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The question What living apex lifeforms are there other than dragons? was originally debated and then kept open, with the good reason that we don't hate fun and it's 1) eminently useful, 2) accepted by the community, for 2 out of 3 points in that SE blog post.

On the other hand, it's at 16 answers and counting now, with new ones trickling in at a rate of every day or two. Answer quality is not high on average and lowering as time goes on. It looks like, though it aspired to rise above becoming just a big ol' list question, it is succumbing to list-itis as it ages.

Is this question working in our format? Do its pros override its cons? Is there anything we can do to improve how it's working? Is it a lost cause? Is it just fine how it is?

Update: On August 3rd the system's automatic protection algorithm was triggered for this question. This can apparently happen for a variety of reasons, and I can't figure out which it is. But auto-protection generally indicates that the question is encouraging new (<10 rep) users to post poor answers, enough that new users should maybe be prevented from posting more answers. That's not damning since it's just an automated script of limited intelligence and us smart humans can override it, but it's a relevant data point.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for asking this. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 31 '14 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are lots of answers here but I wanted to add the note that as of this moment, the question has 36 upvotes, 11 favorites, and only 2 downvotes. The community likes this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 6:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain Yep, that's point #2 up there. There do exist popular questions that are problems because they break the voting system though, so the community liking it isn't a guarantee of being problem-free. Because of their popularity, we have to look especially carefully at popular guideline-breaking questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 7:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain It's useful to point out that it's super-popular, yes, not disagreeing there. :) Aside though, a point of order: if it's deemed off-topic that doesn't mean it's bad, just not working here. I think it's a well-formed question more or less. It's giving off problem vibes though, and that's concerning especially since it will likely be perceived as a precedent later. Poking it to see how it's ticking is my intent here. I'm still unsure what to think about it, but I'm glad it's being thought about. Opinion here favours it. And there's no hurry, regardless. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 7:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure it fits [just-for-fun]; that wasn't part of the question's intent. "Fun" only came into the picture because the policy blog post that outlines the principles cited in support of this question was originally about "fun" questions, though it applies to more than that. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 7:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ shrug It's not like I've actually added the tag. It might not have been the questions intent but the question clearly got away from the OP a while ago anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's certainly true! My concern is that [just-for-fun] not become a dumping ground for borderline questions, is most of it. We learned not to let that happen the hard way, with the Community Wiki feature in the past. Do start that meta about a new JFF question though, that's worthwhile. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 7:39
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Overall it's working well in our format, except for the problem you've pointed out: answer quality on average is a concern. That's a problem we have a tool for fixing though, so really the problem is our voting patterns. If there's anything we can do to improve the question, it's to apply our votes with the severity of a well-respected Hammerer.

This question only has three creatures which truly fit really well. They're in the top three answers. Those creatures naturally and effortlessly totally fit into the role desired.

Every other answer is miles behind in votes for a reason. They're creatures which either totally fail the criteria, or half fit but miss out on some critical stuff. Several of these only work if you play your cards right or change some things (or both). Several are scary creatures, but are not creatures that slide into the "apex life form" role easily. (They're certainly up there, but not apex.) People might be suggesting creatures that only half-fit because other creatures that only half-fit are getting upvoted.

I believe that currently, the top three answers are the only ones to pass the "good and proper answer" bar, due to being the only ones to cleanly pass all criteria required by the question. The others, due to not cleanly passing the criteria, are not good and proper answers. If we apply a level of strictness similar to that which we apply to Game Recs — which are borderline-list questions that survive by their criteria like this one — these answers ought to be getting downvoted, not upvoted. I believe that level of strictness is appropriate here, because otherwise the question attracts and becomes garbage, as it is presently doing.

The answers which submit multiple monsters are particularly problematic

So, of all these answers, only five enter the double-digit vote scores. #4 and #5 submit multiple creatures. So does one other further down. I'm going to poke at these specifically.

  • Phoenix/Roc/Naga: Most answers which provide only a single monster go into detail on why that specific monster fits the role, often justifying it against each individual criteria. That justification is wanting here.
  • The one suggesting a ton of stuff: Most of these simply don't fit the criteria desired. Justification for each one is entirely missing.
  • Chimera: "any kind of Chimaera, really" isn't a specific creature, and not "any kind" of chimera will do: I submit the spanielsaurus, the last red toy on the right, and rest my case. Evaluation of each one is wanting, as above. Note that Chimaera are acknowledged as not fitting the criteria of capacity for being reasoned with, unless one changes stuff.

I mentioned justification here. I think that's extremely important, because it demonstrates that your answer is a good fit. It also tells the author how they can work with your suggested creature, and how well it works. This isn't something demanded of the question - it's something that should be expected of a good and useful answer. It's up to you if you go into a point-by-point list of criteria-and-response, but you should definitely be demonstrating why your creature meets each of the criteria.

After all, which is more useful to someone looking for a creature to use?

  • Use the Grootslang, it's a super cool elephant/snake creature.
  • Use the Grootslang, it's perfect. Here, let me show you how you can use a Grootslang to meet all your needs, here's how you run them, here's what they'll do for you. (It isn't actually perfect in this question, since it's not remotely Western, but it is a super cool elephant/snake creature.)

Justification's important. It's also why I can't post a kitten on there. Answers need to suggest stuff that fits, and show us it fits, or the question becomes a bit garbagey.

I would suggest that the lesson to take from these is that quality is to be hugely emphasized here, especially over quantity. If you have multiple ideas, pick one, two, maybe three, submit them individually, and really justify that they fit. In the Chimaera answer, I'd take Cerberus (my favourite of them), drop the others, and fully write as to why he fits. (He might not, and then when I reach that point in my justification where I'm writing "He doesn't actually fit this at all", I stop, wonder if this guy really fits the role, and then don't answer if he doesn't.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Poor spanielsaurus... \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 1 '14 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh wait: you said "apex predator" when the question asks for "apex lifeforms". (I made that mistake too, several times.) Perhaps the question would be improved, and its future answers too, with an edit to clarify that it's a "top dog" (like dragons) requirement rather than the "preys on and eats lesser beings" not-requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 1 '14 at 3:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, yeah. My mistake. I keep going back and forth between those two when this question comes up. I'll check and correct this later, but I think my sentiments still fit. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 1 '14 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree that some of the creatures in my answer don't exactly fit the criteria (And, for those cases, I made that explicit) , I would be glad if you explained to me where the others fail fail. Also, you are thinking that the OP asked for justification - he didn't, he asked for Ideas. I don't see how "Justification" is a criteria for this question. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '14 at 11:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because if the answers are just ideas with no justification this will get closed as just another crappy list question? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Aug 1 '14 at 11:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThalesSarczuk He asked for ideas, and gave criteria to filter those ideas. Explaining why the ideas fit the criteria is justification, and is definitely necessary to keep this from being a giant list of stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Aug 1 '14 at 11:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well said. The question itself is good, and there are some great answers that show it can work in our format. The junk is a concern, but there are ways of dealing with that other than never letting people ask a question like this again. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Aug 1 '14 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, Okay then. I will adapt my answer and trim it to fit. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '14 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, it wouldn't be fair to edit an answer that some people already upvoted and keep the votes on a vastly different answer. I will blow up my old answer and prepare a new, more fitting one. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '14 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ And... done. Removed my list of critters. If this answer ever be unlocked again, I will gladly contribute. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 '14 at 13:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answers with multiple creatures are technically better - oftentimes the best way to thwart a list question is with answers that aren't just a single item - but these are poorly qualified mini lists not really "teach a man to fish" approaches. alas. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Aug 2 '14 at 0:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk That was actually what I was going for with the chimaera idea. If you have any suggestions on improving it, feel free to leave a comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 4:06
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To me, what makes this question potentially "eminently useful" is that it can help breaking out of a pattern and "think outside the box" when designing a campaign. We may look for (or return to) this question for inspiration, and different users will take different answers as best fitting their specific need.

Trying to envision how this question and its answers could best serve me if I'm stuck for ideas a few months / years from now, I submit the following points:

  1. Multiple good answers are fine - Unlike specific issue questions, I think it is alright for this question to have 20+ good answers - when looking for inspiration, seeing different takes on the same idea can be eye opening and productive. The voting mechanism will help digest the answers - making the SE format far superior than a normal discussion forum.
    For this to work, users should be encouraged to actively down-vote poor answers - much more so than in standard questions.
  2. Good answers make a meaningful contribution to the discussion - for example, the Phoenix answer genuinely surprised me - by discussing Buddhist and oriental traditions, it successfully presents and defend the suitability of a phoenix as an apex creature - providing many avenues of additional research for anyone choosing to use it without being too windy.
    Some of the poor answers IMO are not much more than "name dropping", and as such, don't really inspire - the same purpose they may serve is much better met by casually browsing a monster manual.
    As @JonathanHobbs noted, the "list of suggestions" answers tend to fail this by default.
    This question sorely requires specific answering guidelines to reduce the number of well-intentioned but effectively useless answers.
  3. Poorly suggesting a valid candidate doesn't make for a good answer - Some users adopted the checklist format first used in the Beholder answer, but, while @OpaCitiZen used paragraphs to discuss the more interesting points, others just use shorthand such as "nope" or "definitely" under each statement.
    Now, I'm definitely not saying that a long answer is automatically better than a brief one, but I feel that the value of an answer to this question does not stem from merely "finding another one", but from providing the reader with information and insight about how a specific candidate can be used in a campaign. IMO, the check-list format tends to focus too much on detailing how a creature meets every one of the OP's criteria, at the cost of neglecting the big picture - i.e. how it can be used as an apex-creature.
    To improve this, focusing on the big picture should be one of the answering guidelines - regardless of the answer's format.

Bottom-line: this question is both fun and potentially useful. Clear answering guidelines are required, and they should be immediately visible to those reading the question, to reduce new low-quality answers. Existing low-quality but valid answers should be encouraged to improve or face down-vote oblivion.

As a side note: Maybe we can also benefit from general ground-rules to make future similar questions work - such as the <Code-Golf>,<underhanded> and <king-of-the-hill> tags on the Programming Puzzles & Code Golf SE. Such questions work only if everybody is on the same page.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ We actually did come up with such a thing. It was used once (character sheet question), but not on this one. See meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/3584/… and the just-for-fun tag wiki. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Aug 2 '14 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I'm not sure [just-for-fun] fits as that wasn't part of the question's intent when it was posted, it was just a potentially-list question that happened to become very popular. I'm concerned that [just-for-fun] would become the new Community Wiki aka dumping ground for borderline-fit questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ If multiple good answers are fine, what does that mean for accepting a single answer? Is the questioner expected to not accept an answer? Or do they pick one even if the others are equally good but don't have as many upvotes (due to late entry or whatever)? \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Aug 13 '14 at 3:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thunderforge - for me, this question is useful as an inspiration source - There's no need for the community to collectively identify and agree upon "the most apexiest creature of them all", having several great ideas to choose from serves the purpose much better - different people will find different creatures as best suitable for their specific campaign needs. You help this question by upvoting all the answers you think are good and downvoting the poor ones. It matters which are rising above and which are pushed below - not which answer happens to be first. \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Aug 13 '14 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thunderforge - The OP has already selected an answer, and commented on some of the others that he may use them in the future - this isn't a popularity contest, and IMO in this case the OP's acceptance is just a way for him to communicate to us what worked best for him, and thank people for their effort - it doesn't make a single answer inherently better, and probably doesn't matter that much for others who'll read this question in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Aug 13 '14 at 6:54
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The answers that are bad should be downvoted. The answers that are good should be upvoted. And that seems to generally be happening.

It's working QUITE well in the SE format. But the effects of such voting take time to work their magic.

The guy with the list answer might be encouraged to break it up.

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I think it's time to close that question.

We actually came up with some guidance to vet and put in questions - see Just For Fun Request: Show-off character sheet thread. This didn't go through that process. That process exists to generate some guidance for answering, which is the main lack here.

Also and related, the answers are increasingly bad. Frankly I don't like the "single monster answers" unless it was a specifically just-for-fun question that casts off the rules - list questions like this sometimes get rescued by a brilliant answer that shows them "how to fish," like "here's a source for many villains of that sort and here's how you would decide and flesh them out."

And, I'm not sure how fun it is really. Or how good even the upvoted answers are. When I think "drawn from Western myth" I guess I think "prior to D&D," and answering "beholder" and "aboleth" is certainly not that and not really system agnostic. I've been refraining from mod-closing this but if I go there and see a couple close votes I'm probably going to back them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ouch, you raise a good point about the Aboleth and Beholder. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 2 '14 at 5:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs Hm, not as strong a point as it might seem… It asks for "Classic fantasy based, preferably Western culture originating", which is actually ambiguously vague; arguing it includes D&D is pretty easy. I think that supports G0BLiN's point that the question's reqs could be better and clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 2 '14 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ It also wasn't asked as a "just-for-fun" question. However the community has so far decided to keep it open; I assume because it allows for creativity in a genuinely useful context which is a realm few of the questions venture into. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 3:18
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Really, I don't think the problem is with the answers. Some of them are weaker than others, but a lot of them are hovering around 0. That suggests to me that people have different understandings of the criteria. Which is pretty easy to understand when you look at it.

  • Classic fantasy based, preferably Western culture originating

When I think "classic fantasy" I tend to think early D&D and all those 80's era sword & sorcery novels, but as mxyzplk's answer points out there are other interpretations. Especially of issue is the preference for "Western" culture. I personally take Western to mean not "Far Eastern" or "Middle Eastern", but theoretically could exclude things like Russia. I've even seen at least one argument over what "originating" means in this context.

  • They can't be a standard biped race, humans and elves are so last millennium.

The OP made a definitive statement in the comments here and while there is no ambiguity about the answer in question, what a "standard biped race" is is open to interpretation.

the "true apex predator is man" is exactly the trope [he wishes] to destroy

  • Not a dragon or a dragon clone.

What's a "dragon clone"? Is it simply dragons from other cultures (like the Asian chimaera-like dragon), creatures like drakes and other near-Dragons, or does it include all creatures with a Dragon-like element (such as Dragon Turtles; who by the 3.5 picture are really more big snapping turtles).

  • Living. Breathing.

The point seems to be more about ensuring that it is a naturally occurring species (not a single entity) than the actually adjectives used.

  • An intelligent being that can be reasoned with. Diplomacy with this being should definitely be possible.

It's not ambiguous per-se but I'll point out that in a post about subverting a classic fantasy concept (Dragons are the definitive apex being/s) it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that you can't propose modifications to the classic interpretation of the creature. In this particularly context, "intelligence" seems almost like a non-criterion to me. After all, if you decide a creature is intelligent it doesn't really take more effort to treat them as such than it would a classically intelligent creature in their place.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Living. Breathing." - also probably to indicate it shouldn't be a golem. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 5 '14 at 3:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, regardless of what else happens, I think this question should be left open. The community at large is having fun with it and asking it in this format leads to an overall higher quality of answers (and readability) than a similar question on a forum. And I can definitely see it being a go-to thread for similar questions later. I also don't see any issue with moving it to [just-for-fun] after the fact, but that's just me. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 3:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I agree with you on the conclusion but I think the reasoning is different. Golems are created and incapable of reproduction. Thus they don't form a naturally-occurring species. This also covers beings such as gods or other exceptional individuals. However, I would argue that something like the Gand (from Star Wars; they don't breath) or the Warforged (if they reproduced by nanites or something instead of there just being tons of them left over) might qualify for this criterion. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 3:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another common reason for answers hovering around zero is the community ignoring new answers when there are already lots. That's one of the reasons list questions are considered problems: the voting system breaks down as the community's will to read yet another answer becomes exhausted, and the best doesn't float to the top anymore. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Also true. Most of them don't have a lot of votes but I was mostly noticing that a lot of them are (nearly) evenly split on up and down votes. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 5 '14 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is interesting... it shows that there's continued engagement with the incoming questions. That's a data point against the theory that community fatigue is setting in. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 5 '14 at 23:36

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