Sunday, 25 July 2021

Why a Canonical D&D is the Only Way Forward for WotC

ComicBook.com reported recently that Principal D&D designer Jeremy Crawford offered clarity on the subject of what is canon in the Dungeons and Dragons RPG world.

Crawford said.

"Basically, our stance is that if it has not appeared in a book since 2014 [the year that Dungeons & Dragons' Fifth Edition core rulebooks came out], we don’t consider it canonical for the games."

Typically this got a fractured response from the RPG community who are typically divided into two camps, those who slavishly follow the product/story lines of D&D and everybody else.

Why a D&D Canon is Important to WotC

Wizards of the Coast is a business owned by toy making giant Hasbro.  Dungeons & Dragons is just one of its properties, not the most profitable one but it is the most recognised brand in the Tabletop Role Playing Game (TTRPG) sector.  Each edition of D&D has its own life span.  At the time of writing 5th edition is 7 years old and as with any games system the bulk of its sales will always come initially from the sale of its core rulebooks and as the edition ages these are overtaken by supplemental materials such as adventures, settings, campaigns and other entertainment properties.  

Older gamers like myself have seen this pattern repeat itself over many editions of many games systems.  It's similar to the way that movie and tv franchises like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica have been rebooted multiple times over many decades.

The rise in popularity of streamed D&D game channels such as Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated has changed the audience dynamic,  For some their only experience of D&D is watching it being played by people on Twitch, YouTube etc.  They passively consume the content in exactly the same way as you would a movie.  It is a story from beginning to end and a history of play emerges which becomes canonized episode by episode.

When this audience wants to begin playing their own sessions their desire is to emulate what they have watched, after all it is their only frame of reference.  WotC needs to take this into account and provide a world and a shared canonical history which they can control in order to feed the various different projects that they have planned for this edition of D&D such as movies, books, TV series and merch, merch, merch. 

It's not personal it's just business - The Godfather
It's not personal it's just business - The Godfather

If WotC D&D is to make more money then they have to sell more than just rule books.  They have to control their universe to make other properties easy to write and to enable their consumption as passive entertainment.  Good luck to them I say.

So why are some people getting upset about this?

Older players might view this as just one more betrayal in a long list where WotC is taking their beloved franchise and turning it into something else entirely.  We've seen this happen across all of the rebooted movie and TV franchises in recent times but I don't think we are going to see the same voracity or backlash in D&D.

But stop, calm down, put down the keyboard and step away from the monitor...

Everyone's D&D Experience is Different.

Playing D&D is not like watching a movie, reading a book or watching a twitch stream of internet celebrities playing a game of D&D.

When we play D&D we do not play the same game, the choices we make during the game change the story and our experience becomes unique.   How the Dungeon Master brings the story to the table, the characters in the adventure, how the rolls go, how players react to events, everything becomes a unique experience.

With the best will in the world, once those books leave the store, WotC has lost all control of how they are used, interpreted, played, written about, podcasted and most importantly experienced.  Your D&D experience is a product of all the choices and decisions made around your table regardless of what the author, designer, WotC or Hasbro might say.

The D&D Expanded Universe (DDEU) vs My Exapanded Universe (MEU)

WotC is carving out it's DDEU so that it can continue to make products for the coming years.  To me this signals that 5e is here to stay for many years.  It wants to homologate these products into a framework of historical canon which helps its many writers and designers to navigate the confusing and inconsistent waters of a property that has existed across many different editions over the last 5 decades. 

Good for them.

My Epanded Universe will continue to beg, borrow and steal it's material from anything which I have read or watched in my 5 decades.  WotC can't police what I'm doing with it's product, it doesn't dictate what can happen in my games, my players do. 

Good for them.

The Only Thing that Matters is Having Fun

The concept of control strikes at the heart of the recent "Culture Wars" that are ongoing in every hobby and every social or political structure at the moment.  The incessant labelling of ist, ism and phobe being bandied about on the cesspool of social justice that is social media (mostly twitter) is a mask worn by those without imagination and creativity. 

These people play the person and not the ball because they cannot win (control) the argument.  The only way to win the argument is to not play the game by their rules.  The recent debacle with the relaunched TSR is a case in point.

What happens in your game, what rules you specify for the alignment or moral choices made by orcs and dark elves or what frameworks you implement to ensure that your games are internally consistent (or wheelchair accessible) are for you and your players to decide.        

WotC and the horde of blue check mark allies can shout all they want and try to define what is and what isn't D&D.  I am not forced to use what WotC is selling to still play D&D, those books walked out of the store many years ago.  If they sell something I like I might buy it.  If they don't I won't.

In summary the only voices I hear are the ones around my table.  If they don't like something they'll tell me.  If they like something, they will be laughing and having fun.

And that my friends, is all that matters.

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