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The monsters in the Monster Manual have two sections: a statblock, consisting of actual game mechanics and statistics, and a write-up about the creatures background, adressing such things as their nature, ecology, social norms, behavior.

Some of this "fluff" or "lore" section in the background sounds as if also presenting rules text, for example the Undead Nature section of undead monsters like the Crawling Claw that states the monster doesn't require air, food, drink, or sleep, or the Lair Actions section of monsters with this feature.

There seems to be no clear cut however between the more technical, and the more flavor-inspired parts of the write-ups.

Does all this background information count as Rules-as-Written?

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“Rules as written” is a subjective method of interpretation.

I want to to just say “no”, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. “Lore” and “rules as written” aren’t the same category of thing.

“Rules as written” is an interpretive method. It attempts to minimize the amount of inference brought to a ruling by providing the most plain reading of the text the reader can come up with. Even this is highly subjective. I disagree with others all the time on this site about what exactly the “rules as written” reading of a rule should be. I would ask “according to who?”, because there is no universal standard for “rules as written”. It’s a tool in the toolbox of players for understanding how to play the game, and different players are going to apply this differently, different DMs are going to use this tool differently when running their games.

It simply doesn’t make sense to point at a text and say “this is rules as written”, that would be a category error. “Rules as written” is a method of reading the text, not a property of the text itself.

Rules text and lore text are different sorts of things.

Lore is an entirely different type of information from rules. Rules text is player facing, lore text is both player facing and character facing. Rules text is put together using language the players understand, and the rules text doesn’t make sense to the characters. But lore text is understandable by the characters in the fiction of the game universe. We should not expect a DM to just change the rules of the game, but the DM can be expected to change lore to suit the world they want to build.

So these are entirely different types of text with different purposes, generally speaking. However, as you have pointed out, the Monster Manual can make this distinction blurry by framing stat blocks with text about the monster, as well as providing insight into what a monster is capable of, and even what rules might apply to it. The line between rules and lore isn’t always clear. But this is okay because:

World building is the DM’s responsibility.

The introduction to the Dungeon Master’s Guide calls the DM the “Master of Worlds”. Putting together the lore of the world is the DM’s job. So when it comes to the lore texts in the various published materials, it’s up to the DM to use them or not, and how they are to be used. If the DM wants to apply a “rules as written” method of interpretation to a particular section of lore, they can do that. The Monster Manual is explicit about this:

If you’re an experienced Dungeon Master (DM), a few of the monster write-ups might surprise you, for we’ve gone into the Monster Manuals of yore and discovered some long-lost factoids. We’ve also added a few new twists. Naturally, you can do with these monsters what you will. Nothing we say here is intended to curtail your creativity. If the minotaurs in your world are shipbuilders and pirates, who are we to argue with you? It’s your world, after all.

So the DM can approach lore with a “rules as written” frame of mind, or they can chop it up and rebuild it however they like.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. What triggered this question was this answer which argued "anything that does not exist in the creature's stat block is not "essential" to running the creature in a game" and I when I tried to understand if that is the case, I found no question/answer to confirm or refute that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin That’s actually the definition of a stat block, it’s lifted right out of the monster manual: “A monster’s statistics, sometimes referred to as its stat block, provide the essential information that you need to run the monster.” \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I mean, both the stat block and the monster's lore can and will be modified by DMs, so from one perspective there isn't that much difference. The stat block is just the part of the monster that matters for tactical combat and other rules interactions. You could argue that the stat block is more core to the creature's identity, and sometimes that's true (a medusa without a petrifying gaze isn't really a medusa) but if you decide that ogres in your game all have size-changing powers, did you really change the core of the creature? Probably not. It's not a hard line, it's shades of gray. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AustinHemmelgarn How? The same sword blow that takes out a level 1 wizard in one hit would be a minor inconvenience for a level 15 wizard. Presumably their body doesn't literally become so much physically tougher that they shrug off sword hits, so HP must involve concepts like stamina, pain resistance, and luck. In other words, a lot of things that aren't really quantifiable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although on the other hand, maybe "hit points" is so ambiguous that you'll never get a satisfactory answer to the question of whether HP specifically can be known in-game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 18:14

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