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I've now seen enough examples of "does it break anything" questions regarding D&D 5e to ask about them in the general case. I don't think that they're bad questions, but I feel that they could be better and more stack-able if they were nudged into a different format. The typical form of the questions I'm referring to is

Would it break anything if I [proposed house rule]?

I think that this formulation is undesirable for a few reasons:

  1. They are extremely open-ended and largely undefined-- "anything" can cover classes being overshadowed to combats being trivialized to throwing the in-game economy out of whack, and it's not clear if something small (like de-valuing a pound of salt from its suggested trade price) becoming broken breaks "the game"
  2. By stepping outside of the published rules to allow something novel, the already-published rules have been broken along with whatever function they served. Whether or not this affects meaningful gameplay elements or fun is a separate issue
  3. "Break" is a subjective word in this usage. For example, ignoring encumbrance changes a real, mechanical constraint of the rules system, but it's not clear if it "breaks" 5e. Many tables find the game more fun, and similarly challenging, without using encumbrance
  4. D&D 5e isn't exactly a highly-tuned, perfectly-functioning machine in the first place. We can estimate deviation from the balances imposed by the core rules, but there have been (and are) game-breaking strategies that are perfectly rules-legal already, and mechanics that don't really work that well in the first place
  5. The open-endedness of such questions and vagueness of the criteria for judging answers encourages low-effort postings. How much thought and effort do we expect of a question like this?
  6. Given the subjectivity and lack of specificity attached to the game (or certain game mechanics) becoming "broken", questions in this format seem less stack-able to me than other formulations

I think that re-formulating these questions to something like "what are the mechanical impacts of changing rule [X] in manner [Y]?" in the general case, or encouraging more specificity in the questions (where appropriate) might make for better questions and answers overall.

Rather than rolling the subjective piece into the core of the question, I think it would be better to ask for the mechanical effects and then allow readers to determine whether or not they find those changes game-breaking or otherwise undesirable.

Are "would it break anything" type questions appropriately specified and scoped for the stack, or should we encourage a different angle to improve them? Would it improve the stack much, or at all, to make that effort?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it's me being a fan of having catchy titles for metas like this, but; "Do "Does it Break Anything" questions break anything"? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 11 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ It not only fine for someone to lay out their observations and concerns when asking questions about whether something is on/off topic, it is in fact extraordinarily normal. Doing so doesn't make it a leading question. If someone just asked "are these questions OK?" without explaining the problem they're seeing, we'd almost certainly be responding "why wouldn't they be?" and likely closing as unclear... so that it would get edited into what it's like now. Because they have laid out their observations and concerns we can discuss those directly. Everything is OK here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 14 at 11:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ That ^^, though I would add the clarification that this is extraordinarily normal for meta. Meta is Q&A architecture being used to try and create discussion and consensus--necessarily it's going to end up looking a little different than mainsite Q&A, and this is one of the ways. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 15 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ <comments cleaned out, can be retrived if desired> While users are free to vote as they wish, starting a discussion with why it is needed/what the perceived problems are, is desirable and useful and will allow an answer disagreeing with there being a problem to address the question and not reply to other answers (which is, you know, how the site is built). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 15 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would disagree – KRyan's answer gives all the reasons – but I do think your suggestion of a rewording is helpful. In asking "does this break anything", I also want to know HOW and WHY. Because some "breaking" may not affect my game, due to the scenario, party makeup, etc. e.g. if something affects mechanics by devaluing the rogue class, but my party has no rogue class, that won't break things nearly as much as if an underconfident player is playing a rogue. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 21 at 21:33
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Yes, these questions are fine.

No, actually, they are more than fine—they are literally exactly the sort of thing that makes RPG SE have value.

We are supposed to be a community of experts who can tackle difficult questions with strong, authoritative answers that are backed up by considerable experience working on these sorts of questions. It’s totally legitimate to ask about how rule interactions work, or to seek assistance in dealing with social issues around the table, but ultimately these are often not the places where our unique experience can shine. Careful readings of the rules is largely a function of English Language & Usage; addressing social issues is the province of Interpersonal Skills. We can bring a particular context to these questions here, and answer them differently and arguably better than the sites dedicated to those things, but these kinds of questions are the ones where we are uniquely qualified.

If we don’t handle these kinds of questions, then I have strong questions about why we even bother to exist as a website. This is what we are here for.

The reason for that is because these are questions that demand expertise in and judgment of the content of the RPG in question. Because we are the ones who can tell querents what it is that they don’t already know. Too often, however, attempts to “clarify” such questions become demands that the querent in fact already know their answer before starting. This is an absurd practice, and one that must stop.

To address your specific concerns,

  1. They are extremely open-ended and largely undefined-- "anything" can cover classes being overshadowed to combats being trivialized to throwing the in-game economy out of whack, and it's not clear if something small (like de-valuing a pound of salt from its suggested trade price) becoming broken breaks "the game"

Yes, that is the point. We are the ones who know the game, and can consider all the corner cases that someone without our expertise would miss. If someone knew all the corner cases already, they wouldn’t need to ask the question.

This is what expertise means. We are the experts—we are the ones who should know the corner-cases. Querents are not necessarily experts, and are not expected to necessarily know all the corner-cases.

  1. By stepping outside of the published rules to allow something novel, the already-published rules have been broken along with whatever function they served. Whether or not this affects meaningful gameplay elements or fun is a separate issue

I’ve gotta be honest, this just comes across as pedantry to me. That is not a useful definition of broken, and we all know it isn’t the one intended by these questions. To go with that definition is, I think, to be willfully obtuse. It doesn’t help anyone.

  1. "Break" is a subjective word in this usage. For example, ignoring encumbrance changes a real, mechanical constraint of the rules system, but it's not clear if it "breaks" 5e. Many tables find the game more fun, and similarly challenging, without using encumbrance

We have a pretty solid rule-of-thumb for that, actually: What makes a [game feature] over-powered?. It’s not a meta question, because the question is also relevant as a main-site concern, and it could maybe be more prominent, but the fact remains that this is the definition just about everyone already intuitively uses so it’s rare that we actually have to define it.

And it’s somewhat subjective, but it’s not primarily opinion-based, which are the kinds of questions we avoid. A question of whether something is balanced or not is not a popularity contest. Experts can disagree about how likely something is to cause problems, but well backed-up answers should be very clear about where they are coming from and why they expect, or do not expect, problems from the material in question.

That is, again, these are “good subjective” questions—exactly the sort of questions this format was designed for.

  1. D&D 5e isn't exactly a highly-tuned, perfectly-functioning machine in the first place. We can estimate deviation from the balances imposed by the core rules, but there have been (and are) game-breaking strategies that are perfectly rules-legal already, and mechanics that don't really work that well in the first place

Sure, so? I mean, I primarily work on questions about D&D 3.5e and Pathfinder—if you think 5e’s balance is wobbly, I invite you to explore the absurdities of those systems. It just means that answers have to do somewhat more work in establishing what they’re talking about—in 3.5e parlance, we could easily say something is overpowered compared to, say, the fighter, but underpowered compared to, say, the wizard. Answering “is this balanced?” with “depends what you compare it against; it’s balanced against X, but stronger than Y and weaker than Z” is a great answer–and one that should be upvoted.

Anyone just saying “Yes” or “No” without backing that up should be downvoted. This isn’t any different from any other question.

  1. The open-endedness of such questions and vagueness of the criteria for judging answers encourages low-effort postings. How much thought and effort do we expect of a question like this?

Meh, who cares? We are not drowning in a deluge of these questions where this kind of concern is relevant. If you find a question obnoxious because it seems to you the querent put no effort in and that makes you not feel like spending your time helping, then simply don’t. That’s what downvoting is for. Downvote and move on.

More seriously, though, I feel as though we are experiencing a bit of a surge in elitism that is always a kind of a thing to keep an eye on with any Stack Exchange site. In my experience, it tends to wax and wane a bit, and there’s no objective measure of it where we can say it’s at the appropriate level—the site does absolutely require a certain level of standards here, because ultimately experts have to feel like their time is valued if they’re going to stay, and not wasting time with low-effort questions is part of that. Optimizing for pearls rather than sand, as the famous Coding Horror blog post says.

But in this case, while such questions are “low effort” in a sense, in that they aren’t very difficult to write, I wonder what on earth should be expected of new players who are most apt to write such questions. “Go play in half a dozen campaigns to achieve the level of expertise required to know all the corner cases that this might affect, so that you can tell us to consider them [but at which point you already know the answer]”? Because that’s how it sounds to me. What reasonable level of effort could be done to answer this kind of question? Any kind of narrowing or restricting the scope of the question that the querent might perform only hurts the question, because they might inadvertently leave out something important that they should be informed of.

Ultimately, querents are supposed to ask questions that correspond to the problem they actually have. Every one of these questions surely meets that requirement. Their problem is that they’re considering allowing this thing, but they don’t and can’t know what the all the knock-on ramifications of that are going to be. So they ask that! Perfect, that’s what we want. If we force them to artificially narrow the scope, they risk not having their actual question answered—we just forced them to create an XY-problem question! That isn’t what we want at all!

  1. Given the subjectivity and lack of specificity attached to the game (or certain game mechanics) becoming "broken", questions in this format seem less stack-able to me than other formulations

Given everything above, I could not possibly disagree more strongly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree. I don't contribute much, but take a look at the biggest question I've answered: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10113/… Its not about house rules, but it is about comparing and contrasting, requiring expertise in multiple editions. There is no way a querent could possibly have known to ask about specifically planes, specifically dragonamrks, specifically races, the scale of the world etc. If they did, they wouldn't need to ask the question. Why should rules related questions be any different? \$\endgroup\$ – Glen Nelson Jan 12 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ And if you think the above question shouldn't be answered on this website, I don't know what the point is. The point of stack exchange is for this expertise guidance, thats what is done on EG: the programming versions. \$\endgroup\$ – Glen Nelson Jan 12 at 2:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for answering. This answer seems passionate, to the point of being angry. Did my question upset you in some way? \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 12 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case If I may direct you to the Q&A where Thomas Markov's answer opens with "let experts act like experts" I think that the sentiments behind this answer are similar to that one. All that is different is the prose style. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 12 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I generally agree with it but the tone is a little strident. I do agree though that just "is X broken" is a low effort kind of question, and urging a slightly better format - like "What are the effects on the game of doing X" combined with some context and some self-work similar to the homebrew questions is good. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 12 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I was gonna use 2d10 instead of d20 does that break anything?" is vaguer and lazier than "I was considering using 2d10 for task resolution in order to create more normalized results, I know this will effect critical-focused builds since those depend on natural 20s but what other effects would it have?" Not that the first is "the worst ever" but nudging people towards the latter is better for all I believe. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 12 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Nudging, sure, but my experience recently is that it hasn’t been nudging—it’s been demands, backed with close votes. And, uh, “strident” declarations that we don’t do this kind of thing (which totally do and should). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 12 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan For clarity, are you saying that I have done those things? With this question I was aiming for establishing an expectation that may help to restrain those demands, close votes, and declarations. I'm trying to better understand if the anger I read in this post is directed at me and this question or not, in hopes of making better contributions in the future. Given that I'm trying to establish clearly how "does it break [x]" questions might best be handled, and explicitly said that I don't think they're bad questions, I'm trying to understand how things went awry. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 12 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case No. I’d rather this question didn’t need to be asked, but the trends that I’m seeing and commenting upon predate this question and, in fact, as you say, kind of demand that it be asked and answered. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 12 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I could not agree more strongly with this answer. Yes, more care, more thought, more specificity in a question are always good things. I might argue for my preferred phrasing, "What are the unforeseen consequences of rules change X, [which I am enacting to achieve effect Y,]" but that's how I read these questions anyway. And anyway, the very nature of the question is an implicit plea for we the experts to help them think around the corner cases they haven't even considered yet. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 12 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for the "low effort" and "doing their work for them" idea-- that makes a lot more sense on academic and vocationally oriented stacks, like stackoverflow. There is a genuine concern, in those stacks, that an answer might literally be doing someone's homework for them. That's really not likely to be the case here. Put in the effort you feel is appropriate, which extends all the way to "Not answering; not worth my time." \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 12 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Where a question like these might (and should) get closed is if the proposed change or house-rule is so ill-defined that the question itself is unclear and can't be answered. But that's as it is on any other question. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 12 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted and mostly-agreed. However, I think you're pushing back to hard on narrowing the scope: context about the querent's actual use case significantly narrows scope, and makes for better questions. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jan 13 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I have seen many questions pushed to become XY-problems by overzealous attempts to “narrow” questions of this sort, and that is far more damaging than any extra context is helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 13 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan fair point. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jan 13 at 15:48
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Personally, I think those questions need to be treated more like our homebrew-review questions. Just asking "Does this break anything" is a zero effort post. They are wanting to construct homebrew/house-rule, but haven't done any effort to see if there are issues - and no work has been shown.

We should hold these to the same standard and ask folks to come up with their homebrew/house-rule, evaluate it, show us the work and ask for feedback on areas they recognize may be problematic.

Just asking "is this broken" isn't really enough. I mean, I guess it is with just a downvote, but then this becomes a 'homebrew it for me' type exercise. I think it's better to close it and show them what needs to be done.

For those here who are looking for "what needs to be done", please see this meta question on How to Ask a Good Homebrew Review Question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think asking "is this broken" makes it a "homebrew it for me" question at all - just a (potentially) bad question. Such questions may or may not be worth closing as needing more details/being too broad nevertheless. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 11 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast It ends up being do it for me because they've spent no time analysing. If we analyse and suggest, then we're doing it for them. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 11 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that 5e has, in every chapter, "this will be handled by the DM's houserules", I think it's extremely relevant to the site. This is exactly the sort of question this site is good at! It's asking for people's expertise analyzing the context of the game and their experience with similar things, to help answer deeply ambiguous parts of the game. It's not "homebrew it for me", it's "the game expects me to interpret this on my own, and this site says it's a resource for helping point me in a direction that will be healthy for my campaign." Super on-topic for rpg.se. \$\endgroup\$ – Forrestfire Jan 12 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ So what if we-- by which I mean any willing and interested user-- does it for them? This is not comparable to debugging someone's senior project on stackoverflow. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 12 at 19:51

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