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TL;DR: This question is the foundation stone of an attempt to more thoroughly define the scope of Worldbuilding by defining "Risk Factors" that make something Out Of Scope.

The discussion of individual risk factors has started can can be found:

What is in Scope?

This part does not seem too contentious. If it's to do with building a world that is in some way fictional then it is potentially in scope. The help center currently says:

For example, questions are welcome that are about:

  • Creation of elements of a world (languages, species, buildings, etc.)
  • Effects of events or world elements, including biology, technology and magic, on specific aspects of that world's societies, cultures, and environment
  • How to achieve a specified effect in a defined world, including by the use of biology, technology or magic, while maintaning in-universe consistency

as long as they are not about:

  • Actions of individual characters, rather than elements of the world they inhabit
  • Character building
  • Elements of plot
  • Historical events of or historical facts about the real world, except when provided as examples or comparisons in the construction of an imaginary world (consider the History or respective subject-specific Stack Exchange sites)
  • General writing or storytelling (consider the Writers or Role-playing Games Stack Exchange sites)
  • Software that doesn't directly relate to worldbuilding (consider the Super User or Software Recommendations Stack Exchange sites)

We may want to adjust these help center articles once this process is complete so please consider this a starting point, not a hard and fast set of rules.

What is not in Scope?

This is where the real discussion starts, some questions are clearly in scope and answerable. Others however are not and are clearly out of scope. The problem comes though that we also get a large number of "gray area" questions that might be in scope but might not be and we have been inconsistent in whether we close those questions or not.

The plan moving forwards

The idea is simple, we define a number of Risk Factors. These are things that if present in a question to a sufficiently bad level cause it to be off topic. This question will be used to compile a list of potential Risk Factors and case studies for them.

  • Post each Risk Factor in its own answer
  • Feel free to edit any answer to add or improve to the wording, do not change the meaning substantially though. For a substantially different meaning create a new Risk Factor.
  • Do not worry too much about trying to set the line where each risk factor should be enough to close the question, however adding examples is valuable.
  • Please don't discuss specific examples in these questions and answers, just add any you think might be relevant.
  • Once we know what the risk factors are we will ask separate questions to discuss each one and decide where the line should be drawn.

Everyone should vote the proposed Risk Factors up or down for whether you consider them a valid or important reason to close a question.

We do not need the examples to all be out of scope. They just need to have that Risk Factor. Examples on both sides of the line will help us draw it in the correct place.

The risk factor template is:


**Risk Factor: **

Close Reason:

Full Description:

How to Fix:

Examples:

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(I think this is a sort of evolution to opinion-based)

Risk Factor: Open-Ended

Close Reason:

This question asks for a list of ideas without adequate constraints or intent; answers to this question would each be equally valid and could cover a virtually limitless number of options.

Full Description:

Questions asked on Stack Exchange sites should have a single definitive answer, based on knowledge and logic, which can be provided by a single user. Open-ended questions often lead to lists of equally valid answers or answers that list as many options as the answerer can think of; as such, they can never actually be definitively answered by a single answer, and instead promote a popularity contest where answers are upvoted based on voter preference.

How to Fix:

Try to provide clearer criteria upon which answers can be based, or on how answers can be judged objectively. If you have an answer in mind, you can provide this as an example and ask if it is viable. If you are only asking for a brainstorming session, you can bring your questions up in chat.

Examples:

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    $\begingroup$ This is a sub-set of too broad. Personally I think (like the too many questions) close reason that something like this is a good idea whether as a custom close reason or a canned comment. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 19 '16 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ I support this as a canned comment (with link to suitable meta post) to be left on question closed as the baked-in "too broad" reason. I don't support creating a custom off-topic reason for it. How do I vote to signal that? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 21 '16 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Upvote it to signal that. Once we've decided that "yes this is a valid reason to close things" then we can decide how that gets reflected in terms of canned comments or close reasons etc. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 19 '16 at 15:08
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Risk Factor: Too Vague

Close Reason:

You are asking about a world where not enough detail is available to give a specific answer.

Full Description:

This covers questions where the question itself is clear and on topic but not enough detail has been given. For example a lot of magic questions are asked that fail to define the magic system well enough. As a result the answers can either be "a wizard did it" or have far too many possibilities to evaluate.

How to Fix:

There are two common scenarios here.

In science based questions -insert howto here-

In magic or fantastical based questions -insert howto here-

Examples:

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  • $\begingroup$ You mean somewhat like a mix between "unclear what you are asking" and "too broad"? (Unclear because there isn't enough detail, too broad because there are too many possible answers given the information in the question.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 19 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. We get a lot of questions where the question itself is clear but they haven't provided us with enough detail on the world so far for us to reasonably build on it. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 19 '16 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I know. I know. :) Not arguing against your proposal, just wanted that bit of clarification. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 19 '16 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'd lean towards re-wording this as something like 'Your question needs to provide more details in order to get a specific answer,' since, for many questions, not a whole lot of detail is necessarily required. For something like the unicorn charge question, or the question about how dwarves would build cities, details about the world the dwarves/unicorns live on aren't strictly necessary, since we don't need them to have a good idea of what unicorns or dwarves are like. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 22 '16 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, sometimes "a wizard did it" is the right answer, its just to go into detail you need you need a detailed question. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 28 '16 at 21:54
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Risk Factor: How does that affect the society at large

Close Reason:

The world is large and diverse. Taking into accounts all implications would require answers unsuitable to the format.

Full Description:

The changes you suggest to the world have many repercussions on the society in immediate, short, medium and long term. It is difficult within a reasonable answer to take all of it into account. Plus small variations on short term results may induce large variations at longer term. Making it partly opinion-based on the top of too broad.

How to Fix:

You should provide reasonable constraints in time, geography and technology level to make it reasonably answerable. It is even better if you provide a form of metric to be able to objectively assessed which is the best answer.

Examples:

Are the questions "How will our world change if all {men,women} suddenly die?" on topic or not?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering if we should require people to say what their desired outcome is somehow. .. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 19 '16 at 10:52
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Risk Factor: Causal Chain

Close Reason:

You are asking for an unconstrained causal chain of events.

Full Description:

When you ask for a sequence of events where each one depends on the one before it then the number of possibilities quickly becomes unmanageable. For example even if there are only 2 possibilities at each choice then after 5 steps there are already 32 different possible paths. In practice there are almost always more than 2 options at each step in the sequence so the combinations grow even faster.

Asking for what the effects of a specific event after multiple time intervals (for example 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week) after the event is fine. The problem comes when each step depends on the one before it as a cause rather than all the steps being a result of one individual cause.

For example:

  • For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
  • For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
  • For want of a horse the rider was lost.
  • For want of a rider the message was lost.
  • For want of a message the battle was lost.
  • For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

Each of these events depends on the one before it. If the rider had a spare horse then everything after that changes.

How to Fix:

Either modify the question to remove the dependency of each step on the one before or ask for only a limited number of sequential elements (1 or 2 preferred, you may be able to get away with 3) and once you have decided the path for those ask a follow on question for the next group.

Examples:

What would have been if the Islamic religion was never founded?

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't like the name, but I like the idea and I can't think of anything better to call it. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 20 '16 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ Can we create a category with something like 'answers will be primarily conjecture based', and fold this into it? I feel like a lot of the 'what would happen if...' sort of questions fit into this category, and aren't terribly helpful from a broader world building perspective. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 22 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch that's called "primarily opinion-based" and has its own close reason already. I think the concerns raised here could be addressed by a combination of opinion-based, too broad, and story-based (depending on the specific question). $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 28 '16 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this virtually the same as "what-if?" $\endgroup$ – James Feb 29 '16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @James This is directly addressing the chaos theory effect of having a sequence of events each depending on the one before. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 29 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ No I get that but I feel like it overlaps with what if as well...speaking of which considering all our posts about what-ifs it should probably be on this list somewhere. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 29 '16 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ As an answer I would suggest that for these questions you always need to provide an end state. I feel like asking for the end state will always be idea generation. Asking for how it started or how the transition came about seem slightly better. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 29 '16 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @James I've mentioned that a few times, either no-one can come up with a clear definition of "what if" or no-one really cares enough to add it as a risk factor though. Personally I think what if is just a combination of a bunch of other risk factors not one in its own right $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 29 '16 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I like that suggestion of asking for the end state, that would go a long way towards fixing a question with this risk factor $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 29 '16 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ "What if" is a symptom, not a primary cause. Most of our questions are "what if" in some sense. Let's get to root causes -- primarily opinion-based, too broad, story-based, or whatever. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 29 '16 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe "Causal Chain" would be a better name. After all, it's not just that the events form a sequence, but that they have a causal relationship. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Jun 18 '16 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ Good idea :) I like it $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jun 18 '16 at 11:37
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Risk Factor: Non-speculative question of fact

Close Reason:

This question appears to be a simple question of historical or scientific fact with no speculative element and no clear link to Worldbuilding.

Full Description:

Stack Exchange has dozens of sites for answering questions on a variety of subjects. Worldbuilding is about building fictional worlds, and while the process of building worlds may contain things like physics, biology, or history, questions that focus too much on one subject without requiring consideration of the others would almost certainly find better answers on a SE site that specializes in that subject.

How to Fix:

If the question contains enough worldbuilding elements to belong here then edit the question to more prominently display these elements. You should try to better inform people trying to answer the question as to what type of answer is expected.

If the question does not contain enough worldbuilding elements to belong here, consider flagging it for moderator attention and requesting migration to a subject-specific site.

Examples:

Glass hitting water at terminal velocity

Is this moon system stable?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it should be separated between those that are not about worldbuilding, and those that are about worldbuilding, but ultimately asking for a "pure" historical, physics, etc. question. The first ones are off-topic, because they are not about WB. The latter ones need not to be migrated. It might be worth informing the OP about the other sites, but we shouldn't presume the OP asked it here only because they didn't know of those other sites. And answer in the best way with our own specificities. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Mar 3 '16 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin Ok, and how would you draw that line? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 3 '16 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I draw that line by not taking that as a risk factor. If it fits the scope, then it is fine. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Mar 3 '16 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think the moon-system question is off-topic here. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 3 '16 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Monica Cellio But if I ask how long it would take if I dropped a melon from 5 feet it would be, I feel. I think physics questions are fine if they deal with an actual "world" as per a more literal interpretation of "world-building", but physics questions outside of that have their own site $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 4 '16 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Marky I agree. To me, moon systems are worldbuilding and airborne melons are not. :-) $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 4 '16 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ We shouldn't encourage people to re-ask the same question on a different site. Better to encourage them to flag the question for moderator attention and request migration. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 19 '16 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio the problem is that it's purely a question of intent, I think. If I ask a question about how high and frequent tides would be because I'm curious then I think that moon system question is off-topic. I don't have an actual world-building problem I'm trying to solve. But I can ask the same question because I'm writing a book where a setting detail is that fossil fuels weren't discovered until after industrialization because tidal power's so plentiful, and that's on-topic. I feel like we've been really reluctant around here to press people to explain their problem, happy to... $\endgroup$ – nitsua60 Mar 19 '16 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ ...field their questions. $\endgroup$ – nitsua60 Mar 19 '16 at 19:41
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Risk Factor: Show your Work

Close reason:

You are asking about a hypothetical situation without a worldbuilding focus.

Full description:

This covers the What-If questions. Some what-ifs are okay, as long as they're not too broad (which we have Too Broad for) and have a focus on worldbuilding, rather than just a random thought. It's also okay to ask about a random thought, as long as you can phrase it as a worldbuilding scenario - we won't be able to tell the difference, anyway.

How to Fix:

Phrase the question as a worldbuilding scenario. Think something like this:

This is my world (describe your world). These are its people/culture/geography/whatever is relevant (describe them).

Event X has happened (describe the event). What would the effects on the (specific aspect Y) be, with specific regards to (Z thing)?

Rephrasing the question like this makes it obvious how the post relates to worldbuilding, and therefore enables people to answer it with a look at the wider world, rather than just that situation. The more specific you can be about the effects you want to look at, the better.

Examples:

Medieval politics with fantasy races

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    $\begingroup$ I see where you're trying to go with this but I'm not convinced by the description as it currently stands. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 19 '16 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB Nor me, but I wanted to get this in here in some form so that everyone else can have a go at editing it into shape. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Feb 19 '16 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly put a link to area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/95463/what-ifhypotheticals? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 28 '16 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ This is something I agree should be on topic if done correctly. I have added an example that I think fits this Risk Factor but is on topic. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 29 '16 at 14:47

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