What’s canon in Dungeons and Dragons? A lot less than you might think.
I’ve never been what you’d call a stickler for canon in any franchise. Stuff changes, stories get altered, things get shuffled. Batman used to use ropes to hang giant chemically altered murderers from the bottom of his aircraft until they were dead and he shot people. Superman used to smash his body into airplanes deliberately to crash them. Early Spider-man was a jerk. Characters change and grow, plots get abandoned, ideas get rethought.
So when Jeremy Crawford came out and said at D&D Live that none of the various novels, video games, comics and other tie-in media were considered canonical when they develop things for Dungeons and Dragons, I wasn’t what I’d call surprised. I was a little more surprised when he said that nothing developed before 2014 in actual game rulebooks was considered canonical, either. I find that very interesting because it was said books like The Wild Beyond the Witchlight are bringing back old characters like Warduke, Kelek and Strongheart.
I get why they’d make this decision. It sounds like they’re taking a mix-and-match approach to older Dungeons and Dragons products — using what they currently want to in whatever configurations suit them. Their use of Fizban the Fabulous in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons or the classic old D&D characters based on action figures from the 1980’s in The Wild Beyond the Witchlight are good examples of that.
I think it’s likely that they want to be free to do entirely new things with the story of these books, while still being able to make use of characters from previous editions when they can fit them in. I do worry that this means we’re not going to get to see Io or the other Dragon-Gods from previous editions. But at the same time, we also know they’re changing other stuff like the Drow all being inherently evil Even writer R.A. Salvatore coming back to write new novels — which will, I suspect, also not be considered canon — has revealed new details about the Drow and how they’re not all the wicked monsters we’ve seen so far.
So we’re going to see characters and monsters from worlds like Faerun and Krynn, but you won’t be expected to run your game as exact copies of the Dragonlance novels or Elminster in Hell.
So, as an old Grognard when it comes to D&D, part of me regrets this decision, but the rest of me thinks it’s probably about time that D&D left old tropes behind and changed with the times. And if we have to let some old ideas go, we might as well pick and choose the stuff that we like the most to be brought forward.
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