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A small note before the question itself : I'm unsure if this kind of question fits Meta, since it could easily be interpreted as nothing more than "How do I not offend other human beings?". I decided to post it here because I specifically aim at increasing the quality of my answers in this stack, but also because there might be other people looking for the same answers. If there is some other place which would be a better fit for this question, please do indicate it and I will gladly move this issue over there.

I've been lurking through this stack for quite a while, and decided only recently to create an account and start using what I've learned, both through reading through it and my own roleplaying experience. However, I've been running into an issue that left me puzzled.

First, I believe I should explain my reasoning when building an answer for a question, as it might just as well be the issue here. When I make an answer, I usually start by stating the basic concept that I will then build upon in my answer. Usually, it will be one or multiple rules from the books that are the ground floor of my argument. I do this for multiple reasons :

  • I make sure that the reader and I are using reasoning based on the same premises, which avoids possible misunderstandings later on in the reasoning.
  • This helps less experienced readers, by either teaching them or reminding them of those points.
  • If my premises are wrong, this allows more experienced readers to easily and accurately point out the reason as to why my answer is flawed, which then allows me to correct my answer in an efficient way.

When the premises of my answer are cleared up, I can then explain more in details my reasoning, mention personal experience with the subject, then make a conclusion.

The issue I've had recently is that multiple people have told me that this method can be seen as condescending. The main argument for that was that it implies the reader does not know the basics of the rules, and thus stating the "obvious" is an insult to whoever is reading the answer.

I can understand that someone would feel offended by that, but I believe the arguments I've given also show that this structure (basic, agreed upon fact -> reasoning from those facts and adding external elements -> concluding based on those reasonings) is avantageous. The objective with this is not to correct the reader or put them down, but simply to make sure we are operating on the same page.

My question is the following : how do I answer a question in a meaningful way, without closing down to less experienced people, but also without offending more experienced readers? Should I discard completly this method of answering, or is there a way to modify it, in order to keep its advantages while negating the offending aspect of it? In the end, it might also simply be because english is not my native language, in which case I am at a loss for how to improve my answers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "The main argument for that was that it implies the reader does not know the basics of the rules, and thus stating the "obvious" is an insult to whoever is reading the answer." but the reader might indeed not know the basics of the rules. I'm baffled by this complaint. Surely, if every single reader knew the ins and outs of the rules, they wouldn't need to even look at the answers at all. The very question that is answered would be obsolete. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Jun 30 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don’t believe that this question accurately describes the answer of yours that I commented upon. Providing basic concepts to build upon to reach an actual answer is one thing, but that is not what you did. Rather, you built upon those basic concepts an excuse to avoid answering the question at all. That is a problem, because “you don’t need your question answered because this basic concept invalidates it” is much more condescending than just “just so we’re all on the same page, these are the basic concepts we’re working with.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 30 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That sounds like something that should be an answer, rather than a comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Jun 30 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan that answer in particular was not the main subject of my question, but since it was indeed flawed, thanks for covering it as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 1 at 6:30

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Your approach seems fine

At only four answers, it's early days in your RPG.SE career, but it seems like you're doing fine so far.

Out of the four questions, one had feedback that you might have been "kinda condescending in a way" which to me was misplaced and not true, one where the question asker did need a refresher on the fundamentals, and two without comment (at time of writing).

For the answer where the asker needed the refresher, DG rightfully points out that:

in prior editions, undeath-type spells would deal a particular damage type, and that damage type would heal undead, which is a straightforward case of spells not doing merely what they say they do. This makes that header somewhat tonedeaf to the situation. They don't need to be told that the spell only does what it says, which is somewhat condescending here—they need to be told there's no side-effects of the damage type.

I guess your approach and DG's is two sides of the same polyhedral. The 'golden rule' (as you put it) that "Spells only do what they say they do", and 'there's no side-effect of the damage type' both get to the point but the 'golden rule' is somewhat overused, and it turned out the OP didn't misunderstand the spell but the damage type.

That overuse of the 'golden rule' and the fact that the adjective 'somewhat' here is doing more heavy-lifting than may have been obvious at first glance tells me you're approaching these questions correctly, but you just missed the mark once, but only somewhat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer. The fact that the same thing was said twice by different people on different answers was the reason I thought it wasn't a coincidence. Thanks as well for your feedback concerning the "Spells only do what they say they do", I'll keep that in mind for future interactions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 30 at 12:02
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Your approach to this answer was not fine

In the question that prompted this, you were asked for a “published method,” and you answered with

  1. I am not actually familiar with the game you’re playing, I’m just assuming it’s similar to a game I am familiar with, and

  2. You don’t need a published method at all!

Nowhere did you make any attempt to find a published method. In fact, you explicitly stated your lack of expertise on the matter. These are not good approaches to answering questions here.

Establishing your premises and providing reminders are fine as parts of your answer.

But partial answers are not acceptable.

Our rules allow “frame challenges,” where a different answer is provided than the one the question seemed to request. The guidance on frame challenges recommends that such answers be paired with actual answers to the question, and this sort of thing is the reason why: if someone already knows about Rule 0—which I think most people running games do—the answer is useless. There are times when it’s best to ignore the recommendation and provide only a challenge to the question. But this is almost never appropriate in questions about system content, and yes, it can feel condescending in those (most common) inappropriate situations.

In short, it is not a full and complete answer to say “just Rule 0 it!” to a question about what the official or published content says about the matter. And answers have to be full and complete. And you should be familiar with the rules of the game you are answering rules questions about.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the feedback. The answer you mentioned was formulated that way because the question has both 3.5e and 5e tags. I'm not familiar enough with the first one to answer to it, but I felt like the points I had for the second one were too detailed for a simple comment. I did misunderstand the question, especially the fact that it asked specifically for existing content, totally my fault here. That's why I jumped to the "It'd be much simpler with a simple homebrew rather than trying to engineer something around existing mechanics". I'll make sure to doublecheck for this in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 1 at 6:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the end, for questions with multiple edition tags, would you recommend to make an answer only if it covers all editions? Or would only covering one of the editions in depth be enough to be considered as a meaningful contribution? \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 1 at 6:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu Well, that’s a bit embarrassing—I didn't notice the second system tag. So you are correct in that. Frankly, considering the “I don't mind the edition of dnd if there is published method,” it should have neither and should use [dungeons-and-dragons] alone. Anyway, on true dual-system questions, knowledge of both may or may not be required; it’s contextual. But I stand by “answering with ‘just make something up, you’re the DM!’” is basically never a good answer by itself. Yes, it is simpler: too simple. That isn’t what people come here for. If that’s all they need they don’t need us. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 1 at 11:07
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You're Batting Two For Four, But It's Early Days

As a preface, I'm not writing this with the intent to jump down your throat, or beat you up or any such thing. Having 50% of your answers flagged in comments by experienced members of the stack ain't great, but harping on the statistics of small samples ain't a great way to go through life, either. If it were 50% of your answers flagged on forty questions, that would be a lot different.

But you've asked for advice so I'm going to give some:

  1. In general, defer to the frame of the question, especially when the frame is pretty specific. In one of these cases, the querent was asking for a "known method" and/or a "published method" very clearly. The subsequent edit made it even clearer, but you may already have answered by then. Saying the NPCs are not necessarily bound by the textual rules, or that the GM can house-rule is... true, but not really useful. Condescending? I'm not sure, but definitely not helpful.

  2. In general, try not to make too many assumptions. In the same question, you made the assumption that the querent was the GM. I'll be honest, I read it the same way too, and if answering, probably would have answered in that vein; I would have been correct but at least partially correct by accident. Not the biggest deal in the world, but definitely something to watch for.

  3. Try not to add details that aren't there. I'll be honest, I'm not sure what the heck happened in this answer-- it almost looks like the comment record has some deletions in it. The first version of it seemed fine to me: The premise that spells do only what they say they do is correct, and it also covered the possible source of confusion of the changes to relevant mechanics from 3.5e to 5e. I don't understand the condescension angle, but nor do I understand bogging the answer down with discussions of homebrew and "The GM makes the rules." In this case, "The GM makes the rules," cuts directly against "Spells do only what they say," weakening the whole thing.

  4. About which, "The GM makes the rules" is, again, true but not always useful. In my experience, it's rarely going to be a main pillar of your answer, except in some circumstances, including situations like: The published rules are entirely unclear, a player is objecting to a house-rule, you have direct and relevant experience that following a rule as written leads to a disastrous or nonsensical result, etc.

  5. Sometimes, experts gonna be experts and violate those guidelines. I've done it myself. But asking questions in comments is a good way to avoid some of those issues. So is directly listing your assumptions in an answer if you really want to answer a question for posterity but the original querent seems non-responsive. And when frame-challenging, try to do so politely and deferentially.

  6. Finally, the basic approach you outlined seems fine and not condescending in itself, at least not to me. I do similar things. But usually only if an answer is complicated or long-winded. Some answers need the full Five Paragraph Essay structure so beloved of American high school teachers; some just need a rules citation and a few sentences of backup and interpretation. Also, when I do find myself over-analyzing things in a long-winded answer, I try to remember to add text to the effect of, "You probably know all this, but I'm writing this for a wider audience, sorry."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your feedback, I'll keep those points in mind in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 1 at 6:17
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Your approach seems fine

First, I agree with everything in ASR's answer.

Second, my response to the commenter who found your approach condescending--and I assume they're well-intentioned and motivated by wanting to help people, too--would be that I write answers not only with the querent in mind, but with an eye to the long tail of readers who will ever encounter this Q&A. We're working on a new stat to help convey the reach of your posts here has a good discussion of this notion, especially at "You gotta get this to get us."

Given that, I, too, often err on the side of explaining a bit more, linking in more things than might be necessary, and being explicit in my reasoning. I agree with you that it makes error-correction easier, and I also find that it makes an answer useful beyond just its prompting question. The general theory being: "clearly supported experience-based answers for extremely specific circumstances are also guides to implementing the principles and techniques more generally"

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since when is “I am not familiar with the game you’re playing, I’m just assuming it works like one I am familiar with” OK? Since when do we say it’s “fine” to frame challenge without any attempt at a “straight” answer, as a general matter? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 30 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I probably didn't express myself clearly enough in the answer you're mentioning here. Since the question was about two different editions (3.5e and 5e), I wanted to clarify that I am not familiar with one, but can answer for the other. Since we do not know (at this point in time) if there player is DMing in either of those editions (or for a homebrew mix of both), it seemed useful to at least answer in one of the two aspects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 1 at 6:28

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