I understand that people are in charge of their voting, and we generally avoid legislating voting in any way as it is fundamentally unenforceable. Nevertheless, the use of downvotes to explicitly discriminate against rpg communities the voter dislikes concerns me, particularly since such explicitly action all-but-certainly comes alongside silent action. Recently, the following comment was posted on a theoretical optimization question:

I downvoted because I don't see what the practical problem is here. This looks like a theoretical optimization problem that doesn't involve actual play, and that's enough for a "not useful" downvote from me.

This comment was upvoted twice. I think it's self-evident that this is directly contrary to Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of playstyles? and constitutes "harassment, bigotry, or abuse". If the action of downvoting on this basis were expressed in a comment, it would be flaggable as such. Thus, it seems to me, we have a problem if people are doing this sort of thing regularly. It's important, of course, that voting remains independent and not subject to any sort of review process or whatever. But it's also important that we not use votes to push playstyles-- or other groups we don't like!-- off the site.

What should we do?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you link to the question that comment was from? It may not be necessary, but it'd help me understand the source of the problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, wow. I saw the title of the post and came expecting a disgruntled rant... but find an actual instancance of someone saying they're downvoting because they don't like a type of play. Good spot, and thank you for bringing it to meta! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Here is the question: "What is the most optimal level 20 build for keeping an infinite Crab Swarm apocalypse at bay?" and the comment in particular \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here is the comment in particular as it is now in a chat room \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 19:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I was much more concerned that it was about some sort of ethnic/cultural group! \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 19:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Might the issue be with the specificity of the question, which makes it less useful to future site users? The situation described is very specific. It seems unlikely that a future visitor would be looking specifically for a question about optimal survival strategies against infinite crabs, and so maybe the downvoter was more incensed by this question as a part of the reference RPG.SE is meant to be, rather than disliking a playstyle? In other words, would a question being too specific and improbable to be useful to future users be a justified reason for a downvote? \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds to me like the question was downvoted because it wasn't an actual problem and wasn't expected to ever become one, and questions are supposed to be for actual problems or to future-proof against them. With that in mind, how is this explanation for a downvote in poor taste? What am I missing? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I think what you're missing (it's not actually explicit in the question) is the implication that theoretical optimization is itself a valid playstyle which is being denigrated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Huh. Lore questions are fine. Problems from the table are fine. Problems that could occur at the table are fine. However, my understanding is (was?) that purely speculative questions are not usually fine. Is that understanding inaccurate? (Also, is not playing really a playstyle? I mean, that's what makes it theoretical, right?) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case you can downvote for whatever reason. I understand that one of the stereotypes about theoretical optimizers is that their ideas aren't valuable because they'd never apply to any actual game, and no real RPGer would ever be interested in the issues brought about by their questions. Our site currently is committed to allowing the TO community to ask and answer questions on our site as per the linked meta. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 0:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case Since the TO community does not have a lot of power and consequently is not a protected class under the network-wide CoC, you can lobby for the policy to change so that you can work to exclude them on that basis. But currently those stereotypes are only tacitly allowed here and are officially super not allowed. If you meant, instead, that this question is problematically specific, rather than TO in general, then you run into the following problems: 1) it's not 2) ex post facto rationalizations of explicitly discriminatory behavior as acceptable and unrelated are bad \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 0:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan That the TO community is not considered a playstyle, not protected by the linked meta, and not welcome here is a position that would explain the behavior observed and be cogent. You may want to post that as an answer. I disagree strongly with it, but it's probably still useful to air. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil I was trying to figure out what the complaint might be, rather than simply assuming that the commenter was necessarily behaving in the worst possible way and violating site rules. I went to some effort to indicate in my comment that I was trying to do that, not to endorse that viewpoint. While I respect your opinion and your right to share it here, I read your response as somewhat accusatory, and not much of a direct response ("it's not"). I'm not interested in excluding TO from the stack. I am interested in stack answers being find-able to future users, in which case \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ (con't) a very niche question with lots of stipulations might be improved by being made a bit more general. In this case, I thought that removing the crab element would make it a more general TO question and therefore more valuable to future users seeking TO information, however frequent or not that might be. Inquiry is not ex post facto rationalization, and whether or not you know that user well enough to reasonably reach a conclusion about their motivation, I do not. I have answered TO questions here, and don't want to exclude them or you. Assuming good intent is also a rule here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil You are reaching really hard to corral these comments into constitutes harassment, bigotry, or abuse - that kind of hyperbole cheapens discourse and is borderline dishonest. The rest of your post, in terms of how this relates to RPGSE being open to a wide variety of play styles (big tent) ,is consistent with the consensus on the RPGSE norms to date. (And I am on board). As to "what should we do" I'll say put up an umbrella, since the sky must be falling on our heads. (Asterix reference) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 19:45

5 Answers 5



While we affirm RPG.SE embraces all playstyles, there's no way to force everyone to always vote according to that.

In this case the comment could be flagged as unkind and deleted, but that doesn't do away with the downvote, nor should it. And that really won't have any good effect - they'll just downvote without a comment in the future, and the comment actually serves for people who don't think theoretical CharOp is bad to realize some of the downvotes may be just for that reason not because there's a problem with the question.

This is a public site on the Internet. People will vote up and down for any reason they want. We publish our site norms and then let it roll. After that, it's just a practice of you being content with that - a modestly thick skin is required to successfully engage anywhere on the Internet, and while this place is friendlier than pretty much any other social media, toughening up is the difference between "downvoted and sad" and "downvoted and content".

When I don't like a topic, I just leave it alone and don't go into it. I recommend the same for others.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There very much is something that could be done, by modifying an existing system. If a poster goes through and downvotes the same user on multiple questions, those downvotes will be reverted--I've had it happen to me. The same could work here. If someone goes through and always downvotes a certain type of question, those downvotes could be reverted. Sure, figuring out the exact level to minimize false positivies might be difficult, but it's entirely doable. \$\endgroup\$
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, that's at the software level. I'm not pretending that we the community can do anything other than request the ability to set this up in the software. But your post seems to treat it like it's some existentially impossible thing. --- I also wish to add that we as a community can do other things, like discouraging people from these types of votes, reminding people that all playstyles are valid, and to remind people to only downvote a question for quality reasons, not opinions on whether the question is proper play. And the poster in question could be directly reminded of this. \$\endgroup\$
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly I don't see that as being a useful feature request that anyone at SO or SE will jump right on. Really, no seeing it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will say it more forcefully: I flatly do not believe any reasonable programming effort can datamine the site to detect unannounced downvotes on these sorts of questions except possibly by tag. Expecting anything more than that is expecting far too much. I am also EXTREMELY skeptical that there is a magic "correct" policy to apply to this situation. What are we going to do, give people quotas per downvote per tag? \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 23:41

Vote the other way, if you care.

I'll be honest, I was surprised to see that comment since I didn't remember writing it, and then even more surprised to learn that it wasn't mine.

So. There are boundaries that we as a community have set in order to keep the space clean and usable. The SE model gives most of us access to tools for policing those boundaries, such as close/reopen votes, flagging spam and harassment, and electing moderators. When I'm using those tools, I'm acting on behalf of the community, and I am obligated to set aside my biases and act from that perspective as best I can.

And as a community we embrace a diversity of playstyles. It would not be appropriate to vote to close that question as off topic, because the community has said that optimization questions are within bounds.1

However, I, as an individual participant, am not required to embrace all possible playstyles. I don't have to write questions or answers about games I don't play. I upvote posts that I think promote good roleplaying experiences. And I downvote those that promote toxic and dysfunctional behavior. Who says what's toxic and dysfunctional? I do, because it's my vote. If you think I'm wrong, then you get a vote, too.

Voting is a quality judgment based on experience with the subject matter. We are a practical community, and quality ultimately comes down to "If I do this at the table, will everyone have fun?" And that's a question for people who have played and know what is and isn't fun.

1 Just like it's not appropriate to flag a comment as unkind because you knew someone had a negative opinion of your question, and asked what it was, and they told you the truth.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. If something won't be fun, and hasn't been fun in the past, why not downvote whatever is promoting it? \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 23:01

I can't speak for the downvoter, but I think I might have some insight into their thought process. I'm a big fan of optimization questions in general, but over time I've become more and more disillusioned with a specific type of question - the one that chooses a number (usually damage) and asks answerers to make that number as high as possible.

The crab question isn't one of those questions, and I didn't downvote it. But I certainly understand that for some people, some categories of questions can become an automatic downvote, not because of playstyle prejudices, but because of their experience with questions of that kind.

Now, that's not what they said in their comment, and it's obviously possible I'm reading way too much into this. But it can be very difficult to express the sentiment that "these types of questions just don't work" when the only real justification you have for it is your prior experiences. Saying "not useful" is a much easier and more accessible way to explain a downvote.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I totally agree with that. We get a lot of bad optimization questions, especially for damage, especially for 5e. But the comment straight-up said "all I need to know is that this is a TO question to downvote it." Which is a completely different sentiment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say the type of question certainly works, but we have to approach them the way codegolf approaches theirs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can agree it can happen, but I would argue such is a mistake, meaning the downvoter was too hasty or biased. I would argue that deciding if a particular type of question works is a question for Meta and policy, because it means deciding if said questions should be allowed or not. As long as they are allowed, they should be voted based on their merits--i.e. the quality of the question. It's fine to make mistaken votes (especially since you can'f fix them unless they edit their post), but I don't think what you describe should be encouraged or ignored. \$\endgroup\$
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 19:25

What should "we" do?

Well, who is we?

There are a number of approaches to dealing with questions or comments that one finds to be a bad fit.

  1. Refrain from commenting when one down votes.
    Sometimes, down vote and press on is the best way to approach a question that one does not find useful, or is ill-formed. If one wishes to help the question asking user improve their question, a comment will often be helpful because the intention behind the comment is helpful.

  2. Go to the next question
    If a question is coherently written, but one disagrees with the premise, doing what @mxyzplk points to having done is a good course of action: ignore it and press one.

  3. Nominate the question (and answers) for a Cheese award
    We have a post that highlights optimizatum absurdum on this meta. Some TO questions fit right in there.

  4. Wring our hands at a comment we don't care for
    That's an option, if that's where we get good feelings from using this site

  5. Report negative and unhelpful comments using the flag system.
    That's probably the most important take away, and the most important answer to your question. Flag it!

  6. Leave a comment under the negative comment that this kind of comment is out of line.
    One can do that, but it may invite an argument in comments, which we prefer not to encourage. Which brings us to:

  7. Leaving a comment, after flagging it, inviting that user to a chat
    The purpose of that chat is to talk to that user and explain how that negativity is not good for this site.
    This is an experience-based part of this answer, right here:
    I have found that engaging with a user, on a variety of SEs, often gets one's point across very well. We can have an open and honest dialogue, rather than a one way "I condemn you!" exchange. The tone we adopt during such a discussion makes or breaks it.

We can do a lot of things.

You've been around long enough to know what all of the tools are. So here's my bottom line answer:

Use the tools that we have.

You provided a part of the answer yourself, in the text of your question: we can always link to the playstyles meta in a comment to remind people of how we roll around here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related to #3, I think such questions are almost better received when it's clear that the question is intentionally absurd/unrealistic rather than seriously looking for an exploit that makes the game unfun for everyone else. That said, my point wouldn't apply in this case, given that the premise of infinite crab swarms appearing is clearly absurd... \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast As to infinite crab swarms, I cannot participate in that question since too many (crass) jokes from my Navy days about crabs leap to mind, so I must stay away. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 21:11

I personally dislike theoretical optimization questions, but I don't downvote them. I kinda think it'd be better for the site to focus on questions related to playing RPGs, and agree with the sentiment of that comment that there is no such thing as "theoretical optimization RPG playstyle". Then again, I don't think there's a better site for this kind of puzzles.

I think the core of the problem is, some people downvote, because they are annoyed by mixing of the two different concepts: optimizing a character for playing, and find the best solution for a character optimization puzzle with given constraints and single goal. To compare, it's like putting code golf questions to SO, and while I wasn't here when those got their own site, I bet there was similar concerns and downvotes at SO before that.

So, personal preferences aside, as a solution, I propose a new kind of "puzzle" or "challenge" tag to make it clear that this kind of question is legitimate (not sure what would be a good exact tag name here). That should reduce drive-by-downvotes. Then we might even get other kinds of puzzles too, like map or trap design puzzles (because if one kind of puzzle is ok, then why not other kinds). I suppose there's room here for puzzles, and they might add more than detract from this community.

Some tag ideas: , , .

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Without commenting on the larger issue, "puzzle" is problematic as a term because in-game puzzles are a well-established part of roleplaying, in the "traps on the floor are arranged according to the Fibonacci sequence" style. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells: In addition, there is already a [puzzle] tag for exactly the topic you describe: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/puzzle \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Yeah, maybe "challenge" would be better. Or "rules-abuse", or "excercise" or "thought-experiment" or whatever. And yeah, this is one part of why this kind of "non-playing" questions are a bit iffy: how to mark them as such without more confusion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think "thought-experiment" is a good fit for what you want while not conflicting with any well-known RPG concept. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells: The issue is that that basically seems to perfectly match the description of a "meta tag" - it's a tag that describes the reason for asking the question or what "kind" of question it is, rather than the content of the question itself. See this related blog post, and this help page about tags that mentions them. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 4:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a tag for this it’s called [optimization] and it’s already on the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 5:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil I think that"s just the problem here. These downvoters think that tag should be used for questions about optimizing characters for actual playing, and don't like it mixed with theoretical optimization puzzles. This answer's point is, these two should be differentiated to maybe stop some people downvoting out of annoyance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 5:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I am tempted to, I will not suggest adding a cheese tag for TO questions of that kind. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 13:24

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