What are the Pros and Cons of the rules-as-written tag?

Recently there's been a lot of discussion about the merits and/or problems with the in the comments on various questions and in chat. Such discussion probably has a better home here in the meta where it can be more constructive.

What are the pros and cons for our site of having the rules-as-written tag? It is a meta-tag but we have other meta-tag that we strongly use () so I don't think that instantly disqualifies it. Please make a case for how could be best used or why it should be removed from the site?

Required Reading: The Death of Meta Tags

• Point of order: [game-recommendation] isn't a meta-tag. It describes the question, and makes sense alone (and does appear alone frequently). That we have policy attached to it restricting answers is a separate issue; that's not the tag's fault, that's the fault of the subject matter the tag represents. Apr 17 '14 at 23:24
• From the required reading: " These tags are a problem because people don’t realize [that meta-tags rarely work well alone] and will often use [a meta-tag] as the question’s only tag." If my question is the only one using only rules-as-written, is this still applicable? Dec 1 '14 at 22:29
• @thedarkwanderer no idea, I wrote this so long ago and my view has completely turned around into supporting the rules-as-written tag. Dec 16 '14 at 12:49

It is underused for its category of questions

This renders it less useful for searching or filtering (possibly not useful), which is a problem when one of the stated objectives of tags is to connect experts with questions (2nd sentence). It was created on June 20 2013, last year, following on from meta discussions about previous tags like rules-lawyering, and has had a very low adoption rate among the rules questions it exists for. Evidently it's uncommon that people find it necessary to use or apply, and that's probably the true test of whether a tag should really exist.

Let's consider this: if you search by the tag, you'd hope to get nearly every question we have about spells. ideally would categorically include every single nWoD question, and should include all our Dresden Files stuff. It's reasonable to expect this stuff, and it's what you'd get. These are tags doing their job correctly.

But consider the following. If you searched by the RAW tag, what portion of questions about RAW would you get?

Those familiar with these tags might realise: this covers barely any of the rules questions. By using this tag to search, you'd be eliminating almost everything you're actually after, and by attempting to ignore it, you'd filter out almost nothing you'd want to.

Between those three tags we've covered 113 of the 128 RAW questions. What about the remaining 15? World of Darkness, Shadowrun SR4, nWoD and Technomancer have more than one usage of this tag. A bunch of other tags coincide with only one single use of this tag.

Tag usage should be emergent, and there's concerningly few occurrences where people actually find it useful to add to a question, even among our questions that are actually about RAW.

There's a portion of questions that I know have used this tag to stress the kind of answer they're after, because they've received answers like "Don't do that" or others which just don't actually stick to RAW. That's not what tags are for - we don't have a or tag - and that should be resolved some other way. A question that wants RAW answers should be one that can only be answered with RAW answers, or should make a request that people stick to RAW.

• I'd suggest, however, to implement a message along the lines of "This is a D&D question. Be sure you tell us if you want a legalistic interpretation of what it's actually written or if you're ok with handwaving". Along the lines, I said. Apr 18 '14 at 10:46
• This is not a fair metric in the sense that rules-as-written is a very new tag, where a lot of questions should have it but were written before the tag existed. To ignore that fact and not mention it in your assertion that the tag goes unused is disingenuous. Apr 18 '14 at 12:40
• It's not new; it seems we've had it for about a year. In that time, we've had a bit over 2,000 questions, and very little uptake of the tag. Dividing each by a third, ~10% usage when that's way out of proportion for the number of rules questions isn't very good usage. I'll update my answer later. Apr 18 '14 at 12:59
• A question that wants RAW answers should be one that can only be answered with RAW answers, or should make a request that people stick to RAW. I tottaly agree with this. That's what Im trying to say for so long, but always failed to put that on words that don't offend someone. Apr 18 '14 at 15:37
• @ThalesSarczuk Requesting that answers stick to RAW is something the asker can do, yes. Us making a policy of deleting answers that don't stick to RAW is not healthy for the site and should not happen. Apr 19 '14 at 2:13
• Edited to change the language used in this answer and stick closer to facts. I am still concerned about the state of the RAW tag and trying to make up my mind about it, but for now I'd like to avoid adding strong language unnecessarily and stick to facts rather than be argumentative. Dec 21 '14 at 5:18

Having read through KRyan's answer, I'm not sure the tag needs to be removed. But we do need to change the way we treat it.

As a way of signaling membership in a school of thought / playstyle, the tag is fine. Ish.

If people want to use the rules-as-written tag as a rallying point for a sub-culture on the site, that's fine. The silliness of rules-as-written is roughly the same as the silliness of system-agnostic, and I'd gladly scour both from the site... But if other people like them, there's no great need to disrupt their fun.

But...

Basic site functionality should NOT be channeled through tags, unless absolutely necessary.

If I ask a question about the rules to an RPG, then I should have a reasonable expectation of receiving both the rules and advice on dealing with the situations those rules cover.

If I ask what the rules for mounted combat are because I fear a character is over-powered, I shouldn't have to apply a special tag to get someone to actually tell me what the rules are.

And by that same token, I shouldn't need to apply another special tag to get people to give me good advice on dealing with the repercussions of the mount in play, or advice to be careful about nerfing characters.

We certainly shouldn't be harassing users to try to fit in to rules-as-written / system-agnostic / whatever sits between them. If people use the tags, fine. If people don't use the tags, we should still be doing our best to answer well.

In other words...

If "Rules-As-Written" describes a kind of question, then the tag is fine. Ish. Well, it's not as bad as other tags that haven't caused the site to explode. But questions should be self-contained in regards to any special rules they wish to enforce. And we shouldn't be badgering others to add the tag to any question that asks about the rules.

And we also shouldn't have a site policy on what is or isn't RAW. That should be defined by the individual publishers and/or askers (if it's ambiguous).

Apologies for the rant, but this touches on a lot of pet peeves with the site :-P

• Ish. indicates two problems, we can't tell if this whole answer is a pro or a con, and in the end that appears to be because you can't decide either.
– user2102
Feb 22 '16 at 19:28
• @JoshuaDrake The next sentence "Well, it's not as bad as other tags" is what turns this into a tepid "pro." The "other tag" in this instance is system-agnostic, which the mods have a long history of supporting (see: here, here, and here). I think both tags are kind of dumb, but I think if we're going to allow system-agnostic on the grounds of "some people like it" (which is totally fair!), rules-as-written should also be allowed for the same reason. Feb 22 '16 at 19:55
• I was considering writing an answer more aligned to the current thread, but those topics have turned into... Something else. Feb 22 '16 at 19:59

There are two fundamental issues with the tag.

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 we discussed this morning about how PF determines RAW. Not ones where you want a by-the-book ruling.

That said, there are very few questions like these 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 !

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)

• You assert that the fact that the tag is about answers rather than questions is bad, but I see no reason why that would be the case. Apr 17 '14 at 23:24
• I just re-read the canonical post on meta tags. While RAW is certainly a meta-tag, I don't believe it shares the same terrible characteristics as subjective and best-practices once did. It is something you can filter on, it's application to a question is not subjective (though its interpretation in a rule set may be). It only has four followers though so shrugs. Still I'm not sure your treatment of the concerns is adequate. Apr 18 '14 at 0:50

Pro: It aids searching

You can search by a tag, and you could not necessarily search for the same concept without the tag. There are various ways that the same answer-requirement could be included in a question’s body, not all of which would appear from the same search.

Pro: It indicates an important aspect of the question to those browsing the list of questions

You can see tags from the list of questions. The tag on the homepage tells you something useful about the question without having to go inside it. This allows users to decide if the question meets their interests/is worth their time/etc.

Pro: It can be followed or ignored

The tag, rather than merely having it as part of the question-body, also allows RAW questions to be followed (as I have) or ignored (as others have stated they have).

Pro: It reflects a common pattern of at least one major RPG community that we support

D&D 3.5 questions habitually refer to RAW or not-necessarily-RAW as a matter of course. In systems less sophisticated than ours, threads are marked with “[RAW]” or whatever to indicate this. Considering that RAW is used as a tag even when the underlying system does not support tags, it’s at the very least worth considering its use as a tag here on those grounds alone.

Neutral comment: Not all systems or communities make the distinction

This isn’t really a con; after all, we have plenty of tags relating to specific concepts in various systems that don’t really work for other systems. It may be the case that many other systems have no use for the tag, but that does not, in itself, invalidate the tag.

Con: It is “meta”

I am not the one to ask about the “problems” of meta tags, because in my opinion, those problems are minimal and frequently overstated. I don’t dispute that the tag is meta; I merely don’t particularly care. I don’t have a problem with meta tags, provided they are useful, and I contend that this one is.

As for being used on its own, we more-or-less require that every question use a system tag: questions without a system tag are expected to use . It may be more or less dependent than other tags, but I hardly think it unique in that regard.

Con: We just had a kerfuffle over it

I had a knee-jerk reaction as I was heading out the door, and I regret it. It was not the appropriate response to the situation. Ultimately, it was an issue of treating the tags on the question as all being required, rather than the intent, which was that answers from D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder be acceptable so long as they were indicated. I would argue that this was a poor choice in the initial tagging since the rules-as-written are not identical in this case, and either-or means that a valid answer could ignore one of the systems it was tagged as, but that’s irrelevant to my actions (I should have made that argument rather than just acting).

I really don’t think that a bigger issue needs be made of this than already has been.

• Point of order: policy is actually that we don't need a system tag on everything; using [system-agnostic] that way has been debated and rejected. Apr 17 '14 at 23:28
• @SevenSidedDie Perhaps so, but in practice that's how things happen. Apr 18 '14 at 0:18
• Note that "while it can be followed or ignored" only four people follow it ... Apr 18 '14 at 0:49
• @KRyan Not so. Look at our questions tagged [gm-techniques]: many have no system tag. We do not have a policy requiring system tags, either de jure or de facto. Dec 3 '14 at 18:12
• I would say these Pros blow the Cons out of the water. Aug 14 '15 at 1:59

I've been burned by the RAW tag once before. Someone asked a question on interpretation and I provided my viewpoint on it without explicit citations of rules (as well as bringing in interpretation of the RAW). I still have a negative score for that answer, even after I explicitly cited the rules off of which I based my interpretations. It's a mildly complex situation, though, in that I pointed out that a particular set of rules being quoted have been noted by the developers as not RAW since it was a paid supplement, but is considered as RAW by others. I see it as mildly parallel to biblical canon. Is the Book of Tobit RAW? Revelations? All depends on who you ask, I think. And, much like the Bible, you get a lot of friction when the source material is conflicting or vague.

That said, I see some worth for this being a tag for "I want to be able to point to a line in the book and say this proves the point, not a discussion of what the rule should have been". The big catch is that the Rules-As-Written don't always cover the situation, so I think that sometimes, it's a valid answer to say, "RAW doesn't really properly cover this. However, if you look items A, B, and X, and squint a little, you can get this interpretation which could be seen as logically following from RAW". Said answers should probably be removed if someone does find something in RAW that directly answers the question. As to whether they should be downvoted in that case depends on whether we want to reward being accurate or being helpful in this case.

Ultimately, I see this tag as the flipside of the usual rule that any answer on a rules interpretation should require actual user experience. That rule is indicating the spirit of the rule, a "I did it this way and it worked or me" or "I did it this way and it did not work for me" situation. RAW is the opposite where the focus is not on "What is your experience with this?" and more of a "How can you prove your answer from fundamentals whether or not it jibes with your experience?". To use another parallel, the rise of Evidence Based Medicine among the scientific, namely a rejection of "Well, sticking myself with needles works for me even if the studies keep showing that this doesn't really work and the physics doesn't work". Evidence trumps anecdote much as, with Rules as Written, rule citations trump experience.

• I am confused: do you support the notion of a tag indicating that, for example, your answer to that question was invalid, or not? Because "if you ignore this rule and extrapolate the way I have and consider how things work in another system," is not "this is a line in the book, not a discussion of how the rule should have been." So your complaints about how voting occurred with that answer are inconsistent with the second paragraph. Apr 18 '14 at 13:54
• You're right. I will try to clarify. Apr 18 '14 at 13:55
• @SeanDuggan I am still unclear.
– user2102
Feb 22 '16 at 19:25
• @JoshuaDrake Ultimately, I feel that Rules As Written is considered desirable because someone can point to a line that justifies the answer, but that the different levels of canon make it difficult to answer in a clear-cut manner. Feb 22 '16 at 19:50