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,
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.