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.
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.
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.