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

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
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."

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.
They are not talking about RULES. Why do you keep talking about rules? We're not discussing what is "RAW" or what is "Core" we're talking about what WOTC considers as canon, and that is a fluff question and not a rules question. Who cares if there is an optional rule, since that has nothing to do with what is canon. Canon means "the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story." It's story element not rules elements. "You can change a monsters alignment" isn't a story element it's a rules element.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Clarification?

"It can also be said that every campaign that’s ever been run in any of our published settings has its own canon. Your version of the Forgotten Realms has its own canon, which doesn’t make it any less valid than anyone else’s version. Elminster might be a lich in your Forgotten Realms campaign. Elminster might be a miniature giant space hamster in mine—both are acceptable and awesome."

So anything and everything we use or create is canon. So quite literally everything official, every novel, and every video game is canon(all that has ever been made officially is used by someone in a campaign) and everything official is simultaneously not canon, as it's has been ignored in some one personal campaign or another.

Some clarification. They made it worse. Now there's no such thing as canon as quite literally everything is both canon and not canon.
Yes clarification. They are individual stories. You maintain your own internal consistency and only have to worry about contradicting yourself. There is no overarching cannon that covers every edition and media stream for a game.

When you think about it, it’s the only realistic way it would be possible. Particularly between editions. Otherwise how do you explain the sudden influx of magic items in 3rd edition and how they all disappeared in 5e. What happened to all the spells books and spells people knew in 3e during 4e play. Where did all the monks and assassins go in AD&D? All killed?

Canon just means genuine. That will depend on the position of the consumer. Essentially WOC have made it clear that canon is subjective not objective. Now you may not like it, but they have made it very clear.
 

Scribe

Hero
You have your alignments in a table, though. How is that not a compromise?

Unless when you said compromise you really meant "everything remains exactly the way it is right now, except there's a table that gives other people exactly the same option that they always had." In which case... that's not a compromise. That's us being forced to have an alignment.
Perhaps I don't follow, nobody can force you to have one. You even have a table to ignore the stat block?
 


"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.

Could you or someone explain to me why Marvel fandom, DC fandom, and Transformers fandom really cares enough about the subject, but D&D fandom doesn't?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
They are not talking about RULES. Why do you keep talking about rules? We're not discussing what is "RAW" or what is "Core" we're talking about what WOTC considers as canon, and that is a fluff question and not a rules question. Who cares if there is an optional rule, since that has nothing to do with what is canon. Canon means "the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story." It's story element not rules elements. "You can change a monsters alignment" isn't a story element it's a rules element.
It's as much part of the story as alignment is. Alignment is also a rule. Being able to option alignment with creatures involves their story.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Perhaps I don't follow, nobody can force you to have one. You even have a table to ignore the stat block?
Almost certainly they’re going to be doing tables with alignments tacked on, in the same way they did the ideals in VGM, and with backgrounds in the PH. They might even be full alignments, like (Chaotic Neutral), instead of just (Chaotic) or whatever. So if they put alignments in a table and not the stat lock itself, how is that removing alignments? Answer: it’s not. It’s just putting them on a different part of the page. You get alignments, and the table shows that they’re thinking of monsters as individuals with goals and personalities.

But if you keep the alignment in the statblock and put a table of ideals, with or without alignments attached, that’s literally the same thing we have now: an official alignment with the option of ignoring or changing it, and the view that the default monster is always the same.

So it sounds like your idea of a compromise is keeping alignment exactly as-is and making everyone else do the same thing we’ve always done. Which isn’t a compromise at all.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Could you or someone explain to me why Marvel fandom, DC fandom, and Transformers fandom really cares enough about the subject, but D&D fandom doesn't?
Butting in. I would imagine that for comics it’s because we, the readers, are reading stories created by professional writers, editors, and artists working together. If the story doesn’t stick to something akin to canon, then we lose faith in the abilities of those professionals to tell a good story.

but for RPGs, we are the ones creating the story. So even if there’s a common starting point in an official adventure, each group then goes off its own way. And if it’s just a shared official world, then groups don’t even have that starting point in common. And if its a homebrew world, then the only thing groups will definitely have in common are the basic rules.
 



Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
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.


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.
hmmmm

I think that not everyone sees "gold dragon: LG" as meaning ALL gold dragons are lawful good... more that this is what they tend to be.
 


Dire Bare

Legend
Could you or someone explain to me why Marvel fandom, DC fandom, and Transformers fandom really cares enough about the subject, but D&D fandom doesn't?
If D&D fandom cared, we'd already have such a system. It's cumbersome and unnecessary, and doesn't really play into the genre or the game as played.

The comic book houses of DC and Marvel have labeled their many alternate worlds, because they all exist simultaneously (well, until destroyed in a Crisis), and characters travel between them in the stories. There was a great scene in the Flash TV show, when the characters were first trying to wrap their heads around alternate universes . . . they started numbering them to keep track.

In D&D stories, you might have planar adventurers traveling between the various planes of existence . . . but rarely does anybody tell stories about traveling between continuities. Especially as the differences are so minor, and really just represent canon shifts and not alternate realities within the world of the game.

Transformers . . . that's a special case. The hardcore fans are nuts! And I say that as a Transformers fan. There are a lot of reboot/reimaginings of the Transformers franchise, and super-fans are of course keeping track. However, does Hasbro care about any of that? (I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but I'm going to guess it's "no").

There are not distinct D&D continuities between editions, the canon has evolved over the decades, mostly being additive, with minor changes . . . with the slight exception of 4th Edition's left turn.

I'm not worried that WotC will do anything like you are proposing, I certainly hope they don't! But there is nothing stopping interested fans like yourself from doing so . . . just don't expect to get any sort of large-scale interest from the rest of the fanbase on your classification scheme.
 

TheSword

Legend
That’s actually a very clever come back. It manages to put FR meta fans back in their box, without insulting Ed! It alludes to the complexity and inconsistency in the Realms without calling out anything in particular. It doesn’t insult the knowledge of the fans, it does question their ability to explain it satisfactorily.

I like it.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But if you keep the alignment in the statblock and put a table of ideals, with or without alignments attached, that’s literally the same thing we have now: an official alignment with the option of ignoring or changing it, and the view that the default monster is always the same.
All they have to do is put one sentence at the beginning of any alignment section. "Alignment is an optional rule that you may choose to use, and the alignment listed for monsters does not apply to all of them." That one sentence puts your entire argument to rest.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
hmmmm

I think that not everyone sees "gold dragon: LG" as meaning ALL gold dragons are lawful good... more that this is what they tend to be.
Right, but if she admits that people don't view alignment as a strict straightjacket and only a vague tool, her argument falls apart. She has to maintain the stance that alignment is rigidly enforced on entire races.
 

JEB

Legend
There are not distinct D&D continuities between editions, the canon has evolved over the decades, mostly being additive, with minor changes . . . with the slight exception of 4th Edition's left turn.
Well, there weren't distinct continuities between editions. Now there are: 5E officially has a different canon from earlier editions. 5E canon might resemble that of the older editions, and it definitely draws on older editions, but officially, it isn't the same as the older stuff. Essentially, like 4E, it should be treated as a reboot.

I strongly suspect we're going to find out why they made this declaration the next time a classic setting is released for 5E. We may see it even sooner.
 
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dave2008

Legend
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.
If it is a book / PDF it is subject to layout issues. It could be like lair actions, great bits of information that are unfortunately often on a different page from the stat block. Much more helpful if it is in the stat block.

Look, I'm not going to try to satisfy those who want alignment and those who don't. Though I think a compromise is a good idea, I think it will be viewed as a failure by one of the two groups (if not both). It doesn't bother me one way or the other really, but I think removing alignment from the stat block is something some of one group would see as a failure, even if it is mentioned somewhere else in the creature write up.
 
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dave2008

Legend
I suspect that everything that they've put out to date for 5e is internal canon and the core three are the public facing canon.
But we don't know that and we are specifically told they aren't canon and, again, an internal canon is irrelevant to the public if the public is never made aware of it. Also, the fact that those books are officially not canon is important, very important IMO. And I don't give a lick about canon!
 

dave2008

Legend
In the blog post, Perkins specifically says that "Beyond these core rulebooks, we don’t have a public-facing account of what is canonical in fifth edition because we don’t want to overload our fellow creators and business partners." So the focus is on not overloading Larian Studios when they make a video game, or Paramount when they make a movie, or Salvatore when he writes a novel, or even a freelancer doing a section of an RPG book for WotC. WotC is only going to be a stickler for things in the core rulebooks as central to their brand.
I agree completely. It is quite a liberating perspective really. I'm not a canon person, but I would think that people like @doctorbadwolf and @QuentinGeorge who were unhappy with the lore changes in FIzban's or Eberron or MToF could be happy to know that the lore in those books is not canon. Those books present a story, a viewpoint, it is not "canon."
 

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