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

Epic Meepo

Adventurer
When I'm running a game, I only use bits and pieces of canon provided in published sources. The game I'm running has its own internal canon only tangentially related to the works that inspired it. I often borrow maps and rough descriptions of locations on those maps, for example, but I might ignore all but a few important NPCs.

That being said, I want there to be established, consistent canon in published campaign settings, even if I don't use it. If I'm excited about a campaign setting, I want to be able to talk about it with others, and that's hard to do if the setting doesn't at least pay lip service to internal consistency.

I have mixed feelings about meta-plots. I don't mind if an occasional meta-plot advances the timeline in an organic fashion, since that gives me a few canonical eras to compare, contrast, and mine for ideas. On the other hand, I'm not fond of apocalyptic meta-plots, since blowing everything up is rarely conducive to internal consistency.
 

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Scribe

Legend
I'd go so far as to say that fans retrospectively deciding what scenes and works to accept (with different groups of fans sometimes reaching different decisions) is a more traditional source of canon than a single publisher/IP owner trying to maintain consistency during the writing process.

100%, but there has to be a basis of origin, a starting point, an unarguable 'true'.

At which point things are then discussed and debated and yes disregarded, from a common ground of understanding.
 

100%, but there has to be a basis of origin, a starting point, an unarguable 'true'.

At which point things are then discussed and debated and yes disregarded, from a common ground of understanding.
I’d agree, but once you’ve left that starting point, established canon for events moving forward shouldn’t matter. I guess that’s why I didn’t really care so much about whether Goldmoon was the first cleric or not in Shadow of the Dragon Queen. We start with the established true (the gods have been missing for quite some time) and go from there with the events focusing on the PC who is the first to make contact with them in that area. To me as a huge Dragonlance fan, it’s not important if Goldmoon discovers the discs far away or not because it just doesn’t matter to the adventure the players are interacting with.
 

the Jester

Legend
For those of you who have strong preferences for consistent fidelity to D&D canon -- within an edition, across editions, and/or across various related media (novels, computer games, etc.) -- how do you find that affects your experience at the game table?
I have a strong preference for 'canon' in the sense of the canon of my game. I don't care a whit about the canon of the D&D cosmos as a whole except insofar as it is game-relevant.

Because I have been running the same homebrewed setting for around 30 years, advancing it in time as we move along and changing from 2e to 3e to 3.5e to 4e to 5e as we do so, the canon of the game is important. It is also the history of the game, the setup of what we have now as created by what happened before. Keeping a high degree of fidelity to this canon means the world is enriched, the players feel like their previous characters' actions matter, and there are layers of history and lore to draw on when I create future adventures.
Do RPG sourcebooks service the same function for you and your games as a fictional franchise? (It's an actual question -- I'm not implying that they don't or that they shouldn't.) Should publishers use RPG materials to tell a story?
No. Absolutely not. The story is what happened in my game. I do not want any metaplot imposed on me from above. That was one of the great failings of 2e.

Do you make alterations to the canonically established settings? Are the published settings compelling enough that you don't feel the need to put your personal stamp on them? If you do make alterations for your iteration of the setting, can you explain why it's still important that the publisher maintain fidelity to the canon?
I mostly don't use canonical settings, but I do use a version of the canonical cosmology (Great Wheel, etc) that integrates the various changes over the years/editions, including the World Axis cosmology of 4e (different perspectives on the same thing, basically, but I tied in a bunch of the Dawn War lore and the like). Obviously that stuff is tweaked to fit my game.

The reason I like consistency over the editions is because I practice it in my game. If I have established that aarakocra are all claustrophobic as a race because of 1e lore, that lore carries over into my 5e game. Stuff in official source books that later contradicts it is discarded, modified, or put into a different perspective. (There are no aarakocra pcs because of their crippling claustrophobia.)

For my part, I don't look to any campaign setting to tell a story. That might be why canon doesn't matter to me. The story is reserved for the characters in the game. What they do in the setting is the story. My feelings on this are probably different that yours as I've never used published campaign settings except in as much as they relate to published adventures, and even then I make heavy edits to those settings, and I've never read related D&D novels or comic books. But I am sincerely interested to know why it's so important to some people.
To me, canon is more like- gnolls were established a certain way in Basic and 1e. Their lore was expanded in 2e and 3e. Starting in 4e, it was rewritten in large part, and that rewrite contradicts things that have happened in my game. So to me, the contradiction of new canon and old canon has an easy resolution- that which has been established in the game has been established in the game.

I read some old threads on canon and changes to canon. People have strong reactions this this subject. Please know that I'm not challenging anyone's preferences or suggesting that they are wrong to have them. If canon is not important to you, please don't use this thread to make that pronouncment. Thanks!
I think you may be using 'canon' the way I use 'metaplot', in which case I apologize for misunderstanding.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
The lore of a setting is a shorthand between those at the table. Knowing "something is different but I won't tell you what" means the player actively can't trust anything they know about the setting. Instead of a new setting they have to learn, they have to actively unlearn what they know until they can confirm it again else it leads them astray.

That option is pretty bad for play compared to running a setting the players know nothing about.

Again, a big value of a known setting is that it is known - it's that shared knowledge that everyone around the table has. If what you know might actively lead you astray, things you may not even think to question, that's harmful to play.
 

Irlo

Hero
The lore of a setting is a shorthand between those at the table.
That makes sense.
Again, a big value of a known setting is that it is known - it's that shared knowledge that everyone around the table has.
Thanks, that’s a perspective I hadn’t considered. I’ve never played at a table using a published setting that was very familiar to more than one or two people. In those cases, the DM found value in the setting outside of being a base of common knowledge. I can see that would be fun as a player, but I’m also sure I wouldn’t want to be the DM that in that situation.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
That makes sense.

Thanks, that’s a perspective I hadn’t considered. I’ve never played at a table using a published setting that was very familiar to more than one or two people. In those cases, the DM found value in the setting outside of being a base of common knowledge. I can see that would be fun as a player, but I’m also sure I wouldn’t want to be the DM that in that situation.
Everyone I game with, in multiple groups, has been doing it for decades. We've all adventured all over the Forgotten Realms, in Eberron, in Dark Sun, in Greyhawk, in Mystara, and so on. And newer ones like Tal'dorei.

But if a DM was running a setting that none of the players were ever in, then changing canon wouldn't be a big deal since no one would know it was canon. So that's where it could not be important.
 


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