Rules as Intended vs. Rules as Written

Tony here again, and today I’d like to talk about something that is also near and dear to my Wargaming heart: Rules as Intended.  I’m no rules guru, but I am an avid reader, and I like to think that I have a strong grasp of a writer’s intention or the theme of most material.  I’ve read most of the fluff and rulebooks of the armies that interest me.  That basically excludes Tau, Orks, Daemonhunters/Witch Hunters.  It’s not to say that these armies are week, Orks rock, but I’m just not as interested in the fluff.  Overall, I think GW puts more emphasis on the idea/playstyle of an army than they place on the “microeconomics” of each army.  This leads me to the topic at hand: Rules as Written vs. Rules as Intended.

Sometimes Rules as Written goes to far...

If you don’t know already, Rules as Written (RAW) is a strict application of the word for word rules.  Often this means that every instance of the word “and,” “or,” “but,” and “may,” are scrutinized to a level that would get a former NFL star off for murder (despite mounds of evidence).  On that note, didn’t Clinton famously say “It depends on what your definition of “IS” is?”  When I encounter a strict RAW player, I immediately think of that televised presidential statement and laugh my bum off (youtube it!).

On the flip side of the argument, and obviously where I lean, are the Rules as Intended (RAI) players.  As a RAI player I take in the entire source material as a whole, and consider the authors tone and voice when making any tricky rules decisions.  To me, this is the common sense approach.  I’m an avid lobbyist of common sense.  Endless paperwork, strict regulation, and bureaucratic systems are all hurdles in my eyes.  …and I work for the government!

The problem with the RAW side is that when something is written intentionally vague, the RAW player has nothing to grasp on to.  The world is purely Black and White and there is no room for additional thoughts or interpretations.  For instance, recently the Blood Angels FAQ was updated and says something to the effect of “squads in reserve may not combat squad.”  The RAW crowd argues that at no point may any squad that has ever been in reserve use the Combat Squad rule.  On the other side of the fence, the RAI folk say that is not the intention of the rule.  The intention of that rule is that no squad may break up into combat squads and sit in reserve (thus forcing two different reserve rolls).  I would argue that the RAI side won the battle when the UK GT rule FAQ (rule 65) stated specifically that Combat Squads take place during deployment, which takes place after a unit comes out of reserve.

Here’s an example of one of the sillier RAW issues, and I have to pick on the Necrons here!  The Tomb Spider + Scarab cover save is right past ridiculous and into ludicrous.  In your heart of hearts you know that I am right about this.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Tomb Spider produces Scarabs that then make a squad with the Tomb Spider.  The Scarab is a tiny creature on a small base, while the Tomb Spider is about the size of a Daemon Prince.   When the Scarab is placed behind a wall, it confers a cover save to the Tomb Spider.  It is RAW 100% and I agree with the rule to that extent, but that doesn’t make it right.  I understand the rules, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.  Needless to say I can’t wait until the Necrons get a new codex!

I can clearly see both sides of the RAW vs. RAI issue though, and I understand both points of view.  I don’t, however, believe that we need GW to constantly police our game and spell out each and every rule for us.  At some point our better judgment and common sense has to kick in doesn’t it?  On the flip side, I don’t know every rule and I appreciate when someone points out some of the finer points that may not get used often.  Perhaps taking either side to the extreme is wrong.  A mixture of both points of view may be the mark of a truly well rounded player.

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32 comments on “Rules as Intended vs. Rules as Written

  1. I disagree with your opinion on GW policing its rules. Only by speaking up about these weaknesses in their writing and learning how to correctly express their intentions (by making rules MATCH their intentions) will things get the the proper place.

    In my world, logic is King. I can use it to understand intent pretty well, but rules by their nature are the laws of the land. Logic demands you follow the rules, and part of me feels cheated when my opponent’s crappy logic leads him towards ‘Rules as Intended’.

    Let me also point out, that because of my logical approach to things, cheating is even worse than RAI. Using flawed logic to try and condone cheating should be a hangable offense.

    We should really make a bigger fuss over this than we already do. It’s the only way GW will fix their mistakes.

    • I’m not sure I get what you’re saying. You say “logic is king,” but that doesn’t clearly put you in the RAI or RAW camp, as the arguments for either side for any given rule are based upon logic:

      RAI) The scarab swarm is logically too small to give a cover save to the tomb spider.
      RAW) The rules state that if half of my models have a cover save, then all of them get it.

      Both arguments adhere strictly to logic, but from different viewpoints. What makes your logic good and the RAI logic “crappy?”

      Please don’t take this as an attack… it’s just a question. I find myself more as a RAI kind of guy, though that’s changed a wee bit since joining my current gaming group. My old group was out to just have fun, and so if a rule didn’t make sense, we’d be more prone to house-rule something. I think that sort of creativity lends itself much more to a RAI mindset. Whereas the people I started gaming with now have more of a tournament mindset and so, they tend to focus more on RAW.

      I don’t think either camp is right per se (because for that to be true, the opposition would need to be proven wrong, and I don’t think that’s possible). It’s just a frame of mind.

      • I don’t take it as an attack. In each case I see usually for RAI the flaw in logic is different. That makes it harder to dispute them all at once.

        Let me use your argument for the Scarab Swarm as an example. You are stating that RAI should deny the Tomb Spider a cover save based on the physical size of both models. Your argument assumes that relative size matters in a vaccum. The only time size matters for determining cover is when determining if or how much of a model is hidden from view. In that case, size is only important in that if it were different, whatever is blocking view might have the other result. There is no game-based structure that uses size of a model as measurement. “Size” is not a game attribute.

        So in this case, in order to make your argument, you have to look outside the rules. 40k’s cover rules only care that a majority of a unit has cover for the whole unit to benefit. Rules are an abstraction specifically to accommodate reasons that don’t always ‘make sense’. While the scarabs and the tomb spider in question have different specific rules for how they obtain cover, the unit still has 50% or more of models claiming cover.

        I know you are aware that this is the letter of the rules. Your argument is that the intent is otherwise. My argument is that the intent of the rules is to cover a variety of situations in the most consistent manner possible. because the rule is an abstraction of the real world, you cannot always (or really ever) use the real world as the basis for your argument. You can only use the laws of physics as they apply within the game’s rules. In 40k land, how big your model is isn’t a factor in the calculation. therefore, it cannot be a factor in your argument.

        Does that make sense?

        I don’t intend for this argument to necessarily be directed at you in particular, and this is not an attack on you as a person. This is merely an examination of the argument and where its logic actually fails. Let me know if you think I am off base here.

      • RAI at it’s core means the rule’s can be wrong as written, so claiming a rule is made to cover a variety of situations and so will not always make sense but is none the less correct, means nothing to a RAI argument.

        RAI states in this argument,

        A Tomb Spider is a Monstrous Creature, rules state it needs 50% model coverage to be considered in cover. It does not have that in our situation.

        A Scarab Swarm is not a monstrous Creature, so it need only be in anyway obscured to be granted a cover save. It does have this.

        By RAW our way forward is clear, both have cover.

        RAI minded folks say hold on, i understand the 50% of a unit rule, but i also understand that Monstrous creatures are by rules Large targets, and the scarab swarm is by it’s own rules a small target. While you deny size matters in your argument above as RAW demands, a RAI argument puts it, number of models involved, and the age of the codex into the spot light.

        RAI claims that the above while technically correct is an unintended use of the rules. RAI has no supporting evidence besides it’s own reasoning, and of course other areas where again RAI seems reasonable over RAW.

        As another example of the Tomb Spider, it is quite common for a Tomb Spider to only ever make 1 swarm, the reason being that having 2 will cause the unit to no longer be Toughness 6, or that a Scarab swarm is a “small target” per it’s rules and so gets +1 to cover saves, then in the necron FAQ it is given the “swarm” rule this means they get Stealth(for being small) and vulnerable to blasts. So by RAW a scarab swarm will have a +2 to it’s cover save, and will assist it’s tomb spider by applying stealth to it giving the spider a +1 (and if your opponent does this be sure their swarm takes 3 wounds for each blast/template wound applied on the swarm =) This is all despite swarm stating “monstrous creatures never get cover saves from intervening swarms”.

        So RAI looks at all that up above and says Hogwash that 1 little swarm isn’t giving that monstrous create a +1’d cover save, thats silly and an unintended use of the rules, RAW says it sure is them’s the rulez.

      • I think the key here, as mentioned above by GDMNW, is you aren’t allowing the abstract to work, and instead applying a model more closely resembling real life to the situation. On top of the core rules laying down how the ‘physics’ of the game world work in general, the rules also set up exceptions to those rules for specific units or unit types. Codices further add exceptions by various wargear and special rules.

        The key to the system working is for the mechanics, rules, and verbage behind it to be airtight. 40k isn’t as airtight as we would like it to be, but in most situations (including the one currently in question) it holds true. I think we can all agree GW is moving in that direction thanks to new competition and some cries for better rules from their fans. We must continue to hound them when situations come up which are both awkward and vague.

        What you are describing here is a mechanic that is awkward, but which the abstraction of the game fully allows and has rules for. While the intent of the designer of both the codex and the rulebook might not have meant for this interaction to take place, the fact that the rules cover the entire situation flawlessly means the rules were written well. When your game system can point to a ‘clear’ solution like the RAW argument here, your system is in the right place.

        In this situation, if the intent of the designers and the rules don’t match up, it is the responsibility of the rule writer to rewrite the rules to make them match the intent. If they do not do this, then they are accepting that while the situation was not intended, it is perfectly valid.

        This situation comes up in CCGs all the time. While 40k and CCGs have many things that are different, almost all successful CCGs utilize an exception-based game system similar to what 40k has. The better defined the core rules are, the more predictable the interactions will become when adding in exceptions.

        I guess my point here is that intent should only matter when the rules do not cover the situation fully. Even then, the game designers should be pressured to correct the wording (or to apply some other means of ruling via FAQ or Errata). In any case where RAW can produce a ‘clear’ solution, RAI can only hold an argument by using a reference point outside the system.

        I will acknowledge that there are situations in 40k where the rules do not give clear solutions, but they are few and far between. Usually the RAI argument is made because the person on that side of the argument cannot accept the abstraction of the game or suspend disbelief enough to let the situation work out. That, or the player just does not like the mechanic and is trying to find some means to avoid it.

    • You know, that’s two articles in a row where I’ve read “cheating” or “making up rules” in the comments! In no way shape or form am I advocating cheating, making up rules, using Russian spies, or loaded dice.

      Here’s another example in one my armies. The Librarian power that bestows S10 to the Libby does not have an “end” clause. Using RAW I could say that once I’ve successfully cast that power, my Librarian has it for the entire game. GW put an “end clause” on every other power in my rulebook, except for that one. Should I then stomp my feet until GW fixes that bit in my rulebook, or should I just use common sense and cast the power every turn like the rest of the 40K world? I’d rather see GW focus on updating older rulebook’s with new FAQ’s (Dark Angels anyone?).

      I see where you’re comming from though, thanks for reading!

      • Just to clarify,

        People who position themselves in the RAW camp, but are using flawed logic to cheat are worse than those who want to support RAI. Usually when the term ‘rules-lawyer’ is used as a negative is it used to define someone who is actually cheating, rather than someone who is following the rules. I wanted to point out that I am firmly in the RAW camp, but I despise those who use my position and others like mine to further their cheating.

      • I’d go with that. I’m actually in the middle of a chat about RAW re:
        skimmers with someone on BOLS.

        I’d say that misinterpreting the rules either deliberately or
        unintentionally for advantage is a pretty common thing. The people you
        need to look out for are the ones who forget or misunderstand rules
        deliberately for their own advantage.

        The worst kind of cheating there is. Gaming ignorance, because your
        opponent feel obliged to go easy on you when you’re caught…

        Quoting Disqus :

      • I tend not to think of rules lawyers as people who are cheating, but either
        people who exploit rules for their own personal benefit, or those that are
        overly anal about the rules. I guess the first can be considered borderline
        cheating (I’ve never looked at it that way before, since strict adherence to
        the rules seems like quite the opposite), but at times it can be that way as
        well.

        These posts always interest me, but I rarely see any conclusion from there.
        Perhaps inspiring debate is value enough though…

        P.S. Tony is a dirty cheater.

      • If by cheating you mean roll 1’s and 2’s for everything that I do.. yes, I am a dirty dirty cheater. Tonight I couldn’t make a FNP roll to save my life (…wakka wakka).

  2. i love rule lawyering, sometimes you can turn it around on them…

    for instance i like using a local example where a gentlemen liked to “educate” his marine freind on how cool it was to deepstrike his drop pod into squads where it couldnt land. His intention was to then move his drop pod somewhere near by using the drop pods rules. He argued that while the rulebook says you must place the model, a mawloc set up a precedent that you didn’t have to.

    The answer to him is then ok go ahead, when he then rolls a “hit” on the scatter dice, kindly remind him the drop pod rule says “if you scatter”, so his drop pod just mishapped. Or if he rolls a number of inch’s scatter that don’t get him off your unit ask him how he will subtract inches to not mishap? A devious rule lawyer will counter with a number larger then he had rolled so he goes back past his point, but at the very least keep em on the line they rolled.

    Often times rules lawyers just take it to far and then wonder why people look at them like they’re crazy. A local necron player of ours fits that bill, he’s a nice guy all the way but after all the “issues” within his codex that a player will be educated on he tries to push that the top quarter of the Monolith isn’t “hull” but is extra nonessential, and so you can’t shoot it and it doesn’t count when figuring out if the Lith has a cover save. Or he’ll try and push that the Pariah’s rule that counts your leadership as 7 unless it was lower, isn’t negatively modifying your leadership and therefor stubborn has no effect on it….

    these sorts of rule discussions just make me not wanna play him because i very much disagree with them and don’t really enjoy the rest of the necron issues.

    • I wish I were in tune enough to be a rules lawyer back sometimes, but then again when I get sucked into one of those arguments my mind starts to drift into the realms of “…here are the things I’d rather be doing right now..”

  3. You only mentioned half of why the Tomb Spyder with scarab is awesome. The scarab also conveys plus one to the cover save making it 3+. Then if you only made one when the squad is fired on you have to wound on majority toughness or the greater toughness if there is no majority, so 6 in this case. That is one darn hard unit to shift with shooting. Of course it’s not really doing much either.

    As for your comments on RAI. I agree that GW does not write for competitive play. However, I have a hard time getting “intent” form an author’s tone. I know there have been many times when I’ve played a rule one way that has then been clarified another way in a faq. So clearly the intent was missed. How do you discern that accurately? To use another Necron example (for consistency), with the Monolith rules in the codex it said a unit can move after it was teleported through a Monolith as long as the unit had not already moved in that movement phase. I (and just about everyone) played that the Monolith could move before just not the teleporting unit since the Monolith was not mentioned. This was apparently wrong as the faq states that neither can move before if the unit wants to move after the teleport.

  4. You only mentioned half of why the Tomb Spyder with scarab is awesome. The scarab also conveys plus one to the cover save making it 3+. Then if you only made one when the squad is fired on you have to wound on majority toughness or the greater toughness if there is no majority, so 6 in this case. That is one darn hard unit to shift with shooting. Of course it’s not really doing much either.

    As for your comments on RAI. I agree that GW does not write for competitive play. However, I have a hard time getting “intent” form an author’s tone. I know there have been many times when I’ve played a rule one way that has then been clarified another way in a faq. So clearly the intent was missed. How do you discern that accurately? To use another Necron example (for consistency), with the Monolith rules in the codex it said a unit can move after it was teleported through a Monolith as long as the unit had not already moved in that movement phase. I (and just about everyone) played that the Monolith could move before just not the teleporting unit since the Monolith was not mentioned. This was apparently wrong as the faq states that neither can move before if the unit wants to move after the teleport.

    • I think you do your best to discern intent, nothing more really. I consider myself to be a strong reader, and I try to use real life examples (when appropriate) to discern what the writer is trying to do with the rules. The Combat Squad vs. Reserves example that I used in the article is something I thought through using my own experience. i.e. when at home station I am “in reserve” but when I receive orders, I deploy to the appropriate location and we typically break apart from there to take care of the different missions that we’re tasked with. Hence Combat Squads take place after the unit comes out of Reserve. It seems to me that the writer would look at the real Marines as much as possible when writing rules for Space Marines! Just my opinion, and it doesn’t always work for other armies!

    • I’d agree that it’s often hard to discern the author’s intent, but not
      always. The example below from Tony (about s10 ending) is one of those
      where it’s easy to determine what the rule *should* be–as are the rules
      trying to screen spiders with scarabs.

      Other rules are more nebulous, and I don’t think anyone can really grasp
      what the intent was. I think the best example of something like this is the
      Doom (whose rules were just horribly written to begin with).

      Some groups will mix and match how they address these, others will just
      cleanly rule as written. I don’t think either is wrong, but RAW definitely
      has an advantage of leaving any objectification out of the rules: it just
      makes for some silly possibilities.

  5. I think it is really a question of abstraction.

    The rules don’t actually correlate with what you think should happen. Although how closely they model reality is a good measure of their quality.

    Forget what a model represents in the fluff and try to see it purely as a piece. In the same way as you look at a rook on a chessboard. When was the last time someone took your white knight and you complained that castles can’t move?

    Take a step away from the Scarab. See it as a piece to which several rules apply and suddenly the cover save situation isn’t half as irritating. You’ll also see why some mistakes are so common.

    Like the whole skimmer moving fast immobilised equals wrecked in dangerous terrain nonsense. That all comes about because people are looking at a flying skimmer rather than actuallly seeing the rules printed in the book.

    Only shooting immobilised results can become wrecked results. It’s on page 71.

    Like I said. Abstraction.

    • I’ve written four responses, but deleted each. In essence I wanted to say:

      1) I like your viewpoint, and it does put things into perspective.
      2) I think chess is purely strategic, whereas 40k adds some more creativity
      and imagination (you the average gamer doesn’t paint his own chess pieces).

      I can’t, for the life of me, figure out a way to formulate that into
      words–well, except this way… which is far from eloquent.

  6. as far as i’m concerned, the point is that RaW is the only way a competitive game of 40k can be played where all players can universally say they are being treated fairly. talking about intent is all well and good, but who is to say what was intended, and who is to say what ‘makes sense’. to use your example about the scarabs. to you it is clear cut, but many people may argue that a swarm of self repairing scarabs (which is what the 4 little guys on the base represent after all) could easly block line of sight, or get in the way of shots to protect the tomb spyder. and lets not forget that the spyder can lower itself to the ground. RaW can, in nearly all cases, only be interpreted one way, and regardless of how stupid it is, it is the only fair way to make a ruling. RaI can be interpreted any number of ways, and in a competitive setting, it is only natural to see things to your advantage if given a chance. this is not cheating, this is wanting to win.

    this does not apply, for example, when playing a friend in a friendly game, when you are free to apply a rule any way you both agree.

    • You’re absolutely right on both the competitive game and the
      counter-arguements of what makes sense. Originally I was going to elaborate
      on the possible argument that scarabs should be flying around (which would
      obscure the spider), but it started to get too long winded, so I backed out
      of it, but both are accurate (though the 2nd is stretching things more than
      a bit, because then you’re violating the TLOS rules).

      I’m not sure if I (or Tony) referred to RAW as cheating, and if we did, I’m
      certain it was a mistake. It’s just a different way to view the rules, and
      certainly not breaking any of them.

      I think I might have picked up our next poll question from this debate
      though, so thanks for the inspiration!

      • sorry, when i wrote that post it was late and i didnt see how my point about cheating could have been misinterpreted. what i actually meant was that seeing a unclear rule or any other situation where players disagree as being to your advantage is only natural 🙂

    • In a way that goes back to my first post about Page 2 of the Rulebook. I personally don’t believe that a Tournament game should be played any differently than a friendly game. I do agree with you to an extent though. Knowing your audience (i.e. setting) is just as important in knowing when to apply RAW or RAI.

    • Some great points here.

      I’d pick up on one of them. Universality. As long as everyone is playing by the same set of rules then you’ve achieved the basic level of fairness in a game. That’s why chess is so fair. The only possible significant advantage is going first. So you always have to play two games.

  7. Pingback: Interpreting the Rules « gdmnw

  8. ” At some point our better judgment and common sense has to kick in doesn’t it?”
    – among rational people, yes.

    Tragically, this is not always the case. I try to always give my fellow player the benefit of the doubt on dubious play, and I myself try to be objective as possible on things.

    However, I have many times ran into players that will try to…creatively… interpret rules to their favor. Some even do this with very clearly written raw…which can be annoying at best.

  9. I definitely fall into the Rules as Intended camp. However, the first place to look, when trying to work out what the intention is, is the rule as written. Read it, work out exactly what it says / means gramatically… And then think: does it make sense that way? Where a RAW player might feel that they’ve completed the exercise, I will continue if I’m not satisfied with the rule.

    I also think that it IS GW’s responsibility to ‘police’ the rules, rbing out timely updates and FAQs and to use consistent and clear language. 1. They’re getting paid for it, so they should do it well. 2. Plenty of people DO care about the rules a lot more than I do, and they have rights too! 3. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to work out what was intended AND the rule as written doesn’t make sense.

    I’m happy to house-rule things, but I’d like to know if that’s what I’m doing.

  10. I definitely fall into the Rules as Intended camp. However, the first place to look, when trying to work out what the intention is, is the rule as written. Read it, work out exactly what it says / means gramatically… And then think: does it make sense that way? Where a RAW player might feel that they’ve completed the exercise, I will continue if I’m not satisfied with the rule.

    I also think that it IS GW’s responsibility to ‘police’ the rules, rbing out timely updates and FAQs and to use consistent and clear language. 1. They’re getting paid for it, so they should do it well. 2. Plenty of people DO care about the rules a lot more than I do, and they have rights too! 3. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to work out what was intended AND the rule as written doesn’t make sense.

    I’m happy to house-rule things, but I’d like to know if that’s what I’m doing.

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