# Time to retire the [rules-as-written] tag?

We have recently seen some issues around site users being unclear on how to use the tag and some unpleasantness broke out on the topic. Sadly, this has been happening for more than six years on this site.

## History of the RAW Tag

Here's all the meta questions debating the RAW tag and its meaning, use, and validity, stretching back to 2012: . It makes for interesting reading, especially as many participants, including mods past present and future, change their minds about the tag over time. It also makes for discouraging reading, because in that time you will see a lot of extraordinarily bitter and vitriolic arguments on the subject that newer site members will probably find somewhat shocking. We do not tolerate that kind of discourse any more on the site, and moderate Not Nice activity more strictly on main and Meta nowadays, so you see less of that in recent years, but it still flares up. (If you weren't watching the last RAW question you may have missed the flareup, as it was all deleted, but believe me it was there.)

About this time in 2016 we resolved to "do RAW better" again, and I expressed the sentiment that we were just kicking the ball down the road and the confusion and hostility would continue to affect the site. Unfortunately I was correct.

That time, just as every time we've done this before, we hadn't solved anything. The tag is still confusing and hard to apply. We got rid of the [tag: rules] tag because most questions here about rules. We don't need a tag to say "tell me about the rules."

The tag is used by people to mean three disjoint things:

1. "I know this is crazy, don't tell me that; I want a legalistic loophole type exploit of the rules" (for example, What methods exist to get infinite or extremely high caster level?) or
2. "I kinda don't want anyone's opinion; I want what the rules say" (for example, RAW, can you use the Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master feats to make an improvised weapon attack with a longbow?, what we have Good Subjective, Bad Subjective for), or
3. "This is a question about the rules" (for example, Does Arcane Eye transmit information if the caster moves to a different plane?, which it's not necessary for).

Metas, tag wikis, and resolute gazes towards the horizon have not fixed this problem for nearly 7 years.

Every time the question comes up (posted by different people each time) you can see that it is the cause of an explosion of bad feeling on the site, you can clearly see the escalation of conflict in each set of posts as time goes on. That's the core problem that needs fixing. We haven't been solving the problem, we've been saying stuff that sounds good and kicking it down the road, allowing it to snowball to where now it is nuclear to even discuss. So the question is:

What should we do about the tag given its history here?

Diamond Mod Warning: Everyone is discussing this topic in good faith trying to do the right thing for the site. Any ad hominem attacks, any Not Nice behavior, any "this community sucks" or other unpleasantness will be immediately moderated to our site standards up to and including suspension. I wish I didn't have to add this warning, but anyone who reads any of those past posts will see why it needs to be added. If you have facts or points, bring them, baggage and animosity are not welcome.

Unless there's some major shift in consensus, this meta will be considered resolved on 5th April.

• If you could edit this post to make it more clear who "we" is (the Stack Exchange, RPG.SE users, elected moderators, yourself) in each instance, I think that would help avoid certain confusions that have plagued this discussion in the past. – BESW Mar 21 '19 at 10:32
• Worth mentioning that a lot of discussion about this is happening in our not a bar chatroom – Rubiksmoose Mar 21 '19 at 16:08
• [rules-as-written] and [rules-lawyering] are different things. [rules-as-written] generally describes a certain playstyle and way of looking at the rules, [rules-lawyering] describes a certain kind of problem player. – DuckTapeAl Mar 24 '19 at 6:18
• [rules-lawyering] actually existed in the past and was discussed and later destroyed. The community confirmed it's completely different to rules as written and that it's instead a subset of [social] or [problem-player/gm], and is a tag to avoid because it was and will be confused for [rules-as-written] despite being a completely different issue. – doppelgreener Mar 24 '19 at 20:52
• I like 'RAW legalistic loophole' questions. Any suggestions on how I'd find them post delete? – RyanfaeScotland Mar 26 '19 at 18:51
• @doppelgreener, then that is pretty lame. I hope the problems being caused by the tag are huge and that this purge rectifies them because from the history I've just read it really seems like an inability to work together is going to result in information on the site being that little bit harder to find. Deleting the tag, rather than fixing attitudes, feels like a step in the wrong direction and really smacks of 'This is why we can't have nice things'. – RyanfaeScotland Mar 27 '19 at 22:24
• Feel free and answer below with an alternate constructive suggestion for community vote. Sadly, “not liking it” is not actionable - we don’t like it either but it’s the only feasible option we see remaining to us. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 27 '19 at 22:58
• We have a lot of folks "just saying," doesn't help anything. We need concrete suggestions posed as answers below. We're going to let this ride another week to try to get good suggestions but if we don't we'll need to pull the trigger; this has drug out for years to no good effect. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 29 '19 at 15:59
• @IlmariKaronen New tags get created from time to time, how they get back-tagged isn't worth stressing over--they get tagged as well as we can manage. But yeah, we've looked, and whatever babies are in that bathwater, they aren't being served by this tag. And to extend the metaphor a bit horrifyingly: the bathwater's too murky. We haven't found them yet. It's time to tip it out and see what we can find. – doppelgreener Mar 29 '19 at 18:18
• Y'all - we're up to our Nth "just a thought." If no one cares enough to put together an answer below that gets majority traction by end of week, then we're burninating. Comment-thoughts aren't a complete, tangible, votable proposal. Feel free to make them, but they aren't accomplishing anything. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 30 '19 at 17:05
• @mxyzplk I am concerned, to a degree, about appearances. That is, I think it ill-advised to end discussion on the question while one of the tag's most vocal proponents can't participate. (To be clear, I'm absolutely not casting any aspersions here or anything.) – Hey I Can Chan Apr 1 '19 at 21:02
• I would hope the thousands of site users can come to a conclusion without any one user. Especially when that user can’t participate specifically because of misbehavior on this exact topic. We are not holding the topic. Answer if you have an answer. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 1 '19 at 22:56
• @mxyzplk RE: "We means us, the RPG.SE community." To be clear, does that extend to the We are not holding the topic idea? Also to be clear, this question was posed after that user's behavior on a different question, and this topic will resolve before that user is reinstated. If not to be nice then for appearances alone, were a topic's chief (and vocal) proponent unable to participate in a discussion about banning that topic—for whatever reason—, I'd like to think the site patient enough to extend its deadline to accommodate that user's possible participation. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 2 '19 at 11:33
• @doppelgreener My apologies for using banned instead of retired — that's wholly on me. Korvin, thank you for the chat link; that was informative, I appreciate the shout-out, and I'm glad I wasn't alone in thinking this question's timing difficult. That said, I will voice my opinion here: I think 3 weeks' discussion on this topic is insufficient, and I urge the moderators to reconsider that deadline. Absent that, I urge that the question acknowledge a deadline exists and, ideally, explain why there is one. Lack of clarity caused the the games-rec debacle; I rather not see a repeat. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 2 '19 at 14:04
• That's correct. The mod team has discussed and there is clear consensus on this meta and there is no significant new discussion on it. Like any meta, that's the time to finalize and act. All the "wait" discussion has no end other than awaiting a suspended user to return and we reject that as a goal. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 8 '19 at 20:23

## We Need To Bring This To A Conclusion

I did not have a specific solution to propose during the last RAW debate and I said "sure, let's give it another try." But this has failed. The tag is still confusing and we have no super clear theory on how to use it correctly, so it causes edit wars, and has become a lightning rod for hostility and bad feelings when it comes up all the way to present day because of baggage around the years of waffling on its use.

We should delete and blacklist the tag now.

Its value is questionable and the harm it has done to this site and community is huge, possibly the largest of any site schism over the entire life of RPG.SE. It's not worth it.

The RAW playstyle is welcome here, just like other playstyles - very few of which we have tags for, I will note. The discussion about tags and how to apply tags is completely separate from playstyle accommodation or "badwrongfun" and shouldn't be viewed as an attack on it. (We burninated the [gm] tag too, and not because of a player-led pogrom against gamemasters everywhere. It's an ambiguous, bad, overapplied tag.)

People are welcome to play in a RAW-centric way, ask questions where they want the RAW examined, and so on. But it's not appropriate as a tag, for various "what makes a tag on any SE site" reasons (it's a meta tag, it tries to describe the answers not the problem, it's confusing, and so on).

People should ask questions and note whatever restrictions they want. "RAW only." "Official WotC products only." "Third party is OK, or stuff from 3.0/3.5e/Pathfinder, I'll mix them." "Houserules are OK but remember they have to be tested to be good answers on this site." "I don't trust the 3.5e FAQ." "I don't trust Jeremy Crawford's tweets whether they're in Sage Advice or not." Whatever your deal is, that's fine, use your words and put it in your question. We don't have tags for those combinations and that's fine.

## Other Solutions

This is the 26th meta post on the topic.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” - Maybe Albert Einstein, Maybe Apocryphal, True Either Way

We have tried everything anyone could think of to keep this tag, several times. We keep repeating the same cycle, saying 'well if the community... we'll do low intervention... tags should describe questions not answers... In these previous questions about we've gone through several rounds over the years of declaring "tags should describe questions not answers" and "don't use it as a meta tag" and "tags shouldn't have special rules", all of which I agree with per se. I wish they worked. In other cases they've worked. But we've said them all before and tried them all before on this topic. They haven't worked.

This tag brings harm to our community. Unless someone has a truly new idea we all think might work, not "let's try those things we tried before, but really hard this time and I'm a new user so I think for sure it should work because it's a bright new day", the tag should go. We'll all rest easier for it.

I'm not going to hash over all the ins and outs of every debate we've had, and why is RAW a playstyle, and what makes a meta tag - you can read all that in the linked questions if you want. Bottom line is we've tried for more than 6 years to make it not confusing and failed, and make it not cause site fights resulting in damaged relationships and grudges and suspensions, and failed. It's time to stop trying and remove it.

• It's already functionally banned, and I think everyone's accepted that, so making it official is logical, and hopefully won't ruffle too many feathers. – Miniman Mar 21 '19 at 1:38
• I think the lack of tags for other similar playstyles is a very good point. We don't have a Rules as Fun tag or Rules as Intended and we don't need them. – Rubiksmoose Mar 21 '19 at 1:52
• I wanted to disagree with this. Trying to think of a way we could capture the intent of the tag but find nothing that doesn't violate "tags describe questions not answers". The only options I can think of is to burninate. Though "absurd-RAW" is the best tag name I can think of, it is so niche and no one will think to use it. – linksassin Mar 21 '19 at 2:39
• yeah we had a meta where we talked about renaming too, but then if no one can find it and it's a purely "inside baseball" tag - ech. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 21 '19 at 3:54
• @Miniman It's an awfully popular tag for something that's been functionally banned: 9th most popular on the site, 8 question in the last month, 138 in the last year. – Novak Mar 22 '19 at 7:58
• @Novak From a cursory browse, many of the recent questions in the tag are just ordinary rules questions that should not have the tag. – doppelgreener Mar 22 '19 at 12:19
• Exactly. New users search for “rules,” only find that one, hit enter, call it done. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 22 '19 at 12:56

I agree with retiring the [rules-as-written] tag. Rules as written questions and answers on the site are fine and we as a community affirm they will always be welcome, but the tag sucks at its own job and it's always been an unclear meta-tag.

# On why it sucks at covering its own topic

There's a broad range of questions people have about rules. There's also a broad range of questions that fit under rules as written (the term, not the tag). Since many rules questions can just be handled using the rules as written, they wind up overlapping a lot, like this:

Back at the start many (not all) questions about RAW would be tagged [rules-as-written]. We didn't agree on what that meant so we were always having arguments about it. To make matters worse a lot of people saw ordinary rules questions getting tagged [rules-as-written] — they saw the overlapping area — and decided that was the tag to use for any rules question. Or they just picked it because it said “rules” in it. (We don't have a tag for [rules] since it's 90% of what our site covers and unnecessary; the same way Stack Overflow doesn't have a [software] or [programming] tag.) Either way we'd wind up removing the tag from over half the posts that originally had it.

This version of the tag wasn't working. Over time the community decided that wasn't OK having so much disagreement and seeing it removed so often. We were also sure that if it kept being used for rules questions in general, it would have to be blacklisted just like [rules] was.

We decided the [rules-as-written] tag had to apply to only the questions that were rules as written but were not ordinary rules questions.

This version of the tag also doesn't work that well. This makes the tag not cover its own actual topic. We get into arguments over whether a question is super-literal enough to fit in this sliver. This interpretation of the RAW tag sucks, but the old version wasn't working at all. So it just winds up being a crap tag we argue over, and nobody's happy with the tag.

(Much later, we also at least settled on back to tagging basics which was super helpful for our processes. It resolved some of our problems and also, I think, put others into clearer relief.)

Besides: since lots of ordinary rules questions technically fit into the umbrella of rules as written by virtue of just being answerable with the rules themselves, but were never tagged [rules-as-written] because we tag for question content and not for answers, the tag was never useful for finding all rules as written questions and answers. It just found some of them.

# On why it's a bad tag

The Death of Meta Tags tells us that meta-tags are tags which describe something other than the content of the question. There are two additional primary indicators:

How can you tell you’re using a meta-tag? It’s easier than you might think.

1. If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag. Every tag you use should be able to work, more or less, as the only tag on a question. Meta-tags, like [beginner], [subjective], and [best-practices], are useless by themselves — they tell you nothing at all about the content of the question.

2. If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag. In a cruel, ironic twist, the meaning of the tag [subjective] itself … is actually subjective. Ditto for [best-practices] and [beginner]. Best practices to whom? Beginner by what criteria? These tags are impossible to define by anything remotely resembling an objective metric. In comparison, the the meaning of tags like [java], [c#], and [javascript] are crystal clear to all but the nuttiest of nutbags.

Let's test those measures:

• The RAW tag doesn't really describe the content of the question. Really it's a tag describing the type of answer a question wants, which is a meta-tag behaviour.

We wanted to find a way to make the tag work so we went in a roundabout way saying “well, if the question requests rules-as-written answers, we're describing the content of the question, right?” But let's face it: we're describing the question wanting a type of answer.

To the extent [rules-as-written] describes the actual content of the question (“I'm asking about the rules”) that's just [rules]. Constraints on what answers are allowed to do has always defined the [rules-as-written] tag.

If we had an [answers-must-be-yellow] tag that'd be a meta-tag, and that would be no less true if we said “well we're just describing the question text itself saying that answers must be yellow”.

• It can work as the only tag on a question beside a system tag, which makes it pass the only-tag test for RPG.SE: Is the Only-Tag Test for meta-tag-ness broken here?

• It definitely means different things to different people. You probably saw that coming. Every time we've discussed how to use the tag, or even what RAW means, we've had many responses, all of them slightly different.

That's because when it comes to the topic or the tag, RAW isn't well-defined like this:

It's more like this, where many peoples' approximations of the topic or the tag mostly match most other peoples' approximations but there's still a lot of differences:

A tag or topic doesn't have to be 100% well defined, and some fuzziness is fine, but the magnitude of differences in our interpretations of RAW are far beyond what we see for any other tag on the site. (And that's even taking system-agnostic into account!)

Those differences between individual interpretations are what we wind up in conflict over, and why I think most of us are just sorta confused when it comes to how and when the tag applies.

Meta tag testing doesn't require all three tests to pass; any one test is enough to indicate that it's probably a meta-tag. This is a meta-tag.

# Rules as Written is still fully welcome, it just doesn't need the [rules-as-written] tag.

The tag sucks at covering its topic and is a bad type of tag. It's not useful to RAW people for searching and the tag's usage has only become more and more distant from its original topic over time as we sought to differentiate it from [rules].

That doesn't mean the topic will go anywhere. Rules as written as a topic and playstyle are welcome at RPG.SE, but like many other playstyles and topic, it doesn't need a tag to be welcome.

Instead, people can/should just describe their constraints as they currently do. Those constraints might be “no Unearthed Arcana”, “not interested in personal interpretations”, “just core books, no adventure material please”, or many other things or a combination thereof. We'll respect those constraints like we always do, and we don't need to find some unified definition of “rules as written” to do that.

P.S. I've said elsewhere and should say here too: I'm very interested in the opportunity of exploring the tag space in RAW's absence for a while. In its absence we can explore what actual tagging needs we might have for questions in the general vicinity of RAW, and find new tags we want or need that we can agree on. If we badly needed a rules-as-written tag specifically then its absence will inform us of that, and we can see what we can do in its stead. If that means one day going back to a useful rules-as-written tag that we can actually agree on without arguing all the time, that could be good, but spending time without this tag will help us figure that out.

• Largely agree, but disagree with the last paragraph above the <hr>. I don't think that querents should be describing constraints on answers. I think they should be describing their problem/situation clearly enough that answerers--and voters!--can judge what sorts of answers are useful or not. In my experience each of those hypothetical-quoted constraints you use as examples are just shortcuts for a querent not describing their actual problem well. "No Sage Advice" turns out to be "I don't have stable internet connection" in some cases and "I'm running some league where that's disallowed... – nitsua60 Mar 21 '19 at 16:13
• " in others and "I'm a bear of Very Little Brain and need to keep the ruleset small" in another and "I dated Jeremy in high school and whenever someone mentions him I get nauseaus." Very different problems. – nitsua60 Mar 21 '19 at 16:16
• Yeah, that's fair enough. Do you think there's better examples I could give? I think I chose pretty weak ones to be honest. – doppelgreener Mar 21 '19 at 16:17
• No? But that's probably because I'm coming from the stance of "you should describe your problem, not the answer you want." I would be very interested if someone smarter and/or more experienced than me came along and gave a good example that helped me re-think it, though =) – nitsua60 Mar 21 '19 at 16:19
• I like the illustrations! – V2Blast Mar 21 '19 at 16:27
• I really like this answer overall. – T. Sar Mar 29 '19 at 12:03
• @nitsua60 It makes me wonder if shouldn't create a new tag - "eldritch-rule-interactions" - to focus on the very strange, bizarre rule interactions, like my own questions about how to cook a dragon or how to swim naked on a volcano. – T. Sar Mar 29 '19 at 12:16
• @T.Sar Surprisingly that sounds like it might actually be viable as a tag! – doppelgreener Mar 29 '19 at 12:25
• @doppelgreener This whole debacle made me think a lot about this. While we may not save rules-as-written as a tag, nothing blocks us from tagging such strange side-effects of the rules when taken literally as something on itself. That said, I would be very happy to have "eldritch-rule-interactions" as a tag XD – T. Sar Mar 29 '19 at 16:25
• I think the best example of "restrictions askers put on answers" is probably "no UA" (for 5e); I think it's fairly common and understandable that certain GM's exclude that material from their games, and thus answers about UA options will be unhelpful to the querent. – SirTechSpec Apr 1 '19 at 20:38
• @SirTechSpec Updated, thanks for the suggestion. – doppelgreener Apr 2 '19 at 14:57
• @SirTechSpec I think that's a good example, and I think such questions would be better if they included the phrase "my GM doesn't allow UA" rather than "no UA in answers" without explaining why. – nitsua60 Apr 5 '19 at 23:10

# Don't rush to judgment

Because of its importance, I think discussion on this topic should continue beyond the current April 5 deadline to at least April 26. So far as I'm aware—and the moderators can correct me if I'm wrong—, the April 5 deadline hasn't been, for example, imposed by an outside force but was, instead, decided on by the site's moderators. I'd like them to reconsider it.

As the question states, this issue has plagued the site for years—very nearly since its inception—, yet this question was posed March 21, 2019, and due to be resolved April 5, 2019. Settling an issue in under a month that has never been adequately settled I suspect will lead to animosity and mistrust, especially from users who don't or can't visit the site or participate in site business during this question's comparatively small window.

## The optics on this question are really bad

This tag's most ardent and vocal proponent—who has, prior to this one, participated in every Meta discussion about this tag over the years—was suspended because of comments made on a different question yet about this very topic. That user's suspension occurred before this question was posed and that user's suspension ends after this question is due to be resolved.

Now, let me be clear: I trust the moderators. I don't think they've a hidden agenda. I don't think they're out to get anyone. Nonetheless, were I to feel so strongly about a long-standing issue to say something offensive with regard to the issue and a moderator so that I got suspended then watched as the moderators resolved that long-standing issue while I was suspended, my feelings—of trust, of the moderators' lack of a hidden agenda, of them not being out to get anyone—might change.

In comments on this question I was told that suspended users shouldn't be considered when site business needs to be taken care of and that the users present now should be able to settle any issues without, for example, waiting for any user's suspension to end. I accept that. I'd like to think that a lone user's voice on topic that the user is passionate about is important—suspended or not, the user possessing 100,000-plus reputation or but 1 reputation—, but—honestly!—I can accept that it's not.

What I am struggling with, though, is the appearance that this question's comparatively rapid posing and resolving gives to other users who feel strongly about a site issue—and the impression it gives to those users who think that, one day, they might feel strongly about an issue on RPG Stack Exchange. Those users may get the impression from this question's quick resolution that if they feel strongly about an issue a moderator will suspend them then use their suspension period to resolve the issue without their voice.

To avoid accidentally giving that impression, I urged greater transparency for this question, and I got a little. The original question provided no deadline; it's there now—added less than a week before the deadline—because I asked for it. In comments I asked that the question include a justification for that deadline; a moderator offered a justification, but the question—so far—doesn't include it. I recommended that the question's title include the deadline in hopes that the deadline's presence in the title combined with the question's Featured on Meta status would draw more attention to the question; that didn't happen.

This is—as can be seen by the discussion here and the overwhelming amount of previous discussion—a fairly significant site issue, and I don't think this question has been adequately presented to avoid giving the wrong impression. Even were this question modified now—the day of the proposed deadline—, I think that the question would be insufficiently transparent: Not enough folks would be aware of the changes to the question on the day of its deadline for resolution.

In short, I don't think the moderators are wrong to pose this question. I also don't think the moderators are wrong to want to resolve this question. However, I do think the moderators picked a particularly inauspicious time to pose it and an even more inauspicious deadline for its resolution. I urge the moderators to extend the April 5 deadline so that users now don't feel their voices have gone unheard and that users later won't think their voices will go unheard.

• @Bloodcinder The user's suspension ends around Apr. 18, but a Fri. is a better deadline day generally, and a week should be enough time—if the user even wants to—to compose a firm but thoughtful, well-reasoned, polite reply. Further, were the changes I recommend made to the question now, they'd be in place for 3 weeks, which is about equal to the original question's posing-and-closing window. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 5 '19 at 15:21
• @Rubiksmoose Certainly. I mean, yes, this issue has been burbling beneath the surface for a while, and, to be fair, it did crop up again so that it once more came to the fore. However, to pose-and-close a longstanding issue that the user is passionate about during that user's suspension for actions unrelated to this question and for actions that occurred before this question was posed? That wasn't the user's choice, and that looks bad, and that bad impression—which I am absolutely not saying is an accurate impression—can be improved by extending the deadline. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 5 '19 at 16:29
• @mxyzplk I have raised this issue as an answer; I'd rather that it wasn't dismissed meaningless or as a lack of discussion. And, as this answer states, I understand that suspension = no participation, but I think I made it equally clear that considering this question's timing in this case that stance—no matter how objectively correct—still looks bad, and I dread the idea that other users may hereafter with this as an example self-censor out of fear of imagined retribution. That, I think, would be a worse outcome than anything that could be lost by extending this question's deadline. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 5 '19 at 19:20
• I've avoided talking about this meta (here or privately) for my own reasons. A side effect is a voice (perceived to be) on one side of the issue by KRyan—let's avoid kid gloves over a name—isn't participating either while KRyan can't. I don't suggest that's equal trade, just a side effect. But on the site procedure question raised I must speak up: the idea that any community issue should wait on or defer at all to one user is itself a huge problem. No single user—me or KRyan—is special. It would sacrifice the foundations of the site to treat one user's voice as indispensable on any issue. – SevenSidedDie Apr 5 '19 at 20:32
• @SevenSidedDie …And I totally agree it's important the site maintain objectivity and not seem to favor one user over another, but the opposite is also true: The site shouldn't seem to be deliberately more unfavorable to one user over another. That is, KRyan's punishment is not only suspension but also, in KRyan's absence, a change that moderators know KRyan's resisted vocally for years. It's exactly because of this double view that I composed this answer: It's a compromise—so, of course, no one's happy —, but it's one that I believe would improve the future well-being of the site. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 5 '19 at 22:05
• I do think it's worth pointing out that KRyan--or any user--will be completely welcome to propose creation/application of some tag that helps categorize/organize/advertise/&c. questions in this neighborhood and make their argument for why this one will be better-defined and -applied than the current raw tag has been. I totally see what you're saying about the optics not necessarily communicating that ^^ message, but I wanted to put it out there in writing. – nitsua60 Apr 6 '19 at 13:24
• So, here's the other thing: you're suggesting one user can ever lay such claim over a tag that they deserve to have entire meta processes delayed solely on their account. But this isn't down to one person, and no one person has any claim over any tag or part of the site like this. You're suggesting it means we can ban someone to silence them as we discuss their topic — but no topic is ever any one person's claim, so we can't do that. These are some troubling ideas around what is fundamentally community property and up to the community's judgement. Are they healthy to work with? – doppelgreener Apr 7 '19 at 13:21
• The unstated thing here is "but KRyan needs to be able to say why to keep the tag" but if nobody at all bar one person can or will provide a compelling reason to keep it after seven years, why do we have it? Surely for other tags multiple people can provide compelling reasons to hold onto them. Surely if there have been solid cases made in the past, if anyone agrees with them and has a sincere interest in the tag being made, those people are open to make those cases. Surely everyone who wants to keep it or disagrees with reasons to remove it can and has voted accordingly. – doppelgreener Apr 7 '19 at 13:23
• @doppelgreener I'd like to think I'm actually arguing something different and more narrow than that. I'm not arguing that Users can own tags and, when they do, their voices in discussions about those tags must be heard. Instead, I'm arguing that This question's timing and deadline may give other users the impression that the moderators believe that, with regard to this tag, one specific user's voice does not deserve to be heard. Such an impression is, I think, even more troubling! I'm happy to field suggestions on how to rephrase this answer to make that idea more apparent. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 7 '19 at 13:43
• @doppelgreener Like I said, I accept that suspension = nonparticipation. However, as this has been an unresolved issue for, like, 7 years, the idea that the community must act now — immediately — to resolve it in 2½ weeks may seem unusual. Further, also posing-and-closing the issue while the issue's most vocal proponent is suspended may lead some to question that need for haste. And those two things in conjunction may give the impression that the moderators are deliberately silencing an opinion they don't like. And giving this impression is what this answer's proposal seeks to avoid. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 7 '19 at 14:31
• It's not unusual — this is the normal thing for metas. Community input is solicited. We wait until it looks settled. The for/against has been settled for two weeks. Why does this need a month? Why is this suddenly being called hasty or rushing to follow our normal process? We've been waiting after new submissions to see if it's changed consensus, and arguments to keep it have been consistently refused. What we've been doing is refusing to establish a precedent that we'll wait specifically until someone's unsuspended, since that and the timeline all got brought up in the same breath. – doppelgreener Apr 7 '19 at 14:38
• @doppelgreener And that's a totally valid argument! Seriously, I really do understand that position! Nevertheless, can we agree that this is, possibly, the site's longest-running and most contentious issue? And, therefore, that this issue may be abnormal? I mean, if we can't, that's cool, but if we can, I do think that this issue deserves more attention and careful handing and time than the normal community process affords. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 7 '19 at 14:47
• I agree this is a rather exceptional site issue. – doppelgreener Apr 7 '19 at 14:48
• @doppelgreener Dude, you can just say No. :-) Seriously, I respect your observations on the problems that my request raises. However, I think what might be being overlooked is that this crisis (for lack of a better word) gives the impression of being one of the moderators' own making. I am not trying to join or start a personality cult but trying to end any possible perception that there is an antipersonality cult among the site's moderators. A moderator posing-and-closing a longstanding issue on which a suspended user has been previously vocal may create just such a perception. … – Hey I Can Chan Apr 7 '19 at 21:52
• @doppelgreener …Also, to be clear, I'd like to think I'd be advocating for a similar solution were anyone in a similar position, and, if someone has been and I didn't, it's because I wasn't paying close enough attention and to them I apologize. Further, I wouldn't've made the arguments you listed above as those here aren't my concern: That folks could potentially feel unsafe expressing their opinions because of the way this question is handled is. That concerns me deeply, and that's what made me speak up. – Hey I Can Chan Apr 7 '19 at 22:02

## A modest proposal: link this Answer to the FAQ or [help]

One of the best treatments of what that RPG-centric topic covers that I've read, in terms of how to understand that term and apply it. I am of the opinion that the term holds different connotations for different people, and that the latest question that re-raised this issue wasn't even about that tag in the first place.

That term is a part of our hobby; a thorough treatment of that aspect of the hobby ought to be a part of the library of expert answers that this stack curates. There is a core value in the SE/SO basic model that seeks a "searchable library of expert questions with expert answers." IMO we need to capture something expert for that part of the hobby, whether our hunger for perfect taggery results in the tag remaining or being eaten and disposed of through our digestive processes in this meta.

I am not convinced that the tag itself is the problem; as you've (mxy) been with this site since its beginning, your grasp of the community conflict well eclipses mine, as does doppel's experience in the conflict that this tag food fight has created over the course of this site's existence. Whether we are throwing out the baby with the bath water won't become evident until after such a decision is reached.

Sorry Jack, that's the best I can do at the moment.

• What effect or benefit do you expect your proposal to create for the site? We've seen that folx don't even read a tag's own wiki before using it, i'm not sure how linking a lengthy essay in a different part of the site will change tag use. – BESW Mar 21 '19 at 13:27
• @BESW This is a meta, not a main site Q&A. I am trying to capture a point about this phrase being an RPG thing - it is - whether we choose to retain or burn the tag. I am not proposing this as an explicit answer to tag use, so this might be a slight challenge to the frame of the question. I chose to post this answer since it is on topic: the topic is our community more than it is the tag. (As I see it, and per mxy's point on community harm) I hope you have an answer since you've been with this site a lot longer than I have, and you are well grounded in the people side of things – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '19 at 13:32
• I think if a debate organic to questions arises as to “well what do people mean when they say raw” linking to that would be spiffy. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 21 '19 at 14:16
• "A Modest Proposal" was an 18th century satirical tract that purported to propose eating Irish babies. When you use the term in your title, educated readers will expect a satirical, and likely black humour, answer to follow. – Jack Aidley Mar 26 '19 at 12:14
• @JackAidley I am aware of Swift's essay. I'll see what I can do to fulfill expectations. – KorvinStarmast Mar 26 '19 at 13:48

The rules-as-written tag is used by people to mean three disjoint things:

• "I know this is crazy, don't tell me that; I want a legalistic loophole type exploit of the rules" (for example, What methods exist to get infinite or extremely high caster level?) or
• "I kinda don't want anyone's opinion; I want what the rules say" (for example, RAW, can you use the Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master feats to make an improvised weapon attack with a longbow?, what we have Good Subjective, Bad Subjective for), or
• "This is a question about the rules" (for example, Does Arcane Eye transmit information if the caster moves to a different plane?, which it's not necessary for).

At Stack Overflow where I'm the most active at, this is grounds for deleting the tag because it's ambiguous and disambiguating it i.e. replacing it with more specific tags in questions if any are needed.

• The 1st item falls under something like (judging by the comments, a separate discussion is in order on what kinds of rule-lawyering questions are on topic and what the exact tag name(s) should be).
• The 2nd item could use something like . But I doubt that such a question formulation is on topic because in pen-and-pencil RPGs, a constructive interpretation is an integral part of the rules. Because, you know, words' meanings are intrinsically imprecise and unlike e.g. CRPGs, there is no hard-and-fast reference implementation to check unclear cases against. In this case, it's the same as the next item.
• The 3rd item, as the OP said, does not warrant any tag at all because it's the primary topic of the entire site. It's implied by default from the sheer fact that the question has been asked on this site.
• While I think something like rule-abuse perhaps has a fine enough point on it to not be overused, I do think it'll offend people who like the crazy-RAW stuff and would rightly point it out as denigrating their playstyle. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 6 '19 at 3:32
• @mxyzplk That's just a suggestion. IMO it warrants a separate discussions what kind of abuse/powergaming questions are on topic on the site. E.g. if a tactic to gain an advantage requires a conscious deceit about the meaning of the rules, its success depends on whether fellow players will buy the lie, so it probably can't be on topic. – ivan_pozdeev Apr 6 '19 at 10:48
• @mxyzplk ... and spawn one or more tags as a result of that discussion. – ivan_pozdeev Apr 6 '19 at 11:07
• I envisioned the rule-abuse's description as something like: "The fine art of inventively interpreting and combining rules to gain an advantage in the game." – ivan_pozdeev Apr 6 '19 at 11:16
• That's not what the first category is about. Nobody's trying to inventively interpret and exploit rules, in fact quite the opposite. They want the rules navigated without interpretation to find what the rules alone lead to, whatever result that might lead to and whatever rabbit hole that might lead down. – doppelgreener Apr 6 '19 at 11:37
• If you want a connotation-neutral alternative to rules-abuse, I think rules-loopholes or rules-exploits are both less denigrating. (They still sound like "inside baseball," and I don't actually support creating any such tag, but the phrasing seemed more palatable for this answer.) – Bloodcinder Apr 7 '19 at 20:03
• Your core point has been raised ever since the first time this topic arose. If you'll take a look at the history, that's where it originally started. (the 26 posts that @mxyzplk refers to, and that is linked with the tag in his question's opener). The first one that began the 'should it stay or should it go' seems to be this one. Vintage 2013. this is an FYI ... – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 '19 at 1:39
• @KorvinStarmast well, it's still true. If one time was not enough for the comminity to get it... I hope my comment that this is standard and successful practice at SO will help move things along. The success also depends on you upvoting good suggestions btw. – ivan_pozdeev Apr 8 '19 at 14:12
• @ivan_pozdeev There is no need to try and teach one's grandmother how to suck eggs. Thanks for dropping in, I offered that comment so that you will understand that this particular topic has a history *in this community. We know how the SE model works, thanks. As nvoigt used to point out, this isn't one of the professional stacks so the norms can vary in terms of what the community tries to make fit. (You are invited to see the game recommendations tag) See also wide variance in SE communities on how undisciplined (many stacks) or disciplined (this stack) in use and abuse of comments. – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 '19 at 14:13
• (I note that you tend to participate in the more professional stacks). Also, I am not sure what you intend by this The success also depends on you upvoting good suggestions btw with an emphasis on you. I am not voting on your answer at all, since it is redundant in my view. – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 '19 at 14:19

# Yes. Retire the tag.

Tags have two jobs:

1. Provide at a glance categorical information about a question
2. Provide a handle for use with filters.

The Rules-as-Written tag seems to fail on the first count as it's meaning is interpreted differently by different users, so it's not a clean cut category. It's unlikely that it's a useful category to filter on for the same reason.

• There are some site users who do not agree with your dismissal of point 2. That was well discussed in the previous two or three iterations of this topic. Not sure if you were around for those discussions, or not. – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '19 at 14:00

# The tag isn't useful and should be deleted.

The tag isn't useful because you can't be an expert in the broad concept of rules as written, so it provides no categorization benefits (sorting, filtering, searching, or so on).

From the help page on tagging...

Tags are a means of connecting experts with questions they will be able to answer by sorting questions into specific, well-defined categories.

It's easy to see that you can be an expert or not in or or the like through knowledge and practice of that particular game's rules. For example, I know I can help with most problems, but even though I'm very familiar with I know I'm too rusty to help in a meaningful way. This helps me (or any other stacker) identify which questions to help with.

You can also be an expert or not in a particular concept such as , , or in connection with a particular game. For example, I know to avoid any questions about wish because it bores me (enough that I ignore and hide the tag), I know to avoid most question about grappling unless there aren't any good answers, and I know I should be able to answer a question about a rogue's features fairly quickly. These tags help identify which questions I (or any other stacker) should help with.

But you can't actually be an expert in . In contrast to , for example, where you need exceptional experience about a particular subset of the game that others who are general experts with the game might not have, does not describe a subset of the game. To be an expert in the rules as they are written is to be an expert in the rules themselves, which is already encompassed by or the like. There doesn't appear to be any reason to seek out or avoid the tag when assessing where to help, because the tag doesn't actually indicate any particular expertise you need to have to help.

To put it another way, there's no particular talent required of an expert to answer a question about rules as written that isn't already required for any other question for the same game. Being an expert in the rules as written would be functionally equivalent to knowing the game rules and also knowing how to parse English (or whatever language the rules are written in), which is not a helpful distinction.

In addition, since the only way to be an expert in the rules as written (or rules as fun, or rules as intended, or rules as cool, or the like) is to be an expert in the rules and rule interactions of the game in general, all of these examples would be functionally equivalent to just being an expert in the rules period, and there's plenty of consensus that is unhelpful, which is why it doesn't exist anymore.

So does not serve the purpose of attracting experts or helping to group a meaningful category of problems requiring a particular kind of expertise. Thus it should be deleted.

• While I agree that the tag isn't useful, I disagree with your claim that you can't be an expert in RAW as a separate thing from the rules in general. The RAW approach is a technique that is applied to rules text, and an approach to handling rules ambiguities as they occur. This technique is something in which a person can have skill, just like the ability to read a rule and come up with a reasonable ad-hoc ruling takes skill. – DuckTapeAl Mar 26 '19 at 19:45
• But we don't have tags for any other play-styles or manners of rule reading. I think it would be awkward to consider somebody an expert in "rules as fun" or "rules as interpreted," and to me there's not much of an expertise/talent distinction. – Bloodcinder Mar 26 '19 at 21:31
• You're right that we generally don't have tags for ways of reading the rules. I agree that this is an exception, and not a common principle. Still, when reading actual answers to RAW questions, you can tell that some people are better than others at this type of analysis. It's weird as a concept for sure, but the evidence shows that it's possible to be an expert at RAW analysis. – DuckTapeAl Mar 26 '19 at 21:39
• I'll have to respectfully disagree, although I appreciate your perspective. To me, being an expert in RAW analysis just means being skilled at language and logic, which are actually talents I'd expect anybody posting an answer on an RPG question to have, RAW or not. – Bloodcinder Mar 26 '19 at 21:41
• While some people may be "better at RAW analysis" that's pretty close to a tag that says "only smart people answer this." I don't know you can be better at RAW specifically, but you can be a better lawyer-type generally. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 29 '19 at 16:02
• @mxyzplk Exactly. It doesn't seem to be categorizing for RPG experts. It seems to be categorizing for pedantry. – Bloodcinder Mar 29 '19 at 20:51

What would Marie Kondo say about [RAW]?

If it sparks healthy, fun, interesting discussion, great!

If it sparks a flame war, cut it out.

My 2c.

• Firstly, thank you for taking time to give your thoughts. Second, As much as it might be fun to apply Kondo's philosophy here, tags have a specific purpose and role in the mechanisms of this site and guidelines for cleaning house simply aren't applicable to it. Third, tags really aren't supposed to spark any kind of discussion ideally. They are simply for categorizing the content of question and making it easier for experts to find them. – Rubiksmoose Mar 26 '19 at 13:26

# TL;DR: Wipe the Slate Clean, but Don't Salt the Earth

Hello, I'm the china shop elephant who took part in putting the recent resurfacing of this mess into motion. I would like to post my answer from the perspective of a newcomer who comes to the site and tries to use its tools for some kind of benefit, and encounters some obstacles and troubles related to one of the tags (the one under discussion).

## The Problems

### 1. Esoteric Definition

Coming here a bit over 100 days ago, I thought I'm well acquainted with the broad meaning of 'rules as written' as used in RPG circles (GURPS, Exalted, WoD et al.). Sure, it's not a meaning with the sharpest of lines. But one that people mostly understand, and still find useful much like 'vegetable' (an common example of a word with no coherent definition) or 'science fiction' (a less common example but more suitable for this stack), and people on other sites can usually say 'Oh, this question is about RAW'.

But the local definition of the term (when used as a tag) seems to be not that, but rather the shape of the piece of a cookie remaining after most of it has been bitten off, following a shape of the teeth not memorised by any newcomer (Venn diagram courtesy of @doppelgreener).

### 2. Unreasonable Expectation of Edge Sharpness

Yes, no two people will agree precisely on the definition. Again, that's 'vegetables'/'science fiction' problem mentioned above, yet is a tag we have on this stack. So it's not like we can't allow tags with fuzzy definitions/edges on principle.

But definitions with fuzzy edges get hit hardest when there is a majority opinion but not a consensus about the its meaning, yet the enforcement is done as if there is one.

### 3. Read the Metas Like it Would Help

I got pointed to a bunch of metas to get a clear idea of when to use it. I did not get a clear picture. In fact a major point of contention - the 'bitten cookie' of the exclusion-of-non-absurd-questions, was not as emphasised in the metas (as far as I could make it out of them) as in the discussions about whether the RAW tag fits on a given question.

### 4. Baggage

A lot of the restrictions about its use seems to be based not even on the 'now', but on the grudges dating back to . . . Beta? It might be as far back as Beta, I'm too new to know for sure! And there are definitely some things that are hiding within deleted posts (not visible to newbies at all) or in the logs of chats (some deleted, some just hard to find if you don't know about them, and likely even then). This can of course trip newcomers.

## My Thoughts on Solutions

1. Wipe the Byzantine definition. Either design a tag definition that would approximate the general hobby understanding of when some question is about RAW, or wipe the definition clean and let it emerge anew, shaped by the new people and not by old grudges.
2. Don't be so strict with definitions. Don't start edit wars over the drawing a sharp line around the 'vegetables'/'science fiction'. When two edits collide, restore respect for the author.
3. After wiping the slate, write a FAQ answer which clearly and concisely explains it, and doesn't base itself on a long series of legacy links.
4. Mark the old discussions as obsolete in order to reduce confusion.

## Why I'd Keep the Tag

1. It's useful for use with SE tag-related tools. Narrowing down searches, setting up watches and filters etc.
2. It's useful for attracting rules experts of a certain type to the questions that are about certain aspects of game mechanics.
3. A large part of the community feels a need to such categorisation of question contents, and those who don't feel such a need lose nothing by letting those who do have such a need have the tag for it.

P.S.: I suspect that banning the tag would likely result in a 'vacuum' related to point 3, and would encourage the creation of a new term covering a similar topic (likely with less baggage; e.g. , as distinct from the spirit of the rules), but the new term would not come naturally and thus be 'unfriendly' to newcomers. While I think my proposal winning is unlikely, I worry that the burning will go further and lead to elimination of tags which serve to fill the void.

• Since you are not an "over 10k user" some of the content from the RAW meta discussions is not available for you to see. There were some points made that have since been covered up by the pink cloud that is "deleted by X" ... I apologize, it just dawned on me that pointing you to the meta library was only partly useful. – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '19 at 15:48
• I am actually very interested in exploring what other tags we can use for this topic, and if that leads to revisiting [rules-as-written] one day with a better defined usage and with less baggage attached so that we don't need to argue about it regularly, I'd be open to that. I don't agree with wiping the slate clean right now though. I think absence of the RAW tag will let us examine what our need for it is/was (if we still really it we'll feel it) and give us room to explore what other tags we might use for the site. – doppelgreener Mar 21 '19 at 15:53
• @doppelgreener If the ban happens but without the earth-salting, consider me a volunteer for applying the tag of my own invention to questions about RAW-as-broadly-understood. Well, to my questions about it anyway. – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Mar 21 '19 at 15:55
• I'm not sure we want to jump in to a new tag/new name if we go the removal route. Starting to use it immediately brings us right back to here. – NautArch Mar 21 '19 at 20:16
• We’ve tried to craft a raw rag definition that is what “people mean when they say raw.” Sadly we have found people usually mean different things, often just cargo culting a term they heard on a podcast somewhere. Usually they just mean “rules” and we got rid of that tag already. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 21 '19 at 20:55
• Many of your points are exactly the reasons the tag should go. All that confusion and mess for a new users could be avoided by simply burninating and blacklisting the tag. Losing the tag won't harm questions or the site, it will remove the harm it is currently doing though. If somehow one day we come up with a better name for the tag with a non-ambiguous definition I would be keen to use it. But for now, it needs to go. – linksassin Mar 21 '19 at 22:36
• @linksassin If that's the conclusion based on my points, then I my level of eloquence is terribly low indeed, as I've been trying to point out how a person coming to the site trying to approach the tag in an intuitive manner gets hit by the site's unintuitive (and formalistic) approach to it, and arguing for making things intuitive and newcomer-friendly. Oh well, it wasn't the best of ideas to post this answer in the first place. – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Mar 22 '19 at 7:08
• @vicky_molokh The point is you aren't the first person to suggest making it intuitive. We have tried and failed multiple times, since the very start of the site. The only way to make it easier for new users is to not have it at all. – linksassin Mar 22 '19 at 11:07
• Exactly. 26th meta post trying to do so. Maybe you’re the one who is going to come up with the magical turn of phrase for a tag wiki that will suddenly remove the constant confusion (“fuzziness” is why generation after generation of site user ends up here asking about this tag), if so make a proposal, but I’m betting not. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 23 '19 at 12:36

# Rename the tag

Could we not just rename the tag? Something like or something (nothing too long, obviously), so that it's clear from the name that it's not to be used as others might have misused it.

The most common misunderstanding I've seen around this tag are when users add the tag to questions that mention wanting RAW answers, whereas my understanding of the tag is that it's for literal interpretations and rules loopholes.

If that distinction is right there in the tag's name, surely this will reduce the ambiguity of it?

If this has already been tried in the past or something, then that's my only suggestion, so I guess there's nothing for it but to get rid of it otherwise...

• There's a couple problems with this. One, the tag becomes an "inside baseball" tag - it's not something you would intuitively come up with. Two, some of the problem is that people just plain have different definitions of RAW in their mind, and I'm not sure how this prevents the current "search for 'rules' well that's the tag hit enter" problem. I suspect most of the random rules questions tagged "rules-as-written" will be tagged "literal-rules-as-written" in the wake of this change. "Well of course I mean literal, what's written in the book, I'm asking about the rules." – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Apr 1 '19 at 16:09
• @mxyzplk Yeah, without basically having the tag being a whole sentence, I can see that even changing the name isn't really going to solve this problem. I went back and looked at two old questions of mine that use the tag and it turns out that neither of them are what I now understand the tag to mean, so this inconsistency with how the tag is understood is even evident with just me, let alone everyone else as well! So sod it, kill the tag... – NathanS Apr 1 '19 at 16:54

## Burninate and Recreate

I confess that I'm unfamiliar with the wars regarding this issue, but from reading through this question and associated answers, it definitely appears that there's at least two major problems with the tag.

The first is that the manner in which the tag could be defined varies depending upon whom you ask. I think Doppelgreener's graphic in the most accurate depiction of that. What I consider to be a question regarding RAW, another person might disagree.

The second issue, and I think might be the greater issue, is the tag isn't a signal about the question's contents but rather the type of answers being sought. I think this creates a dual problem because the rules for these games change as errata are issued and additional supplements come out. For an example of this in 5e, there were no rules on creating magic items then XGtE comes out and suddenly there is.

I think what makes the most sense is to redefine the tag to just focus upon the content of the questions. For example, there are plenty of questions relating to unusual phrasing in the rules that that are asking if the reading is correct since it contradicts either typical phrasing in the rules or what the querent considers common sense. These examples are just from myself:

I think my second qualifier, 'what the querent considers common sense', might be too broad, but I suspect that's often the issue in defining the tag.

• We have attempted to redefine the tag just to focus upon the content of the questions - several times. Do you have a specific proposal? – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 28 '19 at 15:19
• @mxyzplk I'm mostly thinking of just aspects of the rules which are written in a manner that's confusing. For example, the RoLM, by RAW creates a scenario where the target gets no subsequent saves and essentially makes the effect a Save or Suck (probably die) effect. That is particularly unusual within the rules of the game. – Pyrotechnical Mar 28 '19 at 16:06
• We have a lot of “thoughts” but what we need is a “tangible proposal the community accepts.” – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 28 '19 at 16:59