RAW vs. RAI

Seeing as how we’re currently working on a first draft for an Indie tournament FAQ, I have been thinking a lot about RAW vs. RAI.

Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman: Reecius, from Frontline Gaming here to discuss this often divisive topic in gaming.

Rules are not perfect things. We all know this from our experience with playing all these crazy games we enjoy so much. Why is it that it is so difficult to communicate clearly with rules?

Language. Language is an imprecise beastie. I can say to you: close your eyes and imagine a blue cat; and you all can do that. Now, what I just did was amazing if you think about. Using written symbols that represent sounds that your brain interprets as persons, places or things, I have just sent something from my mind to yours through space and time!!!!

Language really is an amazing tool and writing even more so. However, the problem comes from the fact that what I have in my mind as a blue cat may not be the same blue cat in your mind. We subconsciously bring into the equation of what is a blue cat (or anything) all of our life experiences and individual nuance. My blue cat may be lean, short haired and sleek like my first cat, Bucky (although she was black, not blue). Your blue cat may be super fluffy, fat and lazy. While we both just envisioned blue cats in a general sense, specifically we are thinking of two very different things. And while I could add descriptive words to narrow down what I mean by blue cat, it will never be a perfect transmission of information.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the words we use have many different, sometimes contradictory, meanings and connotations. Words also change meaning over time and with use. It sometimes feels like we’re trying to build houses using slippery eels!

How many times have you read a rule, thought you understood it, played it a certain way only to have someone else tell you their interpretation of it–which is totally different form yours–reread said rule with what they said in mind and literally see it differently? Happens to me all the time. I read a rule, it quickly clicks in my mind as saying one thing and then I discuss it with someone else who reads it differently and all of a sudden I am less certain of my reading.

My point here being that we will never have a rule system that perfectly communicates the intent of their writer (although GW, contract a technical writer and that will help immensely!). Just as with law, we need lawyers and judges to interpret their meanings and how they apply to every unique situation. So too do we need to agree as gamers how to read our rules. Weird situations pop up in games as no system can predict the multitude of unique configurations of terrain, model position, gamers, etc. that add up to any individual rules conflict. TO’s exist for a reason!

So, when deciding HOW to interpret said rules we have two distinct approaches. We have the approach of reading what is written on the page and working only with that otherwise known as the Rules As Written approach, or RAW.

We have a second approach, using what the reader believes is the intent of the rule. This is usually done using context, precedent and logic. This approach is known as Rules As Intended, or RAI.

Both approaches have good and bad sides. RAW has the benefit of using ONLY what is on the page, and not injecting any reader bias into the interpretation of the rules. The fear of many who prefer RAW over RAI is that RAI opens the door to personal agendas in influencing the rules (whether intentional or not). RAW also has the benefit of being very defensible. However, RAW can often give us bizarre and illogical rules that render certain in-game objects or effects useless.

RAI on the other hand, uses what most people would call “common sense” to avoid the above mentioned situations. The issue with RAI is that determining what the intent of a rule is is going fishing in muddy water in a big way. We can’t know what a writer intended at the time he or she wrote something. Plus, for all of the reasons listed at the beginning of this article, two people can see the same thing and determine two totally different intents from it, and both be convinced they are correct (just go to any rules debate thread and my point is illustrated).

As we now sit in the unenviable situation of writing a tournament FAQ (unenviable because no matter how hard you try to equitable in your rules judgements  you will always piss people off), we are faced with the question of RAW vs. RAI.

I tend to be very logical in my thinking, and like things to be clear cut. Thus, I tend towards RAW on a personal level. However, as a TO I know that pure RAW not only upsets people (most folks play RAI rules interpretations without even thinking about it) but the crazy situations it can produce can create more problems than it solves.

Thankfully, GW has been pumping out FAQs lately, and watching what they have been doing the trend is towards RAI. And when I say that, I don’t mean what I think they intended but that they have not been strictly going with what is written on the page which indicates that they are trying to clarify intent. Bravo, GW, that helps us out a lot and sets precedent.

So, we here at Frontline have decided on a RAI/RAW hybrid approach using input from various TOs (thanks to all of you for offering to help!) to help adjudicate sticky rules questions. Where RAI isn’t fairly clear to us, we will fall back on RAW. I feel that this will be the best formula to facilitate the smooth running of an event and avoid accusations of bias as much as possible. It sure isn’t perfect, but with stated intent and an observable order of operations, it should certainly help!

What are your all feelings on sussing out rules disputes?

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About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

16 Responses to “RAW vs. RAI”

  1. Francis January 31, 2013 3:51 am
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    I think you have a good idea with the hybrid approach. Perhaps once you have written your own faq you could post it with an article explaining what was solved with raw and which with rai.

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 31, 2013 10:14 am
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      That would be awesome, but time becomes an issue. It takes long enough to write a FAQ, then writing an explanation of rules debates and such make sit much, much longer.

  2. Black Blow Fly January 31, 2013 5:09 am
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    RAW is often used to create loopholes and can be very much abused IMO .

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 31, 2013 10:15 am
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      It is sometimes, but often people are just being logical. Slavishly logical maybe, but not always malicious.

      • fulcrum January 31, 2013 1:46 pm
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        I find that the biggest RAW guys are the ones using it to their advantage. You will never find a RAW guy correcting you or arguing a position that is detrimental to their army. RAW guys are generally the “Win at All Costs” aggressive asshole “that guys” who are not much fun to play against.

        • Black Blow Fly January 31, 2013 10:09 pm
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          I agree for the most part. As Neil from the 11th Company said RAW often leads to Bizzaro 40k as he likes to call it. RAW is very important to decipher some rules but often it causes more problems. Some examples the RAW proponents said:

          •Abbadon cannot join any marked units
          •Necrons in a Night Scythe suffer Crash and Burn (they even made up some really dopey fluff to support it – dumb)
          •Bolters can shoot 48″
          •An army with infiltrators must go last (what if both armies have infiltrators ??)
          •FMCs that fail a grounding test are still swooping
          •Zombies can never be more than 10 in number per squad
          •Character in a challenge uses majority WS and T

          And these are just a few !

          These were all are ridiculous in my opinion and GW ruled against all of these. They all just make the game unfun.

  3. winterman January 31, 2013 12:44 pm
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    I think RAW is simply a starting point for a rules discussion. Also often times something that’s rather ambiguous still gets argued to death as far as what the one RAW interpretation is. Too often it just isn’t clear cut no matter what the grognards on YMDC say. I prefer the methodology that http://www.theruleslawyers.com/ applies to their queries rather then relying purely on RAW. Beyond that, RAI is fine for a TOs ruling as long as there’s consistency and some thought put into the implications. Before hand is also clearly better then on the table after lists have been written and moves have been made. But it really is a TOs job (imo) to go beyond RAW and come up with the best all around call — at least to the best of their ability.

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 31, 2013 1:12 pm
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      I am starting to see it that way, too. I used to be pretty hardcore RAW as it made sense to me, but the more you TO, the more your perspective changes. You look at the game from a really different angle and you start to think about things differently. It is more important to have a good, fun game than to slavishly stick to RAW. The only problem is that when you walk that line of RAI, it is so, so easy to step over into the realm of amateur game designer and start “fixing” things. You have to avoid that at all costs as that undermines your entire system.

      • fulcrum January 31, 2013 1:50 pm
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        I think the reason your moving away from RAW a bit is you have been around long enough to see the ridiculousness that is the GW writing staff. It’s very hard to argue RAW when multiple rules contradict each other, then they release FAQs which also contradict each other. GW is 2 heads talking but not to each other. I’ve found the only way to make the game playable is to use logic & reason (& even occasionally realism), EVEN IF IT BENEFITS YOUR OPPONENT. Which I think RAI players are more likely to do. Once you been around this game for 10, 15, 20 years you learn you just can’t take it so seriously. It is just a game after all.

        • fulcrum January 31, 2013 1:53 pm
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          FYI I already consider myself a (genestealer)hybrid RAW/RAI player. When in doubt, roll a die & let Tzeentch decide!

        • Reecius
          Reecius January 31, 2013 5:13 pm
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          I have been around for 15+ years, and I went from RAI, to RAW to now a bit of both. Just makes more sense. It is just a game, too, you are right.

      • winterman January 31, 2013 1:53 pm
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        Yeah I agree with you, being a TO gives one a different perspective. Also RAI has its pitfalls. I think the principle of making sure a ruling requires no extra rules to make it feasible helps. I have found myself stepping over those bounds at times and I never feel great about it (case in point, how to play the skysheild pad in a way that makes sense without adding rules — easy to get caught up in trying to make them work like ruins, etc).

  4. SCP Yeeman January 31, 2013 12:52 pm
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    I think just making a decision, living with that decision (good or bad), being consistent with the decision (no flip flopping mid tourny), and beign satisfied you did the best in your ability to understand the rules, than i am fine with it.

    I have been to tournaments where they have made an FAQ to only change it mid-tournament because someone pointed out something to the TO and he makes an announcement.

    Unless the rules has no basis, and it is just a total WTFOMG ruling, I’ll never argue. (These would be things like, your DE are BS 4 so my Eldar can be BS 4 because I like Eldar more.) and go with the “It’s Reece’s tournament and that’s how he called it, cool.”

    Look forward to the FAQ and BAO.

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 31, 2013 1:10 pm
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      Yeah, you can’t flip flop mid event, that is not a good idea. People build their lists and tactics based upon these rulings.

      And I think it is important to try and remove yourself from the rules interpretation process as much as possible to avoid bias, but it is inevitable to a degree.

  5. Dok January 31, 2013 5:27 pm
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    With the amount of misprints and inconsistencies between books, I think the best idea is rule it as played. That’s usually a mix between raw and rai. Really, as long as you have a hard definition of some of the ambiguous stuff before the tournament (and people read it), then that’s the best you can do. People will argue and complain about everything regardless of how right you are. So, lay down the law like a boss.

  6. Douglas January 31, 2013 7:20 pm
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    All that matters is that you make the call. This will be the first FAQ since NOVA, and that thing is outdated if even available at this point. So how you rule will be THE ruling for many groups at least on the west coast, and probably nationally and even world wide.

    Its not because you are just running a tournament, or “THE” BAO, its the credibility and prestige earned by the Zero Comp/Frontline folks. Whatever the San Antonio jokers do will just be more San Antonio joker business.

    So anyways, no pressure or anything. Hurry up! (lol)