In many discussions involving rules interpretations the meaning of words is often called into question. Often, people will claim that if the game doesn't define the term that it defaults to the plain English reading of the word.

Is this stated somewhere explicitly in the rules or in designer comments? What is the source (or sources) for this claim?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am very confused by this, simply because I cannot imagine what else you would use instead. What other option is there? Clarifying that would improve the question to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: It isn't incredibly often but occasionally people will try to use definitions from previous editions (where the word may have had a defined mechanical meaning). Obviously problematic on a lot of levels, but that is one (wrong) way I've seen done. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I kind of agree with KRyan on this, but at the same time I think this question is valuable because it gives us something to point to. It seems like it would be obvious, but it's good to have anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect the real value of this assertion is not in resolving confusion in individuals who aren't sure how they should read a term which hasn't been clearly defined, it's in convincing people that a precise game definition for any term used in the rules doesn't necessarily exist (if your prior experience is with games which do go to lengths to strictly define most terms to avoid ambiguity, you might find it hard to believe that 5e uses so much ambiguous language intentionally). \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae I wouldn't and there's no good reason someone would. Yet people have and do rarely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 3:45

1 Answer 1


Jeremy Crawford1 has affirmed that this is indeed the way the rules are supposed to be read in this tweet:

Unless the rules explicitly expand, narrow, or completely redefine a word, that word retains the meaning it has in idiomatic English. #DnD

Going back to the original articles detailing the design goals for the 5th edition (see this related answer for more details) one can also find that there was some concern over the kind of language used to detail the rules. Of particular interest is this article (found by illustro) which includes:

The choice between "fun to read" and "precise" needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Certain rules can be simple and straightforward, while other matters can be handled more conversationally or filled with inspirational descriptions of people, places, or events.

While certainly not as explicit as the tweet by Jeremy Crawford, one can read from that article that the designers wanted to use plain language to describe at least part of the rules where more specific technical jargon was not necessary.

1. Jeremy Crawford was the lead rules designer of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Though at the time this answer was first written his twitter posts were considered official, as noted by V2Blast, that is no longer the case.


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