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D&D 5E On rulings, rules, and Twitter, or: How Sage Advice Changed

Rule of Cool and Rule of Fun are way more important to my magical Elf make-believe games than stare decisis, personally.

This is about being a Dungeon Master in an alcohol and cheetos fueled romp, not the Emperor Justinian formulating a Law Code for all time.
Whilst there's obviously truth to that I think his underlying point is that it's better when DMs are pretty consistent about how they adjudicate things rather than obviously inconsistent, and certainly that's supported by my experience with various DMs and various RPGs. Most DMs are pretty consistent, too - because their mind tends to run along certain tracks and they remember how they did things before. But there are a few DMs who are reaaaaaaally making it up on the fly rules-adjudication-wise (ironically they're often using pre-gen adventures in my experience) and that can be a bit frustrating if they rule one way one week and then another way the next week in nigh-identical situations (some of them are even good DMs overall, note, but it's a pain point imho).
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Whilst there's obviously truth to that I think his underlying point is that it's better when DMs are pretty consistent about how they adjudicate things rather than obviously inconsistent, and certainly that's supported by my experience with various DMs and various RPGs. Most DMs are pretty consistent, too - because their mind tends to run along certain tracks and they remember how they did things before. But there are a few DMs who are reaaaaaaally making it up on the fly rules-wise (ironically they're often using pre-gen adventures in my experience) and that can be a bit frustrating if they rule one way one week and then another way the next week in nigh-identical situations (some of them are even good DMs overall, note, but it's a pain point imho).
I think pretty consistent is fine and dandy...but stare decisis is a bit further than I think the game warrants. It's more of a Civil Law situation, if anything.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Taking your history of posting into account, that's how you come across. I'm not going to get into a back and forth beyond that.
Fair enough, I’ve been quite a jerk lately.
All I can say is, I don’t think people who misinterpreted the rule were stupid (some who I know are very intelligent) nor do I think they were acting in bad faith. Neither is required to see what one expects/wants to see/what makes sense to you.

Hell, the rule is definitely different from what it should be, and I’m skeptical that the RAW is RAI. IMO, both it and TWF should just be a bonus action attack, regardless of what your action is.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Rule of Cool and Rule of Fun are way more important to my magical Elf make-believe games than stare decisis, personally.

This is about being a Dungeon Master in an alcohol and cheetos fueled romp, not the Emperor Justinian formulating a Law Code for all time.

This, of course, brings up the most important issue of this whole discussion:

WHY HAS NO ONE YET INVENTED CHEETOS-FLAVORED SCHNAPPS?
 

I think pretty consistent is fine and dandy...but stare decisis is a bit further than I think the game warrants. It's more of a Civil Law situation, if anything.
It's not completely inapplicable as an analogy. Stare decisis exists in courts to create a sense of fairness & impartiality in the court, those are both good traits in a GM. Countries with courts that don't use some method of respecting precedent are typically called things like banana republic police state & worse with a reputation for being places you never want to be under scrutiny by taw enforcement as a well understood counter example to show the risks of ignoring precedent in decisionmaking that we regularly even get to see in movies/tv/fiction.

A lot of the 5e SA rulings were bonkers in conflict with past rulings & that created problems where it becomes difficult to build off both. That's called a Circuit split when it happens in different courts, but this was frequently from wotc alone in 5e alone. You need only start looking at the ways they rule on & avoid ruling on barding when it comes to mounts & animal companions vrs druids as a stark & concise example of it in action. Even when they finally broke down & admitted that there is nothing stopping a druid PC in rules or balance from saying "well no, screw that.. yes I will" they couldn't resist throwing in a jab along the lines of "the druid explodes"

edit: the planescape torment/ druid wildshape podcast has another great example where they explain the justification for allowing the cool dragonborn breath weapon in any form with a "mouth like orifice" then bend over backward later to rule out racial abilities from some other races like warforged also applying.
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend
It's not completely inapplicable as an analogy. Stare decisis exists in courts to create a sense of fairness & impartiality in the court, those are both good traits in a GM. Countries with courts that don't use some method of respecting precedent are typically called things like banana republic police state & worse with a reputation for being places you never want to be under scrutiny by taw enforcement as a well understood counter example to show the risks of ignoring precedent in decisionmaking that we regularly even get to see in movies/tv/fiction.

A lot of the 5e SA rulings were bonkers in conflict with past rulings & that created problems where it becomes difficult to build off both. That's called a Circuit split when it happens in different courts, but this was frequently from wotc alone in 5e alone. You need only start looking at the ways they rule on & avoid ruling on barding when it comes to mounts & animal companions vrs druids as a stark & concise example of it in action. Even when they finally broke down & admitted that there is nothing stopping a druid PC in rules or balance from saying "well no, screw that.. yes I will" they couldn't resist throwing in a jab along the lines of "the druid explodes"
Louisiana, France, Quebec, Germany, Sweden, and most countries outside of the English speaking world are all Banana Republics that people fear visiting....Ooooookay.
 


I think pretty consistent is fine and dandy...but stare decisis is a bit further than I think the game warrants. It's more of a Civil Law situation, if anything.
Maybe, but I really don't respect the legal systems of countries using Civil Law approaches because wow the overwhelming evidence suggests they are way worse at making good legal decisions than those using Common Law ones. It's one of those things that sounds better on paper by miles and then in practice it's a totally inconsistent trash fire (and somehow more corrupt than Common Law stuff, I think in part because precedent doesn't work quite the same way). But now we're getting into Ruin's legal opinions TED talk stuff.
Louisiana, France, Quebec, Germany, Sweden, and most countries outside of the English speaking world are all Banana Republics that people fear visiting....Ooooookay.
I honestly would not trust the Swedish justice system further than I could throw it based on some of the peculiar and specific miscarriages of justice I'm aware from there (not talking famous hackers btw that's a prosecutorial thing not a civil law thing). The French one produces worse results than the British one, at least in terms of criminal law. Germany I'm actually not very familiar with, but I think you're maybe failing to realize how much some people involved with the law are utterly repulsed by Civil Law systems and their outcomes. Anyway shut up Ruin shut up.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Maybe, but I really don't respect the legal systems of countries using Civil Law approaches because wow the overwhelming evidence suggests they are way worse at making good legal decisions than those using Common Law ones. It's one of those things that sounds better on paper by miles and then in practice it's a totally inconsistent trash fire (and somehow more corrupt than Common Law stuff, I think in part because precedent doesn't work quite the same way). But now we're getting into Ruin's legal opinions TED talk stuff.
Fair enough. I wouldn't say it's better or worse, just different.

The lack of stare decisis as a concept can be looked at as a strength, rather than a weakness. The electoral weaponization of court appointments that is rife in certain Common Law countries based precisely in using stare decisis as a scare tactic isn't even sensical in, say, the Netherlands.
 

The electoral weaponization of court appointments that is rife in certain Common Law countries
Certain countries?

AFAIK that's only present in the US. It is not present nor possible in the UK (unsure if in Australia/Canada). Electing judges or making them political appointees is a recipe for disaster regardless of Civil or Common Law. You can weaponize judge appointments in Civil Law because they can factor in precedent way less and make decisions more in your favour. Just don't elect judges or let politicians appoint them!

But yeah it can be a strength in some ways.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Certain countries?

AFAIK that's only present in the US. It is not present nor possible in the UK (unsure if in Australia/Canada). Electing judges or making them political appointees is a recipe for disaster regardless of Civil or Common Law. You can weaponize judge appointments in Civil Law because they can factor in precedent way less and make decisions more in your favour. Just don't elect judges or let politicians appoint them!

But yeah it can be a strength in some ways.
I was trying to keep it more generic, to avoid spiraling too far afield. :)
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Sorry lol my American wife and I had a lengthy discussion on this a few months ago (we agreed fortunately) - she's at the end of a British law degree.
Well, TIL that elected politicians don't appoint judges in the UK and probably most other Common Law countries, so that's pretty cool. Another brick in the wall of my disillusionment with my home country, lol.

Still, in regards to the game rules, stare decisis is a questionable importation, and really does not capture how Crawford operates at all.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Well, TIL that elected politicians don't appoint judges in the UK and probably most other Common Law countries, so that's pretty cool. Another brick in the wall of my disillusionment with my home country, lol.

Still, in regards to the game rules, stare decisis is a questionable importation, and really does not capture how Crawford operates at all.
Right. DnD rules aren't a legal code. They are guidelines for play written in natural language (which is not casual language), meant to be interpreted by a DM. Sage Advice is there for when someone doesn't get a rule, and needs clarification.

The idea that it's a bad thing for them to change a ruling is just...mind boggling, to me.

Edit: Look at the Sage Advice page linked by someone above. The first answer simply states that the rules for monsters and gear are intentionally generous and in the hands of the DM. Then someone responds with, "Okay that's for monsters, what about animals?" I just....my dude.

Mearls then gives some advice to a different person that amounts to "Sure, why not? Don't get hung up on it."

Then Mearls adresses Wild Shape, reasonably pointing out that WS doesn't specify that you gain the armor proficiencies of your beast form, but that if the animal would have proficiency, you would in wild shape as well. Basically, whether an animal is proficient is loose and up to the DM. Whether you are proficient is also up to the DM, but by RAW would be based on the same DM's ruling on that animal's proficiency with armor. So, if you turn into a wolf, and the DM has allowed wolf friends to be proficient in armor, you are. If the DM hasn't, you aren't. Makes sense.

Digging deeper with subsequent searches, I found Jeremy noting that armor made for a human is, well, made for a human, when asked about magic armor and wild shape. A natural reading of the rules text. To another query, he simply restates that the DM decides whether a nonhumanoid creature can use a given item made for humanoids.

I found some gems where people really struggle to understand the explicitly clear rule that AC calculations don't stack, and one that seemed to forget that Unarmored Defense is specifically 10+dex+wis (wanted the natural armor of a wolf to stack with dex and wis. nope, it's a specific formula)

Most of the things I see him answer on twitter could literally be replaced with "just read the relevant rules text, please." and be effectively the same answer.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Right. DnD rules aren't a legal code. They are guidelines for play written in natural language (which is not casual language), meant to be interpreted by a DM. Sage Advice is there for when someone doesn't get a rule, and needs clarification.

The idea that it's a bad thing for them to change a ruling is just...mind boggling, to me.
Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for them to change a ruling at all. I do think it’s a bad thing to remove a nuanced discussion of the design intent and potential implications of changing it, in favor of a straightforward statement of how the rule works. I think Sage Advice would be far more useful if it still actually went into RAW, RAI, and RAF on commonly debated rulings, and leave Twitter for the straightforward clarifications of RAW.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
So what can we take away from all this? First of all, ignore Sage Advice. All it’s ever going to give you is a legalistic reading that’s unlikely to be of any real use in a practical context. Second, let go of the idea of “official rulings.” 5e was explicitly designed to be interpreted by a DM, who, with feedback from their group, would fill in any gaps in the existing rules. There is no “official” source other than the text itself, which is why all you’ll get from tweeting Jeremy Crawford is a slight rephrasing of the text. And third of all, if someone tries to say Sage Advice or Crawford’s Twitter counts as RAW, point them here. It probably won’t change their minds, but it’ll probably be easier than trying to explain all this to them yourself. And with any luck, it will help spread awareness of the original intent behind Sage Advice and how it no longer fulfills that intent.
I really enjoyed your discussion and liked many of your points and supporting examples. Where my view diverges originates in the question of how we know the meaning of a rule at all? In the case of games I believe we rely upon overlapping contexts - other meanings - that are at a distant remove from any putative factual foundations.

One context is appeal to authority - for games, typically game designers, but also tournament referees and influential commentators, for example. SA is a crucial resource because it did and still contains statements that lend to interpretation.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I really enjoyed your discussion and liked many of your points and supporting examples. Where my view diverges originates in the question of how we know the meaning of a rule at all? In the case of games I believe we rely upon overlapping contexts - other meanings - that are at a distant remove from any putative factual foundations.

One context is appeal to authority - for games, typically game designers, but also tournament referees and influential commentators, for example. SA is a crucial resource because it did and still contains statements that lend to interpretation.
I agree that authorial intent can be a valuable lens through which to analyze the rules. I guess my point was that I don’t think Sage Advice has been an accurate indication of authorial intent for some years now. I think it started out that way, but at some point the approach shifted from giving insight into RAI to simply clarifying RAW. And that can be useful in cases where RAW is unclear, but it isn’t really a different context than a technical reading of the text itself.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for them to change a ruling at all. I do think it’s a bad thing to remove a nuanced discussion of the design intent and potential implications of changing it, in favor of a straightforward statement of how the rule works. I think Sage Advice would be far more useful if it still actually went into RAW, RAI, and RAF on commonly debated rulings, and leave Twitter for the straightforward clarifications of RAW.
I mean I wouldn't be opposed to a blog for that purpose, but I don't especially care what platform it's on, nor do I think it should replace a collection of the straightforward clarifications. Leaving that to twitter just makes it harder to find specific rulings.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
It gets both you and your players in the mindset that no one else's opinions of D&D matter and it's only your own opinions of D&D that do.

If you open the door to letting your players go searching for other people's choices on how the game is played and try and use it to trump your own rulings... you're never going to see the end of it. Plus, you're occasionally going to have situations where you DO feel strongly about a rule and are then going to have shut your player down who brought in another ruling trying to change your mind. Enjoy that confrontation when it happens.

5E's Rulings, Not Rules was intentionally chosen as a credo so that no one would have to spend their time (or as I might say it, waste their time) searching for just the right answer. Whatever you decide in the moment IS the right answer. If others agree with you, cool! But if they don't... it doesn't mean you were wrong.
A wise ruler seeks the advice of others and incorporates it into their own opinion.

Introspection in your decisions and the ability to change your mind when presented alternate views is a good thing, not something to avoid. At least in my opinion, anyway.

We have 4 different GMs at our table ...and each GM has their personal views on how to rule in a corner case. I tend to allow for "rule of cool" and always try to reinforce skill use and creative combat by being very generous in what I allow. When I'm a player, I might try to do X which I would rule as being possible but another GM does not. I'm a grown, mature adult and can accept their decision as "right for them" but at the same time not how I would do it.

Sometime I might make a ruling and the entire table disagrees with it. In those cases I will change it to accommodate the majority rule...because to me having 3-5 friends disagreeing with me tells me I'm overlooking something OR operating under different assumptions than the players were that got us to that point in the adventure.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
A wise ruler seeks the advice of others and incorporates it into their own opinion.

Introspection in your decisions and the ability to change your mind when presented alternate views is a good thing, not something to avoid. At least in my opinion, anyway.

We have 4 different GMs at our table ...and each GM has their personal views on how to rule in a corner case. I tend to allow for "rule of cool" and always try to reinforce skill use and creative combat by being very generous in what I allow. When I'm a player, I might try to do X which I would rule as being possible but another GM does not. I'm a grown, mature adult and can accept their decision as "right for them" but at the same time not how I would do it.

Sometime I might make a ruling and the entire table disagrees with it. In those cases I will change it to accommodate the majority rule...because to me having 3-5 friends disagreeing with me tells me I'm overlooking something OR operating under different assumptions than the players were that got us to that point in the adventure.
What, being a reasonable adult willing to work with your table? Pretty sure that goes against the Gamers Creed.
 

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