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

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
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 think that this actually identifies the problem with canon. By this analysis, every single time you start a campaign in FR, then it suddenly respawns with Drizzt, and guess what? He's there to kill again.

"Hey guys! Guess what. It's time to kill Drizzt again."

Or, for that matter, someone read a novel that places X item in a certain place. Well, if they really want X item, does that mean that they get to go there and get X item (say, an artifact?) and take it, because canon?

Fundamentally, the very nature of "strong canon" (in the sense of literature, or film) is anathema to a campaign of D&D. Because D&D is not film or literature- instead, every single game is in its own game world unless there is some type of explicit shared campaign world with other DMs (this is something that used to be handled by the Gygaxian multiverse of infinite variety within the prime material planes). Or, to put it another way, the Greyhawk I am running is not the same world as the Greyhawk you are running. The FR that Sarah is running is not the same as the FR that Emily is running is not the same as the FR in the novels.

That's not to say that there isn't some shared gestalt. Names of countries and cities. Organizations (Scarlet Brotherhood, Red Wizards of Thay). And so on. But demanding fealty to a strong canon is, IMO, wrong ... because it restricts the freedom of play and events that is the magic of emergent play within a TTRPG.
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I find "canon" less useful than presentation, if that makes sense. I dislike the presentation of setting concepts in 5e. It's a frustrating mix of useless wishy-washy nothing (lots of "you could do X, or not-X!" without explanation of why or how), infuriatingly strident statements trying to entrench a traditional view (e.g. ghettoizing the non-"Core Four" races) rather than presenting ways to use these elements as tools for articulating a theme or feel, and outright silence on topics that would actually be quite useful to hear ideas about. It's noncommital when it should be decisive, hyper-specific when it should be open-ended, and vague when it should be descriptive.

I preferred 4e and to an extent 3e on this (3e had many, MANY mechanical faults, but much of its lore/story was decent, even good). Giving us myths and legends that may or may not be true and which people argue about is great--it creates the potential for conflict and drama, discovery and mystery. Offering up options and then showing how those options can be used to build up themes or concepts is even better, and I would even have preferred that 3e/4e went further with doing so than they actually did.

Do not tell players that dragonborn are weirdos and that elves are a necessary part of every setting. Both of those things are false. Instead, just present them as they are, and equip the DM with advice on how to use these things as thematic tools.

Consider: A setting where humans are rare, but an alliance of elves and tieflings stands against the expansionistic dragonborn/dwarf empire.

The elf/tiefling alliance grew out of economic partnership and growing unease once the dragonborn empire finally resolved their ongoing disputes with the dwarf kingdoms, causing the two to merge their political, religious, economic, and social structures into a single federated body. Beyond the lands controlled by either faction, faerie-chaos unleashed by the collapse of the modern-day elves' ancient forebears still scars the land, and ancient cults to gods long dead have left many ruins cloaked in shadows too dark to be cast by the sun.

The gods of these two dominant cultures reflect their interests. The Elf/Tiefling alliance worships the Reunited Seldarine (with Lolth Araushnee as a "rehabilitated" Demon Queen, bringing drow and tiefling loyalty with her) and support/placate both Zehir and the Wyld Sisters (Avandra, Melora, and Tiamat; seen as a triune goddess of fortune, nature, and power, sometimes giving, sometimes taking, sometimes both.) The recently-unified Dragonborn/Dwarf empire exalts just and noble Bahamut, his lover Kord, and their brother-in-arms Moradin, while also holding the Four Lightbringers in reverence (Pelor, bringer of daylight and renewal; Ioun, bringer of knowledge and communication; Erathis, bringer of civilization and order; and Bane, bringer of victory and armament.) Both recognize the grim authority of the Raven Queen and all fear the tyranny of Asmodeus and the wanton slaughter of Gruumsh.

To the E/T alliance, the gods of the D/D empire are cruel, oppressive, tyrannical, violent--though of course they overlook the cruelties of Lolth Araushnee and Tiamat, instead casting them as merely advocating self-worth, ambition, and cleverness. Melora isn't a rampaging chaotic goddess of nature's primal fury, unfettered and raw; she is Mother Nature, a nurturing but firm parent guiding her children to growth and life, even if that sometimes means learning harsh lessons. Their core trinity extols beauty, magic, and cleverness, and that is in turn represented in the values, military, diplomacy, architecture, etc. of their people. Deception is a powerful tool if used wisely, against both those undeserving of fair treatment and those who wrong others and think themselves untouchable; darkness is not something to fear, but to find both solace and protection within.

To the D/D empire, the gods of the E/T alliance are alien, destructive, duplicitous, and cruel--though of course they overlook how savage and destructive Bane can be, or how cruel and unfeeling his sister Erathis can be, casting them (and, by proxy, themselves) as noble warriors carrying forward the light of order to new places. Kord isn't a hellion who runs back to his sugar daddy whenever the consequences of his actions catch up to him; he's a defender of the common man, someone who teaches the strong to defend the weak and cautions the mighty to ever prepare for stronger opponents. Their core trinity extols compassion, justice, and strength, and the associate gods push them to ever higher heights of scientific, economic, and military achievement--and all seven roundly condemn the dishonest, manipulative, unscrupulous ways of the E/T alliance's gods.

Other races, like the minotaurs, satyrs, forgeborn, kobolds, changelings, and humans, eke out an existence between these superpowers, struggling to fight off the dangerous things that lurk in the fae-choked forests or rise up from the dark depths of the earth, unwilling to surrender their autonomy to either side.
Just through a careful, narrowed selection of races and deities, several themes pop out. "Wilderness" vs "Civilization"--or "Freedom" vs "Tyranny," if you prefer. Magic vs Martial. Cunning vs strength. Peaceful cooperation vs martial conquest. Soft power vs hard power. Etc. Allowance is made for outsiders and unusual elements, but they'll be exactly that--third parties to the great conflicts of the age, if not forced to join up then at least forced to respond in some way, even if that response is to bunker down or flee.

You could potentially even take it a step further, and have certain classes partially or fully exclusive to one side or the other. That doesn't mean you couldn't (say) have a Dragonborn Assassin, but they'd need to have some kind of cultural tie to the alliance, which could make their lives much more complicated if they need to adventure in imperial lands.

That's how "presentation" can change these tools. Equip the DM (and, ideally, players too) with a set of tools and show them how those tools can be used together to paint a setting, not in excessive verbiage, but in ideas and implications and the interconnections between the choices DMs and players make.
 
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I want canon to exist, because it lessens my workload as a GM. It gives me a nice backup to work with should my PCs go off in an unexpected direction. It gives my players options and inspiration for their PCs, to help immerse themselves in the world and the lore, to ground their PCs in the setting by incorporating setting history into their backgrounds, etc.

I think everyone draws their line about 'how much canon is enough?' in different places, however. I don't care about where Drizzt is at day X of year Y (unless i know I have players who do, in which case I'll try to make an effort), but I do care about being able to quickly refer to information that already exists when a teleport spell misfires and the PCs end up 500 miles southeast of where they were aiming, rather than have to make up entire civilisations and geographies off the top of my head and remember them, and be consistent with them, later on. I don't need to get pages and pages in my campaign setting books about every minor NPC in Generic Starting Village (even the excellent 3e FRCS book, one of the best campaign setting books ever, was occasionally guilty of this), but i want shape, and something to work with, and something i can give to players to get their creative motors running and introduce them to the world they'll be playing in, and not have to write it all up myself.

For the same reason though, i want canon to be static. Eberron has done this well, over its lifespan, while settings born from the TSR era, like FR or Krynn or Dark Sun, have generally not done so. If i look up Region A in an TSR-era FR sourcebook, then look up the neighbouring Region B in a sourcebook from two years later, the two will likely be utterly incompatible because the novel line has detailed three apocalypses, an overthrow of the ruling dynasty, and the death of two gods in the meantime.

Canon has a purpose, and it should be suited to that purpose,
 
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Irlo

Hero
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.
Would it be enough to make sure everyone one knows that you are deviating from it, rather than where you are deviating from it? Much of the lore of FR would be outside of in-character knowledge and it would be unduly burdensome to expect a full-disclosure up front.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I want canon to exist, because it lessens my workload as a GM. It gives me a nice backup to work with should my PCs go off in an unexpected direction. It gives my players options and inspiration for their PCs, to help immerse themselves in the world and the lore, to ground their PCs in the setting by incorporating setting history into their backgrounds, etc.

I think everyone draws their line about 'how much canon is enough?' in different places, however. I don't care about where Drizzt is at day X of year Y (unless i know I have players who do, in which case I'll try to make an effort), but I do care about being able to quickly refer to information that already exists when a teleport spell misfires and the PCs end up 500 miles southeast of where they were aiming, rather than have to make up entire civilisations and geographies off the top of my head and remember them, and be consistent with them, later on. I don't need to get pages and pages in my campaign setting books about every minor NPC in Generic Starting Village (even the excellent 3e FRCS book, one of the best campaign setting books ever, was occasionally guilty of this), but i want shape, and something to work with, and something i can give to players to get their creative motors running and introduce them to the world they'll be playing in, and not have to write it all up myself.

For the same reason though, i want canon to be static. Eberron has done this well, over its lifespan, while settings born from the TSR era, like FR or Krynn or Dark Sun, have generally not done so. If i look up Region A in an TSR-era FR sourcebook, then look up the neighbouring Region B in a sourcebook from two years later, the two will likely be utterly incompatible because the novel line has detailed three apocalypses, an overthrow of the ruling dynasty, and the death of two gods in the meantime.

Canon has a purpose, and it should be suited to that purpose,
That is lore not canon. Lore can exist but not be mandated. Canon is mandated, that what makes it canon. It is unalterable and true. The correct expression, hence canonical.
I have no issue with lore, even dense lore and I am free to ignore it and pick and choose but have no obligation to regard it as true or even be consistent with it.
 

Oofta

Legend
Since I've run, and continue to run, my own campaign world for a long time canon is a bit different for me. What happened, canon, is important to me for a sense of continuation, a sense that what the PCs do can actually matter and change history. At least in their corner of the world. I guess that's one of the reason I'll never use a campaign setting like FR. After all, I want the legends of my world to largely be ex-PCs, not some character from a novel.

Things outside of the PCs? I want that to be stable so that people can learn about the world and it's consistent. Doesn't mean that there aren't unreliable narrators now and then. ;)
 

Scribe

Legend
That's not to say that there isn't some shared gestalt. Names of countries and cities. Organizations (Scarlet Brotherhood, Red Wizards of Thay). And so on. But demanding fealty to a strong canon is, IMO, wrong ... because it restricts the freedom of play and events that is the magic of emergent play within a TTRPG.

Nobody is demanding anything, and nothing is restricted.

B can still kill off Drizzt for his table.
C can still think Drizzt is a girl at his table.

A just wants to share in a setting with other people who want to participate in that, and so wants to to be an entity distinct, living, and breathing, that the players are part of.

Much as with other things (Alignment, Species lore, whatever) its not a straightjacket.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Nobody is demanding anything, and nothing is restricted.

B can still kill off Drizzt for his table.
C can still think Drizzt is a girl at his table.

A just wants to share in a setting with other people who want to participate in that, and so wants to to be an entity distinct, living, and breathing, that the players are part of.

Much as with other things (Alignment, Species lore, whatever) its not a straightjacket.
I think there is a difference between a setting that a DM changes and a setting that changes on the DM. Both B and C are examples of a DM changing the setting to suit their play style. What I personally lost interest in is that in the novel "Lost Caverns of Lolth", Drizzt was turned into a girl, died and is not the goddess of Moon Pies and other confectionery treats. Please update your setting to accommodate these changes.
 

Scribe

Legend
What I personally lost interest in is that in the novel "Lost Caverns of Lolth", Drizzt was turned into a girl, died and is not the goddess of Moon Pies and other confectionery treats. Please update your setting to accommodate these changes.

Live by the Moon Pies, die by the Moon Pies?

I mean thats just the way it is. Canon can be disregarded. Han shot first. Etc etc. The point is that it offers a common ground for discussion, a starting point.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Live by the Moon Pies, die by the Moon Pies?

I mean thats just the way it is. Canon can be disregarded. Han shot first. Etc etc. The point is that it offers a common ground for discussion, a starting point.
I got no problem with a setting having a canon default and having stuff build off that, but I've fallen out of love with settings changing via metaplot.

(Ironically, I'm fine with changes due to edition changes. A D&D setting supports the current game, and it should address what that current edition is. So adding dragonborn to the 5e version of Greyhawk is fine, I just don't want some jank module or novel explaining how they showed up and now to use them, I need supplemental media to understand).
 

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