’ve heard others make similar wishes, so you’ll certainly find others who like the idea.

      Running with that idea, there could be an interesting three-part offering:

      LITE for the basic rules

      LITE Xtras (Fantasy/Supers/Space Opera/etc.) to support a broad setting

      LITE Scenarios (an adventure made for one of the Xtras settings) for actual instant play within one of those settings

      That’s a lot of play value for a free product! Some might see it as too ambitious, though. Scaling back a bit, I also like this sort of idea that many have suggested:

      LITE for the basic rules

      LITE Setting (or other name): essentially, your Xtras idea but only briefly fleshing out a setting, followed by a smidgen of a specific setting (PCs’ city, the Star Command they work for, etc.), and a short adventure scenario.

      That’d make just two books to get playing: LITE + a mini setting/adventure. Wonderfully simple (and it sure would be nice if there were some community content program to support people who wanted to make those mini setting/adventure booklets).

      Then again, even if your Xtras idea feels too ambitious (IMO) to gain SJG’s support, it would have one nice effect: Any number of adventures could be easily written for a setting. You could have, for example, LITE + LITE Xtras (Fantasy) + any number of mini scenarios/adventures for fantasy.

      I can imagine a lot of players liking that!

  • OldSam

    Great idea, I’d really love to see an updated Lite!

    What really is missing IMHO is a shortened version of the TASK DIFFICULTY table – a beginner GM who wants to test the system needs to get that idea! He/she must know and understand that +0 is the <adventuring> default. That +4 or +5 – Easy relates to most mundane tasks, including rolls made by ordinary people at day-to-day jobs. That -2 or -3 – means very unfavorable, stressful tasks that would challenge a professional…

    • tbone

      I agree: A guide to task difficulty is really important for newcomers to the game.

      If a table won’t fit, it’d be good to at least see a sentence or two establishing +/-10 as the bounds for ridiculously easy to ridulously difficult rolls, either one generally reserved for extreme situations; and +/-4 or so as bounds for typical easy to difficult rolls in the game, representing mundane, normal-day-on-the-job situations and challenging, stressful situations, respectively.

      Even that little bit would give a new GM some grounding.

      (FYI, unless I’m missing it, neither version of LITE (3e and 4e) managed to squeeze in a task difficulty table.)

  • Jason Packer

    I’m generally on board with all of your suggestions, and would add one of my own – how to handle an ROF > 1. They’re referenced, but nowhere does it say what that means or how to deal with it in play.

    • tbone

      Good call; I didn’t think of that. The shotgun in LITE has an RoF of 2×9, but I see no explanation of what that means. Many other firearms have RoF 3, which technically requires the Rcl stat to determine number of hits. I suppose LITE could offer a simple Rcl-free variant (like “just roll TH for each shot”), but with the text as it is, I can easily picture newcomers confused over what to do.

    • tbone

      Honestly, the only differences I can see in the update are:
      1) the updated year
      2) a few changes to line breaks
      3) a couple pages of ads at the end

      I don’t see anything else changed – no explanation of “ROF 2×9”, no fixes to the couple of errors pointed out in “A few picked nits” above, nothing. So it looks like there’s still an opportunity for a real update.

      (Anyone see changes I’ve missed?)

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