Shouldn’t we move past repeating “rules do what they say and nothing more?”

More the start of a conversation than a real question. It’s a wall of text, so I thank you in advance if you reach the end.

So hear me out: I’ve lurked on this site for months, learning hidden rules, exploring audacious interpretations and studying new mechanics: the honeymoon is not over yet and I’m very grateful to the community. But I also have a bone to pick with ya all: under most questions I often find this mantra, repeated mindlessly as premise for any reasoning:

Rules do what they say and nothing more.

I get the intent: don’t interpret the text beyond its scope, or you’ll end up unbalancing the game. Absolutely. But most of the times it’s used to stop the conversation instead of providing a fruitful contribution.

Case in point: in my first answer regarding the uses and limits of Mage hand, I said:

(The spell’s text) mentions manipulate an object, open an unlocked door or container, stow or retrieve an item from an open container, or pour the contents out of a vial; is this all it can do? I don’t think so, because it adds later that the hand can’t attack, activate magic items, or carry more than 10 pounds. The description remains generic on the things you can do, but is very strict on what you cannot. Could the Mage hand hold a light living creature, like a mouse? It’s certainly not an object, but it wouldn’t make sense to forbid it. As I interpret it, it’s a phantasmal hand with very little strength (therefore no attacks or any effort beyond 10 pounds) and which can’t complete complex tasks (therefore no activating magic objects): beyond that, the player’s fantasy’s the limit, and it should be rewarded (…).

I later realized that my example concerning a mouse was not as blatant as I thought, and in fact made for a different can of worms altogether. I can hear the rebuttals in the back: “The text says you can manipulate an object, so you can’t manipulate a mouse, your example is dumb and all that follows is voided”. I’m sure some agree with my non-existent, pesky alter ego, but let me add something. If you can’t hold the mouse, what happens a player tries anyway? The manuals don’t offer an easy solution, so perhaps you could simply 1)Have the cantrip stop and the hand disappear; or 2)Have the living creature fall through the ghostly limb; or maybe 3)Have the hand become unresponsive for as long as it’s interacting with incompatible things (in this case, creatures). I’m sure you can come up with any number of different solutions, and at the moment your ruling may seem to harmonize the rule with the situation.

Then again your mischievous mage player could exploit your ruling in any number of ways. Case by case: 1)If any living creature interrupts the cantrip, couldn’t another player simply highfive it and interrupt it at every turn? “AntiMage hand maneuver is a go, let’s go clap the lil’ bugger”. 2)If living things fall through the hand (and in a world with constructs and undead, have fun deciding what is living), could you also use it to scout for mimics? Actually, can the ghostly hand normally go through walls? How is the feeling of having the mage hand cross your body? Could the mage use the Mage hand to convince the king he is the ghost of his great grandfather, who eternally cursed his lineage by not adequately paying a party of adventurers for their services, and the spell can only be broken by emptying the royal treasuries onto the hand of the first random party of adventurers that show up at his presence? (I know there are easier ways, but we are squeezing all possible uses out of a measly cantrip just to make a point, come on). 3)Could you use your otherwise useless adventuring gerbil Jeremiah as a reliable counter to stop very specifically worded spells and magic items which can’t possible operate with living creatures, displaying “Error 403, forbidden” when interacting with any?

You see what I mean, any number of possible interpretations both in line with and beyond the text has an infinite number of unforeseen ramifications, and even though every DM can come up with a different answer, I think the only wrong answer would be “You can’t do that at my table because rules don’t give a definite answer, so change your action or lose the turn”. That’s how everyone’s morale wilts and how one disincetivizes any experimentation, to the detriment of the game as a whole.

Beside, shouldn’t we stop pretending the manuals were some kind of holy text providing every answer to every situation, a perfectly calibrated machine which was as frail as to crumble at the flimsiest of pokes? Let’s be honest here. Many spells are situational at best, same as several subclasses (and I don’t want to touch upon the OG ranger) and races (there’s a special place in hell for human variants); many (if not most) feats are borderline useless, and several of the conjurable creatures from find familiar are best left at the end of the PHB where they belong. The list could go on and on. And I’m not proclaiming that playing optimally is the only sensed way to (that discussion would need an other post twice as long), but for a player there’s no worse feeling than being locked up in a useless choice and drag behind the rest of a more traditional party for the unforgivable sin of experimenting with existing mechanics. Shouldn’t a DM touch up the weakest parts of the books to improve everyone’s experience at the table? After all, the first page of the contents of the DMG says:

The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren’t in charge. You’re the DM, and you are in charge of the game.

Getting back on track, what I meant is: no amount of text could cover every possible mechanic and interaction in the game. As a real life law student (please be lenient in the comments), I can assure you, however you spell a rule, it will be always be open to abuses both in favor and against its subjects, which is why one of the often underestimated roles of a DM outside homewbrewing is to do metaruling, that is to rule on rulings: when to strictly enforce a rule, when to extend its bounds and when to forgo it entirely precisely for the sake of balance. That is why we need human judges to interpret and apply laws in real life (for as long as machines will become smart enough to take that role): whenever the text falls short, understanding why a rule exists and interpreting its intent in a fair way is the way to apply both Rules As Written and Rules as Intended. They are two sides of the same coin after all. Blind faith on the manuals simply can’t solve every problem arising on the table, and even the most conservative interpretation must withstand possible future complications or be overruled when its blindsides have been exposed. No amount of tweets from the almighty JC (which I think are both a blessing and a bane since, again, the game is not perfect at all) can solve any situation in one optimal, definitive way. So let’s stop pretending there is this authentic way to play D&D vanilla.

Sometimes one has to think outside the box to understand what the box was all about.

Do you agree?