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.