We got a few questions that ask for the origin of a monster or name, usually, "why does it differ from the usual most common thing with the same name?"

As examples Why is the D&D gorgon a metal bull?

Why do we call the class "Barbarians" instead of "Berserks" or "Berserkers"?

What inspired the D&D version of the Rakshasa?

In particular the 1st and 3rd are a lot like a "Why did the designers choose this name/design?" - and a conclusive answer can only be obtained by revivifying Gygax and asking him that, or finding some obscure interview where he explains that. Other than that, we can only speculate on similar mythological creatures or reference material. While the answers are well behaved in these questions, ultimately they seem to be quite similar to designer-reasons.

So, are these questions designer-reasons? If they are, should they be put on that historical thing that closes the question and tells readers it is off-topic, simply closed, or what?

  • \$\begingroup\$ In the Rakshasa one we even have an answer that explicitly says "It is purely speculative", so yeah... Not getting good vibes from this kind of question haha \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Jul 1 '20 at 0:40

This is awkward, because the policy exists solely because designer-intent questions so regularly got poor answers. There isn’t any problem with the query per se, nor is it impossible or even improbable that RPG is a great place to handle answering them well. Designer-intent is topical, clear, focused, and answerable. It’s purely that, in our experience, for all they could be answered well, too often they were not. We were, frankly, reluctant to ban the topic. (Well, many of us were; honestly I wasn’t too terribly sad to see them go.)

These three questions do not exhibit that problem. Ultimately, all of those questions have answers that dig into actual sources and evidence, and do a good job of backing up their cases (even if direct, objective evidence has yet to be found for any of them). They are some great answers, to rather popular questions.

So my answer to the question here is, if there is a problem here, we need to dig into what’s different about these questions, versus the others that were so poorly-handled. Deciding “oh well, those are great questions and answers, but too bad, can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” we are doing ourselves and our readers a gross disservice. Instead, we have to grapple with the idea that we might need a more nuanced policy.

I have some speculation as to why these Q&As went better than designer-intent Q&As usually did. I think part of it is that digging into history is harder, leaving folks less likely to be over-sure of themselves and thus happy to speculate baselessly. I think a lot of it is also the work that each of the questions did up-front—if you can’t match and expand upon the research effort already in the question, you really have no business answering, and I think people intuitively respond to that.

And I think a lot of it has to do with how the request is really for information on the historical context and precedents that existed when these choices were made. It’s clear that these aren’t just “what were they thinking?” but rather “what came before that prompted this choice?” There is no prompting for answerers to “imagine themselves in the role of the ones who made this choice,” which is exactly the sort of baseless speculation we have no use for.

Which does also perhaps suggest an easy way to edit these questions to remove any doubt on the score, by eliminating “why” from them and replacing it with explicitly “what precedents and context existed at the time?” Ultimately, though, I lean towards not doing that—it just doesn’t seem necessary, as we already got what we wanted, some great answers—but it is something we could consider.

But I’m adamantly opposed to closing or worse locking these questions. They’re great; if anything is wrong, it’s we who should adjust.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Amen to your last paragraph. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3 '20 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder, could these three warrant a "source identification" tag? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jul 9 '20 at 10:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish To me, that tag is for questions of the type “I remember this thing/someone mentioned this thing, where can I find it?” where you have a very specific item in mind that you’re looking for, and a sense that it definitely can be found in a particular sourcebook. These kinds of history questions, on the other hand, are far more nebulous and broad, asking us to dig into the general context in which things occurred, which often requires going well beyond sourcebooks themselves. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 9 '20 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I remember X, what is it?" is product-identification. I was suggesting an alternate tag source-identification for stuff that is "This is how the game describes X. What did inspire X?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jul 9 '20 at 14:58
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish You’ll never convince me that those two tags should be anything by synonyms. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 9 '20 at 15:03

let's go step by step:

What inspired the D&D version of the Rakshasa?

The question is not what the designer thought or why he did it, it is what other influence might be identified for a specific trait. Such can be pinned down to the material that existed before the creation of such an item, so it is not per se a designer intent question but one of identifying source material.

Why is the D&D gorgon a metal bull?

Once again, this is asking for research into what material the designers might have had available to describe the monster as it is. While framed as "why did the designers choose this", it can be read as above as "can a source material be identified that has these traits for a monster" - which again is a source identification.

Why do we call the class "Barbarians" instead of "Berserks" or "Berserkers"?

This one again does not ask what a designer thought but more tries to identify when the terminology was used first and entered the RPG-culture (hint: 0th edition D&D & probably ) - and some answers go so far as to elaborate what might have inspired the Designer (hint: A certain Cimmerian coined the term in 1932!) and then an elaboration what the word Barbarian means (hint: it comes from the ancient greek Barbaroi, meaning non-hellenic-person aka non-greek. Romans were barbarians to the greek!) - nothing here asks for designer reasons but an analysis of the RPG-community and to the extent the origin of the words.


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