I feel as though I've seen a lot of new-member questions that are (not that surprisingly) less than amazing, and therefore get close votes. I think that's pretty logical, and usually the close votes are accompanied by well written, friendly and constructive comments welcoming the new user and helping them to see how to improve their participation in rpgstackexchange.

What seems less helpful, though, is that their progression to more fully qualified members can be slowed, reducing their interest in persevering, when their question is downvoted, as this reduces their reputation.

I wonder - would it be effective to "shield" new members from reputation hits based on downvotes of their first question? Give them a little extra grace to work out what we're about here before sending them backwards? Or am I misunderstanding how this works so far?

  • \$\begingroup\$ the 'feature-request' tag is for requests to change the system/software that powers the stack, so I've gone ahead and removed it \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's noteworthy that new members are protected against reputation hits and don't go backwards - they start with 1 rep and can never have less than 1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman - didn't realise that. Good to know. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 - wouldn't adding a feature that stops downvotes on first (or the first couple) questions from affecting members fit this description? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, maybe dupe: Can we improve the way we treat newcomers? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 8:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman aah.... I misunderstood. I'd read this as asking us to promote a practice of not downvoting people's first question, rather than as a software block against it. Putting the tag back on. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 12:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @nitsua60, and it was kinda both. I'm interested to know what reasons there are for not having something like that, as well as discussing what we can do (potentially including such a feature) both as a site and a community. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to add something important: even if the question (that is actually really bad) is heavily downvoted, if the downvotes are nicely explained and if you notice that they are only targeted at the bad question, the person who wrote the bad post can have a chance to improve. If they choose not to fix their writing, sadly, it's their problem. All we can do is to provide 1) A warm welcome via comments on their posts 2) Good feedback about improving their posts. :) Sometimes the system benefits more from dropping some people rather than keeping them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 23:46

4 Answers 4


"We" apparently can't, but individuals can.

On a given occasion, any individual who provides close votes, down votes, or comments on a new user's question can choose to engage in a warm and personable style. There is no policy requiring that yet, even though the churn currently going on at SE.META on "how to be more welcoming" and the draft "code of conduct" may result in an adjustment to that. There is also no policy against that, with the caveat that using the standard tools is still necessary for the stack to function as intended and designed.

The down vote is a standard form of communication across the SE network that has an intended purpose. For a question, that purpose is to say this as a minimum:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear, or not useful

Call it a form of shorthand, if you like. Until SE-writ-large decides, after the above mentioned churn, that it no longer wishes for the down vote to communicate that message, it is a standard and approved response to a question that displays those shortcomings.

It was stated quite clearly by a diamond mod that encouraging users to treat the new user as being as important as their question, to approach a new user's question while keeping in mind their being a human being behind the screen name, is to operate against the SE model.

... misunderstand the point of RPG.se — we are not supposed to treat questions as people, we are to treat them as questions. The decades-long goal of RPG.se is to curate good answers to questions. Helping people is the method, not the goal, of getting a good database of posts.

That's an excerpt; see the detailed comments stream under this meta answer and these particular comments if you are interested: 1 , 2 and 3

Nobody can stop you from engaging in a warm and human style if you choose to do so. I cited in that meta both DuckTapeAl and HeyICanChan as two good examples of that, but many others are likewise inclined. It takes some effort, and a bit of time to do that. What anyone can do is decide if the time to do that is worthwhile. One still must remember to use the tools provided to achieve the objectives of SE: good-to-excellent answers to good, properly scoped questions. It's the stack of good-to-excellent answers that gives any SE site its value.

"We" apparently can't, but you (and anyone) can.

Go with your gut, and lead by example if you are so moved. Leadership by action is quite often effective. Don't look for a policy change any time soon.


I wonder - would it be effective to "shield" new members from reputation hits based on downvotes of their first question? Give them a little extra grace to work out what we're about here before sending them backwards? Or am I misunderstanding how this works so far?

You probably have misunderstood something. This thing you're describing here ...

their progression to more fully qualified members can be slowed [...] when their question is downvoted, as this reduces their reputation.

... isn't a problem but a feature. It is in fact exactly how things are meant to work.

Site privileges can be destructive in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use them well or who doesn't understand how our site works. This is why they're gated behind incremental reputation barriers: you can only progress through them by contributing good quality content over time and demonstrating you understand how our site works. Over time you also see and learn how things like comments, edits, and closures and reopens work.

When someone doesn't understand how our site works, or is contributing low quality material, they are not yet ready for those privileges. They are also (not coincidentally) probably picking up some downvotes. This has the result of slowing down their progression toward privileges for which they aren't yet ready. If a user obtained those privileges anyway, they may cause trouble, and I or one of the other diamond mods would have to step in. I'd prefer they slow down and learn more over us having to do that.

So there won't be shields against downvotes and rep loss for new users. We need those mechanisms, both for the protection of our knowledge base, and for the protection of the new users themselves.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, but you've included in your quote of my question "reducing their interest in persevering" which was kinda the point. I understand the concept of slowing progress for people who don't get it, but I'm not suggesting giving them free reputation; rather stopping them from losing it immediately, and removing potentially great question creators from our pool... I don't think I have the answer, exactly, but I feel like this warrants further discussion/more formal procedure... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 23:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Whoops, I've omitted that bit then. We can't control how they respond, but that doesn't mean we don't still hold off on giving them the keys to the car. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 6:05

One if the biggest things to remember is that down voting is only seen as a negative thing.

There have been many posts discussing this already, across lots of the stacks sites, about dealing with the "negative impact" of downvoting on new posts, as well as potential "fixes" such as forcing a comment to explain why you downvoted.

However, none of that is really necessary, as the system is purely logical, and there is plenty of explanation to go along with how the system works. The downvote button even has a tooltip:

Poor quality or not useful.

This is pretty self explanatory. If a post gets downvoted, especially a post by a new user, they're being told that their post isn't useful, or is pretty poor quality. We can then help further by leaving a comment, explaining exactly how they can improve it, but again, these comments are often paraphrasing the "How to ask" section of the site tour.

That said, yeah, it's always a bit of a kick in the gut when you get a downvote. We're only human. But after all I've already mentioned, the system is in place to incentivize users to improve and do better; and when/if they do, downvotes can be retracted, and even changed to upvotes. Removing that functionality to protect their pride completely goes against its intended purpose.

As for "protecting new users", well, unfortunately that opens up a lot more problems. Firstly, what determines a "new user"? Number of posts? Time on the site? Reputation? These things can be used to determine a "new user", but it's not overly definitive. There's always going to be people who slip through by not being overly active, have a few posts that have all received votes, both up and down, keeping them in that low threshold, but still have been a member for at least a year. The logic is not really something that can be defined.

And ultimately, changing user privilege is a system-wide thing, not just relevant to us.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't a combination of [Less than 6 weeks as a member] and [Less than 3 questions asked] give a pretty good baseline? If you've been around for more than 6 weeks AND have asked 3 or more questions, you've either seen/asked some bad questions or have demonstrated that you know how to ask a good one. Obviously nobody asks poor questions on purpose, so there will never be a way to ensure nobody ever does, but I'm aiming for a feature that would help us get more questions, and higher quality ones. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman A standard response to your proposed probationary period is that the SE universe does not want bad habits to develop early in terms of site use. I've been advised that for all of the help, FAW, and tour information, few (new) users avail themselves of those tools. The SE model puts a larger burden on the asker than a lot of other formats, since it's base assumption is that one is looking for an answer that can't easily be figured out by doing a little of your own work. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacReefman FWIW, at the FAQ there are some links on how to ask questions the smart way and writing the perfect question that encapsulate a lot of the philosophy behind why SO/SE became what it is. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 17:01
  • The purpose of Role-playing Games Stack Exchange site is to help people who have questions about role-playing games. All else (policy, rules, the XP system) is a servant to that goal.
  • New users are often unaware of site policy. The Internet has an old tradition of old users encouraging newbies and educating them in netiquette, a term for the politeness and social traditions of an online community. Emphasis mine:

When someone makes a mistake – whether it's a spelling error or a spelling flame, a stupid question or an unnecessarily long answer – be kind about it. If it's a minor error, you may not need to say anything. Even if you feel strongly about it, think twice before reacting. Having good manners yourself doesn't give you license to correct everyone else. If you do decide to inform someone of a mistake, point it out politely, and preferably by private email rather than in public. Give people the benefit of the doubt; assume they just don't know any better. And never be arrogant or self-righteous about it. Just as it's a law of nature that spelling flames always contain spelling errors, notes pointing out Netiquette violations are often examples of poor Netiquette.

My personal policy:

  1. Don't downvote a newbie below zero. Most new users are acting in good faith, and merely aren't aware of the site's various rules yet. Downvoting their first question may be perceived as hostile.
  2. Don't downvote in general without commenting why. If the user knew why their answer was bad, they probably wouldn't have made that answer. Something obvious to you might not be obvious to that user.
  3. Don't vote to close without commenting why. The site will come off as arbitrary and unfair to newbies if we cannot help them to understand why their question was rejected.
  4. Answer even obvious questions. I often see questions downvoted because it's such a newbie question that the player could have found the answer simply by reading the Player's Handbook, or by googling. But the first hit on Google for a question often is this site. Further, what's obvious to experts isn't always obvious to every newbie.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The first sentence is right that all rules derive from our fundamental purpose, but it is critically incorrect what the fundamental purpose is. RPG.se is not a help site. It's a Q&A site. The goal is not to help people—helping people is a side effect of our actual purpose. The goal is to build a curated, scored database of quality answers to problems, for the benefit of future readers. All else is subservient to that purpose, especially voting. For more, see a founder's essay: “Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand”. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 23:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ For example, downvoting obvious questions is super duper 100% important. Not downvoting obvious questions accomplishes the opposite of what the voting system is supposed to accomplish: giving each post an accurate score reflecting its usefulness to others. (Qs with obvious answers are inherently of low use to others.) There are similar flaws with the other points in the personal policy, but that one really stands out. That said, it's fine to have a personal policy like that (it takes all kinds to run this site), but it's useful to not have misconceptions about the effect of the policy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps I should instead say: The user's goal is to get an answer to their question. Many users show up to RPG.SE with a question and have it closed or put on hold for not meeting the stringent requirements of the site's database of quality. Requests to refactor questions are common: to limit its scope to one campaign setting, or to rephrase it to sound less opinion-based. My concern is that in holding questions to such a high standard for the future, we're gatekeeping newbies and failing to answer many problems people have right now. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, gatekeeping, yes we are. Our rules are designed to provoke powerful self-selection responses from new users, to better sort new users into those who can help the project and work with its goals from those who cannot and will drain it of resources. We also have zero concerns about losing out on questions. Have you read the essay yet? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 23:26

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