This Q&A is out of date - game-recs are now off topic, see Are Game Recommendation Questions On Topic, Revisited

We've recently had a couple of recommendation questions appear with requirements so broad that they can cover dozens or even hundreds of systems or adventures. They've been closed as too broad, and the question author has been asked to refine their requirements.

In both cases though (covered here and here) the question author has stated they don't have more specific requirements, and expressed frustration with our closing the question. As they put it, they'd rather have that huge list to pick and choose from.

As a concrete example:

  • they just want a system that will let them play in World War II out of the box
  • they just want a simplistic AD&D fantasy adventure that will only take a few hours for first level characters

I'm asking this meta question because it's worth addressing this user's concern and providing a thoughtful answer for posterity:

  • Why do we close recommendation questions that we foresee as broad enough to have dozens or hundreds of matches?
  • What can a question author do if their question's been closed, but they don't think there's any criteria by which they'd want to narrow it down?
  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ The short answer is the voting system breaks down. \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Mar 31, 2014 at 11:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross Does the voting system help the person with the question? Does it breaking down hinder the person who is happy with a long list in no particular order? How is closing their question more helpful? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Oct 5, 2015 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dronz Yes. It hinders the site's post quality and focus, which is what attracts the experts who answer. With more junk to sort through, experts are lost or not retained. With fewer experts to contribute, the answers suffer. As answer quality and quantity drop, askers are helped worse. The Tragedy of the Commons results: worse answers for later askers, including themself. So, we don't let that happen. See more on this design principle integral to the Stack. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2016 at 5:50

3 Answers 3


Why do these questions get closed?

We close these questions because they're list questions, which we declared as off topic in 2010. List questions tend to break our Q&A format: there's no single objectively correct answer, and no answer is better or worse than any other, so long as it simply meets the criteria provided. Our voting and accepted answer systems become irrelevant.

If you have a real, answerable question based on an actual problem you face, and your game recommendation fits our game rec rules, you're welcome to ask it, but if you just want a theoretically endless list of stuff, this isn't the place to ask for it.

We demand narrow criteria from game rec questions because that's what it takes to make our system useful and relevant again: a sufficiently narrow question will cover only a small portion of the RPG landscape, and we'll actually be able to recommend an RPG that's probably objectively the best one for your purposes.

This is sometimes tricky though, and criteria you think are narrow might cover 90% of RPGs ever. In those cases, we need to put your question on hold and work with you to refine your criteria.

What do I do if I don't have narrower criteria?

Chances are, you do have them.

If you want to play in a World War II setting, for instance, you probably have an opinion on whether your game should focus on soldiers, espionage, strumpets, office workers, doctors, detectives, or so on during the period. You'll also likely have a preference on whether you want to focus on tactical action, personal drama, or other stuff. So think about those things, and tell us what in particular you want to do.

But I really don't have any preferences like that! I'll work it out myself, just give me stuff to browse through.

If this is the case, it sounds like you're here too soon. We are not here to produce a list of dozens or hundreds of arbitrary things for you to browse through: it breaks our format, and amounts to menial grunt work, which isn't fun. You need to do some work yourself to figure out those criteria before you come here.

Do your browsing on RPG Geek (which has thousands of RPGs catalogued) to work out what's available first, or on Google or at your friendly local gaming store - compilations have already been gathered for you! Think about what kind of game you'd want to run exactly, and if you're at a loss due to a sheer number of options, pick something appealing.

Once you have your criteria, then ask us what game or adventure would best support you doing that kind of thing. When you do that, we can weigh what we know and our answers to find something that best fits your requirements, and our voting and accepted answer systems are meaningful again, and it ceases to be a list question.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's possible to imagine a special category of question which would accept list answers. Perhaps such answers could be limited to tweet-like lengths, and this category could provide a compromise for those people the OP mentions (who actually do want to look through a big list of suggestions). So instead of putting a list question on hold, it could be moved to the List Question category. Just a thought. \$\endgroup\$
    – As If
    Apr 12, 2014 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AsIf That won't make our voting systems become relevant. We have our niche our system sucks at list questions, so we don't attempt to handle them. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13, 2014 at 2:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I understand. If List Questions were made into a category then voting would simply not pertain to it, or perhaps just not in the same way. I'm not arguing with you, I'm just inventing more work for the SE programming team (haha) - but seriously, the OP made me think. \$\endgroup\$
    – As If
    Apr 13, 2014 at 9:07
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @AsIf I understand you're not arguing, I'm pointing out why that's unlikely. SE simply doesn't try to be all things to all people, the developers chose its niche. If there isn't a voting mechanism applicable to those questions, there isn't much point in them existing here. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13, 2014 at 9:15

This is what forums are good at

RPG Stack Exchange hasn't evolved mechanisms to accommodate people who really don't have any more detailed requirements because there are already a hundred and one sites that do accommodate those people's needs: forums and other discussion sites, that are excellent for soliciting long lists of subjective recommendations.

RPG.SE doesn't aim to replace those discussion sites, because they are already doing the job perfectly fine, and serving this specific need well. The SE system doesn't aim to compete with forums on their core competencies, it doesn't want to be the only site you use for help. Rather, the system was designed to fill a niche that discussion sites suck at: quickly getting expert advice to specific problems that have right and wrong answers. Discussion sites tend to bury the good advice in long threads. SE makes sure the good advice is right at the top.

When there is no such thing as good or bad, only opinion, SE doesn't try and doesn't even accept such questions. RPG.SE is a complementary site to those discussion sites, and expects people to ask their questions and seek help on the site that is most useful. RPG.SE is not a jealous site, it wants—nay, needs—you to visit many sites for different purposes.

So TL;DR (as the forumites say): SE doesn't work with long list requests because it wasn't designed to, and it wasn't designed to because discussion sites already do it so well.

A list of discussion forums

For people coming here with this confusion, I recommend visiting one of the many discussion sites around the net to ask for lists of recommendations, since forums do well with questions that have possibly hundreds of answers (unlike us).

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ It took me three clicks in reddit's /r/rpg to stumble upon terrible rudeness and petty bickering. *sigh*. I like it here on RPG.SE. \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Mar 31, 2014 at 22:15
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY This is the other way in which forums suck... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2014 at 22:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ there is also RPG.SE chat \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2014 at 2:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The short list of forums should probably be replaced with the community list. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 17, 2015 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Good call! Done and done. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 17, 2015 at 16:00

To elaborate on doppelgreener's answer, I'd like to focus on the fact that StackExchange's goal is to be a repository of experts and expertise.

When a recommendation question contains detailed requirements and criteria, expert opinion and experience can be used to give the best answer to that question. A list question that just wants as broad a list as possible is just asking for someone to do legwork for them, rather than exercise expertise.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Learning how to ask a good question for this venue is a process. Maybe another question is: how to lower the slope of that learning curve (if that can be done). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 18, 2015 at 0:28

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