It Is What It Is
I've seen a lot of comments on questions that say things like
'Questions about third-party worlds are not on topic'. If you like to
comment this, then that's fine. You're as free to say it as you are to
say 'Don't palapat', 'Avoid lekaboming when possible', or 'Quendigo is
absolutely prohibited'. However, it appears that people want others to
act on this statement, in which case we need some idea of what is
meant by 'Third-party worlds'
Fair. New users would benefit from a simple explanation.
First, some definitions:
- First Party --- This is the querent, the person who comes here to ask a question.
- Second Party --- This is the respondent, the person who comes here to answer a question.
- Third Party --- This is someone who is not a WB.SE user.
Any one of these people can make a fictional world. Querents are worldbuilders, such as yourself, who come here to ask questions seeking help about the world(s) you're working on.
Respondents may be non-worldbuilding but interested specialists; or they may be, like me, worldbuilders who choose to answer queries rather than ask. First and second party thus establish a relationship between you the asker and me the answerer. You, the first party, ask questions about the worlds you yourself are making; I, the second party, answer questions about the worlds you yourself are making.
Someone else who is not you and not me, the third party, is not here to ask questions about their own worlds. We don't allow you, the first party, to ask about that other person's work; and we don't allow me, the second party, to answer such questions.
Example of asking about a First Party World: You once asked a question about centauroid clothing. This was a question of worldbuilding (culture / clothing) that we presume pertains to a fictional world of your own device. For the purposes of that query, that's your world! You made it, you own it, you ask about it.
Example of asking about a Second Party World: If you had asked a query about how a certain race of winged people, the Denê, wear clothing, this would not be a question about any world you're making. That's because the Denê are my winged people and the live in my fictional world. I don't think this situation has ever come up in WB.SE, but I would answer the question because it's my world and I'm a WB.SE user and am competent to answer the query. This would be an example of asking about a second party world.
Example of asking about a Third Party World: If you ask a query about the evolution of Klingon forehead ridges, this too would not be a question about a world you're making. You're not the proper party to ask that query because you can not establish definitions, can not establish fictional context and you are not the proper party to adjudicate any answer given. You didn't come up with Klingons or their natural history and thus have no right asking about them. I, on the other hand, have no business answering this question because, while it's a good question, it's not a good question for WB.SE.
The term 'commercial worlds', refering to worlds from fiction sold
commercially, is the basis for this divide. However, this distinction
is not the one that is usually followed. For example, this question
regarding a common cryptid from the 16th century apparently counts as
third-party, whereas the orcs from Lord of the Rings, and later
Dungeons and Dragons, have over 100 questions still open. Those seem
like commercial worlds to me
"Commercial world" is simply a subset of Third Party Worlds. A commercial world is simply one that has been monetised and has a variety of legal protections and ethical entanglements. The world was made by someone else and it is that person, the author, who has the right to come here and ask questions about it.
Commercialisation is NOT the basis of the divide. The basis of the divide is "who made the world". If the answer is "Ichthys King made the world", then Ichthys King gets to ask questions about it! If the answer is "Will Wyzywyg made the world", then Ichthys King has no business asking about it here.
Even so, what counts as taking from a commercial world? (Assuming LOTR
orcs are third-party) Let's say I take my world's ghoulish
devil-goblins and give them scaly skin and fangs. Would these then be
counted as Tolkien's orcs? If not, how far must I go before it falls
afoul of this rule? Or am I free to make a complete copy of Tolkiens
orcs and present it as my own?
For the purposes of WB.SE, we don't care what you "take" from someone else's world. It is patently obvious that your bog standard fantasy Orc is "taken" from Tolkien's legendarium. If one of those fantasy authors wishes to come here and ask about the Orcs they have in their own worlds, we shall help them! If that author wishes to come here and ask about Tolkien's Orcs, we shall close their question and invite them to ask on F/SF.
You answered your own question. You "took an idea" from Tolkien, which is fair. You gave it scaly skin and fangs. It's a thing of your world, so you are free to ask about it here. The prohibition is against you asking about Tolkien's Orcs. Obviously.
You fall afoul of the rule when you ask: "How do Tolkien's Orcs do XYZ?" Again, obvious. You're simply not allowed to ask about someone else's world who is not here to answer you. This is not what this forum is for.
You avoid disaster when you ask: "How can my Orcs do XYZ?"
From what I've seen, it seems like the latter: This comment, and the
associated close votes, are only thrown about when the asker is honest
about their question's context and inspirations. Is that the
intention? To promote lying, deceit, and hiding context? I don't see
any other outcome as being very likely
We don't care if you copy. We care only about whether or not the thing you copied is within its original context (Tolkien) or within the context of your own fictional world (Ichthys King).
There is no deceit involved, and you really are making this much more difficult for yourself than you need to!
In short, I have no idea of what this rule is supposed to be or do.
Does anyone else know?
In short: the rule is supposed to keep you from asking questions about worlds you did not make. Plain and simple. Everyone knows this, and if you've read this far, you do too!
Now, go forth and ask questions about your own world!