I agree we need some sort of guiding principle on how to interpret 'know' in any instance. One thing that I think is sadly lacking in D&D is rules on how to interpret the rules in instances of ambiguity (presumably because the designers considered that people should just be able to resolve these issues through common sense and DM adjudication).
Originally Posted by Anthrowhale
For my part, I wonder if the 'minimal affordance' test is too narrow, or incomplete. For example, take this excerpt from Absorption in the Spell Compendium:
You can use captured spell energy to cast any spell you know or have prepared, but spells so cast donít disappear from your list of prepared spells or count against the number of spells you can normally cast per day (so you so must keep a running total of spell levels absorbed and used). The levels of spell energy you have stored must be equal to or greater than the level of the spell you want to cast, and you must have at hand (and expend) any material components required for the spell.
The spell is Sor/Wiz 9, so the 'minimal affordance' test presumably wouldn't have anything to say about the description at all. Someone looking at the spell would read 'know', refer to the PHB definition, and then say that the spell allows a Wizard to cast any spell in their spellbook (irrespective of whether the Wizard has prepared it). I would have issues with that definition, because it ignores the words 'or have prepared'. Here, we would need some sort of interpretation that narrows the meaning of 'know' in the spell description.
For my part, I usually go with a statutory interpretation approach to D&D rules.
Obviously, true statutory interpretation differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it should be pretty easy to come up with a near universal set of rules. For example, you might have something like:
- You should interpret the text of a rule according to its ordinary meaning, unless this results in an absurd result.
- If there would be an absurd result, you should interpret the rule in a way that best captures the objective intention of the author of the rule (for example, based on the text around the rule, or other text that refers to the rule).
- You should always ensure that the rule is interpreted in a way that gives it work to do (for instance, in our Absorption example above, if you give 'know' its PHB glossary definition, the words 'or have prepared' have no work to do).
(I'm a bit rushed at the moment, so this list is by no means final, but it hopefully gives a good sense of what I mean).
One downside with this sort of approach is that statutory interpretation works in real life in part because:
- legislators are aware of the principles governing statutory interpretation, and (usually try to) draft legislation carefully and meaningfully (whereas D&D authors might be a bit more loose or rushed); and
- in real life, if a law is horrendously misapplied, the legislature can address that (whereas this does not work for D&D books).
So, maybe there is no perfect solution except to just rely on common sense (and inevitable arguments about what 'common sense' means).