We've had several questions lately that we've been closing. What point-buy systems of magic (like psionics in 3e D&D) are there? , What are the main Creative Commons powered tabletop RPG out there?, How do the rules that govern a Cleric's Turn Undead ability vary among D&D editions? (before it was scoped to D&D).

These all basically suffer from nothing more than the fact that the poster's a bit of a noob and doesn't realize that there are thousands of RPGs in every category ever thought of. Point buy magic, creative commons games, "turning undead" - it's like asking for "a good fantasy game!" RPGGeek has a list of, currently, 4007 different RPGs and 29,550 different RPG products.

I don't want to be unwelcoming by just shutting these down. How do we help people scope more tightly when they may not know exactly what they're looking for?

Because the questions have legit bases. "I want to design a point buy system of magic and so want to see some others" is a valid need, we just need a way we can answer it meaningfully in the format. Some of the others just need a lot more definition -but what if you don't have additional criteria? Maybe I don't care if it's transhumanist sci-fi or a D&D derivative, I just want to play a CC game so I can say I've done it.

Anyway, this is coming up a lot, and there's guidance specific to each question - but I can't help but think these are suffering from a similar root problem that we might be able to give meaningful guidance on in the FAQ or whatnot.

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4 Answers 4

Close them until the author narrows the scope of their question. It shows a lack of effort on the part of the author in identifying their problem space and encourages them to actually do some research on their questions before asking them.

More importantly DO NOT ANSWER A POORLY DEFINED QUESTION. This merely encourages people to not fix their question. The answers will likely be poor and of little use (even if the OP thinks they are useful, posterity will not), and likely won't actually address the root issue. By not answering, we force them to actually address the issues their question has, instead of half-assing it.

We want to be open to new users, and encouraging, especially to folks new to playing RPGs and who may not understand how vast the hobby is, but at the same time we need standards.

Lets make sure we hold up those standards, while at the same time being friendly, but firm with folks who just don't get it...yet and encourage them to focus their questions to solve their actual problems, instead of answering their arbitrary and nebulous question.

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So basically "don't do anything we're not already doing." –  mxyzplk May 8 '12 at 1:40
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@mxyzplk I would say, historically, we don't do a great job of not answering poorly defined questions. "We" in this case referring to the site community as a whole. –  AceCalhoon May 8 '12 at 19:15
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Yeah. There does seem to be a lot of either "Ooh! A question I can answer! wandering blather" or "Imma gonna pound out an answer with bold and nice formatting and watch the rep roll in" answers to bad questions. Though what to do, I've no idea. Downvoting answers on bad questions that are clearly gaming the system doesn't have much rep impact. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 6:26
    
Fixing questions rather than closing them is OK, maybe preferable in this case. See blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/… –  Alticamelus May 23 '12 at 9:17
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@Alticamelus agreed, although many times only the author knows the intended scope so they aren't easily fixed. –  wax eagle May 23 '12 at 11:41
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I wish there were a way to "quarantine" poor questions (rather than close) that prevented answers and invited the asker to fix the question. –  Simon Withers Feb 12 '13 at 3:11
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@SimonWithers this has always been the intent of closing questions in the first place. The idea behind closing is to prevent answers in order to allow the OP or a friendly user to fix the question. There are some changes that are coming in the future that will make this more clear. SE is working really hard this year to make the intents of the close feature clearer. –  wax eagle Feb 12 '13 at 3:13
    
@waxeagle My problem with closing these is that it's fundamentally unfriendly. "Close" sounds final. It's the terminology not the workflow. Hopefully the future you are teasing is a brighter one ;) –  Simon Withers Feb 12 '13 at 3:17
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@SimonWithers a verbiage change (for the first few days) is one of the changes that is coming. –  wax eagle Feb 12 '13 at 3:48

IMHO, requests for an open-ended list of occurrences are pretty much always off-topic for SE sites. Scoping them narrowly enough can make them answerable; it's not entirely clear that (a) this results in valuable, helpful content, or (b) that this helps the OP in what he's looking for.

So if a question that just asks for "what are examples of...?", then I don't see much alternative to closing it.

However, in the comments, it's helpful and friendly to check if the question is salvageable. Narrow scoping can be one avenue you can offer. Another option (and a superior one, when applicable) is asking "what's your purpose in asking this?".

The example of designing a point-buy system is an excellent example here, because then the question can be rewritten to focus on this (impeccably on-topic) issue.

  • Consider rephrasing as, e.g., "What existing point-buy systems provide valuable insights to a system designer?" This formulation may allow a list-like question, but it also explicitly requires every answer to have a valuable insight. This avoids many typical problems with list questions.
  • Similarly, "What would be a good sampling of games representing typical uses of point-buy systems?" -- you could come up with an immense number of lists, but you should also have one or two answers whose lists would be recognized as meeting the goal.
    • (This is kind of the opposite tack to the previous one - "typical uses" is more limited scoping; "list of uses and why they're interesting" doesn't narrow the scope but requires valuable content.)
  • The most direct approach might be What are important balance considerations to take into account when designing a point-buy system?". Extremely broad, and inviting lengthy answers, but that's really OP's actual goal - and it is an answerable question. (I don't know what RPG.SE's policy is on questions this broad; I know at Writers.SE we usually accept them.)

TL;DR: If a question is just a request for a list of game titles, it's not very useful anyhow. If the question has more to it then that, it can probably be edited into a better, SE-appropriate question, simply by focusing on the actual goal/intent. This may require interrogating the OP and/or heroic edits.

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Your first bullet lines up with our sys rec guidelines and is ok (not a fan of the genre, but it makes sense here...sorta). The third bullet is what I really want to see. Get a real answer to your real problem, not breadcrumbs to where you want to go. –  wax eagle May 10 '12 at 14:59

Sorry, this probably isn't the answer you are looking for, but I would suggest (as goofdad originally mentioned in chat) making the FAQ describing the scope of questions that can be asked more prominent. As an OP newb, the first thing of interest that drew my attention (aside from the questions/answers) was the starred "Ask Question" button in the upper right hand corner - not the tiny FAQ section hidden in much smaller font above it. Also, as a newb, I wouldn't feel that I need any instruction on how to ask a question, so I would be unlikely to consult the FAQ unless I had a problem submitting.

As a suggestion, why don't you make the FAQ answer for "allowable questions" pop up whenever someone with low reputation (ie a newb) tries to submit a question, so that they at least have a chance to recognize their error before being closed/downvoted.

I understand the reasoning behind closing/downvoting, but it does seem a little harsh as a first experience for what might be an honest mistake - enough to scare people off the site.

Just my two cents ...

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Yeah, adding feature-request tag to the question, but so far the main SO crew has not had interest in changing default SE behavior for us... –  mxyzplk May 8 '12 at 12:40
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"I wouldn't feel that I need any instruction on how to ask a question" This is significant. Experience with other sites doesn't translate here: elsewhere it's just post away at whim. Here, not so much, but the difference is not obvious or is actually hidden. –  SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 6:44

First, I agree that closing them politely and quickly is best. Addressing the larger concern of trying to prevent them in the first place is harder.

I think making the FAQ more obvious would help. I know I stumbled across this site through a google hit on an answer, and didn't scroll down to the bottom of the page of answers to find the faq link there. Instead, I clicked the questions link at the top. That led to this faq rather than this faq, which is the one that contains the useful information. How much control do we have over the bar with "Questions Tags Users Badges Unanswered"? Perhaps adding the faq to that bar would help.

Also, perhaps noting in that question how vast the RPG scope is (i.e. "some of us have been playing for 30 years or more and have gone through nearly that many different systems") in that question could help the new to RPG people consider a tad longer before asking.

But I definitely think making the FAQ more obvious up front would help!

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I've added a relevant clause to the faq. I complained earlier about subtle faq placement but the powers that be chortled and told me it was blatantly obvious and needed no modification (meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/a/871/140), so there's that. We don't have the power to change that ourselves. –  mxyzplk May 8 '12 at 11:54

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