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We have an old question about trivia questions that we wrestled with, without a real consensus emerging:

I went searching out that question due to recent wrangling over various questions, but it's too out-of-date to be a good resource, since it predates the Great Close Vote Overhaul. A lot of the dissent there, including my own, stemmed from trivia not actually qualifying as closeable under the old votes. I feel like we need to revisit this topic in light of the changes to our closing process and the recent conflicts over "unclear" holds.

So, are trivia questions on-topic? Is "I'm curious" or "The problem is that I don't know the answer" an OK reason for a question?

NB: "Trivia" and "trivial" don't mean the same thing. Avoid conflating them in this meta as that will just cause confusion.


(This post is light on context and links because I wrote it on my phone. Feel free to add context and links that are relevant, especially if it would be helpful when this question is older and no-one knows what conflicts it's referencing.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Something to bear in mind: We have a lot of [history-of-gaming] questions that are pretty good questions, but might be considered trivia. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 27 '14 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs Yeah, and I find that interesting. They seem to be a breed apart and I don't know why; possibly because they are especially topical? Dunno. It's worth touching on history of gaming here, either to say they count as trivia, or are an example of good trivia, or they're super-different and why, or they're an inexplicable exception; or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it's because they almost always have a single correct factual answer. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 28 '14 at 0:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I think they are good trivia in that they are not.. trivial. They are actual history questions. There's a difference between "How did the Nazis come to power in Germany" and "What did Hitler name his dog?" Both are historical - one is trivial. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Yea, but "What did Hitler name his dog?" does at least have a single, concise, correct answer. "How did the Nazis come to power in Germany?" does not; there were many factors involved, far too many for any answer or pageful of answers to fully address. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Aug 9 '14 at 21:26
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I think the matter of whether a question is trivia or not is a red herring here. So is whether the reason behind the question is "I just wanna know."

I'm considering a "trivia" question to be one where the asker's just curious and wants to learn something, but it won't necessarily solve a practical problem they have. They just want to learn something. Trivia questions by this definition are not necessarily trivial to answer, though.

Trivia questions are trivially not inherently bad

(This doesn't mean they're inherently good either.)

We've had lots of questions that are effectively asking for trivia, that are also good questions, cited in this very discussion:

History of gaming questions probably have a lot of questions asked just because someone wants to know, though it goes entirely unsaid.

The fact we accept this stuff means that something other than someone being curious is the common factor in the bad trivia questions we close. So a question being trivia, or someone just wanting to know, is not the factor we should be looking at. We have to be psychic to know why they're asking the question anyway, unless they say.

They just usually suck in some other way.

I'm not sure, in reality, what the fate of the Drizzt's panther question would be or how the 8-sided dice question would go. They might get trivially answered. The former might be received quite well if someone says "I need to look the panther up and learn about it to play it as an NPC in this game of mine, and later I'll stat it."

It seems that when someone's asking trivia, or just wants to know something, that isn't the problem itself. They'll just be more inclined to end up asking the kind of question that doesn't work well on our site, because they're more likely to dive into the domain of questions we don't handle well. We get "I just wanna know" comments appearing almost exclusively in irrecoverable closed questions, but those comments aren't themselves the origin of the problem.

For the most part, I think mxyzplk is right in suggesting it's mainly because we want to be answering decent, stimulating questions, not a bunch of inconsequential questions about things that don't matter beyond "oh hey now I know." We would rather focus our efforts on meaningful stuff that makes a significant difference to people.

But mainly it's probably just that the trivia questions end up sucking somehow most of the time. Trivia questions are fine. Just not the ones that end up crap.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with most of what you wrote, but I'm confused on the "otherwise suck" part. Mainly because the "Coining of the term XP" question, seems to have been well answered, and its clear to me how to answer it. (find out the first time it was used, and when it became popular). Ironically that question is still closed though the Meta question linked to has the accepted answer that it's an ok question. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 28 '14 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now that you mention it that one may be ok, though I'm not going to try to work that out right now myself. I have some sleep to do. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 28 '14 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. "Trivia" doesn't seem like a good relevant factor in determining question quality. There's lots of questions that are trivial rules questions that get through because they meet the criteria of being clear, being on topic, having a correct answer, and even solving a problem. We have downvotes as a tool for questions that are bad but valid, we really don't need to resort to just closing everything. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Jul 28 '14 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus Trivial ("simple" or "easy") and trivia ("I just want to know") aren't the same thing. We accept trivial questions, though they might get downvoted for lack of research. Trivia is an entirely different and orthogonal category that questions can fall into, and closing seems to be their fate lately. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Closing seems to be the fate of a lot of things lately. I think the point here is that "trivia" is a bad way to determine if a question is good or not. Bad trivia questions are usually also just bad questions by the criteria that already exist. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Jul 28 '14 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus I wouldn't have posted this question if I didn't think it was suddenly relevant. We have had a bunch of questions that amount to "I just want to know". Saying "that has no problem, closing as unclear" has caused a lot of conflict. Hence, trivia is exactly what we need to discuss and clearly decide whether it has merits or should continue to be closed as lacking a clear problem. The existing criteria seem to be insufficient as a way to decide these closures for many people. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Trouble I have with that is that it brings motivation behind asking into determining if it's a good question. If "I just want to know is bad", is "same question with a totally made up reason why I need an answer" okay? I don't see that as a great criteria for closing, and would rather use up/downvotes to deal with those trivia questions than being overly aggressive with closing (as has been the case lately IMO). \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Jul 28 '14 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus Motivation has always been relevant because a question must say what problem is to be solved, so this doesn't bring motivation into it—it's already here. The question is whether "I just want to know" (trivia) is an acceptable problem. Made-up problems seem like an issue but really aren't—people don't in practice do that much because when they do, the answers that solve the made-up problem often don't directly answer their "secret" question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Fair enough. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Jul 28 '14 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs So, what I don't clearly get from this answer is whether "I just want to know" counts as a real problem for the purposes of (not) using the "unclear" close vote reason. Can you address that? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That's addressed now in the third to last paragraph. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 28 '14 at 21:49
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No, trivia questions are off-topic.

We should adhere to the SE-wide guidance, re-echoed in our Help Center here, that

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Though it doesn't specifically say "trivia bad," I think it's pretty clear that all the guidance in What type of questions should I avoid asking? leads away from trivia questions.

"I just wanna know" is not a problem. It's not that someone doesn't deserve an answer to their trivia question - but, like many things, this isn't the place to get it.

An interesting case is a number of well-answered and well-received questions in - are those questions trivia or not? I think they are not because the are not... trivial. They are actual history questions. There's a difference between "How did the Nazis come to power in Germany" and "What did Hitler name his dog?" Both are historical - one is trivial. There are an infinite amount of trivia questions and they don't help anyone with their game.

The main question I think is whether our site is one that helps you become a better practitioner - like Stack Overflow - or one that is just for the curious to ask trivia questions, like Movies.SE. I think we should be the former. A "Making Movies SE" would likely ban trivia. We are a "Running and Playing RPGs SE." We should focus on that. Nonsense can go elsewhere - it otherwise dilutes the site for serious gamers.

Do we want a bunch of questions like Movies.SE and Scifi.SE?

  • What is Drizzt's panther's name?
  • What is the name of the 8-sided die?
  • What is the Greyhawk name "Zagyg" based on?

These questions don't make you or your game any better. Ask them on a forum. I know that personally, the furor over the latest crap questions has bled my time away from answering people asking the actual meaningful questions about playing the game. Is that what we want? I say no, that's not why I joined this site, contribute to it, and became a mod on it.

Much like with campaign historical research questions, I think people understandably initially wanted to "allow all kinds of questions here!" and so voted in favor of this kind of thing. But as with those questions, over time we see how it really doesn't fit the metaphor of the site and people in practice kick back against them.

Over time the site has been victim to many "Hey does any game do X?" questions, and they always turn out bad. Either they're a list, or they are properly answered with "Yes.", or they have to get revamped into a much better game-rec or design question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Significantly revised. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 0:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool, guess I can throw away my answer that said basically this :) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jul 28 '14 at 0:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may worth noting that, in my history of gaming xp points question, I had an actual problem (I needed to cite the origin of xp) in a paper.) Does that improve the litmus test of trivial-non-trivial? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 28 '14 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would history of gaming questions for the purpose of context be on topic? I'd lean toward yes, because understanding why a game is the way it is helps you play it. Understanding that D&D came from Chainmail (a war game) helps to understand its mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jul 28 '14 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the XP question was non-trivial (the correct answer was pretty in depth). As for 'context' - not really, that sounds like a ready-made excuse for any trivia question (including the ones plaguing us currently). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 1:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross looking at the history-of-gaming most of the well upvoted ones are in that non-trivial realm. To me, if it meets the bar of "a good answer will be more than just a link and a quote from wikipedia" it's probably a good question. The owlbear question is a pretty good example of that. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jul 28 '14 at 1:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross Only if you know the mechanics of Chainmail. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Sep 21 '15 at 8:36
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Some Folks Need the Basics

I think it's premature to place a wholesale ban on all trivial questions without first establishing a baseline for what trivial means in relationship to the asker's role-playing game experiences and familiarity with the cultures that publish the vast majority of role-playing games.

A new GM who wants to run a time travel game might totally need the name of Hitler's dog, and while we're all computer savvy enough to hunt down such information quickly (4 seconds and it's Blondi), were that new GM some 80-year-old lady in a retirement home who wanted to run an RPG for her fellow retirees, she might struggle to find that information, and it's possible she might end up here.

It's highly unlikely, of course, but there it is.

And I'd like to think--rather than closing her question as trivial--we'd want to help her because A) new members deserve community support even if they lack our skills and experiences, and B) that old lady's awesome.

Further, someone coming in cold with a question that initially looks stupid like What's a hit point? probably deserves an answer because, while the site's for running and playing role-playing games, a new player has to start somewhere.

Honestly, if someone's first question is What is Drizzt's panther's name? (3 seconds and it's Guenhwyvar), that's probably fine. If that's someone's fifth, thirty-seventh, or hundred-sixth question, then action can be taken.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are campaign research questions on topic? and the broken windows theory may be relevant to these ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 28 '14 at 7:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. This is exactly why we call ourselves a site for experts. Answers that can be solved by a trivial Google are better served by a trivial Google, freeing our experts to answer the interesting questions so they I can be indexed by Google. This is even part of the criteria for site reviews. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jul 28 '14 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Though well-argued, this is almost unrelated, because trivial and trivia mean very different things. Trivia can be non-trivial, and non-trivia questions can be trivial to answer. This meta is about trivia ("I just want to know"), not trivial questions ("the basics"). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:00
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Banning questions that are basically a request to solve the problem of ignorance is IMO a very bad idea.

Questions like this one, also could be called trivia, but they are much more than that. In an even fight, how many rounds does a typical monster need to drop a PC? There is no "problem at the game table" that this question solves, yet the answer helps people understand the game systems better, and helps establish expectations. All good things, which are not precise problem, but also are not trivia.

There is a world of difference between "trivia" and "The problem is that I don't know the answer." If you want to ban questions like "What is Drizzt's cat's name" then such questions can easily shown to be unnecessary by asking, "What research have you done so far?" Trivia can be found out with a simple google search, but questions where the problem is that they don't know the answer can not. I think making people jump through hoops, and to lie and craft stories about some hypothetical problem just to get them answered, isn't going to help anyone in the long run.

For example, the question I asked about regarding different games and if they have the same phenomena of as 3e is apparently for some people simple trivia. To me, it's an important understanding of game design. However, I could easily "game" the site, and re word my question to pretend it's some more concrete problem, and the answers will be the same.

I could instead ask for a game recommendation, in which I am able to play a class that is very good at something another class is supposed to be good at. I could word this question as if I'm looking for a game to play so I can try out this character concept. I could do that, but I would be lying.

Making rules which encourage people to lie about their problems just so they can be answered, is, in my opinion, a terrible idea. At best it makes people feel awkward, and at worst it can cause people to view all new questions with suspicion rather than to assume good will.

Since there is some doubt about the ability to reword the question, I imagine I could write something similiar to the following.

I really enjoyed the aspect of pathfinder that made picking a wizard to play a thief a secret, unintuitive optimization success story. I would like to do something similar in another game that isn't related to pathfinder. I have three charachter concepts in mind that would be fun for me if it's possible.

  1. A mechanic that is better at fixing and getting scrap material than the assigned mechanic class.
  2. A supernatural creature who is better at seduction and silent killing than the creature which has that reputation.
  3. A combat veteran who is better at defeating bad guys in a fight than the soldier/fighter class of that system.

Which game can I play to create either one or all three of those scenarios?

An answer to the above question will answer my 'secret' question. It's also a bit of hoop jumping, and frankly I think requiring people to know enough about the site's history to figure out which fake question to ask is counter productive. But, if that's the only way to get questions answered then that's what we will have to do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems to ignore the well-established notion that trivia questions are usually bad for other reasons than being trivia questions: if a question looks like trivia, that's a flag to look at it more carefully for other problems. Your description of re-phrasing is an excellent example of this; such a re-phrased question would be closed as too broad without supplying more specific criteria for the game you want, according to the sys-rec guidelines. The site adheres to context and "concrete problems" because experience shows they CAN reliably give the specific criteria for good answers. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 28 '14 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, your definition of "trivial" could easily be read to mean that every question is trivial which can be answered by a reasonably careful reading of the core documents for a game, which would put a TON of our questions on the chopping block. I'm pretty sure that's not your intent, but challenges like that are one reason why we haven't yet arrived at a concrete definition of trivia; it's really hard to do without making the site's scope too wide or narrow. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 28 '14 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ A google search is not a "careful reading". Prior research would/should include "I looked through the manual but didn't easily notice it." \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 28 '14 at 10:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ So basically "any question should be on topic." No. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 11:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's the end conclusion. In a month you can argue "well why force people to lie about whether they've done some research first or not?" If we're excluding site guidelines on the sheer basis of "well but I don't wanna" and "someone may lie to get past 'em." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Also, you are conflating "someone may lie" with "encouraging people to lie". Very often I'm given a choice. I can either, make something up, or have the question not answered. There rarely seems to be an opportunity anymore to have a question answered if you put a few disclaimers in the question, like there used to be. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 28 '14 at 12:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you feel like you need to lie to get a question onto the site, go elsewhere with that specific question? RPG.SE is not a Swiss Army Knife, it is not for all your question-asking needs. Many of these questions that you're worried will end up "gaming" the site should just be taken to one of the many quality RPG forums. Use the right tool for the job, don't treat RPG.SE as the only tool in your toolbox, which only ends in abusing the tool by using it for jobs it's not designed for. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '14 at 17:14

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