Letter of the rules vs Spirit of the rules


Rules Questions


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Disclaimer: This might belong in general discussion.

I've noticed over the years that many of the disagreements about the rules come down to whether those debating see the rules as "What the devs intended" vs "These words are used and intent doesn't matter".

When I first got here most people were going by intent, but that was over 10 years ago.

However if I'm helping someone in the forums and they don't specify I'd like to know what PoV I should use.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I think they started putting out the FAQs maybe 10 years ago, which are the ‘actual rules’, and substantial errata occurred to the CRB and APG. At this point, i think all of the hardcovers have had their errata (and FAQs), so at least for them RAI = RAW.

For your other question, if someone asks a rules question in the rules forum, I think the priority should be including a ‘letter of the law’ answer, although noting if it is ruled differently for PFS would be reasonable, or if it is particularly problematic/unplayable as written. Outside of the rules forum, letter vs spirit probably depends on the context of the question.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think both are useful for entirely different reasons.

Letter of the rules (RAW) is something that everyone can read and understand equally. It doesn't matter when you read it, what language your read it in, what you know of the developers, or the culture at the time the text of the rules remains the same for everyone. This makes it easy for everyone to talk about the rules from a uniform position.

Spirit of the rules (RAI) is something that helps to contextualize the rules. This lets you know what the writer meant when they wrote it, what people at the time understood when they read it, what the devs were thinking when they made similar rules, and what the devs may think when they make more rules. This helps to see how the writer would rule, and thus help prevent ruling that go beyond their intended use.

Used together you have "what the rules say to do" and "what the writers intended to say with the rules". Without the former all you have is a GM making fiat rulings with no guarantee that they are based on the rules. Without the latter you have people abusing the wording to justify insane interpretations.

*************************
Example:

The rules do not state a limit to how many free actions a player can make in a round, it does say/imply that the GM can limit how many free actions a person can do.

RAW you can have infinite free actions and thus make a 2-hour speech in 6 seconds.

RAI you can only do so much in 6 seconds and the GM can say at any time that you can't do any more free actions.


4 people marked this as a favorite.

RAW is an illusion, since there is no way to write a sentence in natural language that is immune to interpretation. It is, however a useful illusion sometimes, as in "I don't have a different idea about how this is supposed to work, so I'll just follow the book as closely as I can". But it's not something that should ever be taken as more important than intent or "making it work like it is supposed to."

Liberty's Edge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Both are important.
RAW sometimes is twisted or interpreted in a way that is clearly against RAI. Example: Benefit: You make attack rolls with simple weapons without penalty. I don't suffer the power attack penalty with simple weapons.
RAI is an opinion, even if a DEV has stated how it works if it isn't printed officially somewhere.

@Lelomenia: sadly, we miss a lot of FAQ answers, even for some of the older books.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Before 2e: I was a RAW lad all the way. Lots of different reasons why, but primarily rules text can be pretty schizophrenic at times.

Post 2e: I'm a RAI lad now since any rules questions from here out will not have confirmed answers for ambiguitous wording.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think there’s value both in citing RAW and offering a RAI perspective where one feels there’s ambiguity surrounding the rules.

It’s worth remembering that the FAQ and the Errata only reflect the questions that reached the developers—not every conundrum posed by players. It’s also worth considering, I think, the spirit offered in FAQ entries like the one written for spellstrike:

Quote:
Basically, the spellstrike gives the magus more options when it comes to delivering touch spells; it’s not supposed to make it more difficult for the magus to use touch spells.

Which is to say, there’s RAW and then there’s the underlying design philosophy and spirit of the game. The former is intended to come packaged with clarity, but sometimes has to be expounded on further, or—if necessary—errata’d. The latter is harder to convey in each and every instance, and may not be obviously stated.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

The bigger problem comes from the lack of basic editing and correction in the later content (mostly circa 2016 or so, but its still noticeable even around 2014) when people started getting pulled off PF1e for 2e (and starfinder even earlier). Some of the later splat books, are full of completely incorrect wordings or rules that seem to override previous design choices: e.g.

Shield of Darkness wrote:
You shield yourself with darkness, reducing the illumination level in your space to magical darkness and granting you total concealment. Your opponents are automatically aware of which squares you occupy, preventing you from attempting Stealth checks using this concealment unless every square adjacent to you has an illumination level of darkness or lower. Shield of darkness does not hinder your vision, and creatures that can see in magical darkness ignore this effect.

Do they mean supernatural darkness? If so, why does this ability get to also block single target abilities when normal displacement doesn't (and when creatures with see in darkness are extremely rare). It's not quite the level of unplayable, but it is something publish well after we got our last faq for 1e, and so speculation is required. And while this is somewhat of a cherry picked example, it wasn't like we aren't spoiled for options, even among some interactions from early content people stumble upon, or even need to be reminded of because this game has so many rulings scattered in extremely hidden places (especially if you want to understand the context of the ruling).

Then again, when there is so much of this clear and apparent lack of oversite for these rules sources, some very minor but others containing major expansions to the rules, and when these rules are known to be outsourced to one off writers that are brought in for the projects, what makes these rules any more valid than a 3pp source or someone else's homebrew. Sure the raw can be discussed to ensure you understand what it's saying, but even then you have to assume or at least address if the RAI even follows the RAW, before you can even get to "is this a good rule for the game?"

Other examples of rules that still don't have proper interpretation that just popped into my mind while typing:
*Swashbuckler Dizzying Defense (is it an extra attack as a swift action)
*Most Paladin Mercies from Healer's Handbook
*How does rest requirements change on planes/planets without 24hr day/night cycles (including timeless planes) as well as frequency of rest
*Does flurrying with natural weapons (via feral weapon training) use your special strength modifier or always 1xStr to damage
*Synthesis summoner with size changing
*Everything with mounted combat
*plenty of niche monster rules that on their own aren't much but open up an issue for potential metagaming and dispute (and also generally doesn't go through a player/GM discussion like a rule that a player can take would)

Grand Lodge

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

RAW is an illusion, but a useful fiction.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
AwesomenessDog wrote:


Shield of Darkness wrote:
You shield yourself with darkness, reducing the illumination level in your space to magical darkness and granting you total concealment. Your opponents are automatically aware of which squares you occupy, preventing you from attempting Stealth checks using this concealment unless every square adjacent to you has an illumination level of darkness or lower. Shield of darkness does not hinder your vision, and creatures that can see in magical darkness ignore this effect.
Do they mean supernatural darkness? If so, why does this ability get to also block single target abilities when normal displacement doesn't (and when creatures with see in darkness are extremely rare). It's not quite the level of unplayable, but it is something publish well after we got our last faq for 1e, and so speculation is required.

I would just like to point out that that spell is perfectly clear about what it is. You make "your space" into "magical darkness" (aka supernatural), you gain "total concealment", you cannot use it to stealth unless you are already in an area of darkness, only select creatures can bypass this effect. The spell is useable because there are so few creatures that can see in magical darkness. It is effectively an alternate form of displacement (virtually the same text), instead of shifting your position it shrouds you in darkness (plus it lets you stealth if you are in darkness).

* P.S. The reason why this spell is stronger than Displacement is because its easier to bypass than displacement. Displacement is only stopped by true seeing, Shield of Darkness is stopped by anything that lets yoh see in magical darkness (not just see in darkness).


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Both matter in various degrees, and depend on the context of the issue along with what's being discussed.

What the devs intended, while nice to know sometimes, has been shown to actually work the opposite way by rulings made after their intent was expressed, and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt. Honestly, dev intent shouldn't be used as the basis for things, as gms can (and should) rule their own intent for their game's materials.

So really, yes, you should answer with what the rules are, and then bring up intent separately if something is ambiguous.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
wraithstrike wrote:

Disclaimer: This might belong in general discussion.

I've noticed over the years that many of the disagreements about the rules come down to whether those debating see the rules as "What the devs intended" vs "These words are used and intent doesn't matter".

When I first got here most people were going by intent, but that was over 10 years ago.

However if I'm helping someone in the forums and they don't specify I'd like to know what PoV I should use.

I don't think that duality is true, nor does it characterize why people support their interpretation of the rules. It IS a common support rationale in an Appeal to Authority. I believe people have come to an understanding of the rules in their mind and support that interpretation. How they support that opinion and what science or expertise they bring with it varies.

Personally I have my RAW view for this Rules forum and my Home Game view for my home games and practical usage. Sometimes knowing old D&D rules trips me up.

Personally RAI is moot. The text has been edited multiple times over 20 odd years (DnD3&3.5, PF1) and now we have what we have as RAW.

As a writer you can take various points of view or tones with a posting. I believe most posters use their common conversational style.
I would advise posters to link to AoN quotes and try to support their position using RAW, logic, current usage at the game table (common practice can vary from RAW) and to keep it reasonable. Some posters delight in argument for its own sake. Some posters have a very rigid view of the rules. Some posters believe in keeping their players happy & amused is the goal of the game. Opinions vary.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Wait, since when did they start filtering swear words...


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Temperans wrote:
AwesomenessDog wrote:


Shield of Darkness wrote:
You shield yourself with darkness, reducing the illumination level in your space to magical darkness and granting you total concealment. Your opponents are automatically aware of which squares you occupy, preventing you from attempting Stealth checks using this concealment unless every square adjacent to you has an illumination level of darkness or lower. Shield of darkness does not hinder your vision, and creatures that can see in magical darkness ignore this effect.
Do they mean supernatural darkness? If so, why does this ability get to also block single target abilities when normal displacement doesn't (and when creatures with see in darkness are extremely rare). It's not quite the level of unplayable, but it is something publish well after we got our last faq for 1e, and so speculation is required.

I would just like to point out that that spell is perfectly clear about what it is. You make "your space" into "magical darkness" (aka supernatural), you gain "total concealment", you cannot use it to stealth unless you are already in an area of darkness, only select creatures can bypass this effect. The spell is useable because there are so few creatures that can see in magical darkness. It is effectively an alternate form of displacement (virtually the same text), instead of shifting your position it shrouds you in darkness (plus it lets you stealth if you are in darkness).

* P.S. The reason why this spell is stronger than Displacement is because its easier to bypass than displacement. Displacement is only stopped by true seeing, Shield of Darkness is stopped by anything that lets yoh see in magical darkness (not just see in darkness).

The point is that little s%~$ like this gets through the cracks all the time especially in the newer books, and "magical" darkness means nothing, as the basic darkness spell that doesn't make supernatural darkness is also "magical" darkness, to someone who doesn't do anything to read between the lines.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
AwesomenessDog wrote:
Temperans wrote:
AwesomenessDog wrote:


Shield of Darkness wrote:
You shield yourself with darkness, reducing the illumination level in your space to magical darkness and granting you total concealment. Your opponents are automatically aware of which squares you occupy, preventing you from attempting Stealth checks using this concealment unless every square adjacent to you has an illumination level of darkness or lower. Shield of darkness does not hinder your vision, and creatures that can see in magical darkness ignore this effect.
Do they mean supernatural darkness? If so, why does this ability get to also block single target abilities when normal displacement doesn't (and when creatures with see in darkness are extremely rare). It's not quite the level of unplayable, but it is something publish well after we got our last faq for 1e, and so speculation is required.

I would just like to point out that that spell is perfectly clear about what it is. You make "your space" into "magical darkness" (aka supernatural), you gain "total concealment", you cannot use it to stealth unless you are already in an area of darkness, only select creatures can bypass this effect. The spell is useable because there are so few creatures that can see in magical darkness. It is effectively an alternate form of displacement (virtually the same text), instead of shifting your position it shrouds you in darkness (plus it lets you stealth if you are in darkness).

* P.S. The reason why this spell is stronger than Displacement is because its easier to bypass than displacement. Displacement is only stopped by true seeing, Shield of Darkness is stopped by anything that lets yoh see in magical darkness (not just see in darkness).

The point is that little s!@% like this gets through the cracks all the time especially in the newer books, and "magical" darkness means nothing, as the basic darkness spell that doesn't make supernatural darkness is also "magical" darkness, to someone who doesn't...

Not arguing that, I was commenting on that specific spell. Also took advantage of that post to show how I use RAW and RAI to make sense of things.

I do agree that there was something going on that was causing mixed up wordings on some abilities.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
wraithstrike wrote:
However if I'm helping someone in the forums and they don't specify I'd like to know what PoV I should use.

IMO it's best to tell them both RAW and RAI - and your own take on it. This leaves the decision to the asking person - after all, they know their table better than anyone here.

That said, for a game designer rules are just tools. A game is designed with a certain experience in mind, and rules only exist to contribute to this experience (among with presentation, story and technology). And if a rule damages the experience (often in combination with other rules), it should be modified or removed.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Thanks for the replies. Maybe giving both ideas is the best way for me to go about it.

Scarab Sages

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Its how I try to go about it but then again I do tend to disagree with a lot of RAW and houserule otherwise so I've become disenchanted with a lot of RAW becuase I've spent far too much time trying to find out the RAI and why behind a ruling so I can judge if I want to houserule it or leave it alone.


one of the things people forget is that RAW is RAW and it's not a technical manual or science textbook but a Work of Art (and it relies on D&D 3.5 via the OGL). Lastly the Game NEEEDS a GM (and players) to interpret the rules into their actual game and a work in progress. Just running a RAW game doesn't work - too many corner cases and interactions occur especially with Wizards at the table or when 'leveraging the Rulez'.

I find GM styles, themes, and how close they stick to RAW varies (just like how pedantic they are). After read some RAW people naturally develop a Reality Matrix(from RAW lol) or Point of View(Intellectual model of the Game). That of course (naturally) creeps into their postings.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / Rules Questions / Letter of the rules vs Spirit of the rules All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.