WotC WotC on canon - what's the difference from 3E in the year 2000?


Over 20 years ago, Ryan Dancey said this:

From: "Ryan S. Dancey" <ryand@frpg.com>
Newsgroups: RPG.DnD.Greyhawk
Subject: What is and is not Cannon
Date: Sun, 26 Dec 1999 17:45:00
Message-ID: <96229@cipher.wizards.com>
Lines: 167

From: knobbyfoot <knobbyfoot@hotmail.com>
1. What is, and is not canon? Which modules and accessories can we base

For a long time, there was an effort to have "one cannon". That is, to
assume that all facts published by TSR were to be considered parts of a
larger whole. When those facts contravened themselves, a convoluted logic
tree was built to explain the discrepencies. Only the the most egregious
case were the materials to be ignored.

Starting with 3e, we are changing our definiton of cannon. We are going to
be moving to an idea called "core continuity".

D&D has always been about creator content - imaginging cool new things and
putting them into the game. One of the most common abbreviations in D&D
internet correspondance is "IMC" - In My Campaign, a term that carries with
it the assumption that my campaign may be different from yours, but that
both of our games have equal value. That concept is at the heart of "core

What is going to happen is that a set of specific facts, NPC descriptions,
maps, histories, cosmologic facts, etc. will be assembled (in the beginning
for Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. Later on, we'll get to
other settings as we need 'em.). Those materials will be compiled into a
document that will be given to any person who works on that world in an
official capacity here at Wizards. No deviation from that material will be
acceptable - all facts must check with the core continuitity. Large
portions of that work will see print in the form of the "world books" we're
working on.

There is a sense of conservation attached to these works. Cities will not
be destroyed. Borders will not change. Landmarks will not be altered.
Characters will not change, age or die. The world will become static when
viewed through the lens of core continuity.

Those books will become your primary source for "cannon". If you see a fact
in those books, you can be assured that nothing we publish will directly
contravene that fact.

Over time, we will advance the core continuity. The Greyhawk continuity
will not advance. For the purpose of "official" continuity, the year is
591CY, and the timeline will not advance. All the assumptions in place in
the 3e PHB and DMG will remain constant until those books are revised. The
FR continuity will advance, at a rate yet to be determined. The DL
continuity may advance at a rate tied to the publication of various novels;
we're waiting for Margeret and Tracy to provide some direction at a meeting
being held early in 2000.

The core continuity material is not encyclopedic. We are not going to go
through every published product, extract every fact, try to create logical
explanations for all the discrepencies, then ask designers to adhere to that
mass of data. The "core continuity" will be much smaller - an abstract of
the total data, hitting just the most important features. Thus, you may see
materials in print that do not jibe with material published in the pre-3e
era. We are only going to hold ourselves to the "core continuity" - not to
the entire published D&D body of work.

Going forward, designers (of all types - games, books, etc.) are going to
have some interesting choices to make. If they wish, they can construct a
narrative that consists of only the material in the core continuity, plus
things they add. If they desire, they can reference materials that sit
outside the core continuity, but it will be their choice to do so, and their
facts will not be checked. If they elect to reference materials that appear
in another 3e product, the designer must then ensure that all facts between
the products are in synch. In other words, if Designer A wants to use a
character introduced and detailed in Designer B's product, Designer A must
ensure that Designer B's continuity is followed, and will be fact checked
and held to that continuity. In this sense, a designer can decide how much
fact checking and continuity they are able to manage. Some designers can
easily handle reams of facts, figures, histories, etc. Others simply cannot
deal with more than a handful of restrictions on their creative vision.

All D&D products will carry a short disclaimer that reads something like

"Dungeons & Dragons is a creative medium. Part of the wonder of the
Dungeons & Dragons worlds are the many visions of the people who create
materials for those worlds. While they share some commonality, each
designer's personal vision should be considered their "own" world, just as
the Dungeon Master creates his or her "own" world each time they sit down to
play the role playing game."

The Living Greyhawk campaign of the RPGA is going to be considered a
"designer" for the purposes of this system. The RPGA coordinators are
determining how much "additional" material they want to add to the core
Geyhawk continuity, which all Living Greyhawk participants will be expected
to be able to reference and can expect to be rigorously fact checked. As
the RPGA Living Greyhawk world advances, that world will become a unique,
particular expression of Greyhawk after 591CY; one derived from the input
and play of the RPGA membership. That world will be no more or less
"cannon" than any other material created for Greyhawk - whether that creator
is a D&D designer on staff at Wizards, or a particularly creative poster to
rec.games.frp.dnd, or a solitary DM running a weekly game.

2. If something is 'thrown out', why?

First, the amount of knowledge that will be considered "cannon" has to be of
a reasonably minimal size. It is simply impossible to keep every piece of
fact accurate and checked when the volume of such material expands to the
size of something like one of our popular campaign worlds. Trying to do so
has created false expectations in the consumer population, and triggered
numerous conflicts within the company.

Second, there is a lot of data that contradicts itself. This is bound to
happen when you have multiple sources for the content that are not centrally
managed, and over time, even central management tends to change focus and
introduce conflicts. Therefore, not every single fact in every single
product >can< be considered cannon - something must be dropped.

Third, some of the material produced for our worlds is crap. Pulling no
punches, not every word written under the banner of a D&D world logo is
suitable for print or should ever have been published. Rather than hold our
noses and pretend that such material is signficant, we're going to simply
pretend that it does not exist and stop trying to patch it up or fix it.

I think we deserve to know exactly WHY certain
things are thrown out while others are kept in.

That you'll never get. The work to run the company and the RPGA and to
design products is too pressing to allow us to document the reasons for
every single choice.

3. WHO EXACTLY makes the canon decisions, and how?

The core continuity document will be managed by a Brand Manager. At the
moment, that means me or Jim Butler for D&D worlds. A group of key
designers and creative staff members from games, books, RPGA, and other
areas of the company will comprise a council on continuity for each world,
and they will review the core continuity for additions, changes, and
subtractions under the oversight of a Brand Manager.

The RPGA will manage internally the extensions it creates and supports for
Living Greyhawk, without more than minimal oversight. The RPGA Living
Greyhawk campaign is currently being overseen by Eric Mona.

4. Where exactly did the concept of "unpublished canon" come from?

There are a lot of materials (especially for Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk)
that are accepted within Wizards as "cannon" despite the fact that they have
never seen print. The reasons are many and legion - the most basic is that
the orignal designers like Gary and Ed had certain background details that
explain things in published products that are not stories or adventures -
just notes. We don't have a "Christopher Tolkien" to collect all those
notes and construct a narrative like the Silmarillion, but you can imagine
how important it would be to us if we were writing Middle-Earth stories to
have J.R.R.'s original notes on the material that appears in that book?
There will always be a component of private, unpublished internal
"continuity" that will not appear in public.

The impression i am getting here is that the "powers that be" dont want
new material.

In the case of the Living Greyhawk world, a lot of work has been done on a
product to be released in 2000 just after 3e ships that will set the
background and continuity for Living Greyhawk to move forward. Until that
book is published, I suggest that you hold your suggestions about changes
and updates. When you have the finished material, you will be able to see
how to make your ideas meld with the overall LG effort. Until then, you'll
just have to be patient.

The latest remarks from WotC about "canon" and 5e D&D seem much the same, at least in basic outline and intent. So why are they a big deal?

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I can note some differences between the "then and now" declaration. For one thing (and also they seemed to have changed their stance a bit since this declaration, at least until now), despite this statement, novels and other published material (with the exception perhaps of games like BG) were still considered canon (at least in FR).

Maybe this statement made about 3e wasn't as widely known about as the 5e one has been (social media has come a long way), so there may have been less of a "public" reaction. Also, I think with this more recent statement, there is a feeling that decades of what has come before is essentially being scrapped (YMMV) as WotC builds a "clean slate", even as they use established settings. The 3e statement somewhat implies something similar, but again, I don't think they actually ended up doing this, based on the published materials I have seen.

It's kind of weird to me to say you're going to advance a timeline, but have a "cut off" point for when things are canonical.


Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Dancey's statement was pretty widely known and discussed at the time!
True, but the community was much tighter and more insular (and decaying) in 1999. I mean, that post was to a newsgroup! I'm sure plenty of people missed the memo.

Plus, I think every generation has to learn the hard lesson that the media they consumed growing up is specific to them and to their times, not some eternally existing structure that needs to be held sacrosanct.


True, but the community was much tighter and more insular (and decaying) in 1999. I mean, that post was to a newsgroup! I'm sure plenty of people missed the memo.
I have a copy stored in the D&D folder on my hard drive - which I was able to pull up and copy into the OP.

I don't know where I got it from. Not the newsgroup, I'm pretty sure - I wasn't reading that newsgroup at that time. I assume I got it on ENworld/Eric Noah's page. When I tried to find the post this morning via Google I couldn't turn it up.


True, but the community was much tighter and more insular (and decaying) in 1999. I mean, that post was to a newsgroup! I'm sure plenty of people missed the memo.

Plus, I think every generation has to learn the hard lesson that the media they consumed growing up is specific to them and to their times, not some eternally existing structure that needs to be held sacrosanct.

Internet wasn't universal either in 1999. Well still isn't but close enough.

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