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I am a little uncomfortable with some dnd-5e questions. I would guess what I am going to address in this question might be an issue with any other RPG which is still in the process of being updated/improved, but I will restrict myself only to dnd-5e; as it is the most obvious example on the site at the moment.

Please have a look at the following Q&A: Can a weapon be both adamantine and silvered?

The question is reasonable, but the answer is bothering me. The core point of the answer is that there is no current rule which is inhibiting the silvering process to be applied to adamantine weapons. But there is a difference between saying "no rules forbid this" and "yes it can be done".

Now I feel part of the reason why we, the answerers, equate the above two statements is the stance of D&D 5e designers themselves. They try to maintain that the rules are all encompassing, in the sense that if something is not expressly forbidden, it should be doable. However, this is such a bold statement to make: a couple of gaming books cannot cover the laws of an entire fantasy multiverse, the answers to some questions are better left to the gamers themselves. (See this question as a 'trivial' example of why we don't expect that the rules are meant to cover everything about the gaming world, such as basic real-world optics.) One must accept that some things are bound to have been missed by the game designers.

Note that it appears that they themselves occasionally reinterpret the rules as they see fit, but strangely there appears to be a culture of encouraging everyone else to follow RAW strictly. (When I say everyone else, it is really the community here at rpg.se, as I do not follow any other forums.)

Let me illustrate my point with two concrete examples:

  1. https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/629526633683103745 See how Mike Mearls himself implies that the auras of multiple paladins do not stack, but how he is "diplomatically" corrected by Jeremy Crawford. It seems obvious to me that the two of them think (or thought) differently on the topic.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWOsPhKNyPk#t=27m20s See how Jeremy Crawford is "retracting" the possibility of true polymorphing creatures to magic items.

I don't know if anyone else is bothered by this. I feel that if the answers were given in the style of "nothing RAW bars you from doing that", the site would become "more neutral". I just want to know what people (particularly the older residents of the site who might have experienced these sort of things in other games) think. If enough others think similarly, is there anything that can be done to encourage the more neutral style?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I still think this question is worth discussing, but based on answers so far, I gathered that one recommended way of handling these is to add new answers. For the example question that I had mentioned, I decided to give a try to that recommendation so now the example question has a new answer, which is quite similar to the original answer but written in a more neutral language (as far as I could write). We will see how the experiment goes. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 18 '18 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ A little extra note: "encourage" is not the same as "enforce". For example there is a clear statement on how you are "expected" to use downvotes, but a lot of people do not follow that statement. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Feb 6 '18 at 23:20
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As a matter of principle — in terms of what the site is for, how it's been designed, and how it works in practice — we cannot legislate how people answer questions. The minimum and only standard that an answer has to meet is that it be on-topic.

We have different (and complex) standards for questions, but these don't and can't apply to answers. The idea is that if the question is fine then the answers will be too, so we make sure questions are good, and then being on-topic for a good question is all that constrains the answers. This allows more answers to compete more freely for votes, in a marketplace of ideas.

(Besides which, due to that aforementioned design, there is no effective way to enforce an idea of how answers "should" be written, even if the community decided to try.)

That is not to say that we can't encourage answers to be done a certain way, but we can't do it legislatively from meta consensus or moderator fiat. Encouraging answers to be more like what we individually think they should be is the province of voting. We each only have one vote per post, so that influence is limited — but that's by design. Individual opinions aren't what the system cares about, but rather the aggregate of voters' opinions.

So to discourage what you think are bad answers, downvote; to encourage answers that are better constructed and considered, upvote.

On the idea of objectivity/neutrality

There is no special value to neutrality of answers here. To the contrary, we expect answer-writers to actively argue for why their answer is right. How they do that is the answer-writer's prerogative, and we do no prescribe that they do it in any particular way; we definitely don't require or expect some kind of neutral phrasing or (worse) prescribe neutral content. Answer writers can write the answer they want to write.

Regarding objectivity, we don't require that either. We do expect that answers that make statements of fact to support those statements (if those facts need support) with citations or experience (or citations to others' experience). This is a substantial difference from what people mean when they say “objective”. Subjectivity is acceptable here, especially when supported by direct experience that their answer worked. We want answers to contain the judgements of game experts, especially when those judgements are more practically valuable than a commentary-free recitation of what the rules say.

What SE requires is that an answer be well-written and supported; SE does not require that answers are neutral or objective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Point of order though, we can influence answer topicality legislatively. For example, previous metas on questions about designer intent have given us a baseline of "you gotta actually substantiate with the designers' words, or it doesn't work." Those are more pressured applications of our baseline requirements for substantiation & I do feel that you and I as moderators handle questions about designer intent much differently to other questions. So there's definite capacity to influence and legislate answering, but it's almost entirely constrained to application of first principles. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 15 '18 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I see those through the lenses of on- or off-topic answers. The only "why?" design questions that are on topic are ones that are asking what designers have said, so that's the way answer topicality is controlled. I think we interact with those answers so differently not because they're different "legislatively", just that it's so weirdly common for people to insist on submitting off-topic answers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 15 '18 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand this answer, however I wanted to see if there could be an out-of-the-box solution. At the very minimum, perhaps this could be a suggestion to the newcomers? Or perhaps a suggested policy written somewhere that we could quote as comments on answers, to kindly suggest that the poster of good answers consider rewording to make their language more neutral. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 16 '18 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ Why would we want answers to be more neutral? Could you articulate what problem the site has, which might be solved by encouraging neutral answers? I admit I'm not seeing a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '18 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It being 'weirdly common' for people to submit off-topic answers and us deciding legislatively that a commonly thought on-topic thing is, in fact, off-topic are like foot and shoe. It's not necessarily bad to decide to change something about the scope of topicality of the site, provided we do so appropriately, but it's important to recognize that we are doing that and how, when we do it. Also some other "why?" design questions are allowed (e.g. balance-based ones), they're just rarer. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jan 17 '18 at 21:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer To be clear, “why” questions specifically of the sort “why is X designed that way?” is something we used to get a lot of — and they all got closed as Primarily Opinion-Based, because that's what they got answered with. Hence, we have the usual choice when an off-topic question arrives: close, or rewrite to be on-topic for the site (or both, then reopen). So no, we're not legislatively making opinions to fact-based questions off topic — opinions to fact-based questions are prima facie off topic to the Q. And we don't host the questions for which they would be on-topic anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '18 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: The way I see it, neutral answers would better suit the feel of the site. There is an active attempt to reduce opinion-based answers; this implied to me that rpg.se aims to hold itself to a higher standard than others, with either pure-fact-based answers or answers based on actual gaming experience. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 17 '18 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: As a side note, actually one of your own comments to a recent answer I posted was a keen example of this: you did not like what my answer implied, mainly because of my interpretation. It felt like even a "softened interpretation" did not satisfy your expectations (which I respect). Your persistence to remove even that little bit of interpretation was nice; and despite my disagreement with you, it made me rethink what hidden assumptions I hold. As neutral as possible, meaning keeping extra hidden axioms at minimum, would be a good policy, I thought. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 17 '18 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ Ah, I think I see where you're coming from. That sort of “higher standard” meaning is definitely something RPG.se and SE in general aims for. The distinction is that it gets there organically by creating a rules structure that encourages it and discourages its lack, rewarding posts that aim for that higher standard, rather than by making direct rules about it. Compare to the RPG design concept of a “fruitful void”: the site's rules around posts do foster what you're looking for, but not by directly requiring and enforcing it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '18 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: Ok, so I suppose if I am uncomfortable, I should then write my own answer to such questions. It will be more-or-less the same answer, and while I really do not want to write something so similar; I should write it if I feel it would add something meaningful to the discussion. I presume this what you are suggesting when you say it gets there organically, correct? The downside is that since it is a latecomer; and the answer is quite similar, it is unlikely to get many upvotes and rise up. On the other hand, we will accept such eventuality as a necessary evil. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 17 '18 at 23:29
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It's not a matter of either / or

It's both.

But there is a difference between saying "no rules forbid this" and "yes it can be done".

The difference lies in the attitudes and philosophy of the people playing at the table, and the GM. It is beyond this game system's intent to micromanage that issue further in this particular system. Other game systems may have a codification along the lines of "If it doesn't say you can, then you can't" but the D&D 5e game system does not.

It is left up to the discretion of the DM and for that matter the whole table's general approach to the game. Each instance of D&D 5e is somewhat different from each other instance. That's by design.

Therefore, either form of the answer is appropriate if properly supported by evidence and reasoning.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Great coverage, said what I couldn't figure out how to say in fewer words. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 17 '18 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Thank you, however, I still needed to edit that once I read it again, since the flow/prose was kind of clunky. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 17 '18 at 18:09
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If I understand correctly, this is roughly the shape of what you saw: A question was about a grey area in the rules, where the rules appear to permit a thing, but don't explicitly permit it, but don't explicitly forbid it either. Someone answered "yes you can do the thing"; you think that affirmative confirmation was a bit much and would prefer to say "the RAW doesn't forbid doing the thing".

We can't & shouldn't really prefer one or the other though. One person's “yes, you can use Jump to jump up and get a rope” is another person's “yes, you can silver an adamantine weapon.” The same thought and logic process goes into both: it seems reasonably within the bounds of what's permitted, you're doing normal unremarkable things, and the rules don't forbid it.

Imagine if you were asked not to say “you can use Jump to jump and grab a rope” but instead “the RAW doesn't say you can't use Jump to jump up and grab a rope.” You'd be stunned, right? It doesn't need wording like that, does it? Well, it's probably the same thing for the person saying you can silver an adamantine weapon. (D&D has a lot of grey areas, and I hope we agree it would get tiring both to read and write if we presented all our treatment of them as negations of fact, instead of just suggesting you can do it.)

Statements of “you can do the thing” and “RAW doesn't say you can't do the thing” are both valid and have their place. It's subjective judgement when we should use one or the other. The first is used more when it seems perfectly fine and we have no doubts; the second is used more when it seems like it shouldn't be working that way, or is stretching incredulity, or we're just exploring what the rules say without seriously saying it should work that way, and we usually see an implicit or explicit “but...” attached to it. Things you have doubts about, and which stretch incredulity for you, don't necessarily do the same for the person writing that answer however.

Vote your conscience, and if you think the answer is really stretching things then downvote it. If you think you can provide actionable feedback, do so.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the particular example I quoted, I am actually quite uncomfortable as (1) silvering process is published in an earlier material, so it is unlikely that the designers thought about whether it can be applied to adamantine, which is introduced as a metal in a later sourcebook; (2) metals do not necessarily need to make good adhesive contact; for example anyone who does soldering knows that not all materials have the same level of solderability. When the answer says "yes you can", it is making a hidden assumption about the metaphysics of the fantasy world. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 17 '18 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ Naturally authors can't anticipate future content, but that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't be used together. Of course a class in Xanathar's Guide can use a PHB feat, we don't question that — likewise many wouldn't see why we'd question using silver and adamantine together. The rules say you can, therefore the metaphysics must allow it, so that's settled too. Doubts you have about either of those things are, as said, not doubts someone else may share, so they may feel free to just say "yes". As you've done, you're free to leave another competing answer. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 18 '18 at 10:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also bear in mind this is a world where wizards magically summon angels to fight dragons and everyone's swinging around mithril and adamantine and other materials not even existent in this universe. At that point sweating the finer points of our world's metallurgy begins to not seem relevant to many people. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 18 '18 at 10:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ have a look at this question. Note how our world's optics are relevant, even in a setting with darkvision and magical light. This is what I was uncomfortable with the axiom that the rulebooks cover everything. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/62774/… \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 24 '18 at 7:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, and sometimes those rules don't even make any sense at all, and don't work even the way the texts appear to think they work: here's an answer I wrote challenging Pathfinder's light & vision rules as making no sense and being fundamentally invalid. That's a scenario of "make a case for it and see if people agree." \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 24 '18 at 8:45
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But there is a difference between saying "no rules forbid this" and "yes it can be done"

Is there?

It seems to me that equating or not equating these two phrases is a personal judgement. The fact that your personal judgement came down on the other side from the poster(s) personal judgement doesn't invalidate the answer. It just invalidates it for you and those who agree with your judgement, those who agree with the poster(s)' judgement will have no problem with the answer.

Vote accordingly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Look, I am ok with the answer for the particular question. Whether these two statements are equal or not is a kind of judgement, but not a question-specific one. It is a matter of philosophy. I was wondering if people generally agreed with my judgment that these two sentences are not necessarily equal; and I guess most people don't care generally and hence suggest on-a-question-based judgement. That is a position I respect. I just don't think it is optimal. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Feb 6 '18 at 23:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let me try to explain my reasoning why it is not optimal using the particular question as the example. I wrote what I think is a more neutral answer, leaving the decision to the original poster of the question. However the first answer, which just says "yes", is not very different from mine in practical terms; at least not different enough to warrant people to change votes or to change the accepted answer. I myself am mostly ok with the accepted answer, I just want to make it more acceptable to even picky readers like me. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Feb 6 '18 at 23:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not a new problem: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” bartleby.com/73/2019.html \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Feb 6 '18 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ The point being, that even the perfect word for any situation is context dependent - for both the writer and the reader.. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Feb 6 '18 at 23:17
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On top of what @SevenSidedDie has said about answering in general, I want to say something about the answer you are speaking about in particular, and similar answers too.

It is indeed a pretty popular opinion that if rules don't explicitly prohibit you from doing something, you can do it at GM's descretion. If rules give you an option (coating your weapon with silver) and don't restrict it, it is not restricted until your GM says so.

You are right saying this:

a couple of gaming books cannot cover the laws of an entire fantasy multiverse, the answers to some questions are better left to the gamers themselves

When you ask about the game's rules here on RPG.SE, you get an answer about what the rules say. When you ask if using some option provided by the rules in some way is possible, you get an answer if rules directly prohibit such a usage or not.

If your GMing style is strict, or if you simply don't like the option being used in such a way, you can still prohibit it on the grounds that it is not explicitely allowed. The rules and the information in them that you find reinterpreted here on RPG.SE is a mere starting point for you to work with.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't disagree with you. I am just asking: Wouldn't the answers be more objective/neutral if they said "the rules do not bar you" rather than "yes you can do it"? The first is a plain fact, while the second holds a hidden axiom in it. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 17 '18 at 6:56

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