We have a policy that says we never guess the game system someone's playing when we need to know it but it's not clearly stated in the question. Conditions for our site have changed since it was formed (sometime well before 2017) and it's come into question a few times recently by newer members. Now is a good time to take another look at this policy and discuss whether we want to continue with it, modify it, etc.
Current enforcement of this policy is uncompromising almost all the time: don't guess when it's inconclusive even if you feel 110% sure based on multiple signs; let the person clarify because it teaches them how to use our site.
What had us decide on this policy originally?
From what we saw from the site's start in late 2010 up until ~2015 this policy made a lot of sense. If someone was unclear about their game they might be playing AD&D 2e or D&D 3.5e or Pathfinder or D&D 4e or D&D 5e (still brand new and not widely played). It was hard to know for sure (and we could rarely tell 3.5e or PF apart anyway) and fairly frequently something even weirder was going on like:
- They're playing a D&D 3.5e/Pathfinder hybrid, but they're asking us about a mechanic like Polymorph that works differently in both editions, in which case we'd have follow-up questions.
- They're quoting to us D&D 4e or AD&D material but their group plays D&D 3.5e. They just saw a book with “Dungeons & Dragons” on the cover in the game store's second hand shelf and they're super confused about why it doesn't mesh with their group's other rulebooks or character sheets.
- Their group plays a heavily homebrewed custom blend of AD&D 1e and Pathfinder or whatever. Chances are we'd leave this closed: “we can't help you here, you work it out.”
Our guesses were unreliable, and when we were wrong we were really wrong. If we'd reopened based on our wrong guess and were receiving answers we'd then have a huge mess to clean up and several annoyed users. If we were 110% sure we were still often wrong. Guessing was just a huge headache every time and never worth it.
Nowadays this is all much less true
We've seen a convergence on D&D 5e in questions the site receives in the past couple of years. If someone's not clear about their game it's usually D&D 5e. If we have any basis to guess they're playing D&D 5e we're usually right. If they're not playing D&D 5e they're already aware of the importance of being clear about the edition they're playing, so they've specified it. These weird hybrid mix-and-match scenarios rarely come up.
Note that these aren't wild guesses being made: they're not “this person mentioned wizards, it's probably D&D 5e”, but instead educated guesses or inferences made based on the content of the question we do have. Taking the most recent example cited just earlier today, our users' guesses were based on an exact quote and page number from the PHB lining up with the D&D 5e PHB—and those inferences were correct.
The main pragmatic reason remaining to enforce this policy is because it requires people to learn how to use the site before they can get answers.
I've seen dissatisfaction with this rule from many members, especially those whose activity was mostly within the past couple of years, and I'm not surprised based on our recent track record.
What do we want to do from here on out?
So here's the crux of this meta question. We haven't ever seriously re-assessed this policy within the new conditions the site faces, we've just re-affirmed it based on it having already been the policy up until then and working OK.
I'd like us to examine this policy as a community, consider our options and the pros and cons, and work out what we'd like to do from here on. That could be a modification or it could be continuing with the policy exactly as-is, modifying it to be OK with some level of inferences—whatever we choose is valid, but I'd like us to choose it because it's what looks like it should work well for us now in our current circumstances.
Given a fresh look: what do we want the policy here to be? How should we approach the idea of guessing the game system someone's using when it's unclear? If we're OK with some level of inference, what would that be?