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

JEB

Legend
That's not exactly what they said. They said they don't have any public facing account of what is canon after those three books, not that there isn't anything other than those three that they consider to be canon internally. I would be surprised if they put out another FR book that contradicted things already put out in Sword Coast.

There's other canon, but they haven't told us about it.
Which is very convenient for them, isn't it? Only Wizards themselves knows what the "real" canon for 5E is.

For those fans who liked the idea of an official canon, and want to know what is actually "true" for 5E... theoretically you can rely on what's in the core rulebooks. Anything else - be it from 5E, from older editions, or any other source - is a sort of quantum canon, possibly "true" or "false" for any given product, and not to be relied on.

The Ravenloft of Van Richten's Guide may not actually be the Ravenloft of Curse of Strahd; it very likely is, because they have little reason to contradict two flagship products, but we don't know for sure. SCAG says the Time of Troubles happened, with assorted details, but we don't know if SCAG itself is still canon, and we definitely don't know if earlier-edition material or novels can be relied on to fill in any gaps not covered in SCAG.

That said, even the core rulebooks are subject to change in future printings (and it's very likely they'll get a major overhaul in 2024). So what is "true" now may not be (and probably won't be) true for the rest of 5E.

In summary: based on what they told us, you can't be sure that anything is or will remain canon in 5E. The core rules are the most reliable, but they're not even 100%. As far as 3E and earlier editions are concerned, while 5E resembles their canon on the surface, it's really as much a reboot as 4E was.

If you want a canon that does likely include most of D&D's history, you're better going back to the end of 3E. You can also take 4E's canon as one coherent whole. Neither of those explicitly said everything was canon, but neither did they limit canon to the core rules and unseen internal guidelines, like this policy does.

Now, there's also the bigger question: why tell us this? The most likely answer, as with Crawford's off-the-cuff version, is that Ravenloft was just the beginning of the changes to come...
 

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Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
They say core three. Alignment and the optional rule included are part of the core three.
They say what happens in a home game is not canon in the same way what happens in an Acquisitions Inc game isn't canon even if it's played by WOTC employees publicly. Changing what's in the books by a home game DM is specifically not what they mean by canon, no matter what change it is. Also don't think I didn't notice you snuck Monster Manual into this when I am directly quoting the PHB which doesn't have that change you keep mentioning,
 

JEB

Legend
One other funny realization: the core rulebooks (specifically, page 4 of the DMG) actually say that novels, digital games, and game products are part of the "official" Forgotten Realms. So the core rules, which are official canon, say that something they now say isn't canon is actually canon.

(My guess is that the line will be quietly removed in a later printing...)
 

Do want to get Anti-Monitors? Because this is how you get Anti-Monitors.
Sure. The Anti-Monitor is recognized by IGN as the 49th-greatest comic book villain of all time. Who wouldn't want to have these sort of folks in D&D?
Not a villain, but Transfomers has Vector Prime, who monitors all the Universal Streams: Vector Prime - Transformers Wiki
The D&D Multiverse already has figures who would be aware of this sort of thing: such as the Sage of the Nexus (from 1985's CM6: Where Chaos Reigns), and the Owner of the World Serpent Inn, not to mention the various Overdeities.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Which is very convenient for them, isn't it? Only Wizards themselves knows what the "real" canon for 5E is.
I think it's pretty safe to assume that their internal canon consists of all of the 5e books. That way they can be internally consistent with their future 5e product releases. Just go with that and I don't think you'll be led astray.
 

a.everett1287

Explorer
One other funny realization: the core rulebooks (specifically, page 4 of the DMG) actually say that novels, digital games, and game products are part of the "official" Forgotten Realms. So the core rules, which are official canon, say that something they now say isn't canon is actually canon.

(My guess is that the line will be quietly removed in a later printing...)
Finally, a course correction for the better.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
They say what happens in a home game is not canon in the same way what happens in an Acquisitions Inc game isn't canon even if it's played by WOTC employees publicly.
Right. I'm talking about the core rules, not home games. Yes, engaging the optional rule in the MM places it into your home game, but not any differently than any other rule or optional rule from the core rules. EVERYTHING in the core three books is canon. They've said so. They didn't say, "What's in the core three is canon except for all of the optional rules and advice we give."
Changing what's in the books by a home game DM is specifically not what they mean by canon, no matter what change it is. Also don't think I didn't notice you snuck Monster Manual into this when I am directly quoting the PHB which doesn't have that change you keep mentioning,
It doesn't matter if it's the PHB or not. The MM is part of the core three and every single rule, optional rule and piece of advice in it is canon.
 

JEB

Legend
I think it's pretty safe to assume that their internal canon consists of all of the 5e books. That way they can be internally consistent with their future 5e product releases. Just go with that and I don't think you'll be led astray.
I wouldn't assume that at all; they already made notable retcons to SCAG (errata removing the Wall of the Faithless) and Curse of Strahd (Ez's background was altered in Van Richten's).
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I wouldn't assume that at all; they already made notable retcons to SCAG (errata removing the Wall of the Faithless) and Curse of Strahd (Ez's background was altered in Van Richten's).
Those changes were reactions to social issues. That sort of correction doesn't in any way invalidate what I said. Agree with those changes or not, those changes were akin to correcting bad math.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
It's fine for people to care about canon, but what I take from Perkins' post is that it is just impractical for wotc and serves no concrete benefit for the majority of their customers. For a company that lends out the IP to video game, movie, novel creators, (not to mention freelance writers), it is too difficult to maintain continuity and restricts creativity. From a game design perspective, overly detailed, canonical lore is not a 'best practice,' given the inherently creative nature of ttrpgs.

So I get that some people like the deep lore of settings, and for that lore to matter it has to be consistent and needs to be recognized by an official authority. What I take exception to is that this preference comes at absolutely no cost to anyone else, either
a) creators (of, say, dnd videogames) who are trying to be creative and come up with narratives suitable for their form of media;
or b) customers of the ttrpg products, who prefer books that are usable at the table with a manageable amount of place-names to memorize as opposed to deep dive faux history books.

I could further do without the maudlin "wotc doesn't care about us" complaints. We can have a conversation about what kinds of lore continuity or canonicity are practical and useful without it being centered around that resentful pathos.
I agree with you that is probably best for the game. I also agree with others that this move, as a public announcement, is for business and likely political reasons. They are going to start making large changes to classic settings, soon, and many people are not going to like those changes. Now, probably more people will like them, which is why this will probably be good for the game. And while I would never expect them to admit to it, I do think they care less about the older demographic than they used to. As a card-carrying member, that makes me a little sad.
 

JEB

Legend
Those changes were reactions to social issues. That sort of correction doesn't in any way invalidate what I said. Agree with those changes or not, those changes were akin to correcting bad math.
I guess we'll see your theory tested in future products. I think it may be significant, however, that they provided an official canon statement which only includes the core rules, and not all of 5E as Crawford originally stated. I don't think they plan on being bound by 5E any more than they are by older editions.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I guess we'll see your theory tested in future products. I think it may be significant, however, that they provided an official canon statement which only includes the core rules, and not all of 5E as Crawford originally stated. I don't think they plan on being bound by 5E any more than they are by older editions.
Had they not heavily, heavily implied that they have inward facing canon, I'd agree with you. But by very specifically using the words, "Public facing canon is just the core three," they pretty much said that they have a greater internal canon that they go by.
 

JEB

Legend
Had they not heavily, heavily implied that they have inward facing canon, I'd agree with you. But by very specifically using the words, "Public facing canon is just the core three," they pretty much said that they have a greater internal canon that they go by.
Right, but if the internal canon includes all 5E RPG products, why not just say so, like Crawford did? Instead, they only confirm the core and hide the rest. Suggests to me some bits in 5E didn't make the cut internally. But we'll see.
 


And while I would never expect them to admit to it, I do think they care less about the older demographic than they used to. As a card-carrying member, that makes me a little sad.
I don't know - the main people in charge basically are part of that demographic? They are approaching the game as middle-age-ish (?) white men who have been playing dnd since they were little. I don't think any of these moves indicates that they don't care about the older demographic except that their job is to grow the game and think about the playerbase as a whole. At least on the design/editorial side, not sure about the business side.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
D&D

Tell it to the Transformers design team. And I mean, c'mon: this is D&D for goodness sakes, which has 100s of pages of rulebooks, and rules changes justified by specific Multiverse Shattering Events, etc. If Transformers aficionados can follow clear complexity, so can D&D grognards.
And please refrain from mental health diagnoses on a game forum! :)
"Clear complexity"

There's a difference between "can" and "should"—this just seems like unnecessary flagellance. I, mean, you do you and all, but I'm not sure how much of D&D fandom really cares enough about the subject to codify timelines and such.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Right, but if the internal canon includes all 5E RPG products, why not just say so, like Crawford did? Instead, they only confirm the core and hide the rest. Suggests to me some bits in 5E didn't make the cut internally. But we'll see.
Perkins makes it pretty clear: they don't want cross media partners (and cross media partnerships are literate business plan) to be responsible for adhering to thousands of pages of material.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Deleting some antagonistic stuff...

Yes, a table that allows you to only use it and not alignment.
Do you really think they're going to have a list of ideals that don't have alignment attached? Like they did for the all the monster Ideals in VGM? And as I said to Scribe, that's fine, because that allows to show how individuals act, rather than demanding the entire race act in a particular way.

Again, ways have been proposed that keep alignment without every member of the species being that alignment. You just won't hear of any possible compromise and only want to get your own way.
Those ways are completely meaningless as long as (A) the alignment is listed in the statblock without qualifier, (B) the creature is written as if they are all of one alignment, and (C) WotC doesn't use examples of those creatures with a variety of alignments.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Listen, I am no lover of alignment and generally pay it no attention; however, this is not a great compromise. Have to reverence a different alignment table instead of the stat block is not a good option.
I don't see how--it would almost certainly be on the same page as the statblock, or at least within the description of the creature. Now, if it involved looking up a table in the back of the book, I can see your point, but this would involve someone moving their eyes a tiny bit.
 

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