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This one's for @Graham; I'd like to hear some explanations of what Cthulu and other games like it need of the fringe-off-topic/too-localized "trivia" questions we discussed in the question Why did the automobiles and telephones thread close?

I mean, if we're open to including LARP we should at least try and figure out if and how we're boxing out valid needs.

So @Graham and anyone else who feels that these questions are necessary (@Jmstar) I invite you to answer this question and explain what games need this kind of information and how, more intricately: please focus on your needs, not on insisting the questions are appropriate; focusing on the need opens up the possibility of alternative solutions.

Because the reality is, it's true, I'm a DnD gamer and don't understand. But I'd like to :) and we're still in Beta, so what the hell!

So I hope any and all of those users can step up and argue the needs they have which these questions reflect, so that we - as a community - can figure out how to accommodate those needs, or whether the whole thing's out of scope.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't we do this in the linked question instead of opening question #3 on basically the same topic? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 15 '10 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ If this question is to stand (and I think mxyzplk has a valid question here), it might be better phrased as "games with a historical setting". Obviously CoC is the biggest, but several indie games would count (Grey Ranks, Cold War, Montsegur 1244, Roanoke, etc.). Games based on The X-Files, Indiana Jones, Dr Who or even James Bond also have a legitimate need for historical information, and there are probably more out there. Also, it's "Cthulhu", but I don't have editing privileges yet. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk They are related questions but distinct. One is about why a question closed; this is about how certain questions are useful for Cthulhu. They have different answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Hallett I broadly agree, but being specific to "Cthulhu" will probably keep the answers more focussed. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 14:23
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Consider what sort of questions a Stack Exchange would gather if it were the Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games Stack Exchange. There would be mechanical questions about Call and Trail alongside historical questions about how long it takes to get from London's passenger docks to the British Museum by taxi and when the telephone became ubiquitous in America.

The point is that all of those would be on-topic for that SE. And if such historical questions would be on-topic for an SE about Cthulhu mythos–based games, it follows that such questions are on-topic for a SE that is about all roleplaying games, including those Cthulhu mythos–based games.

So here's the heuristic I'm proposing:

  • If a question is on-topic for a specific roleplaying game, it's on-topic for the Roleplaying Game Stack Exchange.

I know you're probably worried about questions getting bad answers because you're worried we're not expert enough in those sorts of questions. I suggest this isn't worth worrying about. For example, few people are expert enough in how Reign's Company rules work to give good answers, too. That doesn't make it off-topic—it just makes it special-interest. Rest assured that the people who are interested in a game will be expert in the things that are relevant to playing that game, whether it's the nuances of social life in Vichy France or the names of obscure pole-arms.

If the question is too hard to answer because it requires expertise we don't have, the system will take care of that for us. We don't need to police such questions. What will happen is that it will be low-voted, and hang around for months (or years). Then someone who is exactly the expert the OP was looking for will discover it, answer it brilliantly, and then the question will have served its purpose.

Essentially, stop worrying and learn to love the voting system. Give the system a chance to do what it does best.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for common sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 19:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Jmstar Nov 15 '10 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Loving the voting system should include some love for close votes and reopen votes should it not? Love the system as a whole, not just the particular parts that benefit one POV. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 19:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pat Nope! There's a reason that close votes are only given to high-rep users. We should know better. What is it that we should know better? Principles like this. Or some other principle. Whichever principles good sense and charity eventually lead us to settle on. Let's figure them out, and then use our Close (and Reopen) votes for Good instead of Chaos. After all, closing is pretty drastic—it limits the input to fewer participants. We should have guiding principles for that. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Seven My apologies, I did not intend to raise your blood pressure. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Nov 15 '10 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie We don't close that many questions. Those of us who voted to close the telephones and cars question did so because we felt it was off-topic for RPG SE. Other people disagreed. No one is right or wrong here; there's nothing "to know better" here and I find that vaguely insulting and a weak way to make a point. Sometimes avoiding Chaos requires pruning, and that's what I believe I was doing. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pat No worries. What I intended to come off as flippantly light-hearted can apparently be read as being irate. My apologies, and thank you for the consideration regardless. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 19:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, does this answer address the question? Note LeguRi specifically asked you to "please focus on your needs, not on insisting the questions are appropriate." \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adam Sorry, I'm really not being clear it seems. I mean, we certainly know better than the 20-rep users who get up-vote privileges. We're a new site, with very strange needs and corner cases. The site system relies on us to close the right questions and the reopen the right ones too, but we have to figure out our principles. Letting it come about organically just from our voting predilections, without this discussion, is not what I mean when I say trust the voting system. That's all. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ That makes sense (re: just voting to close without discussion)! Thanks for clarifying. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adam I think it does. It answers with "CoC and ToC games need the information that would appear on a CoC/ToC-specific Q&A site." It's a "teach to fish" answer rather than a list of fish, giving a heuristic that's easy to both apply, and appreciate (what I think should be) the underlying principle that we're all trying to figure out. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 19:53
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Historical information is useful, in Cthulhu scenarios, for two reasons:

  1. There is an expectation that Cthulhu scenarios are historically accurate. One of the pleasure of playing Cthulhu is playing in a detailed historical world.

  2. Cthulhu scenarios often weave monsters into real historical events.

What's needed, then, is the answer to specific historical questions. The question "At what point in the 20th Century did automobiles and telephones become ubiquitous?" is actually a good example. Imagine I'm running a chase scene, in 1920s New York, I need to know:

  • Are the Investigators likely to have access to a vehicle?
  • If so, is it a car or a horse-drawn carriage?
  • Are the streets jammed with traffic?
  • Are there traffic lights? Will the Investigators need to jump a red light?

Those details do two things: they add flavour and they make a mechanical difference to how the chase plays out.

(For comparison, imagine running a chase scene in 1890s London. There, the Investigators will be navigating horses through crowds of people and flocks of animals. The details matter, both for flavour and for mechanics.)

Note, too, that details like this are surprisingly hard to find. You can find, from Wikipedia, when the Model T was introduced, but not when cars became ubiquitous. So questions like this are immensely useful. As I've mentioned before, the structure of this site supports them extremely well, pushing informed answers to the top.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I would say such a chase in either 19th or 18th century London, is very likely to run into a "lock" (as it was called at the time) of carriages, which thronged the streets in insane numbers. And running through such traffic on foot was extremely dangerous - a wagon of coal that needs four horses to pull it doesn't stop quickly. But that's the very point Graham is making: most people don't know these things (I certainly have a lot more to learn) and they make great additions to any historical game. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not convinced that gamers have the expertise to answer these questions, though. Imagine if I went to the Programmers SE and asked when cars became ubiquitous because I was programming a game about old cars. They'd close my question. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ See my longer answer. Gathering such information is my job as a Cthulhu GM, and it forms a major part of some roleplaying products. The same can't be said for programmers. This analogy is borked. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 18:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adam There is a long tradition (now faded in D&D circles) of gamers being extremely well-read on history. We are, after all, the same demographic which gave rise to the Society for Creative Anachronism. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I don't dispute that, but we're also well-versed in computer programming and World of Warcraft. I don't think this is the place to ask programming or WoW questions, either. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adam Yes, but as this discussion neatly demonstrates, history and roleplaying are directly connected, while programming and roleplaying are connected incidentally at best. We can expect CoC gamers to be very well-read on history. A lack-of-history-experts problem isn't relevant to on-topic-ness anyway, no more than a lack-of-experts-in-other-obscure-games problem would affect the on-topic-ness of questions about those obscure games. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Programming questions might be incredibly relevant to a Cyberpunk game, for example. Also, are you suggesting that history is a special-case, on-topic subject area here on RPG SE? \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Dray Nov 15 '10 at 19:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not really about history. It's actually about the real world, how it is and how it used to be. If someone has a question about an aspect of science or geography or indeed programming that they can show is relevant to their game, I would support asking that as well, subject to the usual constraints. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 21:48
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OK, I like both Graham and Jason's answers, but I'm going to have a go at my own.

  • There is nothing remotely mysterious going on here. Games set in Greyhawk need Greyhawk setting information; games set in 15th century France need information on 15th century France.

  • Cthulhu roleplayers want historically accurate information for their games, which they can then abuse as they see fit. As Jason says, it's about atmosphere and versimilitude

  • I've recently finished a large-scale editorial overhaul of Cthulhu by Gaslight, 3rd edition, most of which consisted of checking on the historical accuracy/plausibility of the information. The biggest single complaint about the preceding editions was that there was too much about Holmes and other fictional settings, and not enough historical background. If gamers are willing to pay for such information and it forms a significant part of Chaosium's business, I don't see how it can possibly be out of the scope of RPG SE.

  • As noted, there are plenty of other games that share this need. I know it's early days for the site, but making people who play such games effectively second-class citizens strikes me as a serious mistake. Shouldn't all games be considered equal in the eyes of SE?

  • There's arguably a stronger need for such background questions for historical gamers than for fantasy gamers. Worlds such as Middle Earth, Greyhawk, Jorune, Tekumel are all highly detailed settings, but at least there is a known limit to canon: certain questions just don't have answers, or at least you have to make your own. In historical gaming, this is very difficult to ascertain. Asking such questions of a large and knowledgeable group is often the only way to discover that your question in fact does not have a known answer. Maybe this is what worries people? I don't think anything will ever match the deluge of D&D-related questions, however.

  • The "trivia" problem should not arise. Examples given earlier such as "what's the 100th digit of pi" hardly seem likely to come up as essential to someone's campaign prep. And if they do, they will be voted down as ridiculous. And there are equally silly questions to be asked in fantasy settings, as should be obvious.

  • However, if a question is so narrow that no-one is ever likely to ask it again, the asker should be requested to broaden it into a question about resources for answering questions of this type, while retaining the specific issue in the wording below for clarity. If they are unwilling to do this, then I would vote to close the question. From what I've seen so far, specific questions often attract answers in terms of resources anyway, which is a Good Thing IMO

  • The questioner should not identify the game they are playing in the question, only in the tags applied (site style). But they should make it crystal clear in the wording that follows what game they are playing, what the actual problem is that they are trying to solve, and what sort of answers would be helpful.

  • A "history" or "historical" tag might well be useful. I don't know enough about tagging on this site yet, however. Or Jeremiah's suggestion of "verisimilitude" would also do nicely.

  • If you don't run games that require historical input, please do not vote to close a question simply because you don't understand it. Leave a comment asking the questioner to clarify why they want to know this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to contradict myself, I see that the "history" tag is being used both for this usage, and for the history of RPGs. This is not good. So perhaps "verisimilitude" is preferable, even if it's not exactly catchy. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 18:23
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Really? OK. If you want an exhaustive list of roleplaying games that would benefit from real-world history I would say all of them. History is an endless pageant of what we as a species tend to get up to and it is always fascinating.

Verisimilitude is fun and cool and a big part of many games that take place within a historical milieu. It's cool to be able to say:

"So we're at the foot of the Pioniatowski bridge, up to our ankles in late summer Vistula mud, and we can see the shabby pavilion of the Warsaw zoo just across the river..."

Or:

"There are three telephones in this town - one in the Mayor's office, one in the hotel, and one in Old Man Potter's mansion. He's the guy with the Ford Model T, the only car in the county, and he wheels around the dirt roads scaring the horses..."

Details like this make the game. Fixing your players in the time and place isn't just fun, it's sort of your job as Keeper in Call of Cthulhu, which is all about atmosphere.

To say these sort of questions are randomly off topic is very disheartening. The notion that "what is the western-most point in Faerun?" is appropriate here but "What is the western-most point in Alaska?" isn't makes no sense.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Verisimilitude is fun and cool and a big part of many games. Agreed. So make the questions about Verisimilitude about gaming and problem solved. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Our minds must work completely differently. \$\endgroup\$ – Jmstar Nov 15 '10 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that old D&D editions encouraged browsing the history stacks at the library. Later editions are almost entirely self-contained. There has been a generation shift—but the important thing to note is that being detached from historical research makes modern D&D the exception. Just because it's the most popular doesn't mean it's the "norm" by which all else should be judged. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 18:00
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These questions are as valuable as those about Faerun or the Yuan-ti. The key is in asking the question in a way that gives an answer (and it needs to be definitive) that can be used at the gaming table. We are, after all, a site dedicated to giving answers that can be used. This is not a discussion forum, it is a Q&A site.

A bad question: "When did automobiles become prevalent?"

The good version: "How would my 1920s call of Cthulu investigators react to distances and what is the best way to ensure that distance is a limiting factor."

The answers are tellingly different here. For the first I get some dates, maybe some social history. Ideally for the second I'll get some meaty gaming bit. Or at least thats how I would hope to answer it.

A bad question: "When do cell phones become prevalent?"

The good version: "For a 1980s conspiracy game what sort of cell phones are available and how should we handle their presence?"

What the other answers are missing, and why I chose to give another rather than commenting is that need to write questions in ways that are game specific and give usable answers. I would be as quick to downvote a question asking about the western-most point of Faerun. We had one early on about the stars and I thought that one was borderline as well. Because it didn't ask for, or receive, answers that could then be turned into good gaming.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That seems like a strange hoop to jump through when what you need to know is "When did automobiles become prevalent?" The end result is the same, but you're asking that we make it deliberately baroque. If it's all about "good gaming", it's a little frustrating that five people with a different definition of same can shut down a fruitful inquiry. \$\endgroup\$ – Jmstar Nov 15 '10 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jmstar Welcome to SE. Seriously though, I think these questions require more thought to be of value, and questions can always be reopened as easily as they can be closed. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ What does asking a question about historical settings that is game-specific bring to the mix? Doesn't it just make harder for other people to find that information in future? There's nothing about the question "What hazards do you face on a street chase in Victorian London?" that's specific to CoC, even if that is the most likely game to be making use of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 16:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hazards in a Cthulu by Gaslight game are different than a Castle Falkenstein game. The answers require the definition. I'd no more accept a generic London question than I would a generic question about "What fantasy stuff can I throw at my players in some generic fantasy city." Good questions are definitive and can provide useful answers. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tagging also makes what we decide interesting. I think I'm good qith a castle-falkenstein tag and a London tag and a Cthulu-by-Gaslight tag. I can then search and order based on those, which helps with similarities. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Nov 15 '10 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm good with tagging the question. That way other people can add tags if it works with their game. What I don't see the point of is limiting it to one game in the text of the question. That's also not in the current SE style, AFAICS. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 15 '10 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that these questions should be kept specific. To me, though, "When did automobiles become prevalent [in a given setting]?" is a specific question. I could answer with a date and a statistic. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Nov 15 '10 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I liked the question about official resources on the Toril night sky. I don't see how it was a bad question, since the stars are vitally important within every known culture. It's reasonable to wonder about this hole in a published setting, and an official star-chart or list of constellations would be directly useful to a Forgotten Realms game. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 15 '10 at 18:06

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