26
$\begingroup$

There have been several questions which are in the form "I created this unstoppable ability for my bad guy, how can I defeat him?" Examples are:

The general pattern for this type of question is:

  1. Create some vastly overpowered superpower for which you cannot find a counter
  2. Give it to your villain
  3. Ask for help on WB to find a counter.

This kind of thinking almost always has to lead to one of the following outcomes:

  • A seasoned worldbuilder looks at the scenario, finds an obvious flaw and abuses it. This typically requires the OP to have taken great care to specify the power very specifically, otherwise its hard for a flaw to be obvious. Villian's ability has a 20m diameter effect? Make your weapon 21m in diameter. If brute force doesn't work, you're not using enough.
  • The question is impossible to answer because the superpower is simply too powerful. If the villain has a card which says "playing this card wins the game," and they can play it at any time they please, there really isn't a way to stop them from winning, is there?
  • A less-than-obvious flaw is identified and exploited to reveal a major issue with the villain's ability. This is where your clever code breakers realize there's a few "forbidden" settings in your encryption machine and leverage those to crack your code.

My opinion is that the best "unstoppable forces" have very subtle weaknesses. A great example is found in traditional stories of using magic to make people fall in love (it always fails for rather intriguing reasons). We also see great examples in war novels, fiction and non-fiction, where the constant arms war leads to exploits of very clever nuances in the enemy's implementation.

However, these also seem like they are better added by an author, not a worldbuilding poster. The key to building one of these subtle weaknesses is to carefully refine the superpower in a way which creates that weakness. As a worldbuilder, we don't always have that power... but the author does. It may take 5 or more back-and-forths to nail down what sort of adjustments are acceptable to the author. StackExchange is not built to handle back and forths.

So these questions bug me, and I'm wondering if there's anything that should be done about them. If it were up to me, I'd close almost all of them, but when I look at the questions linked above, many of them are popular. I'm clearly in the minority in disliking this sort of question. Other than the obvious solution to my problem ("just don't look at those questions, dummy!"), is there anything that can be done to help improve the quality of such questions so that they lead more towards the interesting subtle flaws?

$\endgroup$
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ Recommend them to the writer stack excahnge, because that's their problem. You don't give impossible to defeat abilities to characters unless you have a counter to go with it. Not doing so is called "writing yourself into a corner" $\endgroup$ – Durakken Jan 28 '17 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ My favourite was this one: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/69079/… do you kill a person who reloads time every time he dies even if he can't consciously control this power. $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jan 28 '17 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, I think I spot a logical flaw in your argument. Your objection is that people should come up with both power and weakness themselves. However if people could come up with the power & the weakness they would. But clearly they aren't happy with their own ability to do so which is why they come here. Exactly the same as for any other worldbuilding question most people ask..."Where do I put walls on this city?", "Where do I defeat this superpower?" $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 30 '17 at 9:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @TimB I think some questions like "Where do I put walls on this city?" fare better here because there are some logical arguments that can be made about how walls work which the OP may not know. Putting those arguments into an answer creates a useful source for future worldbuilders. These unstoppable force questions are almost 100% based on the particular semantics of the OP's wording for the force. They're really fighting themselves. I find that leads the questions to be more story based. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 15:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ We have a tool to close a question as a duplicate, but I think in the case of unstoppable forces, it's not the question that's the duplicate but the process used to get to the answer. Demonstrating that process over and over does not seem to be helping the individuals who need to ask these questions. Perhaps we should have a vote to close because of "duplicate process," similar to how mathematics requires people to show their work on homework problems before asking for help? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 15:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'll also add that I have similar issues with a lot of war questions. How to defeat an enemy in war often requires pulling in many subtle details which are beyond the scope of WB, but well within the scope of authorship. We could provide a tutorial on how to go about the process, but we really need the authors to invent the details to exploit. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jan 30 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the vector manipulator belongs here, he's far from unstoppable $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 10 '17 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix The OP still has similar problems. "Now my problem with this ability is that I can't find a lot of weaknesses apart from isolating him in vacuum so the question is, what other weaknesses would this ability have?". This is the same question as with all of the others. OP creates a baddie that's too strong to conquer in his opinion and asks other people here on WB.SE to exploit flaws in his design. There are just a few more flaws in this one than in the other ones. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Feb 10 '17 at 11:27
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I guess that an unstoppable question needs an immovable answer ;) $\endgroup$ – Mrkvička Feb 10 '17 at 14:55
18
$\begingroup$

I don't really like these questions. I asked one a while ago, and it got a lot of votes and a lot of views and was extremely well-received. Looking back, I think it's one of my worst Worldbuilding questions, especially as I tried to remove a flaw after someone pointed it out and exploited it, thereby nullifying a couple answers (fortunately, my edit was rolled back).

Looking at the questions objectively, they're all asked almost as a challenge, which seems the definition of Too Broad. A good "How can I . . . ?" question places limitations and constraints on answers and makes it possible to choose one over the other. I have asked "How can I . . . ?" questions that lack these constraints, and I've seen others asked them, and without constraints, they don't work well. They get 10, 20, 30 answers, none of which can be ranked objectively.

They also tend to get a lot of short answers - a couple paragraphs at absolute best, for the most upvoted ones. Yes, I write long answers, and yes, people like brevity, and yes, the likelihood of someone reading an answer is often inversely proportional to its length, but when I see lots of really short answers getting a lot of votes, I think, "Hm, is this a reflection on the question itself?" I'd say yes. Answers need to be long enough to explain how they pass the constraints. If you can write a four sentence answer that's apparently well-recieved, what does that say about the constraints of the question? They're non-existent.

My advice here is to comment and ask the askers to edit1 in such limitations to their questions while thoroughly explaining what the superpower can and cannot do. Ensure that the answers can be ranked objectively, and that an answer can be wrong. It's like rubber duck debugging - if they explain all the details of a proposal to someone, they'll probably find the problems with it sooner or later, and likely sooner. The real issues arise here when someone comes up with an idea and doesn't really think it through, then frantically tries to finesse it after they get answers. Comment early, comment often, and improve these questions before they get answers.


1 Make sure they add the information in edits, not comments. We don't want comment threads getting more crowded than they already are. An example comment is

Hi, [User X]. Your question is not very well constrained, and there's currently no easy way to rank one answer over another, or determine if an answer is fully correct. Please edit your question to explain the specific details of what your superpower can and cannot do, and what makes one answer better than another - that is, what objective criteria it should satisfy.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I would generally agree with this. These questions should not be blanket banned but if we continue to allow them they need to be constrained to a much higher degree. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 30 '17 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I keep asking people to "please edit" or even "please edit" their posts, and I don't even bother to keep count of how many respond in comments instead. It seems an alien concept to many. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 12 '17 at 20:31
5
$\begingroup$

In addition to HDE's answer, which is correct, mark questions as duplicate when appropriate.

Many of the examples include incredibly similar abilities, and their answers overlap to a high degree. If too many of these questions surface it will be appropriate to mark the closer ones as duplicate and close them so we do not repeat the same discussion.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

There is valuable information scattered amongst all the various how to kill/stop unstoppable character posts. What if the community generates an intentional too broad question and give it a community wiki answer. Then any time one of these questions pops up flag it as a duplicate referencing the community wiki answer.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't have much experience with community wikis, but that seems like it might be down the right path. If the question is intentionally too broad, it also makes it easier to mark such questions as duplicates. I'd be more than happy to supply an answer that contains a process for dealing with such unstoppable forces. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '17 at 0:05
3
$\begingroup$

The biggest problem with a lot of these questions is the fact that fighting your way through the hordes of minions is not isolated from defeating the big bad in question. Most of them are relatively easily eliminated in isolation by some abuse of the mechanics given, or just tricking them into a box/setting them on fire/slow poison.

The question is usually caused by the fact that people think in terms of a direct physical confrontation and most of the answers are fundamentally "don't have a direct physical confrontation". Heroes are big and strong and do direct confrontation and don't think too much. Sidekicks do the thinking. I'm not entirely sure if they're too broad, it seems our role in these is to be the sidekick and have the idea, which means they should be classed as "story based".

Perhaps they're more for Writers.SE to discuss how to get your big thug of a hero to have a clever idea instead of thumping his way to a solution.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I'm seeing this kind of question and I'm relating it to some DM'ing experiences I have had in the past. It seems to follow this pattern in thinking:

1) I need a Villain. I know what abilities my hero has, and I don't want this to be over in 12 sentences. I'll make my villain stronger than my hero or negate my hero's powers in these ways... In my game, the Cthulu Sushi chef needed to have great night vision to deal with dark environment and to spot the thief, really strong tentacles to give the fighter trouble, and lots of tentacles to deal with the the other fighter with a vorpal blade....

2) The hero would defeat THAT too easy, and THAT, and THAT as well. Lets thwart those abilities, one at a time....Hmm, the wizard is fireball happy, sooo, fireproof, the rogue is going to try to get behind the Cthulu Sushi Chef, so eyes spaced evenly around...and so on

3) Crap, now my villain is just too strong....

And then we get the cry for help that many of these questions actually are.

I do see this as WorldBuilding, and @SRM has the right of it in that a well done super-power is really no different that a hypothetical weapon or device. Worldbuilding does blend with characters in that it is characters that are our lens through which we view the world. That's why I usually won't vote to close, or will vote to reopen them if they thought through a lot of the examples and problems they had when building the ultimate badass bad-guy.

As Far as dealing with the problem, maybe we can add something to a FAQ or some sort of guide as to what to do when your power/ability/weapon/whatever is now too strong.

Here are some questions to ask the OP:

What does the opposing side bring to the table?

Do you need a standup fight, or are you looking for subtle?

What is each side trying to do?

I ask myself those questions, and usually the needed weakness becomes self evident at that point.

If we can point many of those same Questions at a FAQ, it might help folks reason their way through

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Introducing a super power to a world is no different from introducing hypothetical technology or a change in physics. It is FUNDAMENTAL to worldbuilding and, to me, that puts it ON TOPIC. Firmly.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ While I would agree that superpowers are on-topic the problem isn't the topic so much as it is the format of the questions. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 30 '17 at 17:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .