So we have a crop of questions lately like How do you get a DM to stop targeting you? and Betrayed by my GM; how can I respond?

I think these questions, unless they hone in on a very specific actionable, answerable question, are not useful and on-topic. It's basically people posting their side of some gaming group squabble and looking for validation from the community. The answer to all of them is basically "Make sure it's not you (usually omitted); talk it out with them or go find another group. Same page tool blah blah." These seem popular but they are not good questions.

What is some useful site guidance we can give on these questions to make them constructive and answerable (because I'll be honest, your friendly mod corps is done with 'em at the moment)?

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2 Answers 2

These questions are generally "a specific problem with playing or running a table-top RPG". Since social dynamics are an integral part of playing RPGs (you can't meaningfully separate the social dimension of RPGs from the rest of RPG-playing), there's no a priori reason for these to be off topic.

Some of us might not like these questions, because we've left behind "high school" social dysfunction in our groups. That some of us have grown past such problems doesn't mean they're not problems that are inherent and endemic to the hobby, and integrally about the play of the game at the table.

Since such questions are evidently on-topic by our scope, to establish that they're off topic we would need to make a special exception based on experience that such questions are inherently a problem for our format. That would be fine, but that hasn't been done yet. In so doing, we will probably find that some of these are bad questions, and some are fine and keepable.

Specifically to that point and the issues raised in the meta question: Yes, these questions are generally appropriate. Some of them might not be, but having answers that resemble each other doesn't establish that there's a problem. Ironically, that merely indicates that there is a universality to RPG social dynamic problems, which supports them being on topic for RPG.SE. The one question ("How do you get a DM to stop targeting you?") is specific but also a concise expression of a general problem, so that we now have a close-as-duplicate target for people with those problems. That's valuable, searchable, and will actually help us reduce these questions in the future by using the normal "is a duplicate" feature of the Stack.

I propose that we use the old "too localised" logic to sort these questions into good and bad: will this ever help anyone else? If yes, then it's a fine question, and will be a good duplicate target in the future. If no, then it's probably closable as "primarily opinion-based" because it's a unique, one-off problem that won't have a generally-accepted solution (and hence, primarily a matter of opinion).

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Excellent point! I see a lot of these types of questions on RPG forums and almost none on board-game forums, tech forums, &c. The issues are clearly an established feature of the RPG cultural landscape. –  Alex P Oct 29 '13 at 17:12
    
I think this clarifies a good point which didn't really come across well in my answer, which is that these questions are fundamentally on-topic[, if they pertain to the game, and not just interpersonal relations, I would add]. –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 17:47
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@Emrakul That suggests another "sniff test" question to ask oneself: "Is this question the same if every mention of RPGs is removed?" –  SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '13 at 18:06
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Ah, wow, that is a great test. Concur. Currently we have a list of qualifications; I'm wondering if there's a concise way to limit this to a single good litmus test. –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 18:09
    
It may not be a priori on topic but I think they generally fail the many other tests for a valid SE question as Emrakul lays out. –  mxyzplk Oct 29 '13 at 23:14
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@mxyzplk The one linked in my answer doesn't seem to qualify for any of (1)-(5) in Emrakul's answer. 1) yes, directly related to (whether or not to continue) playing the game 2) required no more information for me to understand it 3) clearly I think there is an arguably correct answer, since I gave one 4) I think my answer is complete, and of reasonable length 5) I didn't need to know the people involved, just the behaviour described. Not a priori off topic, and a posteriori appears to have worked out fine. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '13 at 23:19
    
I don't know, about 10 people agree with waxeagle's comment on it that it's too broad. –  mxyzplk Oct 30 '13 at 11:37
    
Agree totally. RPGs are social games by nature, and questions about how to deal with the social problems that come up are highly relevant, unless maybe we want this to be RPG-Mechanics.SE. –  Tridus Oct 30 '13 at 11:44
    
@mxyzplk As one of those 10 people: those 10 don't necessarily count as agreement, and my vote on that comment definitely does not. I voted on it because it was useful. I hadn't made up my mind, chose not to vote to close, and in fact voted to reopen. I'm so far in agreement with SSD. –  doppelgreener Oct 30 '13 at 15:15

I'm going to pull a few resources from the StackExchange blog, way back when these topics were originally discussed with respect to Stack Overflow. (As such, bear in mind these posts were written for Stack Overflow, not RPG.SE.)

The first relevant post is "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective"; the second is "Real Questions Have Answers". I'm going to pull a couple of the important quotes out of this as I write this answer, as these are very good references for what constitutes good answers. So, what makes questions like these good?

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!

When we judge questions like these on merit, we have to make a couple inferences. Here's my half-baked litmus test:

  1. Does the question ask us to solve an interpersonal problem? If yes, is that interpersonal problem related to the actual execution of a roleplaying game?

    Here's what I mean by this. In the two questions you've provided, the asker clearly wants us to solve their interpersonal problem. The answer doesn't concern our on-topic definition at all, as you've already pointed out. These questions I would argue are simply not on-topic.

    As much as I wish to help these people, for the purposes of RPG.SE, we are an RPG site, and not for solely interpersonal solutions.

  2. Does the question define itself well? When you look at one of these questions, are you looking at something which needs minor/no clarification? Does it contain (almost) all the information you'd need to accurately answer it?
  3. Does the question arguably have a correct answer? If the best answer is "there are a lot of ways to approach this situation," then the question is not within the scope of the site and/or needs significant refinement. The use of the word "arguably" is intended here such that people feel (regardless of quorum) that there is a single, definitively good response to the question.
  4. Is it possible, within reasonable length, to provide enough information for an answer to be complete? If no, then the question probably needs to be closed as too broad.
  5. Does the question require an intrinsic/assumed knowledge of the people involved? If a question needs an answer based around who the people are and how they respond, it's probably not a good fit.

This is very similar to the response from "Real Questions Have Answers" (emph. mine):

Constructive subjective questions:

  1. inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.

  2. tend to have long, not short, answers.

  3. have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.

  4. ...

I suppose one of the main points I'd like to make is that even if a question is tangentially related to roleplaying/RPGs, it isn't necessarily a good fit for this site. There's a lot of conversations one can have about roleplaying games, RP theory, and interpersonal relationships that, well, simply don't work well in this format.

I think we've come across a category of these. Now that I've better defined what (I consider) is this class of questions...

How do we improve questions like these?

Some of these questions may be unsalvageable. I'm throwing this out there first, because, while I would love as much as the rest of you to save these questions from an unanswerable state, we have to be open to the idea that they may simply not be a good fit.

That being said, I think there are a few things we can do to improve these questions as a whole:

  1. Where possible, take the user to chat. Most of the time, these questions are written in a fit of frustration, so their purpose is not immediately clear. Often, when you talk with someone, they'll resolve their problem. However, there's a good chance you'll run into something concrete (and thereby worth asking a question about).

    This one's an imposition on the community as well as the participant, so it's really only helpful when people feel motivated to do so.

  2. Objectively analyze the text, and make an attempt to pull out the question. There is often a question in there, somewhere. See "Abuse: Is it fair if it's in-game?"; this was originally in the format of your two examples, but through refinement, we worked it into a manageable state (though, as @mxyzplk points out, not necessarily a good state). While I still think that it's somewhat out of the scope of the site, its core question is on-topic: "what do I do if the GM abuses me in-game?"

    Other questions, like "How do I handle this GM?" are not, at least until their core question is identified and extracted.

  3. Onholdificate the question, and explain to the OP why (and maybe invite them to chat to discuss it anyway). The question may simply not be salvageable. The OP may not be asking a concrete question. Rants, while sometimes helpful, are often simply just that: rants. Please take a look at MSO's "rant" tag as well; it has some useful information.

    Additionally, it may be advantageous to mark these as duplicates of one another. Similar problems can be answered in similar ways.

To summarize:

These are questions which do not clearly define themselves. They are either rants, or are broad. While they may provide specific information about their problem, not enough information is present. We can improve them by drawing out exactly what the OP's question is, by talking with them and seeing if their question needs to be resolved in this format, or simply by closing the question and explaining why. Limiting the scope of this particular type of question isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Anyway, here's about my 50 cents, much more than I really have the authority to be giving. I hope there's some helpful content in here, or at least to kick off this discussion if I'm horribly, horribly wrong.

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Great answer, though I am not sure the "Abuse: Is it fair if it's in-game?" has yet quite hit the level of a good question. On the other hand, it's a conceptual duplicate of the newest one... –  mxyzplk Oct 29 '13 at 1:44
    
@mxyzplk That's fair. I suppose "good" wasn't really the word I was looking for. Not sure what fits there. Thank you, though! –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 1:56
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"Didn't enrage the mods enough to delete it?" I bet the Germans have a word for "just above the level of crappiness that it inspires apathy and not dislike." –  mxyzplk Oct 29 '13 at 1:57
    
That's always a good metric /grin –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 1:58
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@mxyzplk I've been told by my German-speaking friends that "kaumoberärgerteilnahmslosschmerz" is something of a good fit. –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 6:22
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First point on the on-topic list is "A specific problem with playing or running a table-top RPG". I think the DM-is-picking-on-me one is, at least, on topic for this. The other one about ruining the DM's day is... uh... I'm not sure. –  doppelgreener Oct 29 '13 at 9:39
    
@JonathanHobbs That crystallised an answer that had been brewing in my head; now posted. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '13 at 15:40
    
@mxyzplk That question about abuse being fair if in-game (or, at least, some version of that question) does seem, to me, to be a pretty good question at least so far as this meta is concerned, in that the question was very specifically from someone new to RPGs who was wondering if there was some accepted social context he was missing (there isn’t, but that’s why he asked). In short, the question was “here is some behavior I wouldn’t normally tolerate. Is there any reason why I should in an RPG?” –  KRyan Oct 29 '13 at 23:08
    
(the answer to all questions of that form should be “no” and by its title, at least, the question perhaps serves as a good duplicate target) –  KRyan Oct 29 '13 at 23:10
    
@Kryan the reason that one's a bad question is that it conflates that question with a bunch of unrelated nonsense about magical frying pans. None of the extant ones are worthy as duplicate targets. Maybe if we were more aggressive about getting them to clean it up and get to the heart of their problem instead of just babble... –  mxyzplk Oct 29 '13 at 23:16
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@mxyzplk I think a good solution to this problem is to create, in a sense, our own community FAQ posts. In other words, since we have identified a trend of unfair behavior, we should post a generic questions to match the trends. That is a fast and easy solution to mark as duplicate, and it cuts down on the superfluous information. Users who ask questions with similar responses can be redirected there. –  Emrakul Oct 29 '13 at 23:45
    
Normally I hate question seeding. But in this case, yeah, maybe one "the GM and maybe the other players are ganging up on me and doing things inside or outside the rules I feel are unfair." And then we can just use it as a dupe close target. –  mxyzplk Oct 30 '13 at 11:38
    
Considering that this type of question keeps coming up, having some stock answers to refer people to would be a lot more helpful than just closing them without offering any help. –  Tridus Oct 30 '13 at 12:11

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