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We have some tags that seem to regularly get used such that they imply information about the post, which isn’t actually stated in the post itself.

  • our various system tags, including [system-agnostic]. The asker will very often just tag with their system, and not mention it in tags or title.
  • [rules-as-written], which comes with various rules like you have to stick to RAW interpretations and probably do citations.

These seem to be becoming a problem sometimes.

Not always! One of the standard uses of a system tag is to ask about a game’s mechanic, then use, say, the [dnd-3.5e] tag as the only definitive indication of what game you’re actually playing. This goes smoothly enough.

But it does lead to some problems in some cases.

1. Tagging multiple systems when their relationship is unclear

We’ve got this convention of describing the system only in the tags, right? This causes some problems in questions tagged with a mixture of [dnd-3e] [dnd-3.5e] and [pathfinder], though. Consider this question:

This involves D&D 3e and 3.5e somehow. But how? This question is explicitly interested in material from both editions, but what about 3e features which have been explicitly altered in 3.5e? This information isn’t specified the question.

The same author later asked a second question that did specify the important information in the question - they say at the end what systems they’re using how, and give meaning to the tags:

(To be doubly clear, this screenshot is an example of good behaviour, not problematic behaviour.)

2. Non-system agnostic system agnostic questions.

Following the trend that system tags don’t need to correlate strictly to question content, there is an often-arising type of question: one that is tagged [system-agnostic], and which says: “If it helps, I’m playing in {system}”. As an example:

What does the [system-agnostic] tag mean here, truthfully? If we specify solutions that don’t work in NWOD 2e, we do not provide a valid answer to the querent’s problem. I retagged this particular question, put the last sentence at the beginning (and rewrote it), and left a comment:

This kind of situation is why I brought up Should I use a narrow system tag, or go broad if possible and use system-agnostic? a while ago, to verify if this stance made any sense and had the community’s support.

3. Rules as written questions, where RAW constraints aren’t described

We get a lot of questions that specify they have certain rules constraints, e.g. “please cite your answer so I can show those rules in the book to my GM.” Or, “please stick to RAW, I’m not interested in interpretations.”

However, sometimes we’ll get a question that asks how certain mechanics work, then just has a [rules-as-written tag]:

But what does the tag mean in this case? What rules-as-written constraints does the asker have? Answerers get bitten, because other readers interpret the rules-as-written tag to mean various things not described in the question, and when it’s a new user, they’d have no idea anyway:

Should we do something? If so, what?

I hope I’ve at least conveyed that there’s a problem arising regularly, and some of you have probably run into these situations multiple times before.

Part of the problem is that I generally don't see these cases acted on, so the questions will still be in this state months later (if this wasn't the case I wouldn't be raising this question).

Is this enough of a problem we need to change things? If so, what should change?

Previous discussions on [system-agnostic]: Is [system-agnostic] a meta tag? / Is the "system-agnostic" tag really necessary? / Do we need the System-Agnostic Tag? / Does the [system-agnostic] tag conflict with system specific tags?

And on [rules-as-written]: Reviewing the usefulness of type-of-answer tags / What are the Pros and Cons of the rules-as-written tag?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect people in case 3 are using "rules as written" as a synonym for "rules", since it has the word "rules" in it. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 11 '14 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ In case 3, I'm asking, "What do the rules say about the last two bullet points in the question?" I think this fits pretty well with the tag summary. I believe @AgentPaper got "bitten" in his answer because it was "Raw seems pretty clear:..." with a single statement saying it replaces a single roll. With no justification or explanation of interpretation. If it was that clear, I wouldn't have asked. I don't believe he got downvoted simply because he didn't provide enough citations. All of that said, I definitely understand your point, and perhaps could have been clearer in my question. \$\endgroup\$ – GamerJosh Nov 11 '14 at 12:39
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This is not a problem specific to tags.

Someone can always make an unclear question. They can do it with words in the title, words in the question or words in the tags. The site response to lack of clarity is, I trust, well trod enough not to require me to go over it. Get them to clarify, vote to close if needed.

Tags do convey implicit information, which is why they exist, have tag wikis, etc. It's good, and a useful shorthand. If someone wants a system-agnostic technique they don't need to spend a paragraph explaining "I want a technique I can use across the various games I run, man". I can only imagine most attempts at doing this would lead to even more pedantic arguing in comments.

This is a long way to go for a pretty simple answer.

For example, game system tags are pretty self explanatory. If it says [dnd-5e] then it can be assumed to be a normal D&D 5e question. Some uses of tags are clear.

However, just adding a tag sometimes doesn't really give enough information, or at least is going to create bad answers. "Give me a way to alternate melee and ranged attacks" simply tagged with [feat] isn't going to sufficiently signal to an answerer that you only want feats as an answer to the question. This use of a tag is unclear.

If your question is not clear - make it clear, using tags, words in the body, words in the title, etc.

If you do not understand a question - including its tag use - ask for clarification. It's the actual intended, constructive use of the comment system.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, I understand they're getting used as shorthand. But in the above cases, what it's shorthand for isn't clear - except maybe in the last one, but then we can argue arbitrary levels of detail on what a RAW answer needs beyond "sticks to the rules". If it was clear, I would not be using these examples. I have no problem requesting clarification, but for whatever reason I see these situations coming up a lot and nobody else requesting it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 11 '14 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Asking for clarification is all well and good, but it's no excuse for requiring clarification in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – AgentPaper Nov 11 '14 at 5:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is someone can use tags in an unclear manner just like they can use their words in an unclear manner. There may be "no excuse" for it but trying to demand people restate everything they say in tags is not the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Nov 11 '14 at 12:57
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Reading all the comments here, seems to impose restrictions on the answer which is very rare for SE sites and therefor not very intuitive. Normally, tags are used to grant information and filtering about the question. I'm not sure if a tag is the correct way to impose those restrictions, but if something is required, I think we should make it easy to understand. This is a gaming website, I don't want to read the small print on all tags just to not break any rules. If this tag means that a citation from the rules is required, then by all means name it that way. or or whatever else works. No small print, no hidden costs, no lawyers involved. In addition, we could use a pattern where a tag starting with sets requirements for the answer of a question. Maybe RAW will not be the only one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not a bad idea. Assuming that [rules-as-written] isn't a meta tag (I'm starting to feel it might be, but last we discussed it there wasn't critical mass of opinion either way), assuming that, then synonyming it to something that says what it means exactly here might clear things up immensely. As a bonus, people looking for "where's the tag for rules questions" will see that after the question is posted, and decide that it does or doesn't fit, and fix it if need be. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '14 at 19:07
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This is a problem only in the cases where you've noticed a problem: tags that aren't obvious and clear from the question asked. Where the problem can be noticed though, it can be fixed and is already being solved naturally.

It's where misuse can go unnoticed and causes damage that it's a problem. And I have an idea to fix that case.

  • : this gets used as a "Hmm, I'm asking about rules, let's type rules into the tag box, oh, there's the tag for rules questions! *click*".

    This is a special problem with the RAW tag because it's a binary "switch" that can be on or off, and questions about rules can look perfectly consistent with and without it. That means when the tag is misused by a novice user, the misuse is undetectable and uncorrectable; but its presence triggers experienced users to give radically different answers. This is damage to our answer quality!

    To solve this we could revive the tag to catch these naive but self-destructive "I need a tag that says 'rules' somewhere because I'm asking about rules" uses, which we can then see and remove. We could even synonym it to something like or so that it's really obvious to us that the poster tried to do something we need them to not do (i.e., tag every last rules question with a tag that says "rules" in it somewhere). The indirection of a synonym has the added benefit that we won't discourage them from choosing , which is important because if we in any way hint to a naive user that they shouldn't use then they'll just say "Oh, OK!" and helpfully use instead...

  • : This doesn't have the same problem as the RAW tag, because whether it belongs on a question or not doesn't need mind-reading.

    • When it conflicts with the body, we know there's something wrong and we need to clarify.
    • When it conflicts with other tags, we know there's something wrong and we ask to clarify.
    • When it's not obviously out of place... it doesn't cause damage the way does.

    When it is the wrong tag, but that's not obvious, it means it fits the body of the question. But even then, we will often challenge the body of the question, and ask them to tell us what game they're playing so that we can answer more usefully. (Lots of people just assume that every RPG works like the RPG they're playing but with different dice for the same thing; I think this is the motive for this kind of misuse of .)

    In effect, doesn't suffer destructive misuse because our normal "uh, can you clarify your question?" processes already catch the situations where it could be misused destructively.

  • Mixing system tags: as you've astutely pointed out in the question, we notice when a mix is invalid, isn't obviously justified, or hints at something they've left out and should really come out and tell us. It's just like that way: the situations in which system-tag mixing can be a problem are already situations we don't let slide; the tag mixing will get fixed as a side-effect of our normal "hey, problem with your question as-written" habits and procedures.

[rules-as-written] is the only tag that has this problem

So really, that just leaves as problematic.

To fix its misuse, I propose we recreate the tag as a kind of honeypot to catch people who would misuse , and synonym to something like so that can remain never-used and to facilitate cleanup. It's like giving the site mind-reading powers! It should drastically cut down on the mistagging of , and thereby improve the quality and topicality of our answers for naive rules-question-having users.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure why, but your suggested solution feels like almost an abuse of the site mechanics. Are synonyms really supposed to be used that way? \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Nov 11 '14 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure we should be bringing back a bad tag for that purpose either. I think those are fair statements about the problems behind the usages of those tags though, especially system agnostic. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 11 '14 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps the tag could be changed to "strictly-rules-as-written" or something along those lines? That would make it more explicit in what it's meant to mean. \$\endgroup\$ – AgentPaper Nov 12 '14 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs Tags are for whatever we find them useful for. People want to add useless tags all the time, and we clean them up. We only blacklisted [rules] because it was causing problems (it was being added to near everything). But, as we now see, blacklisting it didn't fully solve the problem, because people still try to use it but now we can't clean up after them—we can't tell a real [rules-as-written] question from a "couldn't find the [rules] tag" question. This proposal is a middle way that more fully solves the original problem, and the new problem with [rules-as-written]. Everyone wins! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Lots of people just assume that every RPG works like the RPG they're playing but with different dice for the same thing." I think the problem here is a little more nuanced, in that there are a lot of systems that are broadly similar which might benefit from a general answer, but there is also a set of systems for which this answer will be invalid (or worse, harmful). I'm not sure that there is a good way to capture this nuance in the tagging framework, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Grubermensch Nov 12 '14 at 6:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Grubermensch Between "might be useful more broadly" and "definitely helps to narrow it to the system you're actually using", the 'definitely' beats the 'maybe' and our general policy is to lean toward being narrow and specific. People frequently overestimate how broadly useful a question arising from a specific system is because they underestimate the breadth and diversity of RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 8:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wont you have issues once the tag is removed from all questions with automated deletion? A tag wiki can protect against that, but I'm not sure that protection is indefinite. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 12 '14 at 11:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Wikis do provide indefinite protection. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Tags not associated with any questions still get deleted, even if they have a wiki. The wiki protection thing was only for single-use tags. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 13 '14 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Interesting. Synonyms never disappear, but if they point to a deleted tag, I wonder—do the synonyms disappear too, or stick around and re-create the other tag when they're used? Hm. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener We could still have a meta question somewhere on the site like "Why does the rules tag on my question keep getting deleted?" that just points to the meta site as the place to ask about those kinds of questions and is locked or closed or something so the tag is preserved by wiki. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 15 '14 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Deliberately putting meta-questions on Main is a line I know we're not going to cross. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '14 at 1:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any evidence to support your claim that new users are applying [rules-as-written] incorrectly/without intending the meaning that is associated with it? I cannot recall having seen any cases like that, and I follow the tag. I mostly see answerers having issues with the tag -- which is also validly an issue, but I haven't seen any cases where it seemed likely to me that a querent used the tag but didn't mean it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 20 '14 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Based on observations since 2010, yes, naïve/new askers type "rules" into the tag box frequently, enough that it was a problem—it's why we had to blacklist [rules]. Now they see [rules-as-written] pop up, and a segment of them will inevitably roll with it, without intending our meaning for the tag. The RAW tag carries a very specific, intentional meaning on the part of the asker that is not valid to default to, so any accidental use, especially undetectable ones, is a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '14 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are making conclusions and assuming problems without specific evidence backing that up. I agree it’s a potential problem, but until you demonstrate that it’s actually happening, it remains only that, a possibility that appears to be unrealized. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 21 '14 at 18:11
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I am not sure there is a problem to solve here. People are always going to misuse tags, and my understanding of site policy is that when it is spotted as an issue in a question, an appropriate edit should be made, with a comment if necessary. This feels no different to any of the multitude of other reasons we have to make edits.

Sure, some tags are tricky to use correctly (RAW I'm looking at you), but contorting tag mechanics in unnatural ways isn't the way to deal with this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Then we should not contort tag mechanics in the process of dealing with this. But my problem is mainly that these are categories of ambiguity I don't often see acted on like other cases. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 11 '14 at 22:11
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Don’t rely on tags to provide meaning (usually).

I think the problems in these cases mainly comes from these tags being just ambiguous enough to be a problem: when one uses [rules-as-written], [system-agnostic], or multiple system tags, there's a few different things they could mean in each case. Of course, the asker and all readers could assume they've all communicated and understood the one correct meaning, but that's unlikely. In cases like the above, the situation's left ambiguous, just that nobody's asking for clarification.

In all cases, I think we need to stop treating these tags as having implicit clear meaning, because they don't. In the cases above, I'm left having to wonder what exactly the tag means there out of the possible meanings, with no clear answer available.

Whatever information the author is attempting to communicate with these tags should be in the question to make it clear and unambiguous the sort of results they want. Then the tag can be used if it correlates to what’s being described in the question. Note this isn't a suggestion to change these tags or really change the system, it's a suggestion that we treat these situations as ambiguous, and respond as we usually would: request clarification, vote to close as unclear if necessary, etc.

  • Someone using the rules-as-written tag should be specifying their RAW constraints. If they don't have any, they probably shouldn't be using the tag.

  • If someone's playing in a specific system (that they have stated in the question) and asking for help with a problem they'll be applying in that system, and they've used the [system-agnostic] tag, it should be clear from their question why that tag is there: Do they want to apply this to multiple systems? Are they using their own homebrew thing? Otherwise they should probably just be using their system's tag.

  • If someone's tagged their question with multiple systems or editions, they should be specifying their relationship to those and make it obvious why each tag is there.

As for our practice of not mentioning the system when we’re using just one and it’s tagged: that’s generally harmless, and I don't think we should change that. As SSD noted in comments, that will generally result in boilerplate that was not ambiguous to begin with.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this is that it results in things like this, where questions have hand-written boilerplate at the end just to duplicate the meaning of the tags. More often than not, the tags are perfectly clear. It's only when they're not that there are problems; and requiring in-body repetition of the tag semantics would be more often adding junk than not. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 11 '14 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie that's the simple case of one system tag though. Explanations for why you're using tags in the other situations are not boilerplate, they're disambiguation for why you're using those tags. Or rather: they're basic explanation of what you want, which is not always the same for those situations, and then the tags come next but are not relied upon. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 11 '14 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ But this proposal is to explain every tag, not just the ones that cause ambiguity, so that does include questions with just one system tag. If every question-asker knew when tags needed explanation and when they didn't, we wouldn't be here now. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 3:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie please re-read it. I am not trying to suggest that. I'm trying to suggest that we should request clarification when tags are used with ambiguous meaning. Not every case, not single system tags, pretty much just the three cases above. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 12 '14 at 3:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Like, I'm not asking someone to explain why the wizard tag is on a question. That makes sense if they're talking about a wizard. But if they're using two system tags, and their post doesn't make it clear how they're sourcing each one in their game, I'll be requesting clarification. (But as you can see from the example of two system tags, nobody asked.) Am I really failing to communicate this somehow? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 12 '14 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think we already do that often enough though, with the notable exception of the case you outline around [rules-as-written]. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 12 '14 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is this getting so downvoted, if it's just a request that we generally take more action asking these people to clarify their stuff? (Which is pretty close to what other people are saying) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 13 '14 at 0:50

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