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A reasonably common type of question on RPG.SE is "Why does this rule exist" or "why is a rule this way?"

These questions come in several flavors, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • "I hate this rule, someone justify it to me." Sometimes this is just a rant, sometime's it's like the "Sell me on..." questions you find on RPG forums.
  • "I play other games and/or other editions of this game and that rule is different in those other games. Is it really different in this game? Surely it's a mistake."
  • "I am houseruling or otherwise messing around with that rules set because I don't like its current form, but want to understand it more before changing it."

The majority of these questions had historically been closed as opinion-based.

Over the last couple years, answers about rules, especially with regards to D&D 5e, pushed past arguing pure rules as written and started to appeal to "RAI," or "rules as intended". Arguments arose about how "you can't know that" and how such answers are opinion-based, without actual statements from game designers as to the intent behind rules. But in the modern Internet world and especially with the D&D 5e designers, statements and tweets about the reasons behind game design decisions - their intent, how rigidly they are used by the designers, why they are a certain way - are more accessible than ever.

So we decided to try out a guided application of our universal SE norm Good Subjective, Bad Subjective to these questions, and require some kind of documentation about designer intent besides "well it makes sense to me" in these questions and answers. The tag was then applied to these questions as a marker to indicate the required quality bar.

This went kinda roughly. You can see some of the development of this on the many Meta posts on the topic about . Unfortunately, these questions still ended up pulling purely opinion-based answers.

Therefore a couple of weeks ago we asked how to save designer-reasons questions in How do we save designer reasoning questions?. The response was overwhelmingly, rather, to declare them off-topic.

The community found it was not able to effectively moderate these issues as a group and they are burning time and community goodwill disproportional to their value. People found questions that linger unanswered because no designer statements have been found irresistible to answer with opinions instead, and people would argue about their right to post their subjective opinions on these questions despite it being clearly outside our site's standard operating procedure.

So, are questions about the "why" of a rule on topic?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know where this thought belongs--its own post, an answer here, incorporated into the above--so I'm just going to comment it post-it-style to be sure I don't lose the thought: I feel like this is an example of how we fare better when question-posts are used for questions, rather than for dictating the form of answers \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 4 '18 at 2:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ note to future readers (travelers from the past need not read on): the vote-counts here are a little strange because I'd originally posted this "announcement-style," but we later split it into Q&A. So 14 or 15 upvotes on the current question were actually votes on the statement "these questions are off topic." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 7 '18 at 15:38
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No - but...

Questions about rule intent (RAI) are generally off topic.

  • Just asking "why is this rule here/why is it this way" is asking everyone to air their opinion, which is fine on a forum, but is not what we do here.
  • The tag was mostly acting like shorthand, enabling querents to shortcut describing their actual problem;
  • The rampant speculation that a tighter stance on was intended to rein in still proliferated. So its attempt to save intent questions failed.

Given the previous meta How do we save designer reasoning questions?, I'm comfortable saying the community's stance is: questions specifically and solely asking for the intent of a rule are off-topic, even if they require documented designer commentary in their answer.

Designer intent questions are off-topic, but your question might be on-topic.

If you're facing a problem that you suspect the designers may have already struggled with, go ahead and describe your actual problem. (That's usually a pretty good way to have a question fit the site.)

The site prefers questions that marshal its users' expertise. A question asking only about designer intent doesn't marshal that expertise. Further, the site's users have no special way to communicate with game designers.

With that in mind, many questions are really about modifying or understanding existing rules, which is something we can address. Examine carefully the question's premise to see if the question is actually one of the following:

  1. "Why did the designers make this terrible rule?"
    An alternative question that is better suited to the site is a well scoped homebrew question like What impact will it have on the game if this rule is changed in this way?
    Keep in mind that the site frowns upon rants disguised as questions. And that homebrew questions of this sort also require cited experience in their answers; many of those get closed too when people can't resist giving their "I've never tried it but I like it/don't like it off the top of my head" answers.

Good examples might be "What unbalancing effects should I watch out for if I remove the need for material components for spellcasting" instead of "Why the heck do people need material components anyway that's really fiddly, right?" Or "Would a bard that didn't need to play an instrument to activate their powers be overpowered?" instead of "Why does my bard have to have an instrument?"

  1. "Is this rule's outcome intended by the game's designers?" or "Is this the RAI for this rule?"
    An alternative question that is better suited to the site is
    Have I been using this rule correctly? or
    Is there a different way to implement this rule that yields different results I'd prefer?

Keep in mind that designer statements are a perfectly fine thing to include in an answer! Information from the game designers can help us with all kinds of real problems in our games. But "I disagree with the game designer" is not one of those.

As a corollary, we will be retiring the [designer-reasons] tag as a "trap" like we did with .

Going forward, we ask that you:

  • Kindly comment on new that these are recently-off-topic questions with a link to this meta.
  • If you've the time, gently try to guide a querent into asking about their core problem, instead. I just saw it happen today, and it was pretty nice to see in action: I think the final question is a better resource for the site to be serving up, personally.
  • Be patient with users who may bump up against this. You, reading this, are part of the 1% of registered users who visit meta; registered users are only a few percent of those who view mainsite pages. The vast majority of people who will see these questions, see them get closed, see confused comments and edits... have no idea what's behind it all.
  • Refrain from any campaign to root out and close old questions. (It's unnecessary as churn will get us there, and we should stay open to the possibility that in a few weeks someone comes along with a brilliant perspective/solution that nobody engaged in the last meta thought of.)
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Those who down-vote: I think it would be beneficial to leave a comment explaining why. The intent of this answer is to be normative and encapsulate the community consensus that was reached before (rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7914/…). If you object to this answer, your feedback might help improve it. (Sorry if I'm speaking out of line, mxyzplk.) \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder May 7 '18 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder Okay. I downvoted this because it's wrong (topicality has nothing to do with this) and it fails to address the question, which is only tangentially about designer reasoning questions. Furthermore, it conflates questions about 'why' with questions about designer reasoning, which is a serious and prolific problem with the way some users think about these things. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer May 7 '18 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I think you misunderstand. The point of this is that we are indeed declaring these questions off topic. They are 'within site scope' - like game-recs or many other kinds of question - but given what's gone on, we are declaring, not describing, them as off topic. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 8 '18 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore, it's not 'conflating' why questions with designer-reasons. The entire point behind the designer-reasons tag etc. was an attempt to make "why" questions fit the site scope. That failed - not the designer-reasons tag or something, but our attempt to make RAI questions work here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 8 '18 at 0:50
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Yes, they are on topic, but they should be closed anyways

They are (mostly) on-topic but the problem is that they unclear, because 'why' is ambiguous when used this way in English. When asking why, a querent may in fact mean:

  • For what reason did the designers put this here? (actually, this is still ambiguous, but whatever, we've thrown out the whole bathtub full of 'em)
  • For what reason should I leave this rule here?
  • What purpose does the rule serve in the larger framework of the system?
  • What, historically, led to the prevalence of rules like this in systems like this at the time this system was made?
  • This rule should not be here (the question is rhetorical).
  • What principally leads players/GMs/designers to think that this thing is reasonable, given that it seems prima facie unreasonable and furthermore is, in fact, unreasonable?

And probably several other things as well. These questions are not categorically off-topic; of the 6 examples listed 1 (the non-question) is actually off-topic, 1 (the designer intent question) is no longer permitted because of issues entirely unrelated to topicality, two (What does this do in larger system context? What makes people think this works when it obviously does not work?) are usually closed as opinion-based, but really shouldn't be, and two are rare but usually well-received (History, why shouldn't I change this?), except when 'why shouldn't I change this?' is a chameleon homebrew question.

In conclusion, these are almost never off-topic, but should nonetheless be closed until it's clear what they are asking.

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Yes, they are on topic and should be left open.

Designer intent can be found on blogs, interviews, lectures, conference presentations, and more.

This logic of restricting designer questions is flawed. "The site prefers questions that marshal its users' expertise. A question asking only about designer intent doesn't marshal that expertise."

Asking for designer's intent marshals the expertise of the community across all the resources above. Active users like SevenSidedDie have given answers with eloquent insights into designer intent.

One of the most powerful ways to find difficult to find information is to crowdsource a community. Given the size of this community and depth of their expertise reading those resources listed above, this community may be very well one of the only reasonable ways to find answers to these designer-intent type questions.

This does not address the issues of moderating those questions which one could posit is a separate issue from whether the questions are on or off-topic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with the other responses saying these questions often attract bad answers, this response is the main thing I feel I'd miss from the shuttering of the tag. This site is full of people who pay a lot of attention beyond just the rulebooks of the games- I don't know of a community more well versed in the meta discussions around the games featured here. I feel like we have a unique level of being able to find or recall far-flung designer interviews about niche game rule/design topics that I'm a bit sad to see go, even if there are valid reasons to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind May 29 '18 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ In theory they could marshal that expertise, and they sometimes have in the past — but the prompt for this meta was the tipping over from sometimes to rarely marshalling that expertise, and wondering if we could fix them somehow. If in practice they don’t marshal that expertise, and rather draw ten times as many opinions, how can we avoid closing them as being reliably Primarily Opinion-Based in actual experience? A solution to that would be great! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 29 '18 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that designer intent questions require expertise, and this site has that expertise, but historically moderation issues have been sufficient to declare something off-topic--see game recommendations, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Jun 2 '18 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is missing that the moderation concerns are not “a separate issue from whether the questions are on or off-topic.” The entire issue with the designer-reasons tag is that the moderation issues that keep coming up and there seems to be no solution for. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 4 '18 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I wish these were on topic in the abstract as well, but once the community proves it can’t behave itself in a certain area - as my father says, “wish in one hand and poop on the other and see which one fills up first.” \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 5 '18 at 13:47

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