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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."


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"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

JEB

Hero
Far from ironic, that's the real driving factor here. I have seen people try to argue that there is a developing metaplot by pointing to how Baldur's Gaye 3 ties into a potential ending of Descent into Avernus. This isn't about decanonizing novels fr the 90's, it's about decanonizing current video games and the film so the RPG team doesn't have to assume particular endings to the Sword Coast Adventures.
It's possible BG III or other new/upcoming video games are a factor, but it seems like it would have been pretty easy to just write those specific works off, rather than making a blanket declaration that also de-canonized fan favorites like the original BG games or Planescape: Torment. Wizards likely wanted a policy that was both future-proofing and gave them an out for changing something old.

Also note that Crawford focused most of his attention on novels, and in particular the Dragonlance novels. Combining that with their tussle with Weis and Hickman over novels last year, and the many issues folks on these boards have raised about making Dragonlance work for modern audiences... and I think you can form a pretty strong guess as to what this might mean.

(You do raise an interesting question with the film, but I feel like most folks would have been comfortable treating it as non-canon for the RPG, like Marvel Comics fans do the MCU. Something about live-action transitions seems to help with that.)
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
It's possible BG III or other new/upcoming video games are a factor, but it seems like it would have been pretty easy to just write those specific works off, rather than making a blanket declaration that also de-canonized fan favorites like the original BG games or Planescape: Torment. Wizards likely wanted a policy that was both future-proofing and gave them an out for changing something old.

Also note that Crawford focused most of his attention on novels, and in particular the Dragonlance novels. Combining that with their tussle with Weis and Hickman over novels last year, and the many issues folks on these boards have raised about making Dragonlance work for modern audiences... and I think you can form a pretty strong guess as to what this might mean.

(You do raise an interesting question with the film, but I feel like most folks would have been comfortable treating it as non-canon for the RPG, like Marvel Comics fans do the MCU. Something about live-action transitions seems to help with that.)
It would seem to me that he is recalling the difficulty of running his own Dragonlance game at a time when his D&D circles would have been deep into the novels, cresting dissonance similar to what one might see from Baldur's Gate 3 or the film.
 



It would seem to me that he is recalling the difficulty of running his own Dragonlance game at a time when his D&D circles would have been deep into the novels, cresting dissonance similar to what one might see from Baldur's Gate 3 or the film.
It was a fundamental problem with the Dragonlance modules that they couldn't contradict events in the novels, leading to the "railroad" issue. Most obvious where it explicitly stated "this character can't die". But it also meant that some key plot scenes where not in the modules at all, and some where not in the novels.

They could have written modules based on the novels where events could turn out very differently depending on player choice. But they didn't, because canon.
 

Hussar

Legend
Folks who like canon aren't a monolith, anymore than folks who dislike canon are. You have a range from folks who need every established fact to be fixed and unchanging, to folks who are perfectly happy with any change as long as there's an in-universe explanation, up to and including in-universe resets like in DC Comics. What it boils down to for most canon fans is that things are explained, somehow, and their ability to see the fictional world as coherent and (for lack of a better word) "real" is maintained. (And even beyond that are folks who just make up their own head-canon. I'm sure there's a lot of that happening with D&D fans vis-a-vis 5E at this point...)
Or, as I said, they see canon as having intrinsic value in and of itself. Canon makes the world "coherent". Changing canon makes the world incoherent, obviously. Thus, canon has value.

There are just so many problems with this though, particularly in older properties:

1. Most properties are not managed over the long term and so all sorts of internal inconsistencies crop up - Star Wars is the poster child for this. Where are my Anthropomorphic rabbits? :D Star Trek. Doctor Who has so many inconsistencies that any notion of a coherent world is laughable. Quick, what is the population of Waterdeep? How big is Khorvaire?

2. Most properties were not designed with the idea of being able to add stuff in later. So, you wind up with things getting fuller and fuller and, once you step back, more and more ridiculous.

3. Because we can only add canon, never remove, any mistakes made in the past become virtually impossible to correct. The current issues with inclusiveness in the hobby is a poster child here. People absolutely freaked over a pretty benign warning sticker being added to older products. And, if we're not allowed to remove canon, then all those sensibilities from the past become enshrined in the game and cannot be changed. Not a good look.

4. New things do come out. Look at how the Discovery was designed compared to the old TOS Enterprise. Of course it looks more futuristic. A number of the things that we totally take for granted now didn't even exist in the 1960's. Never minding the SFX abilities to bring them to the screen. So, yeah, the bridge of NX-01 Enterprise looks more advanced than the bridge of NCC-1701. Of course it does. But, it doesn't stop people from complaining about it.

The thing to remember is that these massive settings aren't really normal. Most properties don't have anywhere near the level of material for them. Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, Star Trek, and a handful of others are about it. So, normal rules don't necessarily apply. Yes, I get the appeal of canon. And, in a "normal" setting where you don't have thousands and thousands and more thousands of pages of material devoted to them, sure, canon is a good idea. It's all about establishing the setting. Which is perfectly fine. But, when you DO have these tens of thousands of pages of material, something has to give.
 

If Vader shows up in a game, and the DM describes how he kicks all of our asses and we can't even lift a finger to stop him... less cool.
It might be worth mentioning that this literally happens in the video game Jedi Knight: Fallen Order.

But in the game's defence, it should be mentioned that Fallen Order isn't a roleplaying game. It has a fixed story which you get to see by playing through the game. There are no decision points that can affect the outcome.
 
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JEB

Hero
Or, as I said, they see canon as having intrinsic value in and of itself. Canon makes the world "coherent". Changing canon makes the world incoherent, obviously. Thus, canon has value.
Changing canon poorly makes the world incoherent. For example, sudden decisions that a popular storyline (or entire continuity) no longer happened, or retcons that require popular characters to behave out of character. And such "damage" to canon is usually, eventually, routed around (i.e. ignored by fans and creators alike) or itself retconned, restoring that sense of coherence for most fans. The majority of canon fans are perfectly fine with changes if they're either explained in-universe, or make sense with what came before.

1. Most properties are not managed over the long term and so all sorts of internal inconsistencies crop up - Star Wars is the poster child for this. Where are my Anthropomorphic rabbits? :D Star Trek. Doctor Who has so many inconsistencies that any notion of a coherent world is laughable. Quick, what is the population of Waterdeep? How big is Khorvaire?
Most canon fans, when faced with inconsistencies, either a) ignore them as insignificant while still appreciating the rest of canon b) pick the answer they like best, since there's no one "true" answer or c) partake in the great fan pasttime of explaining the error away. For example, Doctor Who famously has multiple Atlantises... but it's just left unresolved, as one of those things. They didn't have to wipe out The Underwater Menace to make The Time Monster work, or vice versa; most fans would agree that both adventures "really" happened, the Atlantises are a continuity error. Such mistakes haven't kept generations of Whovians from enjoying the series canon, or required them to treat every story in a vacuum; they find a happy place somewhere in-between that may differ from fan to fan.

2. Most properties were not designed with the idea of being able to add stuff in later. So, you wind up with things getting fuller and fuller and, once you step back, more and more ridiculous.
Sure, but most long-running franchises adapt in various ways - retcons, distant sequels to get some breathing room for major changes, treating things in broad strokes after a certain distance has been achieved, or even in-universe reset buttons. And those franchises - assuming they remain valuable properties to someone - usually survive just fine, still retaining fans who regard their canon as having value, despite whatever changes were made.

3. Because we can only add canon, never remove, any mistakes made in the past become virtually impossible to correct. The current issues with inclusiveness in the hobby is a poster child here. People absolutely freaked over a pretty benign warning sticker being added to older products. And, if we're not allowed to remove canon, then all those sensibilities from the past become enshrined in the game and cannot be changed. Not a good look.
Mistakes in canon are fixed all the time. Out of character moments are explained (mind control! clone!), embarrassing portrayals are reimagined in later works (the superhero actually treated their minority sidekick with respect, what are you talking about?), and occasionally a work is just plain ignored while the rest of the canon chugs along with fans (what are The Goliath Chronicles again?). You can find examples of such things on basically any fan wiki. (I could also link you to TV Tropes, but that would be cruel.) 5E itself retconned elements of Curse of Strahd in Van Richten's Guide, yet both books are to be taken as canon under the current policy...

4. New things do come out. Look at how the Discovery was designed compared to the old TOS Enterprise. Of course it looks more futuristic. A number of the things that we totally take for granted now didn't even exist in the 1960's. Never minding the SFX abilities to bring them to the screen. So, yeah, the bridge of NX-01 Enterprise looks more advanced than the bridge of NCC-1701. Of course it does. But, it doesn't stop people from complaining about it.
Most fans of canon Trek (eventually) accepted Enterprise as canon, even if there's still griping about specific plot points. Discovery, too (though there's more griping, it's still on Memory Alpha). Most canon Trek fans accepted explanations, or suspended disbelief, and did so without rejecting all of Trek canon as incoherent and valueless. Others may ignore Enterprise or Discovery specifically, but haven't rejected the rest of Trek canon up to that point. None of that required them to decide that canon itself had no value. They just found a way to accept the largest segment as "true" that they could.

I expect most D&D fans who had treated 5E as part of the larger canon will react to this announcement in a similar way. They'll either embrace 5E as "true" and the old stuff as optional, or reject 5E as "false" and stick with the canon up to 3E. Or come up with some other combination that works for them, still without deciding that canon no longer matters to them. (Fans who never cared about canon will be as they always were; they're unaffected.)

I just think it's a shame that Wizards would encourage such a split, when they could have just said nothing, done whatever retcon they're planning anyway, and let canon fans ignore it (or rationalize it) while still treating the rest as part of the bigger story. But it's done now. (Unless they backtrack when the official blog post comes out...)
 

Most fans of canon Trek (eventually) accepted Enterprise as canon
This is the thing, "canon" is something hardcore fans make, not content creators, often jumping through logical hoops to try and make contradictory details from obscure episodes fit together to reveal some greater "truth". The truth is, hardcore fans know and care far more about these things than the people writing the show. You see this with things like Twin Peaks and Lost. The fans try to deduce "the truth", when the actual truth is there is no truth, the program makers are just throwing in random meaningless stuff to get the fans to speculate about what it means.

All WotC is doing is being more open - they reserve the right to deliberately or accidently contradict things that happened in obscure episode 27.4b. All content creators do this, WotC are just making it explicit.
 

TheSword

Legend
I expect most D&D fans who had treated 5E as part of the larger canon will react to this announcement in a similar way. They'll either embrace 5E as "true" and the old stuff as optional, or reject 5E as "false" and stick with the canon up to 3E. Or come up with some other combination that works for them, still without deciding that canon no longer matters to them. (Fans who never cared about canon will be as they always were; they're unaffected.)

I just think it's a shame that Wizards would encourage such a split, when they could have just said nothing, done whatever retcon they're planning anyway, and let canon fans ignore it (or rationalize it) while still treating the rest as part of the bigger story. But it's done now. (Unless they backtrack when the official blog post comes out...)

The difference being, that Star Trek released Discovery. Then the fans started griping about how it didn’t fit the lore. There were some actual discrepancies to argue about.

WOC has actually made that split with 5e Lore and precious decisions. I saw some people on Candlekeep raging that they were never going to buy another 5e product again. Which is pretty odd because the 5e products I see use the previous lore more than I ever did.

Making the shards of the Cryshal Tirith from The Crystal Shard instrumental to several parts of the adventure for instance.

All Jem has said is that he retains the right to make changes if he so chooses.

Interestingly I saw a post from Ed Greenwood a few years back when this topic came up again. Ed’s contract of sale of the Realms means that everything he writes is Canon, until WOC write something different. Meaning even 25 years ago, both WOC and Ed understood that WOC would need to change things. It also explains why WOC doesn’t need to treat FR stuff as canon. It doesn’t mean they don’t try to respect it.
 

JEB

Hero
All WotC is doing is being more open - they reserve the right to deliberately or accidently contradict things that happened in obscure episode 27.4b. All content creators do this, WotC are just making it explicit.
That's my point, though - they already could make changes. They already did make changes. And canon fans were sticking around, assuming most things were still canon, or trying to rationalize the retcon, etc.

But now there's an official stance: 5E is canon, the rest is non-canon until we say otherwise. Which just asks some canon fans to choose: do I accept that, or do I reject 5E itself as non-canon?

Now, instead of fans who buy new books and express displeasure about changes in them, they'll have fans who express displeasure about changes without buying the books.

I saw some people on Candlekeep raging that they were never going to buy another 5e product again.
See?
 

TheSword

Legend
That's my point, though - they already could make changes. They already did make changes. And canon fans were sticking around, assuming most things were still canon, or trying to rationalize the retcon, etc.

But now there's an official stance: 5E is canon, the rest is non-canon until we say otherwise. Which just asks some canon fans to choose: do I accept that, or do I reject 5E itself as non-canon?
You can’t take a fork in the road, until you actually reach it. There is no choice to make between 5e and earlier editions so far.
Now, instead of fans who buy new books and express displeasure about changes in them, they'll have fans who express displeasure about changes without buying the books.


See?
Well let’s be honest. Jem said that we (himself and the writers) don’t consider the previous stuff cannon. Not that the fans have to. What I’m saying is that by Ed Greenwood’s contract stuff is Cannon for everyone else until they write otherwise.

So from our point of view it still is the official viewpoint until they change it. They haven’t changed it yet, so what’s the problem?
 
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Keldryn

Adventurer
Fans are awfully conveniently forgetful about what is and is not canon. After all, anthropomorphic rabbits are canon in Star Wars. The Star Wars Christmas Special is canon in Star Wars. But that sort of stuff gets rather conveniently forgotten whenever we talk about canon.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is not canon. It shared the same fate as the Ewoks and Droids cartoons and the live action Ewok TV movies.

When they hit the reset button on the "Expanded Universe" in 2012, the official continuity was comprised of Episodes I to VI (the films, not the novelizations) and The Clone Wars (the CG series, not the earlier Tartakovsky series from 2003-2005). Everything else was retroactively given the "Legends" designation.

All of the new material has been designated canon, but of course with a property as massive as SW, inconsistencies will creep in (so I've heard; I don't read the novels or comics).

Just wanted to clear that up. ;-)

I think that Jaxxon may have appeared in a comic in the new continuity, so I guess he is canon. Not really any more ridiculous-looking than Ben Quadrinaros, TBH.
 

There's WotC-tangential Forgotten Realms stuff like the Border Kingdoms at DMs Guild. If you wanted to send a message about whose FR vision you support, focusing on those works might be the way to do it. If enough folks who felt like you followed suit, it might be noticeable that WotC's FR stuff wasn't gaining the same kind of traction.

I already bought it. I plan on buying the PoD version this Winter.
 

That's my point, though - they already could make changes. They already did make changes. And canon fans were sticking around, assuming most things were still canon, or trying to rationalize the retcon, etc.

But now there's an official stance: 5E is canon, the rest is non-canon until we say otherwise. Which just asks some canon fans to choose: do I accept that, or do I reject 5E itself as non-canon?

Now, instead of fans who buy new books and express displeasure about changes in them, they'll have fans who express displeasure about changes without buying the books.


See?
So you are complaining that WotC are being too honest, and should lie to fans?

I think the difficulty is, the people who can't tell the difference between "not canon" and "never happened". Most of the stuff that "isn't canon" (which is everything, actually) still "happened", for the purpose of future stories.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Changing canon poorly makes the world incoherent. For example, sudden decisions that a popular storyline (or entire continuity) no longer happened, or retcons that require popular characters to behave out of character. And such "damage" to canon is usually, eventually, routed around (i.e. ignored by fans and creators alike) or itself retconned, restoring that sense of coherence for most fans. The majority of canon fans are perfectly fine with changes if they're either explained in-universe, or make sense with what came before.

And there's the rub. "Poorly". Judged poorly by whom? By the majority of folks that really don't care that much but enjoy the property, or by the tiny slice of hardcore fans that pore over details, post on message boards like this one and then shout from the rooftops for anyone who will listen?

Most canon fans, when faced with inconsistencies, either a) ignore them as insignificant while still appreciating the rest of canon b) pick the answer they like best, since there's no one "true" answer or c) partake in the great fan pasttime of explaining the error away. For example, Doctor Who famously has multiple Atlantises... but it's just left unresolved, as one of those things. They didn't have to wipe out The Underwater Menace to make The Time Monster work, or vice versa; most fans would agree that both adventures "really" happened, the Atlantises are a continuity error. Such mistakes haven't kept generations of Whovians from enjoying the series canon, or required them to treat every story in a vacuum; they find a happy place somewhere in-between that may differ from fan to fan.

Again, you're talking about episodes that aired before I was even born, and I'm not that young. New Who does not reference Atlantis at all, AFAIK. And, given that the Time War wiped out all the continuity of old Who, I'd say Who has pretty much scorched earth it's entire continuity when it rebooted.

Sure, but most long-running franchises adapt in various ways - retcons, distant sequels to get some breathing room for major changes, treating things in broad strokes after a certain distance has been achieved, or even in-universe reset buttons. And those franchises - assuming they remain valuable properties to someone - usually survive just fine, still retaining fans who regard their canon as having value, despite whatever changes were made
Mistakes in canon are fixed all the time. Out of character moments are explained (mind control! clone!), embarrassing portrayals are reimagined in later works (the superhero actually treated their minority sidekick with respect, what are you talking about?), and occasionally a work is just plain ignored while the rest of the canon chugs along with fans (what are The Goliath Chronicles again?). You can find examples of such things on basically any fan wiki. (I could also link you to TV Tropes, but that would be cruel.) 5E itself retconned elements of Curse of Strahd in Van Richten's Guide, yet both books are to be taken as canon under the current policy...

I'll take your word for it.

Most fans of canon Trek (eventually) accepted Enterprise as canon, even if there's still griping about specific plot points. Discovery, too (though there's more griping, it's still on Memory Alpha). Most canon Trek fans accepted explanations, or suspended disbelief, and did so without rejecting all of Trek canon as incoherent and valueless. Others may ignore Enterprise or Discovery specifically, but haven't rejected the rest of Trek canon up to that point. None of that required them to decide that canon itself had no value. They just found a way to accept the largest segment as "true" that they could.

You are kinda ignoring the massive amount of invective and the toxic cesspit that fandom devolves into when these changes are brought about. It would be fantastic is what you were describing here was how it worked but it's not. It's a small number of EXTREMELY loud trufans and canon police screaming from their soapboxes as loudly as they can to try to force their visions onto everyone else.

I expect most D&D fans who had treated 5E as part of the larger canon will react to this announcement in a similar way. They'll either embrace 5E as "true" and the old stuff as optional, or reject 5E as "false" and stick with the canon up to 3E. Or come up with some other combination that works for them, still without deciding that canon no longer matters to them. (Fans who never cared about canon will be as they always were; they're unaffected.)

I just think it's a shame that Wizards would encourage such a split, when they could have just said nothing, done whatever retcon they're planning anyway, and let canon fans ignore it (or rationalize it) while still treating the rest as part of the bigger story. But it's done now. (Unless they backtrack when the official blog post comes out...)
Me, as I said, I could kiss Crawford for this. Now, when someone whinges about how you can't possibly make succubi into devils, because that's what some out of print supplement said thirty years ago, the proper response is to blow raspberries. Fantastic.
 


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