Curious how to interpret a rule in the Player’s Handbook? Unsure what the D&D team meant when we wrote a section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide? Want some light shed on an unclear bit of the Monster Manual or another D&D book? Then Sage Advice is for you!
Sage Advice first appeared back in 1979 in the seminal gaming magazine The Dragon, starting with issue 31. The sage at the time was Jean Wells. Her answers touched on a variety of D&D-related topics: rules, etiquette at the game table, product release dates, and the lore of the D&D multiverse. The questions and answers sometimes wandered into the realm of the bizarre. Curious whether you could spawn orcs to create an army? The sage had the answer: “Orcs are mammals and therefore do not spawn.”
Fast forward to today. This new incarnation of Sage Advice focuses on the rules of the game, especially on how to interpret them when they aren’t clear. For just over a month now, D&D fans have had all three of the core books for the new edition. We’ve all been putting the game through its paces, and questions are popping up. Almost always your Dungeon Master or fellow players can sort things out, but in those rare cases when your group is stumped, you can turn to us. If you have a rule question that you’d like the D&D team to consider, send the question to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll do our best to answer as many questions as possible.
In case you’re wondering who the new sage is, I’m one of the two lead designers of the new edition, as well as the lead designer of the Player’s Handbook and one of the leads on the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I’m also the managing editor who oversees the creation of material for the game.
Now to our first batch of questions! They have a common theme: the philosophy behind rules and rulings in D&D. These answers lay groundwork for the columns in the months ahead.
Why even have a column like Sage Advice when a DM can just make a ruling?
Rules are a big part of what makes D&D a game, rather than simply improvised storytelling. The game’s rules are meant to help organize, and even inspire, the action of a D&D campaign. The rules are a tool, and we want our tools to be as effective as possible. No matter how good those tools might be, they need a group of players to bring them to life and a DM to guide their use.
The DM is key. Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency. If the rules tried to do so, the game would become unplayable. An alternative would be for the rules to severely limit what characters can do, which would be counter to the open-endedness of D&D. The direction we chose for the current edition was to lay a foundation of rules that a DM could build on, and we embraced the DM’s role as the bridge between the things the rules address and the things they don’t.
In a typical D&D session, a DM makes numerous rules decisions—some barely noticeable and others quite obvious. Players also interpret the rules, and the whole group keeps the game running. There are times, though, when the design intent of a rule isn’t clear or when one rule seems to contradict another.
Dealing with those situations is where Sage Advice comes in. This column doesn’t replace a DM’s adjudication. Just as the rules do, the column is meant to give DMs, as well as players, tools for tuning the game according to their tastes. The column should also reveal some perspectives that help you see parts of the game in a new light and that aid you in fine-tuning your D&D experience.
When I answer rules questions, I often come at them from one to three different perspectives.
RAW. “Rules as written”—that’s what RAW stands for. When I dwell on the RAW interpretation of a rule, I’m studying what the text says in context, without regard to the designers’ intent. The text is forced to stand on its own.
Whenever I consider a rule, I start with this perspective; it’s important for me to see what you see, not what I wished we’d published or thought we published.
RAI. Some of you are especially interested in knowing the intent behind a rule. That’s where RAI comes in: “rules as intended.” This approach is all about what the designers meant when they wrote something. In a perfect world, RAW and RAI align perfectly, but sometimes the words on the page don’t succeed at communicating the designers’ intent. Or perhaps the words succeed with one group of players but fail with another.
When I write about the RAI interpretation of a rule, I’ll be pulling back the curtain and letting you know what the D&D team meant when we wrote a certain rule.
RAF. Regardless of what’s on the page or what the designers intended, D&D is meant to be fun, and the DM is the ringmaster at each game table. The best DMs shape the game on the fly to bring the most delight to his or her players. Such DMs aim for RAF, “rules as fun.”
We expect DMs to depart from the rules when running a particular campaign or when seeking the greatest happiness for a certain group of players. Sometimes my rules answers will include advice on achieving the RAF interpretation of a rule for your group.
I recommend a healthy mix of RAW, RAI, and RAF!
Will there be errata for the core books?
Yes, there will. We’ve been studying Twitter, forums, emails, and our play experiences to find out where the core books need correction. We’ll start by publishing corrections for the Player’s Handbook and then move on to the other books.
Don’t expect any dramatic rules changes to show up in the forthcoming errata. We’re focusing on straightforward corrections: cutting extraneous words, adding missing ones, and clarifying things that are unclear.
Fifth edition now belongs to the thousands of groups playing it. It would be inappropriate for the design team to use errata as a way to redesign the game. When we come across something that is more of a redesign than a correction, we put it into a queue of things to playtest and possibly publish at a later date. We’ll let you know if a redesign is around the corner!
In next month’s Sage Advice, I’ll dive into an assortment of rules questions. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford), where I give short answers to some rules questions and gather material for future installments of this column.