This meta exists to explain some issues with the RAI acronym. It has a couple of issues with its usage, and often get asked to clarify it. You've probably been pointed to this meta in relation to a request to clarify some usage of the acronym in a post. It attempts to summarise a couple of issues people will regularly have to cover in requesting such a clarification — this meta exists to save them the effort of re-explanation when it's difficult to explain in the size of a comment what's going on behind their request.

If they've pointed out which issue's going on, please refer to that section.

First issue: RAI can mean two completely different things.

It can stand for either of these:

  • Rules As Intended — an assertion about what the person who wrote the rules meant by them.
  • Rules As Interpreted — what you think they say.

It can also have other readings, and some readers may not be aware of the reading you intended to convey.

Rather than use the "RAI" acronym, it's often better to say “rules as intended” or “rules as interpreted” in full so that people know what you mean. If you do want to use the acronym, please make sure it's very clear in context, such as by only using the acronym as shorthand after you've already spelled out those words.

Bear in mind that while we're a site by experts, we're also trying to assist and guide beginner and intermediate audiences. They may be unsure what you mean based on their colloquial experiences.

Second issue: Making assumptions for Rules As Intended.

There's lots of precedent for errors in RPG writing. An author picks some ambiguous wording which reads differently to what they intended; mechanics get changed or dropped during production which changes how a feature functions; an editor “helpfully” makes a revision which breaks something; or an author has a deadline of ten spells to finish by sundown and are focused on quantity without time to spare on polish (as RPG designers sometimes describe in podcasts).

If we're honest, we usually really don't know what designers intended for the words we're reading.

Despite that, there's a common trend in RPG advice: an expert will make an educated guess about what the writer intended, conclude their guess is correct because it makes sense, and then provide advice asserting what they guessed is the case. That's done with the best of intentions, but really, there's no guarantee the guess is correct, so doing this can be misleading and problematic.

We prefer (and may require) that if you make an assertion about an author's intentions, you back it up with evidence of their intentions: a reference to the game text discussing the game's philosophy, a quote from the designer, etc. Doing so improves confidence in your answer and teaches people more about the game they're playing. If you can't produce such a citation, it's probably best to drop the part where you're asserting about their intentions, and focus instead on working with what you do know for sure. It's okay if you don't know for sure what they meant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't remember seeing RAI standing for "Rules As Interpreted", even if (because of the second problem you describe) it certainly could sometimes be. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Oct 20 '17 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme This acronym list even mentions only Rules As Interpreted, and not Rules As Intended. :) It's usually the first result on a google search for rai acronym, too. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 20 '17 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1000 if I could. This is one of my personal bugbears, and you very clearly lay out the issues with the acronym \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Oct 20 '17 at 14:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3690/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 21 '17 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6271/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 21 '17 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a low grade problem that's recurred over time as a cursory survey of Meta indicates. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 21 '17 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, rules as interpreted is used (intended?) vastly less often than rules as intended. It seems to exist solely as an attempt to redefine RAI to mean what people mean when they use it, which is nice except that it doesn’t have a whole lot of acceptance and most people still assume RAI is used to refer to intent. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 23 '17 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It's also my experience "interpreted" gets used considerably less often. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 23 '17 at 14:32

I agree.

While I personally have never heard "Rules As Interpreted" for RAI, and always knew it as "Intended" - ironically, people generally substitute their own opinion for "intended" anyway. Unless the question is asking for developer citations and is tagged , "RAI" is a signpost saying to me "look at this question and see if it needs to be closed as opinion-based."

If you really want to know intent ask a question that fits the tag. If you are just looking for a reasonable interpretation or you are just saying "how you read it" - say that, you don't need an ambigious abbreviation for it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you referring only to RAI as the basis of a question, or also as part of an answer? If the former, I understand this answer. My initial objection to this meta was (in part) the spray paint rather than brush paint approach to the use of the acronym generally. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 24 '17 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin The 'people substituting their own opinion for "intended"' thing mainly happens in answers. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 25 '17 at 15:50

One does not have to ask the author to analyze their intent

If that were the case, studying Shakespeare would be pointless (or more pointless if you are of a scientific rather than humanities bent :-))

There are some ways of thinking of this that may (or may not) bring clarity:

Literary Theory

If the rules are to be considered as a literary work then Rules as Intended is a function of how to deal with Authorial Intent.

These range from the New Criticism view which holds that the intent of the author is irrelevant "the text is the primary source of meaning, and any details of the author's desires or life are secondary". This is essentially what we mean by Rules as Written

To the Cambridge School contextualism which states that we need to consider the social environment in which the work was made - for role-playing games this would include the prior works that influenced it and the social norms of the community at the time it was written. This is possibly what we mean by Rules as Intended but it spreads the net wider than authorial intent.

Weak Internationalism which says that both the readers' response and author's intent must be combined - generously this could be what the OP refers to when saying "an expert will make an educated guess about what the writer intended".

And then there are the strange ways of looking at it - I would love to see a Marxist interpretation of D&D.

Legal Theory

Alternatively (or as well as), RPG rules could be thought of as akin to laws and the techniques that courts use to interpret them can be applied. The primary methods are:

  • the literal approach - our RAW.
  • the golden rule - reject RAW if it results in an absurdity or is inconsistent with the rest of the rules.
  • the mischief rule - what is the problem this rule is trying to fix? This is really only applicable to errata.
  • purposive approach - what are the rules trying to achieve? Interpret them so that is achieved.

In a legal context, these rules are applied in the context of looking beyond the statute to the "intent" of the legislators to the extent that this can be determined (e.g. from speeches made or press releases explaining the new law etc.).

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be discussing the concept of RAW/RAI₁/RAI₂ rather than discussing or responding to the proposal/instruction of the meta post. Am I missing something that's leading me to misunderstand this? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 23 '17 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I think the (implied) point is that it's reasonable to discuss the intended meaning of rules even without designer quotations via the techniques of literary analysis, which is something I agree with. I think this is a response to the potential pile-on effect of our agreeing with the idea that people are using 'RAI' badly that it becomes unfashionable to discuss RAI without establishing authorial intent solely via Word Of God rather than all the other cool well-established tools for doing that literarily. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 30 '17 at 6:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedark That's possible. If it's saying that, I think it would be improved by stating that thesis explicitly. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '17 at 6:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree that all of those ways of looking at things are helpful. However, "rules as intended" implies some sort of proof that you have the intent correct. Literature isn't rules, so it's a bit more flexible. And even the legal concept of intent tends to be debatable, with people taking two different side. There's no harm in looking at these things, but I think the phrase "rules as intended" should be reserved for when we are sure. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Nov 1 '17 at 21:32

For D&D 5E, the term is defined in Sage Advice Compendium. RAI means Rules As Intended by the game developers:

RAI Some of you are especially interested in knowing the intent behind a rule. That’s where RAI comes in: “rules as intended.” This approach is all about what the designers meant when they wrote something. In a perfect world, RAW and RAI align perfectly, but sometimes the words on the page don’t succeed at communicating the designers’ intent. Or perhaps the words succeed with one group of players but not with another.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We're not D&D 5e Stack Exchange though, and we're not expecting our D&D 5e readers to have familiarised themselves with this glossary entry. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 20 '17 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Should we then explain that HP means Health Points and XP means Experience Pointes, DEX means Dexterity? Really? \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Nov 20 '17 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, since those are described in the manuals they're using, and used consistently colloquially. We can however just spell out "interpretation" or "intention" given the community uses this acronym colloquially in more than one way and the definition you quote is in supplementary material beginners are unlikely to have come across. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 20 '17 at 21:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich If there are other common meanings relevant to a question or roleplaying in general, yes, those should be expanded. However, I'm unaware of any ambiguity regarding HP, XP, or Dex, and haven't observed any practical problems on the site caused by posts using those acronyms. This reflects our site's philosophy that 1) practical site problems are those that need addressing, and hypotheticals can be ignored until they become non-hypothetical, 2) an RPG's publisher solving a practical problem for their readers might not solve it for our readers, who are overlapping but separate. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 20 '17 at 22:34

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