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As in individual games rather than the game system itself.

A recent question, What is this story I recall about an extremely long ever-changing character backstory?, had the following comment discussion (that really should have been a meta discussion instead guys):

10 I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because RPG.SE is not a "find this random anecdote somewhere on the Internet" service. – Oblivious Sage 23 hours ago

@KorvinStarmast If someone posts a sufficient description of the book, or better yet a picture of the cover, then we can identify that book with 100% certainty. There are countless RPG anecdotes on the Internet, though, so there can't ever be a "best" answer. Also, an RPG book is an RPG, whereas an anecdote merely happens to involve RPGs. What's next, a question along the lines of, "I think I saw a movie one time, it was a sci-fi movie, and there was this one scene where some random guys were playing D&D or something then got attacked by a monster. What movie was that?" – Oblivious Sage 22 hours ago

1 @ObliviousSage If that Comment ended instead with What adventure were the random guys playing? would that be okay? – Hey I Can Chan 22 hours ago

@HeyICanChan Assuming it contained the actual name of the movie in question then yes. Because it's a question about an RPG that happens to involve an anecdote, rather than a question about an anecdote that happens to involve an RPG. – Oblivious Sage 22 hours ago

@HeyICanChan To put it another way, "Identify/locate X" is only on-topic if X is itself an RPG; including RPGs in your description of X to try to help us identify it does not make the question about RPGs. – Oblivious Sage 22 hours ago

19 @ObliviousSage Huh. I dunno. That sentiment seems rather… elitist? Exclusionary? Although still developing, RPG culture already has important anecdotes that serve as touchstones for concepts, issues, and problems within the community, and we — as part of that culture — should expect and encourage new ones to develop. They have value. Especially if a user's new to the scene it seems unfair — perhaps even unkind — to deny a user who's interested the Head of Vecna or the Dread Gazebo just because such stories are about an individual's campaign rather than about an RPG generally. – Hey I Can Chan 22 hours ago

1 @HeyICanChan Users should be gently encouraged to share their anecdotes, and questions about anecdotes, in chat. The site itself should be reserved for questions that more definitively on-topic. If that approach occasionally excludes questions that have value then that's OK. RPG.SE does not exist to meet every need the RPG community might have; that's why we direct people to forums when they have questions that would work better in that format. – Oblivious Sage 22 hours ago

1 Speaking of, SeanFromIT, feel free to hop into Role-playing Games Chat, where we would be delighted to swap stories about hilarious, amazing, or otherwise interesting things that happened while playing RPGs (even if they only vaguely involve RPGs!). – Oblivious Sage 22 hours ago

8 @ObliviousSage I am comfortable with saying that I think this question is definitively on-topic and that asking about important or potentially important gaming anecdotes here rather than in chat (where an answer may not be forthcoming or where a user doesn't feel entirely comfortable or welcome) or on a forum (where wading through guesswork is the norm) is perfectly appropriate. I totally respect your right to disagree with my opinion, though. – Hey I Can Chan 22 hours ago

15 The question is answerable, and has only one right answer. Further, it is almost certainly already answered correctly by guildsbounty. Old Man Henderson is as much an RPG touchstone as Tuckers Kobolds, and questions about them would unquestionably be on topic. (My opinion, but strongly held) – fectin 20 hours ago

3 Thanks for not deleting! First post in this StackExchange and you guys nailed it. I asked knowing it might be flagged, after spending an unacceptable amount of time searching and not finding it among decades of D&D anecdotes on the Internet :-) – SeanFromIT 16 hours ago

...and then a bunch more comments from people who should have upvoted another comment instead of reposting what is substantively the same point as a previous comment.

In any case, this is something we should, as a community, decide. Are questions about individual groups' home campaigns on topic here? What about specifically questions about identifying a particular group's campaign? Many campaigns were not documented in any form and do not have any wider significance past their participants, but then again many campaigns are documented and many campaigns, documented or not, have a wider significance with respect to RPGing as a whole or even society at large.

What do we want our policy on questions asking about home campaigns to be, and more specifically what should be done with questions about identifying a home campaign or an aspect of a home campaign?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good and important question, but I think the title could be clearer/less leading/less clickbaity. Maybe "Are questions about specific stories from RPG culture/history on topic?" or something? \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Apr 25 '17 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I tried to do something with the title and the ambiguous meaning of “RPG” in the body. How's it look? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 25 '17 at 23:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Looks good to me! \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Apr 25 '17 at 23:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm... I use 'RPG' to refer to that: 'campaign' refers to the plotty module-y stuff, like, a home 'campaign' would be the parts of the RPG that would be in the module if the game was being run from a module. The 'RPG' is the whole thing and I don't think we really have another word for that... \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand its also the name of our site, which makes having it be not-leading hard. Do any of you have a good word for this? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 6:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer There is unfortunately no single word for this. “RPG” is definitely not it — unless there are pockets of speakers who use it in the sense of “I'm playing in JillDM's RPG — no, not one she designed, just the current game she's running”, it's not a meaning of “RPG” I've seen attested outside this Q. Much more common is “I'm playing in JillDM's campaign”. The difference between the published campaign book-object meaning and a group-playing-activity meaning made up by that GM is almost always obvious from context, but here adding “home” campaign is the best I could come up with. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 26 '17 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie In my community's parlance you would probably say "I'm playing in Jill's game". 'Game' is used preferentially for this anywhere the 'RP' part of RPG is already established. So: "What are you doing Thursday?" "I'm playing that RPG that Jill's running" , but: "How'd the RPG Jill ran turn out?" "Pretty good. I don't really care for that system, but it was still definitely a good game." \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie quite possibly this is a 'pockets of speakers' thing, though. The extended community with which I have a shared RPG nomenclature now consists of at least 48 people, but 45 of those people got started RPGing with this group and so much of our terminology may be specific to the groups of shared descent with which I am familiar. There are only 4 of us that take an online interest in RPG discussions (that I'm aware) so there may be an insulatory effect. e.g. BBEG isn't a term I had ever heard before encountering it here and it's still not a term the group is familiar with. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Both those examples make it clear that those are instances of use of an RPG system, so not ambiguous. That's a bit different from the usage in the title we had before (“Are questions about RPGs on topic?”) and uses in the body (“What about specifically questions about identifying a particular RPG?”, “What do we want our policy on questions asking about RPGs to be, and more specifically what should be done with questions about identifying an RPG or an aspect of an RPG?”), which were unambiguously saying “RPG system itself” and needed lots of mental rewriting to read otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 26 '17 at 19:45
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This question should 100% definitely be on topic, but that doesn't mean every story-identification that has anything to do with RPGs should.

One heuristic I've seen referenced on a few meta posts for topicality is, "Would this question receive more useful answers from a community of RPG experts than anywhere else?" The answer to that for the linked question is "Yes, absolutely."

The Old Man Henderson story isn't just a random story that happens to have an RPG in it. It's a piece of role-playing lore, passed around and linked by communities like this one. It's spawned community in-jokes like the Henderson Scale of Plot Derailment, has its own TVTropes entry, and gets referenced in threads like this one.

Because of this, I immediately recognized the question as about the Henderson story upon reading it, and was partway through writing an answer to that effect when guildsbounty, who also immediately recognized it, posted theirs. This sounds like strong evidence that RPG experts were highly qualified to answer this question!

In short, this question isn't just "an anecdote [that] merely happens to involve RPGs", it's a question about role-playing history and culture.

So, my proposed policy on such questions would be: If the question is about a story that's sufficiently related to role-playing as a hobby that RPG experts are uniquely qualified to answer it, it's on topic. If the story just happens to incidentally mention an RPG (like ObliviousSage's movie example from the chat), it's off-topic.


@Miniman brings up an excellent point in the comments, which is that the approach outlined in this post doesn't tell you whether a question is on topic or not until it's been answered. This is obviously a problem and I'm not sure how to deal with it. Questions about that one time my friend's cousin told me about something awesome they did with a lute probably won't improve the site, but at the same time it seems ludicrous to me that questions about mainstays of RPG oral history like Henderson or Tucker's Kobolds would be off topic.

My upvote finger is ready to click on any answer that comes up with a good solution to this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for correctly identifying that it isn't an anecdote that happens to involve RPGs. Also, the links you show seem like they would enhance the answer being talked about. Have you thought about answering the question yourself, or at least editing them in? \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Apr 25 '17 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain guildsbounty's answer already includes the main link for the Old Man Henderson story on 1d4chan; the rest seem like they're mostly relevant to establishing that the story is a big deal in RPG culture (which is important in the context of this meta question, but not really part of the story identification question on the main site). \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Apr 25 '17 at 22:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ At what point does an anecdote go from "personal story" to "RPG History"? \$\endgroup\$ – inthemanual Apr 25 '17 at 23:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this is that you're saying "some questions of this type are on-topic and some are off-topic", which is fine, but there's no way to determine which until we see the answer. Questions are supposed to be judged on their own merits. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 25 '17 at 23:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman except that we admit the possibility that our on-spec judgment of a question might be fallible, and that seeing answers may inform our understanding of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '17 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @THiebert I'd say that as a matter of Stack Philosophy we don't actually need to answer that question ahead of time. The exact boundary for topicality in this direction can emerge from experience and adjudication, it doesn't need to be legislated. (It can also evolve over time: we can be permissive at one time, realize it's causing problems, and rein it in.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '17 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman We close questions when an otherwise good question, receives bad answers \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Apr 26 '17 at 2:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think a reasonable measurement of "noteworthy enough" would be "would someone, who was not involved, and does not know anyone directly involved, still be able to answer this?". Incidentally, the mere fact that someone is asking about it then proves it's noteworthy enough, because they must've heard about it despite not being directly involved (or they would've asked someone directly). \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Apr 26 '17 at 10:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Unless the person asking just overheard in the hall at school and is asking the Internet for details about Bill From Down the Street's campaign, in which case it can be asked about, yet is obviously not noteworthy. So that logic is mostly good, but not perfect. However, in that case it would be a) obvious to us that it's Too Localised (which is still a reason we can close, we just have to use a custom off-topic reason), and b) really unlikely that we'll actually get such local-interest-only questions like that. In practice, I imagine we'll have few cases that aren't clear. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 26 '17 at 15:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ See my answer below for a different approach that bans this type of question but proposes a way to edit questions about notable topics (such as Old Man Henderson or Tucker's kobolds) into a state that makes them a better fit for the site. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 26 '17 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage I like the approach you describe; leaving this here for voting options/posterity. \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Apr 26 '17 at 20:12
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I don't think we should allow this sort of question.

As I described in the comment chain the dark wanderer helpfully reproduced in this question, I don't think requests to identify/locate anecdotes on the Internet should be on-topic.

We should come up with a different approach (see below) for the few anecdotes that are clearly notable enough, and forbid anecdote location/identification questions in general so that we can easily avoid a slippery slope of deciding notability.

This particular question is salvageable, though!

Someone who recognized the content the asker was looking for could have edited the question to be "Who is Old Man Henderson, and why is he relevant to RPG history?" They could then have given an answer that not only includes a link to the anecdote in question but also explained the cultural impact of Old Man Henderson in the RPG hobby.

This approach has two benefits. First, it creates a much more "google-able" question, making it easier to find for other people who are curious. Second, it provides more information about the notable anecdote beyond just, "Here's where you can find it."

For another example, see the edit history for this question, which was originally something along the lines of "I think I once saw a ranking of 3.5 classes by power, can somebody link me to it or make a new one for me?" The question was edited into "What are tiers, and what tier is each class?" by someone who knew what the asker was looking for (me, in this case), resulting in a question that is vastly more beneficial to the RPG.SE community.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is an approach to this kind of question that I can support. I do think that, for everyone's benefit and to ease locating important RPG anecdotes in the future, such questions that start as broad and vague identification questions be edited to also ask Why is this important? rather than closing them because they're initially phrased as only seeking a pointer rather than analysis. You're totally right that your proposed revision to the question mentioned above would've made the question so much better. (Maybe I should pose such a question just to see how things shake out?) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 26 '17 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I may ask that question just to have it out there. If we do get such a question, the original identification question should probably be closed as a dupe. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 26 '17 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I posed a question on a different subject yet in the same vein. Let's see how it goes. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 26 '17 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your reasoning is sound. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 26 '17 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. Editing the question in the way you proposed changes the authorial intent in the Q. They did not know who Old Man Henderson was to begin with. In this approach, you must first know the answer to the question so that you can edit it into the question. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Apr 27 '17 at 4:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain If the anecdote at hand is sufficiently notable then someone will know what the asker is referring to and be able to edit the question; if not then the question deserves to be closed, even by the standards of the other proposals here. The author's intent is preserved because they want to know want to know what the anecdote is and where to find it, and that info will still be contained in the question and/or good answers to it after the edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 27 '17 at 12:17
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Yes, they're on-topic.

As mentioned in the help center they concern "RPG adventures and campaigns."

As a second piece of evidence pointing toward topicality, they certainly pass the rule of thumb presented in the same help-center page:

Would an RPG expert give me a better/different/more specific answer to this question than a Historian, Geographer, etc?

Two further considerations:

Notability is not anythig we have to worry about: the Stack will take care of it.

If a question concerns a notable campaign/character (OMH, Tucker's Kobolds) it'll get answered correctly and quickly, as in the case that spawned this question. If voters think that sort of information/reference is useful to add to the site qua repository of RPG knowledge, it'll garner upvotes, too.

If a question concerns a not-very-notable campaign it probably won't get an answer very quickly. It probably also won't get many upvotes. It may even garner downvotes, along the "this question is not useful" criterion. (As in "I think it's not useful for the site to have this specific Q+A as part of the database.")

They do no harm, in small numbers.

How many of these things do we really expect to get, anyway? If we start seeing one a day come across our bow, you'll have me in the "shut it down" camp. But these questions (IME) pop up at the once-per-month level, at most.

In summary: vote your conscience.

If you think the site will be polluted by the presence of questions like this, vote to close them as off-topic. (And post a really convincing answer here as to why they should be categorically off-topic.)

If you think they add something to the site, upvote them. Answer them. If a particular one is closed and you think you have a good answer that demonstrates how the question's good, too, bring that to meta.

We don't need to have perfect bright-line rules ahead-of-time on every category of question. When we have enough experience with a category to draw a line, we can do that. And when we don't, we can simply take them as they come, and be transparent in our reasoning.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not okay with VTCing because of unsubstantiated fears about the future with 0 meta backing. Downvote it maybe, but don't VTC something as off topic if you don't actually believe it's off topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I agree with everything you say here, but I'm not sure that's what's at issue. I hear some people saying "we should sometimes vote something off-topic because we anticipate the answers it'll get aren't the sort we want on the site." That strikes me as a perfectly fine principle on which to decide topicality--what stuff do we want the site to have. I just think that this category is soooo small that we should (as with all categories) lean toward topicality until we've got a large enough sample to say "these are a problem" rather than "these may become a problem." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '17 at 11:30
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To me, this question reads as a Story Identification question, rather than a Product Identification question. IMHO, this should be off-topic for this particular site. Sure, it's fun to read such stories, but I think allowing people to ask Story ID on this site would detract, rather than add, to the quality of the site.

Also, the story elements in that question are SUPER vague. It's not a good question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm the one who tagged it [product-id]: in my mind it's a "second-party product" that's (obviously) well-enough known to ID it. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '17 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ What? I tagged it [product-id] too! \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '17 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I removed it in between one of you tagging it as such because it didn't really seem to me to be a "product". We seem to use that tag for actual sold items or something like that; hence also having (separately) content-identification for identifying material inside books. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '17 at 11:11

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