D&D General Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Canon: Stare Decisis in D&D

Parmandur

Book-Friend
So, originally my thought was to to discuss canon more generally, and why it is similar to discussions about legal precedent, but then I decided to switch it up to examine FR and GH. So I didn't make the full argument, given that I had already written so much.

Briefly, though, most arguments by fans about canon are similar to lawyers arguing to a court about precedent. That's why I think that the FR Wiki "hierarchy of canon" is so interesting.

In effect, canon is whatever the brand holder decides it is. And the brand holder (much like the highest court) can simply change its mind at any time! For example, what ARE Gorn? We had a long-standing precedent from TOS, but (arguably) that precedent has been overturned or distinguished in Strange New Worlds. What was canon (precedent, binding) is no longer canon, exactly.

Fans arguing about canon are arguing about what is really precedent. About what is official (binding) and what isn't. Fans of Greyhawk, for example, might argue that the only "real" precedent is Gygax's own words, and others might argue that its any thing official from TSR/WoTC. Or, even more particularly, fans might argue that it's only Gygax's own word up until WOG (the boxed set). And so on.

This brings up two related issues-

First, since the brandholder can change precedent at any time, I think that a lot of fans argue that some things can't or shouldn't be changed. This echoes the "reliance" issue with precedent. AKA, "FR has always had Elminster, so you can't retcon him out of the setting." This is the push and pull between complete control over the canon, and the need to maintain links to what has come before that people love and rely upon.

Second, I would argue that settings are generally different than the canon in fictional universes (LoTR, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) for the simple reason that every table has different adventures, and so every table will necessarily have different events and different "canon" than what has been published. For example, I am quite sure that more than one table has had its party kill off Drizzt, and yet he endures in the official canon.

Hope this helps.
I think that it is an interesting comparison, for sure, and the way that the FR Wiki community has settled on adjudication what "counts" falls in that direction. The approach WotC has taken with their stated canon policy is more reasonable for game material, I think, which is way, way looser.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I think that it is an interesting comparison, for sure, and the way that the FR Wiki community has settled on adjudication what "counts" falls in that direction. The approach WotC has taken with their stated canon policy is more reasonable for game material, I think, which is way, way looser.

Definitely. I think that WoTC's current more laissez-faire approach is sensible.

This post was actually something I've been thinking about for a while, mostly generated from the numerous conversations about canon I've seen here, and how I've noticed that at a certain point, they start to resemble legal arguments. Except with a lot more "Yo Mama" involved.

I do think that we can see echoes of the argument in GH, with people trying to argue for (and against) the inclusion of things. Dragonborn seeming to be one of the flashpoints.


FWIW, as I've discussed, I think that the following two things are both true:
1. Putting a new Dragonborn kingdom into GH* would be a bad idea, not just because it disrupts the "canon," but because GH has almost no countries that are led by non-humans.
2. OTOH, having Dragonborn in GH is ridiculously easy. GH might be dominated politically by humanity, but there are numerous non-humans of all kinds.


*In the Flanaess. The "GH" that we know. Again, if you want to have a kingdom of Dragonborn "off the map," knock yourself out.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I've gone back and read the OG Forgotten Realms material, and become a radicalized Grey Box originalist, with provisional allowances for material in the FR series of books prior to the Hordelands mucking everything up.

And, even with extensive Greenwoodian color...early FR is pretty close to being as much a blank slate as Greyhawk, but with more maps.

I went back and saw this. I agree completely.

You have to remember that at the time, Ed Greenwood was known (and respected) for his Dragon Magazine articles. Okay, maybe they could be a little hokey (the Elminster bit was sometimes ... a little too much) but overall? Solid stuff.

So when the Grey Box came out, it was truly exciting! At the time, there was only GH and Dragonlance.* Okay, there was the Known World (Mystara) but ... ya basic.

GH was what everyone already knew, and Dragonlance was, well, I still remember how interesting it was at first (steel for currency?) but the modules were so rail-roady.

The Grey Box was fun and mysterious and open-ended. Just like GH. I still prefer GH, but I respect Grey Box FR.

I would add that while FR might have more maps, GH had THE map. Darlene > Every Other Map.

Bonus True Fact- Gygax loved the Darlene Map so much that he actually moved his home campaign to the made-up GH after he saw it!!!!



*This isn't strictly true. There were 3PP, like City State and Pelinore. And TSR had released Lankhmar as a supplement, and the original OA was in Kara-Tur, which had not yet been gobbled up into FR.



ETA- I think my love for the Grey Box (and my ...less love... for subsequent FR offerings) is similar to why I love the '83 GH campaign setting. I like campaign settings that give you ideas and hooks, but don't have so much cruft and lore that you ever feel chained to some inflexible material.
 


The WOG has four times the pages of the Folio, adds deities, and expands the detail. For many people like me, the WOG is the platonic ideal of the perfect campaign setting. The reason why is simple- it provides a world, and provides a lot of mysteries and possible "hooks" for the DM to use, but primarily does not provide too much information. Reading through the descriptions, often sparse, you will continually run across tantalizing hints to be explored, but nothing more. This is a campaign setting as coloring book, asking that you fill it in.
This might be the best analogy of Greyhawk I have ever seen. Thank you.

I think it might also explain some players' preferences (and tolerances) for a table's setting, as well as some DMs' preferences for liking and/or hating books. If I remember correctly, that is one of the reasons we, as kids, really enjoyed the Thunder Rift setting so much.

PS - Also, kudos for sneaking in the lesson about vertical and horizontal precedent. It was a lesson I didn't know I needed until now. Thank you.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
OTOH, having Dragonborn in GH is ridiculously easy. GH might be dominated politically by humanity, but there are numerous non-humans of all kinds.
Oh my goodness, I could think of like 2 dozen explanations off the top of my head, that aren't even mutually exclusive. Most of the PHB standard Species don't have some sort of ethnostate hanging around and are still present in the huge continent, and the continent is open from multiple directions for outsiders to visit.
I would add that while FR might have more maps, GH had THE map. Darlene > Every Other Map.
I agree the Darlene map is the best, though I do like that early FR cartography too. But actually I mean less the big regional maps, and more the zoomed in maps of settlements and cities. Waterdeep is not covered ao exhaustively in FR1 so as to make it not still pretty open as a microsettijg (it is only a thin book, and a gigantic city), but the mapping of the city is a wonderful tool to give a DM.

Forgotten Realms Adventures, the companion piece to Greyhawk Adventures and Dragonlance Adventures in that 1E/2E hardcover grey zone, is a good example of this before the FR becomes too freighted with novelistic detail and history. It briefly describes a couple dozen cities across the Heartlands, with nice maps of each settlement and some key NPCs and hooks. It is very easy to see how a Moonsea or Vilhon Reaches campaign could be built out of those pieces, without overwhelming amounts of Canon with a Capital C.
ETA- I think my love for the Grey Box (and my ...less love... for subsequent FR offerings) is similar to why I love the '83 GH campaign setting. I like campaign settings that give you ideas and hooks, but don't have so much cruft and lore that you ever feel chained to some inflexible material.
Yeah, and IMO WotC was kind of trying to get back to that vibe with SCAG, and I reckon with the DMG Greyhawk example.
 


MGibster

Legend
I think Games Workshop's handling of the Custodes is a master class in how to handle retcon lore and backlash.
In some ways I do think they handled it as best the could. But I don't like being lied to and telling me there have always been women Custodes is a lie. There weren't any women in the fiction because GW didn't sell women Custodes miniatures. I'm not in the least bit upset by the introduction of female Custodes, and I wouldn't be upset at Space Marines either, as I'd welcome the opportunity to paint something a little different. It's just disrespectful to tell such a bald faced lie with expectation that I just nod my head and pretend it's true.

Since The Simpsons has covered every subject, in 1997 there was an episode called "The Principal and the Pauper" where we learn the character Seymour Skinner, principal of Springfield Elementary, is actually a man named Armin Tamzarian. We find this out when the real Seymour Skinner returns home after being forced to work in a Chinese sweatshop for two decades. Of course by the end of the epsidoe everything resets and everyone in town goes on pretending Tamzarian is actually the real Skinner.

This is somewhat controversial episode with Harry Shearer, the voice of Skinner, saying, "Taking something that an audience has built eight years or nine years of investment in and just tossed it in the trash can for no good reason, for a story we've done before with other characters. It's so arbitrary and gratuitous, and it's disrespectful to the audience."

I guess that's kind of where I can with canon. Changing it can seem like its disrespectful to the audience. I like Strange New Worlds quite a bit, but with what they're doing with the Gorn suddenly "Arena" from the original series makes a little less sense. Kirk and company should have known exactly what they were dealing with from the moment they saw the enemy's ship.

But I have almost nothing invested in Greyhawk or even the Forgotten Realms. I personally don't care about what changes are made to them. So I guess it makes it easier for me to accept changes.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Laws conflict with each other. In those places of overlap where it is impossible to obey both laws at the same time, one takes priority over the other.

Thus even within a system of precedents (stare decisis) some earlier precedents override other earlier precedents.

Moreover, a later ruling can prefer one precedent over an other.

Because of overriding principles, one precedent can surprisingly turn out to invalidate and effectively abolish swaths of earlier precedents. The more ultraconservative a legal system is, the more drastic and world-upheaving the revolutions deriving from stare decisis can be.

Consider the situation where laws use the term "men" to mean "adult males". But later rulings understand "men" to mean "humans", persons of any gender. That idea of human is true in other early legal precedents. Suddenly every legal precedent becomes illegal that enforced discrimination based on gender.

A new world order emerges BECAUSE of stare decisis.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
GH was released twice- first as the "Folio" in 1980. Then, after Gygax wrote some additional material in Dragon, as the World of Greyhawk ("WOG"). The WOG has four times the pages of the Folio, adds deities, and expands the detail. For many people like me, the WOG is the platonic ideal of the perfect campaign setting. The reason why is simple- it provides a world, and provides a lot of mysteries and possible "hooks" for the DM to use, but primarily does not provide too much information. Reading through the descriptions, often sparse, you will continually run across tantalizing hints to be explored, but nothing more. This is a campaign setting as coloring book, asking that you fill it in.

If there is a 5e version of the Greyhawk setting, I hope to see Gygaxs World Of Greyhawk deconstructed, then reconstructed with current ethical and culturally sensitive perspectives taking priority in the updating of its texts. The WOG text is already minimal and there is little to change, but the surgical changes can run deep, especially with regard to how the Human ethnicities "evolve" from each other and how the setting represents various Human ethnicities. For example, I am unhappy with how Greyhawk presents stereotypes about Nordic cultures when drawing "inspiration". I find the origins appalling for the Indigenous of Hepmonaland. Likewise the Flan are inspirations from Canadian and American Indigenous and even when generally positive, require sensitivity. Generally, Gygaxs Greyhawk is a kind of ethnocentrism, where the feudalism of medieval England, Denmark, Germany and France, is rendered as if an American frontier of "cowboys and indians" − and all of this requires sensitive scrutiny today. Relatedly, the weird obsession with eye color and skin color feels inappropriate today. I suspect a few small, discrete but systematic, updates are sufficient.

The WOG can be system agnostic, and easy to use for any edition of D&D. But it should have the 5e core classes and core species in mind, with the modern version of the Psionic power source, and supply 5e statblocks wherever useful. I like how all the 1e angels and devils are Psionic beings. Religion needs to be more culturally relativistic like Eberron is. Players need to decide whatever they want for there own characters. The topic of religion is itself one of the "Session Zero" discussions that require mutual consent.

Old school Gygax World of Greyhawk with a facelift.

I prefer to see the 5e cosmology with Feywild and Shadowfell, including Fey Elves, Gnomes, Illusionists and Enchanters, and Shadow Undead, Necromancers, and souls resting in peace. The Ethereal Plane is already canon within WOG, and a Positive Ethereal (Fey) and a Negative Ethereal (Shadow) seem reasonable understandings. Where the 1e cosmology has its own kind of Shadow Plane, make this instead the same thing as the "Deep Ethereal" − including the Deep Fey and the Deep Shadowfell − which is all beyond the Material Plane. The Fey Domains of Delight and the Shadow Domains of Dread are in this "Deep".
 
Last edited:

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top