I have seen the abbreviation RAW several times now, what does it stand for?
Rules As Written, sometimes contrasted with Rules As Intended or Rules As Interpreted (both entirely separate concepts, unfortunately ambiguously abbreviated to RAI)
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".