A “list question” is a question that generates an endless list of answers, none of them better or worse than any other. They're questions that ask things like “list all the things I could do with a sword” or “tell me all the spells that are cool” or “what do you use for an initiative method?”. For a longer answer see What are list questions?. (Since 2012ish “list question” has been outdated terminology; it's frequently misunderstood to mean questions answered with a bulleted list.)

Should we allow and encourage list/collection questions here? The tradition on the trilogy has been to allow a very few and force them to be CW questions. It seems, like many of the other betas, we are collecting quite a few early on.

These questions aren't popular with the management, and I feel that they devalue the site. They add clutter, they abuse voting, and they don't interest experts. Beyond that they can be found everywhere else on the web (List of Gurps Books, List of Campaign Settings, etc).

I believe we need to commit early on, that we're going to close these questions as they come up. What does the community think?

Edit: as time has gone on SE management consensus is against pure list questions, but @GraceNote has a good post on how they can be transformed from lists into good questions - I recommend reading it.

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No, list questions—questions which will generate an endless stream of undifferentiated answers—are not on topic. They're covered by the bullet points in our questions to avoid asking and should be closed.

Do note that a question doesn't have to have a single provably “right” answer to not be a list question. It just has to be able to have a “best” answer by the guidelines of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Most gm-techniques questions, for example, don't have a provably right answer, but by sharing their experience there's certainly a most helpful answer.

Note that a list question is not one where the answer is a short list of items. A question about “which ioun stones will give me a stat bonus?” can yield a correct answer that is a short list of items. “Which magic items are cool?” on the other hand yields an infinite list of answers where there is no qualitative measure of which is most helpful. @GraceNote explained it better here: So, what actually is a game rec?

See also:

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, the action item is to be more aggressive about hitting the close button? \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 24 '10 at 23:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ And to add this to the good/bad question master list, yes. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 25 '10 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree and have voted to close my own question on 4e modules. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Weilnau Aug 25 '10 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is how I believed we were handling it but there's not strong consistency. All list questions are off-topic? Including "which spells should I use for my X themed sorcy for 3.5?" \$\endgroup\$ – LitheOhm Aug 21 '13 at 0:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just because a question can be answered with several items doesn't make it a list question. "Lists" aren't bad, questions that violate "Real questions have answers," "Q&A is hard, let's go shopping" and "Good subjective, bad subjective" are. An unbounded list with no "best" answer or that's simply a poll is a list question. A question where an answer can have multiple parts is not. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 21 '13 at 2:23

Heh. I am of course guilty of answering some of these. Mea culpa...

I think there's a line to be drawn between generic non-preferential lists and questions about the best way to do something. Some of the latter will tend to be phrased as list questions. I like the paleolithic RPG question because AHM explained why he was looking for what he wanted, rather than just asking for everything that would fit in the basket.

Is there a useful distinction to be made between asking for lists of techniques (storing miniatures) and lists of things (the character build questions)?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree about the paleolithic RPG question, but I agree that techniques can come out as a list. I think "What makes for a good paleolithic RPG" or "How can I run a good paleolithic RPG" would be OK though. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Aug 24 '10 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm. How about "what paleolithic RPGs would satisfy these needs?" \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 24 '10 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're still asking for a list, but it would certainly be closer... \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Aug 24 '10 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps it is a scope issue, we don't want huge blanket questions like my one on a list of all D&D 4.0 books. But if it were narrowed to something like, "What D&D 4.0 books discuss Drow?", would that be acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ – Maximillian Aug 24 '10 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pointing people towards other lists might or might not be a different class of question. I dunno. I think narrowness of scope isn't really the issue, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 24 '10 at 20:20

Against closing.

List of entities, such as custom spells, artifacts, monsters, or short adventures are very useful for people looking for new ideas. This SE is not a technical Q/A which accepts clear cut answers, we should be more liberal in what we consider a good question, and the core is more to provide peer-evaluated information exchange, not "this is right, this is wrong", unless we only accept questions about the rules, that can be generally answered without asking, just by looking up in rulebook.

Clearly, for list-"questions", the concept of "green tickmark" vanishes, and for this reason, the question must be CW from the very beginning.

Also, don't underestimate traffic. The existence of such SE is bound to an evaluation in 3 months time. We are probably not going to have a lot (stackoverflow size) of traffic in the long run, and it's also difficult to continue keeping a reasonable stream of traffic (both in terms of visits and questions/answers). The more questions we consider to be closed down, the smaller will be the community participation and revisit value, and the higher the chances that we have everything closed down and say "bye bye, back to forums".

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    \$\begingroup\$ To a degree I'm playing devil's advocate here, but I'm not sure traffic can be a good reason to allowing something we'd otherwise not allow. If we want traffic, the policy where every question must include a nude photo of Nathan Fillon would do the trick. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 25 '10 at 11:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @bryant : reductio ad absurdum is out of fashion :P \$\endgroup\$ – Stefano Borini Aug 25 '10 at 11:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Eh. It's not a logical fallacy or anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 25 '10 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ As far as traffic contributing to the probability the site survives. I think a high traffic site with 50% subjective/list questions would still get closed. It's not SEO style. Now where's @Robert Cartaino when we need him. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Aug 25 '10 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this. Within reason it can be a useful resource for the RPG community. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley Aug 25 '10 at 19:39

It seems that we're conflating two categories of question here. Stefano is talking about lists of custom spells, etc., which are really a form of the best practices/techniques that Bryant mentioned. Lists of books, etc. are very easy to find on wikipedia or wherever and don't seem to add much value to the site. Lists of practices/techniques definitely add value in my opinion.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I sort of agree that we're talking about two different things, but lists of ideas still seem to me to be outside the scope. Hm; so here's the question: is SO a repository for code snippets? \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 25 '10 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bryant : on SO there's plenty of rosetta stone and code golf questions. And IMHO they are precious, in particular when you are learning a new language. \$\endgroup\$ – Stefano Borini Aug 25 '10 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ References: stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/rosetta-stone stackoverflow.com/tags/code-golf/info (wow, tag info is incredibly useful!) \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 25 '10 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ And as I read through those I'm coming around to liking lists of techniques more. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Aug 25 '10 at 15:35

If a question isn't picking up many answers and, in particular, up-votes on the question itself, then it's a good sign that it's a candidate for closure.

On the other hand, if the community are showing they like it then keep it open.

This is what the vote system is for.


I am against list questions in general but it seems some of them are useful. Not the ones that expire a week after they're posted, though. Examples...

Fighting Skills equivalent to skills Not a good candidate for a list.

What are some good chance/luck-themed spells for Sorcerers? This one is about an edition with very little publishing still going on so answers (this far after release) can be counted as more-or-less complete for a while to come.

Something in these questions seems to not work with the "one best answer" goal: Do lists with better quantity get priority over ones with better quality? That'd depend on the asker of course as to who is accepted. Suppose we got many high quality answers but few high quantity - that question will maraud the front page as people keep coming by to drop one-liners or small, poor answers.

How we can draw the line between "good" and "bad" list questions would be useful to spell out.


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