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I've seen a couple law-related questions closed recently for being "not worldbuilding", not all of them my own, so I would appreciate a clarification of the rules. I have identified several categories of legal questions with examples; the bolded questions have been closed.

Category A - questions about unlikely (but not physically impossible) scenarios and how they interact with real-life laws:

Category B - questions about supernatural entities interacting with real-life laws:

Category C - questions about additional or entirely original laws or systems of laws and their implications for a world:

(I suppose you could also identify a Category D, questions about non-fictional scenarios interacting with real-life laws ("If I punch someone who looked at me funny, can I be arrested?") but I don't consider those worldbuilding because there is nothing fictional or fanciful happening, as people get punched all the time.)

I think that everyone can agree that Category C is worldbuilding. Category A and B seems to be disputed. Several have comments along the lines of "This is about law, how is this worldbuilding?" even if they aren't closed. Now I want to know whether there can be a consistent policy formulation to identify which law-related questions are worldbuilding and which ones aren't.

I look forward to hearing your opinions, or a clarification if a policy was already in place that I was unaware of. Also see this discussion from six years ago.

Also, see the discussion I have opened up on Law.SE about whether they would even accept any questions on fantasy scenarios that we would migrate there. Consensus seems to be that they would accept it, although some rewriting may be necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ World building isn’t about science any more than it’s about law. We allow science questions as a check on how “realistic” the story sounds to experts on science. It should be the same with law. The difference between this site and legal sites is we don’t care if it is legal as much as we care what it would take to make it believably legal. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Jan 14 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ I moved my argument to its own answer. Also as a bump for the discussion because there has been surprisingly little response so far. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jan 18 at 10:35
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Yes, They Are On-Topic

Full Disclaimer: I am the user who posted the Spider-Man question

I would argue that questions regarding legal reaction to supernatural phenomena are on-topic for Worldbuilding SE, because they involve phenomena and legal situations that are out of context for modern law. I make this argument for several reasons:

1) We already have a tag

There is already a tag on SE, whose description is "For questions related to the sets of rules set in place by organizations to govern the behavior of the people". This by itself would suggest that a law-related worldbuilding question is on topic for Worldbuilding SE. Additionally, we have specific tag for how people enforce said laws (), which is dependent on whether individuals broke laws to begin with. The tags for , , , and also frequently involve legal aspects of how society works. There are also many, many questions on Worldbuilding SE about how the law would interact with supernatural phenomena:

Taxing the superhero industry
Why do governments not execute or otherwise permanently contain super villains?
What laws, if any, would have to change to allow people with superpowers to use their powers for profit in companies/businesses??
Humans can now fly. What new laws are created? (many of the comments and answers involve discussions of existing law)
Where could a vampire get blood without harming people?? (Am also the author of this question. Involves a lot of questions as to the legality of various actions)
How can a banker successfully (and safely) lend money to an autocrat?
Dragons and aviation bureaucracy

Additionally, we have a large number of questions related to how existing geopolitical structures would react to supernatural (or otherwise "fictional") phenomena:

What is the ideal location to hide the President in the case of a zombie apocalypse?
What is the impact on the world politics if teleportation is possible?
Geopolitical and Economic Implications of a Large Eruption at Yellowstone

And so on.

2) Law is a fundamental part of worldbuilding

Worldbuilding, at its core, is a question of how the real world interacts with the fictional one. This is what differentiates Worldbuilding SE from Writing SE, Writing SE is about how fiction interacts with itself; Worldbuilding SE is about how fictional elements would interact with reality. Law is a part of reality, it is the rules on which how society interacts, as important a factor to consider as geopolitics, sociology, psychology, physics, biology, or chemistry. We have many, many questions about how supernatural elements would interact with the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, the laws of evolution, the laws of human psychology. Why are the laws of humankind exempt?

Indeed, and are fundamentally the same, all law represents is a codified set of societal rules written down to determine what behavior is and is not acceptable by a group of people, modified by historical precedent.

Legal reaction to supernatural phenomena is part of how society reacts to that phenomenon. We have tons of questions regarding "how would society react if superpowers were real" or "how would people react if vampire are real" or "how would people react if aliens were real". Law is a part of that. Frankly, the only difference between geopolitics and law in a broad sense is that geopolitics involves the rules and interactions between nations, whereas law concerns interactions of civilians within nations.

Both @elemtilas and @KeizerHarm consider questions that involve entirely new laws written in regards to some fictional phenomenon to be on-topic. The thing about law is that it is usually reactive, laws are only passed in hindsight once someone discovers a loophole in the existing legal structure, or more rarely if someone has enough forethought to notice an event isn't covered by existing law. Until someone passes anti-vampire or anti-superhero legislation, societal structures are going to react to either based on pre-existing legislation (or break existing laws, which in and of itself involves legal questions).

Related to this, the tag and other tags involving superhero and urban fantasy settings are going to heavily interact with the law as it is written IRL, because a key feature of both of these settings is they are set in a setting which is "reality unless noted", and the presence of supernatural phenomenon has a minimal effect on legal structure because the supernatural is hidden or poorly known. Therefore any legal action on behalf of society against supernatural phenomena will have to be based on existing legal precedents, most countries today have laws against ex-post facto laws, so it would not be possible to pass a new law banning a supernatural activity and then retroactively apply it to the setting.

3) Posting worldbuilding questions as “real world analogies” in Law SE strips them of their context and results in lower-quality answers

@Elemtilas suggests asking law-related question on Law SE by rephrasing them as "real-world questions with the supernatural elements stripped from them. However, doing so means stripping the questions of valuable context that would influence how an IRL legal professional would address the issue and thus reduce the quality of the answer. A general trend I have noticed on most stacks (including Worldbuilding SE), is that the more detail you include in a question, the better. If you don't, you often end up with an answer to a question that is technically correct but does not address your problem.

This issue can be demonstrated with two of the questions being brought up: the Spider-Man question and the one regarding if summoning an eldritch being violates zoning regulations. For the first, it’s true someone could buy a wingsuit and go parkouring through New York. However, Spider-Man also leaves significant amounts of webbing wherever he goes and is capable of swinging through New York City at speeds of over 100 km/hr. Someone with a wingsuit does neither of these things. A spider-themed superhero might face littering charges for their webbing, which a wingsuit-wearing person would not.

Many superpower questions in general struggle to be applied to "real world analogies" because there isn't really an analogue for them in modern terms. There are a large number of questions on here about settings where people are born with superpowers of some kind. They can't really be converted to real-world questions as "people with military-grade weapons" because people aren't born with AK-47s in their hands, nor are these weapons a fundamental part of their body that cannot be removed without invasive surgery.

As another example, take the “would summoning an eldritch abomination result in zoning violations question”. It can't really be converted to an IRL example of a 12-car garage because there are fundamental differences between the two questions. Notably that an eldritch abomination is alive and is often capable of movement, it isn't a fixed structure in the ground. It's not possible to ask an IRL analogy question on Law SE because in real life there is no mobile terrestrial organism the size of a building.

Other common questions I can see that cannot be easily asked on Law SE are "do inalienable human rights apply to sentient aliens", "is killing a vampire murder because they are already undead", and questions regarding telepathy like "is telepathy you cannot turn off a violation of privacy laws" or "is evidence garnered through telepathy valid in court". Even in cases like telepathy changing it to something like a precog machine misses context, since telepathy would be an innate quality rather than a device.

There are many cases of law in fiction that can be asked on Law SE with little problem. For example, many "realistic fiction" settings like Tom Clancy novels there are no supernatural elements, everything is theoretically possible IRL. But in cases with supernatural or otherwise non-realistic worldbuilding elements, like aliens, superpowers, futuristic technologies which we have no IRL analogue for, these questions cannot be simplified in IRL terms.

4) Other stacks, in general, do not like having questions on explicitly fictional scenarios asked on them.

I'm sure everyone here is very familiar with this. Questions about fictional settings or elements that do not occur IRL are not popular on other stacks. This is the reason why we do not ask questions about creature-design on Biology SE, or questions about superluminal space travel on Physics SE. I know Worldbuilding SE doesn't like the rest of SE considering Worldbuilding SE their dumping ground for every question they don't want, but for once the topic is actually within our purview.

Looking at the question on Law SE, only one person has replied so far and they have done so somewhat positively, but they have already indicated that at least one of the questions OP listed regarding supernatural phenomena and law would not be acceptable there. This does not bode well with shifting all supernatural-related law-based questions to Law SE.

Additionally, one thing I have noticed is that people outside of Worldbuilding SE are less likely to examine the question seriously and provide useful answers. They are more likely to either give a cheeky, non-committal answer like "Where does a 600 lb gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants" or say "well in fiction you can make anything you want happen".

tl:dr; Legal questions involving explicitly supernatural phenomena and how the legal system would react that cannot be answered in reference to IRL phenomena are on topic, questions of legality of an action for the sake of a story by itself (that is, the issue could potentially come up in real life) are not.

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I think they are on topic.

General

An important point raised in the discussion on Law.SE is that their community has different expectations of questions than we do. They warned against transporting the Santa welfare question to Law.SE as-is, because it is filled with prose and ornate descriptions that are allowed (and encouraged) here, but off-key in the other community.

That is an important point: these sites are not just repositories of questions and answers, they are communities. I could formulate a question that's acceptable both here and on Physics.SE (like something about the air resistance of a Ford Prefect going at Mach 3) but I would be expecting different answers, and different kinds of answers, on either site. Even if I tag it here, I expect that the physics site would have more rigorous answers. They would be more likely to declare a question unanswerable, say if a 3D model of the specific car is unavailable and the aerodynamics cannot be calculated. On the other hand, I expect a Worldbuilder to tell me that the idea is unpractical, whilst recommending other classical cars with similar aesthetic but more efficiency at supersonic speeds.

Similarly, I expect a legal question on Law.SE to cite every legal precedent and scholars. I on the other hand expect creative legal argument from a Worldbuilding.SE site. A lot of fun is to be had with legal argument: lawyers exist because we can disagree on the interpretation of the law, and where there is room for interpretation, there is room for fun and creative interpretations.

And as @candied_orange said, Worldbuilding.SE permits questions with believable answers that aren't necessarily fact-based. Speculative legal argument in an answer only has to be believably legal. Such an answer isn't really in Law.SE's avenue.

Category B

Now about the questions themselves. Firstly I think there is an equivalence between legal questions and physics questions. questions ask to test a scenario along general science (assumed to be human science but with possible exceptions in the question). is even more strict; you use that to test your scenario to only existing physics, with the answer requirement of using formulae and citing sources. In both cases, a scenario is tested against a set of rules. Human law is also a set of rules.

"Does the creation of eldritch entities violate zoning laws?" is inherently equivalent to "Does the creation of eldritch entities violate the conservation of energy?". The latter is accepted on the site, why isn't the former?

Secondly, I think there is an equivalence between legal questions and questions. Both are problem-solving questions with some creative solutions, but those solutions have to be dependant on elements from our own planet; factual elements from real life. Since real-world questions are on-topic, that should generally pass.

And stated more broadly, Category B is asking about something fanciful interacting with something earthly and real-world. Almost the entire question repository of Worldbuilding.SE falls under that general description. Excluding law from that set of real-world things to test against is something that I cannot justify.

Category A

Real life actions, real life consequences; but the scenario is fictional and might be really unlikely. Worldbuilding or not?

My question here: if you consider Category B worldbuilding, but not Category A, then what's an effective formulation of the boundary between A and B? The Spider-Man question straddles the line; sure his webbing and athletics is made-up, but parkouring exists and one could theoretically cobble together a wingsuit and move about in a similar manner to the masked menace. There's also some conceivable Category A questions that are really, really out there, but not physically impossible. (like instead of suing Santa, ask about suing someone who were to own 50% of the money on the planet) I think it becomes a matter of opinion when something is fictional enough. If a line needs to be drawn somewhere, I'm fine with that, but feel free to suggest one.

Conclusion

I suggest to adopt the same logic as for any real-world question in the linked debate. My policy suggestion is: leave it up to the questioner to decide whether they want to put a legal question here or on Law.SE. And if you think it is a poor question, shows little research effort, or is otherwise unfit for the site, feel free to downvote and/or close-vote the question in question. However, do not close-vote legal questions about fictional scenarios as "off-topic".

Worldbuilding.SE is frankly a unique place for how omnidisciplinary it is. In my opinion that is a feature, not a bug. While questions that enter specific domains of knowledge are probably on topic in the SE about that domain of knowledge; I know that if I want to have a creative answer, I will be more likely to get it here. Please allow me to do so, by applying the on-topic rules to every domain equally.

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There's a lot going on in discussion and I think a brief statement is in order:

The rules & guidelines of Worldbuilding are fairly basic on this matter, and they apply to questions of all types, not just law related questions.

First, of course, is that the question ought to focus on worldbuilding. Our forum's purpose is to help worldbuilders make & describe their fictional worlds and settings. This of course, includes questions on law, criminal justice, crime, torture, punishment in any of their aspects or proceedings.

Second, any question on law should follow the same basic requirements that any other kind of question does. In order to offer the best answers, the OP should provide essential background about the legal system in question and the world & polity it functions within. Whether this is a world ruled by Dragons or whether this is a "world just like Earth, except where otherwise stated". The OP should provide some basic statements concerning the situation being asked about. Lastly, the OP should provide a statement covering what she expects in a good answer: specific points to be addressed, specific outcomes that should be obtained.

Third, the question should abide by general Stack Exchange norms: it should be focused and as specific as possible. An OP should not ask multiple questions in one go. The question should be about worldbuilding -- how the fictional world (in this case, the fictional laws) works -- rather than about story writing, plot advancement or character choice. The question should not be obviously or gratuitously opinion based. Naturally, opinions may differ (and there are always at least two opinions in every court room!), but questions that specifically seek opinions are off topic. To do this, sometimes an OP has to ask a "real world question". The only stipulation the community would demand in return is that the querent of such a real world question provide sufficient fictional world context in order to provide a good fictional world answer.


Now let's look at the given categories:

Each of these categories look like they can be boiled down to a pithy & descriptive statement.

Category A: These questions involve real law in real setting. This means that, as written, the questions appear to be about some action or event in the real world, rather than in a fictional world. I voted to close those as having no worldbuilding context at all. And I would happily vote to reopen if that context is provided!

Category B: I'd actually argue that your example query answers the question succinctly. You ask "if I create an eldritch entity, would I violate zoning laws?" to which I'd answer this is a fictional entity in real law. Since your question doesn't actually focus on eldritch entities, or even on a fictional world, but rather on mundane real world law, set in the real world, this kind of query would be off topic here. This type of question can easily be edited and made on topic by focusing it on the fictional world you're making and giving us a little description of how similar & different it is from the real world.

Category C: yes, here I agree that this is straight up worldbuilding; basically fictional law in a fictional setting. Since the setting is fictional and since the queries (more or less) focus on the fictional setting, I'd say those are clearly on topic.

Category D: I'd consider Category D to be synonymous with Category A, real law in real setting and thus off topic.

I had originally considered JBH's Santa question as falling under Category C rather than B, but upon considering your comment, stipulating that the setting is in fact not really a fictional world, "The case is being judged using California state law," I must revise my earlier stance. Both the Santa question, cute and timely as it was, is ultimately closeable, perhaps after Christmas rather than before, for being not about worldbuilding. In this case semifictional person in real law.

In summation: to everyone who would pose a legal question, or any question in Worldbuilding: legal questions are no less interesting than orbital mechanics or evolution of dragon wing queries here! OPs are simply advised to adhere to the same basic guidelines & protocols as anyone else. Keep your queries focused, keep your queries about worldbuilding, and keep your queries focused on the fictional world you're building.

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