Currently, the Back It Up! is a bit vague to me. The policy is:

Your answers (to subjective questions) must be based on either:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

It isn't clear to me to what extent something has to have happened to you personally, nor what kind of reference needs to be used. Sometimes it seems to me this policy is weaponized, used to disparage answers, or used as a form of gatekeeping.

Here is an example: What should I do about a religious player who refuses to accept the existence of multiple gods in D&D?

This question is highly subjective, but many people have had some kind of experience that may be relevant. This experience ranges from "perfectly relevant - I am the OP", "highly relevant - I have been in this exact situation", "relevant - the situation and context were different, but I have some insight".

The top answer says "I haven't encountered this explicit situation where a religious player is unwilling to adapt, but I've experienced plenty of other scenarios where people were resistant to the unknown, the unfamiliar, or something they believed was "wrong" for various reasons." and that's good enough for me. But what would the minimum look like? Having interacted with another human? Talking to someone about their dislikes?

I find the vagueness makes the policy easy to weaponize, especially against newer users who don't know better. Here is a comment on a now-deleted (for unrelated and extremely valid reasons, so I won't link it), please note that the original answer does not mention a balking religious player:

What was the outcome when you did this with your balking religious player? Did they adapt, or did they walk? Was it a smooth transition or was there some struggle? How did(n’t) it impact the group’s enjoyment of the first few sessions?

Clearly this is a far higher bar than we realistically need. The comment implies that this is needed for an answer to be valid. Ultimately the answer was deleted for unrelated reasons.

Here is a much better answer. They go over some things that most humans have experience with: having an honest talk and compromise. However, they are told "You've got some good ideas here, but they really do need to be backed up per our good subjective policy. While your ideas are good, we should not be upvoting answers that aren't backed up unless you can support them." To me this answer has the same level of experience as the top answer.

On the flip side, especially with 5e questions, we have a problem of over-quoting. Since everything can easily be referenced, often simple questions are answered with a half dozen rules quotes. I don't think it's as harmful as this problem, so that's a discussion for another time.

I am finding it difficult to understand where the line lies with regard to what experience is considered relevant. How can the vagueness of the policy be addressed in a way that does not risk problems with new users?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What are the citations expectations for RPG.SE, Other metas: 1, 2,3 \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Mod May 21 '20 at 3:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question? What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW May 21 '20 at 3:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Not really, the suggestion ends up with "The experience does not have to be of the exact same situation, although that would be ideal. Experience of similar or analogous situations is also relevant and helpful, at least to the extent they are similar/analogous enough to be relevant." which doesn't particularly address the vagueness nor misuses of the policy. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 3:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was going to answer this--I was, in fact, a couple-hundred words into an answer--but the post's vagueness and mushiness is bothering me. It talks about things being weaponized, or used as gatekeeping. You ask for a minimum amount of backing up that answers, generally, need to have. (As if it'd be conceivably possible to draw a line like that for all answers.) It wraps up posing this as a way to minimize risk of problems for new users. And your comment mentions misuses of the policy. So I'm left with: if you want a general discussion, they're already linked in the comments. If (cont.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 21 '20 at 3:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...you've got experiences with weaponization or misuses or problems with new users to hash out, let's do that. "Is this comment a misuse of the 'Back it up!' practice?" "Should these answers be prompted for more backing up?" &c. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 21 '20 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Those are all issues that concern me. The inconsistency/vagueness of the policy is what allows hiding Not Nice behaviour, and enables hostility towards new users. They can be separated into different threads if that is more productive, I linked some examples in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 4:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Concern is one thing, seeing it happen is another. I've seen evidence (in the past, not currently) of the policy being pursued over-zealously, but I cannot easily point to it being weaponized or used as a gatekeeper. Can you? Ideally this would be something relatively recent-- say the last three years or so-- to reflect the current status quo. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 21 '20 at 6:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak What did you think about the recent examples I've already given? \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 6:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't think they were intended as evidence of weaponization and gate-keeping, to be honest. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 21 '20 at 6:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak Regardless of the intent, that was certainly the effect (although the more extreme example seems like weaponization is about the only reasonable explanation to me) \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for bringing this up again. I reached a limit of patience on this a while back. Not sure what has changed for me, but I don't seem to see it as much as I used to; the tone that you are seeing. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 21 '20 at 18:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, my perception-- and I have been actively paying attention to this issue-- is that after the Meta thread I reference in my answer, there was a shift in tone across the whole stack. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 22 '20 at 3:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, hand in hand with the inherent subjectivity of the issue, is a certain cyclical nature-- or so I've seen on other sites. Mods change, high rep users drift away and are replaced, meta threads come and go, and the pendulum swings back and forth. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 22 '20 at 3:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak I am seeing that on another stack at the moment ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 26 '20 at 15:37

I Don't Think You'll Get Crystal Clear Arbitration Rules

We are, after all, talking about tabletop RPGs, where questions span the gamut from, "What happens by the rules in this situation?" to, "What's the best mechanical way to achieve X?" to, "I have this nasty conflict with my GM/a player, so why am I right and they're wrong?"

Some of these are amenable to easily interpreted answer-- rules are cited, answers are compared, and voting happens. Others aren't because they are "Good Subjective" questions-- questions that are in some obvious way subjective, but which nevertheless other players and GMs may have some experience with.

But note, when trying to sift out Good Subjective answers to Good Subjective Questions, the guidelines are going to be... subjective, based in community practice, guided by higher rep users and occasionally brought to a head in Meta. But the Meta does not-- can not-- remove the subjectivity entirely, it usually just codifies it and gets people on the same page.

What's The Point?

...Of the Subjective Guidelines, I mean. I didn't fully come around to the GS/BS mindset myself until I came to a conclusion (perhaps personal, perhaps more widely shared) about why the guidelines exist.

To quote and then expand on an answer I particularly liked in a similar discussion:

The purpose of GS/BS is to enable meaningful voting behaviors. That’s it: to make sure that the Stack Exchange system actually works, actually filters out noise and highlights strong signals.

On the question end, this filters out questions so subjective that there is no meaningful criteria for casting votes on the answers. On the answer end, especially for the querant who may not have expertise with the precise subject matter, the backing of experience will help them in the selection of their best answer. Collectively, they prevent the stack sites from morphing into free-form discussion and brainstorming forums.

How Much Experience Is Enough?

It is, as I alluded to before, subjective. As far as I know, the most recent guidance on Subjective Answers is here, with the relevant passage being:

This means when you provide a subjective solution you believe will resolve the situation, we expect that you cite analogous experience of how it has worked out in actual practice — your own experience or someone else's. Describing how it worked out is more preferable to describing how well it worked out: “these things happened, the players felt this way about it” is preferable to “it worked well”, but either is preferable to no citation of it actually being tried at all.

The experience does not have to be of the exact same situation, although that would be ideal. Experience of similar or analogous situations is also relevant and helpful, at least to the extent they are similar/analogous enough to be relevant.

(Emphasis mine.)

Not much more detail than that is given, so it is up to the community to determine that in practice: Answerers decide when writing, querants decide when selecting an answer, and readers decide by casting votes (explained or not.)

In more extreme cases (ideally but not always a note on a question that seems a little close to the edge and may start generating brainstorming) someone might leave a comment. The usual endpoint of this process is that the question generating too many Bad Subjective answers gets closed either by vote or by mod.

For more egregious cases, I suppose there are various options to delete an answer, but those are not the norm, and not really what we're talking about here, I hope.

Does It Work?

I think so. This is anecdotal at best, of course, but once I understood the point of the guidelines, I found myself more than once (and still do!) thinking that I have an answer that I think is really good and want to share... but in the process of writing it up, I realize that the experience I have probably isn't close enough to warrant the advice I'm giving.

And so I close the answer and think about it overnight, and either reconstruct a better version, or stay silent.

A Footnote

As I mentioned earlier, these issues do occasionally come to a head here in Meta; this is one such example. But it's worth pointing out that several months after the Question and Answers you're looking at, a diamond mod noticed rising friction on this topic in the community and took up the task of soliciting feedback on the issue.

Since then, I think the stack has reached about the right balance. There is much less friction on this issue that I can see.

This was, in fact, the motivation for my setting an arbitrary limit of three years in my comment-- sadly, I thought that realignment was farther into the past than it actually was.

It was also the basis for my observation that the guidelines had been used over-zealously in the past. But I don't think I ever saw a case of turning them into a weapon against a disliked user, or as an intentional gateway mechanism to keep any person or people out.


The Code of Conduct is first and foremost.

That should go without saying; but sometimes users don't want to bother or put the time and effort into understanding the whole picture. As you mentioned, this is likely the primary reason why the answer you're referring to was deleted. Basically, their approach was "Their values don't matter", taking the "my way or the highway" solution, which just is not acceptable here.

"Back it up!" is dependent on the situation.

As it may have been made clear through context; "personal experience" or a link depends on the type of question that's being asked. In this situation, "personal experience" is the more appropriate, though obviously if it did not happen to you, a blog or podcast, etc might have the evidence to support your question; so a link would work well. Generally in rule clarifications etc, a link is the more appropriate.

That said, "Backing it Up!" is what makes the difference between a good answer, and a better answer.

Again, you've mentioned that some people do give good advice, but since they're just "ideas", they haven't been tried and tested. That doesn't mean that they're bad answers though - it just means that while these ideas are good, the answer that has evidence of its efficacy is better.

To quote Barbossa, the "Back it Up!" policy is more of a guideline, than an actual rule

Much like many other "rules" we have here. We aim for a 1:1 Question to answer ratio (purely to reduce noise, duplication, etc). That doesn't necessarily mean that more than one answer on a question is unacceptable. Votes don't determine the wright or wrong answer, or necessarily a good or bad question. A lot of the time these "rules", like the questions they apply to, are subjective.

The main thing you want to follow is the Code of Conduct - Be Nice

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    \$\begingroup\$ "We aim for a 1:1 Question to answer ratio." - We do? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mod May 21 '20 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aim for, but we don't enforce. The only enforcement of that is duplicate, harmful or answers that aren't actually answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben May 21 '20 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I'm confused about the claim that we aim for that. I've never been aware of any such aim. If we dealt solely with questions with objective answers, it might be an achievable goal, but even then there might be different answers that explain the answer in different ways. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mod May 21 '20 at 3:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ A good answer, but I don't think it really addresses potential misuses of this policy. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 3:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast It may not be explicitly, but in my experience there are a lot of policies that move towards that aim. For example, banning collaborative discussion in comments, partial answers, etc. Perhaps this topic needs to be explored elsewhere if it's questionable, since it doesn't seem like the impressions of people are matching up, perhaps certain policies need to be revised now that we have seen them in action. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 3:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae: ...I don't see how any of those policies indicate an aim of "one answer per question" or even remotely move toward it... If anything, those policies result in moving away from such an outcome, since each person leaves their own answer instead of all collectively creating a single answer. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mod May 21 '20 at 3:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae misuses of the policy are handled differently. That's why we have mods :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ben May 21 '20 at 3:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Btw, so it's all here, a comment I made in chat a moment ago: "I wish the word "policy" weren't getting slung around so much. Like it or not, we don't really have policies nearly as much as we have practices. There are very few things around here that anyone--editor, voter, moderator, employee--is going to say is so clear that 'yes, this will be applied in all situations, no consideration given, no context needed.'" \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 21 '20 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ben Could you address them? I also have mod powers and when I see a comment asking "have you ever been in this exact situation?" I'm not sure what the correct handling is. It's at least a seemingly valid concern, and often they link the policy directly. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 4:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Okay, but I'm totally unclear on what "the situation" is that you're referring to. Seeing something you think could use more backup? Leave a comment. Or don't. And/or vote. Seeing someone leave a comment that you think is abusively invoking Back It Up? Comment back (nicely) with why you think more backup isn't needed. Pop into chat to ask "hey, that comment strikes me as unnecessary, can I get some more eyes on it?" Post a meta that references the particular situation or well-described pattern. [Also, I don't know that adage.] \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 21 '20 at 4:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Well, you guessed perfectly. I think of jumping in chat as a last resort, but maybe I should be doing it more frequently. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 May 21 '20 at 4:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat off topic of the main discussion, but it comes as a complete surprise to me that we aim for 1:1 Q:A ratio. The only way that could work is with some expectation that people will go and delete lower-voted or non-accepted answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 21 '20 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae I have never seen that encouragement, and encouragement is not expectation. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 21 '20 at 6:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Mod May 21 '20 at 7:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've cleaned up some of the comments that are reduplicated in the chat room above (just the back-and-forth with linksassin and gszavae; the others' earlier comments don't appear in the chat room, so responses to those would be left without context). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mod May 22 '20 at 19:22

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