I have seen the abbreviation RAW several times now, what does it stand for?
RAW stands for "Rules As Written"
When you read the rules and form an understanding, that understanding is of the rules as they are written.
RAW is often used as a noun to mean "the rules as they are written". When someone says "by RAW, X" they mean "the rules say, X".
Reading the rules is the default way to understand the rules, but it isn't the only way
RAW is the primary way to understand rules. More broadly, reading a text is the primary method of understanding any text.
Starting with RAW, there are other things to consider that may increase your understanding:
- RAW (Rules As Written) What the rules say. There may be some different interpretations, but they are all based on reading the rules; "the rules say roll 1d6, so you should roll 1d6."
- RAI (Rules As Intended) What the designer meant. Sometimes the designer mistakenly writes something or didn't communicate clearly enough; "the rules say 1d6 but it was meant to say 1d8."
- RAF (Rules As Fun) What would be cool. Rules are great and all, but they are a means to an end, and that end is fun (for games at least); "1d6 is lame, at my table we roll 10d10."
- RAI (Rules As Interpreted) What sounds good. Another "RAI", but this is a very rare abbreviation and you probably shouldn't use it. It doesn't have a strong definition, but it is usually means something like 'this makes sense to me'; "1d6 is too much, realistically it should be 1d4, that would be fairer and make a higher quality game."
RAW stands for "Rule as Written".
In games where the distinction matters, it means "what we can understand about how things work in this game just by looking at the rules themselves". In these games, RAW often turns out to be one or more of the following...
- nonsensical (when different rules contradict);
- impractical (when the result of applying the rules... as written makes the game unfun);
- dissonant (when it turns out that the world's physics are not working as we would expect);
- useless (when the rules say nothing about a specific case).
It is important to define this because people have started using RAW to mean something more bland.
At its heart, indeed, RAW is all about the literal meaning of what is written, driven to the most extreme consequences, without peppering the matter with the slightest dose of common sense.
The concept of RAW as defined above is used for mainly two reasons.
- proving that your idea about how to rule something in the game and someone else's idea are not incompatible because they both build on the same RAW;
- building theoretical characters or challenges that almost never see play because they don't take the additional, local rulings into account.
Most people use different definitions of RAW that, as a general rule, include some rulings in order to exclude those things that the authour is highly unlikely to have meant.
This is a source of endless problems, because one person will say something is RAW and a different one will say it is not and discussion will ensue, as it always happens when people use different definitions. Since there's no way to norm where "this is what the author probably wanted to do" and "this is not what the author wanted to do for sure", sticking to the former definition of RAW is safer. (As with every definition on the Internet, expect people to contrast or ignore it if it serves them to prove a point.)
Compare with RAI, Rule as Intended, which is defined as "what the authors said was the intent of the rule", which is often used as "non RAW", including "we don't have the slightest idea of their true intent but it would be nonsense if they didn't mean this".