We attract some character build/optimization questions that are very vague - like this newer ones.

We've discussed this before in Should we allow "Best Character Design" questions?, but

  1. never came to a clear consensus and
  2. never came up with guidelines as to what makes a good vs. bad character build question (like our system recommendation question guidance).

Are character optimization/build questions on topic, and if so, how should they be written to be good questions?

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A good charop question is either very specific or very general. If you fall in between you've entered the no mans land of gimmie the codez.

There are 3 types of char-op questions that fall into the "good" category in my mind:

  1. I'm 90% complete and I need help making the final selection or two. These kinds of questions are generally answerable because they have a pretty finite set of answers and there are usually a pretty obvious set of "Best" answers. Unfortunately the downsides to these is that they are often too localized, but they help a user with a specific problem that others may encounter so maybe not. (Examples 1 2 3(meh, but ok))

  2. I need some general advice on direction for a build. These kinds of questions, while significantly more broad are the magnet for low quality, the key here is for the questioner to give some requirements that can lead to some general character advice. If they need a full handhold through building a character they should probably be seeking a message board or at least our chat rooms. But if they have some ideas and need a starting point we can help. This has the advantage of being useful if someone comes along with similar requirements. (Examples 1 2 3)

  3. The last kind of question that I see as useful is the challenge question. These are the most borderline Op questions IMO, but they can also be the most fun. (Examples 1 2 3)

Basically if the question is specific enough with requirements for the first and third, or has enough background that we can help with broader class/race/build help in the 2nd (if someone want's to provide a full character workup that's great, but that shouldn't be the expected answer from question type 2) then we can continue to take these question and they can continue to be more or less constructive.

The common thread here is that the asker provides answerable requirements. As Brian says below if a thread does not have answerable reqs then we should be voting to close until they provide them.

My examples mostly come from 4e questions that I'm familiar with, anyone with edit powers feel free to add good or better examples of each of the 3 question types. I've made this CW so the bar to edit is lower.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Answerable requirements are critical. If we have them, there is an objective solution to the answer. If we don't have them, close until we do. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Aug 30 '12 at 4:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ So essentially you're saying that bad charop questions fall afoul of the "not a real question" close criteria? Good ones are ones where we can actually tell what they need? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sort of. There are some tweeners there that are real questions, but too broad, too unfocused or don't contain useful requirements that are Not Constructive rather than NARQ \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 31 '12 at 0:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd generally agree with this then. The problem we seem to be facing then is that nearly all charop questions seem to come from new users, and we're just not wanting to close them mercilessly enough. Does that agree with your observations? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 3:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes that's pretty much dead on. Questions from new users can get a bit more kid glove treatment, but should still be closed if sufficient edits are not forthcoming. (I think the key here is communication, we should communicate not just that we are voting to close, but why (no/poor requirements) and also how it can be fixed (suggest some example requirements). \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 31 '12 at 3:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you edit that into this answer to make it clearer what the consensus is developing around? Something like "effectively most bad ones are NARQ or OT anyway, so we need to be less afraid to close them (but gently)"? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle I would give you a +1 simply for "gimme the codez", but beyond that I think this hits the head on the nail. You've personally helped me with build questions that highlight the specificity requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 11 '12 at 14:30

I always like saving categories of questions - if we can. Character optimization and build questions are popular on forums. The problem with them is that in general, they tend towards three things that are undesirable on a SE.

Why CharOp Questions Can Be Bad

  1. Vague requirements. Almost all the questions are stated as "what do you think about this?" or "How can I build a better X?" Unless someone specifies "maximum DPS" or something very concrete - which isn't all that useful - then requests for builds or critique of a build are very unfocused.
  2. Tends towards lists. There's definitely an infinite number of answers for any character build question.
  3. No best answer. Usual application of Good Subjective/Bad Subjective is unlikely - usually answers are pure theorycrafters, not "You want a good archer? I ran this build and it performed this way." We could try to push all the CharOp Q&A that way but that's really going against the grain.

How CharOp Questions Can Be Good

Uh... I'm drawing a blank. I mean, it's OK for the selected answer to be "the one the asker likes best." But with the quality of most of these questions, it's a long list of spitting in the dark and lots of chatty back and forth. So I'm leaning towards "no" but am willing to have someone come out with some guidelines that make them tolerable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you're falling into the "multiple correct answers == subjective" fallacy. Good char-op questions are objective, in the same sense that "how do I implement [task] in [programming language]?" is objective: There exist criteria to evaluate the answers against. In a good question, not every possible build will be valid. As with any type of question, there are ways char-op can go wrong: "What are your thoughts on this vague build?" and "build my character for me! I think he should use a sword" come to mind. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Aug 30 '12 at 17:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Go try to open "how do I implement a sort in C" on SO and you probably won't see it received well. Most of these questions are of that degree of specificity. I'm not asking all for "yes" or "no" but "What guidelines can we give to make these questions on topic, because the default site rules aren't working." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 30 '12 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ A quick trip to SO pops this up: stackoverflow.com/questions/12201253/get-timestamp-of-noon-php . Doesn't look like the author is in too much need of Bactine :) Your question (what makes these questions good?) is fine; but this answer to that question is problematic. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Aug 30 '12 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon PHP and C aren't the same language. Asking a vague question about C is (too) easy, because there are a million and one ways to do something, so extra specs are necessary to narrow the field. In PHP it's harder because the language is inherently constrained by its default libraries and the default web context, so a question can have one right answer without being as tightly-specified. TL;DR: apples and oranges. On this site, charop is the apples and the oranges are "how does rule X work". \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon CharOp questions the way they've been here are about to start getting mod-closed. Less arguing, more proposing actionable guidelines will help with that. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 31 '12 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. I agree because those questions are not constructive. \$\endgroup\$ – user4000 Oct 2 '12 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I agree with wax eagle on his answer but I also think you have legitimate criticisms. Do you think that a defined format for char-op questions in the FAQs or otherwise implemented could solve some of this? For example if these were required: 1.Current build/test build of character in question 2.Environment (DM style, party makeup, campaign elements) 3.Player goals for the character. Would it facilitate better Q&A? \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 11 '12 at 14:35

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