How is the [system-agnostic] tag supposed to be used?

Coming off my discussion about this meta I have realized that I have no idea how the tag is supposed to be used correctly. Or, I thought I did but that not everyone agrees. Or maybe nobody ever agreed in the first place and I'm just catching on.

This has been a hot meta topic before and I have read the relevant old metas, but

1. They are very old (the most recent being in 2013)

2. They seem to rely on some old and/or false assumptions (eg "because we, in effect require a system tag...").

The stack has changed a lot since 2013 and I think a modern answer would be helpful.

3. They don't actually give me an idea of how the tag is actually supposed to be used in a way that adds value. Some contradict each other (which, to be fair, is to be expected of developing new metas but it doesn't help me understand any better) or are vague to the point of not being terribly helpful.

Tag usage can and does change over time. And this one seems especially volatile if the last link is to be taken as fact given that it lists a bunch of different ways and reasons for the tag to be used (none/few of which seem to be captured in the current tag wiki). Has the folksonomy of this tag changed in the following 6+ years?

One matter of specific confusion is when to use the tag versus when to leave a question with no and no system tag. Another is if it can be used in conjunction with a system tag.

Can somebody give me a simple, clear idea how I am supposed to, in 2019, use this tag? Or does it not even have a use anymore?

• The only modern use I can think of involves a querent having a problem existing across multiple systems that they play. They want a solution they can use anywhere, since they use a variety of systems. If there are no examples of such questions, then perhaps the tag needs burnination. Feb 28, 2019 at 2:08
• "Old" metas are not automatically out of date without some actual change happening and you should consider their guidance as normative. Feb 28, 2019 at 19:51
• @mxyzplk nowhere in my question do I make that assumption. However I think I did my best to explain my reasoning as to why I thought this particular issue may have changed and/or why previous guidance wasn't doing it for me. Answers of "it hasn't changed" and "previous guidance is adequate/your issues are invalid" are, as always, acceptable and I'm happy to accept them. Feb 28, 2019 at 19:57
• I've used it at least once to find questions that are not tied to any specific system. It's hard to query on the absence of a tag. That said, if it went away I doubt I'd miss it.
– user47897
Mar 1, 2019 at 14:03

System-Agnostic: The System Tag Meaning "Not System-Specific"

The tag is for questions where the asker is looking for answers that are not tied deeply to a specific game system's rules, usually for portability. It is asking in a context that is "agnostic" to the "system" being used. This is extremely straightforward; don't overthink it. It is just a system tag that says "not one specific system."

"I am asking from a general RPG standpoint, not from within the frame of a single system."

As noted in those previous metas, people here love to urge someone to add system tags in nearly every scenario. "But what GAME SYSTEM are you using when you have demotivated players?!?" And that's fair; game systems vary widely and in this case, if someone is just playing, for example, D&D 5e, and they ask about demotivated players in a pure D&D 5e context, you might cite XP awards and Inspiration and advice from the DMG and so on.

However, some people (like me, which is why I am an advocate for the tag), play many, many different RPGs and we have some issues that we want solutions for that are more general. If I have demotivated players, I might want more broadly applicable techniques that will help regardless of the game we're playing that week. As a site, we support those kinds of players and that need.

You might have the "same question" asked with a system tag and with a tag and have them get different and good answers, just as you might ask the same question with two different system tags.

Because it is a specific declaration of the querent's intended scope of the question, then as @AceCalhoon points out, you should tend to leave it alone. You can ask the querent about their intent to clarify, but under no circumstances should you be trawling through old questions and changing either their system tag or tag unprovoked. That implies that you know better about what the querent needs than they do. Maybe, just maybe, someone is wrong about what system they're asking about (or asking about system-agnostic), but it's probably better an "ask them to clarify themselves" situation.

FAQ

Q: Does this site require a system tag?

Theoretically, no.

But in practice, this site does effectively require a system tag, one is on a huge percentage of questions and when it's omitted the question gets closed and/or a system is asked for a vast majority of the time. The chance you can ask a question without a system and not get hassled for a system is less than 1%.

Q: So, does every question without a system tag need ?

I don't know, does it?

If people are willing for someone to ask a techniques or social question and not badger the querent into a system tag, then it's not needed on every question. But if people are asking for system clarity, and especially if they're closing the question because there isn't one, then it is a legitimate option (as is a system tag) to set a scope explicitly. If someone up front wants to declare "I know what I'm asking for and it's for system-agnostic", they can use the tag. We should respect that scope choice.

If you look at the most recent system-agnostic questions, and look at the highly voted open ones, many have people pressing them for a system in the comments and the querent wants to say "stop it, I don't want this specific to a given system." (See these questions, for example: How to Roleplay an Intimidation-Oriented Character Without Being a Net Negative for the Party, How can I show-not-tell my players that they are The Bad Guys?, How do I make quests rewarding for my player?, etc.)

Q: Can you use and a system tag on the same question?

That would be very uncommon, but could be legitimate based on the question. "How do I bring the competitive feeling that Amber Diceless Roleplay has into an arbitrary other RPG?" could have the and tags. If both are being used, the question should probably be explaining itself really well.

Q: But is the tag really needed?

We've had 468 questions using the tag. It is the 21st most popular tag on all of RPG.SE. So yes. Many posters find it useful, so there's a pretty high bar to just wave hands at it to do away with it.

The highest-voted question on the site is tagged : How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?, where the tag was specifically used to try to get people to not obsess about D&D-specific answers.

As you can see it's a mix of player/GM techniques, problem player/GM issues, gaming style issues, campaign and adventure design questions, and so on. Which one could ask for a specific system, but for those who have a wider scope of RPGs, you want to ask it across them.

Q: But isn't this a "tag tax?"

All system tags are a tag tax, if you want to define it in that way. They set the scope of the question in a way that makes answers meaningful. If I give a FATE answer to a D&D question, it doesn't help the querent, and that's what we're here for. If I give a FATE mechanics question to a problem someone wants to solve across game systems, it is similarly unhelpful. is a system tag like any system tag, like "agnostic" or "atheist" or "non-denominational Christian" or "mainline Protestant" is a valid answer to "what religion is this question about?" In any event, these are useful scopes for questions and answers.

Q: But isn't a meta tag?

No. See this Q&A: Is [system-agnostic] a meta tag?

Q: Should I use a system tag, , or no tag on my question?

If you are playing a given system and you want answers for that system, add a system tag. Don't artificially widen it "because more people would find it helpful," the site works best when you ask about your specific problem.

If you are deliberately asking for cross-system techniques, put on it to shortcut people having to ask.

If you're asking a problem player question or something generic, you don't have to use either kind of tag, but you will likely be pressed to add a system tag – and you can then decide to add a system tag or a tag to answer people and head off the close votes.

If you are playing a freeform game, where there is a "system" but it's not one of the listed systems, you can use the tag instead.

Q: Can I just assume that a question without a system tag is system-agnostic?

No, because "bad question" is another option. See this Q&A: Is it against policy or bad practice to attempt system agnostic answers to questions whose system has not been specified? – in that case, the answer was "you definitely should not have in this case." Alternatively, it may just be that the querent has failed to specify what game system they are playing; we have guidance for approaching such questions here: What should I do when a question does not specify the game system being used?

Q: Can I use system-specific examples when answering a system-agnostic question?

Of course. Keep in mind that if your answer is too dependent on one system, especially if that technique isn't easily portable out of the system, it may not be judged to be super helpful by the OP/community, but illustrating your points with specific systems is helpful. The querent will probably illustrate their question with examples from specific games/sessions too.

Q: Should I keep bothering someone who has declared their question system-agnostic to pick a system?

No, you should not; it's rude. If you think they are new and don't understand tags or something, you can give them a quick "Hey, if you are really just looking for an answer inside system X, then you might get better and more relevant answers if you pick that system", but then you should respect their choice. No one has to pick a specific system if that's not what they want to ask, and you should not try to make them do so.

• The answer is pretty spot-on. It indicates you're asking "how do I solve this problem in RPGs in general?" rather than "how do I solve this problem in [this system]?"
– V2Blast StaffMod
Feb 28, 2019 at 7:27
• Any chance when you've got a minute you could dig up some examples of great sys-ag questions to link in to your points as examples? I imagine if OP and the people downvoting these answers saw "good" examples of sys-ag beig used it would bolster your arguments above.
– nitsua60 Mod
Feb 28, 2019 at 12:28
• "Q: So, does every question without a system tag need [system-agnostic]?" I'd offer my opinion here but "no". There is this question that is about [game-design], so it's not exactly "system agnostic" but there is no currently recognised system here. Yet it's related to the game system being designed, so it's not agnostic. Therefore, neither a system tag or a system agnostic tag belongs.
– VLAZ
Feb 28, 2019 at 13:21
• “As with RAW, you can ask the querent about their intent to clarify, but under no circumstances should you be trolling old questions and changing their system or [system-agnostic] tag unprovoked.” With RAW, we decided that going purely by author intent was bad and went back to basics on it: tags describe the content of the question and we should be able to determine what tags do and don't fit by looking at the question. So this isn't as with RAW, this was as with the old dysfunctional handling of RAW we decided wasn't working. Feb 28, 2019 at 13:32
• I have a point about "But if people are asking for system clarity, and especially if they're closing the question because there isn't one, then it is a legitimate option (as is a system tag)." sys-ag questions that are tagged as such still get closed for want of a system (sometimes explicitly justifiably) and still start debates about whether system is needed or not. Have you observed an advantage of using the tag in this case over just omitting a system tag? I'm not disagreeing with your other points here (I'm still mulling everything over and trying to figure out how things fit together). Feb 28, 2019 at 14:10
• I have another question: "Should I keep bothering someone who has declared their question system-agnostic to pick a system? No you should not, it's rude." Isn't this ignoring the cases where someone asks a question which they think is s-a but really cannot be answered as such? For example, we get it a lot where people ask a mechanical question assuming that every system functions like D&D and slap an s-a tag on it and we have to convince them to pick a system to use in order to keep the Q open/answerable. Is it not acceptable in these cases to push for a system? Feb 28, 2019 at 20:04
• You did not read the next sentence. "If you think they are new and don't understand tags or something you can give them a quick "Hey if you are really just looking for an answer inside system X then you might get better and more relevant answers if you pick that system", but then you should respect their question choice." Feb 28, 2019 at 20:06
• @mxyzplk No, I had read that, but I suppose what I am asking is that, in the case of a question that cannot be answered in an s-a context. (eg "How can I speed up character statistics generation?" (marked s-a with no system context given)), it seems that you are saying "No one has to pick a specific system if that's not what they want to ask, and you should not try to make them [even if it means their question will be closed]." Am I missing something? Feb 28, 2019 at 20:31
• There's a thousand ways for a question to be bad. We can't engineer a way to avoid all of them on this tag. We can't create a NP-complete ruleset for all question situations, we rely on general guidance and then the wisdom of high rep users for specific cases. What is happening on this site isn't "it's logically impossible to answer your question as system-agnostic." We can handle that as an exception if it does. What happens here is "you said system-agnostic and I don't like it and I'm going to hassle you anyway." That we need guidance for. Guidance is not absolute, here or elsewhere. Feb 28, 2019 at 21:50
• All mention of RAW has been deleted from my answer as it's pointless and derailing. Mar 1, 2019 at 2:16
• @mxyzplk makes sense! I think you've cleared everything up for me. Thanks again. Mar 1, 2019 at 2:23

I've been struggling with this one for a couple of years, personally, now. So I'm going to give it a go. (This answer, like mxy's, doesn't stand as a "mod-team answer"--it's just the answer of a high-rep user who cares.)

system-agnostic is supposed to be used like any other tag.*

Tags are supposed to describe the question that is asked.* Corollary: tags should not be used to describe the answers sought. This, I think, is a pothole that we hit every once in a while.

Consider, for instance, the following hypothetical question:

How do I show-not-tell my table-mates that a character is a bad guy?

This, I believe, would rightfully and quickly meet the comment "what game are you playing?" In my experience:

• 90% of the time the querent says "oh, it's foo" and either they or someone else edit onto the tag list. Problem clearly stated*, answers can flow in that flow from expertise solving the problem the querent's having.

• 8% of the time the querent says "I want to know the answer independent of system" and someone edits onto it. But arguments start, it goes through POB/unclear close-reopen cycles, and noses are bent out of shape.

• And a magical 2% of the time the querent responds "I'm running into this in 4e and in Dungeon World and in a Great Ork Gods hack we use and in Microscope and in Fate. Believe it or not, this group uses all these systems to play in the same world/narrative, depending on the session." (Or something else that actually describes how a problem is arising across many systems.) There's a system-agnostic question, to be sure:

How do I show-not-tell my table-mates that a character is a bad guy? We have a game going where for tactical combats we use 4e, for other adventuring play we use DW, we've banged on Great Ork Gods to occasionally have a session where we're playing the principal antagonists or a session where we're playing the world's seven major deities influencing world-spanning factions, and sometimes we break out Microscope to do some collaborative world- and history-building. Next session we're supposed to use Bubblegumshoe as part of our Great Game narrative thread! No matter which of these systems, I consistently fail to make my bad guys bad--what do I do?

Now answerers can come in and decide whether to write a "true" sys-ag answer, or one that leverages experience with one of the named systems, or one that explains how they've discovered the answer really is different in the various systems. And voters, importantly, have the information they need to vote answers up and down.

The way forward...

I feel naive saying this, but I suspect that if we patiently and kindly lean on querents to describe their actual problem--like we do virtually everywhere else--we'll see clearly which questions are and which are trying to dictate answer forms.

The former will get tagged and answered, the latter still need to work on a clear problem statement.

* - there's a little twist here: we tend to treat system tags differently, and kinda acts like a "real" system's tag. But I think it's maybe an unfortunate shortcut that we even treat system tags that way; I'm starting to think the habit we have of not necessarily mentioning system in a post and leaving it to the tag has this among other, unfortunate side effects.

The tag facilitates finding questions/answers that aren't tied to a system.

Where the mods or the OP did not intend the question to be system dependent. It makes finding these easier instead of trying to search for question that are lacking any system tag.

For the individual question, it's not particularly meaningful.

A question devoid of system tags would have similar meaning.

As a querent, use it to indicate that the question is intended to be system agnostic.

This can help with answers or comments pick out if there are implicit assumptions in the question that it tie to a systems or set of systems. Additionally, it indicates that examples in answers should either be themselves agnostic or state "for example, in [system X] ..."

• This makes the most sense. While not listing a system also makes it agnostic, that's not something that can be searched via the tag. This answer shows why it's useful. Feb 28, 2019 at 21:30
• Beware that tags don’t add hidden answering rules. The SE (not site) policy is that tags only reflect existing topic details in the body of the post. Adding a tag should not be trying to add information. Mar 1, 2019 at 1:39
• @SevenSidedDie Isn't that how the rules-as-written tag works though?
Mar 1, 2019 at 2:01
• @linksassin Not for a few years. Treating it like it added unspoken rules turned out to not work: nobody but regulars knew them, so it created endless comments nagging answers to follow the secret rules (and flags when they still didn’t, and deletions when they still still didn’t, and undeletions if they were fixed, and debates about where the “good enough” line was for answers, etc.), so we stopped that, and [rules-as-written] has had to reflect question topic content like any other tag since early 2016. Mar 1, 2019 at 9:01

Use of the system-agnostic tag should be generally discouraged

My experience with the use of the tag on this site is that the vast majority of its uses are inappropriate; and the scenarios where its uses are ostensibly appropriate would almost certainly be better handled by a different [possibly nonexistent] tag, like or .

These are the scenarios I see it used most frequently:

"I'm looking for an answer that works for /any system/, not just 'X'."

On some level, I understand the innate curiosity of a question like this, but there are a couple recurring problems with posts like this:

• It might be possible to formulate a satisfying answer without knowing the system being played, but the question will get much better, higher quality answers by knowing the system
• The OP might be presuming that some issue they're facing is universally applicable to any game system; or that the answers to this issue will be/ought to be inherently applicable to any game system.

The problem in the former case is that most rules sets offer some degree of advice to handle things like Rules Disputes, adjudicating strange edge-case scenarios, etc., and omitting the system associated with the issue means that answerers cannot reference said solutions. And in the latter case, it's often just a wrong assumption: many things that players/DMs assume are universal rules/guidelines simply aren't:

Q: System Agnostic—How to handle Players that conceal information from each other?

A: "Well, that depends: are you playing a game where players are never allowed to conceal information from each other, or aren't you? Are you playing a game that encourages players to conceal information or does the game not care?"

Some games are happy to allow players to conceal information from each other! Others are not. An answer to this question would have to span the breadth of game systems and the varying permutations of scenarios where information is allowed or not allowed to be concealed, and it'll either lead to answers that are too broad/generic to have real applicability, or answers that make the same mistake of assuming too much about what things are "universal" or not, and provide advice that simply will not work for some systems, including potentially the system the OP is actually playing.

"I'm playing a hybrid of Pathfinder and 5th Edition D&D, and I need to know how to adjudicate Two-Weapon Fighting"

This kind of question at least represents the scenario where no specific system-tag adequately covers the use-case of the OP, but it's also very obvious that the correct tag[s] to use are the tag[s] associated with each game system they're using, i.e. and . Tagging this question with would be highly misleading.

"We used D&D5e as a base, but built a completely new ruleset that only borrows vague concepts from 5e and is functionally an entirely new thing, how should we handle Bonus Actions?"

Again; Any one system tag, even potentially the tag would be inappropriate for a question like this: whatever the system borrows from 5th Edition D&D, the system they're using is not 5th Edition D&D.

But even so, is inappropriate: the system they're using clearly matters, even if it's a system that we don't (yet!) track. Using the tag implies that the answers given to this question could be applied to any other system, and that's clearly incorrect: the issues they're dealing with are self-evidently particular to the homebrew game they're trying to engineer, and the game system they based it on.

So when is it appropriate to use system-agnostic?

I can think of two kinds of questions:

"I've tried playing D&D3.5, D&D5e, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Powered by the Apocalypse, and GURPS, and in every single game, it feels like my choices don't really matter. Am I playing TTRPGs wrong?"

On some level, a question like this will be informed by the various systems being called out, but it is indeed clear that the issues the player is facing are independent of the specific system they're playing in. Indeed; focusing on any one of these (somewhat) diverse game systems as a case-study for why the OP feels the way they do would probably end up distracting from their actual issue, which probably exists outside the diegesis of their game world.

"One of our players is making creepy and demeaning comments towards our [female] DM, how can we get him to stop?"

Again: The problem in this question clearly exists outside the scope of any one system, and instead is an interpersonal issue, relevant to the stack by virtue of the unique experience that TTRPG players have in dealing with poor behavior at the table. If this question were instead forced to be tagged with , it might attract answers like this:

A: "Have the DM start causing bad luck to happen to his character, causing them to lose stats or magic items, or forcing his character to do things he doesn't like!"

We could just trust the stack to clean bad quality answers like the above, but I would argue it's better to simply dissuade those kinds of answers in the first place. This isn't to say that such a question should obviously not be tagged with (or that any such use of a tag should be removed), but that it is at least an appropriate scenario for use of the tag.

In my opinion, there are two criterion that make a question suitable for use of the tag, that I think should both be (to varying degrees) true to justify its use:

• Solving the problem posed by the OP in the most complete manner possible can be done with absolutely no knowledge of the underlying game system the OP is playing in, AND
• Knowing the game system the OP is playing in is more likely to distract from their issue, or pose a Red Herring for finding solutions to their problem (i.e. answers are likely to try to pose diegetic solutions to things which have extra-diegetic causes)

My experience with this stack, however, suggests that the vast majority of questions posed here that get tagged with simply do not meet either of these criterion. Some do, which is why I do not advocate eliminating the tag entirely: there's clearly situations where its use is warranted and should be encouraged.

But as a general principle, if someone comes to the stack with a question that is only by virtue of a lack of specificity in their problem statement, we're better off drilling down on what that root issue is, rather than just deeming the lack of specifics as by default.

Leave it to the original author.

When the tag has been added to the question by the original author, removing it is more trouble than it's worth. The author probably has specific reasons for including it, and the benefit to removing it is largely academic. There's never been enough consensus towards eliminating it to justify a fight.

On the opposite side, adding the tag consistently means adding it to a lot of questions. Anything without a system tag is probably going to get it. Some questions with a system tag should also probably get it. Again, there hasn't been enough consensus to push through such a large-scale edit.

• On second reading of this are you just saying that it is too hard to define/eliminate the tag, so we shouldn't bother doing it? Really struggling to understand what you are trying to say here. Feb 27, 2019 at 19:11
• @Rubiksmoose It's not a fake header. It is neither the title of this post, nor the title of this section. It is not intended to display as part of the ToC. It's a statement I've emphasized (per the HTML 5 spec). I am aware of screen readers, how they operate, and the purpose of semantic markup. Thank you for your offered edit, please accept that I am choosing to decline it. Feb 27, 2019 at 19:58
• @Rubiksmoose On the Stack, the "correct" way to use a tag is based on consensus. There has never been a strong enough consensus to remove the system-agnostic tag. At the same time, the proponents of system-agnostic are scattered across several different "good" uses, and have failed to overcome several problems with the tag. So there is no existing "right" way to add or remove the tag. Feb 27, 2019 at 20:49
• @Rubiksmoose You can try to build a new consensus, but you will probably need to start with a proposal for how things "should" work that people can yay/nay. And be aware that this is a process that has largely failed to produce anything concrete for the past eight years. Feb 27, 2019 at 20:50
• @Rubiksmoose Your other option is to leave it be, and let nature take its course. Feb 27, 2019 at 20:51
• This sounds more like an argument for burning the tag for not having a clear use or meaning. Feb 27, 2019 at 23:41
• I think that you should perhaps add some of those comments above into the answer itself. I asked the question so I could understand how I can use the tag. The reason I ask is because people have not been able to give me a clear answer and there seems to be large disagreements. I was hoping to find a clear answer here. Right now this answer does not get me any further on understanding the use of the tag, though the points it is making seem like they would be compelling as part of a larger explanation. Feb 28, 2019 at 14:14
• @Rubiksmoose Could you clarify what you're missing? I can see that we're missing each other, but I'm not quite sure where the break down is occurring. Feb 28, 2019 at 16:38
• @AceCalhoon Sure, my question simply is this: say I am writing a question, how do I determine if I should add the s-a tag to it? What does the tag mean when it is added? Your question goes right into assuming that I'm adding or removing tags from other people's posts but it never actually seems to tell me when it should be used. Maybe the breakdown is that you think I am suggesting removing the tag? I am not, or at least it was not my intent for it to be a core issue. Does that help clarify? Is there something I am misunderstanding from your side? Feb 28, 2019 at 16:44
• @Rubiksmoose I suppose I feel the answer to that has already been covered here. Things really haven't changed since then... What are you looking for beyond that? (my personal opinion on adding s-a is "don't," but the linked post covers reasons I've observed from pro-s-a users) Feb 28, 2019 at 16:50
• @AceCalhoon 1) It's been 6 years since you wrote that. Since tag usage is defined by the way they are used tag usage tends to evolve especially since this one had (has?) a huge amount of competing uses for the tag. So, has there been a change in how the tag is used? Also the fact that a tag has so many varied, undefined, and unagreed upon uses suggests to me there is an issue with the tag if that is still the status quo. Almost none of those uses are outlined in the tag wiki. Feb 28, 2019 at 16:59
• @AceCalhoon 2) You say that you personally don't feel like s-a should be added. Given the current voting, I would say that others might feel the same way. Would you care to elaborate on why so it can be voted on? Feb 28, 2019 at 16:59
• @Rubiksmoose Nothing has really changed on the argument (except possibly popular opinion). My statements at the end of my first meta post on the topic, in the "Update" section, still hold true: I think the tag is redundant to expected behavior. I could add more aguments/counter-arguments (and perhaps will if I have a free evening). And yes, I feel there are issues. But having issues doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be eliminated, if it has popular support. And I'm not seeing anyone propose its removal. Feb 28, 2019 at 18:29
• @Rubiksmoose End of the day: I think s-a is bad, but eliminating it won't make the Stack a better/happier place. The benefit is little, and the people who like the tag will be super angry. And that's assuming I'm right! If we allow the possibility I'm wrong, it gets even worse :) Feb 28, 2019 at 18:31
• Feb 28, 2019 at 18:33