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Made in us
Dakka Veteran





I was thinking about the idea of canon in 40k, especially where things contradict each other. Old fluff versus new fluff, direct contradictions, different authors making characters behave differently, and "out-of-character" I guess.

I know GW's official line on canon is that everything and nothing is canon. Rather than quote directly here, this gives a fair few quotes and I found it quite interesting:

https://wh40k.lexicanum.com/wiki/Warhammer_40k_-_Lexicanum:Accepted_sources

How do you make sense of conflicting canon? Do you not care so long as you can enjoy the story at hand? Does it irritate you that canon isn't more strictly controlled?

Personally, I enjoy world-building and quite a strict sense of canon and continuity in general. Outwith GW stuff I like to read science fiction and fantasy that has a high level of internal consistency and often find it jarring when continuity is broken or established "facts" are ignored or contradicted.

What do you make of GW's approach to canon and how do you rationalise the contradictions?

My own rationalisation is more leaning towards the nothing is canon approach, which I think is odd considering that in other fictional worlds I like the strict canon so much! But I find the nothing is canon approach is quite liberating especially as it gives the freedom for me to make my own models "my guys" and whatever happens on the tabletop is just as canonical as a codex or a BL novel.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/07 08:47:40


 
   
Made in gb
Longtime Dakkanaut






If nothing is canon, what is a Space Marine?
   
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Dakka Veteran





My interpretation of it is that nothing is canon is referring more to the strictest sense in that none of the information presented is hard "facts".

By that I mean, everything about the 40k universe is seen through the prism of legend, myth, propaganda, half truth and unreliable narrators etc.

I'm not saying that there are no space marines, or a Golden Throne or the like, more that the specifics are open to interpretation, and what is presented as fact is actually half-truth and obfuscation.
   
Made in gb
Mighty Chosen Warrior of Chaos





Watch Fortress Excalibris

As someone who used to work for them, GW's position isn't really "There is no canon," but rather "There is no canon beyond protectable IP".

"Abaddon the Despoiler is the leader of the Black Legion" - That's protectable IP. If another company decides to call the big bad of their setting "Abaddon the Despoiler" and his army of power-armoured genetically-engineered super-soldiers "the Black Legion", GW will take legal action. Likewise, GW won't let some two-bit BL author create his own "Abaddon the Despoiler" character who is a captain in the Blood Angels, or invent a new leader for the Black Legion called "Bananadon the Exfoliator".

But Abaddon's precise motivations, or the exact rank he held in the XVI Legion, or whether he's originally from Terra or Cthonia or a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse - none of these are protectable IP, and are therefore subject to change or interpretation by different authors. GW doesn't care about such details because they have no IP-legal implications.

Does that make sense?

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 Duskweaver wrote:
As someone who used to work for them, GW's position isn't really "There is no canon," but rather "There is no canon beyond protectable IP".

"Abaddon the Despoiler is the leader of the Black Legion" - That's protectable IP. If another company decides to call the big bad of their setting "Abaddon the Despoiler" and his army of power-armoured genetically-engineered super-soldiers "the Black Legion", GW will take legal action. Likewise, GW won't let some two-bit BL author create his own "Abaddon the Despoiler" character who is a captain in the Blood Angels, or invent a new leader for the Black Legion called "Bananadon the Exfoliator".

But Abaddon's precise motivations, or the exact rank he held in the XVI Legion, or whether he's originally from Terra or Cthonia or a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse - none of these are protectable IP, and are therefore subject to change or interpretation by different authors. GW doesn't care about such details because they have no IP-legal implications.

Does that make sense?


That makes a lot of sense. I can see why they take that approach from an IP perspective.

FWIW, that fits with my rationalisation of the setting too.
The way I see it, Abaddon is the leader of the Black Legion, but the specifics of his character, background and motivations are not set in stone.

To make a comparison, I suppose I look at the background and how strict the canon is in the same way I would approach historical fiction. Take Bernard Cornwall's Sharpe series for instance.

The Sharpe novels didn't happen, but they are set during real events - the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe wasn't a real person, but he interacts with real historical figures such as Wellesley. Wellesley in Sharpe is like any "named character" in 40k in that they are "real" in the setting. To continue the Abaddon analogy, Wellesley in the Sharpe series is like Abbadon in 40k. Abbadon is a"real" (as in canonical) person in universe, but all the 40k background is fictionalised accounts, so the details (his background, motivations, a specific bit of dialogue etc) are not not necessarily canon, rather they are a fictionalised version based on "real/canon" events or people.

Does that make sense? It's clear in my head, but I'm not sure if I'm getting the idea across very well.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/07 10:36:17


 
   
Made in de
Nurgle Chosen Marine on a Palanquin




I think the nice thing about 40K is that a lot of the canon only matters to your actual games if you really want to. Yes, the basics are clear, so let's say what the codizes and the main rulebook state about the setting is the main guideline. So the Imperium can't be a socialist democracy and Eldrad Ulthran won't pray to Slaanesh.
Other than that though? Most players will only read one or two BL books about their own faction, maybe not even those. 90% of BLs books are about Space Marines, 99% about the Imperium (rough guesses from me). So for many players these offer nothing and can be ignored pretty much. 40K stretches a whole galaxy so you have room for vast campaigns stretching sectors and hundreds of planets without ever touching the main plot about Guilliman or the Great rift. The whole Star Trek Federation is smaller than a single segmentum of the Imperium and even the Borg or Dominion are tiny compared to the amount of planets controlled by Orks.
To come back to one of OPs questions: What about contradictions? The 40K galaxy is not only a huge space but it's also a history of 10K years if you only look at the Imperium, and 60Million years if you also look at Necrons, Orks and Eldar. So of course there can be contradictions, especially when most of it is told from imperial perspective.
   
Made in gb
Sagitarius with a Big F'in Gun




Bath

Also, given the imperial centric viewpoints of most lore, the unreliable nature of communications in the setting, temporal shenanigans due to the Warp, and the well established fact that almost everyone is lying to everyone else to protect their own interests, conflicts in canon can easily be glossed over as one account being wrong either on purpose ( to conceal something detrimental to the author) or accidentally ( or the author projects meaning and motive onto another party).

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But it's " Thin red line of 'eroes " when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's " Thin red line of 'eroes, " when the drums begin to roll.
"Tommy", Rudyard Kipling
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Made in gb
Last Remaining Whole C'Tan






As others have said, everything is very Imperium centric.

But even when it’s not?

Necrons are pretty much insane. And thanks to the implications of bio-transference and command protocols, even those which are completely sane are unreliable narrators. After all, all their memories could be entirely implanted.

Eldar? Their tradition is allegory and mythic in nature. Yes, in theory The Black Library is a repository of truth. But...it’s guardians are Harlequins - devotees of the Trickster God. Anyone availing themselves of its knowledge are likely only being shown what the Harlequins want them to know.

Orks? No real concept of history as we know it.

Tau? Shyeah. Right.

Tyranids? Nah.

So all sources are inherently unreliable narrators. Everyone has secrets. Some won’t know they’re woefully misinformed, because truth is very much a matter of perspective, and the individual’s prejudices.

Chaos itself is inherently unknowable. Are the gods Gods, or just unfathomably powerful entities? Are they even truly sentient, or just instinct run wild?

Outside of the Tau, no-one knows much about their own origins, because each race in turn has either lost all it once had (Eldar, Humanity), or simply don’t care (Orks, Tyranids). Necrons may have the best handle on it, as they were actually there. But again, we can’t rely on their stories due to insanity being rampant, and the distinct possibility they only know what the Silent King allows them to know. And as for the Silent King? His memories could be entirely false as well.

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Made in de
!!Goffik Rocker!!






Nuremberg

I don't think strict canon is important at all. I'm interested in actually doing the world building rather than reading about it. So I see the stuff presented as a jumping off point and inspiration rather than anything strict. I don't really get much satisfaction from sticking strictly to canon and I don't think it's really appropriate for a creative game setting where making up your own stuff is the point of it.

If anything I think the GW canon has gotten far too detailed and ossified, and has lead to the idea of an advancing narrative with defined characters as the major actors as the focus of what they are writing. I don't find that very compelling for a tabletop game, especially given half the characters are pastiches, references and rip offs of other characters or tropes from better fiction.

When I read a black library novel I'm usually looking to see which parts inspire me or spark my imagination and then running with it. So my Chaos Marines are Word Bearers because I really liked the First Heretic, but my conception of them is a little different and their place in my version of the 40K universe is different to the canon GW version.

I do think it is fun when people go super hardcore on this and try to make very accurate historical forces though for stuff like 30K. That can be fun in and of itself.

   
Made in gb
Executing Exarch





"the chances of finding out what's actually going on are so absurdly remote, that only thing to do is way hang the sense of it and keep yourself busy..."

The whole unreliable narrative seems to been pared back of late, it's still there but events to push the story forward do need some internal logic even if each factions take differs slightly


"AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED." 
   
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Longtime Dakkanaut






'But unreliable narrative' only works if the story being told isn't from the perspective of an omniscient narrator - which almost all background material is.
   
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 Lord Damocles wrote:
'But unreliable narrative' only works if the story being told isn't from the perspective of an omniscient narrator - which almost all background material is.


I don't really agree, unreliable narrator can be absolutely applied to an omniscient narrator.

Examples:
- A text book presenting information as fact is using an omniscient narrator, but that doesn't mean the information presented is accurate.

- A historical novel set in Ancient Egypt might make use of an omniscient narrator, and present a narrative that is internally consistent despite containing anachronisms or present a setting in Ancient Egypt that is based on supposition by the author.

In the same way, when 40k background text is presented as fact with an omniscient narrator it could be that the fictional author of that background material is wrong or deliberately embellishing or lying etc. At least that's how I like to look at it. This way, everything in-universe is suspect.
   
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Da Head Honcho Boss Grot




New Jersey, State of Perfection

For a long time the official line was that the only official canon was the contents of the rulebooks and publications from the design studio, as the Black Library novels were written mostly by freelancers and contractors and subject to personal interpretation. Not sure if their take has changed much from that, I think its probably still the case but GW is happy to have a two way channel between BL and the dev studio, but if the dev studio retcons content than BL is obliged to follow suit kind of thing.

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Made in gb
Longtime Dakkanaut






Aash wrote:

In the same way, when 40k background text is presented as fact with an omniscient narrator it could be that the fictional author of that background material is wrong or deliberately embellishing or lying etc. At least that's how I like to look at it. This way, everything in-universe is suspect.

But very very little background material is presented as being from a 'fictional author'. Just saying 'well maybe Black Library books are written by in-universe characters despite there being no evidence of this being the case' doesn't work.

I mean, nobody can look at, for example, Daemonifuge and say 'Well she has the wrong colour robes on the cover not because whoever drew the artwork didn't realise that the studio Martyred Lady army is time-locked to post 998.M41, or that Stern was previously depicted with black robes; but because the comic is really supposed to have been created by an in-universe artist and the error is deliberate. It's actually genius!' and be taken seriously by me.
   
Made in us
Exalted Beastlord




Aash wrote:
 Lord Damocles wrote:
'But unreliable narrative' only works if the story being told isn't from the perspective of an omniscient narrator - which almost all background material is.


I don't really agree, unreliable narrator can be absolutely applied to an omniscient narrator.

Examples:
- A text book presenting information as fact is using an omniscient narrator, but that doesn't mean the information presented is accurate.

- A historical novel set in Ancient Egypt might make use of an omniscient narrator, and present a narrative that is internally consistent despite containing anachronisms or present a setting in Ancient Egypt that is based on supposition by the author.

In the same way, when 40k background text is presented as fact with an omniscient narrator it could be that the fictional author of that background material is wrong or deliberately embellishing or lying etc. At least that's how I like to look at it. This way, everything in-universe is suspect.


Neither of those examples use an omniscient narrator. If you think the author of a text book, let alone historical fiction, is omniscient, that's on you.

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Made in us
Longtime Dakkanaut







 Lord Damocles wrote:
Aash wrote:

In the same way, when 40k background text is presented as fact with an omniscient narrator it could be that the fictional author of that background material is wrong or deliberately embellishing or lying etc. At least that's how I like to look at it. This way, everything in-universe is suspect.

But very very little background material is presented as being from a 'fictional author'. Just saying 'well maybe Black Library books are written by in-universe characters despite there being no evidence of this being the case' doesn't work.

I mean, nobody can look at, for example, Daemonifuge and say 'Well she has the wrong colour robes on the cover not because whoever drew the artwork didn't realise that the studio Martyred Lady army is time-locked to post 998.M41, or that Stern was previously depicted with black robes; but because the comic is really supposed to have been created by an in-universe artist and the error is deliberate. It's actually genius!' and be taken seriously by me.


That just means you're going to find GW's de facto stance on the matter silly. You're still going to be yelling at the wind to stop blowing.

It's immensely more practical for GW if they can simply dismiss various minor (or even major) inconsistencies. And it's an object lesson in things like the fallibility of memory, historical revisionism, what can happen if you actually had time travel or Chaos in the universe, etc., for everything else.
   
Made in au
Longtime Dakkanaut




40K clearly has a canon in operation even if they don't use that term. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A loose canon compared to some other universes, but the fact that there are stable "THIS IS THE WAY THINGS ARE" facts about the universe is the definition of a canon. Space Marines exist. Bolters fire bolts. Horus existed and rebelled. The fact there may be some mistakes, contradictions, or retcons does not in itself mean there is no canon. It means the canon is imperfect but then so is just about every other IP property. A loose canon just means GW doesn't cross-check or nitpick as much as some other IP holders do, such as the Star Wars franchise.

See this following quote from Gav Thorpe on his website about submitting to BL:


Approved submissions get notified, and we work out the next step. Usually this is “Await our instructions”, but it could be specific feedback like “You’ve not quite got the dialogue for Space Marines right, please make more formal” or “This isn’t how the warp works, please check the 40k rulebook” or “Would this not be better from the Tau point of view?” At this stage we are inviting the submitter to tweak their work to make up for what we see as its weak points.

https://gavthorpe.co.uk/2017/03/31/march-2017-qa/


The fact that aspiring writers sending in submissions to BL have to adhere to certain standards and facts about the 40K universe show there is an operating canon. If the editors can say "This isn't how the warp works" (i.e. "You've got it wrong") shows it is not anything goes, and those limits are what canon is.

All fictional IPs have a form of canon, however loose or sparse, otherwise the entire thing degenerates into total nonsense. Otherwise it is absolutely just as reasonable to accept the statement that the Imperium is a benevolent socialist democracy and there are no such things as Space Marines.

This message was edited 2 times. Last update was at 2021/03/07 20:31:10


 
   
Made in ca
Decrepit Dakkanaut





Halifax

It's less a canon or lore than it is a flavour.

   
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Steady Space Marine Vet Sergeant




San Jose, CA

Nurglitch wrote:
It's less a canon or lore than it is a flavour.

It's less a cannon and more of a flamer.

This is how I choose to view 40k lore.
   
Made in nl
Regular Dakkanaut





I prefer to approach 40K as a setting but not a universe. Like the Wild West.
   
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Longtime Dakkanaut






 solkan wrote:


That just means you're going to find GW's de facto stance on the matter silly. You're still going to be yelling at the wind to stop blowing.

Just because yelling at the wind won't stop it from blowing, that doesn't mean that it isn't actually blowing or shouldn't be still.

And yes - I do find the stance taken by many (and claimed by GW) on the matter of canon to be silly/lazy respectively.
That doesn't mean that I expect to be able to change the fact that GW's background is riddled with errors and inconsistencies; but I'm not going to pretend that they don't actually exist because there is actually no canon, everything is an in-universe source, or similar silliness.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/08 07:45:08


 
   
Made in de
!!Goffik Rocker!!






Nuremberg

GW present a canon with little care for consistency and encourage people to interpret it or change it as they wish.

There is still a canon in an absolute sense but the intention from GW is not for people to feel restricted by that. The game is supposed to be imaginative and creative.

   
Made in gb
Wing Commander





Bristol (UK)

I think there's a difference between deliberate ambiguity and inconsistent canon.
   
Made in us
Storm Trooper with Maglight





Gainesville, VA

There's a solid bedrock of canon, things we know to be true in the setting; but the surface above that is definitely more fluid and open to interpretation. Which I feel is a good thing, and possibly deliberate - its all a part of the forge the narrative. The galaxy is big, and it allows room for you to play out your stories without worrying exactly how it could fit into the world; there's lots of space for us to put our own things into it.
   
Made in gb
Jealous that Horus is Warmaster





Everything is true, nothing is canon.
The only canon you can rely on is the latest edition of a rulebook, codex, or campaign book. Black Library is optional.
Is it set around an important 40k character such as Macharius or Marneus Calgar? Most likely to be considered canon.
Is it set during an important event such as The War of the Beast or the war for Damocles? Again, likely canon.
Is it a Guard regiment in a far-off sector doing heroic deeds i.e. the Tanith? It's only canon when it's in a codex, which thankfully they are.
Is it set in a video game within the universe? You're pushing your luck and once again only if it's featured in a codex i.e. the Blood Ravens.
   
Made in gb
Utilizing Careful Highlighting




U.k

Definition of canon.

Word forms: plural canons
1. COUNTABLE NOUN
A canon is a member of the clergy who is on the staff of a cathedral.
2. COUNTABLE NOUN
[color=red]A canon of texts is a list of them that is accepted as genuine or important
[formal]
He had to read a canon of accepted literary texts. [+ of]
...the Irish literary canon.
3. COUNTABLE NOUN
A canon is a general rule or principle.
[formal]
The very first canon of nursing is to keep the air inside as fresh as the air outside.
Synonyms: list, index, catalogue, syllabus More Synonyms of canon


Definition 2 is what you are referring to so yes, everything GW has produced is “canon”.

In reality I agree that 40K is a setting with a story, not a story. Its a sand box and the background is vague and contradictory but often deliberately so, either to maintain the openness and ambiguity but often not. That also represents the in universe understanding of things in a totalitarian state where understanding is true knowledge is a crime in many ways.

Either way, enjoy the ambiguity, it means you can build your games and worlds around the fluff you like and not the bits you don’t without breaking any rules or barriers. If it really bothers you that the setting doesn’t have a strictly defined story arc then it might not be the setting for you because it isn’t changing anytime soon.

   
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Versteckt in den Schatten deines Geistes.

There are certainly things that, over time, have become decidedly non-canon.

Pretty much anything from 1st Ed 40K is a no go. There's no half-Eldar Chief Librarian as part of the Ultramarines. There's no Inquisitor Obiwan Sherlock Clousseau. Squigs aren't part of the Tyranids anymore. Things like that.

There are also some things that were written that were rejected by GW and changed the way they write things, like Xenology, a book that altered the way GW allows their writers to write things. I've heard that book referred to as 'un-canon', it is so discounted.

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I fully agree, but without a named source, no one's going to believe you. Even when ADB tries to explain this stuff he gets bombarded with, "you're lying!" or "you're just protecting your favorites!"

Certainly no one is going to believe the holy Xenology is no longer canon.

I think most people understand that there is "bedrock" canon and that there is "topsoil" canon. The problem is we have very little sense of where the dividing line is. And GW's policy of simply not mentioning something with the belief that people will forget it just doesn't work in an age when people have every source from every edition at their fingertips. Or when the wiki just mashes everything from all editions together, like it's all equally solid canon.
   
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jareddm wrote:
I fully agree, but without a named source, no one's going to believe you. Even when ADB tries to explain this stuff he gets bombarded with, "you're lying!" or "you're just protecting your favorites!"

Certainly no one is going to believe the holy Xenology is no longer canon.


Well, Xenology is one that doesn't matter if its canon. Its presented as theorizing by... someone who really doesn't know very much. It defines almost no events, just interpretations of poorly understood vivisections with some side notes.
The latter part of it has a more knowledgeable viewpoint, but definitely not a trustworthy one.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/09 06:20:57


Efficiency is the highest virtue. 
   
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Longtime Dakkanaut




Voss wrote:
jareddm wrote:
I fully agree, but without a named source, no one's going to believe you. Even when ADB tries to explain this stuff he gets bombarded with, "you're lying!" or "you're just protecting your favorites!"

Certainly no one is going to believe the holy Xenology is no longer canon.


Well, Xenology is one that doesn't matter if its canon. Its presented as theorizing by... someone who really doesn't know very much. It defines almost no events, just interpretations of poorly understood vivisections with some side notes.
The latter part of it has a more knowledgeable viewpoint, but definitely not a trustworthy one.


A lot of people have trouble interpreting in-universe sources and recognizing that as in-universe sources they may be fallible, and instead treat speculative ideas by these sources as some sort of fact. I agree the source for Xenology was definitely not reliable (especially since GW cannot write biological technobabble).

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/03/09 07:03:17


 
   
 
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