RAW, RAI, and RAF muddy the water

As users who talk a lot about the mechanics of games, we often lose sight of the rest of the community. Terms like RAW, RAI, and RAF can be confusing for many users, not just newbies. To a certain extent they imply these are all equally valid answers, and even among knowledgeable members it can be hard to establish that the rules are more correct than random twitter posts, which are more important than your personal rulings.

On top of the inherent confusion, there are a certain number of users here that dislike D&D, dislike 5e even more, but most of all they dislike RAW. Plus there are some people who try to reuse existing acronyms, causing further problems.

Imagine the difficulty for new players when they see answers like "by RAW yes, by RAI no (with a link to twitter), by RAF kill the tarasque with a gnarly kickflip my dude." When they try to gain clarification they receive elitist replies claiming that RAW is just "one of many valid playstyles", differing opinions of what RAI stands for and what it means, and dozens of other equally cool RAF suggestions (with a footnote that "RAF isn't houserules!").

This is noise that doesn't need to be there. The answer was "yes", that's all.

Like it or not, RAW is the default

While this site does not exist to parrot rules back to askers, people generally want to know the rules. When someone asks a question about the rules, they are probably looking for an answer from the rules. They are looking for objective clarify and concrete answers. This is exactly the kind of answers that SE is equip to provide.

Most people are very capable of making up a justification for their opinion, and they are almost as good at searching twitter for a post supporting it. They don't need RAI and RAF answers, and even if they did, those are almost always primarily opinion based. They can exist on SE, but only in the margins around factual answers.

If a question asks "can I attack 5 times in 1 turn?" you should understand the question as "do the rules say I can attack 5 times in 1 turn?" not "how can I make houserules so I can attack 5 times in 1 turn?"

Unless it is actually relevant to the question, these terms should be avoided.

  • "Yes" is preferred over "By RAW, yes"
  • "No" is preferred over "By RAW, no"
  • "JC on twitter says yes" is preferred over "By RAI, yes"

If someone asks about RAW, RAI, or houserules then by all means talk about them

By default answer with RAW, but if someone is asking about something else, then feel free to talk about it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can we affirm that RPG.SE embraces a plurality of playstyles? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 6 '20 at 7:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure this is a productive way to start a discussion. Most of this seems like an answer, or maybe rather a declaration. I'm not entirely convinced which problem(s) you are trying to solve. Is it short answers that don't explain themselves? Is it the use of acronyms which are unexplained as a barrier to entry/source of ambiguity? Having a clear, focused question is part of the format (Q&A) so is useful for meta as well (and not just main). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 6 '20 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I've read this correctly, your perceived problems are: "These terms are confusing to users", "The acronyms are also used for different terms", "Answering from multiple viewpoints is noise". (I think there are some other statements/assumptions that folks will want to address, but that's another matter). This reads like you have assumed these as true problems and are presenting them through a lens of an already determined answer. It would be more useful to a discussion to find actual examples of this occurring and to ask whether this is a problem and what we might do to fix/help it... \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 6 '20 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ ... As it stands, it is very difficult to give a non-confrontational answer to this post. That's not a good, healthy discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 6 '20 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Someone_Evil was not pretending to not have read the post or anything else. Asking to see examples of a problem and/or focus to the issues is a good thing. Please assume good faith and act accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 6 '20 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Like it or not, posts work much better here when bringing up a problem when they show how and why it is a problem and concisely show impact (eg examples and effects). Right now, your post assumes these problems to be true and then presents your solution to them. What was being asked was that you should step back and elaborate on the issues more clearly and to show that they are issues and to make them more clearly the focus. The biggest issue being raised was not the fact that they couldn't find the issues in your post, but that they weren't clear, focused, or defined enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 6 '20 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Conflating "These terms / categories are unnecessary and confusing" with "Everyone must treat RAW as the default" is not helping your argument here. I'm honestly not sure how that's a coherent position. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 6 '20 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ RAW is not default for every system. Many large system like World of Darkness and smaller systems like Don't Rest Your Head are very rules-light and leave a majority of the application of skill and abilities up to the players and the storytellers. Most of those rulebooks focus on lore. There was even a question on the meta awhile back about how to handle interpretive systems like this. Your claim that "RAW is the default" is true for very few systems, though I admit those systems are most popular. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Jan 9 '20 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is that thing we've already talked about where RAW is not synonymous with "reading the rules". Treating it like they're the exact same thing is not going to get you far. RAW can involve a lot more than merely “reading the rules”, and reading and using the rules doesn't mean approaching them via RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 10 '20 at 10:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Any abbreviation has context-specific uses. EU could mean end user, European Union. SE could mean subject expert or Stack Exchange. Also, I didn't know what RAW or RAI meant when I first got here so I asked. That cleared up the problem in less than an hour. Your solution to not fully understanding a terminology, its context, or its history is to eliminate the use of the terminology. You should instead be asking clarifying questions to learn more. Your suggestion wasn't well received, so I'd take a step back to understand why instead of recharacterizing your argument every response. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Jan 10 '20 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn A couple of those sources reflect it means more than “reading the rules”. Source four says: “RAW is a strict reading of the rules. On occasion, the rules are written sloppily, or some knew mechanic breaks old rules in unexpected ways. RAI is kind of a pressure valve there.” Advising and operating with RAW means sticking with the letter of the rules even when they conflict with intent or common sense. That's not always helpful, so we'll not always use (only) that approach. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 11 '20 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dictionary.com also highlights that conflict: “Some opt to follow the spirit of the rules rather than their letter. This is known as following the RAI, or the Rules As Intended.” // There are people who advise solely from a RAW perspective, and others who read the rules and advise from a non-RAW perspective. What's useful in any given situation is up to the author and voters to work out. Answering RAW problems with RAW is (often) helpful but RAW problems aren't our only kind of question & I don't see the need for this intervention. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 11 '20 at 13:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ So I suggest reflecting heavily on how this thread may relate to that religious war territory and how that might affect how it's being received. That war is made up of people insisting their preferred way(s) are the default, most correct, or otherwise the only valid way(s) to handle the rules, where all other approaches are lesser or invalid. Officially we just let people answer using the approaches they want. As long as it's a valid attempt to answer the question and is not going to lead to anyone getting hurt, we let votes and the querent sort it out. They tend to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 11 '20 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The concept of RAW potentially being a methodology is emphatically is not unique to RPG.SE. It was understood on the old WOTC forums, is understood on GITP, and was highlighted in one of your own sources. Maybe folks don't tend to talk about how it gets used as a methodology to approach advising people, but we do. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 11 '20 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm locking this thread. This proposal is in conflict with our community ethos & in light of it remains inappropriate, harmful, and insensitive. I and others have tried to help you understand this, and tried to guide you toward other constructive ways to address the issues you're seeing, but you've ignored all of us with an “I am right and everyone else is wrong” attitude. This isn't our second most-downvoted meta question for no reason. I cannot allow this thread to continue wasting our time and energy any longer. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 11 '20 at 15:15

Censorship: not a good idea

The terms that you wish to discourage have currency and a utility beyond this limited audience (RPGSE users); any attempt to curtail their use on this site is needlessly restrictive to all of the users who have an understanding, be it identical to yours or different, for all of those terms.

Policy proposal: rejected

As I read your post, you aren't so much asking a question as recommending a policy. That is one thing that we do on meta, bat about policy ideas.

Your proposal to actively discourage the use of commonly used terms is badly thought out, unsupported, and needlessly restrictive to all of the the users of RPGSE, with no value added.

Where clarification is needed, people can engage within one another.

"RAW is the default"

Unsupported assertion. How you can claim to know how tens of thousands of game tables approach RPGs remains a mystery.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think something has been misunderstood if you think I am talking about censorship. I'm suggesting there are better and clearer ways to communicate than using these acronyms. These terms are commonly used, but they have very unique meanings and histories on RPG.SE. If you aren't even reading the rules, then I'm not sure you are actually playing D&D. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 6 '20 at 23:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Self-awareness is an acquired skill. When you advocate for censorship, you need to be prepared for a response like this. Don't tell people words you want them to not say, unless you are willing to be called out for it. If you aren't even reading the rules, then I'm not sure you are actually playing D&D Self-awareness: please work on it. I hope that you develop it, since you have some pretty good ideas and experiences to share with the RPGSE community. You are one of the few people who puts efforts into the quality of your questions on the main site. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 7 '20 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I just said, I am not advocating for censorship... It isn't good or useful to come to RPG.SE and relearn common terms. Telling people not to use obscure jargon when plain language will do isn't censorship... I am at a loss as to why you consider it to be censorship. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 7 '20 at 2:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn When you - on what authority? - are trying to tell people what words to use, or not use, as a suggested site policy, that is an attempt at censorship. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 7 '20 at 2:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have a very broad, in my opinion exceedingly broad, definition of "censorship" if you include all suggestions as censorship since you are dictating how people should behave. If you want to use such a definition, then sure, it's censorship, as are all suggestions, guidelines, and rules. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 7 '20 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn Opinions are like navels, I'll leave the rest to the voters. Feel free to ask doppelgreener about my position on people who wish to tell others what words they may or may not use. You are not the first person who has gotten a response like this. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 7 '20 at 2:35

I take the following exceptions to the above policy proposal:

  1. Claims of elitism (i): I have not seen any recent answers that struck me as elitist in any meaningful sense-- I haven't seen anyone berated or harassed or told they're playing the game wrong by looking for a RAW answer. Granted, I don't (and I suspect few of us do) read all the posts, so perhaps I've missed something. But rather than spinning hypotheticals, your argument would acquire some force if you could point to enough actual examples to demonstrate that this is a problem.

  2. Claims of elitism (ii): I do not consider the mere mention of styles other than RAW, or contextualizing RAW among those styles as elitist.

  3. Claims of 5e-haters: Who exactly? Well, no, don't name names, that's gross, but at least tell me how you are identifying these haters. And more to the point, so what? We all have games we like and hate, but I see no rabid cabal of anti-5e crusaders, and I see no harmful effects on the quality of answers. If you do, that's why you have down-votes. Use them.

  4. Claims of RAW-haters: Again, how are you identifying these people? There are people who campaigned strongly (and in my opinion, wrongly, but that was a hill not worth dying on-- I used my down-votes, and everyone else used their up-votes) against the RAW tag, but my understanding of that issue is that it sprung from different concerns-- meta concerns, actually-- than dislike for the actual topic.

  5. Claims of default usage: I'm with KorvinStarmast on this point. I do not understand on what basis you make this claim. It is certainly not on my behalf.

  6. Claims of confusion to new users/gamers: I really take exception to this one, as it seems insulting not only to the people doing what you don't want them to do, but also insulting to the people on whose behalf you claim to be speaking. I am outright astonished by the idea that someone could be genuinely confused by discussions of RAW, RAI, RAF, house rules, or any adjacent topic, as long as they do not devolve too far into short-hand slang and jargon. These are not foreign concepts and they're not unique to this forum: I've seen them referenced by Jeremy Crawford, I've seen them in multiple other forums, and I've even seen them applied to games like Pathfinder rather than 5e.

Ultimately, if this were the problem you claim it to be, I would expect to see strong evidence of it in vote tallies and (admittedly, and sadly, transient) comment threads. Are you seeing a lot of down-voting of questions that do not privilege RAW as default answers? Are you seeing a lot of questions that don't have satisfactory or accepted answers, compared to other questions? Are you seeing a lot of comments complaining?

Are you down-voting your conscience in these cases, too?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding #6, I agree, but it is worth noting, perhaps, that I have seen occasional confusion from new users about the terms RAW/RAI (including the two meanings RAI can have), but that confusion is usually fixed with a simple link (or by expanding the acronym) and short comment and, in my experience, does not happen often enough that I would consider it an issue. Certainly they appear to be very commonly used rather frictionlessly among various communities without widespread issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 9 '20 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose that's fair, since they are (technically) jargon. I agree that overall the learning curve for new users is gentle and that (enough) very experienced users notice and adapt to new users in general, mostly by seeing low rep values. I've haven't been around since beta, but I've noticed an improvement in that regard in the last few years. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 9 '20 at 2:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ In regards to 6, I was confused when I first contributed what RAW meant. So I asked. I had that confusion for less than an hour before I understood what it meant and educated myself. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Jan 9 '20 at 16:18

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