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This question asks "Would any of the versions of D&D, as written, permit someone to backstab with a ballista?" To me, this seems like a simple "yes or no" question where a "yes" answer can easily be backed up by citing the appropriate section of a rulebook; a "no" answer is a bit harder to prove.

Is there something unclear about it, and if so, what can I do to fix it?

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It's been reopened by five non-mod voters already, so this might be moot, but I think the question is fine. It's a yes or no question, it's possible to have a “best” answer (i.e., the answer with the most clearly-presented and solid evidence for its “yes” or its “no”), and there are a finite number of editions that could be used as evidence.

There are legit concerns here about questions that have undefined scope or broad scope, and this does sit near the borderline (which is reflected in the hold/reopen votes), but I think it's on the safe side of the line, and I don't see it causing us the same problems as the Tarrasque Question did. In particular:

  • We know better than to use an answer for “oh here's the answer for another edition, for completeness”, which wasn't true at the time the Tarrasque Question was asked, so it was already a mess when we tried to clean it up this year. By today's analysis the Tarrasque Question could have been fine as it was a plain yes/no + evidence question, but the answers took it as a playground rather than just answering the darn question, and that wasn't perceived as a problem back when the site was in beta. We know better now, and expect better of answers, and the mods don't expect questions with same yes/no+evidence pattern to get out of hand today.

    (For the record, though the Tarrasque Question could have been fine, the mass of existing answers presented an intractable problem that made it cleaner to just lock than fix. This is why the precedent it sets is not straightforward.)

  • Editions newer than the movie aren't valid as evidence to support an answer, so we won't have a steady drip of new answers as new editions come out.

  • It has standing in a way the Tarrasque Question didn't. This is a media question, looking to see if a specific joke could possibly be “funny because it's true.” The Tarrasque Question was not of practical concern to anyone without specifying an edition, which contributed to its “here's the answer in the edition I care about” syndrome.

I think we can give a good answer to this question, and we know what a bad answer (which deserves downvotes) looks like, and we know what a bad answer (which deserves flagging for deletion) looks like. I think we can handle this question OK.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 This question is entirely valid in form and sufficiently tightly scoped, even if it's about dumb and pointless trivia. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 3 '15 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ what is unclear to me ( I was not a voter in any of this) is whether he refers to a ballista, or that large crossbow in the scene from the movie. The latter isn't a siege weapon. It may be that props were on an austere budget for that film. A ballista is a siege engine that takes multiple humans to carry, or something like a giant to carry single handed. A ballista doing over a hundred points of damage is certainly larger than a large crossbow ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 3 '15 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I had the same thought. I think it becomes moot when the DM in the scene treats it as a ballista — that might be the wrong call, but everything that follows (“is that allowed? how much damage?” etc.) is assuming it is an actual, factual ballista regardless of depiction. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 3 '15 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes, taking the point of the DM ruling as truth, an actual siege engine is the best way to frame the answer to the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 3 '15 at 18:30
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Basically, the rules for both "Backstab" and "Ballista" are wildly different between editions. An answer that applies to one edition would be totally inapplicable in another. You're asking a question that would have several equally-good answers, which is bad on this site.

Now, if you changed it to be specific to an edition, it would be perfectly answerable.

Another alternative would be to specify which editions you care about, and asking for an answer that covers each. Like, if you mostly played 2nd ed, but you also wanted to know how it worked in ODND and AD&D, then asking how it works in those specific editions would probably be focused enough.

This site works best when asking specific questions about actual problems. What problem are you facing that can only be solved by knowing the ballista/backstab rules in 40 years and ~10 editions? Do you really want to know all of them?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose I could narrow it down to one edition, but asking the same question seven times to cover ODND, AD&D, 2E, 3E, 3.5E, 4E, and 5E seems a bit silly. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Oct 3 '15 at 7:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mark Do you really care about every edition? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Oct 3 '15 at 7:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the question is clear in wanting to know if ballista backstab is possible in any edition. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Oct 3 '15 at 12:52

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