D&D 5E WotC Explains 'Canon' In More Detail

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Recently, WotC's Jeremy Crawford indicated that only the D&D 5th Edition books were canonical for the roleplaying game. In a new blog article, Chris Perkins goes into more detail about how that works, and why.

This boils down to a few points:
  • Each edition of D&D has its own canon, as does each video game, novel series, or comic book line.
  • The goal is to ensure players don't feel they have to do research of 50 years of canon in order to play.
  • It's about remaining consistent.

If you’re not sure what else is canonical in fifth edition, let me give you a quick primer. Strahd von Zarovich canonically sleeps in a coffin (as vampires do), Menzoberranzan is canonically a subterranean drow city under Lolth’s sway (as it has always been), and Zariel is canonically the archduke of Avernus (at least for now). Conversely, anything that transpires during an Acquisitions Incorporated live game is not canonical in fifth edition because we treat it the same as any other home game (even when members of the D&D Studio are involved).



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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Why is it unfortunate that people who like alignment will have it, and those that don't will have traits? Why are you against us being having what we enjoy as well as you?
We've had numerous treads about that topic, so perhaps it is better to not derail this one into that?

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It's ironic that WotC may be doing away with alignment due to outside pressure right as Critical Role is featuring alignment more than ever (including the DM declaring in the most recent episode that a PC's alignment was changed from Chaotic Good to Chaotic Neutral due to agreeing to a deal with an evil entity).


Sure there is. They overreacted in a few books and took out alignment. Then the vocal majority got involved and suddenly it's back with Fizban's. That's a reason, whether you agree with it or not, to think that alignment will be in future books.
Again, until they actually show us a statblock, there's no reason to assume that they are putting alignment back in. And there's more than just Fizban's coming out as well, so we'll also get to see for Witchlight and Strixhaven.

There's also no reason to call removing alignment an "overreaction." You might not like that alignment was removed, but that's not the same as it being an overreaction.


Except there is zero consistency if you allow everyone to ignore 50 years of content. That statement made absolutely no sense.

I mean it's like why bother with any lore at this point? Why write monster books? Here's some tools, make your own monsters and monster lore. Because any monster writeup they do is probably going to have contradictions in lore (and even artwork) when they make the next edition anyway.

Who needs Classes? Here's some tools, write your own Paladins, Wizards, etc. and the lore for them in your game. Because nothing they write is truly canon anyway.

Want your own gods? Make them up yourself how you want. What we make isn't canon really.

Here's a whole book, basically an Unearthed Arcana version, of just Combat and Magic. We'll give you several ways running both, and call it a day.

What do you need lore for the Sword Coast, or any part of any world, for that matter? Just draw some empty world maps and sell it. (Assuming the DMs and players don't decide to draw their own maps).

Seriously, in any medium, there needs to be consistency. For the fans who truly delve into that lore, there has to be consistency. Lot of us are busy connecting all the dots between the lore from various editions, and it's not easy making any of it cohesive (looking at you 4e!). In many cases, personally, I've had to fill in blanks to make things consistent and in line with all lore given.

Imagine if Star Wars canon wasn't really canon and everyone just ran and created Star Wars their own way...pretty sure it's not Star Wars at that point.

If creators don't want to do the research, or actually truly passionately love the game enough to want to know all the lore and be consistent, then why the hell do we have them working in the field? It's like having a religious person run an Atheist group.

At least back in the days of TSR the game was done by people who truly loved the game and did the actual work and took the time and care to actually study and master the lore. Nowadays they want designers to just lazily write whatever and however, get their paycheck and move on.
I don't know about anyone else, but, I would buy this version of D&D in a snap. You're going to give me a game that is toolbox enough that I can (easily) create and use all these things and provide enough guidance that I can do it well? FANTASTIC. Yes, please and can I have a second helping?


My knowledge of Greyhawk is limited, but it was my understanding that its various iterations are not fully compatible and fans of various iterations have sundry opinions about their canonicity. As far as WotC is and should be concerned, when there are conflicts with past lore, the currently-supported iteration always wins. That doesn’t mean continuity gets thrown out without reason, but it does mean that previous iterations are not canon.
Greyhawk is really compatible across editions, but it varies in tone and feel with a lot of 1e frontier feel (Gygax et al.), late 1e parody (Castle Greyhawk), 2e dark fantasy (From the Ashes), late 2e reset to more standard D&D feel (WotC 2e and 3e GH), and so on. There is a 2e era event of major concurrent continental wars changing the geo-political status quo from on edge kingdoms to open war leading to the rise and fall of empires as the timeline advances so it is incompatible if you want to use an earlier resource on a group that gets wiped out later, but it is all one continuity.

I have heard some fans say they only consider Gygax era 1e GH as canon for them but that is generally like a Star Wars fan saying only the original trilogy of movies is canon for them.


Phew, waded through all ten pages.

My hot take? This is the best that they could have done. This is exactly right. Everything is canon but, being canon is not any sort of defense against being changed. So, all that lore and history for Forgotten Realms is still right there. It's all there. But, the example with racial alignments is a good one, if they decide that going forward that that element isn't up to scratch for whatever reason, they can change it and no one can point to canon as a reason to not make the change.

IOW, people have to do more to justify why we should retain something than just say, "Well, it's what we did yesterday".

Normally I would be inclined to join in an alignment debate but at this point it's pretty much pointless until we see if it's included in the next few books or not, which I'm inclined to think it will be because the last official statement we got on the matter as far as I can recall was that alignment was being worked on, not removed.

Plus the Theros Piety system is pretty much just alignment in disguise with better mechanical support.

I would content that fiends being evil is a bit like mammals making milk, it's a defining characteristic...

I agree that it has an equivalent taxonomic significance, but I would point out that the mammary gland is effectively vestigial in the males of many mammal species and as well as only circumstantially active in the lifecycle in the females of many species. Personally I'm okay with evil alignment being taxonomically "definitional" to fiends without it necessarily "defining" the life of every member of every species of fiend.


I'm not. There are multiple ways to resolve this that account for both sides. Discounting those and just ditching alignment is an overreaction. Anyone on either side who wants the other to not be accounted for is being selfish.
If you keep alignment in the statblock, you're not accounting for the people who don't want alignment. If your response is that we can just ignore it... well, that's like saying that you can just ignore the lack of alignment and write in your own.

Maxperson, for one.

This appears to be the best of both, because it's actually providing an alignment and non-alignment solution.
If "lawful good" is in a gold dragon's statblock with a table off to the side of other alignments, then the only difference between that and the way it is now is there's a table.

If there's no alignment listed in the statblock, but there's a table of ideals like the ones they have for Backgrounds, then that's a great compromise. Even if most of the entries are good-natured with only one or two that aren't.

I think that most of us who dislike alignment are fine with it for individuals. It's just when you have an entire species that's the same alignment without having a really good reason for it--like being a supernatural entity with alignment-based "programming"--that there's problems. A table, like the one in my second option, allows for dragons as individuals. The first option, and the way it currently is written, doesn't.


I don't know what you are trying to say by this statement. If you would elaborate, I would appreciate it.
D&D has fiends as being made of pure evil. Demons and devils aren't just bad people; they are literally the physical incarnation of evil. Likewise, celestials are good incarnate, modrons are law incarnate, and slaadi are chaos incarnate. While it's possible that one can change alignment, it's vanishingly rare.

Even if there were no alignments in D&D, fiends would still be evil incarnate.

(In other systems and settings with different expectations, that might not be the case. But those are other systems and settings.)

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