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).


canon.png


 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Remathilis

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.

It's all canon, except for the stuff you decide isn't. You're not forced to accept any source for the game, except maybe the core mechanics. You get to pick what counts. Want your game to be in canon with the new movie, The Baldur's Gate saga, and the Icewind Dale trilogy, but not Pools of Radiance or the Minsc comics? You can do that and it's not wrong.

Pick and choose what counts, WotC isn't going to tell you what counts.
 

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Yaarel

Mind Mage
Perkins mentions as examples of 5e canon:
  • Strahd
  • Menzoberranzan
  • Zariel

Do all of these appear somewhere in the core books?

Strahd is name-dropped in the PHB, as an example of what Divine Sense will and won’t tell you (specifically, it will tell you he’s undead, it won’t tell you he’s the vampire Strahd Von Zarovich). And the Monster Manual establishes that vampires have to sleep in coffins.

The Monster Manual in the Angels entry, mentions "Zariel" as a fallen angel "who is the ruler of the first layer of the Nine Hells."



As far as I can tell, the name "Menzoberranzan" only appears once in the core books, in the following obscure sentence in the DMG.

"DESIGNING YOUR OWN CHASE TABLES
The tables presented here dont work for all possible environments. A chase through the sewers of Baldurs Gate or through the spiderweb-filled alleys of Menzoberranzan might inspire you to create your own table."

The Players Handbook mentions: "Descended from an earlier subrace of dark-skinned elves; the drow were banished from the surface world for following the goddess Lolth down the path of evil and corruption. Now they have built their own civilization in the depths of the Underdark, patterned after the Way of Lolth."

Besides the Menzoberranzan being place with "alleys" full of spiders, it seems impossible to know that this is the "civilization" built by drow in the Underdark, unless one consults the noncanonical 5e splatbooks.



So while, only the core books are canon, trying to understand the core books seems to require the splatbooks.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Not just valid. Canon. He explicitly calls it canon.
Canon for your campaign. The whole premise of the post is that there are multiple canons depending on context, and your home campaign has its own canon.

Wizards has a canon that they will adhere to when making D&D books. They explain that in the first three paragraphs. Your home game also has a canon, which is up to you to decide.
 


Erdric Dragin

Adventurer
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.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Canon for your campaign. The whole premise of the post is that there are multiple canons depending on context, and your home campaign has its own canon.
Canon is official. Period. Otherwise it doesn't exist as literally everything becomes canon and not canon simultaneously. In all the years I have been playing, with all the changes that I've made to rules and lore, none of my personal changes has ever been canon. Nor will they ever be canon. Chris's absurd statement is just that, absurd.
Wizards has a canon that they will adhere to when making D&D books. They explain that in the first three paragraphs. Your home game also has a canon, which is up to you to decide.
And it's all canon! Which is to say nothing is canon and WotC simply has some internal rules that they will follow.

Canon can only exist if it comes from official sources only.
 

Let me just acknowledge the helpful folks who can be counted on to state the obvious: "Every DM can do what they want." 'Nuff said.

The question is: Why make the various Realities an in-game thing?

Here's why: For the same reason various other IPs have done so: Star Trek (where characters can actually cross over from the Abramsverse to the Prime Timeline and back), TMNT (where the TMNT teams from various timelines - films, comics, tv, - actually joined together for a shared adventure!), and especially Transformers (a fellow Hasbro IP which has probably the most complex and clear conception of multiple timelines, of any IP in the world. Which, like TMNT, has cross-over stories where multiple Optimus Primes from various Universal Streams join forces.)
This makes sense to me as a 'back end' adjustment, that is, sorting all these things out for content creators, especially the freelance writers they hire for the adventure paths, so that they there is clarity in where they are drawing on lore from past editions and where they are making a change. But for 'front end' users, that taxonomy of different realities is confusing. If I want to drop a Greyhawk (or, say, Norse) deity into my FR game, am I doing a "cross-over" needing a fuller explanation or just borrowing a thing for my game? Of course, if I'm the DM in that game I can just do whatever, but that obviates the need for wotc to make all these realities discrete from one another in an official way.

Because: It's awesome.
not an argument, but I'll take you word for it
Because it's nourishing to the grognards who have invested in the setting.
Who counts as a grognard?

And as long as the in-game is just a sidebar or web article, it doesn't confuse mainstream fans.
Though apparently minimal, even sidebars and web articles require some amount of time, resources, page space, etc. At some point there is a tradeoff between allocating space and resources for lore continuity and doing the same for providing game-able content in an easy to grok format (not that wotc does that either...)

Because it provides a fuller validation of the various D&D fandoms. Perkins more clear and fullsome rewording of Crawford's statement feels good and validating. There are multiple canons yes. Now take it one step further...and make these canons/timelines co-existent from an in-universe perspective!
If validation moves units I'm sure they'll do that. Personally, I try to avoid expecting emotional reciprocity from a corporation. And the thing that appeals to me about the game are that the stories are mine and not the appropriated "IP" of said corporation.

Because it provides a framework for the occasional cross-over or easter egg between different Timelines/Realities.
I can see the appeal of that, like bringing over a character from a video game into a game product

All the above being said, I feel the best thing for everyone would be for them to drop FR as the default setting :):crosses fingers::)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
It's all canon, except for the stuff you decide isn't. You're not forced to accept any source for the game, except maybe the core mechanics. You get to pick what counts. Want your game to be in canon with the new movie, The Baldur's Gate saga, and the Icewind Dale trilogy, but not Pools of Radiance or the Minsc comics? You can do that and it's not wrong.

Pick and choose what counts, WotC isn't going to tell you what counts.
Which is fine and something I agree with. What I choose is not going to be canon, though, unless it's officially canon. That's what canon is. Official.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
I think it will look more like...

"ACOLYTE
Medium humanoid (any race), any alignment"
That would be fine too.

In fact, I would probably prefer it in the sense that a "humanoid" has free will and can choose any alignment, which is the point.



Recent UAs have opened up the creature types to include nonhuman player characters, such as the fairy who is a fey, not a humanoid. There might not be a one-to-one correspondence between humanoid and "any alignment", so specifying the phrase for nonhumanoid playable characters is helpful.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
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).
You have literally described how I play D&D.
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.
This is describing the Star Wars RPG.

When I watch a Star Wars movie, I don't get to make unique choices different than how the writers and directors chose (other than turning off the movie). When I play an RPG, the canon is the palette through which I get to experience a game. I get to choose what to use and what not to use.

⁠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 really feel you are ignoring most of what WotC is saying, which aptly describes their passion and love for this game, the settings, and the lore.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
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.
I mean, you could be literally quotign the DMG on most of these, so they don't really work as rhetorical questions: the designers really want to encourage all of those things.

Why bother writing monster books? SO people can play D&D games.
 


a.everett1287

Explorer
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! :)
As opposed to overly obsessive or compulsive, it actually sounds onerous and terrible.

You're free to incorporate that, but I don't see any reason why WoTC should devote a book to it.
Canon is official. Period. Otherwise it doesn't exist as literally everything becomes canon and not canon simultaneously. In all the years I have been playing, with all the changes that I've made to rules and lore, none of my personal changes has ever been canon. Nor will they ever be canon. Chris's absurd statement is just that, absurd.

And it's all canon! Which is to say nothing is canon and WotC simply has some internal rules that they will follow.

Canon can only exist if it comes from official sources only.
This kind of goes towards two competing forms of canon, though.
Official canon hasn't really changed, and is somewhat immutable until WoTC changes it. For instance; officially, Maxperson's terrible lore doesn't exist, whatever that may be.

Campaign canon is not the same; in that, Maxperson's MLP-based cosmology exists, and battled the WoTC cosmology for supremacy thousands of years ago. This has nothing to do with WoTCs canon, other that borrowing from it.

I'm sure that could have been typed by Chris Perkins; I'm also sure that he felt his usage of the phrase 'YOUR CAMPAIGN' kind of obviated the need to spell it out so bluntly. But here we are.

Ideally, we'd see the end of canon entirely, and then my cup would overfilleth.
 

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.
Honestly, what you state as rhetorical questions are probably more fitting to the ethos of the original game. Something like 'take the books as a compilation of tools, advice, and suggestions, and go make your own thing.' It's why they initially were not going to sell adventures because they didn't think there would be any market for stories made by other people

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.
This is a complete overreach. It's one thing to say that they aren't designing products exactly to your taste (their products are not to my taste for different reasons, so I just...don't buy them). But it's another to imply that people not invested in exhaustive lore don't love the game. And btw, here's Chris Perkins on his approach:

Those among us who are fortunate enough to become shepherds or stewards of the D&D game must train ourselves to become art and lore experts so that we know when we’re being faithful to the game’s past and when we’re moving in a new direction. We decide, based on our understanding of the game’s history and audience, what artwork or lore to pull forward, what artwork or lore needs to change, and what artwork or lore should be buried so deep that it never again sees the light of day. We have a couple guiding principles:

  • If the artwork holds up or the lore has been true in every past edition of the game, we think twice about changing it.
  • If the artwork or lore hasn’t withstood the test of time, we can update or discard it.
The number of eyes on a stock beholder has been consistent throughout D&D’s history. No need to meddle with perfection, I say.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Which is fine and something I agree with. What I choose is not going to be canon, though, unless it's officially canon. That's what canon is. Official.
Just looking over various definitions of canon*, I think the word refers more to what is "acceptable for a given purpose" rather than what is "official". And that jibes with this statement.
For the purposes that use IP for novels, crpgs, and other content, the canon is whatever WotC says it is.
And for purposes of our individual tables, canon is whatever players at those tables say it is.

* ETA: to clarify, I'm referring to uses of "canon" with respect to literature, which I think is closest to the case for gaming.
 


Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
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).


View attachment 141421

This all sounds like a ploy to cover for that author who accidentally included orcs in a Dragonlance novel back in the day. Or maybe the author who included the tarrasque in Lord Soth's basement in that one goofy adventure module. Right?

Right.
 

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