D&D General WotC: Novels & Non-5E Lore Are Officially Not Canon

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At a media press briefing last week, WotC's Jeremey Crawford clarified what is and is not canon for D&D.

"For many years, we in the Dungeons & Dragons RPG studio have considered things like D&D novels, D&D video games, D&D comic books, as wonderful expressions of D&D storytelling and D&D lore, but they are not canonical for the D&D roleplaying game."


despair.jpg


"If you’re looking for what’s official in the D&D roleplaying game, it’s what appears in the products for the roleplaying game. Basically, our stance is that if it has not appeared in a book since 2014, we don’t consider it canonical for the games."

2014 is the year that D&D 5th Edition launched.

He goes on to say that WotC takes inspiration from past lore and sometimes adds them into official lore.

Over the past five decades of D&D, there have been hundreds of novels, more than five editions of the game, about a hundred video games, and various other items such as comic books, and more. None of this is canon. Crawford explains that this is because they "don’t want DMs to feel that in order to run the game, they need to read a certain set of novels."

He cites the Dragonlance adventures, specifically.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

MGibster

Legend
Can I ask in what way the announcement hurts you?
When discussions of representation or problematic issues come up regarding older material we're often told "fiction matters." And what they mean by this is that fiction can provide us with new and interesting points of view, it can teach us lessons we apply to the real world, it can comfort us, entertain us, and change our minds. We can have an emotional attachment to fiction. I'm used to be a big Star Trek fan (orthodox Trekkie), and I have an emotional attachment to the original series, the next generation, and Deep Space Nine. These shows mean something to me and to a lot of other people as well. I know it sounds silly, but here's a nice story about astronaut Ronald McNair for whom the original Star Trek was something he eagerly devoured as a teenager.

If fiction matters then it matters what people do with it. If a new Star Trek series were to come along and suddenly tell me everything from TOS was invalid it would piss me off. Eh, for a certain value of pissed. I'm an adult so it's not like I'm going to fly into a rage or anything but I'd definitely be unhappy. So I can understand why some people are unhappy with something they've invested in for many years is suddenly not canon. When Disney declared the extended universe to not be canon I was overwhelmed. It was as if hundreds of thousands of nerds suddenly cried out at once and were suddenly silenced.

Edit: And I say this as someone who doesn't mind if they change the lore. I just recognize that for those who have a connection to the lore it kind of sucks for them.
 

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JEB

Legend
The ONLY impact declaring stuff non-canon has is when and if WotC decides to publish a new book/adventure/whatever, it forestalls any of the canon police showing up to decry how they've murdered the Realms with this or that change.
If Wizards really thinks this announcement is going to stop people from complaining about changes from past canon, they're fooling themselves. I can guarantee you'll still see complaints, every time.

About the only effect I can see is that you might convince a faction of canon fans to write off 5E material itself as non-canon, and stop buying... and even then, they might still make their displeasure known.
 

I think the only problem with this is Crawford's phrasing. If he talked about the lore with the passion we know he has for it, and then stated how and why they decided it as non-canonical, then more older players would be on board. Instead, he came off sounding a bit glib. Which I am very doubtful is what he meant.
 

Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
I've finally realized that this thread has been reminding me of a song, and which song it is. This is something that I pointed to a few times in the years we were writing revised clan books for Vampire: The Masquerade, and people wanted to know how much of the first edition ones would remain relevant and what to do with the early material we neither explicitly included nor explicitly dismissed. Not everyone was satisfied, to put it mildly, but really, this is a very good attitude to cultivate when it comes to broad, deep background across multiple editions.

You can wink at the Pharaoh
Dance with the Queen
Be nice to the nice guys and mean to the mean in your dreams
You can fence with a windmill
Surf in a seashell
Hide in a hotel

You can love one another or negotiate
You can love all the things that you manage to hate
You can tug on the heartstrings
Shrug 'til the phone rings
Or love 'til your heart stings

 

Von Ether

Legend
My bit of anecdotal evidence about older players and canon. Our GM put our next campaign up to a vote and FR was voted in. The fellow who was most adamant about the GM running FR brought in a whole milk crate of FR stuff, all of it 2e stuff even though the 3e book had been out for five years or so. He felt that he still hadn't gotten enough value out of his old stuff.

Based on that chat, I'm surprised WotC didn't chuck canon sooner.
 

When a game generates a lot of lore, the creators have two choices. They can lean into it, leveraging the lore to their advantage, or they can keep piling lore up until the situation becomes so unwieldy that they have to hit the reset button, immediately causing fan upset and game instability. And I say instability because until they fill in the gaps, people will keep referring back to the old non-canonical lore to interpret things. We've seen it in Robotech , nuked so that only the shows and IDW comics were canon; Star Wars, with the infamous purging of the EU; and in DC, with its nonstop Crisis style events whenever the load gets too heavy. ...

Now, some might be asking, "What about option 1?" Well, we've seen it in action before. Two good examples are the OWoD and Heavy Gear universes. Both were very lore heavy, and featured live time worlds where events in prior books were referenced and where lore drove story.

I couldn't help but notice how horrible of examples this person picked. His examples of the "bad #2" option include two of the most profitable, longest running, and globally recognized multi-media franchises of all time. Also Robotech, which literally a story of completely broken and unmanageable lore from it's first English translations; you can't break canon that never existed.

Meanwhile, his choices for the "good #1" option are, with apologies to their fans, runner-ups in small races. Heavy Gear trails waaay behind WH40k. It looks like the new 3e rules are the first game publication in the series in about 5 years (you can download the PDF for free at DrivethruRPG right now), and they still rely on Kickstarter to get some of their minis made. WoD, was a second-place RPG 20 years ago, when RPGs were at their lowest market share ever. They've been sold half a dozen times. And the "O"WoD specifically is, well, the old part of the franchise; it's been replaced with the New. Neither of these have anywhere near the amount of lore D&D has accumulated over the years.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And here's the rub: this is what happens when you make time-live worlds with deep lore without a plan to use it. It was avoidable.

I don't really think that's fair at all. Nobody makes 40-year plans. That's not a thing.

And it isn't like that lore hasn't been used. It has been in use constantly, over how many novels and game products? Come on.
 
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If Wizards really thinks this announcement is going to stop people from complaining about changes from past canon, they're fooling themselves. I can guarantee you'll still see complaints, every time.

About the only effect I can see is that you might convince a faction of canon fans to write off 5E material itself as non-canon, and stop buying... and even then, they might still make their displeasure known.
You just described every thread on Candlekeep.com in the last thirteen years.
I think the only problem with this is Crawford's phrasing. If he talked about the lore with the passion we know he has for it, and then stated how and why they decided it as non-canonical, then more older players would be on board. Instead, he came off sounding a bit glib. Which I am very doubtful is what he meant.
I find that to be a recurring problem with Crawford’s way of expressing himself. He’s precise in his choice of words, but also verbally frugal, to a fault. This can be admirable especially when crafting rules, which is his job after all—but I find that with certain rules in 5e and especially with his Sage Advice tweets, he really resists using any more words than he thinks are necessary, which unfortunately includes refraining from pointing out or clarifying how the rules interact with one another.

Practically every Sage Advice tweet thread he made starts out with him simply restating the rules someone is asking about, and only actually answering their question after another two or three rounds of the questioner saying “That just begs the question” and Crawford responding with tiny, incremental clarifications before (usually) finally answering the question, in a way that makes it sound like the answer all along was an obvious and immediate implication of the rules he initially quoted.

That’s relevant here because what he said is in a way similar: he announced a policy, said it was actually in play all along, and didn’t offer anything else that would contextualize the announcement for the people receiving it. (At least, I’m assuming he didn’t; we don’t actually have a transcript of the comments so far as I can tell, only brief quotations, so there might have been more.)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If fiction matters then it matters what people do with it.

That seems a drastic mis-representation of that ideal.

Being a fan of a fiction does not give us editorial rights on it. Fans don't own creations. Fans are not entitled to have their favorite thing continue forever as they want it. For Trek fans, this becomes obvious because of how many ways they have changed Trek over the years. Each series is a significant departure from the previous ones.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
That seems a drastic mis-representation of that ideal.

Being a fan of a fiction does not give us editorial rights on it. Fans don't own creations. Fans are not entitled to have their favorite thing continue forever as they want it. For Trek fans, this becomes obvious because of how many ways they have changed Trek over the years. Each series is a significant departure from the previous ones.
I meeeeeeean...

You basically wind up with 4 Eras of Trek.

OG Era which includes the Cartoon and the first movies.

Next Gen, which includes the movies, DS9, and Voyager. DS9 was a significant stylistic and narrative departure, but it held the same canon and expanded it -beautifully-. While Voyager went back to the OG design of flying around finding things while trying to benefit from Farscape's "Long Way Home" framing device.

Then comes Enterprise and Abrams together in a "Re-imagining of the world"

And now Discovery/Picard in the "Hyper Focused Serialized Format" where you've got X number of Episodes to tell one overarching story with minimal digression, even into B or C plots within a given episode.

I'd agree that the Eras are significant departures, but you had 3 incredibly similar series on the air in the 80s/90s. Even if their narrative format changed (With DS9 going for longer metaplots) it was still the Trekiest Trek that ever did Trek.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I meeeeeeean...

You basically wind up with 4 Eras of Trek.

OG Era which includes the Cartoon and the first movies.

Next Gen, which includes the movies, DS9, and Voyager. DS9 was a significant stylistic and narrative departure, but it held the same canon and expanded it -beautifully-. While Voyager went back to the OG design of flying around finding things while trying to benefit from Farscape's "Long Way Home" framing device.

Then comes Enterprise and Abrams together in a "Re-imagining of the world"

And now Discovery/Picard in the "Hyper Focused Serialized Format" where you've got X number of Episodes to tell one overarching story with minimal digression, even into B or C plots within a given episode.

I'd agree that the Eras are significant departures, but you had 3 incredibly similar series on the air in the 80s/90s. Even if their narrative format changed (With DS9 going for longer metaplots) it was still the Trekiest Trek that ever did Trek.
All that being said, it was still all part of the same continuity (except the Abrams stuff). The original story has continued, with the occasional interruption, for 55 years now. They broad strokes old stuff when it makes sense to, but it all more or less happened.
 

JEB

Legend
said it was actually in play all along
Minor point of order: In this particular case, it doesn't seem like Crawford suggested this was always their policy. And the 5E DMG, in 2014, outright said the official FR setting included novels and digital games (and strongly implied the novels were part of the other classic settings).

If he does later come out and imply this was always the plan, that'd be different; but he hasn't, as far as I know.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Minor point of order: In this particular case, it doesn't seem like Crawford suggested this was always their policy. And the 5E DMG, in 2014, outright said the official FR setting included novels and digital games (and strongly implied the novels were part of the other classic settings).

If he does later come out and imply this was always the plan, that'd be different; but he hasn't, as far as I know.
Do you have a page citation for that? All I've been finding is "You can use old Forgotten Realms Novels for Inspiration" and similar phrasings.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't really think that's fair at all. Nobody makes 40-year plans. That's not a thing.
Not all at once; but some people and many companies make ten-year plans and then every five years or so review those plans and push them out another five years.

Doesn't take much to add up to a 40-year plan when it's done that way.
 

Hussar

Legend

If a new Star Trek series were to come along and suddenly tell me everything from TOS was invalid it would piss me off. Eh, for a certain value of pissed. I'm an adult so it's not like I'm going to fly into a rage or anything but I'd definitely be unhappy. So I can understand why some people are unhappy with something they've invested in for many years is suddenly not canon. When Disney declared the extended universe to not be canon I was overwhelmed. It was as if hundreds of thousands of nerds suddenly cried out at once and were suddenly silenced.

Edit: And I say this as someone who doesn't mind if they change the lore. I just recognize that for those who have a connection to the lore it kind of sucks for them.
Umm, we've had three Start Trek Movies recently that did EXACTLY that. Abramsverse Star Trek is exactly that.

The best thing Disney did was declare the EU to not be canon. Hrm, out of that you get The Mandalorian - which is pretty good by all accounts. Five (Six?) Star Wars movies that made fantastic amounts of money and also gave us the best Star Wars movie - Star Wars Rogue One, and also gave us Star Wars Rebels.

I'd say they did pretty well out of the deal.
 

MGibster

Legend
Being a fan of a fiction does not give us editorial rights on it. Fans don't own creations. Fans are not entitled to have their favorite thing continue forever as they want it. For Trek fans, this becomes obvious because of how many ways they have changed Trek over the years. Each series is a significant departure from the previous ones.
I'm genuinely confused here because I didn't mention anything about editorial rights. Perhaps it would be clearer if I said I had an emotional stake in Star Trek just as many people have an emotional stake in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Final Fantasy. And yes, you're right to say that Trek has changed over the years. But TNG, DS9, and Voyager didn't go back and invalidate the original series. The fact that Klingons were allied with the Federation in TNG did not change that the Klingons and the Federation were enemies in the original series. There's a difference to changing a setting with the passage of time and simply declaring that the old material didn't happen.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
He actually weighed in on that yesterday:

I think the author of the tweet is missing the lynch pin problem, to be honest. He mentions it, but then he kind of glosses over it.

And this is basically what Wizards has said. If it's not in an official 5e book, it ain't it. But they're already stacking problems again. How? Well, there's no canonical endings to their campaigns, and they're keeping FR a "live time" world, meaning all the events in the campaign books are world canonical, and even though they have potentially world shaking implications, we don't know how they ended.

To really and truly have a canon in a living world, you need to have canonical endings to events. And we have a few kind of things like that, but for the most part I'd say DnD is in a very hard position.

On one hand, you can't tell the players that their experience "doesn't count". I mean, imagine how it would go if to play Storm King's Thunder you had to say that Zhentarim agents stole most of the treasure from Tiamat's horde, leaving the Lord's Alliance nearly penniless. And then Storm King's Thunder meant that the Emerald Enclave was shattered, so that when Out of the Abyss came then there were no forces of good to aid you... a thing that might not be true in a campaign where the players laid claim to large swathes of the treasure and founded a new force for good that also has an alliance with the King of the Storm Giants allowing you to recruit the Stone Giants to fight the Demons.

Eventually, as the AP's came out, more and more people would have less and less reason to run them, because they are assuming "canonical" events that didn't happen for those tables.


But, on the other hand... it leads straight into what this guy is saying. A lack of the use of the lore, and a lack of weight to the events, because oh my dear lord a Dragon apocalypse, Giant Apocalypse and Demon Lord Super Apocalypse all happening within three years of each other would be beyond devastating, but they have no impact on the world at all.

Which poison pill do you want?
 

MGibster

Legend
Umm, we've had three Start Trek Movies recently that did EXACTLY that. Abramsverse Star Trek is exactly that.
I didn't feel the need to mention the movies because we all know they're in a different timeline/universe. The point is that each Trek series didn't invalidate what had come before it.

The best thing Disney did was declare the EU to not be canon. Hrm, out of that you get The Mandalorian - which is pretty good by all accounts. Five (Six?) Star Wars movies that made fantastic amounts of money and also gave us the best Star Wars movie - Star Wars Rogue One, and also gave us Star Wars Rebels.
I had no attachment to the EU beyond the Thrawn books and a few others because most of it was crap. But despite my feelings as to the quality of the EU, I can certainly understand why people were upset when it was jettisoned. Either fictions matters or it doesn't. If fiction matters enough for us to form emotional attachments to it then you can hardly be surprised when people get upset when canon is changed.
 

Minor point of order: In this particular case, it doesn't seem like Crawford suggested this was always their policy. And the 5E DMG, in 2014, outright said the official FR setting included novels and digital games (and strongly implied the novels were part of the other classic settings).

If he does later come out and imply this was always the plan, that'd be different; but he hasn't, as far as I know.
You're right—I may have read his statement too hastily. "For many years" appears more likely to apply to the first major clause of the sentence (about the team considering the novels etc. to be "wonderful expressions"), but not the second (about noncanonicity).
 
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JEB

Legend
Do you have a page citation for that? All I've been finding is "You can use old Forgotten Realms Novels for Inspiration" and similar phrasings.

DMG, page 4:
Even if you're using an established world such as the Forgotten Realms, your campaign takes place in a sort of mirror universe of the official setting where Forgotten Realms novels, game products, and digital games are assumed to take place.

The "Flavors of Fantasy" section (pages 38-41), for what it's worth, also describes Athas "as featured in numerous Dark Sun novels and game products", and points to the novels when referencing the other settings.
 

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