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We currently discuss whether designer intent questions are on-topic. There is a decent chance that they might become on-topic again — I wonder how one would ask a good designer intent question. I believe this question lays out exceptionally well how that works for homebrew review questions: How can I ask a good homebrew review question?

If you think that this question is premature, then please tackle this question from a point of view that looks at what made those questions good designer intent questions when they were on-topic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m voting to close this question because for now, designer intent questions are off topic, so the only answer to this question is “you can’t”. The mods have said nothing about permitting these questions again, so we should wait until they make that decision and hear what they have to say about it before we try to write guidance. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22 at 22:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov There are two parts to this question, and whether or not they will be on-topic doesn't interfere with the second part. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Mar 22 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is that if these questions are coming back at all, they’re coming back on the mods’ terms. We cannot answer this question until they define those terms for us. And if they decide not to permit them again, this question is meaningless. We really should wait for their decision. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this is a little premature to ask. They're not allowed right now so this is jumping the gun; if they stay gone then no guidance is relevant and the effort is wasted. Moreover the nature of their return will inform how we handle this kind of discussion. KRyan's argued that "designer intent" is not even well-defined in our current community operation. Will we deprecate its use as a concept? The way forward for how we even frame approaching this issue again is yet to be fully determined, whether by the mods or anyone else. Mods might lead that discussion but we should have it first. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to apologise for the mods being a little slack on this, things get in the way sometimes. I believe that generally we are in favour of seeing them return in some form but haven't reached a consensus on what that will look like. However I'm not opposed to the existence of this question, an answer guiding what the community feels a good 'designer intent' question looks like may help shape how we approach this moving forward. It would also keep us accountable to actually getting this done. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin Mod
    Mar 23 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin The speed of meta is already slow enough. I really don’t think pushing your decision back until this one takes shape too is a great idea. I don’t think there is much new to invent here. Past discussions have explored this question already, and anything we come up with here is quite likely just to be an echo of what’s already been said before. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 at 4:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Didn't mean to imply that we would wait on this meta, sorry if it came across that way. I meant that the community (if it wanted to) could use this meta to get started on creating the guidance which will be required while we are still dragging out feet trying to get organised. Basically, we will keep moving forward, if someone makes a good answer here we might take that into account but it (hopefully) won't change the timeline either way. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin Mod
    Mar 23 at 4:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand, if the community would prefer to wait for us to announce our position, that's fine too. This question can be closed and put on the back burner until we get that done. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin Mod
    Mar 23 at 4:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am voting to reopen this question based on link's comment above: "I'm not opposed to the existence of this question, an answer guiding what the community feels a good 'designer intent' question looks like may help shape how we approach this moving forward. It would also keep us accountable to actually getting this done." I think community discussion here is good idea at this point, to keep this issue moving forward. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 13 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Design intent questions have been released, question framing needs adjusting a bit. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Following this discussion, there has (finally) come a declaration from the mods regarding designer-reasons questions being allowed – see the latest Meta post: Are questions about rule intent on-topic? [2022] \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Jul 28 at 17:34

3 Answers 3

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Help us understand what you want.

Asking, "why did this human being that none of you have ever met build this particular piece of a very complicated structure in a particular way," is an incredibly hard question to answer. You can help us out by making it clear what you're looking for in an answer.

If you want an answer along the lines of, "If you remove restriction X, then a player could just do Y and it would be ridiculously overpowered," then tell us that.

If you want an answer along the lines of, "Well, 3 editions back when rule Z was added it was associated with the flavor of the Froob class, as based on the real-life froobers of frooblandia (see Wikipedia link). The Froob class has changed across editions to not really have much to do with the froobers any more, but rule Z hasn't changed at all since then, so it's really just a sacred cow," then tell us that.

If you want an answer along the lines of, "In this interview (link) Bob Gamewriter, who wrote the rules for that part of the system, said, 'I was worried the Froob class would be too powerful, so I put in rules P & Q to try to prevent that. Also, someone in my home game who always plays a Froob irritates me, so I nerfed it a bit more to get back at him.' Meanwhile, over in this Twitter post (link), Sandy Alsowritesgames said that they were under a lot of time pressure and Bob's work didn't get edited as closely as it probably should have been," then tell us that.

If you just ask, "Why must/can't I do A, as specified in the rules on page 123," and leave it at that then we can't really tell what kind of answer you're looking for. That leads to you getting lots of answers that aren't what you're looking for, which makes you and the answerers unhappy. You can improve your question by telling us whether you're looking for a mechanical perspective, a historical perspective, actual quotes from the designers, or something else.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question you pose at the beginning, the supposedly incredibly hard to answer one, at least to me, seems to be the exact kind of question that your third example answer (paragraph 4) answers. So I'm not really sure what to take away there, they seem at odds \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29 at 22:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Exempt-Medic 99% of the time there won't be any quotes like that in existence. If you only want the reason straight from the horse's mouth, and won't settle for anything else, then tell us that. "Have the designers said anything about rule J," is a perfectly valid question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Jul 29 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Exempt-Medic Also, realistically, Bob Gamedesigner is never going to tell people in an interview that he wrote rule P to irritate his fellow player Joe AlwaysFroob. It might still be his real reason, though, and we would have no way of knowing! That's what makes "why" without any clarification about what sort of answer you're looking for so hard: because it could be any number of things we have no way of knowing about. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Jul 29 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Exempt-Medic We can know how a rule impacts the system, we can know the history of that rule, we can know what the designers have said about that rule, maybe even what they've said they were thinking about when they wrote the rule, but even all of those together might not tell us why the rule exists. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Jul 29 at 23:03
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Consider that design intent may not actually be the best solution to your problem.

What I don’t want to do here is tell anyone “this is a dumb question” or “you shouldn’t want this information”. Questions about design intent are on topic, and if that’s what you want to know, that’s great! Ask your question. However, I want to offer some guidance that might help you get better solutions to the problems you are experiencing at the table of play by rethinking the way you look at the problem you’re having.

What we have often seen with this type of question is that while it is phrased as a question of design intent, asking for an author-endorsed ruling on a particular rule, there is typically real conflict or misunderstanding about the rule propping up the question. That is, the querent doesn’t understand a rule, or has experienced conflict at the table of play about a rule, and is looking for the game designers to settle the issue for them. When this is the case, I think we may be engaging in something of an XY Problem, borrowing from this meta.se discussion:

The XY problem is asking about your attempted solution rather than your actual problem.

That is, you are trying to solve problem X, and you think solution Y would work, but instead of asking about X when you run into trouble, you ask about Y.

To translate this to RPG terms, we have some kind of confusion, misunderstanding, or table conflict about some game rules (problem X), and we think that the game designer’s official ruling on the matter will resolve the issue (solution Y). And what I have often seen from questions of this type is a stripping down of the question content, because the querent doesn’t see that actual problem context as important when all they want is the developer’s ruling. This is how we arrive at what that linked meta discussion describes as “The problem”:

This can lead to frustration by people who are trying to help you solve the problem because by the time you ask about it, the solution that you need help with might not have any obvious connections to the problem that you are trying to solve.

If the confusion or conflict you are having is being caused by the broader context a rules interaction occupies, asking a bare question about design intent risks disconnecting the rest of us from the thing that is actually causing your problem. Or as that meta discussion explains “How to avoid it”:

To avoid falling into this trap, always include information about a broader picture along with any attempted solution. If someone asks for more information, or especially a more specific question, do provide details. If there are other solutions which you believe will be suggested and which you've already ruled out, then don't try to avoid going over them again – instead state why you've ruled them out, as this gives more information about your requirements and helps others provide better answers.

Instead of just asking what the design intent for a rule is, put the rule into context for us. What was going on when the rule came up? What do you know about how the rule interacts with other rules? What ruling did you go with at the table, in the moment and why? I know I’m speaking in very general terms, and every situation will be different, warranting different levels of detail.

My intent is to encourage a bit of self-reflection about this type of question. Is design intent really all I care about, or is the problem I’m trying to solve bigger than that? If it really is all you care about that’s fine too, you aren’t wrong for feeling that way. Or it may even be that your question isn't about rules at all, and there is no table conflict to go with it. Not every question tagged even fits into the category of question that might benefit from this sort of reframing, so it certainly doesn’t make sense to bring to bear an expectation that this guidance be acted by question author’s. This is guidance for the one with the question, not guidance for curation and moderation.


Finally, I am not the first to suggest this. The idea I offer here is just old wine in a new wineskin. I stand on the shoulders of giants, so I will echo some of the guidance they provide. However, reader beware, these posts were made in the context of questions being off topic. Now that such questions are on-topic, read these quotes through the lens of improving an already acceptable question, rather than making an off-topic question acceptable:

Useful designer reasoning questions can be reframed into on-topic questions.

A number of designer reasoning questions are secretly other kinds of questions, and can be rewritten as such. For instance, What is the rationale behind the comparatively low number of spells known for Sorcerers? can be reframed as, "Is it unbalanced to increase the number of spells known for Sorcerers?". Likewise, "What have designers said for why they made worn items fireproof? can be rewritten as, "Will making worn items flammable break my game?" (yes, it will).

These DMs are really asking about the practicality of homebrewed rules, which doesn't require a developer to weigh in. In fact, questions like these are probably better served by other DMs who have firsthand experience with similar homebrew rules. Unfortunately, their current formulation actually bans such answers.

In this way, many of the more borderline designer intent questions can be reframed into other topics. This question, about the wording of the rules, is a good example: it is a question about the rules that has some designer intent flavor, but is arguably not a designer intent question per se. Likewise, questions about game design can be asked that are about the game design itself, and not necessarily intent specifically.

-Icyfire

Instead focus on: What problem are you trying to solve at the table?

When a rule looks weird or feels out of whack, a lot of different questions arise, one of which is "what were they thinking?"

"What they were thinking" doesn't matter in our RPG.SE context. I will quote @BESW for a good idea of why "we are here" on this stack:

We aren't here on the Stack to read the rulebooks to people. We're here to help people learn how to synthesize the mechanics, the non-mechanical text, the social context, our personal experience, the learning of the broader community, to apply all that to a particular real-life problem someone's having and find a solution for it

We need to get the question pointed at the problem to solve so that play at the table isn't impeded by a given rule or decision, rather than being pointed at discomfort with a given design decision.

-KorvinStarmast

Again, these quotes were written in the context of needing to take an off-topic question and rearrange it into an on-topic question. This is no longer necessary, but changing your question in this way might change the kind of answers you receive, so take a moment to consider if your question might benefit from reframing in this way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or in short: If you feel tempted to ask them: Think twice, then ask your ACTUAL question. You don't really want the designer's reason 99 out of 100 times. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jul 13 at 23:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I misread your disclaimer—I thought the point of this question was to collect thoughts for what advice we might give in the future when such questions are unbanned. For that purpose, this answer strikes me as very inappropriate. For the current situation, however, this is a good answer. If you care, I’d reverse my vote if you want to edit your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 17 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan In a world where designer-intent questions are on topic, this is still advice I would offer for consideration. I do want to make it clear that asking a design intent question strictly as a design intent question is fine, but I want users to be sure about what they really want to ask, to reflect on the true nature of their problem, and ask about that. If they want to stick with a strictly design-intent question, that's fine, but if upon reflecting on their problem they decide to expand the question, I think that's a net positive for everyone. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That said, I can see how the quotes, particularly mxyzplk's, harshes the mellow a bit on the question type. I'll try to soften it up. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov No, please, please, please do not. We are not here to “scare off” would-be querents. We didn’t vote to make designer-intent into “second-class questions.” If they’re on-topic, people can ask them, and that’s it. Advice even remotely like this is 1. going to confuse new users and make them think they aren’t supposed to ask the question they actually want to ask in order to “comply,” and 2. cause certain other users to vote to close perfectly-valid questions in order to “enforce compliance.” This is everything that we should not be saying here if these questions are on-topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 17 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Your disagreement is noted. I’ll let the community sort it out with votes. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17 at 19:37
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The current rules are that designer-intent questions are off-topic, thus the answer to this question is, currently, simply that you do not. However, my impression of the purpose of this discussion is to workshop what advice we may or may not give in the future, when designer-intent questions are allowed. The below is my suggestion, and furthermore is, I think, the only real answer possible that is consistent with the current consensus on the topic.

The community consensus, by a large margin, was to allow designer-intent questions without any special rules or requirements—unless the ♦ moderators felt such requirements were necessary for effective moderation of the site and that without such, things would be too much of a burden on them. Since the ♦ moderators have not indicated any such requirements that they feel are necessary to do their job, the community consensus is very clearly that there aren’t any.

To wit:

If you have done that, congratulations, you have asked a good designer-intent question.

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