As a web developer I frequent a lot of Stack Exchange communities and never have I experienced one with such a community of judgement and nitpicking. Some of these exchanges don't even phrase topics as questions, but if you do that here you risk being down voted, or bombarded in the comments criticising your ability to communicate. RPGing is a conceptual topic, but if your answers and questions aren't as literal as possible you risk a flame war.

Is it that this particular community fosters this kind of fickle behaviour, or is it just the luck of the draw of personalities?

Personally I'm really frustrated - it's not fun to engage here when you have to agonize over your wording to avoid confrontation with people who can't see the forest for the trees.

I would like to be a regularly contributing member of this exchange, and I would love to help lift the dark cloud I see over this place. I am open to ideas and suggestions to uplift this community, either personally or as a whole.


I recently posted a question in regards to a character mentioned in a campaign. I couldn't find him in the book and needed to know what page of the book, or what city I could find him in.

I wrote out: "What city is X in?" "Who is X?" "Where can I find x?" "What page of the book is x's bio on?" "Where is X in the book?" "Is X in City Y?"

And I didn't know what question to use because even though an intelligent human being would know what I wanted from all of those questions, I felt like if I didn't ask it the exact right way I would receive criticism instead of an answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you add some concrete examples? Of your 11 questions on main I don't see much "judgement and nitpicking" at all; 1 was closed as idea generation and 1 as dupe and most of the rest didn't even get edits... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you add some concrete examples from questions other than your own, then? We have had a number of "why all the mean" questions over time on meta and they tend to degenerate into pointless bickering without any actual concrete examples to discuss. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Without examples of what specifically you want to improve, it becomes vague to the point of uselessness. "We could improve our SEO!" "We could improve our FAQs!" "We could pay game designers to participate!" "We could require comments on downvotes!" "We could...." I bet most of these suggestions don't actually address what it is you want to ask. Gaining clarity so that answers can be useful is not "mean" and if you think it is, that's probably the answer to your underlying question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this community is "judgemental" and "nitpicky" and "critical" and "confrontational" and "covered in a dark cloud." So providing examples would help illustrate specifically what it is you're seeing that needs a fix. Without that, I'm not sure how I or anyone would be able to answer with anything except general platitudes, restatement of previous meta posts, etc. Feel free not to, but then I fear people will feel free not to answer/not to helpfully answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand what you mean either. You're referring to general trends, but then not providing examples or saying what those trends are. You're saying you haven't been personally attacked, but you clearly describe a feeling of a lack of safety in your first paragraph. I can't even begin understanding wahat you're trying to point our attention to, let alone see your concerns responded to or acted on. Your hostility to mxyzplk merely asking for you to clarify is confusing and alarming. Please clarify. I'm voting to close as unclear until then. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ For an example of what we may be looking for, I posted a question recently: Are our implicit-information tagging practices becoming a problem?. I noticed an issue in our tagging. I broke it down into three trends that show what that issue is. I described those trends as specifically as I could, and I provided examples of those trends in action. That kind of thing is something people an respond to. The sweeping nonspecific descriptions in this question aren't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a very general lack of safety. I JUST posted a question of "where is Rotharr Hatherhand" & I rewrote my question 6 times because I didn't know if I should put who is RH, What page of the book is RH on, etc - cuz even though every single one of you would know what I waned as my answer, I would end up in a war because I didn't word my question the exact right way. I would like to NOT have to call out specific individuals cuz I don't see that as helpful. If you don't think there's anything that could stand to be improved with how we treat each other here, DON'T ANSWER THE QUESTION. \$\endgroup\$
    – Faye
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just checked your question and for what it's worth, it's very good. I don't know what prompted you to be so afraid of not wording it exactly right -- SevenSidedDie and I both regularly edit questions to improve them, and most questions are just fine, and people do ask for improvement if/when it's needed. Does this come from stuff like us being hard on questions that really can't work before the asker revises something? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I still have some problems parsing your question, even after the clarifying edit. Please tell me if I'm correct: you have seen how questions get judged and voted on this stack and the fear of not being up to these standards (whatever they might be) is scaring you and making it hard for you to create questions where we (as a community) won't have any negative reaction. You don't like this and you would like the community to discuss some solutions here (maybe a guide?). Right? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to avoid pigeon holing to this specific issue, but Zachiel you clearly understand this aspect of what I'm saying. \$\endgroup\$
    – Faye
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ By wanting to not focus on that specific question, I'm left somewhat confused by what the question is about. At a guess, is your question maybe meant to be an invitation to discuss just any ideas in general for improving the community? I ask not to shoot down the question passive-aggressively; I genuinely can't tell anymore what we're supposed to discuss after reading it and these comments. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah - so far it's a confusing split between "Oh no really let's just brainstorm improvements!" and "No really the big problem of no safety you know what I'm talking about." Need to pick one and work effectively in that direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ REactionFaye reached out to me yesterday on Twitter to say thanks for the effort, but they won't be engaging at RPG.se anymore. I don't know precisely if this should be closed, but I think we can safely assume that comments will not be responded to. Just FYI, for those still seeking clarification. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That sucks. As best I can tell we created a lot of anxiety for them previously somehow and things didn't go the way they were imagining here, so... hopefully they'll find somewhere more suited to them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 23:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ When I arrived here, I found the site climate to be hostile to new users in tone ... but I eventually figured things out. Being old, stubborn and cranky offers that advantage: persistence. The site's general norms have not changed, nor has the tendency for some users to (1) not say why on a downvote, nor (2) provide "this would help your question" points. Some folks added comments to early answers -- "x" would improve your answer" and a few still do. That helped, but this varies among the user population. If you feel RPG.SE is hostile, you are not alone; one either adapts or doesn't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


Obviously no community is perfect and there's always room for progress.

In my experience, sustainable improvement follows a pattern of reflection on what's been happening, study of any relevant material, planning a course of action, acting on the plan, and then beginning again by reflecting on what effect the action has had.

Each Stack site has to go through this cycle on its own, because our subjects and communities are different. This is why RPG.SE enforces the network-wide comment guidelines more strictly than many other Stacks do, but also spent four years trying to accommodate a type of question which the rest of the network had given up on.

When citizens on RPG.SE ask for clarification and more details in a question, we're optimising for pearls based on years of experience with RPG questions in the Stack format. The RPG landscape is ridiculously broad, and even within a single system there's great variety in playstyles, goals, group compositions, and so forth. We regularly see cases where implying shared knowledge or assuming some common experience leads to lots of confusion. What's obvious and old hat to some is totally new and alien to others. This is very different from, say, a programming question which has a pretty strict set of possible variables and solutions which can be independently verified.

We frequently have meta discussions about specific problems we've identified on the site and share tools for making the site both friendlier and more efficient. Currently we're collaborating on a meta FAQ to help explain RPG.SE's reasons for embracing the network-wide policy of not expecting comments to explain downvotes; it's something that's been reviewed for years, and writing this answer made me realise we need to include this discussion of what voting means. I may even propose that we tag it as a FAQ.

However, I can't make any specific actionable suggestions to improve the community based on your "dark cloud" metaphor because it's unclear what specific actions you find objectionable. Apparently you're okay with that, and only want suggestions from people who already know what you're talking about; I hope I'm wrong in understanding your statements to mean that. Until you clarify the challenges you think the site is facing, many people will be unable to offer their insight and experience: we can't make useful, actionable plans without first reflecting on the reality of the situation we're hoping to change.

If the intent of your question is to get people to say what they think is wrong, we've tried that, it's a mess. Please, express your concerns so we can face them with a shared understanding of what the problem is or we'll be talking at cross-purposes. What's obvious to you may be obscured and subtle to others.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My thanks for reminding me of my "what's wrong" fiasco. 8^D I feel like Joe btfslpk \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 19:50

I'm going to attempt an answer to this question by challenging the frame:

Is there a problem?

You describe a "culture of judgement and nitpicking". To test this, I decided to look at the three questions at the bottom of the main page at the time of writing (1, 2, 3). I focused on the question, and first few answers.

The first question received no comments, but was edited by a moderator for clarity. The user did not challenge the edit, so I think that it is safe to assume that they were happy with it. Users commented on the accepted answer, asking the answerer for extra information and clarifications. These were added, improving the answer. Answers that did not answer the question (as clarified in the edit) were downvoted, as per SE policy.

The second question was edited by the OP, to add additional detail, then by a moderator to add extra tags. The question received an answer that was accepted. No comments.

The third question was edited by another user for clarity. The accepted answer received a comment asking for additional information, which the answerer duly added, improving the answer. The other answer received no comments.


In this, albeit limited, survey of questions and answers on the SE, I found litte evidence of nitpicking or judgement. What I have noticed is a culture of frequent editing of other's posts, and comments asking for additional information. I do not believe that editing a post to improve it can be deemed "nitpicking", particularly when such edits have to be approved, and can be rolled back by the OP. Similarly, comments asking for additional information or clarification are useful for both askers and answerers to improve their posts.

Your Example

Forgive me if I misunderstand you, but it seems that you did not receive "criticism instead of an answer", but thought that you would if you posted the question. My advice is to post the question, and see what happens. I have often seen in this meta (although I can't find an example right now), questions along the lines of "Can I ask this question?". The answer is almost always the same: ask it, and find out.

Could we do better?

There are certainly areas to improve. For example, the Stack can be a bit baffling for new users. Perhaps we are a little to quick to edit, or comment, but overall I have found this a very welcoming community to be part of.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "If you don't think there's anything that could stand to be improved with how we treat each other here, DON'T ANSWER THE QUESTION." -> I apologise in advance; but I thought that I had to present a more developed version of what others seem to be getting at in the comments. That said, I have provided some areas for improvement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ladifas
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Strongly agree with your next-to-last paragraph - as far as I can tell from the question, it's "I think that a problem will occur if I don't phrase my question a certain way" rather than "I have experienced a problem with a question that I have already posted". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 6:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson It sounds like it may be "I have seen {undescribed stuff} elsewhere that makes me feel there is a 'correct' way people will insist I ask questions, and makes me over-pressured to phrase my question the 'correct' way." But indeed, they also appear to suggest they haven't actually been the recipient of such interaction first-hand. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 11:34

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