Sometimes people ask us questions about game mechanics without explicitly telling us what game system or edition they’re playing. At the time of writing, our current policy is to never assume the RPG system or edition of a question, even in cases where there is no doubt what system the querent is asking about. We require the OP to explicitly tell us in the question, a comment, or a tag.

We’ve noticed that, recently, this policy seems to be causing conflict and strife for what seems to be little gain. We see this in the comments section under numerous questions and many metas where this policy comes into relevance.

Is this policy more trouble than it is worth? Is it time to retire this strict policy? If so, what would be the policy going forward for managing questions where the system is unclear?

Previously: Revisiting our "never guess the game system" policy

The moderation team's been thinking about this for a while, and proposes a way forward in an answer below... But don’t be shy about posting a competing answer if you're seeing things we're not. We're relying on your experience and judgment, too!

After 3 months, the community's highest voted answer is sitting at +54/-22 and advocates for not changing the policy according to the moderators' proposal, which ranks below it in score at +47/-22. As the community failed to achieve a consensus to change the status quo, we will continue to enforce the policy as we have in the past. Separate refinements made notwithstanding.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of what I have to offer on this is encapsulated in the answer here which seems to be the general idea that you are proposing. So you have my support. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 5 '20 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil We usually just let past discussions stand on their own. We can point people forward to this though. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 5 '20 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think sometimes we've closed the older policy as a dupe of the newer, specifically when it's a change... Though by "we" I mean "past mods" :P - EDIT: I've since come across a post on meta about exactly that: How to show the most recent community consensus in meta? It's also worth noting that the original "guessing" meta linked first post in the post is marked as an FAQ, so it may need to be updated, or removed as an FAQ and potentially replaced with a new FAQ post if the policy change proposed in the answer is accepted. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 5 '20 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you point to examples of strife in non-metas? \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 5 '20 at 21:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak Much of the strife was contained in comments that were almost certainly deleted (if not the post itself). One example is here (mainly in deleted comments and edit warring) and (IIRC) drama from which spilled out into chat. Are you asking because you doubt that the policy has created drama on mainsite before? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 5 '20 at 21:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose not aggressive doubt-- not, "I want to roll to disbelieve!" More that I hadn't really noticed it and wanted to see what it looks like. I hadn't considered that the comments would already have been deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 5 '20 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak: Gotcha! Yeah the first thing a mod would likely do is to send people over to Meta if things started to get heated and then (at some point) remove the comments so the discussion is only happening in one place. Chat might be the best place to find existing traces of that. But it's rather hard to search for. If I find another better mainsite example I'll send it your way. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 5 '20 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Cool. I'm still mulling it over, but I think the new proposed policy is in line with what I myself would have proposed anyway ("Make reasonable inferences, wouldja?") so this was mostly curiosity. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 5 '20 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I don't think I see an issue with it. It might not be a distinct proposal, but I also don't know how else we'd capture that feedback (and it seems like valuable feedback to capture). \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seeing the answers, votes and comments, it is clear that there two camps, one for the policy and one against, and such two camps will never agree and cannot compromise. The same views and voting patterns on these views in these metas are always the same. What can be done here? In other words, it seems impossible for there to be a decision that everyone will be happy with; indeed, one camp will always hate the decision. Is the community simply doomed to be forever split on this topic? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 8 '20 at 10:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS From my POV: the split is not over the policy in and of itself, but over speculation as to whether reverting the policy will be workable. We are all united in the idea of making sure the community experience is workable. If the community maintains being generally in favor of reverting the policy, we will continue to be exploring what is/isn't workable in that new space and see what needs to be done in response. That may include introducing new policies, and might even involve reinstating the current policy in full. We will see in time what we need. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 8 '20 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS personally, I don't worry about there being two camps. Personally, I think that "reverting" would be better. And I'm very happy if a community consensus develops in the other direction--I'm more interested in ensuring that the community considers issues I see (from the behind-the-scenes vantage an elected mod has) as important and comes to a workable conclusion that it can/will put into action than that they come to my conclusion on any given issue. I'm surprised, honestly, but not concerned by this. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 14 '20 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Is it acceptable to add the [dnd-5e] tag to questions about D&D Beyond? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 29 '20 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ A followup to the previous "Is '5e' a clear enough statement of game system" Q&A: Revisit: Is “5e” a clear enough statement of game system by a question asker to determine that the question is about D&D 5e? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 12 '20 at 4:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso This question, at least to me, has no good reason to be an FAQ post. This is discussion about what kind of policy people want to implement, which isn't something the average site users wants to go wading through. This topic has a lot of history as well, and does not feel like a fun place for a user to start. I'd much sooner use the following: "What is the “Don’t Guess the System” policy?" which also avoids the "Top answer being wrong" problem \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 10 at 12:22

Revert the policy, and treat these edits like any other

The moderation team believes it’s time to revert this policy and restore the way we handle system information to the default way we handle every kind of post and tag edit: exercise good judgement, and edit when you’re fairly sure. In other words: The new policy is to have no specific policy.

Being fairly sure tends to mean that the question otherwise has fairly clear and unambiguous information indicating what game and edition is—but that’s not a new guideline; it’s what we see people already doing as they calculate how to respond in comments. (For instance, “I’m playing 5e” all on its own is not clear and unambiguous—many games have a 5e—but “I’m playing an Aarakocra Swarmkeeper Ranger in 5e” probably is adequately clear, and “I’m playing Rise of Tiamat” is definitely very clear.) We’ll talk more about this stuff later on in this post.


It has been covered in much more detail in the post Revisiting our “never guess the game system” policy, but to summarise: In the early days of this site, we needed this policy because the site had many questions from multiple very similar systems and had a problem with people answering based on the incorrect system and requiring things to be cleaned up by moderators afterwards.

Simply put, we don’t have this issue anymore. In 2019, 4139 out of 6311 questions on this site (65.6%) were for D&D 5e. And while we haven’t been able to devise a way to track this issue numerically, in our experience, the vast majority of recent untagged system questions have either later been clarified to be 5e or showed signs of being 5e, but were never clarified. We have observed only a handful of 3.5e/Pathfinder questions where the system was not already specified correctly. And users of non-D&D-adjacent systems seem to continue to have no issues with tagging.

While the community firmly supported the policy early on when it was necessary (in 2014ish), and still supported the policy not too long ago, we have fairly recently seen that the community may instead be supportive of reverting the policy in favour of more practical judgement.

What we are proposing

The new policy we’re proposing is simply: no specific policy for game- and edition-related edits. We want people to exercise sound judgement in reflecting on the information we have present in a question when a game and edition is needed but not explicitly specified.

If we need to know the game and/or edition, it’s missing, and we cannot be reasonably sure what’s being referenced, close it as unclear and leave a comment requesting the information we need. This is just as in any other case where there’s information missing from the question.

If it’s missing but we can be reasonably sure based on one or more pieces of information we have available in the question (see later in this post for examples), then simply update the question to add the game/edition tag.

In the past, the only evidence deemed acceptable was explicit declaration by the OP. We see people regularly noticing evidence that already makes it obvious what the game is—exact quotes from books with exact page numbers, description of multiple game-specific features, and so on—but ignoring it because our policy says they must. Well, that policy being reverted means you can start paying attention to those things again.

As always, don't answer questions about a specific game system when the system/edition is not abundantly clear. If there is no reasonable doubt that the question could only possibly refer to one game system, then edit the corresponding tag into the question first. If you aren’t that confident, then our previous guidance still applies: withhold your answer and wait for clarification. Also, if you add in a tag, please leave a comment for the OP asking for confirmation and explain why to help them to learn to add the tag themselves going forward.

Why we are proposing this change

The goal of this site is to facilitate the asking and answering of questions. We shouldn’t be throwing away useful questions that are already reasonably clear solely because they don’t follow the letter of some policy. Our experience is that questions closed in accordance with the existing policy repeatedly are already reasonably clear. Users are frequently champing at the bit to answer, are outright asking “This is D&D 5e, right?” in comments, and some get impatient and frustrated that they’re having to ignore what are truly obvious signals of what the game and edition are just because the author hasn’t said so.

Additionally, there are constant battles in comments and on Meta about this issue, including at least 4 major Meta posts within the last few months. This is too much time and effort being spent to maintain a policy that doesn’t substantially benefit us in our current environment.

Examples of system-specific evidence to take into consideration

If a question quotes exact text from a D&D 5e book and gives a page number and book reference that lines up exactly with D&D 5e, the chances that they aren’t playing D&D 5e are acceptably small. Same if a question asks a question full of D&D 5e terminology and then says it is for “5e”. Are there other games with a 5th edition? Yes, but the chances of someone playing one of those and that system using D&D 5e terminology and that question appearing on this site are basically 0.

Look for some combination of the following. This is not a checklist, nor is there a minimum number of points that must be met, but the more the better:

  • Exact quotes from game materials that correspond exactly to only one system
  • Multiple pieces of terminology that are only used in one system
  • References to titles of modules, book, and/or adventures that only happen in one system
  • Partial references to a system (e.g. “5e”)

Of course, keep an eye out for terms and things that don’t fit, which might suggest that the OP is confused or playing some odd combination of systems. This could make otherwise clear information unclear.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I just wanted to say that despite my earlier opinions I completely see (and agree) how this policy has done across Meta and in comments as mentioned in this answer. I would be happy to see the policy change knowing that the effects of this change will be under watch and revisited if necessary. That all said, I have one major question: How will this effect posts that are currently closed without a system, the system is clear, and the question would be open had it had a system tag? Can they be retroactively edited and then re-opened? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 5 '20 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't hurt to open and answer a question that the actual OP is unlikely to ever see, assuming it is in an openable condition. The answer may still have value to other users who have similar problems. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Mar 5 '20 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil In trying to get people to go with the program on the "never guess the system" policy, the moderation team came up with a lot of additional reasons to do it anyway, but we simply never applied those in any other situation. “If a question's unclear, close it or else they won't learn” is not something we ever said about any other kind of edit; we edit and let them learn by seeing it happen. “If they don't come back to clarify they'll never be helped anyway” was another justification we used then but nowhere else. I think it's time for us to unlearn those and drop them. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 5 '20 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Excellent question. My gut is saying that editing old questions and reopening them would have limited value when done en masse, even considering that only some fraction of them would likely meet a threshold where we could be confident enough to do so. If someone ran across a question that is high quality and that they really wanted answered, it probably wouldn't be the worst thing (though probably better to just re-ask it yourself), but I don't think we need to rescue old questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 5 '20 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "We see people regularly noticing evidence that already makes it obvious what the game is—exact quotes from books with exact page numbers, description of multiple game-specific features, and so on—but ignoring it because our policy says they must. Well, that policy being reverted means you can start paying attention to those things again." HURRAY! I do hate "letter of the law", and this new direction seems much more like "spirit of the law" to me. Much better. Also, I love the entire "Why we are proposing this change" section of your answer, these are exactly my thoughts. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 5 '20 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to note that I myself was one of the people who'd previously indicated sticking with "no guessing at all", but I came around to this point of view as well after being a mod for a while and seeing the trends and potential issues (and non-issues) around system tags/guessing. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 5 '20 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, It is worth keeping in mind what NathanS's answer to the earlier meta "When is it OK to assume the system without it being considered a guess?" warns about "guessing" based on our own preconceptions and limited understanding - e.g. don't assume a particular term or name is unique to one RPG/edition (and edit in a potentially incorrect tag) unless you actually make the effort to confirm that that's the case. I suspect this is more likely with editions of D&D and Pathfinder and the like, but it's not unique to those RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 5 '20 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Awareness of preconceptions and limited understanding (such as seeing a recognized term and assuming it must belong only to that TTRPG you happen to know about) is so important! Probably my favorite part of this answer/policy is the stress on that: "Exact quotes from game materials that correspond exactly to only one system. Multiple pieces of terminology that are only used in one system. References to titles of modules, book, and/or adventures that only happen in one system." excellent advice! \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 6 '20 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh-unsilenceMonica do we actually see (for example) Dungeon World questions that aren't tagged appropriately to begin with? Inappropriate D&D-based answers were happening despite system tags on questions, from users who actually ignored tags or, worse, knew what the answer would be in D&D and so wrote answers of the form "Well, in D&D..." I do not see this change in policy much aggravating that problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Mar 6 '20 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh-unsilenceMonica: As the answer says: "As always, don't answer questions about a specific game system when the system/edition is not clear. If there is no reasonable doubt that the question could only possibly refer to one game system, then edit the corresponding tag into the question first. If you aren’t that confident, then our previous guidance still applies: withhold your answer and wait for clarification." People still shouldn't make blind guesses at the system, as per my earlier comment. We'd basically just no longer put system edits on a pedestal, compared to other edits. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 6 '20 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have always recommended the policy that it's not "guessing" if the parameters of the question make the system unambiguously clear. For example, if someone asks "can I play a githyanki from the 3.5 Monster Manual", that's an answerable question because it can only possibly describe D&D 3.5. I don't believe in erecting arbitrary barriers to entry by forcing new users to learn the site's tag etiquette before they can receive an answer, particularly when other missing tags (e.g. "lore", "spells") can be added by any user. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Mar 10 '20 at 16:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil just as a note, Quadratic's comment only said "3.5" not "D&D 3.5e". 3.5 is not theoretically wholly unambiguous (since more than one system could theoretically have a 3.5 in it). So that example is exactly one that would in fact likely be contentious under the current policy. We've, in fact, had an actually instance of this with someone saying "5e". \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 11 '20 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil to reiterate, this has actually happened and it was kept closed because of the rule. The Meta is linked in this answer IIRC. And I'm not arguing for a perfect rule (in fact this answer argues for a removal of a rule), I was just clarifying something you had apparently overlooked in that comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 11 '20 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil What Rubiksmoose said, yes. I note, for example, that you were able to deduce that I was speaking of D&D when my comment didn't mention D&D explicitly. Under current rules, such a question would have to be closed, tags reverted, and answers downvoted. Rubiksmoose's proposal would allow RPG experts such as you and I, when we are able to unambiguously deduce the game system being referred to, to add the correct tag without having it reverted. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Mar 12 '20 at 8:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ A relevant example of our existing "no guessing" policy in action is this new question. It has the book name (well, an acronym for the book name, albeit a fairly unique one), a page number, and a direct quote from the book... But it doesn't say "D&D 5e", so technically by our policy we're not supposed to edit in the [dnd-5e] tag despite it being 100% verifiably about D&D 5e (and only D&D 5e). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 21 '20 at 7:32

The endless arguments across Meta show that there are problems no matter what policy is used. These problems are caused because questions that should have system tags do not have them.

We can maintain the policy and people will go against it when they add a screamingly obvious system tag and are told not to do so, resulting in irritation and upset for users.

We can change the policy and people will go against it when system tags are incorrectly edited in, resulting in irritation and upset for users.

(I could support further why each possible policy results in issues but if the countless Metas and this post are not evidence enough I really don't know what could be)

Reduce the number of questions that should have system tags but don't

I think something being ignored is the fact that a policy is only needed if there are questions which should have system tags and yet the tags are missing. This is why I believe that what we should actually be doing, instead of arguing circles about a policy and whether we should re-re-re-re-revisit said policy, is to better convey the importance of a system tag.

We should make it clearer to new askers that mentioning the exact system is going to be a requirement for having their question answered.

We tell new users to take the tour, yet the tour doesn't mention the current policy about explicit system specification. This should be changed, or else we're going to keep running into this problem with newer users.

There is already some discussion of this: "Can our tag-prompt nudge toward including system?", but unfortunately, for the past while, we could not do anything about the situation. But given the recent change to the Ask A Question page, I believe this is an avenue once again worth pursuing.

What I would propose is some sort of change to the Ask A Question page so that users are more directly aware of the importance of system tags, or are nudged, in some way, to include a system tag, if it is applicable to their question.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, not every question needs a system tag; there are plenty of questions throughout the stack that are on player dynamics, gm-techniques, and other social (or at least non-mechanical) matters and these should not be required to have a system tag. If the Ask A Question page emphasized system tags is should be sure to note that such tags are helpful if (and only if) the question is directly about or deeply rooted in a certain TTRPG.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that the new ask page that was recently rolled out does allow for a lot more customization (including customizing the text that appears in the popover that appears when the original poster is choosing tags when making the post), though the actual changes currently need to be made by CMs. :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 7 '20 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your last point: Check out this comment pointing to this meta. We did actually provide an update on that issue, but the answer at the time was "we can't do anything". Now with the updated ask a question page we might have some options potentially, but we don't yet know the extent. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubik, V2Blast Hopefully I've accounted for what you've mentioned, if not, feel free to mention how. In all honesty, I think I've simply gotten tired of the amount of discussion on this policy and what to do about it or what to do with it. At this point I just want a solution that involves compromise: preventing questions that should have system tags from not having system tags. \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 8 '20 at 3:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I fully support this and the separate meta question it will require is forthcoming. We (or at least I) are waiting on a clarification on the capabilities of the new warnings. If better ask-wizarding works, it should lessen the unspecified-system problem, but it would not solve it. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 8 '20 at 12:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your last point the best \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 8 '20 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your last point and I've seen it be the nexus of plenty of friction: "I'm having a problem where my coffeelock outshines the rest of the party in HotDQ. But I'm sure this sort of thing happens in other systems, so I don't want to say it's a dnd-5e question, I want to get the broadest range of experts answering my question." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 10 '20 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've posted a question how we want to actually do it here: New ask page: How do we want to use it to help new users specify their system? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 11 '20 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree with the first part of this answer, it reminds me of the old saying "You can please some people some of the time..."; in other words, this policy will always make some people unhappy. The trouble with the second half is that RPG.SE has a specific need, the need to specify a system, which the SE site/software doesn't support, which is the only reason we need to fall back on policies in the first place. If the software could prevent a question being submitted until you specify a system tag (or system agnostic, whatever), then we wouldn't need any policy or this discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 12 '20 at 11:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ As it stands, we have no choice but to fall back on trying to use policies to police users into making up for what the SE site/software lacks. Because these policies are "insider baseball" (as mxyz would put it), new users won't know to follow it, and will therefore keep going against it without realising. I can't help but feel like we as a community are doomed to repeat this problem forever, falling back on policies which don't quite work or make sense but are the best/only tool we've got (unless SE caters for this by implementing "mandatory system tags" or similar, which they never will...) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 12 '20 at 11:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS And, as this answer points out, mandatory system tags would be horrendous. Plenty of questions do not have and certainly do not need a system tag \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 12 '20 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hence why I mentioned system-agnostic (I didn't include the dash before, so that might have been easily missed); the main purpose of these comments, though, wasn't to advocate for mandatory tags so much as to point out that these policies are trying to make up for a design flaw in the system, which is why we are doomed to argue about them forever... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 12 '20 at 15:50

I think it is a terrible idea to revert the policy

I disagree, strongly, with the assertion that questions are so often “reasonably clear.” I feel that I have often assumptions made that are incorrect. I also flatly deny—as objective fact—the claim that there is “no harm” in answering such questions. Mistaken assumptions create an unholy mess for no good reason.

Reverting the policy is an optimization for sand

One of the core foundations of Stack Exchange is “optimize for pearls, not sand.” That means that effort is focused on ensuring that the best questions get the most attention, that the best answers get the most attention, and the people capable of providing the best answers spend as much time as possible on writing those best answers to the best questions.

Meanwhile, questions from users who don’t come back, who don’t read comments, have almost no value. To undo this policy is, to my mind, optimizing for help vampires. We don’t have many of them, but this policy is part of why. And we do have some.

The closed status is super-important here

In contrast to one popular comment here, in reality, it is closing questions that has no real harm. Yes, we want to help, we want to answer questions—but there’s not really a shortage of questions to answer.

But we need the system to be clear before a question can be answered.1 No if’s, and’s, or but’s. That’s just a fact. Every user on this website needs to know that. Every question that needs a system but doesn’t have one is a problem, a danger. In that state, it is ripe for wasted time, hurt feelings, and huge arguments. It is an excellent way to cause our best contributors to spend more time on our worst contributions.

So we close them—perfect! Now there’s no risk of those things happening. And with an engaged user, the closing doesn’t have to be long—in my experience, re-opening after a system tag is edited in happens very quickly on this site.

Closing questions protects the site and protects its users—both those who asked the question and those who would answer it.

The educational opportunity that the policy provides is real

As discussed, we really absolutely do need a clear system before any answers can be written, and every user needs to understand that. And they do, very quickly, learn that. Because of this policy.

Off the top of my head, I can only really think of one serious help vampire that we have on this site. I wouldn’t trust that user to so much as give their own question a quick once-over to make sure they haven’t left anything out or broken their links—to say nothing of actually tagging their question correctly—but that user does actually manage to use system tags correctly. Because that user knows that a missing system tag will actually get their question closed. The other myriad errors they can’t be bothered to fix, on the other hand, will usually be fixed for them by the community, and in any event will rarely inhibit their getting an answer, so they don’t bother.

Now, I am not suggesting that the community stop editing questions generally to get them into shape. This is literally one user, you don’t shape policy around one problem user. But it illustrates the power of this policy for educational purposes, and also goes on to show why it’s so important for system tags, and not other tags or other kinds of edits—because system tags are that critical, and cause that much of a problem in their absence.

Every edit could instead be a question closure followed by making the user edit things themselves; that would teach them something. The lessons so learned would not, in most cases, be worth doing that, though, so no one (least of all me) is suggesting that. But system tags are in fact unique in their importance, and therefore a case in which that educational value is uniquely high.

The Stack Exchange system isn’t helping

The precise examples given all over the place, on an ad hoc basis, I would not particularly mind admitting that they can be safely edited to include a system tag even without the querent’s interaction. But there is simply no mechanism to restrict things to only those kinds of questions. You suggest eliminating the policy—having no policy. That isn’t only going to apply to the kinds of questions you have listed—it simply isn’t.

Ideally, we would want every edit introducing a system tag (by someone other than the OP) to get attention—we would want oversight on whether or not that edit was valid. It would be great if we could make that always a suggested edit, say, or something people could vote on like closing the question is—but we cannot. That’s a pretty serious problem—because it’s very, very likely that edits are going to be missed.

Hell, for that matter, it’s not even hard to imagine the OP missing it—because there’s no way to enforce that users have to comment on the question about editing in the tag, and a new user might not notice the tag or recognize its signifcance. If the game they are playing is related to—but distinct from—the game the question was incorrectly tagged with, and they’re a new player of the game as well as a new user of our site, they may not recognize that answers are off, either—after all, if they knew the answer to the question, they wouldn’t have asked it.2

And then we are misleading users. Pretty clearly not in anyone’s best interests, least of all ours. It’s a fairly lengthy sequence of steps—I wouldn’t expect this kind of thing to happen immediately or often—but each step along the way is pretty plausible to me, which means the whole chain itself doesn’t strike me as outside the realm of possibility. And I’d very much prefer it were.

I would likely feel very different about the scenario if we could enforce oversight, enforce notification to the OP about what’s happened and what its significance is, or even better, actually limit things to certain kinds of questions, but we can’t. Stack Exchange provides no mechanism for us to do so; unless the right people happen to catch that the edit happened, it’s all too likely that we won’t even know of a problem.

The only solution to this that I see is the current policy—at least that means that everyone on the site knows system-tag edits aren’t allowed. Everyone on the site knows that if they see a system tag edited in by someone who isn’t the OP, that’s not OK. Without the policy, they won’t know that anymore. They won’t know if that was an acceptable edit or not. They’ll have to find the same evidence that whoever made the edit used, or look for a comment explaining it, or otherwise dig deeper. And they may not be qualified to do so. That’s a serious problem.

You are seriously downplaying the risks and dangers here

I see a whole lot of “preparing for the best” going on, and a whole lot of what really seems like head-in-the-sand-ism about what the worst is going to be like. This is not going to be as neat or clean as it seems that some people expect. As just discussed, we can’t restrict things to such cases, nor can we guarantee oversight to do so manually. Which means there are eventually going to be serious problems, and worse, serious problems that are allowed to stand long enough to become big fights. But the argumentation in favor of removing the policy doesn’t seem to recognize that.

For example,

Reverting the “don't guess the system” policy should not mean “guess the system at will”

except that’s exactly what it will mean—to some users. We absolutely have users who are simply vastly over-confident in their own judgment. We see users label things as “obvious” beyond any rational justification all the time. In fact, here, and really more broadly in most human discourse, “obvious” is often used as a crutch to obfuscate that the speaker doesn’t really have evidence to support their position (or can’t articulate it, but I think it’s reasonable to assume we want people to be sure enough to be able to articulate it). “Obvious” isn’t.

An example I mentioned in comments was something like

The weapons table in the Player’s Handbook includes the unarmed strike...

Someone familiar with D&D 5e might well recognize this—the issue of unarmed strikes and whether or not they are weapons and what the significance of that is are all pretty sources of confusion in that system. It might be obvious to such a user that this is a D&D 5e question. Except D&D 3.5e also has a product named Player’s Handbook, and it also includes a weapon table, and that weapon table also includes the unarmed strike. And the two systems handle unarmed strikes very differently (thanks to some errata in D&D 5e), so any answers resulting from this question are going to be very different in each system.

Certainly, not every product is titled “Player’s Handbook,” which gets re-used constantly. I am not aware of any system other than D&D 5e that has a product titled Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. But I’m not certain of that—for all I know, this Xanathar character has his roots in 2e or something, and this title reflects a 2e book I’ve never heard of. I don’t know. And without that kind of encyclopedic knowledge, it is difficult to leverage such evidence—and easy to misuse it, if you are wrong about how unique something is. More importantly, not only does whoever performs the edit have to know it, so does everyone who provides oversight—a tall order!

The long and short of it is that we are going to have blind guesses, followed by arguments that “no it really is obvious, I can just tell.” That is going to happen, sooner or later. And when it does, it’s all-too-likely that someone’s going to see the question with the tag, not question it or check the edit history—why would they?—, and write an answer. And then if it turns out to be wrong—let’s be honest with ourselves, when it turns out to be wrong, because sooner or later there will be such a question where whatever was “obviously” so wasn’t—then there is going to be a lot of wasted time, a lot of hurt feelings. That’s not good for anybody. It doesn’t help the querent, it doesn’t certainly doesn’t help the answerer, and it doesn’t help the site.

We’ll have optimized for sand, and gotten grime instead.

The arguments are going to be worse, not better

One of the stated reasons to revert the policy is to reduce arguing about the policy. That completely ignores the fact that arguments about system-less questions are going to get worse without the policy.

The simple fact of the matter is that the strict, hard-and-fast policy does nothing so well as it kills arguments. There is no room for debate—you don’t guess, period. If someone wants to argue about it, they have to argue about the policy as a whole, not the particular case. It eliminates wasting time getting into the weeds on a particular question.

Without the policy, we are going to instead of arguing about what is or isn’t obvious. Edit wars where people insert tags they consider “obvious” and others revert them, so on and so forth.

Serious danger of becoming even more “D&D 5e Stack Exchange”

As Rubiksmoose points out, 65% of our questions were about D&D 5e. That isn’t a good thing. There probably isn’t anything we can do about it, but it’s definitely worrisome—the number of D&D 5e questions is great, but the too-low number of non-5e questions is something of a concern.

Reverting this policy in light of that is only more worrisome. People incorrectly assume D&D 5e all the time—even when questions are tagged with something else. How unwelcoming would it be to have your question about another system turned into a D&D 5e question, and then for there to be a big fight when it gets changed back? How much is that going to cement the idea that we only handle D&D 5e?

In the extreme, we can even imagine us ending up with D&D 5e questions that were never meant to be D&D 5e questions. That’s only going to make matters worse.

A potential alternative—that I doubt anyone wants

The Stack Exchange system does have a solution to the problems we have here, where we could ensure oversight and consensus before allowing answers to a question. Namely, we could allow system tags to be edited in without the OP’s input after a Meta discussion agrees that the situation is “safe” to edit.

But does anyone want that? Going and creating a Meta discussion, waiting for consensus, that takes time. To be fair, there’s strong reason to wait 24 hours, to give people in all timezones a chance to contribute. In that time, hopefully, the OP would return and edit their question anyway, rendering the whole Meta discussion moot. And if they don’t, that really makes the effort put into salvaging the question pretty dubious. And it still won’t help anyone “champing at the bit,” since they’re still gonna have to wait.

So I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to even bother mentioning such an exception to the policy—would anyone even bother using it if it was an option? Is it worth anyone’s time to do so, even if they’re willing? Is it worth anyone else’s time to contribute to the consensus? I don’t think so.

  1. Unless it’s a question that doesn’t have anything to do with a particular system but those are not the subject of this discussion.

  2. Assuming it’s not a self-answered Q&A, which is probably a fair assumption for a new user—and even if it were, in that case there’d be an answer, and the user would presumably have enough familiarity with the system to say other answers are off.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan In our proposal, we aren't encouraging people to blindly guess here, this is an educated inference based on content in the question itself. If there's a significant chance that the question could be more than one system, we expect people to vote to close as they would with anything else they were unsure about. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 6 '20 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would it help if the proposed change was reworded as a "relaxing" of the policy re: whether or not a direct explicit statement from the OP is required, since the intent is clearly not that users are encouraged to take wild swings at genuinely unclear questions? I agree that it is still a very good idea to have an explicit policy not to "guess" - the issue of major contention is only really where the line was drawn regarding what constitutes a guess. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Mar 6 '20 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, we do not want to see people making guesses. Reverting the “don't guess the system” policy should not mean “guess the system at will”, it means “don't use the policy that was specifically labelled the don't-guess-the-system policy”. Nobody should in fact be making guesses, but that's part and parcel of normal practice—don't operate on wild guesses and prefer to seek information if you don't have it. We want people able to draw clear inferences based on information already in the question, such as citing a combination of D&D 5e adventures and mechanics and AL. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 6 '20 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener And yet we already have people doing it and people whinging about it. And not only in what you happen to consider “obvious” cases. And yes, I think that we need to be “strict” or there will be problems; I think this will be a case of “give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” I see nothing good coming from this. For that matter, even if it all works out as perfectly as you could hope, I see nothing good coming from it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 6 '20 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 That’s correct. People shouldn’t be “pained” but what they consider to be “obvious”—people are really poor judges of “obvious.” We have had so many arguments that effectively devolve into people asserting that things are obvious—and then being wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 6 '20 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm just going to link this answer, which I still find the most compelling argument in this space. A zero tolerance policy is easy to enforce. Going forward, there are going to be a lot of arguments about "it mentions Dragonborn, so it must be 5e". \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Mar 6 '20 at 23:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ In what world are questions like this not unambiguous? The asker is literally citing a whole passage from the D&D 5e DMG. It's not really a "guess" that this is about D&D 5e, it's just that the asker forgot to specify. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Mar 7 '20 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil my personal feeling is that the main difference between the proposed policy and the last one is that we are trusting our community of experts to identify the few questions that are pearls but lacking a tag instead of relying on a hard line rule which discards all such questions equally. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic This is exactly my feelings on the matter; I couldn't agree more. There are some cases where—no really—it really is obvious (exact page numbers, quotes, etc, basically whatever I said in this answer) to the point that it's not a guess, it's a deduction with only one right answer, and the only reason anyone would not edit the [dnd-5e] tag in to a question like that is just "because of policy", which, on its own, is a terrible reason to do anything, and is exactly the kind of "letter of the law" mindset that I hate. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 7 '20 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS No, you are very simply incorrect. Other reasons: 1. teaching a lesson. 2. to eliminate arguments about when things are or are not obvious. 3. because there is absolutely no advantage whatsoever to do otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '20 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ If teaching a lesson was a valid reason to not edit a system tag, we'd never edit anything. We'd instead just close and make the querent do the work so they learn a lesson. That's not how things work though, and we can teach people by editing. Now, there's valid reasons to keep things as is, but that's not one of them. Senior users and moderators of past years came up with that and other reasons to convince people to stick with the policy even when they gave pushback, but we need to recognise some of those things for the bull excuses they were and let some of those go. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 8 '20 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ And @NathanS pointing that out is exactly one of my major concerns. This policy has people completely ignore basic obvious information. It asks them to not see what's right in front of them, even when it's completely unambiguous. ("Oh, they're talking about Adventurers League and Hoard of the Dragon Queen and quoting a 5e feat, but we couldn't possibly know what game they're playing.") That's super unhealthy for a site that is entirely driven by people exercising good judgement on a case by case basis always and paying attention to what's in front of them. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 8 '20 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ On reflection, I've reversed my stance - relaxing the policy probably is more trouble than it's worth. Let's acknowledge, though, that SE does condition us to want to be able to answer questions immediately, which is why it rankles when a question must be closed for what seems an inane reason; lots of questions we get are honestly relatively easy answers for people familiar with the system involved, and the first person to make that easy answer gets the lion's share of the rep reward. Fake internet points are a strong motivator. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Mar 9 '20 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 In my experience, such edits are reverted, and those who make them are told that it was unacceptable. I’m sure there are cases where this does not happen, but mostly it is. That is, in effect, what the policy says should happen. Edit wars should never happen, for any reason—that is a sure sign that a discussion is already long-overdue for being taken to Meta. Arguing about the policy in comments is also not supposed to happen—again, take it to Meta. That’s not just this policy, but all policy on this site; that’s how the site works. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 9 '20 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'm still not sure where I'm going to end up on this one, but either way I'm glad you had time/energy to do the rewrite. There's a lot of good stuff here for people to mull over. (BTW, I'm in DC tomorrow and am pretty free all day. If you'd like a coffee on this mod as a 'thanks for your service' ping me in chat.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 9 '20 at 20:51

It's precisely because a system tag can sometimes be assumed that it never should be.

Back-shelf RPG guy here for a perspective. Here's a couple of questions that put a certain impression on me. One's about a druid who wants to turn into a blink dog. One's about mitigating the effects of critical hits.

Neither of them's about D&D - the first one is admittedly kind of cheating, because it was inspired by a recurring theme I saw in D&D questions and I thought it would help to share my perspective about a similar thing that happened in Dungeon World. The second one's about Genesys. Both of them were properly system tagged, and both of them have two deleted answers that gave a curt but correct answer to the question as though it was about D&D 5E.

I can't speak for any of those four answerers. I don't know what they were thinking about how the site operated or how questions worked. All I know is that since they were downvoted and their answers deleted, none of them have put questions or answers on the site, and I feel guilty about accidentally tricking two of them, one of whom joined the site to give an answer, into eating downvotes and deletes.

If we require a system tag for questions that are about system rules rather than the social activity of playing an RPG, then we can at least say to people who are answering a question "one of these tags will be the game's system; please don't answer the question if you don't know the system". If we require the querent to add a system tag rather than some helpful editor with the best intentions -- well, I mean, that's here already, and if it wasn't, would I have had to strip a dnd-5e tag from my question with even more "I only play games you've never heard of" swagger?

I just worry that if we let it be assumed that questions are about dnd-5e and that be how the site works, then people are going to assume questions are about dnd-5e even more than they already are right now, and people who want to ask questions about other systems are going to have to, well, either proactively confront that assumption or lash out with downvotes and reversions after the fact, and neither of those options seems like a friendly thing to be.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's actually a really good point - people already see us as D&D 5e Stack Exchange, and this is only going to make it worse. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Mar 7 '20 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I don't think either of those questions would provide enough "system-specific" evidence (per Rubiksmoose's answer) for anyone to conclude it's about D&D 5e - and, in fact, the wording of both questions makes it somewhat clear that D&D 5e is not being talked about, even setting aside the fact that both questions already had a tag indicating that the system wasn't D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 8 '20 at 23:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think people (mainly new users, I assume) failing to read the tag or the context clues in the question before answering is quite the same problem we're dealing with, though it does reinforce the need for us to not rely solely on the name of a single monster we're familiar with in determining the system. People failing to read the system tag is certainly a problem in its own right - but a different one. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 8 '20 at 23:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who had never played dnd 5e, I would not even be able to tell these answers are necessarily wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Mar 19 '20 at 1:04

I wrote an answer about this a while back, here's a shorter version

Get clarification first / promote better engagement with new users

One of the advantages of asking the question "What game/system/edition are you playing?" and waiting to get that answer is that we treat whomever asks the question as a person (which IMO is important for the new user experience) and engage with them in discourse in the process of helping them write a good question.

This early engagement supports a point that @Carcer made in a comment under one of @V2Blast's answer, with the point that doing this allows us to coach/teach new users on how to best use the site. We want effort put into questions, and we want questions to be clear and well scoped. Right?

A much more compelling argument about being extremely strict about policy here is that this is about teaching the querent how to use the site properly.

  • Benefits of not changing course:
    • We don't confuse those who can or will offer an answer.
    • We engage with new users directly and help "bring them on board" the site as better users by coaching and teaching them.

How we engage, and the tone we use in our comments (and various "help piles") will determine how welcoming, or not, our response is received as being.

Clearing up any ambiguity in a question is part of the site working as intended.

Style counts.

I encourage a warm prose style, and tone, for engaging with new users.

This answer is offered as an alternate view to the idea that changing policy is even necessary.

(For @doppelgreener; and I was so very tempted to title this 'don't fix what isn't broken' but I have chosen to try a more engaging style this time around. ;-) )

Full Disclosure

I also wrote this answer on the same topic a while back, which roughly aligns with the current proposal; I can see both sides of this coin.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ For clarification, you also wrote this answer which seems to align pretty well with what the moderator proposal is. Is this just a case of you offering a counter-point here for the sake of making sure we have all viewpoints accounted for or am I misunderstanding your answer in the link (or this one!)? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Absolutely! Yes. That is my intention. I bring up that point in the answer you link (you might say that I can see both sides of this coin) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 7 '20 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, just to be clear, the reason we've put forward this proposal has nothing to do with whatever SE/SO are doing, at least nothing intentional. Specifically, we didn't propose this as any kind of way to be more welcoming or more engaging with users. We still maintain that quickly and consistently closing all unclear and off-topic questions interacting and politely engaging with users is the best way for this site to handle those things. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose OK, I'll let that float there for a bit, glad you cleared that up. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 7 '20 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ No problem. I'm glad you brought up that point because maybe that is something we can and should clear up. The big thing we are changing is that we believe we may have had an overly-strict view of what "unclear" meant with regards to system tagging and that, occasionally, questions that were actually clear were being closed needlessly and that did not align with the way any other kinds of question issues were handled. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ We also observed that this rule was having a effect on the way people expected rules on this site to work in that people seemed to be expecting more letter of the law rules instead of what most of our rules are: things that require judgement calls and trusting the community to come to a good decision in complicated edge cases. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '20 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose You know how I feel about guidelines > rules ... ;-) It's the pirate in me ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 7 '20 at 17:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, Stack Exchange didn't ask us to do anything here. The current mod team has been discussing this issue on and off since mid last year, soon after the election. We've been taking the time to look at questions that were closed under the existing policy, and taking time to evaluate what it's doing for us vs what would happen if we reverted the policy. We've also been evaluating community sentiment in comments and on meta to see whether people might want a change or not. The timing has everything to do with that, and nothing to do with anything going on at SO Inc. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 7 '20 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. For what it's worth, the mod team has felt as disconnected from the company recently as the rest of y'all, and I'm not aware of a time the staff have ever given us a specific directive other than in various extremely public policy changes, where, y'know, the directive has been public, because it's the new policy. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 7 '20 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Something raised somewhere in this Q/A was that even if you are trying to train the user to use the site, why are we only taking that opportunity with system tags? Why not all the others sorts of tags that exist which are currently freely and readily edited in by other users? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 7 '20 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 For that matter, why not close all new-user questions, so that we can "promote engagement" by making them ask why we closed the question, explaining that that's our policy, referring them to meta, and having them ask for it to be reopened? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Mar 7 '20 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I am pretty sure the guideline of "we can make this edit ourselves, but let's close the question instead and make them do it to teach them a lesson in using the site" truly is a guideline that only gets walked out when it comes to game/edition information that's still obvious. (I mean, if it's ambiguous, it's not an edit we can make ourselves so this doesn't apply—this guideline only comes up when it is completely obvious what the game is.) In any other case I'm pretty sure we'd teach by example—just edit it in to show how the site works. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 8 '20 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ ' I have review queue fatigue. The amount of "no effort/low effort" input to this (and other) SEs sucks the life out of the volunteers who offer their time and expertise on "topic X"' personally, I have 'dealing with onerous rules' fatigue. When a not-insignificant amount of my time results in my answers being removed because I'm trying to be helpful to the user despite the user not strictly following the rules, I lose the will to keep helping out. It must be even worse for new users coming to ask questions only to have their question brusquely turned aside. \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Cullen Mar 19 '20 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this is that the closing is basically automatic, while the friendly messaging isn't. A lot of users complain about how even explaining a downvote is onerous. And, even if you do explain it, no matter how warm you are, telling people how they have to ask something to be worthy of an answer carries with it some level of elitism that will be felt. I say that, because of this, this should be limited to when such is necessary, and when you can determine the system, there is no reason to close. You can still leave a helpful comment about how you need to list the system next time. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Mar 22 '20 at 1:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly And, even if you do explain it, no matter how warm you are, telling people how they have to ask something to be worthy of an answer carries with it some level of elitism that will be felt If you look at what the purpose of an SE site is, perhaps they need to head to a discussion forum if a modicum of effort puts them off. And it's not even elitism: it is a writing style and formatting challenge to overcome. I had to adopt a new writing style to get my answers to stay open. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 22 '20 at 2:46

What the policy says

As far as I have gathered, the main point of this policy is to not edit a question to give it a system tag when the system is not 100% clear from the context. This is merely a specification of the generally accepted fact that editors should try to enhance a post without changing its message. Apparently, with no source I can find, people started applying the sentence "Don't guess the system!" to answers as well (even though that was not hinted at in the original meta question or any of its answers). So at this point, my best guess on what policy we are talking about is "Every question should state what system it refers to and if there are questions that do not do that, they should be commented on, asking for clarification, rather than being answered or edited assuming a system."

The reasons for this policy

Other answers have elaborated many good reasons for this policy and I don't intend to echo their arguments. I do want, however, to highlight the principles that, in my opinion, form the basis of most of this argument.

The goal of any policy should be to encourage the desired behavior, encourage (self) improvement and optimize the experience for the people that create the greatest benefit for the community without hurting the ones that honestly try but are still learning or struggling to do so. Obviously guessing and editing will at best make exemplary contributors spend their time to get lazy contributors' questions answered. At worst it baits people into answering with the wrong system in mind. Guessing at an answer will again lead to satisfying answers to poorly asked questions, discouraging the improvement of the question and the self-improvement of the questioner. Guessing systems wrong in answers will again give answers that do not match the intended question and will create a mess especially if people guess different systems.

Being more active on StackOverflow and Manga-SE, I can assure you that RPG-SE is a really fortunate community with high-quality questions - presumably thanks to this policy and similar ones.

The back and forth about politeness

Different answers have assumed different things to be offensive or polite against new contributors. Is it rude to edit the question to include the 99.9% obvious system, overriding the author's agency? Or is it worse to copy-paste a message requesting clarification? I don't know and I don't care. People on the internet will get offended one way or the other. As long as people follow Netiquette, it really is the community's ruling how to handle situations and politeness has always been what the majority of relevant people thought it to be. If RPG-SE decides to have a policy, I consider following it to be polite and not following it to be rude.

Don't revert the policy, reinforce it

As I mentioned, RPG-SE is blessed with a very high rate of questions with decent quality. This is in part thanks to the fact that, unlike StackOverflow, RPG-SE does not face the challenge of people trying to get their homework solved for them - but there are other problems and other SE-communities do not share that problem either. RPG-SE is a tidy place and this policy helps to keep it that way.

Out of the 50 most recently active questions right now, all but one have either a specific system tagged or the "system-agnostic"-tag and the one question without system tag is closed and unlikely to be re-opened. Given that this policy is this successful in ensuring a high rate of questions following basic quality, I don't see a reason to revert it. Since it would be bad practice to name the system in the question but not adding the tag and even worse to not mention the System at all, I think that ideally, every single question should have a system tagged and that this should find its way into the general rules of RPG-SE. Add it to the "how to ask" page, add a new flag type "requires system" or even enforce a system tag (including "system-agnostic", "multiple", or similar ones) before even allowing a question to be asked, if implementing that is within reason.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I see you've had an account for a while now, but this is your first post on either our mainsite or meta - so a belated welcome to RPG.SE! \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 4 '20 at 5:06

Consider how policies like these are perceived to new users.

  • It's confusing. This isn't how other SE sites work, this isn't how tags are supposed to work.

  • Claiming that mentioning "Adventurer's League" and "Sage Advice" isn't enough to determine the system is hostile, their first experience with the community brushes on sealioning.

  • We seem robotic and cold. Pasting some copypasta isn't a great way to engage anyone, ever. Even if you are very warm "I know it seems 99.99% obvious but can you confirm you are talking about 5e?" comes across as soulless when you finish with "our policy requires explicit confirmation and a tag".

  • It gives the (perhaps correct) impression that this community only barely tolerates D&D. Having a multitude of policies that are aimed at making life more difficult, or not better, for D&D questions gives the distinct impression that they just aren't welcome here.

  • It makes us seem clueless and incompetent. How can users trust the word of a community which doesn't even know what AL or Sage Advice is?

  • Most users don't read meta, out of those that do read it many don't seem very interested. Even if a question isn't tagged, it will probably get answers. How is a new user supposed to take it when one clueless person is asking them if AL is D&D 5e while another is giving them an answer?

  • It's convoluted, now new users need to go learn a handful of policies.

  • It makes it seem like the community is afraid of being wrong. There is a huge anti-disagreement vibe here. It's ok to want people to get along, but going to such an extent that you won't guess even when it seems extremely likely doesn't feel safe.

Revert to the basic site mechanics

Tags were never meant to be used this way, they exist to help experts find questions they can answer. If the question is unclear, comments exist to ask clarification.

Asking someone "what system are you talking about?" is simpler, faster, cleaner, easier, friendlier, and more understandable. Treating people like humans is all that is needed.

Ultimately the problem of people answering questions that are not clear is a non-issue, and it is unpreventable due to the way SE is set up to encourage it happening. The best we can do is not dump extra baggage on top.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It would appear, based on the vote count, that "being concerned with new user impressions" isn't catching on, which seems to me like a step backwards. I have read through your answer again, and I think you raise good points. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 31 '20 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just some reasons I downvoted: New users are not expected to understand how other SE sites work. And your next few points all seem to have nothing to do with the policy but about how it gets explained to people. You also harp on "AL" and "Sage Advice" and I'm honestly unsure why, many of the questions this policy impacts never mention those terms, which, are, at least to me, quite indicative of 5e-dnd. You say to ask people "what system are you talking about?" and I don't see how that is a change to the current policy in any way. We can have the current policy and still ask exactly that. \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Apr 3 '20 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also find it odd that you say there is no problem with people incorrectly answering a question and that the site encourages answers like that. Would you rather have multiple incorrect answers inter-mixed and getting incorrect up and downvotes which then need to be deleted, or have a question be closed and answers come in only when it's more clear what the OP is actually asking? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Apr 3 '20 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I'm just not seeing whatever stance you're actually taking here and what you think of the policies. Are you saying we should ask people what system they're talking about and also not close their question (even though it would be unclear what they're asking)? Or that we should close their question when there's no system-tag and then ask what system they're talking about? How is the latter any different from the current policy? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Apr 3 '20 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ We’ve had Sage Advice since 1e. This answer demonstrates why we shouldn’t allow system guessing and should instead coach the posters, even - horrors - new ones into stating their game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 18 '20 at 3:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 "If the question is unclear, comments exist to ask clarification." \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 18 '20 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk-SEstopbeingevil Guessing right +90% of the time is good enough. You don't need to "coach" people on how to ask a question, just interact with them like a normal human. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 18 '20 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you saying we should close questions when there's no system-tag and then ask what system they're talking about? If so, how is that any different from the current policy? Or perhaps this answer is just explaining a reason to maintain the current policy? Or perhaps it's suggesting a new one? A clear statement of your stance on the policies would help my understanding tremendously \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 18 '20 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ An excellent example for the problem is linked at the end of this comment. The tags chosen by the original poster are indeed meant to categorize the question (the purpose people generally use tags for, either on SE or elsewhere), and the question text states clearly which edition of the game is being played. It is a shame to force an inexperienced user to make a tag edit in order to be allowed to get answers on this site. rpg.stackexchange.com/revisions/169939/4 \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jun 4 '20 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 If it is unclear, ask and close the question. The same as you would with anything else. If it is clear to you, then answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jun 8 '20 at 1:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ "This isn't how other SE sites work, this isn't how tags are supposed to work." On Stack Overflow, the biggest site in the network, it's expected that you tag the programming language you're using unless your question is language-agnostic. I've voted to close plenty of questions there because they didn't say which language they were using and I wasn't going to guess for them. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Jul 8 '20 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery What you just described is exactly the same as what I described. You voted to close because the question was unclear, not because of a policy to "require tags in order to teach new users". What's more, you didn't "want to guess", but if the question said (for example) "in C# how do I XYZ" I don't think you would have voted to close. Stack Overflow uses tags and closes the way they should be used - tags connect questions to domain experts, questions are closed if they are unclear. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jul 13 '20 at 1:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae When the system is mentioned in the title/body, it gets tagged. This very meta question even says so. Can you provide examples where someone says, for instance "In D&D 5E how do I XYZ" but it still gets closed for not having a tag? \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Jul 13 '20 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery Oh, I thought we were talking about cases where it wasn't explicitly stated? Yes.... it's fine if the system is explicitly stated..... Perhaps a better example would be listing libraries, showing sample code in the language, discussing runtimes or functionality, etc, there are a lot of obvious clues. The vast majority of questions I've seen which do not tag a language are clear, just like the vast majority of questions I've seen here which do not tag a system are clear. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jul 15 '20 at 5:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery Imagine posting a question asking about lambdas, with sample code such as ((lambda (a) (+ a 1) 1), referencing several scheme libraries, then getting a message saying "Which programming language are you using? There are hundreds of programming languages out there and it's impossible to know which one you are using!" - surely you will think the commenter is not an expert that can help you, and it's a ridiculous thing to say when the syntax alone should narrow it down to a handful. Worse still is if it's obvious and they require you to tag it "for learning purposes"... \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jul 15 '20 at 5:39

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