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Currently, there's discussion about the question How do the rules that govern a Cleric's Turn Undead ability vary among D&D editions? and concern over its usefulness. We've had other questions like this, for example If I'm invisible do I get a bonus to my saving throws? and What's the history of the Darkness spell?

There's some ongoing complaints in the comments about them, so let's discuss here.

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Yes, I believe these are on topic.

Now, Pat calls these out for being "chatty and open-ended." That's clearly the wrong criticism - the answer to the Turn question will be like the one to the Invisible one, which is just "here's the rule in OD/1e/2e/3e/4e/PF". Very cut and dried, and objective. An alternate question like "I want to homebrew my own turn undead system, what should it be like?" would be what would get closed for this reason.

The criticism with more teeth is "but what problem does this solve?" However, I think there's a perfectly good case to be made for knowledge being its own reward here. Questions about how functionality varies by version (e.g. python, IE) abound on the technical SEs. You want to know how it works in different versions so you understand how to use it if you happen to be using that version, or maybe even you're designing your own and want to know the approaches that have already been taken and discarded.

A question like this is objective and on topic; it does have a little bit of the sense of posting a trivia question for the hell of it, but unless someone cranks out 10 of these at a time and is obviously rep-whoring I reckon they're kosher.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for knowledge being its own reward. All RPGs require you to problem solve. The more you understand about the system, and past systems, the more criteria you have to apply against a problem that doesn't necessarily have an obvious solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Naetuir May 7 '12 at 14:40
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I think this is the kind of question that needs to be prefixed with "why do you want to know?"

I mean, they're technically historical in the same vein as "who invented experience points." And they're objective, and so on. But they can also be pretty much just transcribing from a set of rulebooks (general reference), and extremely narrow in general interest.

If someone is looking to move from one edition to another, then they should scope the question to those two editions. Nothing is gained by obfuscating the actual intent of the question, and scoping the question properly improves the odds of generating a solid answer (because answerers need to know a smaller set of editions).

So far as knowledge for the sake of knowledge, compare this question on the Darkness spell to this question on turning undead.

The question on darkness demonstrates research on the part of the questioner, looks at specific aspects of the spell, and probes for reasons behind the design of the darkness spell.

The question on turning undead just asks for a multi-edition rules dump.

So, I would say that "yes, questions about how the rules have changed can be on topic, but no, that question on turning undead is not (or at most is an extremely marginal question)."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You've managed to encapsulate my thoughts on this question very well. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig May 7 '12 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my original question I actually had posted what I thought the rules in BECMI were. I chose to remove it because I actually felt unsure of my interpretation of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Kleinsasser May 7 '12 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would you make a googler looking for this information tell you why they wanted it before reading? Isn't the point of SE in general to make the internet a better place? Why should this particular piece of objective knowledge be exempt? Who cares why the asker needs to know -- as long as it is reasonable that someone somewhere could find the information valuable? \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery May 7 '12 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RobertKleinsasser That's actually the least important portion of it. What's really needed is the ability to take answers beyond just copy/pasting from a set of books. Are you asking because you're unsure of how it works in BECMI? Wonderful. Ask that. Without context we can do no better than the index in the books. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpatchery I suppose the answer to your first question is "yes" in that in a perfect world I'd eliminate unqualified questions in the first place. Regarding why a particular piece of information is exempt, let's take it to the extreme. Consider the question "What is the first four pages of the combat system in AD&D 2nd edition?" It's objective, RPG related, and more than one person wants to know it. Is that a good question? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RobertKleinsasser Other potentially awesome routes to make a better question: "Why did turn undead change between (editions)?" "When did (feature or features of turn undead) first appear (and why)?" \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon I see your point, but the difference is the answer to your question is reasonably attainable by someone (just buy 1 book). But in this case, it is not reasonable to suggest that the asker attain all printed rules on Turning Undead in every edition. \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery May 7 '12 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpatchery Does changing it to "What are the first four pages of the combat system in every edition of D&D?" really make it a better question? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ (actually, there is a good question buried in that one, but it's buried pretty deeply... You'd need to change it quite a lot to get good answers) \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon I guess that's where our opinions differ - I think his question is one of the good questions buried in your example. \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery May 7 '12 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpatchery So, are you saying that "What are the first four pages of the combat system in every edition of D&D?" is a good question as is, or that the Turn Undead question is different from it (if so, how?), or some other alternative? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '12 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't agree. Yes, it's a marginal question. We shouldn't close marginal questions if we can help it. Questions should be closed because they're unwelcome categorically, not just because they're acceptable topics but on the poor quality end of the spectrum. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 8 '12 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The problem with a "no close" philosophy is that marginal questions attract poor answers that generate inertia against improving them (because improvement generates a mish-mash of answers to different versions of the question). The ideal cycle is close -> author improves (or others improve with context from author) -> reopen. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 8 '12 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lechlerfan The second issue, is that questions don't just "go away" when they're answered. There have been a great many really bad questions that have spawned many more equally bad questions in their wake (often months or years after the initial question). If a question IS bad, then it needs to be closed. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 3 '12 at 19:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon Second issue first: That makes sense. I didn't realize people brought old questions back from the dead with more bad questions. First issue: you're right, but I wish I could find the closed thread I read one day. I thought it was a really great question and there were a couple answers that were equally as good. Then, in the comments to the question, were a whole bunch of comments about how the question was no good. Because I was interested in the question, I wanted to read all the comments and it was irritating to wade through the validity criticisms. Maybe a fix for that? \$\endgroup\$ – Lechlerfan Jun 3 '12 at 19:38

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