This is somewhat of a related question to Why Are Our 5e Questions Terrible? - but this post is about questions from people who haven't read the book yet, and want us to do it for them.

This is a little different from the discussion in Should a question be judged on its level of "expertise"? because these questions don't even attempt to apprehend the rules, they are purely "I have not read the book, tell me what it says" questions. Some are linked into my first referenced question above but we have had a recent new one, Are there alternative ways to gain XP?

What should our response be to questions like this?


5 Answers 5


There's at least two kinds of easily confusable questions here:

  1. I hear the DMG has rules for X. I don't have the DMG. What are the rules for X?
  2. Are there rules for X? What are they?

#1 is a deeply problematic question that asks us to engage in violating copyright: the person should buy the book. We should not provide the materials.

#2 has no such implications and is actually a question about a real practical problem and probably acceptable! It is an uncommon kind of question for us, and it is not to be confused with #1.

In the example question (Are there alternative ways to gain XP?) I suspect the author is not even aware that such rules exist, or are to be found in the DMG. Some degree of system expertise doesn't mean they'll necessarily know this stuff, but just makes it more likely. In comments they say they're from Japan, and the Japanese don't have nearly as much exposure to or knowledge of Western RPG stuff as we do. They may not be aware that the PHB, DMG and MM make up some vital trifecta for D&D that covers all the basics.

A response of "just read the DMG, why are you asking us to reproduce it?" is appropriate for case #1, but for case #2 it is outright unhelpful and probably rude. We've basically answered their question (yes they exist, they're in the DMG) but in a way that really easily comes off as snarky and assumes ill intent and laziness where it does not exist.

In case #2, we can answer the question by saying: "yes, and here's where you can find them, though you'll have to buy the book because we can't reproduce them in full here without violating copyright." We can point them to the pages and give them a basic idea of what's involved, we can quote portions of those rules for analysis or commentary within the bounds of fair use, but providing a quote-dump of the rules in full, or instructing them on the rules in such detail they'll never have to pick up the original book, would violate copyright and is something we shouldn't do. (Unless the game and its rules are free or whatever, in which case go ahead.)

(In addition to just these two cases, there's other cousins of these questions like what KRyan's answer points out, but some of these are much more clearly acceptable.)

Telling the difference:

As Oblivious Sage points out in comments, RPG books can often not be as well organised as they could or should be. They can also be poorly written! Assume the asker is coming from ignorance, not malice.

So from that, the difference is: can you answer the question without reproducing the rules? If the answer's no, it's case #1 and the question is a problem — don't answer it. If yes, it's case #2 or some other variety — answer the question, explain where the rules can be found, summarise or name them if it helps, and do not reproduce the rules (except within fair use).

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ With your case #2, I think it's also worth considering cases where something is explicitly stated in the book, but in a footnote or another chapter, somewhere many people wouldn't think to look for it. The sad fact of the matter is that many RPG books are not as well organized as they perhaps should or could. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Judging from the user's comments, they're from the US and just teaching in Japan. They own a DMG but haven't read it yet, as they won't see their new DMG until they travel back home in a week-ish. This aptly demonstrates your point though: the dividing line between 1 and 2 can be hard to discern despite the situations being starkly different. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 4:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I think the difference is actually pretty easy to detect if you know what to look for! I added a thing at the end. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 5:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ So if you can't answer the question without reproducing the rules, don't answer the question. And if you can answer the question by reproducing the rules, don't reproduce the rules. This sounds like it'll lead to a lot answers to rules questions' answers being only See page X of this text. When I ask a rules question, I expect more than that, especially if I'm asking for something slightly sideways. And it sounds like an edict against careful rules analysis and for comment wars. Yuck. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan This is not meant to be discussing rules questions in general, nor is it an edict on anything: this is advice, of the apply it with good judgement variety, on sorting out a tricky situation. Of course we can quote rules for analysis, and of course a six-word answer with a page number will be a bad answer; this doesn't supersede any of that. What I mean is: if someone asks for the rules, it's not fair use to go "here they are!" and post a three-page quote, nor is it ethical to tell them about all of a dozen rules in such detail that they'll never have to go buy the book. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unless, y'know, the rules are totally free, like you're quoting Fate Core, or you're dealing with other edge cases re: this answer. Use your judgement as usual. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can easily imagine this answer being cited A) when someone posts (and defends!) a RTFM answer or B) when someone downvotes a carefully sourced answer. This and its parent question need to make it clear that this advice applies to only the absolutely most basic of questions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan They can cite it, but we can tell 'em they're wrong to. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I'll clarify if and when that actually becomes a real problem. At that point I'll know the kind of attitude I'm clarifying for. I won't clarify it's about basicness because it's not. This is about questions that fit the formulae, and if those happen to be basic that's a coincidence. If someone argues I'm talking about more than that (wiio's law #3 says someone's gonna) but we can tell them they're wrong like SSD says. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Already happened, here, which is no doubt why HeyICanChan linked to that question. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 4:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's probably worth using a need for discussion and amplification of rules as a differentiator here as well, since #2 almost always involves clarification and examples. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 4:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I'll think about how to clarify. If anyone wants to take a shot at editing this, they're welcome to beat me to it, since I might not be able to do this for a day or two. For the time being, I suggest an approach of telling them they're wrong and if necessary pointing to these comments. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I had asked a Type 2 Question recently, when I was pretty confused about the structure of a book (it was probably type 3: I read what is there, but I can't understand it - what does that mean) and I believe these type 2/3 Questions ARE relevant to the site. But Type 1 "Gimmie Rules for Free" should never fly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ This only might need to get a reference over to the quite related "WHERE is the rule for X?" type of question, which at times has some overlap with this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:32

I tend to agree with mxyzplk (and have found the recent rash of such questions annoying), but I did think of a concern I have for a nearly-identical question that I think is very valid:

I am considering buying XYZ but I'm not really sure if it's going to be useful to me. One thing that I could really use some guidance on is abc. How good is XYZ's coverage of this topic?

I feel like this is probably a fairly valid question (particularly about something like a Dungeon Master’s Guide which often contains a lot of generic information about running a game that experienced masters may have less use for – depends on the system and what exactly the authors chose to put in that book). People have been playing 5e with no DMG for a few months now, so it's valid to question whether or not you really need it.

If this sort of question is valid (and I'm not sure it is), then I don't think it's right to judge a question based on "why (we think) it's being asked" – even if it looks like the querent is just lazy or trying to avoid paying for the material, if the fundamental underlying question is valid it should be answered (and editing might be appropriate to make it appear more like my quote).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but the answer to this is fundamentally different. "Yes, it's got two pages of coverage on the topic, with 5 different ways to grant XP." Question is answered without actually giving the content. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for try to help the user \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 1:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk You sometimes can't give a good answer for these kinds of questions without going into significantly more detail than that. Game-rec is a good example where querents often have specific goals they want the system to accomplish and "it does that I swear" isn't really a very good answer. The quality and nature of a system's method of doing something must often be explained with specific examples from the rules to have much substance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 1:10

Questions of this sort are problematic for several reasons.

First of all, it is a variety of the Help Vampire problem, super lazy edition. At a bare minimum such questions should be downvoted ("This questions does not show any research effort..."). I like the quote from the top answer on this meta.SE question -

The correct method of dealing with any question which is off-topic, is to vote to close it.

The correct method of dealing with any question which lacks research effort is to downvote it.

Second of all, we are dealing with something different than most domain questions - we're essentially giving away information in a copyrighted work. Without getting into a debate about what exactly is LEGAL there - it certainly rubs me the wrong way to say "sure, let me give you the info in that book you should instead be buying to support the people that make that game."

I would propose that people should not answer these questions, except with a reference to the book. This isn't for "I read it and don't understand it" or "I can't even use an index so I can't find that specific rule" as discussed in the previous 5e meta, but pure "I am not reading your game. Explain it to me." questions.

Though I can see @Sevensideddie's point from the comments on that Q in closing as off topic as "read a book to me" is not on topic even when it's an RPG book. I could go that way too if folks support it.

I understand that people are excited especially about 5e questions and "woot, easy rep" is there for something that just requires a cut and paste from the book, but answering these questions seems to me to:

  1. Perpetuate the behavior of doing it by that questioner
  2. Fill the site with questions that people who have the books don't really have

In fact, I have no idea what the upside of answering these is ("SEO" is a terrible response). I want to be welcoming to people, sure, but really I want to welcome and keep people who will bother to engage a little and do the basics like "own and read the rulebook"; I must say my projection of the contributions of those who won't isn't too rosy.


As we pretty much agree there are various kinds of these questions. Let'S call them numerical:

  1. I don't understand Rule X on [Topic]. How does it work?
  2. I know there's a rule for [Topic] ([at Location]). What is it?
  3. I have no clue if there are rules on [Topic]. What are they?
  4. I can't find the rule for [Topic]. Where is it?

Type 1 is pretty much the bread and butter of the site. OP points to a rule, possibly quotes a part they don't understand, then asks how it works. Generally, these are ok but might fall for other problems.

Type 2 is kind of iffy in that it asks for the rules text and nothing more, possibly asking to publish a substantial amount of rules without any explanation. Most of these questions are not a good match to the stack. Because type 3 is in part this, and in part a type 4, let's look at 4 first.

Type 4 on the other hand only asks for where a rule is but not what that rule is. Such things can stem from the rule being hidden in a sidebar (example), in a different book and there is no pointer to that book (example) or from books straying from formatting established for the book series (example). In some way or another, they are the estranged cousin of this question and don't actually ask for what the rules are. These questions are governed by the policy on as outlined here.

Type 3 is, in my opinion, a hybrid of Type 4 and 1, making it a little tricky: in its core, it is a on the one hand, and a request to give the rules on the other. The one part is fully OK, the other can become iffy. However, a good answer might summarize to what extent a rule covers [Topic] there. In case it is a very tiny part of the rules, a full quote of that snippet might be acceptable, but usually it is better to refrain from adding more than actually necessary - which in that case would be the page location and a rough summary with pointers. An example that barely skirts that line to be a type 2 due to the actual rule being ripped to need to look up several places instead of plain rule is this


If you think it's bad question, mark it down. I voted the XP question and a few others down recently. doppelgreener's classification is fairly on the money, although even some of the class 2 questions have seemed rather lazy. The site has voting; use it.


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