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It was put to me by moderators that my question did not pose an actual problem, and when I did pose a problem statement, it was characterized as "doesn't seem like a real problem" and "disingenuous".

Can I recover a single arrow?

When attempts to close the question for being a duplicate were unsuccessful, people attempted to close it for being off-topic, they successfully closed the question characterizing it as not having an "actual problem".

Is a "real problem" required for a question? And what qualifies as an "actual problem"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ My thought about the dis-ingenuity is simple: first, it was a question that attracted downvotes, then you added two paragraphs to recover from the negative impression by framing it in a manner that makes this appear like a community problem which it certainly isn't, and doing so in a manner that mocks the community. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 23 at 2:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Saying that my question mocks the community is insulting to me. I consider myself a member of the D&D community and this stack exchange. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 2:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question doesn't mock the community, the manner of stating that question does: condescending framing of "in infancy" while explaining object permanence (any child would understand this to be true) etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 23 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was not condescension, the addition of the object permanence aspect is to explain why it would be intuitive for a person to think they could recover an arrow. If I did not include that information, then I would have made a bald assertion. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 2:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ You edited "A D&D player that is human ", you seem to be aware of that issue. Since you removed said part, I did not flag it as rude/abusive. To write like that doesn't convince the reader to be more open to the situation where you feel like your question was handled incorrectly. This is all of the time that I contribute to this. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 23 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ From why I understand, comments are there as suggestions to help someone improve their post. Once I saw that someone interpreted that aspect of my question in a way that I did not intend, I removed it. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ So I might be opening a can of worms here, but I feel that the question (as it currently sits) is not really off-topic for the site even though the context around the question is... unfortunate. If anything, it's a duplicate of the Is ammo recoverable question, but that question doesn't explicitly address a single piece of ammo. And the answer by Ryan C. Thompson is good. \$\endgroup\$ – lucasvw Feb 24 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lucasvw Asking for clarification to the potential duplicate of "is ammo recoverable" for single arrows via a bounty would be the better way to ask this. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 24 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Makes sense. Is it possible/should we change it from Closed as Off-topic to Closed as Duplicate? \$\endgroup\$ – lucasvw Feb 24 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lucasvw: It is possible (if that's the route that OP/the community wants to take), though slightly more tedious to do for those who aren't diamond mods because it'd require 5 votes to reopen - then 5 more votes to close as duplicate from regular users, but anyone with a [dnd-5e] gold badge could close it as a duplicate with a single vote. (Diamond mods can close/reopen any question with only their vote alone, so we generally do so sparingly.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 24 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Thanks. I don't have 3k rep, so I can't vote to reopen. I'll leave it to others to decide what to do. \$\endgroup\$ – lucasvw Feb 24 at 21:02
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This is not really about what is or isn't an “actual problem”. Focusing on that would be a red herring. Instead, you ran headlong into one of the quality alarms that the community consciousness shares, and the community responded by hitting the brakes (downvoting and closing). I'm going to talk about that alarm here.

(Brief aside: the degree of response you got is unusual and I can understand being upset about it. We can't do much to change it—moderators can't reverse votes for example. I guess the best takeaway is how/why this happened. I'm going to talk about that here too.)

Okay, so, the alarm you ran into. To discuss that, we first have to establish what RPG Stack Exchange is for.

What's RPG Stack Exchange for?

This is best summarised in our questions to avoid asking help page:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Our site functions at its absolute best when you are experiencing an actual problem in a real situation. That might be a mechanical problem that came up at the table, a social problem that came up in your group, a rules problem that came up while designing a character or planning an encounter, a quantification problem coming out of an optimization exercise, or a handful of other things.

The platonic ideal of a question is that the querent describes to us the actual situation that's really happening, they make it clear what specific part is the problem they're having, and they ask us how to resolve it. The querent is seeking a truthful answer, even if it wasn't what they expected or necessarily wanted to hear. If we ask for additional information or clarification the querent is able to provide answers—real actual situations have substance to them that makes this possible.

Not every question has to meet this platonic ideal (most don't). As long as we're somewhere approximately close to it our site will work well. The further we move away from that platonic ideal, the more trouble we begin to have.

(I mention optimisation questions above, so I should be clear about something. When someone's investigating theoretical character optimisation in a question, “theoretical” is in the name, but it's still a real situation someone's dealing with and a real problem they're actually having. This means we can still get good answers.)

What quality alarm did you run into?

Your questions met a certain pattern: you asked multiple highly specific, theoretical, and sorta-contrived questions around a specific mechanic in a short time period. When we see this pattern it tells us that something weird is happening and that we are probably very far from that platonic ideal, and that we need to hit the brakes and find out what is going on here. This is because we have seen this pattern come up a lot of times and that has been the case every time.

The most benign thing we see when this pattern comes up is that someone has an actual problem they're facing, but they're not describing it to us. They have found potential solutions and ask about those instead of their actual problem, or they ask us contrived questions which they hope will help them find their solution. (Since none of our answers solve their actual problem they will naturally have multiple additional questions rotating around the exact same thing.)

This is what we describe as the XY problem, and so we hit the brakes. We ask them: “hey, whoa, obviously there's something going on here, but instead of asking us about that thing, you're asking us about all these other things. Please instead describe to us about the actual thing you're dealing with and ask us how to to solve that.” Then they do that, and a lot of people save a lot of time and energy by tackling the problem at its root.

At its worst, we find out the querent isn't looking for a truthful answer. Instead they have a specific answer they want so that they can twist their GM's arm into letting them make an OP build (or something like that) and they're trying to make us give them the answer they want. Our site is in the business of collecting truthful answers so we consider this a bad-faith usage of the site. These querents tend to give us a lot of grief and trouble.

I don't believe you were doing anything along the lines of this bad faith example. I'm describing it to make it clear that when we see the pattern I described, things can be very wrong—hence us hitting the brakes.

What's this mean for your situation?

Basically the take-away here is to focus on asking about problems you are actually having for yourself.

You explain that you were asking benignly on behalf of the community in general. It may be surprising, but we don't necessarily want the site used this way. We want such questions to be asked by people actually experiencing that problem. When you're asking without having the problem yourself, it's not a real situation so you're not really able to provide the clarity we might want. You wind up asking a lower-quality question this way than someone actually experiencing the problem might ask, and that might actually do a disservice to the people having that problem: now the only version of that question is not actually the best quality one that could be had.

If you were in fact experiencing this problem, then rather than contriving some situations (“I have three differently-colored arrows”) we would've wanted you to ask the actual situation you were dealing with, which probably would've been something like “I have two magical arrows and one dipped in poison. My GM and I don't agree on how I get to handle recovering them. I think this thing happens, but she says this other thing happens. What actually happens?”

If you personally just want to better understand how ammo recovery works, ask on your own behalf, not someone else's. “I'm confused about how arrow recovery would work in this situation. I think this thing would happen, but I'm not sure. What happens?” This means ask about an actual situation you'd actually expect to see happen to you one day, and avoid contrived scenarios nobody including you will ever really bump into (like red, blue, and yellow arrows).

Generally community members also feel they're here to make a difference for actual people. They want their time spent on problems people are actually having, and resent having their time spent on nonexistent problems nobody is actually experiencing. We had a user who asked a lot of questions like that—“I'm not having this problem, I don't even play this game, but someone else might have this problem one day”—and we consistently had so much trouble with their content that eventually they got an automated question ban imposed by the site. (Automatic question bans are triggered by someone having many questions that are consistently low-quality, closed, and/or deleted. Diamond moderators can neither apply nor overturn these bans.)

So to summarise... surprisingly, asking selfishly (more or less) only about your own problems you're actually having turns out to be the best way to help the broader RPG community and also yourself.

The reception you got

You're understandably upset and I'm sorry about that. From your perspective, I understand you were checking all the boxes, doing everything right, asking perfectly decent questions. You ran into some community practices you were not aware of.

My best understanding is the scale of the feedback you've gotten in response (i.e. downvotes) is down to three multiplicative effects:

  1. You ran into our quality alarm, which naturally triggers downvotes and closure.
  2. It wasn't a real problem, and people didn't like that, leading to more downvotes in disapproval.
  3. You asked on meta, which makes The Meta Effect(tm) happen: whatever was going to happen now happens more, faster, and sooner.

This sucks to be on the receiving end of and I'm sorry you're experiencing it. We can't do much about it—votes can't be reversed or cleared for example. The cat is out of the box and we can't put it back.

The best outcome here is probably to cut your losses on these questions and leave them behind as a learning experience. The community here does forgive relatively easily when they see learning demonstrated. We understand that everyone has a bad day from time to time. We also understand that people sometimes run into bad problems. The Stack Exchange network always has things for all of us to learn, and sometimes we don't learn about these things until we run face-first into them. Most of us have had that happen with one thing or another, just some of us have our run-in worse than others.

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I'm Not Defining 'Actual Problems'

There is really no percentage for anyone to try to rigorously and exhaustively define what are and are not "real questions" trying to solve "actual problems." Some social phenomena resist simple definitions, and in those cases we rely on the members of the community to vote and comment their consciences.

Aside from that, I do not patrol the stack looking for questions that don't seem like "actual problems." (I don't patrol the stack looking for anything to downvote or shut down; I merely vote when something strikes me as wrong enough to voice an opinion about.)

But Here Is Why This One Provoked That Response

  1. That question doesn't exist in a vacuum. That question is one in a series of no fewer than five (5) questions on the same topic in the last few days-- three (3) asked by you, I believe; and two (2) much older ones with recent answers by you. That's odd right there.

  2. Two of those questions (the multi-colored dart/arrow questions) are very clearly contrived, rather than arising from actual play. I don't think the only valid questions are ones arising from real play. But very contrived questions are an indication that something weird is happening.

  3. Another of those questions was not obviously contrived, but it also didn't seem to be something you faced as a player (in which case, "Talk to your GM,") or faced as a GM (in which case, "Make a ruling and be consistent.") It's not strictly necessary to know that in order to answer, but it does help, and at the end of a line of other weird questions, it would have helped a lot. Then you clinched my suspicion with the "community awareness" justification.

  4. All together, it looks like you're fishing for something. What, exactly, I don't know-- some particular answer, some stance by the stack driven by something other than a normal question-and-answer response, I don't know. But that will absolutely trip my "What the is actual problem?" question.


And I'll tell you frankly, since it is more appropriate to do so in Meta than the main stack, that my comment was not meant as an invitation to lawyer down and try to define the undefinable.

Rather, it was intended to make you stop, think, and re-evaluate your whole line of questioning, which has, if my survey is correct, already cost you something like 50 aggregate downvotes.

If it went to Meta, I had hoped it would do so under the aegis of improving the question, not trying to understand the non-existent legalities of "actual problems."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I misunderstood the purpose of meta, I did not actually want this discussion to be about me at all but about how to ask a question without it being removed, an answer that could be useful to a broad number of people. Regarding the arrow question, I was happy to have it simply be what been posed by the community in a comment on my prior question about crossbow bolts. This specific arrow question I posed because someone had commented it "would be a good question to ask", that is all. But then it was in risk of being closed, by adding the problem I hoped it would remain open. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 5:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding on to some of the points in the answer: if your question is essentially a thought exercise based on a contrived situation, or pointing out an edge-case in the rules solely as a "PSA", or refusing to explain the practical relevance of your question, etc. (not saying you're doing these things, OP - those are just the kinds of similar situations that have come up before), then users may be much less willing to spend the time to try and answer your question. Generally, I think people are more willing to put that effort in when it's clear that there's a situation where the answer matters. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 23 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am suffering from an abundance of unwanted attention more than a lack of willingness to engage in my content. I would much prefer if my questions were answered by people besides the 1%ers. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvotes are a form of engagement, too. You pays your money, you takes your chances. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 23 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. Said most of what I was thinking in a better way. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 23 at 22:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your point "If it went to Meta, I had hoped it would do so under the aegis of improving the question, not trying to understand the non-existent legalities of "actual problems."" that you refer to the concept of "actual problems" as non-existent, is exactly the problem. To be using a nebulous concept as a justification to close people's questions is a real problem, one that is concerning to me because it gives unlimited power to close a question for any (secret) reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 24 at 12:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a thought experiment, role-play, let's reverse the situation. I charge your question as having no "actual problem" then I vote to close it and close it, then when asked to define "what is an actual problem" I say, that's unnecessary. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 24 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard In this thought experiment, have large numbers of other users joined you in voting to close? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 24 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think 3 other people in the experiment seem keen on a closure. 4 people total is a number that to my estimation makes the experiment interesting, but feel free to increase or subtract as you deem necessary. Certainly more than 2 others and less than 20. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 24 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard, "Non-existent" is clearly modifying "legalities" and not, as you claim, "actual problem." Further, as I am nod a diamond mod, this does not give me unlimited power to do anything. It would be more proper to say it gives me license to vote to close... but I already had that anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard your thought experiment is also uninteresting. What you are describing is the way Stack Exchange works in general. If you and you alone vote to close my question, nothing happens. If four other people do as well, it closes, and I need to rework the question or abandon it. What exactly is your point? \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I notice that you don’t have questions on the site, I see how it may be hard to empathize in that case. If you were to ask a question and I were to vote to close it for spurious reasons there may be more common understanding between us. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 24 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard A note of caution before you get personal here: Novak has written some of the best-quality answers I have read on this site, particularly the ones dealing with difficult "at table" problems. Asking questions is not required to be a value-added member of this or any Stack: indeed, the original value proposition on SO and SEs in general was that expert answers were the unique product of this system. (for more on that, see the "Optimizing for pearls, not sand" blog post over at SO / SE). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 24 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not that it matters, but for the record: My gaming participation at the moment is limited to a rules-light game with almost no personal issues or conflicts. By its nature, it does not generate "actual problems" other than opinion-based ones about character choices. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, I do ask questions on other stacks where my expertise is much lower. Some of them get votes to close, and at least one has been closed and deleted, to my annoyance. I don't have to perform a thought experiment-- I've been there. What I did not do was ask the same question in multiple different ways or head to the meta to press my case. What I did do was let it go, even though it was a professional career-related question. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 20:13
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This is an actual problem:

I have players who shoot expensive arrows (worth 100gp!), so when my players use their expensive ammunition sparingly, exactly once per encounter, they are unhappy that they can't recover them due to the rounding down rule. [cite relevant parts] I think that RAW is silly and unrealistic.

Does it break the balance of the game if I give them a 50% (example chance) to let them recover their one unbreakable magical arrow?

This is trying to compel them with the power of reason because they just don't get that you have stated a problem:

The problem I am trying to solve; there may not be enough awareness in the D&D community that a player firing a single arrow may not be able to recover that arrow. Having an answer that clarifies this aspect of the rules will help alleviate lack of awareness for those who were not cognizant of this peculiar aspect of the rules.

Players may contend that it is unfair they are not able to recover an expensive magical arrow. Especially if it were a single killing blow to a sole opponent. It maybe intuitive to them by logical reasoning that they should be able to find and remove a magical Unbreakable Arrow from the body of an opponent killed by it but a moment prior.

Humans (in real life) develop a conception of object permanence (understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way) in infancy. A D&D player that is human may assume that an arrow in the game is a permanent object in the same way they would assume an arrow is permanent outside of the game.

Players reading this public post could foresee this issue and avert the consequences.

I have highlighted by bolding all of the things that doesn't make this an actual problem but an attempt at coercing someone by thy power of reason to just get it.

Paraphrasing Robert Nozick (Philosophical Explanations, p. 4):

Wouldn't it be better if your argument left the person no possible answer at all, reducing them to impotent silence? Even then, if they close your question, perhaps you need arguments so powerful they set up reverberations in the brain: if the person refuses to accept the conclusion, they die. How's that for a powerful argument?

The difference here lies in a few things, but the most important is framing. The first question (the one that I re-stated at the top of this post) states the issue and the desired outcome and asks for a check of that conclusion.

The second question veils an issue that you have with the rules as a community problem and offers a particular answer as part of the question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to get it, I think I have a better idea now. If I make up a narrative about a problem that is a "real problem", but having a sense that not enough people know about a peculiar rule is not a real problem, is that right? \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 3:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard no, the idea is that good, stack-appropriate questions are actual issues already. You shouldn't be making anything up in any scenario. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 23 at 3:19
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The linked question answers the question directly, which is “No.”. Duplicate.

“Should the rule be different” is opinion-based.

“What is the designer intent” is off-topic.

“I want other people to see this rule is silly” is not a question. The fact that you’ve asked basically the same question three times on the site indicates that may be your goal. It’s not an appropriate goal for RPG.se.

Therefore there is no angle from which this question can remain open.

A possible real question that meets your need is a request for or review of a house rule allowing for recovery of a single arrow.

Also note that “someone said I should ask that as a separate question” is usually a polite way of saying “you are now asking a question not the same as your original questions, and we only do one question per post, so post it separately.” It doesn’t mean “go ask this question you don’t really have or care about.”

The key idea behind this site is for gamers to spend their valuable spare time helping other gamers have better games out of the goodness of their heart. That’s where the “actual problem” terminology often comes from. Questions that are not a real challenge you have with your game - a theoretical or thought problem, “I am just curious,” and so on are often poorly received and get downvoted, because you are essentially asking people to spend that time not really helping a fellow gamer with a real problem. “Someone said I should ask this even though it’s not my question” is not a good use of the site under that rubric.

See Why was my question closed as too broad, unclear, or opinion-based? for more on good questions and what having a problem means.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate that you have answered why you think my question about arrows should be closed, but I don't see how this answers the question "What qualifies as an "actual problem"?" \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 2:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I answered your real question instead of a made up generic question that’s too broad really. They were trying to get you to ask a real question and not my #2 option, primarily. What is your real problem? “I don’t like the official rule and want an alternate one good for quantity one” I assume? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Stating "What is your real problem?" and then asserting conjecture that my "real" problem is that I have a negative attitude toward rules. Is unkind, unfriendly and offensive to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 2:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ It’s an example of a possible real question, not a diss. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 3:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; the comments about this post I've retained here, but the back-and-forth about whether or not one finds those ^^ comments offensive I've moved to chat so that if a full-fledged discussion about what constitutes offense when trying to help wants to flourish, it has space. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 23 at 4:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard This happens commonly, on this stack and others. It’s called the XY problem: Querent has a problem, but instead of asking about the problem, they come up with their own solution and ask about how to do that. We deal with it by recognizing when it happens and dealing with the original question. \$\endgroup\$ – Stop Being Evil Feb 23 at 4:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StopBeingEvil: Relevant MSE post about it: What is the XY problem? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 23 at 6:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see, in this case my actual problem in the posed meta question is that the term "actual problem" lacks definition, is nebulous, maybe shouldn't be used as a reason to close a question unless it can be defined. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Feb 23 at 6:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ (@StopBeingEvil It also wasn't ~the reason~ I voted to close, it's two words from the comments I left describing my thoughts on my close-vote.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 23 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes there’s not one perfect close reason. See Why was my question closed as too broad, unclear, or opinion-based? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you read the part about real problems with the examples? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you could take away from this that asking random hypotheticals that aren’t really a problem you have does not forward the goal of helping others, as demonstrated by community downvotes. You seem to just want to argue against me, but I’m not the source of all those votes. Listen to any of the answers here to improve. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, well, clearly my time trying to help here is ill spent, I’ll move along. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 23 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard that was transparently not an attempt at a paraphrase, it was the third in a series of possible interpretations. You have four answers, so far, trying to help you understand why that question got closed and why you're getting so many downvotes. With one exception, you've spent your time arguing, self-justifying, and taking offense. And the one exception was where you suggested you should "make up a narrative" which misses the entire point of the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 4:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AmethystWizard I also specifically endorse mxyzplk's tying together of "actual problem" with the basic Stack Exchange impulse to render useful, actionable assistance to real-world problems. There is often a presumption of "actual problem" in questions, even when far-fetched. A sequence of three contrived questions after two related necro-answers leaves that presumption behind. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 24 at 4:06

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