If you're go on Worldbuilding often enough, eventually your bound to see a closed question that sounds something like this:

How would human society be different if a super-cosmic-death-ray was operable by mountain tribesman?

Most of the these questions are posed by new users, and they are usually closed on account of being too broad. I agree with this; questions like these (especially about humans) require way more information in order to be even mildly answerable. As one unnamed SE user once put it:

"How would X influence Y" questions are too broad because their are too many variables that also influence the outcome.

I also agree with this statement, but it got me thinking: what if all of the other variables were known? What if the question-asker was so specific with every minute that there really was only one possible answer? Would the question remain open, or would it still be closed for an alternate reason?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sure, why wouldn't it be open? The problem is that most of these questions make huge changes. It's very hard having a question like this constrained. But possible, especially if limited to a known system, for example a biological unit or a machine, or maybe a solar system. Introducing a small change to it is answerable. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    May 12 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are referring to this post, so proper scoping would lead to this other post, making the question on topic. $\endgroup$ May 12 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ If you're unsure about whether a question is sufficiently specific you can always post in the sandbox to get feedback and get advise on how to make your question a better fit for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 12 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ If would be helpful if you a) defined "operable" and b) specified "mountain tribesman". I mean, a super-cosmic-death-ray with a Big Red Button on the panel could, theoretically, be "operated" by an earthbound turtle dropped by a bird of prey. Furthermore, a "mountain tribesman" could very well be an MIT grad with extensive experience in the field of Evil Genius work who, after talking with one of the exotic serving girls, found Jesus, quit the Evil Genius field entirely and moved to a mountain top in Mongolia where, after some time became a member of a tribe that just happens to live (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 13 at 3:39
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) near the abandoned lair of a completely different Evil Genius bent on world domination by means of super-cosmic-death-ray emplacements. --- On the other hand, you could simply link to an example query! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 13 at 3:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas The 'super-cosmic-death-ray mountain tribesman' thing mentioned above was just a dramatic, over-the-top example. I'm not actually going to propose a question like that. $\endgroup$ May 13 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


"How does X influence Y?" is a type we're familiar with. We call it a high concept question

The problem is underscored by your statement, "what if all of the other variables were known? What if the question-asker was so specific with every minute that there really was only one possible answer?" Such a question wouldn't be a high-concept question: but it wouldn't need to be asked, either. If the querent knew that much about the question in the first place, there wouldn't be a need to ask it.

We've always had a problem with list questions

When you sluice all the dirt away from the gold, what's left is a problem Worlbuilding has faced quite literally since the beginning. How do you ask list question on a service that is fundamentally designed to reject list questions? A list question is a question that has more than one right answer. They're asked all the time here, and we have a love-hate relationship with them. We love them because they give us a chance to express our imagination! We hate them because this service is designed to have one and only one best answer and a list question can't have a best answer somewhat by definition.

Unless you give us all the conditions, restrictions, requirements, etc. to narrow it down to just one answer.

By which time you've answered the question yourself.

As ambiguity increases, the likelihood of closure increases with it

The best rule of thumb is to avoid high concept questions. To paraphrase @Sphennings, we'll help you build your world, but we will not build your world for you. The more ambiguous the question, the more you're asking us to build your world for you.

So, what can I do?

The temptation to ask a high concept question exists because the querent hasn't had enough time in their life to acquire the education and experience necessary to answer it themselves. (Frankly, that could be said about any question, but it applies to high concept questions in spades.) We get that, but what seems to the querent like it should be a simple -enough-to-answer question is to people either or both experienced in an appropriate field or experienced in how this Stack works a massive amount of free research that should be rewarded with 90% of the royalty rights should you sell the book or make it into a movie. And that violates the Help Center's "book rule," if the question can be reasonably answered with an entire book, you're question is out of bounds.

So, whenever you're tempted to ask a high concept question, ask it first in the Sandbox, or on the Factory Floor, and get people's take on it. Because the answer you probably need is, "go research the following, then come back with a specific question."


There are plenty of questions asking about the effect of X on Y on this site that are a great fit for this site. There are also plenty of questions asking about the effect of X on Y that are a horrible fit. It's a matter of the specificity of the ask.

Asking about society in general is a very broad ask. At any point in human history there are many cultures, living in many regions, often part of different nations. Even if you ask about one specific society, in a specific time it's still probably too broad because there are many complicated facets to even one society. If you asked "What would the effect of Caledonians having a space laser on Roman society" you're still asking a very broad question, but you're headed in the right direction. Narrow that down further and ask "If the Caledonians had a space laser, what effect would that have on the design of Hadrian's wall?" and that would probably pass muster. Asking "Would a space laser be able to melt a hole in Hadrian's wall?" would definitely meet site requirements.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the answerer is resolving an impediment to you building your world, or are you asking for someone to build your world for you. Asking effect on society is basically asking us to build your society for you, rather than help you solve a problem you cannot solve on your own. This is similar to how on Stack Overflow we'll help you understand how a function works, or how to solve some programming problem you're having but we will not write your program for you.


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