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Thread: RAW and You

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    The phrase "Rules as Written" has come up a lot on these boards,and sometimes it's caused a certain amount of consternation. To help alleviate the problem, I'm going to discuss RAW and several other terms, and how they apply to discussions here on the boards.

    First off, let's go into terminology.

    Rules as written are just that: the rules as they are written down in the books (and corrected in the errata). It is generally assumed to include all official 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons books. Keep in mind that the FAQ is only meant to clarify the rules. If it contradicts the rules, it is technically wrong (though the ruling may still be the one you should use; more on that later).

    RAI stands for the rules as intended. This is a tricky term, since you can never be sure exactly what the designers meant, unless they actually come out and say so. However, it can be useful to look at probable intent when looking at a tricky ruling, especially when something can be interpreted several ways, or it appears it was misworded.

    Rule zero is the term used for a DM's ability to interpret and change the rules as he or she sees fit. This is spelled out in the DMG (pages 6 and 14), and it's a good thing, too, since you can't always wait for errata to fix the mistakes.

    House rules spring from rule zero. These are rulings by the DM (or set of DMs) that are carried from situation to situation. In a group with several DMs, they may either have a set of house rules everyone follows, or each DM may have their own, personal set.

    These are pretty basic, and I think most people know the terms well enough already, but I want to be absolutely clear.

    Now, the problems people come into occur when it's unclear when someone is talking about the RAW, the RAI, or their own personal house rules. Someone will ask, "Is a monk proficient with unarmed strikes?" Two people say yes, one person says no. Two pages later, you find that one person means that the rules clearly intended for the monk to be proficient, one person meant that they always give monks proficiency with unarmed strikes, and the third was simply quoting the RAW. Then they argue for another two pages, because frankly we're a bunch of nerds here, and we like to argue.

    Quite a problem. What can we do to keep this confusion out of the discussion? Let's talk about when each is appropriate.

    Most rules discussions should stem from the RAW. This is simply because the RAW is the common framework we're all working from. Not everyone bans polymorph. Not everyone gives sorcerers eschew materials. Not everyone bans natural spell. Not everyone allows you to swing two weapons as a standard action. If someone is asking what the rules say, disregard your house rules, at least until their initial questions have been answered.

    Now, sometimes a rule has two possible correct interpretations. For example, Southern Magician could potentially qualify a sorcerer for mystic theurge. However, this is almost certainly not what the designers intended. Here you want to talk about the RAI. This is also helpful when something appears to have been misworded, or left out, like the aforementioned monk's proficiency. Sometimes, they screw up, and it's best to try and figure out what they meant to say. Sure, you can't be sure you're interpreting it right, but it's a good place to start.

    Rule zero and house rules should be brought up when you're trying to fix rules that don't work the way you want. For example, drowning. The drowning rules, as written, are highly abusable/unworkable. They shouldn't be used as written. So, you can discuss what your house rules are for that situation. Remind newer DMs of rule zero, so they won't be afraid to change a rule that doesn't work.

    Now that we've gone over when each is appropriate, how can we make it clear which is which in our posts?

    I think the key here is the difference between "is" and "should be." The RAW is what is, what something does. When you say "the outsider type gives you proficiency with all martial weapons," people are going to assume that you're talking about the RAW. If you say, "Extra spell shouldn't give you spells outside of your class list," they'll assume you're talking about RAI, or possibly house rules. Unfortunately, many people will use "is" and "does" when talking about their house rules or the RAI, and then get upset when someone corrects them.

    When you want to talk about the game as you think it ought to be played, make it clear. Don't just say, "this is how it works," and expect people to pick up on the fact that it's just your interpretation. Say, "this is how we ruled it in our group," or "I think it should work this way."

    Conversely, when you bring up the RAW, keep it clear that you're only talking about what the rules say. Let people know that you are not saying they need to run their games that way. Otherwise, they may think you're telling them how to run their game.

    And for the love of Gygax, be clear on what's a house rule and what's the RAW. I've seen a lot of people defending the RAW with things like, "Clerics aren't overpowered if you have their gods take away their spells," or "Druids can't turn into any animal they haven't dissected and made a DC 25 Intelligence check to show they're familiar with the creature." These are house rules. They may be implied by the rules in some way, but they are not, in fact, part of the RAW. I see a lot of people who are probably good DMs. They make a lot of rulings and house rules that sound like they make the game fun for their players. But then they'll tell you until they're blue in the face that everything they do is purely by the rules as written. They'll lay out a list of house rules that would make Monte Cook blush, and then say that the rules are balanced. The rules are balanced, hallelujah! Sure, if you change the rules.

    So, let's try and understand each other better, so we can spend less time arguing over who's talking about what, and more time arguing important things, like monkeys. And ninjas. And monkey ninjas.

    Hold on, I've got a new campaign idea. Might need some house rules, though...
    Last edited by Jack Mann; 2007-06-12 at 07:08 PM.
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    I say, ol' chap, good show, eh wot!

    Well done.

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    *dubs this the Manycoats Guideline.*

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    I think the key here is the difference between "is" and "should be." The RAW is what is, what something does. When you say "the outsider type gives you proficiency with all martial weapons," people are going to assume that you're talking about the RAW. If you say, "Extra spell shouldn't give you spells outside of your class list," they'll assume you're talking about RAI, or possibly house rules. Unfortunately, many people will use "is" and "does" when talking about their house rules or the RAI, and then get upset when someone corrects them.
    In short, every rules dispute in the entire d20 system stems from uneducated people who don't know what the subjunctive mood is.



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    Quote Originally Posted by TO_Incognito View Post
    In short, every rules dispute in the entire d20 system stems from uneducated people who don't know what the subjunctive mood is.


    In general, people are uneducated and don't know the different between subjective and objective.

    Even online. Actually, I'd even say especially online, where no one can punch them in the teeth for being annoying.
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    That's a pretty good summary of the situation, but the real problem is that some people think their house rules are the RAW. They aren’t going to say this is their interpretation or how their group plays the game, they are going to say this is how it is, and how the rules are written (or at the very least, how they are meant to be interpreted, although even getting that far is often a struggle). I’ve often seen people dismiss problems with the RAW with the simple comment – “Don’t be silly, no-one plays that way” despite the fact that the RAW state that playing that way is perfectly acceptable. That’s what really muddies the water with rules debates, IME.

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    Quote Originally Posted by greenknight View Post
    That's a pretty good summary of the situation, but the real problem is that some people think their house rules are the RAW. They arent going to say this is their interpretation or how their group plays the game, they are going to say this is how it is, and how the rules are written (or at the very least, how they are meant to be interpreted, although even getting that far is often a struggle). Ive often seen people dismiss problems with the RAW with the simple comment Dont be silly, no-one plays that way despite the fact that the RAW state that playing that way is perfectly acceptable. Thats what really muddies the water with rules debates, IME.
    I'm suddenly reminded of several comments in a thread about multiclassing penalties.

    Ugh.
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    Quote Originally Posted by archaeo View Post
    Man, this is just one of those things you see and realize, "I live in a weird and banal future."
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    I have a feeling lots of people will refer to this thread.
    I also have a feeling that some people will get this reference more than once. A lot more.

    Nice work.
    Last edited by Falrin; 2007-06-12 at 07:42 PM.

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    In such a discussion, I feel compelled to drop a link to Caelic's Ten Commandments of Practical Optimization. The following bit in particular is applicable.
    Quote Originally Posted by Caelic
    3. RAW is a myth.
    This is one of the dirty little secrets of the board. The Most Holy RAW is invoked continuously by those who want to give their arguments the veneer of officiality. The problem is, RAW is generally applied not as "The Rules as Written," but rather as "The Rules As I Interpret Them And You Can't Prove I'm Wrong, Nyeah." The RAITAYCPIWN. Not quite as catchy an acronym, granted, but that's what it boils down to.

    This game cannot be played without interpretation and the judicious application of common sense. Try to play the game strictly and exclusively by the rules as written, and you have an unplayable game.

    Using "RAW" as a defense is similarly meaningless--particularly when your defense rests on interpretation. If you're going to claim that your build is RAW, you'd better be able to make sure that the rules specifically uphold your claim...not simply that they're sort of vague and COULD be interpreted in such a way as to not FORBID your claim.

    This becomes particularly important when your claim is especially controversial.

    Yes, builds should adhere to the rules as written. Yes, any exceptions to that should be noted. But the RAW as some sort of entity unto itself, capable of rendering a build immune to criticism, is not a useful construction, and causes more problems than it solves.
    Last edited by Merlin the Tuna; 2007-06-12 at 07:56 PM.
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    Just remember kiddies, unless stated otherwise, everyone assumes you're talking RAW.

    Just a side note, whenever you are making a statement about RAW, please put a link to the SRD with the statement. It helps everyone confirm the validity of the statement and saves time overall.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheOOB View Post
    Just a side note, whenever you are making a statement about RAW, please put a link to the SRD with the statement. It helps everyone confirm the validity of the statement and saves time overall.
    Unfortunately, that's not always possible since several game systems (and even many books for 3.0 and 3.5e) aren't contained in a SRD. Still, it is a good idea to quote the book and page reference when you're making a statement you think others are going to question.

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    Ok, so by RAW, is the katana the mightiest weapon that ever existed?

    *ducks*

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    That brings up an interesting question. Does supplements such as the complete series count as RAW, or only the core rulesbooks.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheOOB View Post
    That brings up an interesting question. Does supplements such as the complete series count as RAW, or only the core rulesbooks.
    Yes, though in general the core trumps supplements.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merlin the Tuna View Post
    Yes, though in general the core trumps supplements.
    Incorrect. The newer source trumps the older.

    RAW is all books and errata. Core is DMG, PHB, MM
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    Hmm. I don't think that Caelic's post is really opposed to mine, Merlin. As I said, very few people play purely by the RAW, and at the least, interpretation is necessary. My basic point is that when you make the interpretations, and especially when you make changes, it's important to let people know straight off that it's an interpretation, rather than a clearly-stated part of the RAW.

    He even admits that builds (the focus of his post) should stick to the rules as they are written, even though they require a certain amount of interpretation. But just as in optimization, when you have to make an interpretation, especially one that might be wrong, then it's important to note it and then defend it, rather than simply treating it as the One True Way, rendering builds (or arguments) invulnerable.

    The RAW is flawed, yes, but it's still the basic framework we have for communicating about the rules, and so it's an important starting point for any discussions. It's the place marked on everyone's map. If you want people to know where you're coming from, you have to show where it is in relation to the RAW.

    Of course, if I misinterpreted you, and you weren't implying my post was contradicted by Caelic's, then I apologize for the unnecessary verbiage.

    EDIT:
    Quote Originally Posted by Emperor Tippy View Post
    Incorrect. The newer source trumps the older.

    RAW is all books and errata. Core is DMG, PHB, MM
    Actually, primary source trumps newer, unless the newer source is explicitly meant as errata. If, say, Complete Warrior had something in it that contradicted the combat rules in the PHB, then it's wrong, unless that section states that it is intended to act as errata.
    Last edited by Jack Mann; 2007-06-12 at 09:30 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Mann View Post
    Hmm. I don't think that Caelic's post is really opposed to mine, Merlin.
    Indeed, this wasn't my intent. I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but there's often a tendency to treat RAW as all that is and all that can ever be... at which point you end up with healing-through-drowning and actions-after-death... and the rules end up getting treated as a bludgeon. The number of times I've heard someone fall back on "WHAT I'm SAYING IS RAW, YOU'RE WRONG!" is astounding, especially when their backing in the rules is tenuous at best.
    Last edited by Merlin the Tuna; 2007-06-12 at 09:45 PM.
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    The flaw in this thread is that "rule 0" is, by definition, "RAW". The DMG is an instruction manual for how to change the rules to suit your campaign.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corolinth View Post
    The flaw in this thread is that "rule 0" is, by definition, "RAW". The DMG is an instruction manual for how to change the rules to suit your campaign.
    The actual rules are the only common context we have though. To ignore that because somewhere, someone might decide to play differently is just plain stupid.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Corolinth View Post
    The flaw in this thread is that "rule 0" is, by definition, "RAW". The DMG is an instruction manual for how to change the rules to suit your campaign.
    The flaw in this statement is that "rule 0" is there to help fix rules that don't make sense. If you are going to say "rule 0 everything" then why are you bothering with dice? You could just as easily say that playing with no dice and classless is raw because "rule 0" lets you do so. If that is the case you are no longer playing anything resembling DnD. You are playing something that shares the name and may be having fun with it. The problem with that is you aren't helping anyone.

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    This should be stickied. That is all.

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    "Could you guys give me some help? I'm new to D&D, and I want to know what class I should play."

    "You should play an elven fighter."

    "Okay. Why?"

    "Because they can finesse greatswords."

    "They... can? I don't see that in the rulebook."

    "Well, my DM rule zeroed it. He thought it was stupid that elves had to rely on strength."

    "How... how does that help me?"

    "Hey, don't blame me. It's rule zero. You can't argue with rule zero."

    See, here's the problem. Rule zero should never be a part of the basic assumption when someone states their problem or begins the discussion, or things become meaningless. You assume that the rules work the way they're already presented, and then, at most, you suggest things the DM might want to apply rule zero to.

    We want to be able to discuss things without having to go through every possible houserule first. That's why rule zero is not assumed when talking about the RAW.
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    Well said.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Mann View Post
    EDIT:

    Actually, primary source trumps newer, unless the newer source is explicitly meant as errata. If, say, Complete Warrior had something in it that contradicted the combat rules in the PHB, then it's wrong, unless that section states that it is intended to act as errata.
    Eh... I think that this is actually described in a book somewhere (RAW, that is) but I don't know where so don't quote me on that. Basically, for general game rules the Core books (PHB, MM, DMG) trump newer material unless the newer material explicitly says that it overrides the Core rules. However, for everything else (feats, PrCs, spells, etc) the newest published version is the "official" version, and I think that's what Emperor Tippy was thinking of.

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    Agreed. For specific feats, spells, and the like, the newest version is the primary source.

    This is likely because when a feat or spell is reprinted, it's often as an update. As well, the feat or spell can simply be copied and pasted into the new book, making it less likely for unintentional errors to creep in. When rules are referenced, they're likely to be paraphrased, which increases the possibility of error. So, it's necessary to make it absolutely clear when it's actually meant to be an update to help prevent those sorts of errors from creeping in.
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    Very good post.

    One thing I think needs adding, though: a third category, RAU. As well as RAW and RAI, you also need Read As Used. This is less solid than Read As Written, but more solid than Read As Intended.

    There are some things in the D&D ruleset that are RAW-legal, but so game-breaking/abuseable that no halfway competent gaming group will allow them. If something is so overwhelmingly powerful that it's going to be disallowed by any sane DM, then you need to start taking into account RAU when you discuss it. An example would be using Arcane Genesis to create a demiplane full of gold and diamonds, giving you infinite wealth for the cost of 5,000 XP. RAW acceptable? Maybe. RAI acceptable? Fairly obvious editing error. RAU acceptable? Definitely not - and it's the last one that's really important, because that's the one that determines whether your DM will allow it in a game.

    In this sense, houserules DO have to be part of the basic assumption. Otherwise, you get cases like this:

    "Could you give me advice on what equipment to get for my 18th-level wizard?"
    "Get a copy of every epic item and every non-epic item in the SRD."
    "What? How am I supposed to afford all that?"
    "Use Arcane Genesis to create infinite wealth. It's RAW legal, so we have to assume that it's allowed."
    "But there's no way my DM would allow that."
    "Well, that's not our problem. You should have told us that to begin with."

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheOOB View Post
    Just remember kiddies, unless stated otherwise, everyone assumes you're talking RAW..
    Certianly it's not everyone; nor am I even convinced that it's majority. A good portion of people are going to assume that you're talking about various levels of interpretations/variations on RAW... it's certainly the safer assumption.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    Very good post.

    One thing I think needs adding, though: a third category, RAU. As well as RAW and RAI, you also need Read As Used. This is less solid than Read As Written, but more solid than Read As Intended.

    There are some things in the D&D ruleset that are RAW-legal, but so game-breaking/abuseable that no halfway competent gaming group will allow them. If something is so overwhelmingly powerful that it's going to be disallowed by any sane DM, then you need to start taking into account RAU when you discuss it. An example would be using Arcane Genesis to create a demiplane full of gold and diamonds, giving you infinite wealth for the cost of 5,000 XP. RAW acceptable? Maybe. RAI acceptable? Fairly obvious editing error. RAU acceptable? Definitely not - and it's the last one that's really important, because that's the one that determines whether your DM will allow it in a game.
    Unfortunately this is purely subjective. What is "sane" to one gaming group may not be to another. You could say that you feel no "sane" DM would allow leap attack to stack with Frenzied Berserker bonuses, while I would argue that they should.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jayabalard
    Certianly it's not everyone; nor am I even convinced that it's majority. A good portion of people are going to assume that you're talking about various levels of interpretations/variations on RAW... it's certainly the safer assumption.
    So you think there should be no real basis for 2 people to discuss DnD? By this logic I could say "Well there's this variant where Barbarians get access to 9th level spells." I may be talking about a gestalt Barbarian//Wizard, but the person isn't playing a gestalt campaign. I think the person asking about the strength of the barbarian would probably want to know about the PHB version, not your variant, house-ruled version.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Piccamo View Post
    Unfortunately this is purely subjective. What is "sane" to one gaming group may not be to another.
    You're making it out to be some sort of impossible paradox when it really isn't.

    Look; if 95% of DMs won't allow something in a game, then it doesn't matter that much if the remaining 5% will. Whether you consider something "sane" may be subjective, but the fraction of DMs that will or won't allow it is not subjective - it's a hard number. So any useful discussion of the game has to take it into account, unless you want everything you say to only be relevant to 5% of the players.

    In the case of the Arcane Genesis trick I mentioned above, it gives a PC infinite wealth as soon as they can use the spell, making the treasure system and WBL guidelines (and by extension, the CR system) redundant. At this point your game's split so far from normal D&D that any advice you give is going to be basically useless to anyone playing with finite wealth totals.

    Playing D&D requires a certain minimum of common sense. There's no way around this. Trying to reduce the game to RAW-only with no common sense at all just ends up producing an unplayable mess.

    - Saph

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    Default Re: RAW and You

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Mann View Post
    Frankly we're a bunch of nerds here, and we like to argue.
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    I think one aspect of this that is not to be underestimated is that as much as we have these differences of opinion and intent here on these boards, these same things happen within the individual gaming groups in RL. I know we have these discussions between my players and I all the time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Mann View Post
    Frankly, we're a bunch of nerds here, and we like to argue.
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