Tuesday, 6 September 2011

RAW v RAI? Is it RAD?

Here's a quick thought on the perennial problem of understanding rulesets of a higher complexity.

For those new to the terms, 'RAW' can be 'read as written' and 'RAI' in turn 'read as intended'.

The first suggests that when we come across an unclear rule or problematic interaction we take the text literally, even if the outcome is odd or inconsistent. The second says we should look at the issue in the context of the game or setting as a whole and judge the intent of the designers.

There's naturally some disagreement on which is best to use, though RAW seems more common in what tends to be called 'competitive' play and RAI in what tends to be called 'narrative', for degree of clarity needed and willingness or space to discuss and concede.

Of course, that assumes a divide right through the hobby, splitting us into two camps, a ridiculously simple concept for a large community. Variations in approach move on more than a single sliding scale too; they're multidimensional. But that's a little off track.

So how about a new acronym for the collection? For when there's no standard approach in place I suggest 'RAD', or 'read as desired'. All the players need to decide is whether they want to tone events down or crank them up. This in my experience is an easier decision to make on the hoof, and maybe one that helps bridge the artifical divide.

When an issue comes up, the players simply choose the interpretation - RAW or RAI - with either the most spectacular immediate outcome or the least, as desired in the mood of the moment or the context. If they want a more even course of events, they choose the least spectacular; if a more undulating, the most spectacular.

In competition, players could simply go with the least spectacular, or, if they can't agree which that is, RAW. RAD could encourage interaction, add in a dash of improvisation. That could mean more 'ownership' of the gaming, and a more satisfying experience.

Thoughts are of course very welcome...


The Angry Lurker said...

Improvisation is good but usually it's the least problematic according to the other players who like the lesser of two evils.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I would go with RAE - rules as effective.

Basically, whichever interpretation is the fairest and works.

Andy said...

Good post Porky. A lot of this goes back to an article Jervis wrote for White Dwarf called 'Johnson's Razor', where he suggested that if players can't agree on a mutually acceptable solution to a problematic situation (ie, they can't settle on what you call 'RAD') they should default to the Rule as Written (RAW), because in the heat of an argument there's little chance of objectively identifying the designer's intention (RAI).

Since then, I think the term has been somewhat abused and it might be wise to read Jervis' words of wisdom once more :-)

Porky said...

@ The Angry Lurker - As Andy suggests, or rather Jervis does, improvisation may still be problematic, which is a pity as it can be rewarding. This kind of thing depends of course on who's playing and why, and the similarity in their approaches. Again, getting that agreement can be tricky if there's something at stake; we've probably all felt some small fraction of the heat of the battle that can spill off the table..!

@ C'nor (Outermost_Toe) - That would be just dandy too, although measuring efficiency in the middle of things might be a challenge. Ideally of course we'd have those perfectly clear and effective rules at the outset, and if not then the right players for the moment to play against. It's also reassuring there might be as many ways of solving a problem as there are people, or pairings. RAE is definitely welcome, making four routes to consider.

@ Andy - Thanks. I'm definitely someone who thinks Jervis deserves that second look, and wisdom is the right word. He can get flak. 'Abuse' is a fair term here - a trouble with terms can be our forming camps around them. What I was hoping for here was to take a little more of the binary out of it, offer another easily identifiable bond between players. C'nor's fourth is great too, and there could be many more ways of seeing the thing.

James S said...

Great idea. I think the whole thing is a bit of a fallacy anyway - all reading involves interpretation (actually all reading is nothing but interpretation), so shouldn't we presume that RAW and RAI are the same thing? There's no authority you can appeal to to prove the meaning of words. Even dictionary definitions require interpretation.

Unless we think the designer wrote a rule that doesn't reflect what we want from the game. In that case we should default to RAD.

I also think Jervis gets too much abuse. I have a post all prepared about cutting designers some slack . . .

Porky said...

That's an excellent point. The trouble could in some cases be with the words themselves.

In all the debating online especially we see how easily rulesets can be different things to different groups, and I'm often surprised by how loosely written they can be, unnecessarily too. I think the key is to fix as many meanings as possible, in a subtle way, without creating a jargon that needs learning, and to use regular patterns of presentation.

I agree on being fairer to designers, in that issues may not be entirely their fault. At a smaller business there may not be the depth to catch every problem with an ambitious project, but at a larger there are likely more complex organisational factors, even for a small and unambitious project, multiple overlapping concerns. The designers may then not be the ultimate arbiters, and could be expected to be unhappier even than some of the players..!