A guest editorial by nojinx,
For a little over two years now, I have been fascinated with the great dichotomy of RaW and RaI, a rare dynamic but common to the Games Workshop games players’ community. Last September, an article written by BigRed on Space Marines and Chaos brought to the forefront (via the Space Marine Locator Beacon discussion) this dynamic. Being so intrinsic to solving many 40K rules discrepancies, it seems critical that we seek a common understanding of these terms. I intend the following to facilitate that understanding.
RaW: The Rules as Written
An expository description of a rules system. Given a reasonable understanding of the language used to present the rules, no special tasks or interpretations, or sources outside the rules system, are required – only an understanding of the literal meaning. Deviating from such, for any reason, steps outside the bounds of RaW.
Drawing a comparison to the legislative and judicial spheres, RaW can be reasonably compared to the notion of the letter of the law.
RaI: The Rules as Intended
An understanding of an aspect of a rules system. This understanding may be gathered or surmised from one or more of the following elements: the rules system’s text; text or non-text outside the rules system (including “fluff” or images); comments from those who are presumed to have authority (such as a published designer’s interview or a hearsay quote).
RaI can be reasonably compared to the notion of the spirit of the law.
When They Differ
In the world of gaming, the vast majority of the time the RaW and RaI of a rule will involve no difference – they will be one and the same. When dealing with the instructions for Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Rummikub, or reading a manual on how to play chess, croquet, Call of Duty or cricket, one does not expect to have to extract some meaning from the text beyond the literal or use sources outside the text to understand the rules.
One exception to this is mistakes. Errors in a text, whether logical, semantic or grammatical, can happen. Misunderstandings can lead a reader to believe an error exists where none does. Errors, legitimate or supposed, include:
-Grammatical and linguistic errors
-Omissions or inadvertent inclusions
-Incongruities (with similar rules, typically, when not logically exclusive)
-Lack of clarity or thorough description
The primary strength of RaW in determining the meaning of a rule is that it requires only a rigid reading of the text. No research needs to be done. No outside sources need to be referred to. The weakness lies in that same rigidity: nothing but the text can be a resource, preventing a reader from finding a solution where an insurmountable conflict exists. RaW cannot resolve a rule set such as:
-A equals B
-A cannot equal B
A RaW reading of the above leaves the reader with a conflict. Since deviating from the literal meaning of the written passage is not allowed in a RaW interpretation, the error cannot be avoided.
Most of the time, the conflict is not so dramatic or absolute. In fact, it is usually an error that does not create an illogical situation or conflict, but deviates from an expectation on the part of the reader. Here, RaW can be applied successfully though, depending on the nature or extent of the deviation, may seem incongruent with the general system pattern, style or related storyline. This type of application is sometimes referred to as “Silly RaW”.
As a method of working through these errors, RaI’s strength lies in its versatility. It does not hold to the rigid confines of a literal reading and inherently accepts that apparent errors in the text can be worked around, often to the point of ignoring the literal meaning in favor of a (supposedly) more logical one. On the other hand, RaI has a looming weakness that the rules interpreter must always be aware of: the boundless nature of subjective interpretation. Desire, bias, previous experience or publications, and so many other aspects can sway our reading of a rule. Since we will only use RaI when the RaW reading appears to not stand to scrutiny, we are forced to use elements outside the specific written rule, and it is only our individual discretion which keeps our reasoning in line, oversees the validity of our sources and prevents us from inferring meaning inappropriately.
When the discrepancies occur that create the schism of RaW and RaI, we must first focus on the written rule, and the first part of that focus is on the logical compatibility of the RaW reading: does the rule create a contradiction in the system, i.e. a conflict that cannot be resolved? If so, we must move to a RaI reading to find a solution. If not, we continue to examine the written rule for imbalance: is a RaW reading inappropriate given the overall system of the game? In both of these later options, we deal with the subjective judgments required to determine our course. This subjectivity requires diligence, thoroughness and restraint in choosing what is to be incorporated into the overall argument supporting the proposed solution to the erroneous rule.
Note that a RaW reading will usually be conclusive if it is strict, but, by nature, a RaI reading cannot be. Any source authoritarian enough to make a RaI interpretation conclusive will inherently be RaW in its conveyance.
As players working through Warhammer’s complex rule system, we have to accept that both RaW and RaI approaches have to be used when a rule discrepancy is dealt with. Neither approach can be held as the best or foremost in all cases, nor can one method be ignored. Each reading has to be weighed against each other on a case-by-case basis. Above all else, we have to recognize that certainty can rarely be achieved by this process.
~Bigred here, So where do you guys come down on this issue? Each playgroup is different, and whether its a closed group of old friends, or a 900 person tournament, you have to come down sonewhere on the RAW vs RAI spectrum. How do you resolve rules disputes (both on and off the table) and why?