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Recommendations for games and published adventures are now off topic due to our policy on them being rescinded. The general agreement was that we did have functioning rules for them, but enough users were intentionally disobeying them that the effort of enforcing them was no longer balanced by the value they added to the site.

Our questions, however, face a different set of issues, so it’s worth discussing those separately on their own merits. (It's also clear from recent events we're long overdue for policy on this.) Evidence may show they don’t face the same challenges as game recs, and may face different challenges. For example, one cannot sensibly suggest their favourite dice roller for every tool recommendation.

Should tool recommendations be on topic?

  • If [tool-rec] questions should be on topic, what set of rules can we support them with that will keep them in order? Why will those rules work, and why will they work on RPG.SE in particular?
    • Will the rules we had all along (basically, GSBS: show you’ve used the thing or someone else has and it’s worked well) work fine? Were they being obeyed?
  • If [tool-rec] questions should not be on topic, why not? What about RPG.SE will prevent them from working?
  • Regardless of the above: are there things we cover with tool recommendations that can be better handled by not being tool recommendations but in some other form?

For both sides: Are tool recommendations unusually difficult for our culture? And, do users chronically ignore the guidelines?

(I recommend that whether or not they are shopping questions is a red herring: game-recs survived as a good long while as an exception, the real question is whether or not we can handle these kinds of requests well.)

Assertions about matters of fact will preferably be backed up with evidence. Citing other stacks’ precedents and policies will necessarily require backing up why those precedents and policies are relevant to us and our situation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically speaking, the onus of proof should be on those claiming stack-wide policies should not apply here. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Oct 24 '15 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage Onus of proof is on both sides. If we thinks they can work well here, we must show as much, and provide useful rules to go by. If we think they cannot possibly work well here, and should not adopt any rules people provide, we must show as much. We need to adopt a position cleanly together either way so that things can go smoothly on main again, and we can't settle on a position that hasn't been presented to be agreed upon. The state with no agreement is the state we're in now and it's not a good one to stay in. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 24 '15 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good job on framing this question :) I think it's well-worded, clear, and neutral, but firm, which I think is appropriate because, like you said, the current state (of angry arguing people stuff) is not cool at all. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 25 '15 at 6:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ So none of the folks that were heated up about this are going to propose a "yes" answer? I'm about to call this one done... \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 2 '15 at 23:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I was gonna, but the point that good tool-recs don't actually require tools was so persuasive... \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 5 '15 at 2:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'm also satisfied with the notion of just approaching this from the POV that someone should just ask "how do I solve this problem?" with an answer of "here, use this tool" as an option. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 5 '15 at 2:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only reason I can think for a "yes" answer is: That's how I found out that RPG.SE existed. \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Nov 5 '15 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that, and with it being two weeks old as of today, I've de-[featured] it. (That doesn't mean it's done and closed, of course, just that being [featured] has likely already grabbed the all eyeballs it's going to grab.) But it can have a [faq] tag now, I think! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 6 '15 at 19:50
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Tool recommendations are off topic on RPG.SE.

In general, "shopping" questions are considered bad form Stack Exchange-wide. The reasoning can be found in:

Our history and game-recs

As is well known, we tried to make game recommendation questions on topic for a while here. We figured the lifespan of an RPG is a lot longer than a computer product, so some of the "Shopping" critiques didn't apply, and that with strict application of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, such a thing could work.

It did not. Given feedback on how those questions were doing, we had to rescind the exception. In practice, the community failed to enforce the game-rec rules and therefore game-recs turned into poor Q&As in a variety of ways (subjective, not paying attention to requirements, "here's the name of a game I heard of" answers).

Tool-recs are only different in a bad way

We have to ask ourselves, why do we think this will work for tool-recs and not game-recs (besides wishful thinking)? Tool-recs are different from game-recs - but unfortunately are mostly different in the way that makes the general SE guidance apply directly to them! They are much more time-limited (tools go obsolete or get Cease & Desisted or change), draw link-only answers, generate near-infinite lists... Things that we hoped didn't apply as much to games, but certainly do to tools.

Let's look at the real extant tool-rec questions. Click through them. Most are links to Web sites with very little effort put into explaining how they fit the OP's requirements (in most cases, the requirements are minimal anyway). A good number of the linked tools/sites are dead. Also look at the tools questions, as most of those are really tool-recs not labeled as such.

In any event, trying to keep them but putting a set of question type specific rules in place has failed despite our best efforts to do that for game-recs, so I think that any question type requiring guidance other than normal SE guidance is bound to similarly fail, especially when it's an even smaller case.

But what can we do?

The trick is to do as described in this answer to the shopping list meta.SE post - ask a question about your problem, and be willing to accept a variety of answers - technique, tool, etc. - to solve your problem. In many cases asking for a tool is an XY problem anyway.

Observe this recent question, which I specifically re-edited to this format. It could be a game-rec question (NPC supplements), or it could be a tool-rec question (NPC generators), but it's best as a problem - I need a bunch of various Iron Kingdoms NPCs, how do I do that? In fact the partial comment-answers are urging gm-techniques answers (if only people would answer in answers and not comments, sigh). This is how we should handle these. Pure shopping lists - off topic. A RPG problem that might could be solved by a tool - on topic.

Some good older tools questions are of this sort - like What tools or strategies have you found useful when not all players can be in the same physical space? and How do you track the PCs' reputation? and How can I make things easier on my dyslexic and high-functioning autistic players? I submit that the better tools questions could easily be of this form, while the worse ones that are just "hey I want an android app for X" turn into bad lists of answers exactly like those in the examples of why shopping questions are bad. The good thing is that turning these into good questions is standard SE guidance that people from other SEs should be well familiar with - "no shopping," "ask about your real problem."

I'm not going to go on at more length - all the rest of the backing detail should be apparent from reading the links already in this post.

Be Generous

We know we'll continue to get tool-rec type questions. Make this process go easy by doing a quick edit instead of closing and all when the only difference between the question being OK and not OK is changing "I want a tool for this" to "I want a tool/technique/fix for this" in a whole question... (assuming you have the rep, and put this meta's link in the edit reasons bar). On historical tool-recs, same thing, we don't have to go on a pogrom to close them, just edit them slightly or heck just answer from the frame of "well here's an alternate approach to X that isn't a tool per se..."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Per your last paragraph, do links in edit reasons get turned into click-able links? I did not know that! That’s neat. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 11 '15 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan They're unfortunately not clickable. In some browsers they can be highlighted and there will be a context-menu option to open them as a link, but that's not all of them, and not an option in common mobile browsers (or the Stack App), leaving cut-and-paste. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 17 '15 at 21:49
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Tool-Recs should be off topic

[this is a verbatim copy of my earlier post. I was encouraged to port it over here so that it'd be part of this conversation, though I've not yet re-addressed @Doppelgreener's particular (and proper) formulation. -nitsua60, 10/26/15]


I've come around on this one during the last two weeks. I initially was very surprised to see tool-rec questions' ground fall out from under them; I'd not understood the rec-policy well enough while discussing game-rec to understand both would fall.

But a week of reflection and reading has convinced me that an explicit exception to the recommendation ban is unnecessary. In particular, TuggyNE's link to (an answer to) Why are "shopping list" questions bad? helped me see how much better a hypothetical tool-rec question becomes if simply cast as a problem-question. I.e. a "How can I do this?" question rather than a "What's the best tool to do this?"

I haven't had any sort of privileges long enough to understand why and how the exception it's a bad thing; but I assume good faith and believe those longer-time users who say it's a lot of work to curate/moderate.

I believe we can still help those querents get good answers, inherently improve the questions, and make less work for mods, by rejecting a tool-rec exception to the rec-ban. (Or by not creating a new local permission for tool-rec questions, however you like to think of it.)

My takeaway:

A tool-rec can still be part of an answer; it shouldn't be a requirement in the question.

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General SE guidelines

A general guideline of Stack Exchange is that the core of an answer should not be an offsite resource. The test you can make is to strip all links and markup from an answer. If it's still a valid answer to the question, then it can be a good answer. If the main information is gone, then it's a bad, so-called "link-only" answer.

Source

Example Question:

I want to play a big, unruly grunt with an axe smashing things and people, what class should I play in D&D5

Link only Answer:

You should play THIS(link to barbarian) class.

Somewhat better answer (not good, but not "link-only")

You should play a BARBARIAN(link to barbarian).

Strip the link and markup and the second answer still is an answer, while the first is completely unusable once the link goes dead.

Tool Recommendations

A tool recommendation by design is something that at it's core has an off site resource. Because SE does not host tools. It might also be hard to pick a definite answer. If someone asks for a dice-rolling app, there are a bazillion out there and most do a good job of rolling dice.

XY Problem?

Maybe we should look at this from a different angle. If someone identified the problem and narrowed it down to the fact that he needs a tool, I think it's trivial to google a few and test them. We cannot help with that process, that's not what SE was made for.

It would be more interesting (and maybe a better fit to this site) to analyse how to solve the underlying problem. If the best solution happens to end with "You can download one such tool at xyz.com", then so be it. But the solution should offer a description how the problem can be solved. That might as well be without a tool or maybe the tool is made of cardboard or a custom painted set of dice.

Ban tool recommendation, but embrace problem solving

If someone has already solved his problem and decided a tool is his solution, then we are not the best fit for his needs. We should not allow that. However, we should be open for people's questions on how to solve their problems. I think every question that cannot be trivially solved by a google search can be asked in a more open minded way, so that it loses it's narrow tool-focused context and can be answered here as a normal question. People need tools for something. Asking about something without taking the solution (a tool) for granted will yield better results and make for a better question.

TL;DR

Keep the question but remove the constraint of tool-rec and instead ask about the underlying problem. Those are valid questions answerable without any change to policy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 23 '16 at 17:35

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