After asking this question (Functionally, how does Power Word Kill work?), it was suggested to me in the comments that I may instead want to ask how Power Word Kill compares to other level 9 spells.

I wanted to know if questions of this type are:

a) On-topic - while I am tempted to say yes, since I would classify them as based on game mechanics and the spells tag would seem appropriate for questions of this type, I have been known to be wrong in the past.

b) Sufficiently objective - this is more of my concern. Developing a set of objective criteria for questions of this type may be difficult, especially if the source of the question comes from an attitude along the lines of, "This spell seems really overpowered - compared to other similarly leveled spells, is it?"

Thus, are questions asking "How does spell X compare to other spells of the same level" on topic and sufficiently objective?

If not, are there suggestions for how questions of this type could be reworded, rephrased, or generally adjusted to become on topic? I know, at least for myself, being able to ask questions of this type would be immensely helpful in deciding which spells are worth preparing and which are not (especially at higher levels).


2 Answers 2


The good, bad, and ugly of comparison questions can be found analysed in the Gorilla vs. Shark blog post. They can work well as long as you're specific about the scope of the comparison. That tends to mean specifying these facts:

  • What are we comparing, and what are we comparing it to? (You've covered that here.)
  • On what basis are we comparing it? What traits are you looking at, or what purpose are you looking for?
  • What circumstance are you using it in? What are your limitations?

The question you've described, “How does Power Word: Kill compare to other 9th-level spells?”, would be closed as unclear. It's such a big and vague question we wouldn't know where to start or finish with it. What are you looking for in terms of comparison? All I could respond with is “well, PW:K does what it does, and other spells do what they do, what's the issue here?” which isn't very helpful.

The comment you're referring to suggested asking “Is Power Word: Kill more powerful than other spells of its level?” and that's also too unclear: more powerful at what? If all you need is a glass of water, the Conjure Water cantrip is more powerful; if you need to heal someone, Power Word: Kill ranks pretty close to the bottom of the pile. If you actually need to kill someone, it depends on the circumstance — will they reliably have more than 100hp, and do we get to deal damage to them via other means first, and do they have any restorative powers like the Tarrasque does?

So they can work, but be specific about what you're doing and what circumstances you're doing it in. This hearkens back to the following guidance from our questions to avoid asking help page:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

If you have an actual real practical situation you're dealing with, tell us about that and the decision you need to make between the options you have, and we can probably reliably give you some pretty useful advice. The more theoretical your question gets, the more likely it is to run into Gorilla vs Shark problems.


Its definitely on-topic, and possibly sufficiently objective.

Depends on your wording and the desired answer to the comparison. The main trouble being that nothing upon nothing is broken in a vacuum, it requires a context. In this case, the context needs to be a set of spells that are considered balanced with which to work.

On the other hand, the question needs to be sufficiently narrow to avoid devolving into "compare this with every other spell", cause that's quite outside the target question-type to be answered here.

"Is PW: Kill the most powerful 9th level spell, please provide comparisons" would, imho, be fine, while "How does PW: Kill compare to other 9th level spells" is going to be a subjectivity-fest. Basically, it comes down to this: Can you identify the RIGHT answer on the basis of something other than eloquence and verbosity? If not, its not a good question for this site.


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