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As the title says.

I'm starting to think that there are a few different views of what "RAW" means here on RPG.SE. I think that it is time to sit down and pinpoint the "correct" way to use the corresponding tag, so we can prevent further confusion. I will list how I see some people using this tag:

  • Please Cite Rules — RAW as a shortcut for "rules citations are needed", like this one.

  • Literal Mechanics Consequences — Questions about what happens if we take book literally, like this one.

  • How does this work? — Questions about finding rules, that may or may not exist. Most of the time, those questions also add "If those rules are missing, house rules are welcome", like this one.

Is the tag valid for all of those uses? Are there other uses for which it is valid?

So far, we've had a bunch of other discussions about rules-as-written tags and such:


Now, looking back at these metas, I'm not sure if we need to have this tag at all. It seems to be causing more trouble than it is worth, and the consensus seems to have been, more than once, that it is indeed a bad, meta tag. Anyway, if we want to keep this tag, I think it's time to define what we want this tag for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be useful to cite and summarize other meta discussions on this topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 11:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton Did it. Looking back now, this tag seens almost useless. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '14 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems strange to have a tag specially for "Please Cite Rules". Isn't that what every question here is asking? \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Dec 9 '14 at 0:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker It is odd, and I'm pretty sure the tag isn't for that at all! See my answer below. The whole citation thing has been a red herring in these debates. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 11 '14 at 12:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker Not the questions about social contract and table etiquette and system reccomendations and... Well, a whole bunch of questions don't ask for rules citations, is my point. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 2 '16 at 23:16
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I'm not immersed in RAW, but I've been watching and listening and talking to folks about it for a long time. I'd like to offer my understanding of Rules As Written, as a tool and as a tag, so that others with more experience can draw on it as they see fit.


"Rules As Written" is a tool for understanding a game by looking at the game in a particular way. This view contains assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the designer, the rules, and the players, but RAW doesn't inherently seek to state that its perspective is correct or exclusive; it's simply one useful “place to stand” when studying a text.

First, we must understand why RAW exists. RAW's goal is no less lofty than universal understanding: That people from widely varying backgrounds and experiences may all independently reach the same conclusions about what a game does.

To do this, RAW has to define a “place to stand” that everyone can share. It does this by stripping away everything about a game which is irrevocably subjective (designer intent, GM adjudication, playstyle choices) until the game has been reduced to a singular shared experience: RAW derives understanding of the game solely through the text of the books which describe it, by approaching them as a set of primary documents from which all else can be inferred.

When studying the rules through the eyes of RAW, these are the basic guidelines we apply:

  • The rules are the only authoritative source of information. Authorial intent is not significant to a RAW study, nor is the experience of an individual in using the rules.
  • The rules are a shared objective experience. As each reader learns to recognise and account for her own observational biases, their understandings of the rules will become increasingly alike.
  • Justification is irrelevant. RAW is a tool for describing what the rules say. Its users may try to explain why the rules say certain things but this is not the goal or purpose of RAW.
  • Value judgements are irrelevant. RAW describes the rules, but offers no comment on their quality.
  • Narrative is irrelevant. RAW doesn't care whether or how mechanics mesh with story. If a rule doesn't follow the law of gravity, or conflicts with common sense, or doesn’t match up to the name the mechanic is called by, RAW won't offer comment (though its users often chortle or face/palm at the implications).

Whether we agree with the ideas in these guidelines isn't important; RAW is the study of what happens when we assume they're true, and that practice has proven to create useful spaces for dialogue.

Although Rules As Written makes no value judgements about the quality of mechanics, it’s a particularly useful tool when people of diverse backgrounds and experiences (eg, on the Internet) are working together to determine the comparative effectiveness of various mechanical choices in achieving a stated goal in play. (This is called optimisation. While its goal is often assumed to be efficient combat prowess, optimisation may have any play goal and RAW has none.)

Not all questions can be answered, or challenges solved, within the limits of Rules As Written. RAW is content to be an incomplete model insufficient for subjective dilemmas; that is the cost of being a tool for achieving shared understanding across many experience modes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is all great! The only quibble I have is with the last paragraph: I'd very much like to move away from us allowing tags to carry implied information that can only be recognised by site regulars. Questions that use the [rules-as-written] tag should first use their words, then choose the tag as a label for what their words have already put into the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 1 '16 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find all of this accurate, but I am also somewhat at a loss as to how to convey this information succinctly and comprehensibly (e.g. in a comment requesting clarification on the use of the tag). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 1 '16 at 19:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Frankly I would've left that last bit off, but the question is about what the tag is used for and I felt it would've been churlish to ignore that entirely. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Mar 2 '16 at 4:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW We're trying to establish guidance for usage going forward though, not merely describing current broken usage. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '16 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Point. I've taken it out. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Mar 3 '16 at 0:35
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This is incomplete

I don’t have a suggestion for the tag wiki at this moment. That will take a little more time; right now I just have some ideas about what the wiki should and should not look like. But I wanted to get this out there and get feedback on some of these ideas.

It’s not [rules]

Merely asking a question about how the rules work does not mean the rules-as-written tag automatically applies. Only a subset of rules questions would use the tag.

Thus, we reject any definition that would result in the tag being applicable to all rules questions.

It’s not [rules-lawyering]

This has been hashed out to everyone’s satisfaction previously on meta, but just to reiterate: rules-as-written and rules-lawyering are separate concepts and in most cases the tags would not even be used together, much less used to mean the same thing.

Rules lawyering is a social problem found at the game table. Rules lawyers often claim (and may even be right) that RAW is on their side, but that’s largely irrelevant to the social problem. Questions about rules lawyering typically require social solutions: how to communicate, consider others’ feelings, and so on. It usually is not actually a question about the rules themselves, since the problem with a rules lawyer usually has nothing to do with whether he is “right” or “wrong,” and everything to do with the disruption he is causing.

Thus we reject any definition that would result in the tag being applicable to questions about how to deal with rules-lawyers. Analyzing the rules in a RAW frame would only encourage a rules lawyer in thinking that lawyering is a valid and effective approach, even if he was wrong in one particular case.

It’s not [optimization]

RAW is often used in optimization, but it is not, itself, optimization or even devoted to optimization. RAW gives zero commentary on the rules, regarding optimality or anything else, really; optimization just (often, though not exclusively) uses RAW to determine how things work so that they may be then be compared for their value relative to achieving the optimization goal.

Thus, we reject any definition that would make the tag a synonym of optimization, and probably furthermore expect the definition to make this distinction clear.

It doesn’t require that the asker know the answer

This is true for all questions, and is pretty obvious when said like that, but this does have a couple of implications for RAW questions:

  • Some kind of RAW analysis is not required to already be in the question. While “this is my analysis of the rules; is this right?” is a valid RAW question, it’s not the only sort of valid RAW question. Questions about RAW can, in fact, be asked without any idea which rules, if any, apply.

    Thus, we reject any definition that requires the asker to have already performed RAW analysis. Asking us to do so is a valid question and would be a question we would expect the tag on.

  • The question is not required to be one that itself requires torturous analysis of the rules from its answers. This goes back to the idea of questions where the asker has no idea what rules apply in the first place. In this case, the rules-as-written tag did not really affect the answers in any way, since we would answer the same whether the tag was there or not, by just citing the appropriate, clear rule. Nonetheless, rules-as-written is a valid tag to have on the question, since if nothing else, the asker didn’t know that when asking. Clearly a tag that requires knowing the answer is not a useful tag for someone who has a question.

    Thus we reject any definition that could not be applied by a user who doesn’t know the answer to the question.

It’s not that answers are forbidden from challenging or supplementing

It is expected on our site that from time to time, an answer may “challenge” the question—in effect, say “this is the answer you asked for, but I think you are asking the wrong question, and here is why...” It is also simple reality that the rules for many games are often not good, or simply do not cover some case, and at times it seems to us answering that supplying only the RAW without caveat or commentary is itself misleading (i.e. if a rule is problematic, we might want to warn about that).

In both cases, challenging the frame or supplementing the answer to the question asked, such tangents are expected to be kept short, and they are inherently risky. We expect voters to treat such answers with initial skepticism, and that such answers have to justify their departure from strictly answering the question asked. We also do not allow such answers to entirely waive their responsibility to answer the question asked too, and generally expect that first.

Thus, we reject any definition that would make rules-as-written a unique exception to these rules. This is less a concern about what the definition is, and more a concern of how it is written. It is not necessary or desirable to invite such departures from answering the question, but we also want to avoid making the tag seem special in this regard.

It is for questions that want literal accuracy over usefulness

As I put in a comment,

As someone answering RAW questions, someone interested in what the book says and only interested in something else if the book has nothing, would be a question I am interested in answering and interested in seeing highlighted (¬_¬). From my perspective, I want to see the RAW tag if, should it be necessary, a torturous analysis of the text will be appreciated. If the asker would prefer to skip that when the rules are bad and just use someone’s recommendation, I’d rather the tag not be there. That is my rule of thumb criterion.

Thus we expect any definition we use to cover the idea that literal accuracy will be appreciated even if it is not useful for playing the game.

It is for questions that are concerned with the establishing an “objective” shared baseline

I have written a lot of homebrew for 3.5 and Pathfinder, and I have done freelance work for Dreamscarred Press, a Pathfinder third-party publisher. I am at times very concerned about the “objective” state of the rules—because as a developer whose work will be used by people I will never get the opportunity to speak with or clarify to, I need to make sure that my work fits in with the remainder of the system.

I also frequently play RPGs online, which means I play with groups I don’t know very well. RAW, even if it is stupid, gives a common baseline: it is a touchstone from which we can depart, through houserules, to get everyone on the same page with respect to the rules of the game.

Thus, for these reasons and no doubt others, people need to know what the rules are officially and divorced from even the most reasonable subjective interpretation, even if they never intend to use them. It informs their work and it forms a basis for starting conversations about the rules with those they do not know well.

Thus we expect any definition we use to cover the idea of the canonical. For instance, in the past it has been suggested that we codify what sources “count” for RAW questions; this is not actually what we want to do. More appropriate is for the definition to reference the idea of relying on the publisher’s official statements for what does and does not count. WotC did not give the D&D 3.5 FAQ the authority to change the rules, making it less than useful in RAW discussions; Paizo has given that status to its Pathfinder FAQ, making it crucial that RAW answers consider it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's hash out a "full" definition and understanding here and then wordsmith the tag wiki under tritiums tag wiki q - I think this one will of necessity have a lot of examples and such that would be too large for the TW. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Feb 28 '16 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ The two last sections embed an assumption/assertion that is, I think, part of the core of the friction over the use of the RAW tag at RPG.se: that RAW analysis is the only way to accurately/canonically analyse rules. This definition of RAW self-assigns itself the privilege of being “right”, elevating RAW analysis above any other analysis methods. This is the right way for some application (e.g., definitely the design purpose mentioned!), but it doesn't follow that it is the right (unqualified) way to analyse rules, aka the only way to achieve correct answers about the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 '16 at 22:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Ok, let's back up a bit there. Nobody's asserting RAW is "right" or "above other analysis methods". However: if you are analysing the rules and only the rules, following them wherever they may, what you're doing is RAW analysis. If you want people to do that, what you're asking them to do is RAW analysis. If you want to understand how the rules work... what else would you ask for? If you don't want people to examine technicalities and just give you suggestions, that's not asking for rules analysis, it's just asking for practical suggestions. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 28 '16 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Not exactly. Are you familiar with the analysis vs. synthesis distinction? That's only one axis being ignored. Analysis is one tool, not the only tool, for understanding rules. Hence RAW-style analysis is not inevitable, nor necessarily even one's primary lens, nor necessarily the only possible way to achieve correct understanding of a game's system. It's one way, yes. But believing that RAW-style analysis is inevitable is part of the cultural problem we're having; believing that RAW is one end of a scale with “not understanding the game” at the other is a cultural problem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 '16 at 23:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie ... Where is this stuff coming from? It's the first time I've heard about it positioned on that axis, and it sounds like there's big discussions I've missed out on. Look, if you want to understand what the rules themselves mean and do, RAW analysis is involved. If you want to understand the social implications, how that works in practice, and so on - that's something other than RAW analysis, I agree. But someone just asking "how do the rules work" is only asking to understand that. That's positioned opposed to "not understanding the rules", not "the game". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ And let's be clear here: understanding the literal impacts of the rules themselves is extremely important for anyone intending to modify them or add to them, such as an author. One of our primary users of RAW actually works for a publisher. Lots of 3pp and homebrew collapse at least partially due to a poor understanding of RAW implications and interactions - if not collapsing entirely due to that. They know when to ask for RAW, and when they want RAW, they want RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 0:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Posit it and consider it for a moment. Don't you think that—if it were true—a strongly-asserted belief that RAW analysis is superior to any other kind (to the point that other kinds are not even noticed or acknowledged to exist) may be the sort of thing that would cause cultural friction? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 29 '16 at 0:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes, I would consider an assertion that RAW is superior to all other forms of analysis, such that all other kinds are beneath acknowledgement, to be very concerning - and if I found it in an "official" definition like a tag wiki, I'd edit it out. Has such an assertion been made here? Can you direct me to wherever it is in this post, such that we may edit it? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 0:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener He already has, and you objected to it. That's how this started. Your objection seems tautological: that if you're doing RAW, then RAW is the way to do it. This doesn't counter the answer's implied self-assessment of RAW superiority over non-RAW tools for understanding. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Feb 29 '16 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Ah. I'm still a little bit confused then how this came up. First, I'm just suggesting a wording adjustment to get at what KRyan's trying to convey. Second, the heading in question says RAW "is for questions that want technical accuracy over usefulness" - which is true! RAW is about putting technical accuracy ("analyse the hell out of this") over what's pragmatically useful for a game (hence my suggested reword). I don't see how the reading of "and it's better than any other form of analysing things" crept in there though. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ [rubs head] I'm so confused. Seriously, can we re-ground this, and just point to problematic things in the answer that need revising? And quote them, so that people reading can understand what's going on? Or just, like, revise them? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 1:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ In general: "This sentence here appears to convey a sentiment that is problematic for these reasons, can we edit it?" is going to be more useful than "This sentiment is a problem" because... well... ok, sure, it might be, but if that's got anything to do with the answer here, we need to know where it has anything to do with that answer. Any conveyance of that sentiment might be entirely unintended, and I think that's the case here! That's a good signifier that oops, there's unclear wording we should revise, and let's avoid using that unclear wording in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 1:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie With that and another conversation I had in the last day I think I get where you're coming from. So, what we can say, I think, is that it is one lens from which to view the "canon" part of the game, or at least, the part most of us have in common to operate from - the rulebooks. We can also say this lens prioritises technical accuracy - within its own frame of what that means - over what's pragmatically useful at a game table. Not that it is the be-all end-all of technical accuracy, but that it does prioritise it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 29 '16 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Cont’d, @SevenSidedDie) That conclusion may be that the rules are inescapably ambiguous, or that it’s unambiguously stupid, but knowing where those places are is in itself valuable. Like I said in the answer, its purpose is to be able to have some kind of common ground with those you with whom you have never played before, and may never play with. At least for me, that’s nearly all of its value (I may have a relatively legalistic relationship with the rules, but I still don’t play anything like RAW). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 29 '16 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'm working on developing an answer for this myself which may help. At its heart is the understanding that RAW doesn't find such a common ground pre-existing, but creates it by applying certain assumptions to the text. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Feb 29 '16 at 23:13
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The [rules-as-written] tag fills the niche of expressing a specific configuration of a couple of dials that are present for questions about the rules. All rules questions non-negotiably require a rules answer, but askers tend to have preferences regarding:

  1. whether the rules should be followed literally (even when doing so gets weird), versus whether interpretations and rules-bending should be made for the sake of sanity.
  2. whether custom content (homebrew) is acceptable, which ranges from "homebrew's OK" through to "homebrew's wasting my time, so don't bother."

Those are the dials. Remember any configuration is fine: Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of playstyles?.

The Rules as Written typical dial settings

  1. Follow the rules literally, even if it gets weird and nebulous. Be literal and pedantic.
  2. Homebrew's wasting my time, so don't bother. (It's useful if the rules are terrible, such as in einn and tveir. If there are no relevant rules, answers tend to stop there.)

The asker just wants the rules of the situation explained or the available by-the-rules options explored, other stuff is usually unnecessary.

Contrast, the non-RAW typical dial settings

  1. Explain the rules, but if things start getting weird or nebulous, you have the liberty to not take everything literally, suggest interpretations, and so on.
  2. I don't care either way about homebrew, I just want to understand the rules or have a practical solution. (The middle of the dial.)

... when not expressed otherwise. When someone invites homebrew answers, the second dial's tuned to "homebrew's OK too."


In all cases, custom content must be tested, and is only advisable as part of an otherwise complete answer.

Citations: [rules-as-written] doesn't actually express a stance on them. Naturally citations usually make a RAW answer better, but there are many good and accepted RAW answers that don't cite everything (examples: un, duex, trois) and it's not always important to do so. Some people expressly request them (search: cite/citation). You might be thinking "hey wait, the RAW tag's excerpt and wiki say citations are required", but emergent usage doesn't agree, and usage defines tag wikis, not the other way around. The tag excerpt and wiki should probably not make such a statement. (They've been edited to no longer say this.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is an excellent description of what the tag is currently intended to mean, so +1, but I’m not actually a big fan of this meaning. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Dec 10 '14 at 3:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BraddSzonye Could you possibly break down why you're not a fan of it? Is it that you don't think it's a useful meaning? Do you not like the associated playstyle? Do you think it's not necessarily clear and universally accepted amongst users of this site? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 2 '16 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe: I can't speak for what Bradd may have disliked about this answer 14 months ago, but what I somewhat dislike about it is that it's written from the perspective of the rules-as-written tag effectively being an encoded signal to answerers that automatically applies a different set of "default dial settings" to questions tagged with it. What we really should be doing, IMO, is having askers explain what kind of interpretation they're asking for, and then decide whether that interpretation is reasonably described as "RAW" or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 3 '16 at 17:18
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The purpose of the tag are your #1 and #2 uses, which are mostly the same thing. Just how literal you have to be has some wiggle room, but I’d say even in #1 you should be sticking to fairly literal understandings. Implying or claiming that the rules do work a certain way can be a big claim, and it should be well backed-up. It is much better to couch interpretations in language that indicates that it is such and acknowledges alternatives, than it is to claim a definitive “correct” answer that you cannot justify as such.

In most cases where there are questions of how literal one should be with the RAW, the best answer is one that is simply thorough: it acknowledges the literal result, acknowledges the problems with that, and acknolwedges reasonable alternatives and/or offers suggestions based on experience for improving the rules. In these cases, answers should follow the form indicated in How Do We Handle a Desire to Challenge the Frame of a Question – give the strict answer first, then challenge it with alternatives that are less strict but work better.

Your #3 use is not appropriate and is a misuse of the tag. I am not sure about your example question, however: the bulk of the question seems, to me, to be looking for a #1-type answer, and then only if that doesn’t exist, does it ask for houserules or the like. I’m honestly not sure how this question should be tagged: to me, it reads like a RAW question that is explicitly inviting answerers to challenge the frame of the question – in much the same manner as the meta question. That is, it requests non-RAW suggestions only after an answer has already established that RAW doesn’t have an answer. If the request was never made, that same answer would be a valid RAW answer that challenges the frame of the question.

I also question how common your #3 misuse actually is. I have seen several users assume the tag has been misused on questions where I don’t get that impression at all. I’d like to call on our community to give users the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that they are competent enough to ask their questions correctly unless given specific evidence to the contrary. If there is a lot of evidence of misuse, that would speak to a need to improve the tag wiki, but I just haven’t seen that evidence.

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I agree with all of KRyan's "what it is not" points. I fear all the "is" answers on this Q so far lack a certain conciseness that is probably needed to have something easily adhered to by querents. Let me try to collate their juicy parts into one answer.

But first, a thought exercise to indicate what parts of these answers are not juicy and should not be considered.

Why do people ask RAW questions?

Sometimes it's because they want to know the hard literal interpretation separately before they rule/houserule/write a sourcebook. Sometimes they want to eke out a "questionable" optimization advantage. Sometimes they want to write a Murphy's Rules comic. Sometimes it's employed because someone is using a full-on RAW playstyle, or are participating in some venue like Organized Play that follows RAW (plus their own custom alterations, usually).

But I think they "why" is not relevant per se - we've discussed playstyle tags before (e.g. Should we have "game style" tags?) and the core problem is that tags of that sort attempt to describe "how we want you to answer," not "what is the content of the question". Which makes them a meta tag, and meta tags have downfalls as described in The Death of Meta Tags. I will also note that our experiment in "a magic tag that dictates how you should answer a question," [game-recommendation], ended in abject failure. And especially, posters shouldn't have to answer the "why" and pull spurious "frame challenges" from those who just disagree with their goal.

I think we avoid most of the handwringing about the tag's ramifications if we just make it clear it's about the content of the question. This of course affects answers implicitly - a question about D&D, if answered with a Savage Worlds thing, is usually (though not always) a bad answer. But a normal rules question is really asking about gameplay (how do I best handle this situation in my game, using primarily the rules in the book but also other stuff) while a RAW question is asking about the literal interpretation of the rules in the book, divorced from questions about gameplay. We don't need "rules on how to answer" so much as clarity about the scope of the question, which I understand is a subtly different thing, but it is different.

The Definition

I propose the effective definition of RAW for purposes of this site can be boiled down to:

Questions that are specifically about the objective literal interpretation of a game's rules content as written in its sourcebooks, regardless of whether the result seems impractical, unplayable, or silly.

Do not use the [rules-as-written] tag if you just have a question about a game's rules or how to handle a situation in your game for maximum playability or realism using a combination of the written rules, gameplay experience, etc. There is no specific tag required for those questions (simply because that's what most questions on the site are about). If you are considering saying something like "I want RAW, unless there's not good RAW, then I want RAI or experience or house rules," do not use this tag, and just explain what kind of solution you'd like in your question.

Because this tag implies an in-depth analysis of the relevant texts, you should clearly state in your question what books or resources are in scope (For example, a RAW question with a scope of "D&D 3.5e PHB/DMG/MM only" has a very different answer from one with a scope of "All first and third party published D&D 3.5e sourcebooks").

I reckon the first 2 sentences can be the tag wiki summary and then the rest in the tag wiki.

I think the first paragraph captures what we mean by RAW scope and strictly states it in terms of the question content.

The second I think we need because of the confusion problem, which is to say "don't use this unless you really mean RAW." RAW questions of "do you really not ever have to sleep in 5e" should just be answered with "yes", not "here's how I've implemented fatigue" - that's for a general gameplay scoped question.

The third says "use your words." To speak to a recent contentious question, I think something like an "Adventurer's Guild Legal" question is fine and can use RAW, since the RAW scope can be defined as "the core books plus the AG rules".

On frame challenges, I don't think we need to say anything in the definition about them - they still apply 'as usual,' but remember that frame challenges are intended to be rare and require significant cause, usually that there is an XY problem (the questioner has jumped to a solution instead of asking about their question). This is usually appropriate only when the querent doesn't know any better - when they knowingly declare a scope, then frame challenges are unhelpful and should generally be downvoted because they're really just arguing with the questioner's playstyle. If the raw tag has huge numbers of frame challenges explaining rulings or house rules, that's a misuse of frame challenges and indicates that we haven't fixed anything about the issues with RAW tagging.

Implementation

So as we guide querents and respond to answers on these questions, what should we do?

  1. (with a pro forma comment ideally) If there's hints that the user's unclear as to whether they should have the tag or not (this usually happens either by saying RAW in the question and not having the tag, or having the tag and saying "RAW or something else," or just having the tag and not saying anything and the question seeming like a more general gameplay question, clarify their intent and get the tag on or off as relevant.

  2. On RAW questions, downvote answers that are not RAW, even if it's the answer "you would use" in your game instead of RAW. KRyan offered up a good example of a highly rated answer on Can one enter Leomund's Tiny Hut from below? - a question tagged with [rules-as-written] and then a question that just plain starts out with "In the spirit of rulings instead of rules..." That's not OK. Sure, that answer is better from a non-RAW perspective, and it's the one I'd use at my table, but that's not what RAW questions are about. Unless questioning the querent indicates that they don't really want pure RAW only, that answer should be downvoted. Comment and indicate why it has been downvoted - that both helps the answerer and, possibly, the querent by putting a finer point on the question - I've seen times when someone has objected to an answer not being RAW and then the querent comments "oh but I like it, it makes sense" - and voila, you've uncovered a mistagging.

    Now, this is perhaps questionable. On non-RAW questions, I suspect those who play RAW will continue to upvote RAW answers because they find them more helpful to themselves. Why not vote up answers you find helpful on RAW questions even if they're not RAW? The upvote/downvote "this answer is [not] useful" is silent on whether that means to you or to the querent. So this seems inconsistent. But obviously if we keep submitting and upvoting non-RAW answers on RAW questions just because RAW folks are in the minority, it makes that tag effectively moot since then the questions and answers are no different from an untagged question. I'd like help reasoning out this section more from you all.

  3. Don't flag those answers unless they suck for some other reason too. We don't do a lot of "Not An Answer" deletes and downvotes teach better. Of course the real exception to this is "if it all goes bad" - someone really wants a RAW question, but maybe asks it with a snazzy title, hitting network hot questions, and just gets flooded by noobs telling them "they're playing it wrong." If any question threatens to go out of control, then yes flag and yes we may delete (and/or comment, protect, lock, etc etc.).

  4. As usual, questioners should accept the answer that helps them the most. I had a puzzling occurrence on a recent non-RAW question where a querent "liked my answer best and was going to use it" but felt they needed to accept another answer "because it was strict RAW". That's a weird middle case where they didn't really want RAW but feels that for some reason it's required of an answer?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Though I'd suggest some tweaks to the wording of the boxed description to ensure it reads neutrally (I think “silly” probably needs to go in favour of something else like “counterintuitive” or somesuch), I agree with this analysis and proposal in principle. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '16 at 19:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ “If you are considering saying something like ‘I want RAW, unless there's not good RAW, then I want RAI or experience or house rules,’ do not use this tag, and just explain what kind of solution you'd like in your question,” I... dislike. One, using the term “RAI” is just fraught with problems (perhaps the least of which is it being the abbreviation of two distinct concepts), so that example should be removed. But two, more importantly: such a question is more of a “RAW” question than it is an “untagged” question in my mind. If I’m looking for RAW questions to answer, that one would count. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ One of the main, I dunno, “advantages” of considering things from a RAW perspective is the idea that you learn where the problems are: the places where the rules are inescapably subjective, or worse, can only be salvaged by subjectively tweaking them. I’d be disappointed to see such questions therefore “lost” as untagged. Both from scanning the question list and for searching, they are questions I’d like to see. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Also, I don’t know if we want to include “all third-party D&D 3.5 books” as an example scope, because I don’t think anyone—here or anywhere else—has any real expertise at that level of scope. That’s a lot of books.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, and also, @SevenSidedDie: I think pretty much everyone who looks at the rules from a RAW perspective is fully aware of, and quite comfortable with, the fact that the RAW rules are sometimes—often, even!—silly, and yes, RAW would still say that, silly or not, that’s what it is. RAW doesn’t stop just because things are silly. This goes back to what BESW emphasized about RAW offering no comment. It really doesn’t. “That can’t be right, that would be silly” is not a valid RAW argument. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan The question isn't lost without that tag. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 2 '16 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast There was a reason for scare quotes. Those questions are different from our default expectations in a way that I would like to be able to see highlighted and search for, which is what gets “lost” with no tag. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I should clarify that the issues surrounding the example I quoted from the answer are being raised purely as a “this does not seem ideal to me and I would like to discuss if there isn’t a better way to handle it,” not an outright objection to the entire proposal over that point. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 2 '16 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the "all third party" scope, that was deliberate as a shot across the bow for those who don't bother to define their scope - one reasonable example and one crazy example so that you realize you'd better say what you mean so you don't get things that wildly off base from what is valuable to you. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 2 '16 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this discussion is good - I think we're pretty much down to the core problem, which is "how RAW-only should RAW be?" My contention is that without RAW being strict, those Q&As devolve to being exactly identical to untagged questions - as we saw in the Leomund's Hut case, now the Call Lightning case, etc. And I've heard from users who "asked one RAW question and then never again" because they got all that instead of RAW analysis. If you want "RAW or something else..." Well, that's how normal questions get answered around here, seems to me. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 2 '16 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ So questions that are “how do or should the rules work in practice?” definitely does not get the tag, “what do the rules say absolutely RAW, don’t waste my time with anything else?” definitely does get the tag. The question of “what do the rules say, absolutely RAW? if there’s nothing, or it’s stupid, I’d also be interested in suggestions,” is the arguable case. I maintain that 1. this is distinct from either of the clear-cut cases, so that must be made clear in the question body either way, and 2. it still falls under something in the RAW tag. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '16 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ It’s distinct from the first case because it demands that RAW be present in any answer, even if that answer goes beyond the RAW. Under the normal case, a full RAW analysis would not be necessary to answer, if say it’s convoluted or there’s some technical problem if taken literally that we would ordinarily not be concerned about. In this case, going into those pedantic, “silly” details is being required. That means this is a question where RAW answers can be found, and it’s a question where a RAW answer is being sought and will be appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '16 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The acceptability of going beyond RAW after such an analysis is a detail that, I think, should be included in the question body, but regardless the tag still applies. Thus, questions tagged as rules-as-written are looking for RAW, even if they are also looking for something else. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '16 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hm, RAW or something else, I agree. I’m talking about RAW and, maybe, something else. I.e. RAW required, supplements or suggestions on top of it not forbidden. But as long as RAW is actually a part of the question, part of what they do want to know, I think the tag should be there. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 4 '16 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk There is (sometimes) a difference between referencing the rules (which of course they should, though I would point out that it is not true that all do), and performing a RAW analysis. In a question not marked RAW, I will weigh a pedantic RAW point carefully for its relevance, and omit it or move it to a footnote in many cases. And I think others do the same, and are more likely than I am to omit that detail in a non-RAW question. That’s not what’s being asked for. When a question is asking for that, I think it should have the tag. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 4 '16 at 18:09
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Adding another answer to discuss one point specifically, the point that I think is the crux of the issue.

I think the [rules-as-written] can be saved and has value if it is effectively "only about the RAW," and if we have the community adhere to that.

Here's the reasons why.

  1. Lack Of Distinctness - If a question just seeks "RAW and rulings and houserules and whatnot" - then that becomes identical to any rules question on our site. All our other rules questions not tagged [rules-as-written] get answered with a mix of RAW and rulings. On the site, questions tagged RAW - 833. Other questions and answers that explicitly reference RAW but aren't on a question bearing the tag - 1720. Front page examples of normal questions being RAW answered: What happens when you run out of movement while jumping?, Warlocks and the Ring of Spell Storing: how do you fill it up?, etc. Our RAW questions are getting answered with a mix of RAW and rulings too, like Can two characters use call lightning from the same storm?. It just doesn't make sense. If you can show a bunch of Q&A's to someone and hide the tags, and they can't tell the difference between those tagged RAW and those not tagged RAW, it is a bad tag and should be burninated because we shouldn't have tags that don't add value. I had an earlier conversation with dopplegreener where he characterized the difference as "90% rules vs 99% rules" - 9% difference is NOT a clear criterion that it's reasonable to believe a large Internet community of part regulars, part drop-ins is going to be able to use coherently.

  2. Too Much Non-RAW Drives Off Those Who Want RAW - I have had several users complain to me that "I posted a RAW question once and got a bunch of non-RAW answers and so I gave up on it." This means to me that if RAW questions are not sufficiently RAW, then they don't serve the people who would ideally be served by the tag. Here's an example, Can one enter Leomund's Tiny Hut from below? - tagged RAW, the lead answer just says "rulings instead of rules" and goes forward from there. I honestly believe if RAW questions were really RAW then there would be more people using it not less, because they would be more assured of what they'd get. "Frame challenges" are supposed to be very occasional. Saying RAW = RAW + whatever means you get combo answers like this one Can I Trip or Disarm with the extra attack provided by the Snap Kick feat? (for those who can see old revisions) that basically provides RAW and then goes on a tirade about RAW stupidity, which of course is not helpful in that context and generates community hostility.

  3. Squabbling - Similarly, this ambiguous setup seems to lend itself to "playstyle voting" which is generally bad and engenders hostility in the community. (We've had several meta Qs about it; Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of playstyles?, Can we agree to stop downvoting non-opinionated, factually correct answers?... That is, people are voting up or down RAW, ruling, whatever answers just because "they don't like that approach." That's why the rulings answer is top on the Secure Shelter RAW question, for example. If RAW questions are understood to be RAW only, then the community should be able to (I'm frankly not convinced the community can do it but am willing to see them try) have clean voting in the RAW context at least.

Sidebar Question on "Tag Following"

I've heard the requirement "but I still find the tag useful to follow." But is that just because there's no other [rules] tag? So questions like Is the Fey Ancestry racial trait common knowledge? aren't distinguishable by tag from rules questions? Let's say there was a generic rules-clarification tag that divided up rules questions from random questions. Would following that serve the exact same purpose, as one can happily give RAW answers there? (I'm not saying we should add one back, because I think we'd have trouble with its inconsistent application, but is that the case?)

Conclusion

In the end this inexorably turns into a clear two-fold problem to me. The first is pure logic - the tag has to distinguish the questions sufficiently from tags without the question to have value. So either we need to define it so it describes Q&As that are sufficiently different from Q&As that don't have it, or we should give up on it. The second is community arguing - the current setup encourages "challenging" and then everyone fighting about the RAW approach instead of answering the darn questions. These two interact, so that you get a baseline of hostility from the second issue and then when people detect the first issue and start asking about it on meta, it unleashes that hostility into a firestorm. Making and enforcing distinctness or eliminating the tag thus become the only two feasible paths forward to solve both those issues.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually like your rationale on this one. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '16 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do people who enjoy the RAW tag agree with point 2? In particular, there might be a difference between two situations: 1. There are lots of answers that do not consider the RAW at all. 2. Answers contain lots of other things besides RAW analysis, but do also contain that. \$\endgroup\$ – Tommi Mar 4 '16 at 18:33
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I think the current tag wiki text offers us a consistent protocol to follow with rules-as-written:

Interpretations and applications of rules that only take into consideration specifically what published game material states. Questions involving this tag require explicit citations of the rules in question when providing an answer.

I think there is a use for this tag explicitly requesting citations from specified material, as opposed to house rules and "common sense". It is, and should be, applicable to the three types of questions presented by the OP, perhaps barring house rule requests.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How does that protocol accord with all three of the uses in the OP? It seems to match the first and second but explicitly mismatch the third. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It seems like the third common is a misuse of the tag. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Dec 3 '14 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @shatterspike1 I'm confused by that comment. I think you're agreeing with me, but I can't really tell because that kind of emphasis is usually used to correct someone & disagree with them, and the grammar error makes me wonder if you meant to write something else? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 4 '14 at 6:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Oh no. It looks like I went and forgot a word in my original comment, that's what I get for not proofreading. What I'm saying is that the third usage of the RAW tag is an incorrect usage of the tag; it's similar to what the [rules] tag of yesteryear was used for and it's still inappropriate. I would even go so far as to say that applying the RAW tag to the first common usage is redundant at best, since a good answer should cite relevant rules anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Dec 4 '14 at 9:38
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War. Huh. What is it good for? 1

Based on the discussion on my answer, I move that we burn with fire. Questions who require rules as written only answers can specify those directives in the question.

I do not believe that the tag has shown sufficient discriminatory power for the problems it presents.

See discussion: Pros and cons of rules as written


1 Contrast: The War song (as our original intent for... the tag?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused, so far your audit question is showing "mostly totally on point, with a couple mistags" right? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 3 '14 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk My understand of Brian here is that it takes a disproportionate amount of work/discussion to achieve correct usage, bring people up to speed on correct usage, and to figure out what correct usage even is. The tag isn't self-explanatory, and even long-time users can't agree on what it means. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is open for a while, and I don't see anything close to a consensus. What should we do? \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Dec 9 '14 at 17:11
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It is well established that there are differing views between games/systems/people/tables as to the exact definition of RAW, and this causes some of the less friendly disagreements on this site. In these circumstances it is foolhardy in the extreme to expect it's tag to be used with any consistency at all. Therefore, we should burn it and require detail in the question as to what a questioner means when they use RAW and how they want to apply it to the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My main problem with this is I think it'll result in 1. People posting asking a question, getting a bunch of answers, then invalidating them by saying "oh I want RAW only." 2. People posting a rules question, and getting closed and hounded to death by people who demand to know if they consider books X or Y in scope. 3. People posting non-RAW answers and getting hounded by RAW-lovers over it ("well clearly in this case...), with no real guidance in the question. If we are basically requiring everyone to add a dissertation on their allowed rules to every question this'll collapse quickly. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 3 '14 at 23:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I agree completely. However, the other option is (imo) worse, as I believe it is impossible to enforce consistent use of a tag that represents a term that it is unlikely there will ever be agreement on the definition of. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Dec 3 '14 at 23:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the current usage of the RAW tag is not sufficiently a problem to merit this amount of debate, let alone impose some other onerous solution. "some people use a tag wrong, sometimes!" C'est la vie. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 3 '14 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk on further consideration I am inclined to agree with you. I'll leave this answer up to show an alternate approach though \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Dec 4 '14 at 11:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Recent meta discussions have suggested that house rules are only acceptable answers if they are backed with Good Subjective experience. I would rather see that enforced, than prop up the rules-as-written tag. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Dec 7 '14 at 11:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ All subjective answers here are supposed to be Good Subjective - that should be applied everywhere. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 7 '14 at 14:46

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