Recently, the question What are some easy all-in-one options to play TTRPGs online with only phones? was closed (correctly, I think) as off-topic. By my understanding, the Roomba will clean it in ~9 days (depending on how many edits come) and then it is deleted.

I had not known that it was considered off-topic and had already written an answer. The answer is now deleted so it is not visible to most users, but the content doesn't matter. @Thomas Markov wrote a comment that I would be interested in discussing. So here is the comment copied for everyone to see:

Can we not answer off topic questions?

I'm wondering what is the thought process behind this.

How I see it there are two paths that question can take, and in either case, I cannot see any harm in having answered it:

  • The question is altered in a way that it is no longer off-topic. In this specific case, that is very unlikely to happen, but it wouldn't be the first time a closed question was reopened. In this case, the answer may very well still be valid, and there is no harm in it being there. ("Ideally, edits to a question should not invalidate existing answers")

  • The question is and will always be off-topic. In that case, it will (hopefully) be deleted, because such questions should not show up in search results, which closed ones still do. The answer to this question is deleted with the question and will not clutter the RPG.SE, nor will it be a bad example. One could argue I wasted some time writing the answer, but I don't mind. On the contrary, I'd be happy to know that I made the harsh welcome for this new contributor a bit better.

What is the harm in answering off-topic questions?

Note: The links that I posted are not necessarily from this SE. I have not found any indications that the philosophy on RPG.SE should be fundamentally different, but if I'm wrong please point me to the relevant posts.


2 Answers 2


You should not answer off-topic questions

Other Stackizens have written about this so I will quote from the top answers of each of the following MSE posts:

Generally speaking, answering questions that should get closed encourages bad behavior. [...]

My criteria are consistent with the penalty for answering off topic questions:

You lose all reputation gained on questions that get deleted within 60 days, but you keep reputation gained on migrated questions (on the target site).

Yes, it is bad to answer off-topic questions. What on earth is the point of defining them as off-topic if you're going to answer them anyway?

Think about what happens if, instead of scolding your dog for peeing on the rug, you reward them with a treat. They're going to keep peeing on the rug.

Don't encourage our users to pee on our rug.

Simply put, answering bad questions encourages users to ask more bad questions. It perpetuates a cycle of bad questions.

If it is a sure duplicate or cannot be salvaged, it's best if you didn't answer it, and instead educate the OP on why his question is about to be closed/deleted.

Remember, our goal is quality, helping out other users is nice but it is a secondary goal. Flooding the site with answered duplicates doesn't help anyone, half-assed questions getting low quality answers (because you can't really answer a question the truly deserves being closed) doesn't help either.

Yes. Answering obviously off-topic questions encourages people to ask them.

From that last post there is also this, which I personally find to be a very compelling reason not to answer off-topic questions:

There are clean up scripts (see this answer for the specifics) that will clean up closed questions with certain attributes.

One set of the requirements for one of the scripts contains:

  • has no answers with a score > 0

Downvoting answers of questions that really shouldn't be will help coax these questions to automatic deletion, lest they serve as bad examples for other people to ask similar questions.

Please remember the bit of the downvote tooltip of "this is not useful" is still the guiding principle for what to downvote... but if it isn't useful, by all means, downvote it.

Answering a closed question (and then getting a positive score) prevents the Roomba from doing its job.

  • \$\begingroup\$ very good points. But none of these address one point, what if the question is edited and reopened in the future? From my understanding that is the reason behind closing instead of just straight up deleting the question or? \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Aug 23, 2021 at 16:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @findusl You can always follow the question and post your answer (saved as a draft) if it is reopened. It would also likely be better, in terms of your reputation, to answer the question after people agree it is on-topic as you'd otherwise attract downvotes aplenty that are, in my experience, unlikely to reversed \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23, 2021 at 16:46
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @findusl I have a folder on my desktop of answers I've written to questions that have been closed, waiting for them to be reopened if they are fixed. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23, 2021 at 16:49

You should not answer off-topic questions. However, ...

Reasonable people can disagree about whether a particular question is on or off-topic. If you think it's on topic, you should answer it even if others disagree.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .