Recommended reading:

Observe recent question Are there any perk based RPG systems (e.g. Fallout III, Skyrim, etc)?. Compare to a question like Overview of D&D retro-clones.

I believe this question isn't really an example of a game-rec question, as the poster isn't looking for one game that fits a set of criteria - it's a survey question, where it's asking for a primer in a certain area. The retroclones question is a good example of this - instead of sweating the OP on "what exact retroclone do you want" we had some good answers explaining the space.

From time to time we have questions like this, where they are asking for games but really it's a theory question asking about mechanics or techniques, and wants to know if they exist/what they're called/what major games use them.

We discussed this way back in Diceless Technique Question but that was in context of Community Wikis and stuff. I think in the modern regime, we should consider guiding posters with questions like this away from the game-rec rules and towards asking something like,

"I am interested in RPG mechanics like the perk-based advancement in Skyrim/Fallout - no classes, but with leveling, and advancement defined by increasing skills and gaining specific perks (abilities) related to those skills. Does this concept exist within tabletop RPGs, if so what is it usually called, and what are examples of major games use it?" (Note this is more focused than the current linked question, it is not a good question as it stands yet).

Obviously there will be some temptation for people to answer these poorly with just a single game ("Champions durr, peace out") but it'd be pretty obvious to downvote those.

Should we adopt this approach to people seeking general understanding of an area, or force them down the "super specific" game-rec path?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this asking if we should have a... forum for lack of a better word... a set procedure ... for discussion of abstract theory? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tritium21
    Mar 16, 2015 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ No. It is asking whether questions seeking an overview rather than a very specific fact are on topic and answerable. It doesn't have to be theory, it's like "what is this OSR thing" instead of "I want an OSR game that specifically does X Y and Z." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 16, 2015 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I am slightly confused about your question: there's probably two kinds of questions here, one of which is "give me an overview of this area of games", the other of which is "what are all the games with {arrow snatching / perks / other small mechanic that could appear in a hundred unrelated games}?". You've linked to both (initially the first one), and you have two answers which might be each responding to exclusively one kind. Could you clarify your question to suggest which type we're dealing with specifically, or if we're dealing with both? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 18, 2015 at 10:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really, I'm out of caring on it. It's about figuring out what someone actually is meaning to ask when they seemingly want a shotgun of random answers just because they don't understand a space and changing their question to be about getting an overview of the space. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 20, 2015 at 23:20

3 Answers 3


Why overviews can't save "looking for a game" questions

There are two kinds of overview questions:

  1. I want to understand an aspect of the hobby. This is an existing aspect of the hobby that is worthwhile understanding for its own sake, not for the list of games that it generates.
  2. I want to see a list of games that are in an ad hoc category defined by my too-broad requirements, so I can go shopping with it.

The first is fine, and we can field those. However, type 1 questions will never be initially posted as any kind of game-rec lookalike in the first place, so there's no need for special handling of type 1 questions.

What distinguishes type 1 from type 2 is that the first does not require editorial opinion to pick and choose the games to include. Type 1 forms an existing set: D&D editions for example.

Type 2 games do not form a natural set, they form a set defined by an arbitrary set of feature chosen by the asker. Games that are skill-based is an arbitrary feature — a set (in the sense of set theory can easily be formed from it), but this set will be necessarily large. (Necessarily, because any ad hoc set that's small is already an OK game-rec question.) Paring that large set down to an overview-sized list is a process that is primarily opinion-based, and that's the killer for type 2 overviews.

So type 1 will only ever be asked straight, without having to have the asker narrow the question. Type 2 will always be too broad — they can't be narrowed (since they don't have any more criteria) and can't be left open without us inappropriately embracing primarily opinion-based answering.

Type 1 overviews are not a problem, and aren't really an issue that needs solving here. They fit our format, and don't run afoul of our game-rec rules. Voting on these overviews isn't especially vulnerable to game favouritism, and is done by the quality and completeness of the overview rather than agreeing with the overviewer's choice of representative games.

Type 2 overviews are just shopping questions that can't be fixed by the application of Good Subjective/Bad Subjective. Any voting on answers would be vulnerable to "I like the games you mentioned!" sentiments, and comments would easily fall into arguments over differences in opinion on the games included and excluded.

Besides, this impulse is often just the asker trying to make RPG.SE their one-stop RPG site

The impulse of askers to broaden our deliberately-limited tolerance for shopping questions into accommodating "I'm not shopping, I'm looking for an overview... that I will use to shop" isn't really productive — they already have an effective tool near to hand for those: forums. They don't actually need us to get their window shopping desire met, and we don't need to pull our format out of shape to accommodate the misplaced question.

Forums are ideal for answering type 2 overview requests. They are one of the few types of question that forums, etc. handle really well. We don't need to stretch (or break) our format to accommodate them when they're so easily accommodated next door.

How to handle them

Type 1 overviews are fine and don't need special handling. Vote on quality, and comment to improve the details of the overview.

When it walks like a type 2 duck, handle as usual for game-rec questions: close when too broad or opinion-based, and ask them to provide more criteria. If they can't, point them at the "hundreds of games" meta as an explanation for why the question is staying closed.

Further, when they can't narrow it down, send them to a forum. Asking on a forum is an effortless way to get the overview-for-shopping-purposes that these questions are truly seeking. It makes no sense to struggle and strain here to get them answered, when the tool they need is lying right beside the RPG.SE tool.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But my point is, to guide them to either ask a game-rec or an overview question. Of course you could still have someone asking for a list, that's not my point. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 16, 2015 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I don't think there's any way to turn these into an overview that isn't just a dressed-up shopping list, with no value except for window shopping. We could call them overviews, but they wouldn't actually be overviews of anything. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2015 at 21:48
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think that's probably untrue in this case (and the OSR case). In the OSR case, aramis' answer is too much of a list, but if it had a little bit of "what is an OSR game and what are the major categories" it would be fine. In this case, dude doesn't know he's just looking for skill based systems. It's like the earlier diceless question we adapted from "i want diceless game" to "What are the major diceless resolution approaches?" \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 16, 2015 at 21:52
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk The OSR question has the inherent potential for quality single answers, even if the answers don't live up to that. An overview of skill-based RPGs would be unbelievably broad, since it's so common a design form and so little else ties all those games together. There's an argument for "Yo, you want a skill-based system, start googling with your newfound term," but that's not really the job of an answer, so much as the job of an apologetic comment saying why it's closed, isn't it? (Besides, he doesn't want skill-based RPGs, he wants Dis/Ad based non-point-buy RPGs, e.g. SW, &c.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2015 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, I'd sooner say that overviews are off-topic, closing the doors tighter, than open the doors wider and start rescuing list questions; if these two types of question are really one type, which they may well be. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2015 at 22:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Perhaps it'd be easier to follow if you put your proposal into an answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Mar 17, 2015 at 11:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie was too tired from moving to write an answer like this but I wholly concur! \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Overhauled the answer: I've had more time to chew on this and figure out what I think the heart of the matter is. Same message, more detailed reasoning. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 30, 2015 at 18:00

Yes, a question asking for an overview is acceptable

This site shouldn't be one's introductory RPG destination, but its contributors are better equipped to provide an overview of systems than most, and its format means grokking an overview is far easier compared to sifting through a forum.

I see little problem in permitting questions like...

  • What are the most important X role-playing games and why?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of X role-playing games?

Examples for X could include class-and-level, point-based, archetype-based, d20, fantasy, science fiction, vampire, or whatever. These are probably still too broad and would require further refining, but the premise is sound. A warning that answers should focus on the question and not the examples might be useful.

I don't think this information's conveniently available anywhere else. A quick Web search revealed no repository that classifies and details role-playing games like this.

If there is such a site, instead of answering such questions here, let's further popularize that site by linking such questions to that site in such question's Closed notice.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect this may not be about overviews so much as "what are all the games with feature X?" questions, which are distinct form overviews like what you've listed. Mxyzplk, can you confirm? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 11:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener If I've misunderstood, I'll totally blame the question and delete this answer. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ There was some other confusion too (e.g. see the comment on the question) so it is possible some editing is needed. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2015 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ "This site shouldn't be one's introductory RPG destination" - well, maybe a little, we do have I'm at a loss with “Dungeons and Dragons.” How does one play it, anyway? after all. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25, 2015 at 10:06

Overview questions are awesome and totally on topic. Confer Is this overview question ok to ask here?

A good overview question has a limited scope. As @Hey I Can Chan alludes, this isn't the site for beginners, and questions like "What are RPGs like, give me an overview" are uncool. The overview should be reasonably expected to fit within our format's length limitations, and probably should expect answers much shorter than that.

A good overview question is asking for an introduction to a subject. I strongly disagree about this not being a site for introductions to RPGs. I consider myself an expert on a variety of RPGs and even RPGs in general, but when I am moving into a new system for a specific purpose (cf. Is Microscope a good game for a conflict-avoidant, disaffectionate player?) or dealing with edition changes in an RPG franchise (cf. What are the major differences between AD&D 1st Edition & AD&D 2nd Edition) an introduction (albiet not necessarily an overview) is what I'm looking for. Expert level intros to RPG systems or a specific classification of RPG systems are extremely helpful to RPG experts and are probably among the most useful stuff this site produces, from an expert point of view.

Because a good overview question is asking for an introduction, a good overview answer will provide suggestions as how one might proceed in further research if interested (a Further Reading section or some such).

A good overview question clearly indicates that it is an overview, and not just confused about the size of the RPG landscape.

A good overview question asks for an overview of something in which there really are multiple different parts, and the relationship between those parts is interesting.

Because a good overview question is overviewing entities that differ in interesting ways, a good overview answer should at least briefly explain why the differences exist and what the differences are, not just list the different categories present.

If an overview question is good, it's definitely on-topic. If it's not, then it might not be, but not just because it's an overview question. These questions do not need a smaller scope. They also don't need to be limited to 'games showcasing X mechanic' (which will almost always be bad) or 'different implementations of X mechanic in published games' (which will almost always be good). Any subject of which an overview is appropriate an overview can be requested for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "As @Hey I Can Chan alludes, this isn't the site for beginners, and questions like "What are RPGs like, give me an overview" are uncool." You say that, but someone asking a question at that level is just asking how RPGs work, which is basically an introduction to a subject (like I'm at a loss with “Dungeons and Dragons.” How does one play it, anyway?), which you go on to say is cool in your next paragraph. You might need a better way to express what you're trying to say! \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25, 2015 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may find this meta post interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Mar 25, 2015 at 12:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Indeed. I agree with SSDs answer there. I just want to be careful we actually meet that incredibly low bar for 'expert'. I think these kinds of questions are an area we need to be careful in because I worry that when we explicitly open up a new kind of question people will assume its suddenly ok to ask questions that flout the site's guidelines. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25, 2015 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ These ones in particular, because mxyplk is specifically talking about questions that start off awful and off topic and ways of fixing them. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25, 2015 at 16:55

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