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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


In my mind, treating people as things is bad.
Yet no modern government can do otherwise. And some things those governments do are good. (Eg in my country they provide national health insurance, and during the pandemic have provided national economic relief and are now providing a national vaccination program. This all requires treating people as things, as "factors" or "units" in an impersonally-designed and operated scheme.)

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It's the writers of the setting making the railroad, not the DM
I don't buy this. It's the table who are playing the game and making choices about the fiction.

EDIT: This post of yours from upthread seem apposite:

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.
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Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No, there's more to account for if Wizards actually cared to do so, but they dont, because anything pre 5e core, is no longer relevant.
Not really. It has no impact on the setting.
No, it's not backwards. I'll explain:


Assertion: the presentation of Orcs in much FRPGing, especially some bits of D&D, replicates racist tropes (eg "primitive", "inherently evil", "subhuman" etc).​
Reply: no it doesn't, because in the fiction, the Orcs aren't humans, aren't Black, aren't Mongols, etc.​
Reply to the reply: I'm not making a claim about the in-fiction truth; I'm making a claim about trope and theme, and which ones of those are picked up on by the Orc stuff.​
Assertion: the presentation of "the faithless" in FR and its Wall does not replicate real-world attacks upon atheists; rather its about conviction and the consequences of detachment​
Reply: but in the fiction, the ones who suffer are atheists.​
Reply to the reply: I'm not making a claim about the in-fiction truth; I'm making a claim about trope and theme, and which ones of those are picked up by the Wall of the Faithless.​

(For the sake of clarity, in both cases I am the one making the assertion.)

In summary: just as the symbolic meaning of Orcs isn't settled by their in-fiction nature, so the symbolic meaning of "the faithless" isn't settled by their in-fiction nature.
But that doesn't accurately characterise the arguments of those who disagree with you. We are also making claims about trope and theme, and their execution.

If we simplify the causality of writing the realms to pretend is has A Writer, we can summarize the argument thus;

The Writer wrote (accepting your premise) a world in which a major theme is that of cosmic forces clashing with eachother, and mortals choosing sides in those clashes, even if only by their choice of gods to focus their worship upon. In doing so, he wrote an element of that world that equates the non-faithful to deserters and "cowards" in a time of just and necessary war, and that idea of atheists/agnostics/irreligious = unethically neutral parties is then expressed in the work with a story element wherein the irreligious are punished horrifically, and this is presented as Just, if not Good.

There are some tangential arguments about how dumb the wall is, and/or how it grimdarks the setting in a way that is incongruent with the rest of the setting, but the above is the crux of the argument that it is an unethical element of the fiction of FR.
Yes, as I said, a railroad. (Who else is creating the "not supposed to be" except the GM? Not the players, presuming that they object to the Wall and what it stands for.)

If the players want to engage with the cosmology of the game - eg they judge it unjust, and want to rework it to make it just - then yes, a game in which the GM decides they're not supposed to or not allowed to do that is a railroad.
That's a clash of expectation about what sort of game is being played, more than it is a railroad.
What reworking the cosmology might look like will depend on further details of setting and system - but given we're talking about D&D, where the PCs are located cosmologically from the outset (qv clerics, warlocks, paladins, etc) and quickly grow to have vast supernatural powers, then I think a number of possibilities quickly suggest themselves.

I've GMed games that include such themes in Rolemaster and in 4e D&D. In the former, the PCs allied with a god who had been exiled for interfering with the laws of karma, with that god's help were able to step outside the laws of karma, and therefore were able to reconfigure the chaining of an ultimate evil so as to free from eternal torment a dead god who had been left to his fate by the rest of the Heavens as a cost of chaining the evil. In the latter, among other things the PCs sealed the Abyss, ended Lolth's reign over the Drow and thus the sundering of the Elves, and held off the Dusk War.
Not all dnd games make the PCs that powerful, though. The rules as written don't assume that PCs become as powerful as the gods, much less more powerful. Saying, "I didn't sign up to run a game where you become gods or destroy god, this is a setting wherein mortals cannot acheive that kind of power."

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