D&D General D&D Canon - why is it important and how does it affect your game?

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If someone's already taken the time to flesh something out, I like to try and actually get some use out of it. Just recently, I'm prepping for Tomb of Annihilation and while the adventure has a fair bit of background on Chult, I also pulled out my copy of FRM1 - Jungles of Chult and read through it as well - as well as the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Into the Jungle. It provided some nice additional details, though there's some content I'm not going to be using. The big thing was the fairly detailed city of Mezro that was whisked away in the adventure during the spellplague. Since for my own game I'm ignoring the Sundering and Spellplague, I have at my fingertips information for if the characters can locate Mezro, and I can leave it in as an adventure location.

Overall, I don't like to be bound by canon, but I do like to be able to use (or discard) the information presented in various supplements, as I can't think of everything myself. If it ever gets to feeling like homework instead of a pleasant read, it's going to get tossed by me.


On the one hand, as someone who's primarily a player I value the level of detail a published setting offers. It gives me a big pile of locations and characters to use as starter seeds for creating my PC's background. Instead of having to make it up from scratch I have some pre-made pieces I can reference or use as inspiration. In my experience, most DMs using a homebrew setting don't offer nearly that level of detail before the campaign starts. I'm sure some do, but I've never played with them.

On the other hand, I fully respect the DM's desire to not have their players "Umm, actually..." them when it comes to the contents of their world and the behavior of its inhabitants. It's got to be galling to have the players try to backseat DM with meta-knowledge from setting books you may not have read or remember. So I don't blame a DM who doesn't want to be tightly constrained by the contents of a book they didn't write.

The place I've found myself between this is that while I enjoy playing in a published setting, I'm not going to demand the DM adheres to it rigorously as long as they tell me what's different. If you're making substantial changes to some parts of the lore, include it in the campaign brief. If you want to use this edition's version over that edition's version, I'm not wedded to any of them as long as you tell me which one to expect. And if you want to run a homebrew setting, that's fine, but gosh would it be nice if you could type out enough of it for me to properly integrate my PC into it.


A: "So I am planning an adventure, high level, and the PC's are going to be able to join Drizzt, anywhere know where he's located right now?"
B: "He's dead actually, killed him off, I hate high level NPCs."
A: "Yeah, but I mean in like, Wizards setting, where would I find him."
B: "I told you, hes dead, I killed him."
A: "Bu...."
C: "Wait, 'he'?! Everyone knows Drizzt is a chick, my DM told me 10 years ago!"
B: "Look, I dont care, hes dead though, OK?"
A: "...."

Canon matters, in a shared setting so that people can discuss, and actually 'share' in that setting.


I used to care. Its actually Fifth Edition that freed me from it. And its very liberating.

I like how 5e Realms is not full of metaplot and novels that tack down every detail of the setting.
I like how Eberron has no canonical events post 998 YK and its the players decide how the story advances.
I like how Ravenloft was unburdened from the past and creates a new version of the setting.
I like how Dragonlance casts the PCs as important to the War without making them compete with the Heroes of the Lance

I feel a lot more comfortable using official setting without being bound to metaplots and supplemental reading.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Some people have more character ideas then they will ever have a chance to play. (Okay, that's me, but not just me.) But I love world building and I have more setting ideas then I will ever have a chance to run. My last four campaigns completed averaging 4 1/2 years, with a spread from 3 to 7 years. So canon means nothing to me when running.

But when playing in a established setting, the number one most important thing is that everyone is on the same page. If a player has expectations about a setting that are at odd with what the DM is running, it's better if they are in a featureless white box. Because otherwise the shared commonalities of the setting are actually all landmines.

"But the clues you have been dropping fit strongly to Sammaster, so of course we have been investigating the Cult of the Dragon!"

"Who the heck is Sammaster? I've never heard of them so my clues couldn't have pointed at him."

So if you are playing in an established setting, any deviations from canon are actively harmful to play unless directly and explicitly told. And it's usually easier just to stick to canon.

That's one of the reasons I freaking hate the Forgotten Realms with a passion. I've been playing in it since the early 90s, and there is so much lore I know that there is literally zero chance I will be aligned with the DM, and I know there's so much lore that I don't know because I wasn't into all of the bleeding novels so everything there is either a landmine, or a completely bland generic serial-numbers-filed-off grayish beige echo of an actual setting.

For the past several years I've run my own homebrew, and played in a shared world that we all know the lore of because we've made it. All good.

TL;DR: If using an established setting, canon is of utmost importance even if it's just to make sure everyone knows where you are deviating from it.


Canon is great, until it is not. Each world has canon which is what separates one world from another and is fine. I tend to use this when making campaigns. It helps when looking at lost places and old races or groups that lived in the area. The gods information and who is who is ok and works fine. I do not feel like I'm doing things wrong if I play FR and take 2e information and place it in my 5e game.

Canon breaks down when it is in conflict. The game worlds and core books can be in conflict. The MM could have something since everyone seems to want background and lore for each monster. Then that needs to be placed in each world, but conflicts occur.


I use World of Greyhawk as my default FRPG setting. When I say that, what I mean is that I use the maps, and hence the place names and geography on them. Sometimes I also use some of the setting backstory - eg some of the gods and religions, some of the history, etc. But I also have my own views about some things, worked out decades ago in one of my long-running Rolemaster campaigns (set in GH). And I don't regard consistency across campaigns as especially important - eg I've run an AD&D campaign where the Keep on the Borderlands was in the north of the Shield Lands, and more recently a Burning Wheel campaign where the Keep was east of Hardby.

I'm currently using the Moathouse from T1, but it is located in the Troll Fens, and Nulb is on the edge of the Fens, and Hommlet is not a thing at all. And the associated Temple is a (Torchbearer) Forgotten Temple Complex, with various elemental cults only one of which is obviously evil (the Void Cult associated with earth and air).

Because I have used different systems for FRPGing over the years, there are also changes to various setting elements in my GH - eg my RM game had no Halflings (I don't like them in RM), but my current Torchbearer game includes them at least by implication, given that Halflings are a core PC build option. Another eg: in my AD&D game, magic-users worked AD&D-style; in Rolemaster they used power points and spell lists; in Burning Wheel their are individual spells rather than spell lists, but no power points (rather, magic is limited by Tax, a type of endurance mechanic); in Torchbearer they are very close to AD&D.

I see canon as a source of ideas, tropes, themes etc, but not something to actually care about or be bound by.


Canon matters if you want to change something and have a player at your table who knows the setting - then you're in a constant fight against the way it's "supposed" to be.
I wouldn’t be in a constant fight. That player would be free to find another game that suits them better. If something is not up for debate, it’s not up for debate.
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