Warhammer - The Old World - Lexicanum:Canon

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Accepted Sources and Canon

The term "accepted sources" as used in the Lexicanum describes the body of source material that an Editor is permitted to use when creating or editing articles in the Lexicanum wiki. These sources are sometimes also referred to as "official," "legitimate," or "canon" but the term that should be used with reference to any work within the Lexicanum is, nevertheless, accepted sources (see also further down). Only accepted sources can be used in the compulsory citation process as a legitimate source.

We are aware that even accepted sources might contradict each other, but within the Lexicanum there is no "hierarchy of sources" - i.e. no accepted source is considered more valid than another official source. More recent sources do however take precedence over older sources. This does not mean that the old information is considered "wrong" or unacceptable or has to be deleted altogether - this is definitely not the case! It is an explicit goal of the Lexicanum to also reflect potentially outdated information - with appropriate disclaimers and explanations (see here). For the general problem of the concept of "canon" see further on where this is discussed.

For practical purposes this discussion is of minor relevance (although it is good to keep its main points in mind). Simply because - and let us be quite clear about this - it is not the mission of the Lexicanum (or any other encyclopedia) to make sense of and try to align conflicting data. The Lexicanum explicitly limits itself to documenting (sometimes with appropriate explanations on the context of certain problems) the available lore. No more, no less.

Therefore as a rule of thumb all material ever published in whatever form by Games Workshop, its subsidiaries, and license holders is considered an acceptable source. The only requirement is that any Editor must be able to prove the existence and content of any cited source he uses.

Obviously the following lists are non-exhaustive and there might sometimes be grey areas that can and should be discussed with Administrators and/or Bureaucrats with a view on their status.

Examples of accepted sources

Examples of unacceptable sources

The following list is non-exhaustive:

  • Leaked, pirated, stolen or otherwise illegally obtained copies of official publications (including legally obtained publications before the official release date as publishing these early constitutes a violation of non-disclosure agreements)
  • Other Lexicanum articles (yes, you read that right, only first-hand material can be used as an accepted source)
  • Other wikis
  • Forums, blogs, message boards, mailing lists etc. (with the possible exception of individuals posting in an official capacity, see "grey areas" below)
  • Fan-made content or fanzines

Examples of grey areas requiring evaluation on a case by case basis or specific disclaimers

The following list is non-exhaustive:

  • Private homepages, blogs, forum posts, Patreons etc. by authors, artists, or other individuals working for Games Workshop, its subsidiaries or license holders
  • Publications in the The End Times series (see: Lexicanum:Using End Times Content for policy and details)

What to do in case of conflicting accepted sources

Due to the reasons given above and below this paragraph it is clear why sometimes one accepted source might partially or completely contradict another. Some people call this "canon conflict", but as the term "canon" itself is an issue (see below) in the Lexicanum such occurrences should rather be called "conflicting sources."

When accepted sources contradict each other this should be discussed in the Trivia section of the corresponding article as described in the Trivia Help article.

Why avoid the terms "canon" and "canonicity"?

Wikipedia defines the concept of "canon" in fiction as follows:

"In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. [...] Other times, the word can mean 'to be acknowledged by the creator(s)'."

The passages "officially part of the story" and "acknowledged by the creator(s)" highlights why using the term "canon" in conjunction with Games Workshop is somewhat difficult. Some reasons for this are:

  • The immense wealth of available publications stretching back to the 1980s across several editions of the Warhammer (and related) games
  • Games Workshop almost never officially disowning any of the previously published material
  • Elements that by some are considered retcons or reboots, although these terms strictly speaking do not apply to Games Workshop's modus operandi
  • Rewriting parts of older background
  • Dropping parts of older background (explicitly or implicitly)
  • Reintroducing parts of previously dropped background
  • Authors ignoring or being ignorant of previously published material on the subject they write about
  • Continuity errors
  • The same names being used for different persons, places or events
  • The creation and disappearance of multiple Games Workshop subsidiaries that sometimes seemingly operated quite independently or at least not with a very strict supervision
  • Multiple license holders (former and present) ignoring or being ignorant of previously published material on the subject of their licensed product
  • Some Games Workshop publications publishing fan-submitted material that sometimes found their way later on into other publications
  • National Games Workshop branches publishing their own material (e.g. for campaigns) or foreign language editorial teams of White Dwarf writing or publishing domestic material
  • Rearrangement of the spatial or temporal fictional reference systems to allow the insertion of new races, events or products
  • So-called "alternative" timelines
  • Fictional events as described by different protagonists from their "own" points of view
  • Often non-distinction between (fictional) "facts" and "legends/mythology/rumours" etc.
  • Games Workshop authors (past and present) sometimes making statements in a private capacity that are then picked up by some readers as "official"
  • And many other potential sources for confusion and contradictions

This (non-exhaustive) list of potential sources of problems should make it quite clear why it is impossible to reconcile all material ever published by Games Workshop (and subsidiaries and license holders, further on simply and collectively referred to as "Games Workshop") into one stringent and logical continuity. Add to that the inevitable tendency of readers/fans to consciously or unconsciously add their own spin, interpretation, extrapolation, or sometimes plain made-up elements and the problem that most users of the internet do not bother to actually check if something is a verifiable fact or simply a rumour or even lie sold as fact, and the mess is complete.

Games Workshop itself has not been very forthcoming with any helpful statements on this conundrum. But then again why would they? As a company they certainly have no interest to limit themselves by a too strict corset of which parts of their own intellectual property they will use at any given moment - or not. And even if they do not use certain elements at a given time, who is to say said elements might not come in handy at some point in the future? So from a commercial point of view this is a very logical approach even if it is one that can vex readers.

Games Workshop Statements

There are nevertheless some insightful statements by Games Workshop on the subject matter. In an older version of their FAQ section Black Library included the following answer to the question if their material was canonical:

Is Black Library fiction canon background material?

The BL editors work with the GW studios to keep the fiction the way that it should (very hard might I add! - RK), though due to the sheer volume of detail involved there can be the odd discrepancy here and there. If you want to consider anything "canonical" then both BL fiction - be it novel, graphic novel, art or background book - and GW fiction - be it White Dwarf, Codex, Army book or rulebook - are such.
Keep in mind Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are worlds where half truths, lies, propaganda, politics, legends and myths exist. The absolute truth which is implied when you talk about "canonical background" will never be known because of this. Everything we know about these worlds is from the viewpoints of people in them which are as a result incomplete and even sometimes incorrect. The truth is mutable, debatable and lost as the victors write the history ...
Source: Black Library:FAQ (saved archive page, dated 19 May 2008, last accessed 15 April 2020)

Marc Gascoigne, Publisher and GM

Marc Gascoigne, Publisher and General Manager of Black Library from 1997 till 2008, was even more explicit on the vagueness of the material published. And although he marked it as his personal take on things there is not much doubt that his view would have carried some considerable weight for the authors under his supervision:

I think the real problem for me, and I speak for no other, is that the topic as a "big question" doesn't matter. It's all as true as everything else, and all just as false/half-remembered/sort-of-true. The answer you are seeking is "Yes and no" or perhaps "Sometimes". And for me, that's the end of it.
Now, ask us some specifics, eg can Black Templars spit acid and we can answer that one, and many others. But again note thet [sic] answer may well be "sometimes" or "it varies" or "depends".
But is it all true? Yes and no. Even though some of it is plainly contradictory? Yes and no. Do we deliberately contradict, retell with differences? Yes we do. Is the newer the stuff the truer it is? Yes and no. In some cases is it true that the older stuff is the truest? Yes and no. Maybe and sometimes. Depends and it varies.
It's a decaying universe without GPS and galaxy-wide communication, where precious facts are clung to long after they have been changed out of all recognition. Read A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M Miller, about monks toiling to hold onto facts in the aftermath of a nucelar war; that nails it for me. [...]
To attempt answer the initial question: What is GW's definition of canon? Perhaps we don't have one. Sometimes and maybe. Or perhaps we do and I'm not telling you.
Marc Gascoigne, Publisher, BL Publishing"
Source: Black Library forums: Black Library Products and Discussion: The question of "canon"? (saved archive page, dated 22 May 2008, last accessed 15 April 2020)

Aaron Dembski-Bowden, BL Author

In a lengthy interview with the outlet Boomtron Black Library author Aaron Dembski-Bowden had the following to say on the concept of "canon":

"There’s a reason no one ever agrees about Warhammer 40,000, even within the sheltered structures of the fandom, but it’s something so obvious that very few people end up noticing it. One of those “can’t see the wood for the trees” deals, if you get me.
The reason no one ever agrees about this stuff is because of something I like to call “loose canon.”
Canon (and its incestuous cousin, continuity) is a bit of a bitch in fictional universes. It’s something a lot of fans feel ferociously passionate about, seeing it as the glue that binds it all together, bringing forth sense from the madness. It’s also occasionally considered a badge of honour to know more than “the other guy” in certain circles [...]
“It’s all real, and none of it’s real.”
One of the great mistakes made by almost every fan of Warhammer 40,000 is to take the canonical rules of another license, and crowbar them into 40K. Usually, it’s an unconscious assumption based on a mix between common sense and Star Wars, which is a combination you don’t expect to see everyday. It also works about as well as you’d think.
Part of the problem is that 40K lore is essentially divided into 3 sub-companies all producing material, and as with all things, quality, themes, perceptions and intentions can be completely different. Games Workshop produces the games and core setting lore, with 30ish years of history, releasing a couple of sourcebooks a year. Black Library is the publishing arm, mostly centred on novels, and still very new in terms of producing canon. The third is Forge World, an allied design studio and miniature production company.
Note: An even more recent addition is Fantasy Flight Games, who produce the 40K roleplaying game, but even now, I’m not sure just where they stand. Like I said, this is a complicated hellhole of treachery, madness and deceit. As it stands, the official line is that there are three factions empowered to “create IP” (an exact quote), and that’s GW, BL and FW. Given that the 40K RPG is mostly made by folks working in or around the main three companies, I think it’s fair to say that its lore counts as canon, too.
I got it wrong myself, right up until I was in a meeting with the company’s Intellectual Property Manager – a situation I find myself in several times a year, as part of the Horus Heresy novel series team. When I was specifically asking about canon, he replied with something I’ve tried to take to heart: “It’s all real, and [n]one of it’s real.”
It was a bit of an epiphany, to tell you the truth. [...]
In short, the belief is usually that the design studio has precedence, and everything else isn’t canon. That’s actually wrong, but several aspects reinforce the misjudgement, not least that a few top brass quotes have been poorly phrased or taken out of context; some novelists wildly diverging from the source material for reasons apparent to no one but themselves; and the fact that the design studio has 30 years of history where it was essentially the sole source of canon. Its products are the foundation for the whole license – it’s the source, the core, the chewy nougat centre at the heart of it all. With the weight of history and its place as by far the most widespread, its published lore reaches the most eyes and ears.
I don’t begrudge that. In fact, in 98% of situations, I do my level best to cleave to whatever design studio sourcebook ties into what I’m writing. I’m an unashamed fanboy (you should see me fall to gleeful pieces in Horus Heresy meetings…), and I’ve spent 20 years loving the 40K universe. I’m in this to add to it, to explore it, to tell stories within it – not to change it to Hell and back on some sneering authorial whim.[...]
Black Library can suffer more than most when it comes to terms of what’s official and what isn’t, for two reasons. Firstly, at its inception and during the first few years, it seemed unapologetically non-canon, and from my (limited) perception, it didn’t seem to try to be anything else. It was separate from the design studio, and that was that. Times have changed, but we’re lingering in the aftermath. Like hotel room stains of dubious origin, bad things can stick, and stick hard.
Secondly, like any publisher, Black Library releases work from a host of different people, each with their own perceptions and preferences. Because of the sheer amount of material released, conflicts arise between what seem like established facts. One author has a weapon firing one way, and another author describes its mechanics completely differently. Is there an official stance? No, on a lot of in-universe stuff, there’s usually not. Interpretation and imagination within the framework is the name of the game. The issue is when people consider that a flaw, not a feature. It’s supposed to be an open invitation to creative freedom, but instead it’s often disparaged as a way to hide mistakes or lore clashes.
(Don’t get me wrong, I know mistakes do occur. Having loose canon is no excuse for crappy research or poor writing, and I would never suggest otherwise.)
As a personal example, when describing the retinal/eye lens displays in Space Marine helmets, my ideas for what a soldier can see and do with his HUD are fairly divergent from most other authors’ descriptions. I can show lore to back my viewpoint up, and they can bring lore to highlight theirs. I can also wax poetic on why I think my version is better, and makes for a better touch in a story, blah blah blah. I don’t see it as a problem, but many fans loathe this kind of thing. Luckily, I’ve never had any complaints about this exact example, but I’m being nice and not naming any authors who do fall prey to that kind of feedback.
Essentially, any difference is immediately considered a deviation. Any contradiction is automatically seen as a mistake. Although I’ve been intensely fortunate with fan feedback, and my reviews are most definitely on the kinder and more favourable side of the wall, I’ve seen a few mentions where someone flat-out says I’ve got a specific detail wrong, purely because they’ve chosen to cite a variant source as canon. It’s, shall we say, “frustrating,” but I don’t blame anyone for thinking it. It’s a complicated situation.[...]
I’ve read 40K novels that categorically violate my opinions and perceptions of how 40K works, and I have no trouble ignoring them afterwards. Similarly with some design studio sourcebooks, if I come across an idea that I find patently, uh, “in conflict” with my views (there’s some diplomacy for you), I’ll just ignore it and try not to write about it.
Interestingly, as creators in this setting, we’re under no strict obligation to reference one another, and cooperation is usually self-driven. (The exception to this is the Horus Heresy series, which is extremely well-organised, and all of us are in constant communication.) Sure, editorial prefers it when stuff ties in together, but it’s not a mandate. Everyone views the setting differently, after all.
I still have an email in my inbox from my editor, asking “Why didn’t you reference X in your novel?” I also have my reply. It says, quite simply, “Because X sucks, and so does the guy who wrote it.” That’s show business for you.
So, is there a consensus?
Negatory. There really isn’t. On one hand, that’s a bit of an emotional kick to the balls. I mean, everything you do will be seen as incorrect by Some Internet Guy, and they have as much right to enjoy 40K stuff as me, you, or anyone else. I don’t sit at my desk, rubbing my hands together, delighting in the fact that I might’ve annoyed Fan #3,974,910 because I said Commander Dude Guyman zigs instead of zags. I sympathise with that irritation. [...] But on the other hand, loose canon is one of the keys to why 40K has evolved into something so completely awesome.
I’m being dead serious, here. Yes, it can be considered a mark of IP laziness, and yes, I’m not blind to the fact that 20-30 years ago, a lot of 40K’s core concepts were referential half-jokes thrown around by amateur game designers, rather than the underpinnings of a more classic sci-fi setting “envisioned” by ivory tower artistes. But the loose framework has allowed three decades of fresh canon to flood in, filling in the details without necessarily feeling too constrained by what came before. Even as someone who fiercely cleaves to canon at every opportunity, I’m constantly surprised by the sheer amount of white space left open to explore and set up shop.
Within the possibility of endless interpretation lies the potential for freedom. What matters is respecting the source material, contributing to it, and sticking to the theme. And that ties right back into my first column, because no matter who’s writing the details, 40K has some unalterable themes, etched in the stoniest of stone. They’re the key. They’re what matter most.
Get the atmosphere right, and you’re halfway there.
Source: Boomtron: GrimDark II: Loose Canon (posted 10 March 2011) (saved archive page, dated 27 November 2011, last accessed 15 April 2020)

Gav Thorpe, BL Author and GD

Ex-Games Workshop Games designer and fellow Black Library author Gav Thorpe has also chipped in on the whole "What is Canon" discussion on his own blog:

"[...]It used to be the case that I had one foot on either side of the fence when it came to the Black Library. By day I was a games developer, evening and weekends saw me in my guise of swashbuckling author. One of the roles of the GW games developers is to liaise with Black Library, answering their questions and generally providing consultation. The BL editors are well-versed in the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 so it was usually the case that inquiries directed to games dev would concern either very specific questions, or areas where the existing background was unclear or perhaps contradictory. For the most part these discussions revolved around extrapolations by the authors, extending areas of the backgrounds into subjects that were not relevant to the material needed for tabletop wargames – ‘Does this sound right?’ or ‘Is this how it would work?’. It was rare that we would be passed anything that was so hideously off-the-mark that the story or novel was completely verboten (“we’ve had this story about squats…”). Far from being the black jackboot of authoritarianism, I like to think that we provided possible solutions to problems that cropped up. Sometimes an author or an editor might have a situation they need resolved and would ask for background-friendly suggestions. For instance, an author might want orks invading a moon, but was not sure how the greenies would operate on an airless world. Rather than say that would never happen, we would have a think about it and provided some viable answers (probably something with mobile forcefields in this case…). That was the day job.
The ability of an author to write within an established setting isn’t about knowing every single detail of the background (though targeted research is always good), it is about understanding the style and ethos of that universe. With a grounding in the principles of that world, an author can extend the logic (or lack) to cover places, people and situations not explicitly detailed in the source material. That’s sort of the point of tie-in fiction; to expand on what is already published, not simply package it up in a slightly different form.
Having been inculcated in the mysteries and ways of Warhammer and 40K for years, I was in the enviable position as an author of being able to say to an editor ‘Yes, that’s exactly how it works’. After all, if they were uncertain about something, it was me they were going to ask… I was going to say this put me in a unique position, but unfortunately those Jonny-Come-Latelies Graham McNeill, Andy Hoare and Ant Reynolds have all made the transition from games developer to author. [...] Two years ago I abseiled to freedom from my bare cell in the Ivory Tower and embarked on a life of freelance skullduggery. For a while nothing really changed. For a start, the novels I had planned or was working on were all concocted while I was on the ‘inside’. But that is changing… New books are still being written, new background is still being created. I no longer have the inside track. For the most part this doesn’t make a huge difference. It’s not like those fundamentals I talked about are going to change. Space Marines are still Space Marines, Lizardmen are still Lizardmen. But now there’s more about them. New characters spring into life, new battles are related, new places explored.
For me, this is no more evident than with the Horus Heresy series. I’m aware of the general picture and the major characters involved, but that series is in essence a new universe, with its own rules and logic. My first foray into the HH was the short story Call of the Lion in Tales of Heresy. This was fairly self-contained, and drew on characters and situations I had already created and come to terms with in Angels of Darkness. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my latest effort, Raven’s Flight, had a greater impact on the HH mythology and timeline. While I can blissfully charge my way through the Warhammer 40,00 galaxy and scour the face of the Warhammer world, suddenly there were toes I might be treading on, so I had to watch my step. Graham McNeil was a great help in the process of understanding this new and strange place.
I have to admit, I’m not entirely comfortable with the feeling of being in someone else’s world. Although Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are creations by others than came before me, for fourteen years I shared in that creation on a daily level and there are parts of it I think I can consider to be mine; creations that I painted on to that ever-expanding canvas. They are places where I feel entirely at home, confident I know my way around. It never felt like I was writing fiction in somebody else’s universe. The Horus Heresy is different. There’s all kinds of stuff going on that I’m not aware of; it’s a darkened room whose interior has been laid out by other people and there’s a good chance I’ll trip over something or stub my toe. I’m not sure I like the idea of someone else making up the rules…
[...] I think that Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have a unique advantage in the realm of tie-in backgrounds: they exist to allow personal creativity. Both are backdrops, nothing more. They were created to allow people to collect armies of toy soldiers and fight battles with them. They were conceived with the idea of the player’s creative freedom being directed but not restricted. In Warhammer you can have anything from Ogres to ninjas (and even Ninja Ogres!). Warhammer 40,000 trumpets an ‘Imperium of a Million Worlds’ precisely because that leaves room for everyone to come up with whatever they like. Hobbyists can create armies, places, worlds, colour schemes, characters and stories for themselves.
Often folks ask if Black Library books are ‘canon’. With Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the notion of canon is a fallacy. There are certainly established facts – the current Emperor is Karl-Franz, the Blood Angels have red armour, Commissar Yarrick defended Hades Hive during the Second Armageddon War. However, to suggest that anything else is non-canon is a disservice to the players and authors who participate in this world. To suggest that Black Library novels are somehow of lesser relevance to the background is to imply that every player who has created a unique Space Marine chapter or invented their own Elector Count is somehow wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 exist as tens of thousands of overlapping realities in the imaginations of games developers, writers, readers and gamers. None of those interpretations is wrong.
Whether a particular author’s take on the world matches up with an individual gamer’s or readers is another matter. The fact that each of us is allowed to take possession of that world and envisage it to our own ideal means that it is inevitable our vision will sometimes clash with the vision of others. Such conflict does not render either vision obsolete.
In this regard it is the job of authors and games developers to illuminate and inspire, not to dictate. Perhaps you disagree with the portrayal of a certain faction, or a facet of their society doesn’t make sense in your version of the world. You may not like the answers presented, but in asking the question you can come up with a solution that matches your vision. As long as certain central themes and principles remain, you can pick and choose which parts you like and dislike.
The same applies to transference from Black Library back into the gaming supplements. If the developers and other creative folks believe a contribution by an author fits the bill and has an appeal to the audience, why not fold it back into the ‘game’ world – such as Gaunt’s Ghosts or characters from the Gotrek and Felix series. On the other hand, if an author has a bit of a wobbly moment, there’s no pressure to feel that it has to be accepted into the worldview promulgated by the codexes and army books. And beside, there simply isn’t enough room in those gaming books to include everything from the hundreds of novels – good, bad or indifferent as we each see them – so the decision must ultimately rest with the taste of individual readers and gamers.
There’s a misconception that writing in somebody else’s world is somehow cheating. Certainly world creation is given a lot of weight in genre fiction circles (too much in my opinion). The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much material there exists for a setting, the world must be created anew by the author every time they write a story or novel. It is the writer’s ability to evoke the world through their words that is important, and that doesn’t get any harder or easier whether you created the world yourself or are borrowing someone else’s."
Source: Mechanical Hamster: Jumping the Fence (published 21 January 2010) (last accessed 15 April 2020)

Philip Sibbering, Artist

Philip Sibbering, artist for Black Library, has also elaborated on the issue on his homepage:

"Games Workshop ‘canon’ is often quoted in many a forum argument, and while many game universes do have a strict canonical source that can be quoted as ‘fact’, 40K seems to have a very liberal view of what ‘canon’ is and how the background books, novels and ‘colour text’ should be viewed.
As I understand it, is that there is no strictly ‘canon’ background and it’s all down to interpretation. In addition the Black Library uses an extended or expanded version of the 40K background and the Wargame uses are restricted background.
Source: Philip Sibbering: GW Canon (last accessed 15 April 2020)

George Mann, head of BL

George Mann, in 2008 head of Black Library and also author was reported to have said:

"George emphasized that Black Library’s main objective was to “tell good stories”. He agreed that some points in certain novels could, perhaps, have benefited from the editor’s red pen (a certain multilaser was mentioned) but was at pains to explain that, just as each hobbyist tends to interpret the background and facts of the Warhammer and 40k worlds differently, so does each author. In essence, each author represents an “alternative” version of the respective worlds. After pressing him further, he explained that only the Studio material (rulebooks, codexes, army books and suchlike) was canonical in that is HAD to be adhered-to in the plots and background of the novels. There was no obligation on authors to adhere to facts and events as spelled out in Black Library work.
Source: Dakkadakka: Games Workshop Group Plc Annual General Meeting 2008 (posted on 19 September 2008) (saved archive page, dated 29 October 2008, last accessed 15 April 2020)