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On RPG.SE, we deal with a fair number of questions that don't have a strict, objectively correct answer. Some game rules questions do, but we also have a good number of questions about how to run a game, how to play a game, which game meets certain criteria, how to handle issues within gaming groups, et cetera, which are by their nature subjective in part or in total. Are these questions on topic and how do we ask and answer them in the spirit of Stack Exchange, where we want people sharing real expertise and not random opinions?

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This topic was initially addressed in the beginning days of the site under How much subjectiveness is OK? but our understanding of this issue and best practices surrounding it have changed somewhat so this is the new normative guidance on RPG.SE and subjective questions.

Some, but not all, subjective questions are on topic, and there are rules you need to follow in answering them. Only constructive questions and answers are on topic.

Asking Subjective Questions

Many questions on this SE will have some element of subjectivity, except for pure history and rules questions. "What's the best way to do something" has some to a lot of subjectivity within it depending on what the topic is.

Read the site help center under What types of questions should I avoid asking. It's basically all about the boundary between good subjective (constructive) and bad subjective (speculative) questions.

Rule #1 for any SE is "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." Most qualities of a bad subjective question flow out of deviating from that basic premise. Polls, hypotheticals, rants, brainstorms, list questions, and idle curiousity where there is no real problem to solve do not qualify as a legitimate question. These kinds of questions will be downvoted, closed, and/or deleted.

Answering Subjective Questions

The blog post Good Subjective, Bad Subjective is the gold standard for understanding how to make good on topic answers to subjective questions. The heart of it is using the Back It Up! principle, which states that you should only answer based on:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

Here, "happened to you personally" means real play experience. We understand that some people believe that given their wide experience in games they think they can tell someone the right technique or system or solution to use for their particular need even though they haven't done it themselves - but when everyone does that, it leads to opinion-laden chaos. "Good Subjective" is constructive and is based on experience and expertise. "Bad Subjective" is speculative and is based on conjecture and opinion. Speculative answers will be downvoted, commented on ("Back It Up!"), and/or deleted.

A popular specific subjective question type is the game recommendation question; see Are game recommendation questions on topic? for guidance on that but it boils down to the same thing; if you haven't used that game for the questioners' purpose, don't suggest it. Expertise stems from actually doing something (or having something specific you can cite like a fact or someone else's experience); armchair theory is not welcome here.

Why?

Some new users don't understand why we are so strict in our format on RPG.SE. The reason is that there are many discussion forums out there in the world, and if you want to conduct random discussion and have free flow of ideas you can use those. Stack Exchange sites present a pure question and answer format, where experts answer well defined questions. It makes the whole site full of high value information as the community collaborates and votes on high quality answers so that we can capture the wisdom of many gamers while minimizing noise. We would rather have fewer, longer and more complete answers that have passed peer review by other gamers than many dashed-off and unsupported thoughts. Think of us as being midway between a wiki (one answer only, wrangled over and refined by all users) and a forum (an answer per user, only refined through long discussion if you're lucky). We don't aspire to fit every informational need, but when you want a well thought out answer to a real problem you have with gaming, we believe this is the most effective format.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I support this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 25 '13 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair/precise "I was just curious" should be clarified as "usually not resulting in legitimate questions" rather than being automatically illegitimate. (We can't read minds.) There are some "just curious" questions that, when well-written, are indistinguishable from problems motivated by actual problems faced. In pratice we don't care about ferreting those out because they aren't problematic questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 25 '13 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just because it's not detectable doesn't mean it's not illegitimate. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 25 '13 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer; I would like to see something in here about proposed action for BS (no pu--okay, pun intended) answers. Should we downvote? Flag as very low quality? Just a little unclear :] \$\endgroup\$ – Aza Nov 25 '13 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvote, comment why, vote to delete if you have enough rep, flag if it's egregious and you think we'd like to have our attention brought to it. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 25 '13 at 21:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Undetectable illegitimacy is unactionable. Simply by observation, I know that we don't go witch-hunting otherwise fine-seeming questions to find out whether they have "real" standing. Pragmatically, site guidance should reflect reality, not wishful thinking. "Probably won't make for a good question anyway" is accurate, useful guidance. Presenting guidance that implies we have some way of knowing the motive behind all questions? Not accurate, not useful. It may, in fact, make the reader believe that we do engage in some kind of weird zealotry to try to enforce that impossible fantasy. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 26 '13 at 3:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have no idea what you're on about. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 26 '13 at 5:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk "Polls, hypotheticals, rants, brainstorms, list questions, and "I was just curious" do not qualify as a legitimate question." We might be better off replacing the "I was just curious" quote with "idle curiousity where there is no real problem to solve". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 27 '13 at 11:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs done. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 28 '13 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ And that edit makes moot the objection I raised, good. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 28 '13 at 15:57

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