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In literature authorial intent is kind of bugaboo. There're whole branches of criticism that ignore the author's role in his work entirely. Further, literary figures aren't prone to answering probing questions about their work.

But role-playing game authors are more accessible. They write rules that are intended to be used, discussed, interpreted, tinkered with, and modified. They'll talk to gamers, and sometimes they'll answer questions.

So I really don't know if, in role-playing games, more credit should be given to a role-playing game's author's answer to a question or to a gifted amateur who cleverly interprets the words that author wrote.

I expect this will be more of an issue as the site's popularity increases, but this made me think of it. Other relevant questions include this one and, tangentially, this one that includes a link to an author's forum post.

Andreas Rönnqvist's point is taken: An author rarely controls his work after it's been submitted to a editor. That's understood. But I can imagine scenarios wherein Comment wars ensue, some lining up behind the Word of God—who says that's not the text's intent or that the text is being misunderstood, taken out of context, or was changed after submission and here's what it originally said—and some lining up behind the text itself.

If an author answers a question about his work, should that answer automatically be the right answer? If an author claims that he didn't intend a rule to be interpreted the way it's being interpreted and explains his intent, is that sufficient to end the conversation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll be honest here and say that there is often the possibility between the editor, the publisher and the author, that the outcome isn't exactly what the author intended. Now, that said, we do control our own publishing in this specific case so it doesn't apply here. \$\endgroup\$ – Andreas Rönnqvist Apr 26 '14 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ And the best answer should be the one given credit. Perhaps both the authors and the "amateur" have a point? \$\endgroup\$ – Andreas Rönnqvist Apr 26 '14 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Without naming any names, some RPG authors are not to be trusted if they claim their rules are internally consistent or relate even vaguely to flavour text, let alone how the rules should be interpreted ;-) If a player finds a problem in the rules that the author doesn't acknowledge but many other players do even after the explanation of intent, then clearly that's a case where the author can't just end the conversation for everyone. So there's a counter-example to the hypothetical rule that "the author always wins". \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop May 1 '14 at 11:25
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Authors bring insight that is often highly valued by us—but that doesn't obviate our voting system and automatically make their answers "right". Unless people overwhelmingly vote for the author's answer, of course.

In short, we carry on as we are, and the votes will tell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 simple, common sense, not sure why this is confusing. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 27 '14 at 5:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk To be fair, this is just shorter KRyan. But that aside, I think the reason it's coming up is because the space between "author says X" and "RAW says Y" is a source of cognitive dissonance for those who put a lot of stock in RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 27 '14 at 7:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I agree, but I still don't see why it should be site policy to decide which one is right, as opposed to individual people's choice of one over the other. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Apr 28 '14 at 4:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY Isn't that what I wrote? That people will vote whichever way they will, and that's how it should be? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '14 at 5:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is, and I agreed. I was commenting on your comment, more than on your answer. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Apr 28 '14 at 5:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY Ah, I am enlightened. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '14 at 5:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, any policy that actually gives more weight to an answer based on its author would seem to pretty much completely undermine the basis of the voting system the site uses. Authors should be more than welcome to indicate their status in their answer, but at the end of the day, the site's users can choose to vote however they wish to do so using their own criteria. Trying to enforce a particular way of voting just won't work \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Apr 29 '14 at 20:34
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I don’t really expect it to become a huge issue. We don’t get that many answers along these lines.

That said, an author brings obvious authority to any rules discussion. That said, what the author intended is not necessarily the best way to run a rule (sometimes unintended side-effects are actually more fun) nor is it necessarily what actually got written (either because of misstatements or because of editorial changes during the writing process). So authors are not automatically “right” – it depends on what the question is asking for.

If the querent wants to know the “rules-as-written,” then even the person who wrote those rules has to justify his claims – qualifications he’d “meant” to put in, or intended to be followed, or what have you, are not generally considered part of the rules-as-written.

If the querent wants to know the best way to run a given rule, then the author’s perspective is valuable but not automatically superior – after all, it’s entirely possible for players with lots of experience actually playing a given rule might have a better perspective on it (particularly if the author has since moved on to other products).

If the querent specifically wants to know the authors’ intent, he’s in the wrong place and that question would be closed. The overwhelming majority of the time, there is almost no evidence with which to “Back It Up!” as the rules require, and it becomes a pointless and arguably insulting slugfest – “he clearly meant it the way I like it, anyone who disagrees is wrong because the author definitely agreed with me,” is not a meaningful or helpful answer, and is exactly the kind of Bad Subjective answer that this site’s format is meant to eliminate. That said, this sort of question is the only one in which the author’s answer is automatically the best one.

So, conclusion: the author is obviously an expert and obviously brings a very valuable perspective to the table. One can expect the author’s answer to be at the very least good, if not the best, answer, simply because the author has experience and perspective that none of the rest of us can match. But it is not automatically so, so we should recognize it for what it is, but not more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @starwed Yes, because not everyone has access to the author's thoughts: the rules-as-written are intended to provide a common baseline – we all have the same rules written in our rulebooks. It is valid to ask for understanding of strictly those rules, because, as a common baseline, that has some value. If you treat the comments of an author on one site in some obscure question (or thread) as RAW, it is no longer common to everyone (as most people aren’t going to be aware of it). That eliminates the point of asking about RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 28 '14 at 11:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @starwed of course, because there's the chance the author might not agree with someone else's whacked out but firmly held interpretation of the rules. And that would lead to CHAOS! Anyway, all those author clarifications are very useful to all but those who insist on "fundamentalist style" RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 29 '14 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk No one has ever said it wouldn't be useful. I said it wouldn't answer the question asked. Those are different things. An author should be encouraged to add on those thoughts to his answer, and that would be valuable -- a value-add -- but ultimately he must answer the question first. If RAW is what is asked for, failing to provide it is not answering the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 29 '14 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's an interesting example to chew on, mostly about how RAW-vs-author is system-dependent: by words as written, the common interpretation of the Dungeon World invisibility spell is that it can only be cast on others since its description is "Touch an ally: nobody can see them. They’re invisible!" However, the authors' response on fora to questions about how invisibility works is that the wizard is her own ally (but with a textual shrug that it's OK to read it whichever way a group prefers). The DW community generally privileges this over a conservative literal reading of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '14 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the import of RAW is system-dependent, that's even more reason for not having policy about RAW-vs-author: we'd have to have system-dependent policies, and somewhere to note that. We'd have to develop such policies according to the system's community norms (if such exist, and can be reliably identified)... but if we're relying on system-community norms for that, then we've already got a handy voting system to handle translating community norms into content-curation activity. So we don't need RAW-vs-author policy. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '14 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I'd argue that's a weak example, but ultimately that's irrelevant: I don't have a problem with what you're suggesting. All I am saying is that "it works like this because I said so" is a bad answer, even if you're the author, and really that's regardless of whether RAW was asked for, unless what was asked for was specifically what the author thinks (in which case it was a bad question to begin with). The mention of RAW was meant to be an example that has been blown out of proportion, and at this point strikes me as a red herring detracting from the real point. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 29 '14 at 17:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Sorry, yes! We're pretty much agreeing. It's just another nail in the coffin of the idea of making any kind of policy on this. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '14 at 20:39
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The author isn't necessarily the best person to know about character optimization in the game they designed, as they didn't necessarily write it with that in mind. Balancing is often done via playtesting rather than mathematical models. In those cases, someone that actually spends their time doing optimization is probably the better source of an answer.

The author may not have played their game as extensively as others, and may be unaware of obscure issues that can come up during gameplay. People that have encountered and dealt with that specific issue are probably the better source of an answer in this case.

If the question is about Rules-as-Intended, the author is the best person to ask. However, they ought to still be referencing the official word from an external source. For starters, we don't authenticate users (to the best of my knowledge) and anyone could come on here and claim to be a particular author. I've written many magazine articles and the Babylon 5 adventure "The Athena Strain" but there's no way you can know I'm telling the truth when I say this ;) If the author has posted something supporting their answer (e.g. on their official blog or the publisher's website) they can post an answer referencing that as the source. Then again, someone else may feasibly be able to post the same answer, referencing the same source, and word it better.

Rules-as-written, it doesn't matter what the author thinks, it's what's written (obviously) that matters. If the author wishes to make a correction, they probably ought to be doing so via official errata, not an SE site (which isn't to say they can't post it here, just that their doing so doesn't make it an officially-recognized correction to any rulebook) General note on the "officialness" of anything the author writes here: the author themselves may not be in charge of making the decision to make any changes official, it may be required to go through a development team or at least an editor. Taking their word via a SE site isn't a good idea. They can post the correction via the official source and then reference it here so we know it really is official.

Finally, as far as SE is concerned, the best answer is the one that gets the most votes and the accepted answer is the one the person asking the question has accepted. We're surely more concerned here with the answer the majority of actual players want than with an "official" one anyway, that's the whole StackExchange "thing" - which asks the question, do any other SE sites have any special measures for "official" answers? If not, there's no reason we should either.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 it's fine to say an author doesn't per se overrule a site user, but to say "they shouldn't be making a correction on a SE site" is overly hostile - authors are welcome here and can say stuff as much as the rest of the site users can. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 29 '14 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I meant they shouldn't be using SE to make an official clarification. SE isn't the place to introduce official errata, and we shouldn't start presenting an authors unofficial SE comments as being official. They can state the correction here, but their doing so doesn't in any way make it an officially-recognized correction to the game rules (clarifying that in my answer) \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Thomason Apr 29 '14 at 20:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this is necessarily the "best" answer to the OP, but it is definitely a point worth remembering - and I can tell you this from both personal experience and general industry knowledge - some games are published without ever having been played by their authors at all. \$\endgroup\$ – As If May 2 '14 at 9:08
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The only time an author should be able to have an effect on the nature of the rules in the book they wrote is if they are ambiguous and are not readily understood. Words have meaning, and in the event the meaning of the words can be clearly understood by the simple parsing thereof, unless new words are published that either state the original rules are either superseded or errata, then the author should not be able to override them, and the original writing should stand.

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