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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read as Wrong: The Origins of Bizzaro 40K and the Need to Argue.

I’ve been thinking about this BLOG post for a while.  It will also translate itself into a podcast topic.  I really just haven’t had the courage to actually write these thoughts down, and courage is exactly what it takes to go against the grain.

Specifically, this article is about rule resolution in 40k or rather the methodology by which rules issues are resolved.  The play on words in the title is a reference to “Read as Written”, the rather dominant rules philosophy which permeates the greater public consciousness when arbitrating rules issues in 40K.  “Read as Written” (RAW), is a philosophy of rules resolution which works under the notion that the only path to resolving rules questions within the system is by exact readings of the words and their application as exactly stated.  This form of arbitration is highly regarded, especially in the competitive community, as being the only viable method by which 40K rules issues can be resolved, and furthermore, to the large number of proponents of this philosophy, the only way rules issues SHOULD be resolved.

The tenets of the “Read as Written” philosophy are very compelling.  As a competitive 40K gamer, tournament organizer, podcaster, and overall 40K rules nut, I at one time found myself waving the banner of what I now more sarcastically refer to as the “Church of RaW”, so named because of the zealous nature by which followers of the RaW philosophy will defend the tenets of RaW even in the face of insurmountable evidence to some potential contrary.  The pull of “RaW’ is very seductive to a reasoning person who is seeking correct rules interpretations because it attracts followers with seemingly plausible and great promises such as:

  • Read as Written is common ground for all players and groups.
  • Read as Written is logical, not subjective, basing rules interpretations off of what is present rather than what is interpreted to be present.
  •  Read as Written does not assume intent.

Indeed, for many players, both actively in the competitive 40K scene and not, “RaW’ has become somewhat of a banner or wary cry.  It’s a statement of philosophy, like someone stating their political affiliation, group identity, or other source.  Just a quick Google search and I can find articles written by well-known BLOGgers and community personalities all espousing their membership in the Church of RaW and why it is the best choice for playing 40K.

And that is why it takes courage to write this series of articles.  Having anything negative to say about a very dominant philosophy, be it a religious faith or even something so tripe as 40K rules arbitration, especially when the dominant group is so very vocal about their opinions, requires some guts.

My motivation for doing this, however, is not rooted in trying to rebuke what is basically an idealistic form of rules arbitration but rather that I have travelled that road and come out on the other side only to look back and realize that the rules philosophy that I once touted is now actually becoming the one thing that it originally sought to destroy, namely a game of 40K in which the rules were dictated by the whims of players rather than the rules themselves.

The Origins of Bizzaro 40K

Way back in the dark ages of 40K, laughably less than a decade ago by most accounts, before the explosion of the independent tournament scene, when GW ruled the circuit, the game of 40K was decentralized outside of the control of the parent company.  For those of us who were playing the game then, the GT circuit at the time was barely worth mentioning in terms of competitive play.  Most games of 40K took place at a local shop or your buddy’s house, and rules disputes?  Well, they were resolved by either calling the GW customer service line and asking Bob for a random answer or by house ruling your way into solving problems.

However, with the rise of the 40K internet scene, the explosion of the Indy GT circuit, local tournaments, and so on, it was very quickly realized that, given the very loose manner in which GW manages the rules of 40K, more competitive games of 40K really aren’t possible without a tighter set of rules.  More importantly, what was really needed was a tighter philosophy on rule resolution than “well, that’s just how we play it around here!”

If you are like me and have to travel many hours to go play 40K, having the rules be different every place you go gets really AGGRAVATING!

I referred to this time and place as “Bizzaro 40K’, a Universe in which nobody actually plays 40K but rather plays the version of 40K that their local group has decided is correct.  Forget what the rules actually say!  We are doing it our way!

Thus, the seeds were sown for the rise of the Church of RaW.  We NEEDED, and still do, a way to globalize the game and more importantly, the rules of the game.  Seemingly, the only fair way to do this is to take the words written into the rulebook at their absolute face value.  Everyone has access to the exact same rules, and so long as well all follow them to the letter, we should all be playing the same game of 40K.

That’s the theory anyways.

And thus, Bizzaro 40K gets banished from the realms.  All is well in the newly globalized world of 40K.

The Need to Argue

But, as should be expected, not everything has exactly gone according to plan, and unfortunately, Bizzaro 40K is still quite alive and well, just not in the form we all remember.  Bizzaro 40K has taken on a new mask, one created by intentional rules mis-readings, over-analysis, and an undeniable need for many members of our community to simply argue.

And thus, the backlash of the Church of RaW begins, rooted in that need to argue.

Turns out, once you walk the road of RaW and come out on the other side, you turnaround and instead of seeing a utopia ruled by logic and administered by the great custodes of principle, what you actually see is a cancerous pit of rules lawyering, intentional disregard of the obvious, cherry-picking, denial of proof, acceptance without evidence, and what is flatly an utter lack of reading comprehension.

And moreover, what you really see is that there are very vocal members of our community who just NEED to argue about anything and everything and at the expense of whomever is unfortunate enough to come across their path.

What RaW Creates

My favorite quote of this week from a devout member of the Church of RaW went like this:
See, when you have people talking like they know how to play 6th, then I expect them to know how to play it.
This includes having a grasp of the fundamentals, which includes understanding English at a higher than 1st grade level.”
This is great because it shows two very important points about the Church of RaW that over this series of articles I really hope that I can convince you aren’t necessary, factual, nor good for the community.

First, RaW has created a false God in that there must be a “right answer” to any given rules question and that therefore, if you don’t understand the “right answer” provided, you are either stupid or can’t read.  Because, RaW, is, after all, just using what is written, RIGHT?!!! RAWR!!!!1111!111"  (Bow before the Church!).
Second, RaW creates a notion that if you can read, then you must always arrive at the same conclusion as everyone else.  I get a chuckle out of the rant above accusing people of not being able to read at a first grade level as to the reason why they don’t agree with the poster in this sense is itself humorous because 1st grade reading skills, even up to 5th grade reading skills, which is why newspapers are written to that standard, fail to incorporate MUCH higher reading skills, namely comprehension, context, and implication, most of which the author of this quote was intentionally disregarding in this conversation.  But, after all, if things like context exist, then the tenets of the Faith just aren’t true, are they?

Where I’m Going with This

My favorite part about the Church of RaW is that it assumes that there are right answers.  In fact, it provides vacuous truths, stating that what it provides is the ONLY answer to any question because it is an answer based off of written words to which there is no dispute and that ANY other form of argument is itself “Read as Intended”, being the only other way in which rules can be interpreted.
I guarantee you that before this article series is over, someone in the comments will accuse me of not reading the rules or not using the rules as they are written.  This will be done as a blanket statement, a knee-jerk reaction to what is ultimately not only a false notion but a horrible assumption that the poster himself is right in the first place based on a prayer to a false God.
There is another way.  You don’t have to play Bizzaro 40K.  Not just the Bizzaro 40K created by complete lack of rules regard but also the Bizzaro 40K created by arguing rules that flatly are argued incorrectly or argued into a state in which the game is no longer the game we are all playing.

RaW creates Bizzaro 40K, the same Bizzaro 40K that is created by people who make up the rules as they go along.

That’s the point I’m driving at, and hopefully by the end of this series I will have at least put some thoughts in your head that perhaps we can help the pendulum swing back a little more to the middle rather than “IT’s RAW!!! Quit Uzing FLUFF To make an Rule sdiscusison RAWRRR!!!!111!!” as the final word in rules debates.


  1. The RAW for your blog software of choice prevents the existence of a like button.

    I'm breaking that by simply typing it out.


    Now, if only I can figure out how to hit it.

  2. Great post.

    I admit it has been kind of funny listening to your rules "beliefs" evolving over the many episodes.

    Look forward to the rest of the series!

  3. :), i have been waiting for this :)

  4. I understand your point, I really do.

    I get the part about arguing for the sake of arguing (I have a wife, she's an expert!);

    I get the part about "RAW" interpretation being used to create resolutions or situations to a person's advantage (the very embodiment of rules lawyering);

    but where you lose me is the implication that there is no right answer to rules disputes. I'm not espousing any particular path to get there, but there must be a right answer. Maybe not RAW, maybe not RAI, maybe not Bob on the Customer Service Hotline, maybe not 11th Company Podcast, maybe not BoLS, maybe not the NOVA FAQ, but somewhere somehow there must be a right answer.

    The trick is finding the right answer that is right, not only for you but for me and for Neil and for Pat and for everyone.

    Without "right" rules, we have no rules. Rules that are sometimes right and sometimes not are not rules at all. If while playing chess the rules about how I moved my pawns suddenly became not right, then chess would not work. 40k is the same.

    Now maybe you're saying that we as a community will not be able to divine the right answer based on the tools we're given by GW (ie BRB and FAQ/Errata...both of which suck ass), and that I agree with. But there is a right answer, out there, somewhere.

    What it takes is a dedicated GW staff that will actively communicate with the community and resolve these rules issues and make Right Answers. I hold up the examples of Battlefront and Privateer Press that, in my opinion, do an extremely good job of interacting with their community and attempt to "tighten up" their games so they can be a lot of fun to play in both your mom's basement and in a grand tournament. Or a tournament in your mom's basement. The rules are always the same, and they're always right.

    I think I ranted.

    1. Your thoughts here are the precursor to the direction that I will end up going, and I'm glad you wrote all this down. :)

      Ultimately, the "right answer" doesn't exist in many cases of rules disputes within 40K EXACTLY because we don't have the tools necessary to prove what is right or wrong. We don't have the tools because GW doesn't provide us with the tools, period.

      Accepting that, not only in passing or as a social statement, but as an unarguable fact, that you cannot use the rules present to prove many situations are correct or incorrect, is the first step on the road of enlightenment that exists beyond RaW. Putting our heads in the collective sand does not produce correct answers but rather "Bizzaro" answers.

      This very discussion is where I am going with my next article.

      Surely, there is a "right" way to play this game?

      And you hit the nail on the head. The "right" way is not the way that you can twist the rules into, disregarding context, comprehension, or the "what isn't actually written" parts of the rules. All that results in is a Bizzaro 40K in which you pigeon hole rules resolution. It doesn't matter if you are twisting the rules by making them up because you don't like the way they work, that it offends your sensibilities of game play, OR that "because that's how it's written" is the sole driver of a decision making process.

      The "right" way is the way that the game designers are going to eventually state as the way to play IF they were to state it.

      Which we all WISH beyond all wishes that they would do more often.

      And they don't. :(

      What we do have are the examples and tools (namely the brains we are born with) to try and discern what the correct course may be. And only using half our brain, the RaW part, especially when the people who do make judgements barely use that half of their brain at all, as evidenced by the rules arbitration they do provide, is just plain folly. It itself is not "RaW".

      Fundamentally, my challenge to the Church is, are you actually seeking to find correct answers or are you actually seeking to just modify the game?

  5. You morans are all rong. :)

    Great article Neil

  6. "Without 'right' rules, we have no rules. Rules that are sometimes right and sometimes not are not rules at all. If while playing chess the rules about how I moved my pawns suddenly became not right, then chess would not work. 40k is the same."

    By George I think he's got it.

    Welcome to 40K!

  7. I removed all Church of RAW blogs from my regular reading, as I found myself beginning to hate the hobby.

    As accurate and enjoyable as this article is, I think there is an issue that it seems to skirt. I am talking about the psychology of the hobby. I am not a trained psychologist, but here goes:

    The idea of finding a rule set, a series of bold-faced rules of right and wrong, yes and no, is something that we as human beings all desire from an early age. Unfortunately, the real world is pretty ambiguous, and not in any way "fair". Knowing the kind of individuals attracted to our hobby (hey, I am one of them), it is pretty clear that there is a strong desire for a hard and fast set of rules, in which a solid understanding increases the chances of "victory" being achieved.

    As soon as ambiguity enters into the discussion, we leave the realm of the game board, and wind-up back in the middle school lunchroom, where nobody understands why the guys that are mean to the girls, get all the attention.

    And that's why the passengers in a night scythe take s10 hits, and vendettas can't outflank. Because of those guys in the middle school lunchroom.

    And I'm only being a little sarcastic.

    1. All of this is true. :)

      As a philosophy of life, I don't know that I'm convinced one way or another that there isn't a "correct" view of the Universe, or just that we as a species suck so bad at comprehending what exists that we can't see what is correct for what isn't. :)

      It's probably both as it always is. :P

      The first sentence you wrote though is what is driving me to even want to have this discussion. It makes me hate the hobby too when I have to wade through endless mountains of bull shit which revolve around questions which should have never been asked, (another topic I'm going to address) only to resolve them by bullying and/or disregard for "that which isn't written".

      I've got a great story to tell in the next article I'm going to write today about "that which isn't written" and how it applies to the Rulebook. It's funny because up until very, very recently, I would have never admitted to the provable existence of such evidence as my High School English teacher tried to convince me definitely was there in the context and comprehension of what I was reading. :)

    2. Neil, I am that high school English teacher.

  8. awesome read, thanks very much.
    remember, the bacon is not a lie :)

  9. Dan makes a good point, one we have to acknowledge as hobbyists. Ambiguity does create opportunities for bullies to incessantly have their way of the moment.

    1. And, in my opinion, there is a culture right now, specifically the "RaW" culture, which is supportive of the notion of willfully disregarding aspects of rules dialogue which then manifests itself as general acceptance of said bullying based on the grounds of a claim of "RaW". It's become a wary cry of rules bullying rather than a tool to assist in resolving a rules dispute like it should be.

  10. The thing that makes me laugh at a lot of RAW arguments is when people start break down every word choice, comma placement, and even dissect the sentence syntax.

    The English language is so imprecise that there is often no way to determine what the correct RAW really is, but you see a lot of people still arguing it.

    Lawyers put a lot of thought into the legal documents that they write so that their meaning of their words will not be misconstrued. Even then what happens is that there are still many legal battles over the meaning of them. I think that GWs writers write the rules willy-nilly and do not put that much thought into where the comma is placed and how the rules can be misinterpreted but people still try to break it down and put them under such scrutiny to such a level that these rules were never meant to withstand.

  11. Truth by Blackmoor.

    Language is in and of itself a way of trying to convey intent, meaning, feeling. It isn't an absolute, and does not always succeed in conveying said intent. In fact, it conveys all the precisions AND imprecisions of the users of the language ... so to presume the precise RAW is always right is to presume the authors are always precise.

    Written word rules are not mathematical .. you don't see people arguing about the AP of a Plasmagun. Treating the written word of the rules with an appreciably back-and-forth, translation-aimed approach is important ... because the very existence of the argument is predicated on the rule not being precisely presented ... and thus needing some form of reasonable translation. Absolute and excklusive application of RAW OR RAI to each situation is, therefore, in and of itself inherently unreasonable.

  12. I know it's not your intent at all, and I don't mean to dissuade, but this is really kind of depressing me a bit.

    I play a LOT of different games...WFB, 40k, Flames, Warmahordes, Historical stuff...and none of the non-GW games I play have this issue! They work in competitive environments because the game designers put forth the time and energy to make their systems work. They have the same "kind" of people, for the most part...the same dynamic, the same interactions, the same competitiveness, the same nerd rage....but those games work in that environment.

    Why oh why is GW so f'ing lazy?! It seems like such a BS lazy cop-out to say "oh, we're not going to make the rules 'right' because we don't really care for that kind of competitive play". Screw you...bazillions of dollars are spent around the world by people taht DO care for that kind of play. Get off your dead butts and make it right!

    I think I ranted again. This whole thing has me wanting to go dust off my WM/H stuff. Good job, Neil! :)

    1. lolz :)

      Not to worry, you are idolizing those other gaming systems because they have the same problems. :)

      That being said, the disconnect for GW is like you said, they don't exhibit the same WILL to want to fix it like those other companies do. They do exhibit "some" will, evidenced by the FAQs they do put out, of which the 6th ed. have been, for the most part, really good. But they don't exhibit the same DRIVE that you will find in Warmahordes to tighten up their game.

      What's frustrating most to me is the whole "well you don't need tight rules unless you are in a competitive environment", and I disagree vehemently with that. In a competitive environment, if my opponent and I can't resolve a problem, we call a judge to resolve it for us. (Later I can cuss up a storm about how that judge screwed me out of a win which is lolzfest, but at least it gets resolved) It's in a casual environment where the worst rules arguments erupt because there is no judge to arbitrate. Like, if you and I were playing on Vassal (someday maybe lolz) and we had a rules problem, there would be no judge to resolve. We would just have to fight about it until someone conceded, roll a dice and make someone extremely unhappy, quit playing because we've gotten so mad at each other, have one guy bully the other guy into acquiescing, or what have you. That's sucks. :)

      What's frustrating about GW is that they have the "nearly perfect" system if not for just this one small thing! The will to tighten up their rules.

      - They have the best models, hands down
      - They have the best fluff, hands down
      - They have the "coolest" large battle based system on the market (non-skirmish)

      And honestly, giving them credit, their rules aren't that loose! It just makes it seem loose once you start trying to apply the tinted glasses of "Read as Written" to a system that isn't intended to be looked at that way.

      Going to talk about this more in an upcoming article too, but at some point, some of the "looseness" in the rules needs to be blamed on the guy who asks the abusive rules question, knowing that the system can't support his question, doing it just for the sake of creating a problem. (And then hiding behind the standard of "RaW" as his defense for why he did it, which just makes the rest of us look bad)

      I do wish, though, just like everyone else, that GW would ratchet up their rules support, quite a bit. Jervis Johnson is just flat WRONG that it's the players creating all the problems. That does exist, for sure, like I said. But, it's far from the common case.

      I do hope they keep doing what they have been doing with their FAQs being so johnny on the spot. Although, we've had a dry spell this past month or two with a ton of burning questions!


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