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For example in this question about damage when falling/diving into water in 5e, where it seems utterly clear there is no RAW, is there a way to query for an acceptable way of handling this that is neither a "shopping question" nor an "opinion-based" question?

I'm interested not just for this falling-in-water example but for all questions in general that are like this -- is there a template that works for the stack? A couple of possibilities I have been considering:

  • Propose a specific way of handling it and ask "Is this balanced?"
  • Construe it as a "gm-techniques" question of how to run a game most prudently when things like this come up in the campaign scenario.

Or is there a better way (any way) to ask the question that will not collapse into opining/shopping?

Note that I am not talking about rare "edge cases" (things that will almost never happen) -- I take it, for example, that jumping or diving or falling in water is common enough in adventuring that it is a reasonable expectation of players that their GM have ready-to-hand a clear and consistent manner of dealing with it. It is precisely the relative commonness of the thing that makes me inclined to think there should be some way to make the question appropriate to the stack.

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In theory, just ask "how do I handle this". This is exactly the kind of question that our policy of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective is supposed to take care of.

In practice, just ask "how do I handle this". But don't be surprised if you get a glut of "here's what I would do" answers that gets the question closed as opinion-based. (Especially if you're unfortunate enough to end up on HNQ.) If that happens, it's often not really the fault of the question, just a lack of self-control on the part of the answerers that sadly ends with the question being closed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To prevent that last thing from happening, I'd ask the community expect people to meet our baseline citation requirements, especially the subjective ones on subjective questions. Upvoting unsourced answers is a good way to put questions like this in a position where they just need to get closed because they're solely collecting opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 21 at 10:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ It also probably helps prevent such responses if the asker explicitly reminds people of the GS/BS policy and the citation requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 21 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ It also won't happen nearly as much if you ask for anything other than 5e and 2nd edition FATE. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 22 at 20:13
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Focus on the problem, not the question.

"How do I assign damage when someone falls 30' into water," as you note, sometimes doesn't end up working out so well in practice. Miniman's answer pointing out that GS/BS should be shoring up the quality of the answers a question gets is perfectly correct, of course. And it still doesn't always work.

I contend that you tend to get much better answers when focusing on a problem you had rather than a question you have. For example

"I assigned 3d6 damage when someone fell 30' onto water, but...

(a) it left us feeling unheroic when we talked about it at end-of-session

(b) it felt like too much damage based on my experience cliff-diving

(c) I have a hard time remembering these sorts of snap-rulings I make at the table

(d) it led to ten minutes of arguments and physics calculations that I'm sure we screwed up and derailed the session (not that I railroad!)

(e) ..."

Notice that each of the above would likely lead you to different, experience-based answers coming in. And that's, in my opinion, where this stack can really shine. There are a lot of people here who've run thousands of hours of games and probably have experienced your problem. If you tell them what it is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is another good point. Focusing on the actual problem helps people address the real issue rather than getting distracted by ultimately irrelevant details. See also: What is the XY problem? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 21 at 17:57
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Quickly downvote answers lacking experience, and leave a comment repudiating their disclaimed ignorance, if any

As Miniman points out, the problems that lead to these questions being closed are not usually so much an issue with the questions themselves but with the very low-quality off-the-cuff answers they often attract. The best thing you can do to keep a question like this open as a querent is to fend off those sorts of low-quality answers. How you frame the question is an important part of that, and you can get a lot of mileage out of a short section explaining the general requirements you are looking for in an answer (e.g. has been tested before in practice). That said, you are still very likely, especially for popular tags, to get a lot of bad answers, and there's more you can do. Actively warding off bad answers from your question even after posting it is an important part of getting questions you care about answered well.

As the querent, you get a notification whenever someone answers one of your questions, which allows you the opportunity (if you are not particularly unlucky or asking about 5th edition D&D) to respond to an answer before anyone else can. Especially for D&D questions of any edition, ignorant drive-by voting is a huge factor in a post's score. Answers that are currently rated 0 or higher will be upvoted regardless of their merits, more intensely the higher-rated they currently are. Answers that are rated -2 or lower, especially if there is an upvoted comment deconstructing the problems with the answer, would draw drive-by down votes but there's a rep barrier so instead they just don't draw drive-by upvotes and sink negative at a more moderate pace via drive-by voting from established community members (who should know better, but hey) if it's 5th edition or a couple of big tags.

Regardless, you need to be that initial downvote and critical comment. It doesn't always work, but in my experience with FATE and 3.X questions you are much more likely to stave off the torrent of insulting bad answers if you liberally provide immediate negative feedback than if you don't. Frequently these sorts of answers will start with 'I've never played X, but' or 'I've never had this happen, but'. Those are good things to object to in a comment. If an answer is more of the 'do X [citation needed]' kind, then a comment saying 'Have you tested this? How did it work in practice?' can be good. If you have the expertise, you can add "How did you deal with [X,Y,Z obvious practical problems with untested homebrew solution]?"

Ironically, if you can get your question off the front page, it's likely the only people answering it will be qualified and the answers you get, though they may take a very long time, will be much better on average. You'll still get a lot of expert attention as long as the question is 'unanswered'-- i.e. it has no answers rated higher than 0-- but you will miss out on that if even one of the bad answers can retain a rating of +1.

Also, edge cases where people are unlikely to have experience are equally fine in theory, though it will be harder to get good answers in practice. The real problem is that our community hates a vacuum and seems to feel a need to post something even if it's not very good if a question doesn't have any answers yet.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this is answering "how to avoid these sorts of questions getting closed" which of course is very much appreciated, despite its being a related question to (or possible a sub-question of) the main question. And you provided a fascinating sociological analysis of the RPG stack community, I might add. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Valley Lad Feb 23 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm getting up the nerve to pose a test-question on the stack after absorbing the good answers here. One last angle is: How much "here's the right/wrong way to answer my question" should I put in the question itself? Your answer almost implies that I should do a bit of that. \$\endgroup\$ – Valley Lad Feb 23 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ValleyLad Here is a question where I feel like I did a really good job of that. In general, a short paragraph or maybe two is usually the right amount for these sorts of open-ended questions. Also it's hard to get answer requirements right; sometimes trying to describe what makes a good answer can make the question confusing and weird instead of well-scoped, but commenters will usually help with that. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 24 at 7:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is best to try to focus on what makes an answer a good answer or better answer in that sort of paragraph thingy, also, as opposed to focusing on what makes posts an answer at all. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 24 at 7:42

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