If you haven’t been following along, the excellent programmer Q&A site, Stack Overflow, has expanded its model to other sites covering specific topics. One such site that got enough support to be approved and put into public beta is one for RPGs, RPG Stack Exchange! It’s getting close to the end of the beta, so now’s the time to get in there and earn some rep before the full launch.
What makes RPG Stack Exchange unique? Well, the Stack Exchange concept arose from Joel Spolsky noticing that forums about coding were all total crap. You couldn’t post a question and get a constructive answer, instead you were met with a flood of “you shouldn’t be using that language,” “your approach is all wrong,” “you are evil to work on a program for a company/the government/Linus Torvalds,” “you suck and are obviously a retard for asking that question,” “would you like to buy my product that solves that for you…” Anyone who has spent much time on RPG forums sees this same thing. Here, go look at the newest posts in the RPG forums on ENworld, RPG.net, even Paizo.com. 90% of the posts are complete and utter wastes of electronic space, people chortling or dissing each other. They are good if you want to discuss, hobnob, share in-jokes with the other forum regulars, etc.
But what if you actually PLAY roleplaying games, and want to spend more time on that than forum trolling? Well, the Stack Exchange format comes to the rescue. It’s not for “discussion,” it is for “questions” and “answers.” The questions can be about boring specific rules, GM techniques, worldbuilding, game style… Then other members give you expert answers. The community votes up and down answers and can group-flag off topic and/or unhelpful stuff which get deleted. So you’re left with a constructive question and a list of answers stack ranked by the community in order of helpfulness. It’s less a discussion forum with temporary “threads” and more a long term knowledge base maintained by the community – sorta like Wikipedia but instead of edit warring over the right answer, it’s always put to a vote.
You gain rep (reputation) from good questions and answers, and as you gain rep and become a trusted member of the community, you gain the rights to vote, to vote to close, to constructively edit questions, all the way up to becoming a moderator yourself.
Some people don’t like the idea that someone else can edit their question. But it’s not really a problem in practice. Typos, errors, and incoherent statements disappear. Only users with enough rep can edit. You can always change it back if you disagree, and there are mods that prevent edit warring – “If there’s a conflict, the original poster is always right” is my motto, and I’m one of the mods.
Now that I’ve been using it, I am using forums less and less – when I’m on them I become keenly aware of how much of my time they are wasting with their ineffective format. I actually play and GM, so I want real issues of mine addressed and can offer real expertise and not benchwarmer opinions to people with questions of their own.
So come join us at RPG Stack Exchange! Start with answering questions and get that rep up for when we come out of beta! Of course there’s a lot of D&D coverage there (4.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, and OSR all represented) but also other games like Shadowrun and WH40k, and even a good amount of discussion of small games like GUMSHOE, Dread, and Dogs in the Vineyard. Actually learn more (or teach more) about the games we love – leave the lengthy genitalia size comparison exercises behind on those forums!