If you would like to discuss this or explain disagreements, or want clarification please feel free to join this chatroom.

The moderators have discussed the recent re-invigoration of the on or off topic debate regarding real world phenomenon. We have looked at a large number of questions that appeared on meta (list at the bottom of this post) over the last couple years and reviewed questions on main that have driven the conversation to crop up again and again.

To baseline: The Worldbuilding site description:

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about worldbuilding.

If the community is in agreement with the following post, we will mark it on meta and update the tour/help pages with the relevant information...good reading to you all.

Our conclusion, and we would like the community’s feedback, is that questions regarding real world stuff are on-topic.


  • Understanding how the real world works is the best and frankly only option we have for comparison to what we are trying to create.
  • Understanding the real world allows us to make alterations to reality in creating an imaginary world

We have many questions about history, culture, physics, chemistry and other topics that are asking for a comparison or background information from reality for aid in developing our imaginary worlds. This is acceptable and has always been on topic even if it has been often debated.

"But wait! Shouldn’t we tell people to post orbital mechanics questions on Physics, or Astronomy?!"

Well... Maybe, but it should be noted in most cases the author chooses the site where they would like to post the question, this means they intentionally chose Worldbuilding over another site and that should be respected.

Caveat: Members are certainly welcome to suggest via comment that a post may get better answers on one of the other sites in the network. There is nothing wrong with the suggestion and its always possible someone didn't know. That said, being on-topic on another site does not make a question off-topic for Worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding as a whole is very very (etc) broad. In an old meta post a network user commented that:

To a zeroth-order approximation, everything goes on World Building.

And this makes sense. The universe is big (citation needed) and discussing it requires a bit of everything which is what makes Worldbuilding so unique.

With all that said we still have to have expectations and standards, it can't just be a free for all.

Considerations when asking a question relating to the real world:

  • Provide context. Giving other users context around why you are asking the question allows them to better understand why you are asking and what kind of answer you want.
  • Attempt to do your own research. If a quick google search will answer your question it may not be worth posting a question on the site. Generally, querents are expected to demonstrate what has been tried and why it was not sufficient or did not work. This too helps people answering understand what you are trying to accomplish as well as your level of knowledge on the topic.
  • Define your requirements and by what you will judge answers.

Questions that fail to adequately meet these requirements may be placed on hold even if they are not, "off-topic."

Considerations when answering questions related to the real world:

  • Don't pre-judge a user's knowledge base. Not everyone on World Building has the same level of knowledge on every topic we discuss. Just because you may consider a particular question simple does not mean that another user will understand. As an example James once asked this question. Prior to comments being deleted several users were annoyed that a high rep user asked such a basic question, it assumed a level of knowledge that James did not have.
  • Don't answer questions that are not fully formed/adequately explained. We often see users, even experienced/high reputation users answering questions that are not fully formed. Take the time to comment and don't feel bad about putting questions on hold/or flagging to be put on hold. This helps discourage bad questions and teaches users how to ask better questions. Mods are not immune either, we make mistakes like anyone else and we are not exempt from being flagged.
  • Don't use close-votes as super down-votes. Closures and down votes don't always go together.


Resolving the "real world" problem?

Is a "real world" question off topic?

How do we feel about questions where the answer is "it exists in the real world?"

Is WorldbuildingSE suitable for writers whose works are, more or less, realistic?

Is the "international waters" question on-topic?

Should the help center be updated to specifically list real world history questions as off topic?

How do we feel about questions where the answer is "it exists in the real world?"

More reading if you're into that

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I think if you are opening Pandora's box, and I believe one question potentially spawns many because google, so be careful: What exactly is off-topic? Could I ask e.g. how the citric acid cycle works, how to fix my car, how to lay wires in your house, asking users to compare the opinion of two Philosophers regarding one issue that is vaguely needed in building a world? I think you need to be crystal clear on that. I get that the "just because it exists in reality it's not automatically off-topic"-argument but "everything goes" honestly doesn't make sense to me $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 17 '18 at 15:27
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 I don't think the suggestion is "anything goes" the suggestion is that real world concepts are not off topic so long as you provide context, try to do your own research and effectively constrain the question...in short, you can ask about real world phenomena, so long as you ask a good question. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 15:43
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ But we wouldn't be discussing this again if there weren't differences of opinion, use your vote how you like. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 15:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What are the criteria for what constitutes a good question in this context? I've seen many horrible questions asked here, I've even started 2 meta topics about that, that were perfectly on-topic and about worldbuilding. Horrible questions imo are to some degree the bread and butter of SE, especially the ones that are not about programming. Btw, don't get me wrong, I'm not against anything or even have a different opinion, I just don't know what any of this means. All I think is that one should be very, very clear. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 17 '18 at 15:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 The considerations section is the bit regarding what makes a good question. $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 16:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Questions that fail to adequately meet these requirements may be placed on hold even if they are not, “off-topic.” - one of your listed reasons is a lack of basic research. Are we finally getting a "this question is trivial" close reason? If so, I approve. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 17 '18 at 22:38
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Aify Don’t pre-judge a user’s knowledge base. Not everyone on World Building has the same level of knowledge on every topic we discuss. Your 3-3-3 rule is fine, but it pre-judges that the questioner knows enough to properly form a question at all. Back when XML was just becoming a thing I wanted to learn what it was and how to use it by building on my existing HTML knowledge. It didn't go very well, because I didn't even have the basic understanding of what XML was, and what made it different from HTML. It was later that I learned my mistake, and then things went a lot better. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '18 at 14:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is why something like ELI5 exists. Some concepts that one person finds very trivial is an unfathomable, incomprehensible, muddy moras to another person without the same background. Instead of a "question is trivial" close reason, maybe we should have a ELI5 tag, because not knowing enough to even know what you don't know is really frustrating, especially when you have condescending people calling you stupid for not knowing this already. It's the same level of lazy jerk as the people who post lmgtfy links. If it's too trivial, just walk away. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '18 at 15:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 I'm not prejudging any knowledge bases. The first thing I do is copy and paste their question word for word into google, and the next 2 iterations are simply cutting out filler words from the question or googling the keywords of the question. I assume that I don't know anything about the topic to begin with. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 18 '18 at 21:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Aify Your 3-3-3 rule tests the adequacy or otherwise of a poster's searching skills. Poor searching skills are dime a dozen. I have seen questions with links about the topic where the website actually answered the question being asked. An obvious problem in the OPs' knowledge of the topic. Many questions show a lack of understanding about what to look for, and, yes, I agree if they had put their question into google they might have an answer. That doesn't make their questions trivial. Your 3-3-3 strategy is a good search strategy. If we could teach more OPs to use it first. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 19 '18 at 8:16
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Aify It's worth noting that Google will actually give different results to different people for the same search based on previous searches and other factors. The results you see are not the results I would get by typing the same text string in. I look forward to a day when schools will have a required course called "Internet safety, privacy, and proper search techniques" as that will help solve a lot of problems. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 22 '18 at 14:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If anything under the sun is valid on WB, is it reasonable to post in comments a suggestion to cross-post the question on another forum? It seems to me the two would need to go hand in hand in order to correctly direct the author to the correct audience. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 30 '18 at 20:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Aify I use a more conservative version of this. I only search their title text verbatim. If the top 3 links are ALL major sites which all provide the desired information AND Google quotes a section of the top pick which has the answer in that text (so you don't even have to click on a link), then it's trivial. I still find many questions to be trivial. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 30 '18 at 20:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon As I have mentioned to other users, this is not "ask anything and it is ok" this is, ask properly and real world phenomena are on-topic. $\endgroup$ – James May 31 '18 at 15:32
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @James I think a concern I'm seeing from several is that we're accepting real world phenomena, but I don't see any effort to inherit the safeguards (such as rules regarding homework) which other SEs which deal with real world phenomena have in place to deal with the large volume of poor questions that are often asked regarding real world phenomena. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 31 '18 at 15:53

11 Answers 11


I am in total agreement with this. One minor point is that there needs to be room for differences of opinion and subjective view, even with the "bad questions".


Don’t answer questions that are not fully formed/adequately explained. We often see users, even experienced/high reputation users answering questions that are not fully formed.

I've seen a couple questions where a user has asked a question, and gotten feedback like "Not sure what you're asking", when the question was crystal clear as I understood it.

I've also seen a few where I just didn't get it until I read someone elses answer, and then the question suddenly made sense. It can go both ways, but we shouldn't just let our own ignorance lead us to jump to the conclusion that a question is bad.
Maybe try to seek clarification before jumping on the close button, even if it's just asking in chat if anyone else can explain it better.
We have to remember that there are people here from all over the world, and who's primary language is not english. Getting the wording right might be hard for someone with a high concept question and limited vocabulary.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So the suggestion here is that a user not understanding the question or being unclear what the question is asking can sometimes be the user and not the question? $\endgroup$ – James May 17 '18 at 17:01
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ That's what I'm saying. It's an easy trap to fall into, and the other side of the "Why are you asking this question? The periodic table is so easy. Everyone knows this!" argument. To argue that "I don't understand this, so no one can" is as arrogant as "This is so basic. Everyone knows this, why don't you?" I have a completely different life story from you, with different experiences, and different perspectives. If a question has to make sense from my perspective and point of view, then I'm going to miss out on a lot of good stuff, and rob others of using their knowledge and perspective. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 17 '18 at 17:10
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Sometimes a question seems unclear but an answerer with the right background/expertise recognizes what the asker meant and can answer. In that case the best outcome is for that person to also edit the question to clarify it, so that others can benefit too. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio May 17 '18 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ I definitely about unclear questions. I, like you, have seen questons which are crystal clear, yet the comments are all about it's unclear. Yet I have seen totally baffling & incomprehensible questions with answers from people who obviously understood what it was about. In which case, I let them go to it. Sometimes WBers should re-read questions carefully, then the questions might become clear or clearer. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 18 '18 at 6:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes. If the comments are about how the question is unclear, but you happen to have subject matter expertise and can piece together what the question is about, then please take a few minutes also to try to clarify the question along with posting your answer. There's even a set of badges for that. $\endgroup$ – user May 18 '18 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I always worry that by changing the question I might be changing the questioners intent... It's a character flaw that I should work on. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's a risk you take by editing that you end up changing intent, yes. As much as we should always aim to preserve intent when editing (this is not a carte blanche), though, a small-ish tweak that doesn't perfectly preserve intent might still be more useful than having the question end up being put on hold as unclear. You can always add a comment explaining why you made the edit and something like "feel free to edit further or to roll back if you disagree with the edit". $\endgroup$ – user May 18 '18 at 15:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Whenever I see a Q marked as unclear that I believe is crystal clear I take that comment very seriously. I am not a god, and the fact that it appears crystal clear to me may suggest that the prior commenter was more ignorant than myself - but it is just as likely (especially on this site) that it's crystal clear to me because I'm the one who's ignorant and there's something I don't understand that the previous commentor does. Because the goal of SE sites is to produce quality answers (and not simply to chase reputation), it's simple to wait until all clarifications are made, then answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 29 '18 at 18:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JBH Part of that might be to ask the OP if what you understand is correct by summing it up ELI5 style. "Am I correct in thinking that you are asking is this..." which could also help the other people that don't get it. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 5 '18 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ If you understand question and other do not, please help make it clear for everyone. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 21 '18 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot Of course, and I usually do, either in a comment or by editing the question. I don't always like editing the question for things other than grammar, mostly because there is a chance that I'm wrong, and I don't want to mess it up for OP. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 21 '18 at 13:29

For the record I'm against this change (let's call it a liberalization of policy). However if this is to be adopted I strongly feel we need formal rules and "reasons to close" which at least try and prevent opening the floodgates. So ...

We're going to need a "No Prior Research" reason to close.

Welcome to the homework dumping website.

I'm afraid that this change would open us up to every single "homework-type" question that most of the sites (like Physics, Mathematics ) would reject as not having enough prior research.

Note that Physics has an explicit rule about a requirement for basic research to be done by the OP and to be demonstrated in the question. You can't just say "I tried everything" - that's not enough.

Here's what the Physics SE rule says :

"Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem. We want our questions to be useful to the broader community, and to future users. See our meta site for more guidance on how to edit your question to make it better"

We would need to modify that to something like :

"What-If ... ?" style questions should show some effort to research the problem before asking on Worldbuilding SE. We're happy to help users with specific issues beyond their ability, but a basic effort to seek a solution using common resources (like Wikipedia) is expected. Users need to ask questions which can provide answers of reasonable length and not simply try to offload their own research to Wordlbuilding."

We probably needs to add an explicit statement about homework.

"Homework questions are explicitly off topic. Like other SE sites we do not do homework or check answers on Woirldbuilding SE."

A more difficult question is whether we should allow questions asking about personal theories. I feel this is would be opening the floodgates to nonsense. Again Physics SE explicitly makes personal theory questions off-topic.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I think it would be better to make this a clear rule, rather than open to debate. I'm concerned we're already opening a huge avenue for debate and disagreement about what's reasonable and what is not (on a Q by Q basis) by going down the proposed route. We can't legislate for everything, but we need to at least flag the obvious things that are off-topic. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 20 '18 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG if you would like to discuss/share your thoughts, feel free to join me here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/77822/… $\endgroup$ – James May 21 '18 at 20:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm really trying to figure out what kind of homework questions you could ask on WB? I mean, all questions have to be about building a world. Someone coming in and asking a hypothetical physics question that doesn't provide context would be closed under this "liberalization of policy". If a question provides context as to how or why it pertains to worldbuilding then trying to accuse them of just asking a homework question is petty at best. And remember, you are not required to answer, or even pay attention to, any question you feel is unworthy of your time. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 22 '18 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 almost any math/science/biology homework question rephrased with some "worldbuilding content" such as "I have this sytem/world where..." was in the question would pass the "is this about worldbuilding" check, while still being a homework question. I could find a physics question from a textbook that I needed answered, add some flavor here or there, and post it here - that'd definitely be a homework question. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 26 '18 at 2:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 Example of what I mean worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/112738/… except this one doesn't even have any worldbuilding flavor. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 27 '18 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify So looking over that question, it could be homework, but it could just as easily be one of the very many "orbit" questions we have with all of the fluff and unnecessary details stripped out. But say it's homework, and lets look at cost. You typed up one comment. Probably took you 30 seconds, and it was voluntary. You didn't need to, and your comment didn't contribute to the question. One person typed up an answer, and it has some info on how to solve the problem and similar problems. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 29 '18 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ So I tried your 3-3-3 thing and guess what the first return on Google is? This question. So in my opinion it's better to let it get a useful answer that could lead someone toward figuring it out than it is to close it with no answers, because if someone else has this same question, it would be much better to give them the resources they need than it would be to leave them hanging. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 29 '18 at 14:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree with this issue. One of my personal pet peeves is a question which, if you typed the question's title into google, gives the desired answer in the first hit. Just because we can consider any topic under the sun "on topic" doesn't mean we need to turn into Quora. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 30 '18 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 The question already exists on WB, and you're an avid user of the site, so of course the 3-3-3 method would link that question back to you. If you're validating the triviality of a question using the 3-3-3 method then you need to ignore the WB question link if it comes up. If you're an OP, then the 3-3-3 question should be applied before you even ask the question on WB, which would prevent the issue you just experienced in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 30 '18 at 21:05

I am in agreement with this, and am thrilled with worldbuilding accepting this stance. It also makes the site mesh better with other sites. Regarding:

Caveat: Members are certainly welcome to suggest via comment that a post may get better answers on one of the other sites in the network. There is nothing wrong with the suggestion and its always possible someone didn't know. That said, being on-topic on another site does not make a question off-topic for Worldbuilding.

For a small site such as engineering.stackexchange.com, about one-fourth of the questions on the site come from someone attempting to design a device for a story using real-world engineering principles. These questions have been ruled off-topic for various reasons, even when they have really interesting applications. Unfortunately, before worldbuilding we had no place to send those users. This made for a terrible user interaction for new visitors.

The typical route I take when seeing a good "what-if...?" question on engineering these days has been to route directly to worldbuilding. Since there is no practical application, or testing, and the initial conditions are wild, this site lends itself well to resolve real-world designs without getting into excessively complex models. Overall it is more interesting when we can use unobtanium as a potential material of construction, something which is never allowed in engineering - but perfectly reasonable in worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding solving real-world problems helps the science sites stay a reasonable resource for minds seeking real solutions to real problems. Simultaneously, this allows users access to engineering, astrophysics, physics, and other scientific models to solve unique, fun puzzles and inquiries.

  • $\begingroup$ It's good to get the perspective from one of the other sites. I know I've seen this on a few other sites; "Off topic, we don't deal in hypotheticals" and similar. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '18 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ I would just recommend being careful with "What-If" questions (1, 2), as many are unsuitable for our site. That said, I'm really glad that it's worked out for users on Engineering. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 May 20 '18 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Well, bad questions are bad questions regardless of site. I am talking about good real world questions that venture into idea generation. $\endgroup$ – Mark May 20 '18 at 17:29

I agree.

Questions about the real world need a worldbuilding context or they will get closed as off-topic.


Questions that can be answered with a quick search on a search engine will get closed as (insert new close reason here).

These needs to be mentioned in the help center somewhere, to get rid of the current ambiguity of the rules.

This is nothing new except we change the down-vote to a close-vote for the trivial questions. This is already more or less what we have been doing for a while. By including this in the help center, we would be enforcing the unwritten opinion of a majority of members that has emerged over a certain period of time on the site. It will reduce the confusion we create when referring new members to the help center.

  • $\begingroup$ Amusingly "the unwritten consensus that has emerged over a certain period of time on the site" is a recent fashion in interpretation or, at least, an interpretation held by a vocal bunch of WBers currently active. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 20 '18 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Indeed, it's not exactly a consensus. A consensus would require 100% of the users without counting abstentions. $\endgroup$ – Vincent May 20 '18 at 18:24

The best WB questions have some or all of these attributes

There isn't one single qualifier or disqualifier for a good, on-topic WB question. It's a constellation of factors. This is why I believe it's been so hard to figure out what is on-topic and what isn't. As I've thought about this problem, I keep running into criteria where I think "Yes, good WB questions have that attribute...yeah, but..."

Combinatorial - Combine systems or elements of systems into new systems or new properties of those systems.

Speculative - The question must include some kind of speculation about things that we don't know about how the system works.

About a System (very broad definition of a system) - The operation of single elements, much like the actions of a single person, don't belong here.

Novel - Please make it new.

Abstract - The nitty gritty details of the answer don't matter, or they can be handwaved.

Not advocating doing dangerous things - Knowing how to do a dangerous/evil thing is different than doing it or advocating that it be done. We have tons of genocide questions on WB but no one advocates that genocide be done. If we have reasonable cause to believe that someone would take dangerous actions based on what we provide, that should be off-topic.

Not homework

Not trivial - Google can't give you the answer to this question.

Always with the Exceptions

Except for the trivial and the homework questions, anyone of us can find fantastic WB questions that offer magnificent exceptions. For example, every single question cares a lot about the details and often in great specificity. But, note that these hard-science questions are often combinatorial, novel, and about a system. It is all the other attributes that make them good WB questions instead of off-topic.

The relationship between all these criteria are fuzzy. Some are weighted heavier than others. Some are necessary but insufficient (I'm not sure any of them are necessary and sufficient to be a good WB question.) However, the more of these criteria a question has, the stronger its position as a good, on-topic WB question.

What do we want WB to be?

We shouldn't be someone's homework service. I will not be someone's homework service. I want us to be the place that people come for fantastic answers to questions that require novel reasoning about known systems. I want us to be the place where people come to get help with imaginary worlds. Being a repository for useful information about the real world is tertiary to helping people reason about their imaginary worlds. If answering questions about how the real world works and this function impares people's ability to propose and reason about their worlds, then I would vote that real world questions are off-topic.

We aren't an encyclopedia and I don't want to become one.

I don't want us to become the dumping ground of bad questions for all of Stack Exchange either.


I agree that being real world does not make question automatically off-topic. At the same time, it does not make automatically it on-topic.

Answer to Should we finally allow reality checks of other plot elements? was -7 score and I believe that's the way it should stay - NO.

Adding "because I want this to happen in my world", or "This C# problem is common in my little setting of an IT corporation" should not allow to count such questions as on-topic.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue is still: You have something that is obviously on-topic (e.g. "Would the atmosphere of an alien planet with the following mixture of gases be breathable to humans?", currently popular) and something that is obviously off-topic (e.g. "How do I solve my programming problem"). Extreme cases are easy because of intuition. Where is the line though? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 21 '18 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Line will always be blurry, but if you can't describe your issue without a story of a single character, then it is plot, not worldbuilding. If it's something that happens once and does not impact entire setting, it's not worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 28 '18 at 14:17


I applaud and approve the effort as stated. I'm not as concerned about whether or not any particular rule meets my personal standard of happiness as I am concerned that rules are clear and consistent.

For the reader's edification as all may not understand all the ins-and-outs of this issue...

Up/Down Voting: Up/Down voting is intended to reflect a question's quality. This includes lack of research. Inevitably this will be used to reflect question popularity, which means a badly formed or researched question may have an enormously positive score. This is unfortunate, because SE has automation in place that detects when OPs submit too many negatively-received questions that leads to warnings and finally banning. When not used properly, this system is effectively circumvented. In an ideal-but-I'll-never-see-it world, you never up-vote a question simply because you're interested in the subject of the question.

Favorite: This is, IMO, the most underused and misunderstood link in the entire SE system. THIS is what you're supposed to click if the subject matter of the question is of interest to you.

Close Voting: Close voting reflects the potential for a question to result in answers that are out of control. Insofar as I'm concenred, if a person cannot point to a specific bullet in the Help Center that explains the VTC, it should not be cast. No VTC should be cast because the voter believes the question violates the spirit or intent of the site. That is far too subjective! It even suggests VTCs that are themselves POB.

Put on Hold: If there were a way to brand into people's heads the difference between VTH (vote to hold) and VTC (vote to close) I would do it. Unfortunately, the two issues use the same mechanism and are universally referred to as "VTC." Questions put on hold are meant to motivate the OP to improve the question and are, therefore, meant to be reopened (always assuming the OP is improving). There are three VTH reasons:

  1. Unclear What You're Asking
    • Resulting answers will be all over the map, basically addressing every perspective but the OP's because nobody really understood what the OP wanted.
  2. Too Broad
    • Resulting answers must be massive to address the entire question, making the result nearly useless for posterity. Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum and is best used using its one-specific-question-one-best-answer model.
  3. Primarily Opinion-Based (POB).
    • No answer can be deemed any better than another because there is insufficient restricting, limiting, or defining criteria. By the way (and just because someone did it recently) you cannot VTH a question as POB when that question has been tagged with the tag. A question is not POB by definition.

There are two general VTC reasons and four in total. Questions are closed because their nature is adverse to the intent of the site or do not add to the database of information in a way that's useful. One of them is (IMO) the reason for James' post:

  1. Duplicate Question
  2. Off-Topic: Does not appear to be about WB per the Help Center
  3. Off-Topic: Story-based
  4. Off-Topic: Belongs on another SE site

Off-Topic: Belongs on another SE site

This VTC reason doesn't make sense to many people because they don't understand how SE works. It's ONLY purpose is to identify a question that should be moved to Worldbuilding Meta — and not to any other site on the network. Therefore, it should really read, "Off-Topic: Belongs on Meta."

It helps to understand that you can't simply force a question onto another SE site. Each site can reject incoming migration requests and has their own rules about what they will and won't accept. That makes using the existing Off-Topic condition very confusing because it suggests pretty much the opposite. Because you cannot guarantee the migration, you cannot simply close for that purpose. (Flagging for moderator attention and identifiying the migration target is much more valuable, if migration really is warranted.)

It is my understanding that other sites could be listed under this VTC reason, but rarely are due to the problems mentioned. I'd rather see it renamed to focus on migrating to Meta.

Off-Topic: Too Story-Based

This exists because our purpose is NOT to write the OP's story for them. Our goal is to help the OP develop a consistently usable world in which any story could be placed. The moment it becomes a question of how one story can be placed, it's too story-based. This is why questions about one character (regardless the nature of that character) are off-topic as too story-based. The moment you ask how Herman would solve a problem in your world, you're asking us to write your book, not help develop your world (even if the answer could be used to develop your world).

TL;DR... Off-Topic: Does not appear to be about WB...

This is the VTC reason that desperately needs clarification because it is subject to too many opinions — especially opinions about what "worldbuilding" is.

I consider James' question and the moderators' efforts to be a valuable first-step to improving this overly abused VTC reason. There are existing rules on this page (the bullets following "...not about:") that are the only rules we have for closing a question for this reason. I do not mind (and even look forward to) the improvement of these rules — but until they are improved, they are the only non-subjective reasons for VTC:Off-Topic:NA/WB that we have.

My thanks to the moderators for discussing and tackling this issue.


I have had a number of questions that I have had to fight to have remain open because they were real-world questions, "Not about Worldbuilding", and I had to explain in the question at some length that yes, they were about this world, but the answer provided details of the way that the world could change afterwards.

One example is: How long can New York City sustain the Snakebot of Doom's hunger for Iron and steel?. I had to edit this question extensively to show why I was asking it before the tide of close votes on the grounds of not being about Worldbuilding would stop... but if it had been considered on-topic, it might have been answered much sooner, and with less effort on my part.

While it may be interesting to know why a question is asked, sometimes knowing why doesn't help answer the question, and it could just as easily be answered regardless. This question received questions in comments about Jormungandr recycling its own ammunition. I already knew that it was not possible, and had accounted for that fact in my original question, and had I not had to mention why I was asking the question, that counter-question would never have come up.

So... while mentioning the Worldbuilding rationale behind a question can be educational for other worldbuilders, there should be no requirement that a question educate its readers about its author's Worldbuilding process. Sometimes a question's author needs a question answered quickly, and explaining himself just so the question will remain open is otherwise a waste of time.

Answers, on the other hand, should demonstrate something that contributes to the Worldbuilding process.

So... TL/DR: I vote that Yes, real-world questions should be on topic.


I'm in favour of this.

I personally see no problem with 'real world' questions. Just because this site is about world building doesn't mean that everyone is building a completely fantasy or sci-fi world.

The way I see it practically no work of fiction is set in the real world, they are just set in a world that is almost identical to it. So as long as you are asking questions about the setting and not the story (which can be a tricky line to draw) then they should be on topic here.

I think the idea that we will get a flood of users coming here to ask how to change a light bulb or open a bank account is overly pessimistic. The kind of people who are likely to ask those questions are the ones who won't have read the rules or meta discussions anyway, so changing them won't encourage or discourage them.

Prior research is important, and I like the idea that there should maybe be a close reason based on that, as well as context. Explaining why you want / need to know something in the context of your wider setting can make it clearer that the question is on topic and relevant (and guide people to make more relevant answers).


In relation to this question.

L.Dutch said in a comment, "I am missing the worldbuilding element in your question, it sounds like a hobby bob question, and as such better suited for the dedicated SE. Can you clarify the worldbuilding problem you are asking us to solve?"

The question was subsequently closed as off-topic:not about worldbuilding.

When I asked why and pointed to this post, Secepitus directed me to the following bullet point from the above post:

  • Provide context. Giving other users context around why you are asking the question allows them to better understand why you are asking and what kind of answer you want.

From my perspective, the problem is solved by including the phrase, "I'm writing a story..." in the question. What does it matter if context is provided? It's a superficial restriction that adds nothing to the question. It's only purpose is to give people a reason to close the question.

We should either be all-in or all-out. Inviting OPs to rationalize why they should be allowed to ask the question here is simply petty on our part.

Do we really expect OPs to rationalize asking real-world questions here?

If you believe this should have been posted as a new question, let me know. I'm just trying to keep all the dust in one corner.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ To keep everything together as you say I'm gonna copy my comment here: "I'm writing a story" is too shallow. What are you trying to achieve with "X" in your story? Why is it necessary to have it faster/more efficient? What's your goal in asking this question specifically here? The goal of this specific guideline is to know what the OP is trying to achieve to know what direction we need to go with answers and what the problems are that the OP encountered. Adding "For a story" is insufficient for this and does not help at all to understand the underlying problems of the question. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jul 11 '18 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus, that's OK. It's actually pretty efficient. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 11 '18 at 20:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yes, we must expect OPs to rationalize asking real world questions; otherwise, this site becomes a kitchen sink for any question. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 12 '18 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ Please consider that questions serve as a reference for other questions. They get found on google and if it's not clear what this is all about, all hell breaks lose. I wouldn't trust on this being called "worldbuilding" to communicate to everyone what the purpose is. I think this is a complex topic that should be dealt with in an extra thread. There are such cases and such cases, there are arguments for both sides, and this is a common issue, it would be nice to have this as a reference $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 12 '18 at 12:19

If we consider that the so–called “real world” is simply an example of worldbuilding which has already been done, and is being done every day, then it works.
To put it another way: if the question concerns the worldbuilding of a world which happens to resemble the “real world”, then it is certainly topical.

My caveat:
It does require that a question be formed with such or similar an attitude; if the question tends to veer more towards Social Change or Social Engineering Stack Exchanges, then it is probably time for an Area 51 proposal.


This is for fictional worlds. Their resemblance to the “real world” is irrelevant.

  • If the questions asks how to do something in the confines of a certain system, then it is not worldbuilding — even if that system is a fictional world.
  • If the question asks how to change the confines of a system, or how to project the state of a system expanded through time or space or any other dimension, then it possibly is worldbuilding.
    Even if it is requesting for a future state of a system which is indistinguishable from the “real world”, it should be accepted here — so long as it meets the other criteria. E.g. asking predictions for the outcome of an election for the succeeding year could be topical here: such a thing could, conceivably, be used for building a fictional world.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Then we might as well not have the "real world" restriction in the first place. And we're back to square one as dumping ground central. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Aug 21 '18 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited so that I make it clearer. Thanks, @elemtilas $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Aug 22 '18 at 5:56

You must log in to answer this question.

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