Pretty much what it says in the title. I recently asked this question and it has been suggested that it is unanswerable.

A previous question of this type is here, which by my understanding was decided to be a legitimate question for the site, but I could be wrong.

Update: Based on the answers I've gotten here, I've updated the question to make it clear that idle speculation isn't helpful.

Update 2: Based on doppelgreener's excellent breakdown in comments of the issues with my question, I have reframed it to be about design intent specifically.

The comments were deleted, but here they are for posterity:

I'm voting to close this question as too broad. At the moment, it is inviting speculation on three different fronts: (a) what various benefits are there to having a stat of 19 rather than 18 (regardless of whether an item does it), (b) what benefit is there to having an item that would do that, and (c) why did the designers do it that way? (a) and (b) aren't necessarily related (as observed by JasonK's answer), and neither necessarily answer (c) which could be, for instance, a designer quote saying "I like odd numbers, they're cool." – doppelgreener 11 mins ago

I don't necessarily have a problem with (a) and (b) being wrapped up together -- except whilst (a) is objectively answerable, (b) involves opinion and speculation. The stake-to-the-chest for this question though is that neither of those will answer why the developers did it. – doppelgreener 6 mins ago

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ nowhere do you say you are looking for designer intent, you are just asking "why." This signals people they should come up with their own speculative reasons instead of seeking citable dev reasoning. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk My question actually calls for some reason why an odd number would be better than an even number. The answerer said that was unanswerable because only the designers know, so I wanted to check whether that was actually a problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another example is here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/36723/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 0:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Following this discussion, there has (finally) come a declaration from the mods regarding designer-reasons questions being allowed – see the latest Meta post: Are questions about rule intent on-topic? [2022] \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 0:04

3 Answers 3


"Unanswerable" is never a reason for a question to be closed!

If it's truly unanswerable, then it's provably unanswerable and proving it should make for a good, solid answer. Which makes it answerable in the Stack Exchange sense of the concept.

If it's not provably unanswerable, then it shouldn't be closed as unanswerable for what I hope are obvious reasons.

However, if someone thinks that a question is unanswerable but cannot prove it... well, if the only answer I can give is unsupported, maybe the best thing is to not give an answer at all and hope someone else can. Perhaps I can link it around to experts.

Design intent is not inherently subjective.

Either it's backed up by citable designer statements and supportable extrapolations thereof, or it's probably unsupported speculation.

Unsupported speculation isn't ever appropriate in Stack Exchange answers. Thus design intent answers should provide citations or they probably shouldn't be answers at all. So we do have a solid and non-subjective path for questions about design intent to get answered in happy Stack Exchange ways. Hooray!

It's okay for questions to wait for answers indefinitely.

A question about designer intent can be answered with cited statements by designers, and usually only by that. It's very hard to prove a lack of relevant statements, which means the question may go unanswered--and that's okay.

Lack of a good answer doesn't mean it's a bad question. Sometimes that means it's a great question!

Often "unanswerable" is standing in for some other close reason like "primarily opinion-based."

This is what your triggering comment claims. It's not really relevant for designer-intent questions (as I've laid out above design intent can be addressed without unsupported opinion) but I'll talk about this for a moment: Opinion-based questions and answers get evaluated on their own set of experience/source-based criteria which are outside the scope of this meta post but well covered by the . (And remember that the close reason isn't "opinion-based," it's "primarily opinion-based." There's a range of opinions supportable through experience and citation which are valuable and necessary to RPG.SE's function.)

Again, if my answer can't hit the field of the question without ignoring the site's guidelines on that kind of question, it's probably best not to answer--better to vote to close and then help the querent get it into shape so that I can answer it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it "too opinion based" here? Because on sites where I can vote it's "primarily opinion-based", and that's pretty significant difference. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Good catch, I'll make the edit, but the point's the same: each Stack site has guidelines on what is and isn't a good fit for opinion-based questions. RPG.SE has some pretty solid learning on the subject codified and evolved through multiple meta posts. I believe my last paragraph addresses your question. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you could link to guidelines that are set up here, it would improve your answer a bit :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Opinion-based questions aren't the focus of this post, and the guidelines aren't that hard to find; the faq tag is a useful tool. But I'll add the link and re-arrange the content to forefront the real issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you can logically "prove" what the designers intent was even without explicit designer statements, by referencing other parts of the rules that support your interpretation. You can prove that other ways of interpreting a certain rule cause conflicts with game balance, or the setting, or related mechanics, adventure descriptions, designer statements that aren't explicit answers to the rules question, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – AgentPaper
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ For example, even without a statement from the devs, we can know that the requirements on warlock invocations are meant to be class-based and not character-based, because if it was character based, the balance of the game starts to break down significantly. We know that the designers didn't intend for every character to take 2 levels of warlock at level 11, so therefore the designers did not intend for invocation requirements to be character-based. \$\endgroup\$
    – AgentPaper
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 18:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @AgentPaper You can certainly try to back up claims of intent in that manner, but I'd anticipate a fair few downvotes if you do; it's very difficult to make such an argument convincing. Your warlock example, for instance, is one I'd downvote -- Pathfinder has a number of extreme balance problems, many of which are apparently compatible with their intent, so the fact that a given interpretation is imbalanced is no evidence at all, as far as I'm concerned, that it wasn't the intent. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I don't think that's really a valid comparison. With 5e there is a definite push to make everything more balanced, and to a large degree they've succeeded in that goal. \$\endgroup\$
    – AgentPaper
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:45
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @AgentPaper (I don't know why I thought Pathfinder was under discussion) Sure, but mistakes can be made, the intended effect can still be broken. You can argue that a particular interpretation would be "obviously" imbalanced, but that's a really hard case to make authoritatively in the absence of developer commentary, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Well, I guess it depends on the game and the designer's stated intent, and of course explicit designer quotes override this. However this would be the best answer that can be given without a direct quote, and more importantly, I think it is a useful answer, if you can back your argument up strongly enough, so I think it's an answer worth giving. Of course, everyone's free to vote it up or down as they wish, but it's not an invalid answer, which is an important distinction from being a good or bad answer, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – AgentPaper
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 22:26

You shouldn’t have to, but if you’re going to ask for intent, you have to be really explicit about what constitutes a good answer to the question

Specifically, you should state that you really need quotes from developers discussing the topic. You have to strictly forbid speculation or guessing. You shouldn’t have to, but it’s very common in RPG discussion for people to assume that the way they imagine things went is actually what the developers were thinking. Discussions of “RAI” often become unbridled speculation, and that is never useful.

So you shouldn’t have to say anything. People should know what a good answer is, and should know that random speculation never is. But history has shown that such questions will attract bad answers even when they take pains to explicitly tell people not to. And I think experienced users respond to that with Close votes when they see a question that seems to be inviting speculation by not setting those rules strictly. After all, the point of Close votes aren’t necessarily “this is a bad question,” so much as “this question will invite bad answers,” and those are the real problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, this is probably not great use of the VtC privilege. I did not vote to close your question (but then, I didn’t even read your question). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 14:54

Given the advent of the internet, I think questions about designer intent may not be off topic, but they may be hard to answer.

There's plenty of places such as designer blogs, game company websites, "Ask Me Anything" threads for designers and such that can provide a wealth of knowledge in terms of intent about how rules are generally intended to work. (For smaller, indie designers, you can often ask them directly on their own forums as well...)

That said, I think that's also a very different question than:

What are the design effects of having the rules work like this?

Part of it is that a lot of roleplaying games copy conventions from other games, often without understanding why/how it worked a certain way previously* - in which case the designer themselves may not be able to answer that question but someone with better understanding of mechanics might, which is damn useful if you're either designing a game of your own OR trying to figure out how to modify a game you're playing.

I think that second question ends up serving more people more often.

*Of course, if you look in a lot of game books, the "Introduction" and "GM's Advice" sections often is the designer pontificating about how roleplaying 'should' work and you can easily find examples in games where the rules actually contradict their own espoused philosophy which makes their intent for play count for a lot less...


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .