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I’ve recently discovered Stack Exchange has a feature called tag warnings which cautions a person with further information about how a tag should be used. Tag warnings look like this:

This example comes from Biology SE’s [species-identification] tag. You can try it out yourself here — click into the tag field then back out to see it show up.

I think that such a feature would be beneficial for our tag, but that’s just me, and I’d like to know what the rest of us think about this. Should we have such a tag warning on the [rules-as-written] tag, and what should it say? (Related material: What, exactly, is the RAW tag for?)

Specifically, I think it’s beneficial because of these statistics:

$$ \begin{array}{|l|l|l|} \hline \text{Questions created...} & \text{in last 16 months} & \text{17-32 months ago} \\\hline \text{RAW tag removed} & 235\;(52.2\% \text{ of total}) & 90\;(15.9\%) \\\text{RAW tag added} & 29\;(6.4\%) & 59\;(10.4\%) \\\text{RAW tag kept} & 186\;(41.3\%) & 416\;(73.6\%) \\\hline \text{Total questions covered} & 450 & 565 \\\hline \end{array} $$

This is a table of questions created during the past 16 months and the 16-month period before that which are connected to the RAW tag in one of three ways. 16 months ago is the time period since the “back to tagging basics” proposal† was suggested and endorsed and changed the way we handle the RAW tag, so these time periods were chosen to compare before/after that meta.

This table expresses these quantities:

  1. RAW tag removed: Questions that had the RAW tag in the original revision, which do not have it in the current revision. (source 1)
  2. RAW tag added: Questions that didn’t have the RAW tag in the original revision, but have it now. (source 2)
  3. RAW tag kept: Questions that had it in the original revision, and the current revision. These could be the same revision if it was never edited. (source 3)
  4. Total of questions in row 1+2+3 for that column. All percentages in a column are a percentage of this total.

(Further notes: (a) Intervening revisions aren't counted. This means back-and-forth add/remove actions don't affect these statistics. (b) These statistics go exclusively by creation date so recent activity won’t change the period to which a question belongs.)

You may notice what I notice in these stats: before 16 months ago, questions almost always kept the tag. Since the "back to basics" meta† we've seen a dramatic change: in the past 16 months, 52.2% of these questions arrive with the tag and then have it removed — more often than the question gets the tag added or kept in total. Out of the 421 usages of the tag by the OP (sum of tag removed + tag kept), 55.8% usages result in it getting removed. On average a question that gets the tag removed arrives every 2-3 days. I’m hoping that adding a tag warning would reduce these cases of it needing to be removed, and would reduce the maintenance effort involved in this tag.


"Back to basics" changed the way we handle the RAW tag: we nowadays handle it like any other non-system tag, which means we require questions to make it clear in the body why a tag is present, and if it isn’t clear, we seek clarity from the author and either clarify the post or remove the tag. Prior to that meta (before 16 months ago) the RAW tag was handled differently and it we didn’t have a good way to clarify whether the tag should be on a question or not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for discussion, especially of tangential topics; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 15 '17 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ While we're at it a tag warning for [dungeons-and-dragons] is a no brainer \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jul 17 '17 at 5:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since this question was recently bumped, I've added the [status-declined] tag simply because the tag no longer exists. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 27 at 5:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast We actually did add the tag warning though at the time. I've updated it to [status-completed] to reflect that, which I should've done back in 2017. It's since been removed of course. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 27 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...Fair enough :P \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 27 at 19:03
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Based on what Zachiel drafted up and Baskakov_Dmitriy's conclusions plus the What, exactly, is the RAW tag for? meta's answers, I suggest this as a possible tag warning:

Questions about the rules as written are those which:

  • Are investigating as a priority literal interpretations of the rules, even if it leads to absurd situations.
  • Are not usefully answered solely by homebrew, house rules, or speculation of intent.

Please express what you're looking for in terms of these criteria in your question body. If you're just asking about the rules of a game without these additional expectations, you don't need this tag.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The first dot point could be a bit clearer; RAW questions want answers that don't add anything beyond the rules as written; The questions may well add flavour or context beyond the rules as written, but that doesn't make them less RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jul 15 '17 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe This is, I think, the crux of the problem with a RAW tag: in the Stack structure tags don't, can't, and shouldn't describe answers. They can and should describe questions. It seems obvious that we need a RAW tag, but in practical use it often does a thing tags shouldn't do. This... may be a big part of why it's contentious. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 16 '17 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This still implies that questions that want to hear the RAW answer (it is a requirement) but are also open to hearing non-RAW subjects in addition to the RAW answer, are not covered by the rules-as-written tag. That’s wrong. That prevents the tag from being used to actually find places where RAW answers are desired (since not all of them are covered), and mismatches how the RAW tag is used on discussion forums. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 17 '17 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan IIRC we haven't been using the RAW tag for "I'm looking for RAW and/or anything else"; those kinds of questions don't float all that well because we ask them to just pick something. I was trying to figure out a way to word it anyway as "this is what the lens means" without implying "this is the only kind of lens you can use" and it's not coming to mind, but, see previous sentence, I'm not sure that's a big deal for us. I'd welcome your suggestions for what it should say, since like I've said, "no this is wrong" responses can only go so far without a "do this instead". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 17 '17 at 13:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Questions that are RAW or something else are the default and don’t really need the tag (personally I like it, but that’s an argument I’m not getting into). But questions that want RAW, and also maybe something else, definitely should have the tag and currently have it removed, often silently, and with prejudice. Again, see the proximate situation after which I was suspended. That was a clear case of a RAW-and question, and the tag was silently removed, and then edit-warred over. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 17 '17 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan We can take a look at that (and I'm really fine with that default too) but I don't know what that question is. Do you have any suggestions for wording for the warning? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 17 '17 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ How about something like “are not usefully answered solely by homebrew, house rules, or speculation of intent.” Though maybe also something like “personal experience” belongs in that list. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 17 '17 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think that's a useful wording change. (I hope it doesn't imply "but if you answer with two of these things that's fine", and I think it doesn't do that.) I've also revised the first bullet point, which means I should also ping.... \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 17 '17 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I updated the first bullet point since a way to clarify that came to mind. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 17 '17 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ If we got into a RAW argument about the RAW tag we might run into trouble with that solely but uh, that might be too meta even for meta. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 17 '17 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with the "solely" change - and I think the difference between "raw or something else" and "raw and something else" is not real meaningful given our free form text responses. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 20 '17 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd be tempted to add a line at the end "if you're just asking about the rules of a game without these additional expectations, you don't need the tag." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 25 '17 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added that sentence as a replacement to the original final sentence. I also understand that disagreement about adding "solely". I'm trying to differentiate this from how we just handle rules questions by default (answer about the rules, don't just make stuff up unless you're already answering about the rules). This gives me pause for thought over whether the stuff being sought after via RAW is already more or less our default for asking about rules to begin with, but I'm inclined to give that 'solely' the benefit of the doubt for now and see where it goes. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 27 '17 at 9:43
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I think it is a good idea and I think it should read something like this:

A Rules-as-written question does not simply ask about the rules of a game. It implies finding out the most literal (even if improbable) reading of what has been written in the game aids.

By adding this tag, you're asking the answer to avoid speculation about authoral intent taking precedence over what the text actually says.

It is often important to people to know what the rules say before deciding which houserules to apply.

Or something like that. I'm not too good at this, and even finding a definition of what RAW is that is good for everyyone is hard. Workshopping accepted!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the last sentence in particular -- quite a few people get tangled up in "rule 0/rule of cool/rule of fun trumps all" and forget that making house rules/rulings oftentimes requires understanding what the baseline the game provides is to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Jul 12 '17 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The second line is—or should be—wrong. The point of the tag is to organize questions that are asking about RAW—not to avoid questions asking about other things. A RAW question should have a RAW answer as a requirement—but asking for other details as well doesn’t suddenly make it a not-RAW question. Despite the efforts of those who would see the tag’s usage minimized. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 12 '17 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan You may want to consider that many of us don't entirely have the same understanding of what RAW means, because we haven't been educated. "People are trying to marginalise the subject" is not going to further our education around it, but "here's what it should say / what the tag means instead" will further our education. Incidentally, if we're well-educated, we'll notice if someone's misusing it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 12 '17 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I've changed the second line into something less strict (and yes, I do agree with you about what the intent should be), I don't quite like the form but let me know if at least the content reflects your point. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jul 12 '17 at 19:07
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What is actually [rules-as-written]? We should find out!

Some time ago, being very new to the site, I tried to understand the nature of the tag. I did make a mistake (?) of marking my question about game rules with tag, and I did make a mistake of basing my answer for a question on a house rule, because nothing in the question body was implying that the answer was expected to be written in a very special way. So it was definitely a good idea to ban describing what kind of answers you can provide using a tag.

However, my quest of googling for what is actually failed. I found too many more or less different definitions. I think, before adding the tag warning, a single definition has to be chosen.

  • According to dandwiki.com, "Rules as written in the D&D game refers to the rules that WoTC publishes. In a wider sense it means the rules of the game being played. Rules as written is used to distinguish these from both house rules and what may have been intended that the rules were to be, such as a reference in a blurb to an ability that the class in question does not actually get or that is being used incorrectly. It is important to note that often the rules as written are open to interpretation as there may be multiple viewpoints on what the RAW is."

In short, "RAW is "official (not house) rules, but there may be more definitions".

  • According to the only definition in the Urban Dictionary, "Rules As Written. Used by players of D&D and other RPGs to indicate a literal interpretation of the rules, often to gain some unintended, overpowering game effect."
  • According to the tag wiki, in short, RAW is not a "no house rules, please" sign, nor is it for clarification of the rules.
  • According to this article on implausiblenature.net, RAW is considered the opposite of RAI (Rules-as-intended). RAW basically says "if the rules don't allow it exactly this way, you can't do it this way", RAI says "if the rules are shady on that part, but you clearly see the intent behind, do as you think it was intended". Notice that the article is written for a war game, Warhammer 40k, not a role-playing game, but the problem still persists: even in a war game you cannot describe all of the possible situations, and sometimes there are still non-trivial spots in the rules.
  • According to this article written in German language, if I hadn't botched my Linguistics check, RAW means simply "read rules exactly as they are written, word by word", notifying that it may lead to some very absurd situations.
  • Also, "Rules As Written is a podcast by four friends who discuss their interpretation of the rules in D&D and tabletop and how certain combinations of the rulesets can create for unusual and likely unintended consequences. While many of these discoveries fall out of game play organically during Tony's or Bethany's games as DM, conversation also includes attempts to find odd combinations that spark intrigue and laughs at trying to find the most unusual circumstances." I couldn't listen to it, though, as the server doesn't allow to download.

That's all that I found on the first page of Google search results.

So, we basically have:

  • RAW meaning "read rules exactly as they are written, do not add anything, read as literally as you can, even if it leads to absurd situations".
  • RAW meaning "do not use/refer to house rules".

The two definitions seem to be both relatively common, and perhaps we should stick to one of them, writing a tag warning saying which one we use here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of this answer would probably be better filed under the question which asks for this kind of analysis, rather than here under a question about tag warnings. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 17 '17 at 2:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW You are likely right! What is the best thing to do now? I would probably try refocusing this answer as "Before we do something, let's at first find out what [rules-as-written] actually is", and reposting other info as an answer to another question. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 17 '17 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am with BESW on this. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 22 '17 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast On what? Do you agree that I should repost this on the other question, and that I should only write here "before we do something, let's find out what is RAW"? Do you think that it's good after some people have already voted for this post and referred to it? \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 22 '17 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it fits better under that question. Your call. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 23 '17 at 12:32
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This site operates on a definition of rules-as-written that

  1. Does not conform to its wider usage outside this site, and ignores the folk taxonomy

  2. Was unilaterally determined by two members of the site

    1. Who, it must be pointed out, have an avowed “hatred” of the very concept. Their word.
  3. Ignores community consensus disagreeing with that definition.

  4. Is enforced silently and unilaterally by those same two users; comments are not used to try to educate users, or even to determine if it is appropriate to do so.

Quite frankly, the definition of rules-as-written as it is enforced here is wrong. The net effect is to marginalize and minimize the usage and placement of the tag on this site.

Any warning would have to either include this special definition—which I adamantly oppose—or else would have to fix these issues before the warning is written. These issues are not with the community’s consensus, they are not with what has been discussed on meta, they lie solely in how the tag has been moderated above and beyond what was agreed upon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments cleaned since the post received a revision. Transcript/chat room for discussion on the previous version here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 12 '17 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, so, you're suggesting the current implementation would be wrong, and the warning would have to have information which would also be unacceptable. I've opened this meta so we can discuss what would be an appropriate tag warning and usage. Could you provide a tag warning you think would be right and in keeping with your perspective of how the RAW tag should be used? Consider this a fresh opportunity to set up a constructive definition of it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 12 '17 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why not just rename the tag to make that clear? If they want a tag for rules-as-written-as-badwrongfun, just call it that, and then we can have a proper rules-as-written tag for rules as written questions. I agree it's unlikely for an actually positive outcome to be achieved given our meta process problems, but I don't think that your answer gives enough real direction towards a solution, and that seems in bad faith. Your second to last sentence's second hald should take up a lot more of your space, as it is the actionable path forward part. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 12 '17 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I have no idea what you are suggesting with this tag bifurcation, but it also doesn’t seem like a serious suggestion, just snark. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 12 '17 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I don't know a good name for it. Started with rules-as-pedantry, but I thought that might not be good. idk. In any case, the people who want the tag should get to come up with the name so that it's not a snark. The serious suggestion is that you are presenting the problem as flatly intractible, but I think that mischaracterizes it. The problems you bring up imply courses of action that could resolve them, and I think you should take some time to address that. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 12 '17 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer The problem is not the rules-as-written tag. The problem is the enforcement of an overly-narrow definition of the rules-as-written tag. Renaming the tag would be even worse as it would separate this site even further from the usage beyond this site. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 12 '17 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The biurfication is serious, independantly. If people find a 'pedantry', or whatever the right term for the usage you don't want RAW to represent is, tag useful, then making a tag for that to disambiguate usage seems valuable and important. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 12 '17 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ If we're using the RAW terminology wrong then I'd be on board with finding a more accurate term for whatever it is we are using the tag for as one of our viable resolution options. Possibly we could do that and reposition our usage of the RAW tag at the same time. Since we officially endorse all playstyles and reject arguments over certain playstyles being badwrongfun, there will still be fine ground for RAW users with or without a tag (like there are for other also-tagless playstyles, which we also defend from people arguing badwrongfun from time to time). \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 12 '17 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan How would you define the common usage of RAW outside of RPG.SE? When I tried to understand the concept, I couldn't come up with one single definition myself. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 13 '17 at 10:52
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Update the tag wiki and the tag description; don't add a warning flag

The KISS principle needs to apply. If the tag wiki and tag description do not sufficiently embody what the tag means, then update them, or upgrade them, so that they explain the tag better, more clearly, or more concisely. That offer was made sometime back, but whatever upgrade did (or didn't) get written obviously needs more effort or improvement.

Adding a warning to this tag strikes me as a case of picking at a scab. Using a warning makes it look to me that you are discriminating (perhaps unintentionally, and with the best of intentions) against this tag and its users. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Fix the tag wiki, and the tag descriptions. Let the informed user know what the tag is used for. The uninformed user won't care either way, and you can't fix that. Here's an example where two informed users can't seem to agree on how we use RAW tag here on the site, but neither user is the question asker.

I don't think this question is answerable--I did a quick search and did not find any monsters that are immune to all magic. Because your full immunity to all magic damage isn't in the rules, you have to decide how it works in your homebrew. – Icyfire 2 hours ago
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@Icyfire I thought it was answerable. Granted, the Kensei is a UA, but it does "magical damage" just as the Monk's martial arts damage does at level 6. – KorvinStarmast 20 mins ago
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@KorvinStarmast, it's not the "magical damage" part that's at issue. There's no RAW 100% immunity to magic damage, and no precedent for dealing with that in the books. Because that ability is homebrew, it's up to the homebrewer to decide how it works. Your answer gives some context to make that decision, but the direct answer is "this is not addressed in the books" IMO. – Icyfire 5 mins ago
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@Icyfire No RAW tag, so I disagree with your assertion of how rigid this question is. "I would like a RAW answer if possible" is not the same class as what you are stating in that comment. Please check out the various meta posts about the [rules-as-written] tag. – KorvinStarmast 2 mins ago

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most people don't read tag wikis, so changing it doesn't automatically do anything in particular. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 4:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you unpack why you think this warning is discriminating against the tag's users? Probably related, how are you defining the group of users against whom the warning is discriminating? Bear in mind for whatever it's worth, the site puts me on the list of "all time top RAW answers" and the list of "all time top RAW askers". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 19 '17 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok then. Unfortunately I can't do anything with that -- I don't see how adding a feature intended to guide correct tag usage is discrimination, and since you don't want to explain, I'm downvoting. All I can think of is that the tag won't get certain questions not appropriate for the tag's scope, but that's the point. If that is a problem, that would seem to imply the preference is that people use a tag incorrectly so that a tag can get more questions in it, which isn't a tenable position for site maitenance. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 19 '17 at 10:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ To use that analogy, a tag warning is more like a speed limit sign, and the question is whether we should put up such a sign in addition to having a speed limit law. Your answer in that analogy seems to me to just be saying that no signs are needed if we can just more clearly rewrite the law. But few people actually read law texts, and many read signs. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Ok, sure, will do. Feel free to ping me whenever you want to explain whatever's going on here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 19 '17 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Please don't mistake pragmatic understanding of how the site actually operates with excusing and condoning ignorance. I work hard to make the site as useful and functional as possible — but to do that, we mods work with what actually is and how our readers actually behave, not what we would wish to be true or by naïvely hoping human nature will change for our convenience. (Besides, I do expect people to violate Be Nice, as that's evidence-based; people do all the time. That's not the same as wanting them to. When they do, we modhammer them. Evidence-based policy.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I don't know where you're going with that metaphor, because I don't see how it meaningfully maps to this situation in a way that's consistent with the two times you've used it. Could you unpack that? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm still trying to understand you. Are you saying that you don't buy that people do not, in this reality, behave in a way that would make this proposal a functional course of action? That's the only criticism of this answer — that it rests on an assumption that isn't true. Are you not buying the assertion that the assumption is in error? If that's the case, it could be improved by directly refuting that with a citation that supports the idea that enough people read tag wikis for a rewrite to substantially affect the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ And to address that last bit: you've vowed that you intend to stay out of meta discussions about subjects that bother you. So when you do overcome that to participate in a discussion you find distasteful, it's significant and does naturally attract engagement. If engaging with your ideas (either/both to take them up and to critique their fitness-for-purpose) is not the goal of posting, what is? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast To be frank, the SE spec also mandates that we each individually determine our own sense of what is a waste of time and what is not. You're welcome to decide something is a waste of time and therefore not take any action, but trying to dictate to others what is a waste of their time has negligible meaning. For what it's worth to observe it, you'll know when I consider something a poor investment of time when I don't do anything. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great. I don't see a waste of time here, so I'll proceed. Could you unpack your rejection of the criticism that the proposed solution is ineffective because it proposes making a change that the relevant site users (it is asserted) generally don't see? I suppose agreeing to disagree on that point is an option, but I'm not getting that sense at this point, just insistence that the criticism is incorrect, bad, or somehow else indefensible. That's a concern, because I imagine it's an issue likely to come up again, being a significant point for how tags are managed. A stitch in time saves nine. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 19 '17 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 20 '17 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re the edit, we have a tool that reaches uninformed users at a higher rate than usual, called "tag warnings." They were designed with precisely the uninformed user use-case you mention in mind, and have a good track record across the network in accomplishing that goal. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '17 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie See the comment above yours. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 20 '17 at 2:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Meta is different. I remain curious why the tool designed to solve the problem you're identifying is something you're opposing. Obviously there's something missing here. (Also I'm not going to engage with a chat kicked off with yet another cryptic non-sequitur.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 20 '17 at 2:05

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