I haven't posted many questions, but in my two most recent questions (this one and this one) I used a convention where I introduce the background information, ask the question in bold, and then follow that with clarification on what answers should and should not be.

I'm not sure if stipulating what an answer should not be is considered helpful or unhelpful, especially because it leads to a slippery slope: sometimes people will answer in ways that remind me, oh yeah, I need to add yet another non-answer answer to that list. And before long it looks very pedantic and probably makes me seem unthankful and rude and boring. So, basically...

What's the etiquette regarding how to describe what not to include in an answer, or should that even be specified at all? Answers should not involve any meta-humor like the kind I am employing in this sentence right now.


3 Answers 3


That is perfect, especially your incorporation of GS/BS guidelines on those questions, and I surmise that it leads to extremely better answers to the question. Because "better" is inherently defined as "more useful to the questioner," so both general quality guides and specific answer scope guides are great. By doing this you are signaling that you know about these avenues and you don't need someone to "clue you in", and clearly delineate what a best answer would look like.

I wish more questions would do that so they wouldn't become swamps of junk answers that aren't really helping anyone except for providing an outlet for those who really want to talk on the internet right this second. Like several I'm looking at right now (sigh).

So yes, you should do this, and everyone should follow your example whenever at all possible.

As for concerns that it's "bossy" - I would rather have clear assertive questions and clear assertive answers than the other thing we have a lot around here, amiable but confused. I don't think the way the questions above are stated would at all dissuade any of the knowledgeable site experts here from answering. (Now, questioners that get demanding later after they've already gotten answers - that is taken more poorly. "Why is everyone not answering the way I want" is not good form, but that's not what the examples we're talking about here do.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm accepting this answer on the grounds that it seems to be the consensus opinion of the moderators. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Incidentally, it might be worth explaining why each bulleted kind of answer-you-don't-want is inappropriate. Knowing the reasoning may help users avoid other answers that aren't yet on your bulleted list, but are inappropriate for your situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe, I worried that would make it even longer and more bossy. I do agree that it would help with avoiding other unacceptable answers not on the list. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder Think of it as a trade-off: Sure, it may sound more bossy in the short term, but it saves potential answerers the effort of writing answers you're going to reject, and saves you from having to add more bullet points later on. If you're clear about what you need, everyone benefits. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Recently I was clear about what I need, and the result was having my question edited by someone for the reason "removed obnoxious wording." So I feel like mom is telling me one thing and dad is telling me another. I suppose the simple answer is: I can't please everyone, so I suppose just try to be as clear as I can and if people have a problem with that then they don't need to answer my question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes. Also a lot of people have edit privs, revert if you disagree. Just because we have fairly broad based agreement here doesn't mean everyone on the site will act accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually agreed with that particular edit (just not the reason). I haven't discovered where the "revert" button is yet, though. I will look for it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, there it is: the rollback link. I'll keep that in mind. But in that case I wouldn't have reverted it anyway, due to agreement. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 19:09

Yes, it's important to specify what you don't want.

Here's an example of why.

Had the asker been more specific about what wasn't desired, I'd not have answered at all. Legendary Dude did a nice job in comments to coach the asker to get more specific, since he felt it was turning into an idea generating question/answer.

Once it got ironed, out, the question clearly identified answers like mine that weren't what he was looking for.


If your list of stipulations includes basic reiterations of generally-applicable site rules, like GS/BS, not just links, and so forth, those are generally redundant and tend to produce bad results. After all, if the question needs those, then so do most questions, and the result of that is a bunch of extra noise. Instead, site rules need to be spread through comments, the help center, meta, and so forth. There is a possible exception for posts that have proven to be remarkably good bad-answer magnets, which can get a post notice or similar to discourage them. (Or can even be closed.) Still, better site culture would reduce the frequency of those, and that's what we should focus on.

If, on the other hand, it's highly-specific criteria that define your situation — including potential specific classes of solutions that won't work — then that's an excellent part of the question!

Your first question has these stipulations:

Answers should be based on experience, not conjecture. That is, I'm looking for a solution that proved to be objectively effective for whichever person employed it or experienced it at their game table. In addition, answers should not depend on altering the seating order of the players. Assume the seating order is arbitrary and fixed for the entire session.

Note that answers suggesting alternative methods for tracking standard initiative (whether they be tents, cards, placards, lists, or so on) do not actually answer the question I am asking. Correct answers to this question must establish a house-rule for calculating initiative in a non-standard fashion, not just for recording standard initiative using a different medium.

I've struck through the restatement of GS/BS. All responsible answerers and voters on the site need to be aware of that as a basic fact of site use, so tying it to this particular question, as though other questions do not need the same consideration, is noise, and may tend to even encourage ignoring GS/BS when there is no explicit disclaimer in the question! The bolded section is an excellent, well-stated limitation that defines the question better.

The second paragraph is a bit more problematic; RPG has a long history of frame challenges, and outright saying "this type of answer is NAA" isn't really the way to handle those. Instead, like the earlier restriction, it should be phrased in a way that makes the problem statement clearer without assuming anything about the answers.

I think this deserves a bit more emphasis. Questions should not assume things about the answers. That's for the answerers to do, and the voters to judge. They should state the problem, and let the ones who are trying to solve it do the solving!

Since this paragraph is just restating what the title and bolded question summary have already said, I don't think it's necessary to include at all.

Answers should...

  • Cite rules or authoritative rulings if available.
  • Otherwise, recommend house-rulings which have been demonstrated to be feasible and balanced through actual use at a table.

Answers should not...

  • Suggest untested or hypothetical house-rulings.
  • Suggest adding features such as the find steed spell to the player character.
  • Suggest removing the Shadow Blend feature entirely or nerfing it beyond recognition.
  • Suggest that I am wrong to want to allow a shadow mastiff as a mount.
  • Suggest that I just use the naive answer described above, which I already rejected.

Here again, there are restatements of basic rules like GS/BS, as well as restatements that, in fact, the problem statement described is the one intended. Voters and answerers are not stupid; a reasonably-well-written question will generally get upvoted answers that do actually respect the boundaries stated… or that give extremely sound reasons for not doing so, which are even more valuable. If you got an extremely cogent argument for why, say, shadow mastiffs are a surprisingly bad choice for reasons you had not considered, it is not beyond reason that you, or someone else with a similar problem, might be convinced and decide to do something else.

It's not clear why find steed is a problem. That should be explained, if possible, rather than flatly stated. Similarly, the reasons for wanting specifically Shadow Blend could be expanded on a bit more in cases there's a better way to accomplish those.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tuggy, while I don't disagree that all users "ought to know" a great many need to be reminded or they'll forget ... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: That's what comments are for, not questions. Questions should not contain commonly-applicable site rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tuggy, if more users adopted your attitude, we'd not need to even have this conversation. ;-) Unfortunately, too many do not. For the record, I agree with the point you are making. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: I don't expect all askers to correctly leave out site rules, any more than I expect all answerers to follow GS/BS, or all posters to leave out thanks and sigs. But I do expect all questions to be moderated by experienced users with that aim in mind, and similarly all answers. The fact of imperfection does not require us to accept subpar goals as our only goals. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, I'm with you and am reasonably active in curating questions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 2:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ As one to whom it frequently falls to write reminders to follow basic site rules, I rather appreciate it when the asker takes care of it already. At that point I'm not very particular about whether the reminder is above or below the divider. I'd love if it was always superfluous, and I look forward to that day. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 4:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ We've had a number of questions lately that could have stayed open had they urged answerers to keep with GS/BS. Should it be necessary in some abstract perfect world? No. Is it a good idea to do in the real world we find ourselves in? Yes. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:05

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