I'm raising this question based on the discossion around these two questions. In the second question, the accepted answer references the Pathfinder FAQ, which is not considered RAW by some users.

The rules-as-written tag was edited out of the question, with the justification that the FAQ was not rules as written, and thus the question couldn't actually be asking for a rules as written answer if the accepted answer referenced the FAQ.

With this in mind, what are appropriate sources to use for an answer to a question tagged rules-as-written? I realize that this is going to be different for different systems, but what kind of guidelines should be used to figure out whether a certain source is RAW or not? Does the opinion of the company publishing the game matter, or the community at large, or just the individual querent?

  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no way to answer this generally; every system has different rules. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 17 '14 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited the question to try and narrow it down. The answer might differ between systems, but the process we use to determine what is RAW will likely be similar across systems. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Apr 17 '14 at 15:56

I'm going to give an extreme answer, but I think it's the right one here.

There's a more fundamental problem than what sources are valid as RAW in a given system. The problem is at least twofold.

  1. There is not a universal definition of what is and is not RAW. We see that in the differences between PF and 3.5, we can look at mxy's example with 4e and essentials, we can look all over the place and find people who read the term RAW differently. Tags with that level of ambiguity are a concern.

  2. Second, and most importantly, this tag is a meta tag. The true test of a meta tag is whether or not you can envision a question with the tag as it's only tag. What does a RAW question look like without a system tag? Not much to be honest. Meta tags are bad because they don't really convey any information about the question they attempt to restrict the answers. The tag system is meant to indicate what the question is about the questions that should be tagged RAW are ones like the one you asked this morning about how PF determins RAW. Not ones where you want a by-the-book ruling.

That said, there are very few questions like yours and that means the tag is at best misused and at worst completely unnecessary.

So let's do the right thing, SE has trogdor on standby for moments like this.

I say we burninate !

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To address the concerns about how to indicate the sources that are considered authoritative. This should be specified in the question if it is a concern. If it becomes a concern as answers are made it should be edited in, and comment notification should be provided to answerers who do not comply. (Further noncompliance should be handled with downvotes and possibly not-an-answer flags as the answer would be out of scope)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. In meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2984/… we changed it from [rules-lawyering] to [rules-as-written] but the answers were mostly along the lines of "ewwww, it's kind of a meta tag anyway..." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 17 '14 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ On the one hand I can get behind this, but on the other hand I find the RAW tag useful for indicating that you're looking for answers that don't involve homebrew, houserules, etc, so forth. How can we keep that function? \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Apr 17 '14 at 17:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lord_Gareth You could specify that in your question. Adding a line at the end of your question saying that you want something from an official source is an easy thing to do, and doesn't require a tag. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Apr 17 '14 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lord_Gareth source specification should be done in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 17 '14 at 17:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeal But that's the whole point of tags. Else, why are we even tagging systems, when it could just be mentioned in the question? \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM Apr 17 '14 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, on the other hands users can then search through system tags, while nobody is specifically searching for rules-as-written questions. Damn, I think I just convinced myself, the rules-as-written tag has no point. \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM Apr 17 '14 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ As an addendum to Point 2: There is currently only one question that only has the rules-as-written tag, and it's on hold for being too broad. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Apr 17 '14 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ 100% agree. If we're having problems with ignorant "rule 0 says do whatever you like, lol" answers we should be addressing that directly. Not trying to use a tag as a ward against evil. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Apr 17 '14 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think "without a system tag, the tag is meaningless" criticism is a bit... ridiculous? on this site. That's true of almost every question on this site, and I'm sure this is not the only tag with that situation. It might still be too much of a meta tag than is acceptable, but that is not a good litmus test. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 17 '14 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That's not the litmus test, just an example of applying the test. The actual litmus test is the preceding line, "whether or not you can envision a question with the tag as its only tag." So it's that it's meaningless by itself; which isn't something every tag suffers from. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 20:24

There is no one answer, and there should not be a "site rule" on it, it should be determined by the voting system.

Every game system is different. In addition, everyone has different opinions on what sources (which books, FAQs, etc) are valid within a given game system. Rather than come up with meta rules that say "for game system X only a, b, and c are valid," this should be handled by the voting and acceptance system. If a questioner accepts a RAW answer coming from the FAQ - that's fine. If a bunch of people vote it down because they don't accept the FAQ - that's fine. But we don't need to shortcut that with "site rules" created by only a couple site participants. This is why we have an acceptance system and a voting system. Some people don't consider Essentials part of 4e RAW and others do. Some people do and don't accept non-core books, FAQs, errata, etc. Let questioners be as specific as they want and let voters vote on answers they like - authenticity/reliability of sources is part of the baked in voting criteria on all sites, where sources range from textbooks to "my cousin."

Now, there's a bunch of other questions conflated into this particular incident.

  1. Was it wise to ask a "Pathfinder, 3.5e, RAW" question? No. RAW asks for a high level of pickiness, and though 3.5e and Pathfinder are more than compatible enough for most players, RAW signals a much more legalistic approach and that's where compatibility splits. If you have a 3.5e/Pathfinder question you are implying a more generalized approach, and those two things are generally in opposition.

  2. Was it OK to remove the RAW tag from the question? No. The tag describes the question and not the answers. Just like we don't tag game-recs with the "winning" game (given that can change over time, also), we don't change tagging on questions because someone has a different opinion than the accepted answer. The asker was correct in rolling that change back.

  3. Was it OK that the asker accepted an answer that only addressed Pathfinder and not 3.5? Given #1 above, yes. The asker is free to accept whatever answer they find most helpful, not which answer someone else finds most legalistically correct.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If RAW is this poorly defined, why do we have a tag for it? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 17 '14 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not too many good reasons, as discussed in meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2984/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 17 '14 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I move to axe the tag and make people cite what sources they consider authoritative for a given question. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 17 '14 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I concur per that other meta Q. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 17 '14 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle I'd agree. Post it as a question-proposal on Meta and let the voting commence? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I posted it an answer here, I'm going to leave it at that for now. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 17 '14 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Right! I just saw that, voting presently! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 18:23

Depends on the Company and Community

Most RPG developers have differing views on the matter and the only thing you can really do is check into the company's history of handling FAQ and errata. Do they publish errata? Do FAQ answers sometimes or often involve changing the rules text in question?

In this case...

There are opposing viewpoints both in the community and the company, as broken down below:

3.5 FAQ is not RAW, explicitly; WotC established it only to unofficially interpret rules. WotC chose to create and uphold errata as its method of editing rules, and in addition to this and their statements that FAQ is not RAW we add the issue that the FAQ is normally wrong. The guy they had in charge of it...did not understand the game.

Pathfinder FAQ is RAW. Paizo's official stance on their FAQ system is that it represents needed changes in the rules as well as clarifications. It speaks with the authority of the developers and is used in addition to, or sometimes even instead of, writing formal errata. This has lead to some controversies in the past but Paizo as a company and the Pathfinder community deal in FAQ as RAW.

Therefore: the accepted answer to the second question is incomplete. It resolves the problem only for Pathfinder.


We can't have policy about this because "RAW" is undefined.

"RAW" taken literally means "rules as written". But nobody who discusses "RAW" actually means "the exact words literally written in the rulebook". Everybody knows or can look up what the exact words are—what everyone actually wants is what the words mean and how to apply them to specific circumstances.

Once "RAW" becomes "what the rules as written mean", then we're no longer in objective territory, and have entered the realm of what degree of interpretation is acceptable to an individual while still qualifying as the rules as "written". Ironically, despite the term "RAW" being invented to distinguish from the "rules as intended" ("RAI"), it still means "what is the intended meaning of the rules as written (RAI)?"

Since what "RAW" even means is subjective, what is and isn't a RAW source is subjective. And since the concept of RAW itself helps not one whit in resolving the ambiguity between the written rules and the application thereof, it would solve nothing—and actually cause problems—if we attempted to base any policy on that quicksand.

Besides, it's not normally our job to make rules about "acceptable" answers

Bad answers only get downvoted. That is how SE is designed, and it breaks down otherwise. Only answers that are not even attempting to answer the question are permitted to be deleted. If an answer is "unacceptable" because it cites sources that don't fit a question's criteria, it's a bad answer and the downvote button is happy to help with that.

That we have one policy that contradicts this (our game-rec policy) is a special case and should not be the thin edge of the wedge for introducing answer-deletion policies for other questions. In fact, if accepting game-rec questions continues to undermine our community's ability to cleave to the SE way of doing things, that would be evidence that accepting game-rec questions is a failed experiment!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why this awnser is getting downvotes? Here on meta is even more important to say why the -1 than on the main site! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThalesSarczuk It's only one person, and voting is still anonymous here. :) If I was the one downvoting, it would probably be for being redundant with other answers. Obviously I think it adds something new, but I can see how someone wouldn't agree. Alternatively, someone might philosophically disagree with my assertion that RAW is a myth eating its own tail. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I agree with you. Take my +1. RAW tag is simply evil :) \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ My take is that RAW is the literal interpretation, from "this is the only possible interpretation if you read it with knowledge of what these words mean in context" to "it's not possible to determine what the authors wants to do, but these are the possibilities". RAI, instead, is all about deducing the intent of the author by extrapolating it from usual behavior of the system or author's description of expected results which are not possible by RAW. However, I think the focus here is on Rules as written. 3.5e FAQs are surely written, just like manuals or errata. Are they rules, though? (No.) \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Apr 17 '14 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel That demonstrates the subjective judgement inherent in trying to divine what "RAW" means quite well, thanks. ;) For another example of "strict literal interpretation" being inherently subjective and full of debate, see every religion with written texts. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess that's true when one tries to force a text into having one of the disputed meanings. To me it's extremely clear this means A, to you it's clear it means B. Usually that's because the text means "either A or B". That would be the "strict literal interpretation" I'm talking about, and there's only one. Either the text says one, non disputable thing, or it can mean different things. If you're telling me it's not widely accepted where the difference between RAW and RAI is, I agree with you. Telling us they're just two ways to call the same thing is minimizing the RAW vs RAI problem IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Apr 17 '14 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually downvoted this because I don't agree with "Everybody knows or can look up what the exact words are". If you look at questions like rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/31982/… or rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/36255/… they're not "what do these rules mean" but "what rules apply here, and where are they, and what are the implications, and interactions with other rules". RAW is mostly used in larger more complicated systems, where reading a single paragraph doesn't necessarily give you all the implications. \$\endgroup\$ – Not a Pumpkin Apr 28 '14 at 4:28

The same way we can discard a splat book, asking by rules without Complete Arcane, for example, it's valid to ask questions stating "FAQ is IN" or "FAQ is OUT". The only autorithy on whats allowed and what's not is the DM, not even the player that asked the question. Here on RPG Exchange we are not on the roles of Masters nor Players - we are advisors, and we can only give suggestions to the people that come by. A player can check with us if "per the book" his idea works, but if his GM says "Not in my game", then it is out, regardless on what was said here.

We are dealing with games that use creative power and imagination, not with some legal stuff or programming languages. We need to understand that a book can't be more important than the enjoyment of the players and the DM. Asking "Raw only" just cuts out lot's of criativity.

No DM on it's senses will discard a good ideia just because it's not as "the book says". Almost all of the good RPG's call for the Rule Zero, giving complete powers for the players to create their game. We are dealing with a hobby on which people create, discard and change rules according with their tables. A House-Rule is not more or less "official" than any rule that the DM choses to use. "Officialness" is table-dependent.

Really, in the end doesn't matter what are the sources - a book, a homebrew or a FAQ. If the ideia solves someone's problem, then it did it's job. If the D&D FAQ explains something better than the Pathfinder FAQ, then why we don't recommend it?

If a DM closes himself from house-rules, for this or that, then this person must read the Dungeon's Master Guide all over again (or the equivalent book on other systems). If it is a player looking for some big loophole for power, that's not much far away from cheating.

Asking for a "by the book" anwser seens a bit wrong to me. Sometimes the books are not the best way around a problem. I think people should keep their minds open for insight, examples, and advice.

Just to let this clear, I'm not saying that asking "how rules work" is "wrong". Im saying that on my viewpoint, refusing off-the-book alternatives just because they are off-the-book is not wise. Systems improve based on house-rules, community feedback, and test, not rule-worshipping. Unearthed Arcana for 3.X is basically made of House-Rules from the community put up together as a supplement. The "Complete" series is not something that just dropped from the heavens, someone had thought about that rules and tested (in theory) before putting them to play. You can ask any question you want, just keep your mind open for different, off-the-book ways of dealing with things.

Afterall, the first D&D is a house-ruled version of a Wargame, it isn't? The RPG was born out of House-rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the first paragraph (that its up to the question-writer to say what sources are acceptable and why), but it seems like the rest of the post contradicts that by saying it's wrong to ask about only "by the book" information. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I am trying to say is that the "RAW" tag is a problem. It is not like if the books allow something the player can use it. Ignoring that other people might have gotten the same problems and used House-rules to make their game better is like forbidding someone to use a given code optimization because it is not "mainstream". We are here to share techniques and Expertise, and our house-rules are part of this. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's still valid to ask "how does this rule actually work?" though. House-rules are not always relevant to a question about game rules. It entirely depends on what problem they need solving; comprehension problems will require rules-as-written limitations, as will asking for combos or optimisation help; meanwhile problems with how to accomplish something may be helped by house rules. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '14 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I tottaly agree with you. It's not my point to say that "How rule X works?" are wrong. Of course some questions needs "per the book" anwsers. However, even when we enter the optimization territory, house-rules and game insight comes to play. If a player builds up a "uber-character" completly legal, that I as a DM see as broken, he will just take a plain "no". In the end, it's still DM-dependent. When house-rules are not relevant, no need for then to appear. But when they are, there must not be a tag forbidding them \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've downvoted this question chiefly because it isn't our place to state that a certain kind of question is wrong. Plenty of RAW questions have been relevant to actual play, some of which I've asked and others I've answered. This answer is judgmental and ignores legitimate playstyles that come here seeking advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Apr 17 '14 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I said, the problem is not looking for advice on how to use the rules, is ignoring everything outside them. If you remove the "raw" tag, your questions and awnsers will keep as good as they are. It won't change them. It will just open oportunities for new interpretations to come by. Most game-designers take feedback from the community and how people house-rule theirs games. Even Unearthed Arcana is full of house-rules that some people use. Im not saying that your questions are bad, just that people need a different posture about RAW-Only. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lord_Gareth Read my comment to SSD to see a bit more of my point. I think that I might have explained myself poorly. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Apr 17 '14 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your comment does not improve or clarify this answer. RPG.SE answers the question that is asked. If someone tags a question RAW and then gets the solution hard-banned when they present it at their table, they can come back and ask a new question at that time. Again, it is not our place to make value judgments about their requests. \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Apr 18 '14 at 1:21

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