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I wanted to test a theory. I wanted to see what would happen if a question that asked for a narrow list of ideas would react on the site now that a week or two of my previous meta post asking how to make fishing for ideas questions suitable for Main have gone by.

My test question asking In a world of groovy super spies, how would a spy cross a ravine? was closed for... of all things... being "too story-based."

When you follow the "why was my question closed for being too story-based" link you find the following statement:

Asking about plot elements such as the actions of characters, rather than about the world in which your story takes place, is off-topic on Worldbuilding. Capabilities of characters within a world and creation of groups of characters (like nations) are on-topic, but questions must focus on what is possible or likely to develop, not what someone would or should do.

I suppose the close voters felt that the question reflects a character choice that would have occured long before the mission actually started. Something along the lines of "gee, there's five different tools that would help me over that ravine, and I'm sure to be chased by dogs and cornered at the ravine, so which tool should I choose to get me over the ravine?"

Except that such an assumption feels ludicrous to me. It feels a lot like someone is judging the question based on its backstory and not on the question itself. Quite frankly, I'm not asking what choice the character can make. I'm only asking what devices could be available to the character. The difference is insanely important: if I remove the backstory from the former, no question remains. If I remove the backstory from the later, the question remains. This wasn't a question about character choices — it was a question about tool design.

Worse still, this sets a precedent. It suggests that all finite-list-of-things questions are off-topic because they are always dependent on the structure of the story. Examples of questions that now must be hunted down and closed:

It appears to me that the Stack is becoming more and more physics.SE, earthsciences.SE, and all the other Stacks — we just allow backstories.

So questions (yup, "needs more focus"):

  1. What is a strict definition of "too story-based?" Because if we use the link we provide as the definition, my question did not meet the expectation. Note that I wholly agree with the following: worldbuilding (on-topic) is about designing and consistently using the rules and systems of a fictional world of your own creation. Storybuilding (off-topic) is about plot, circumstances, and character actions/choices." I do not believe my question was storybuilding (prove me wrong if you disagree, thanks!).

  2. Do we allow fishing-for-ideas questions or not?

MODERATORS It's time you guys stepped up with some opinions. Based on the positive feedback to several of my previous Meta posts, the policies of this stack have changed — but you appear to not be keeping up with the times. Does Meta decide policy changes... or do you?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is Meta. It's kind of pointless to downvote a question here without actually saying something! Obviously, two (or eventually more) people were sufficiently put off by what JBH wrote that they decided to down vote. Can you please verbalise the rationale? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 11 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ Does this mean I have to explain why I upvoted this :p? Kidding a little, but yeah, it might be nice to actually have an answer directly bound to the vote, not two or three days after. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 11 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena -- Good point! Yes, you should explain your upvote! :))) Of course, now I'll have to explain my vote, too... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 11 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Think of voting like creating an error log. When your program works as intended, no further action is required so there is no reason to log it, but when it breaks, you need to log it so that you can fix it. Not giving a clear close reason is like telling a programmer "I got a 500 error" with no further details. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 13 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I heard though that good programmers put logs and comments to retail the procedure they went through to log... lock-on an error, too. Is that a mistake :p? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 13 at 17:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena In general, computers do billions if not trillions of right things between errors and recording them all is madness. In some cases, you may keep an "activity log" for various analytics purposes, but such logs only include important details, not a log of everything the computer did right whereas the error log should record everything the computer does wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 13 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ gee i dont espect JBH of all ppl make this topic, considering you are the one that i think advocate this too story based one so much to the point it blurred, also just want to slip one of my old question which i think fit with one of the example is there other possible/exotic fuel for fire other than common/normal oil/fuel? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Sep 3 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun (a) I didn't vote to close that question. (b) Your question was closed for being outside the rules of the Stack, although I can't see why. You have a lot of conditions. Most of them are "you can't use this as an answer" conditions, a few others are a bit vague, but otherwise I don't know why it was closed. I read the Meta answers and while square-cube mentioned "setting," what he was really saying is that you asked a real-world question without worldbuilding context (that's been a problem on this site forever). But it's not uncommon to ask questions like you did. (*continued*) $\endgroup$ Sep 3 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun Frankly, it appears square-cubed confused the issue of real-world questions with what he thought would be a reason real-world questions should or could be off-topic. After that, you became confused about why your question was closed. Please note that the Stack's primary purpose has always been to develop rules and systems. Developing and using technology overlaps that, but the more you overlap into the real-world, the more "off-topic" the question becomes. However, I don't think yours should have been closed. $\endgroup$ Sep 3 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ maybe you need to check my previous edit, because the context clearly not realworld setting, literally about duel fencing there with my own duel ruleset too, heck i even mention "no timeline or technology restriction so modern/future type of fuel is fine as long it make sense or possible". $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Sep 4 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ heck WB SE did include setting, "WB.SE's mission is: 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." oh also i am not accusing you to be the one that VTC of that one, just simply want to share my own example, thats all. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Sep 4 at 0:21
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I suspect the "In style!" part was your question's undoing

I did not VtC it myself, but when I look at this question through my rule lawyer glasses, what I see is a question where you used the Best Possible Answer criteria to make it about a certain character's choice instead of what is most practical. For a generic superspy with cool gadgets, the best tool for escape would be measured by factors like fastest, safest, cheapest, most light weight, etc.

But, by making the preferred method about style, you have brought in a specific character's personality qwerk.

For this question to be safe from a "too story-based" VtC, you should either change your Best Possible Answer to some criteria relevant to your setting, or add some element to your setting that actually makes style a relevant criteria.

For example: it could be that your world is in a sort of information cold war being waged over public opinion. So, instead of your super spy's operations being covert as would be the assumption, in your world, you may be recording everything she does to be televised on international TV to demonstrate the superiority of your nation's super spies in action. If this is the case, your spy may actually be under orders to show off and make it flashy to awe the audience. Then it would not be your character's choice to go flashy, but a requirement of the setting.

As for what people mean when they say: fishing for ideas, you did not step afoul here. When we say you are fishing for ideas we generally mean you have such a poorly defined scope that there could be a virtually infinite number or equally valid answers. Think of it like this, when you fish, you are just putting a hook in the water and treating all the fish in the river as good as the next when it comes to who you are eating that night, but when you go into a fine restaurant where you get to pick your own fish from a tank, you are actually discriminating between fish based on their qualities. You are eating fish either way, but only the former is what you would call fishing. WB.SE is just requiring that you ask questions that discriminate between answers based on their qualities. Asking questions that give you ideas are not in of themselves a problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ And here's my fundamental problem with Worldbuilding today. There was a day when whimsical, creative, and imaginative answers were the standard and boring "it doesn't work that way in real life" answers were all but downvoted. But, specifically, "in style" most certainly does not bring the characters personality into it. (It's a piece of equipment created by the quartermaster, not the spy, and it's being designed by the respondent, not the quatermaster.) If I actually had to spell that out, this stack's lost a lot of its natural creativity. $\endgroup$ Aug 13 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Like I said, I did not VtC it myself, I thought it was a good question, but if you look at it really strictly: "Their quartermaster is remarkably foresightful" which means the spy should have something on him in anticipation of just this sort of problem. If the solution is not the most simple, practical one the quartermaster could have provided the spy with, then it is because the quartermaster or spy has made a choice to go with something unnecessarily stylish. I'm being lame and nit-picky, I know, but some ppl on here do close vote that strictly. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 13 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ Just trying to offer a perspective that can help the OP dodge the rule lawyers. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 13 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki You don't strictly need to put intraworld causes to explain they have to do it with style; It can be just a matter of what the world designer wishes. Otherwise, I agree, it might very well be a bit of a "Chekov's gun" to be put as world rules. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 13 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ 'In style' was problematic for me, too, however, for a different reason. I do not care why does the spy need to escape in style. But I saw no definition of 'in style'. It is not clear what is considered to be stylish and what is not. I am 99% sure that my own definition of 'in style' would not match the OP's as we belong to very different cultural traditions and our style preferences are not the same. Therefore, I find it impossible to provide an answer that would satisfy the OP's best answer criteria. I do not think that I am the only one who does not understand what 'in style' means. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 23 at 20:20
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What is a strict definition of "too story-based?"

I am coming late to the discussion, and I think I might be a bit of a dense guy... but I have always used the "too story-based" reason when the question is more about plot than about proper world building. I have this book, Writing Fiction for Dummies, and it does a nice job at defining and separating plot from world building, and that's my compass when deciding.

Your question about spies has more to do with world building than plot. You have already decided on the plot - some spy has to make a dramatic escape. What you asked there has to do about how that is feasible within the constraints of the world you are building, taking into account the technology available for a superspy.

Because if we use the link we provide as the definition, my question did not meet the expectation. Note that I wholly agree with the following: worldbuilding (on-topic) is about designing and consistently using the rules and systems of a fictional world of your own creation. Storybuilding (off-topic) is about plot, circumstances, and character actions/choices." I do not believe my question was storybuilding (prove me wrong if you disagree, thanks!).

I completely agree on this assertion.

Do we allow fishing-for-ideas questions or not?

I think each case is a case. We've had questions such as What methods of transportation could be used to get ground vehicles onto an island surrounded by sharp rocks in shallow water?, which is a total idea fishery, and it was very well received (32 upvotes, no downvotes so far, which is better than most questions we get these days). We have one right now about the technical aspects of a bag of holding, and we had one about magic money which are also fishing for ideas and they are great. But my favorite "hey I have this setting now I need an idea about how it works" is the one about underwater women distributing swords to random strangers, that one is 173 vs -8 right now.

Then again we have really questions which are also fishing for ideas, but which are really terrible ones.

At the end of the day, I don't think "fishing for ideas" should be a reason for closure. These questions should be allowed to stay or be closed according to their own merit and how they stick to the other rules about what is acceptable and what is not.

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1
  • $\begingroup$ Lol, that ai pacify thing is funny, similar to women with swords, lol. That coin q is so ugly, 0 research is done, really asking trivia like someone has to brestfeed the user with answers, brrrr $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 31 at 19:10
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It's a matter of circumstances

I guess people are all over their mind when you talk about a specific character, even when unnamed. That's the first thing that came into mine (my mind) when I read your question : how likely people would find it story-based.

When you give a low-level point of view focused on a character, you incentize how it's about a set of characters. and well, because it's a set of characters, in a specific place, time and specific situation. In other words, under circumstances... Wait, does this ring a bell to my belly to me?

Note that I wholly agree with the following: worldbuilding (on-topic) is about designing and consistently using the rules and systems of a fictional world of your own creation. Storybuilding (off-topic) is about plot, circumstances, and character actions/choices." I do not believe my question was storybuilding (prove me wrong if you disagree, thanks!).

--- Agent JBH, Operation Fishpole debriefed debrief

That's the key. The one that gets you out of jail (before you run pursued by dogs towards a ravine, for some reasons). If you haven't told that there was an Agent running towards a ravine, but instead boringly told that "some" people needed to pass through big gaps, nobody would have said "hey, it's a story!".

Funny thing is that your own answer to the "Why is my question “Too Story Based” and how do I get it opened?" included that same concept :

The smaller the "world," the less likely you're asking about a system. In times past we have described "worlds" as being of any size, from a multiverse down to a small town — but not individuals or even small groups of people (generally). The smaller the number of people you're asking about, the more story-based your question is. Ask about a single individual and with very rare exception, you're storybuilding, not worldbuilding. This is because even a god, when acting individually, does not constitute a system. Rather, the actions of even so consequential a being are circumstantial.

--- Agent JBH, Operation Storyhunter, 3 years ago

So it looks to me your younger self would be really inclined to close your question than the you right now :p. Good thing for you they did-will not time-travel to do that }i{.

But is it really true?

Are circumstances actually a way of determining if it's story or world based? Because, since and then people seems to have a big underlying grudge with this.

Are circumstances about stories and stories only?

I'll get straight up to the answer : No, circumstances are not only about stories. Most if not all effects have a cause. Watch out, not a reason, a cause.

Why an element is here is because an action caused by an entity allowed this to take place, à la causality principle. In other words, how (or why) one or two stars rolling around are dependent on the initial parameters, a.k.a circumstances. And this kind of question is on topic with worldbuilding, right?

The same happens to the decisions characters make, which are more obviously based on circumstances. How can one jump over a ravine depends on what tools they have access to, as much as the mentality of the character will change why they take the step. And they're both circumstances.

If all of these are called circumstances and they can match either stories or worlds, it is therefore not a way to define what is world and what is story.

But then what is the delimiting factor of stories?

Reasons. Reasons are more often calling up for intents, contrary to causes and circumstances. And intents are what tells apart a story from its world. Why does Agent Doggybag has chosen the 60ft pole to traverse the ravine, while he could simply call the help of an helicopter? He didn't want to put his team in danger of cynophobia, or he simply wanted to show off to the enemy. We're about "willing" something, not "being able to do something". And characters -both in stories and real worlds- are always facing the two against each other, and strive to do what they wish to do with the possibilities they are given. And sometimes readjusting their point of view if they cannot do something they want (up to not wishing it anymore!). In other words, people waddle in the direction they wish for consciously or subconsciously as much as their environment allow them to do. The story plays with what the world allow them to do.

As such, a question like "Your character is an athlete, can they run 42 km straight?" is about the world, as it's not about the reasons someone would like to (or not) run 42 km in one go, but about the causes they would be able to make it.

And there comes my little voice ringing :

"Yeah, but your example is not valid, if the guy's leg is broken, he can't run 42km! And it's a story element, it's obvious1!".

No, non, nein and niet, because you changed the question to "Can someone with a broken leg run 42 km?". This counter-argument -while valid in itself-, by altering the initial premise to match its need of truth, attacks the wrong target. In other words, yes, having someone with a broken leg is story-induced, but this creates a change of state in the possibilities offered by the world to this person, and as such the "circumstances" of the world is different.

And now another inner voice rings in, let me take the call :

"But if someone else doesn't want that guy from running, isn't the question story-based?".

No again, because you gave a story-based answer, and having one story-based answer doesn't imply the question is also. Otherwise we'd have to close A LOT of questions, where any person won't be able to do anything because, well, they're lazy for instance :).

It's why I think the other answer, about the "want" and "can" by Tezra has more accurately delimited what is and isn't story-based.

Conclusion

So, you should be one happy unhappy guy that I think you are wrong about your delimitation of stories and worlds, and that being wrong makes your question right for this site.


As a side note, I've stumbled upon this in the help center ("making a good question about an action or event), which further corrode-o-elaborate the acceptability of the question : Indeed, you're asking about "I have A and B, give me X" or "How can I make this happen", which is not too broad and definitely seems to have been accepted at some point.

1 : Everytime I hear a casually said "it's obvious", I scream. That's the quickest and frightening-est logic shortcut. Let me say this : Is it actually obvious to the others, and especially to you? If so, can you really explain why is it obvious, precisely?

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  • $\begingroup$ Ooooh, you've dug up my disreputable past and pointed out how I've politically flip-flopped! I had to edit my post a bit because this was never about a choice of the character - but the development and use of a technology. That's always been on-topic. My backstory got in people's way (it shouldn't here). $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... To be honest, I haven't especially dreamed about backstories; it's litterally in the middle of your question, so it's more front story x). If you look at my spray can question, I deliberately separated the two parts where we talk about Ryan from the question's core content; This gives -at least to me- a different feeling, like the story isn't inking on the world. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 12 at 0:57
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I voted to close this question. My reason was: Needs details or clarity.

This question is not too story-based, I agree with that. The question asks for a technological solution.

However, it is was not clear then and it is still not clear now what technology is available. What year is it? What country is it? There is no usable point of reference.

This question can also be treated as opinion-based since the OP includes criteria such as 'outrageous' for the best answer. The concept of outrageous is not only cultural but also differs between people of the same culture. The provided definition of outrageous is not very helpful:

By "outrageous" I do not mean "rube-goldberg." We're not looking for overly complicated. We're looking for clever you-wouldn't-see-that-on-the-shelf-at-Walmart type stuff.


This answer is only meant to clarify that I did not vote to close as 'Too story-based'.

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My opinion is that the year and country were left undefined simply so that the respondent wouldn't be painted into a corner. Phrases like "king and country" and the whole QM supplying fancy gadgets just screams post WWII UK / James Bond / Double Naught Spy, though it must be noted that the entire genre has never known a "King", as Queen Elizabeth had reigned that long! I'd argue that the three bullet points at the top comprise the establishment of available technology. I'd argue that the nebulosity is deliberately vague: the respondent is thus free to set her answer / story ... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 12 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ (cont)... in the 1960s or in the 2060s. Could be on Earth or spanning the Solar System. Whenever the answer is set, the condition is simply that the super spy has available that time period's best technology plus the advances in materials & experimental sciences not yet even available to the military, let alone the average goon. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 12 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Your reasoning is not consistent with the attitude expressed by many members of this community when commenting on other questions related to technology. Your suggestion to infer the time period from the query is inconsistent with the opinion of the OP expressed elsewhere that any query should contain all necessary information. Deliberate vagueness is most likely inconsistent with the requirement to ask questions about specific problems. I understand your position, but all questions should be treated equally and rules, even unwritten, should be applied consistently. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 12 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- I'd say rather that the reasoning of many members of this community are not consistent with mine. I've always been of the opinion that a) SE rules and format are not a good mix for geopoetry / worldbuilding in general, except in so far as hard science queries require demonstrably factual responses; and b) that "opinion based" (especially) and "needs details / clarity" really chafe as closure reasons, and this question is a good example. I'm not disagreeing that JBH wasn't explicit in stating criteria of tech level / era and location. I'm simply saying that we don't really need... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 12 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ (cont)... to know those things to write a response. Especially given the way JBH worded the question. Now, I've often times asked people to specify cultural capacity or tech level or analogous period of history simply because of the way they word their questions. If the querent doesn't seem to really know anything at all about their world, then I think it's fair to ask for clarification. If the querent seems to know precisely where he's going with the question, then I'd rather leave it be! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 12 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ As far as what the OP's opinions are from some other elsewhere, that's not for me to answer to. My opinion is that I'm increasingly okay with a healthy dose of ambiguity in a question; I'm okay with a certain amount of opinion being sought; I'm okay with fishing for ideas from the shoreline. That said, I think JBH did ask about a specific problem. It's my take that he didn't specify time or location because those aren't critical details. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 12 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas The technology available in the 1960s and 2060s is not the same. Likewise, the technology available in the EU and Kenya is not the same. If I were to truly nitpick, I would also say that the terrain should be specified, unless solutions are explicitly limited to gadgets carried by the spy. I am also of an opinion that criteria for the best answer (if included) should be stated in explicit and culture-independent terms as much as possible. What is 'rube-goldberg'? What is 'you-wouldn't-see-that-on-the-shelf-at-Walmart type stuff'? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 12 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- I know! That's my point! People can engage their creative worldbuilding when not hampered by so very many restrictions. I don't mind culture specific references -- if someone from SA writes a question with a national or regional reference, that's fine by me! That's what googles are for. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 13 at 18:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Perhaps, if you want to change the rules it would be better to start with re-opening older questions. It might be also nice to apologise to some of the authors of those questions. I will be happy to participate in the VTO campaign. However, I stand by my VTC in this case. Unless the rules and attitudes are changed this question needs details or clarity. Rules are only rules when they are applied consistently and disregard bylines. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 13 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- Please don't misinterpret! You clearly have a vision & understanding of this forum that differs from mine. I'm certainly okay with that and have absolutely no problem with you voting to close a question you think should be closed. The main problem I see the perspective of "rules are rules" is that no question in this forum complies with SE rules. Except, as I've noted on multiple occasions, "hard science" questions that deal with known & verifiable facts, and "fill in the equation" math questions. Everything else here is speculation, opinion, irrealia and counterfactual. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 13 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas My position is very simple. If there are rules we should comply with them. And rules must be applied consistently. When rules change they should be applied consistently and to some extent retroactively. If rules cannot be applied consistently those are bad rules that should be changed to better ones. In any case, I have no respect for those who claim that they are the authority on rules and then post questions that do not conform to the requirements they stated for other people. I hope this fully explains my position on the issue. Sorry for being rude. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 13 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas To clarify, to my best knowledge you act according to your stated beliefs. So, you have my full respect despite all our disagreements. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 13 at 19:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- Yep. And therein lies the main problem with WB.SE! If we really and truly acted upon SE rule compliance, we'd either have to shut down or radically reinvent what we do here. We'd certainly have to begin by closing a number of your own queries! I agree that SE rules are bad for our forum, but they are SE rules. We can only accept them and devise creative ways of circumventing or tacitly ignoring the rules that don't work well. If you look through JBH's questions & answers in Meta, he's pretty tirelessly tried to redirect the forum when it steers too close to SE's ruleset... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 14 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ (cont)... Those are rules we can't change, so folks like JBH and myself and others have to keep reminding the forum that worldbuilding is first and foremost a creative endeavour, that it doesn't fit SE's preexisting mould, and that to get any worldbuilding done here we have to dance around those rules. I don't think you're being rude. You're just calling it as you see it! I do respect that, even if (and really, especially because) I don't agree! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 14 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas When I voted to VTC I based my vote on existing rules (written and unwritten). IMO, this question does not comply with established practices. It does not mean, however, that I agree with these practices. I think that WB.SE has a lot of really bad rules that should be reviewed and revised. But I do not think that this particular thread is a suitable place and time for expressing my opinions about rules. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 14 at 4:51

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