Recently, Wizards of the Coast published an article indicating their intent to start making notable changes to the D&D canon. The main canon changes will impact the Forgotten Realms, which is the main setting that D&D 5e is set in.
The biggest concerns stirred by these intended changes are not so much in what Wizards claims in their article, but rather what they don’t address. Wizards’ willingness to make changes to the D&D canon seem to rely on a disconnected idea of their audience and how they use canon material. Given some of their most recent releases, there are also potential concerns about Wizards trying to integrate the lore of D&D and Magic the Gathering to get more players involved in both games.
Why are these canon changes happening, and how is this connected to Magic the Gathering? Lets dive into the controversy and what exactly is going on.
Why is the Canon Changing?
Dungeons and Dragons is set in a world. In the beginning, there were many fantasy worlds you could play D&D in, including Greyhawk, Krynn, and The Forgotten Realms. Since the hectic beginning, Wizards has focused primarily on The Forgotten Realms as their main world. This focus allowed them to create a living world that changes over time.
Unlike other official D&D worlds, things actually change and develop in The Forgotten Realms. These changes have given DMs events, dates, and more to pull from. Here are a few examples if you want to use them as inspiration in your games.
With a world that is consistently changing, it can be hard for your creative team to always be on the same page. This is especially true when 3rd party, outside authors are also involved in creating the lore for your world.
In order to make this process easier on their team, Wizards of the Coast has decided to handle their canon in the same way that Marvel does. This means there can be multiverses, different timelines, and total creative license. As long as it makes sense in the story that is being told by DMs, it’s fair game.
This method of handling canon makes sense for novelists and Wizards’ products. But there are some underlying concerns when it comes to actual players. The reasons Wizards of the Coast presents for this decision seem to be more for the company than anything else, which they even admit.
DMs often take what they wish from a world and don’t bother with the rest. They already take total creative license, regardless of the world’s official canon. Wizard’s suggests that these changes are for new DMs, who may feel overwhelmed at incorporating a fully developed world. But with new DMs typically preferring more guidance over less, it seems doubtful that a lack of consistent canon would be a benefit, even for them.
The major changes to how canon is handled bring up some concerns. Will the world completely change? Will we lose valuable resources for crafting our games? What is the real reason behind these changes to the D&D canon, beyond what Wizards of the Coast is suggesting? We will be discussing these points further and why there might be more to this decision than meets the eye.
Marvel Vs. D&D Statement
“Our studio treats D&D in much the same way that Marvel Studios treats its properties.” This is the claim from Wizards of the Coast. This attitude has not really been the case in the past for how they have handled D&D.
In the past, there were different worlds, all with a continuous, stable timeline. The Forgotten Realms is one such world, that kept evolving over time. The lore has been ever-evolving and building, and NOT completely separated by D&D editions as Wizards is claiming. Yes, different major events happen in each edition, but they are not forgotten or irrelevant in the newer editions.
When talking about other forms of media, their claim is correct. D&D books, novels, and video games have a different lore than The Forgotten Realms, but can still become part of the official Forgotten Realms lore. Take Drizzt’s adventures, for example. The Drizzt novels dealt with the explosion of Mount Hotenow, which is a part of Neverwinter’s history. This is even mentioned in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide which is a canon D&D book.
While other media forms have had an effect on the world, the impact has not been substantial. And it does make sense to give these forms of media more creative license. It helps creators have an easier time moving forward, as they don’t have to corroborate with many different creative leads to get something approved.
This update seems to help the creators of various media forms, which is great. However, there are still concerns for DMs and players. The fact is that D&D is very different from Marvel in how the intellectual property is handled by the consumers.
How Marvel handles it’s intellectual property is drastically different than how D&D should be handled. In Marvel, the lore and canon is pushed forward by Marvel and no one else. Others may view the timeline without having a direct impact. This is not so with D&D.
Most DMs and players out there might know something of The Forgotten Realms, but they don’t know the history or lore very well. If Forgotten Realms is used in their campaign, DMs will take the bits and pieces they like. In contrast, Marvel fans tend to know a lot about the Marvel universe, including all its inner workings and backstory.
DMs have complete control over their world. This means that they don’t have to know about the lore of Forgotten Realms at all, or accurately represent if they don’t want to. They retain complete creative license in their own game. This is in direct contrast with the Marvel fandom, where lore might be discussed and debated, but not directly changed by the fans.
This makes the timeline of the Forgotten Realms relative at best, depending on what DMs want for their game. One of the more concerning statements from Wizards that could affect this is that, “Every edition of the roleplaying game has its own canon as well.” This statement has many implications.
Most players and DMs just chalk it up to a new edition being different, with different rules and mechanics. Some small changes are necessary to fit the the new edition, which isn’t a big deal. The big concern is what each new edition having its own canon could really mean.
The Big Concern
Wizard’s has been doing a lot of cross-promotion lately. It started out with the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica incorporating Magic the Gathering into D&D. At first this cross promotion seemed like an isolated incident. Perhaps just a cool way to give DMs an option to place Magic the Gathering into their own world. Giving extra resources is something that should always be encouraged. However, recent events have me concerned.
Wizards has already stated that they are willing to drastically alter D&D lore, even when it makes no sense to do so. This was certainly true in their statement on diversity that we talked about in a previous article. They decided to white-wash set racial bonuses, almost negating the point of having races in D&D.
Here, Wizards showed that they 1) don’t understand how socially-constructed races and biological species differ, and 2) changed major parts of their lore based on a societal issue that didn’t even apply to them. Clearly, the integrity of their lore is not Wizards’ first priority, if they will change major things so easily.
There are already hints that Wizards is gearing up to make Magic the Gathering the official lore of D&D 6th edition. The Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica was the first indicator, but more recently they have advertisements for Magic the Gathering and how to use it in your D&D game, and are also pushing D&D into Magic the Gathering through D&D Adventures.
With all this in mind, Wizards of the Coast may be pushing to turn the canon of D&D 6th edition into the canon of Magic the Gathering. Perhaps all this talk of freeing up the canon for “creative license” isn’t the whole story.
If you think this is a stretch, keep in mind that Wizards is first and foremost a business. Naturally, they want to bring in a profit from as many avenues as possible. This company owns two highly successful products – D&D and Magic the Gathering. What if they could get customers to explore both products simultaneously, potentially doubling their profits?
I really hope I am wrong about this prediction and that this does not come to pass. D&D lore is a wonderful thing and maintaining its integrity gives DMs an incredible world to work with. We will have to wait and see what happens with 6th edition to really know.
Wizards of the Coast is making big changes to the D&D canon to make the creative process for their authors much easier. From this perspective, I respect their decision. However, the idea that new DMs are required to learn The Forgotten Realms lore before they can play is not an accurate representation of how DMs use materials. Removing resources isn’t a good thing, and it is quite surprising how disconnected Wizards is from their audience.
The greatest concern is about how Wizards moves forward from here. They have already re-written the lore, and show signs of merging the lore of D&D and Magic the Gathering together. This would be a profitable move for the company, but would be a loss for the D&D community.
What do you think about this change? Is there anything that I missed? Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments!
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