The Stat Block Roadblock

I’m a sucker for a good ol’ monster book. For any given roleplaying game ruleset, I am highly likely to buy the monster book because they help me deal with my biggest roadblock in prepping for a game: making up stats for monsters scares the crap out of me.

My current solo game played with GURPS hit a roadblock when I needed to stat up some “beastmen” and couldn’t find an easy-to-grab Third Edition statblock. I started to dither around, then I put off the task, and eventually I found myself giving up.

In fact, when I think back over the many decades I have been GMing, the most common catalyst for me stopping to run a game is when I have to come up with new stats for a monster or NPC.

Which (I feel) is a very bad reason.

Running a prescriptive game is highly appealing because it generally comes with some monsters I can just deploy and run with. For example, Pathfinder Second Edition offers me at least three Bestiaries – hundreds of creatures – that I can simply choose and drop into play. This is easy. Even common NPCs have some example stat blocks which I can grab and use.

The problem? Fear.

“What if I get it wrong?”

As if there is a “wrong” stat block out there, or even a “right” one. There might be a stat block that someone more experienced with the game system has designed. It’s possible that there’s a stat block designed by the game company that published the core rules. It never really seems believable to me that the stat block I would come up with might be just fine.

For the longest time I have given in to this self-doubt because I have experienced plenty of occasions when my stat blocks proved either too easy to deal with, or too hard. Whatever “too easy” or “too hard” means in a roleplaying game. When you try to tease that one apart you’ll see that it’s all subjective and, in the end, the reason I love the monster books so much is that I don’t have to be responsible for the stat block.

As you’ve probably begun to realise, I suffer a lot of anxiety from being GM. Stat blocks are terrifyingly banal but they are high up on my list of roadblocks to actually running a session. Of course, the easy solution is to stick with a nice popular game design and just use the stuff in the monster books. If only my favourite roleplaying game systems came with those kind of books.

Oh, and before the GURPS fans mention that Doug Cole has done some excellent monster books for Dungeon Fantasy RPG, yes I know. I own all of them (see previous comment about being a sucker for monster books). But I also know they were designed for DFRPG and so I worry that they might not QUITE work for regular GURPS. Because I have anxiety about this crap.

In my head, the solution is to simply throw down some numbers into a stat block and roll with it. My heart, however, doesn’t trust my head to “get it right”. Telling me to “just throw down some numbers and roll with it,” which essentially ignores my anxiety and communicates that you don’t get it… well, that doesn’t help. Sometimes the distance between head and heart is too great… at least for now.

But perhaps just confessing that stat blocks terrify me is enough.

Game on!


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