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Furthermore, from a super-strict RAW perspective, it has been argued (not by me!) that the Errata rules don’t actually let a book claim errata privileges, that only actual errata can do that, meaning the DMG is still the primary source even though RC says it is, because the errata file itself is the primary source on what is or is not primary and thus RC’s contradiction of that is invalid. Which is a kind of insane argument, but some people didn’t like some of RC’s changes.

What is this about? In case of conflicting specification, does the Rules Compendium overrule the core books or not? What is the argument referenced in the quote, and where does it come from?

Is this merely a matter of house rules or is there a widely accepted solution for situations like these? What is the official stance?

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I think the Crusades were fought over something like this. –  Sean McSomething Aug 25 '14 at 22:17

2 Answers 2

up vote 29 down vote accepted

Seriously, and according to its own texts, Wizards of the Coast says

The Rules Compedium Can't Change the Core Rules

I know it's weird. I know it sounds like nonsense. I know that when the core rules were published things like swift actions didn't exist. I have shed blood on the Internet battlefield between the Rules Compendium declaring free actions are only available on one's turn versus the Player's Handbook slightly vague addressing of the topic, especially in conjunction with immediate actions. I know. I know.

Wizards of the Coast Created a Flawed Paradigm
Here's the skinny: All of the errata documents have this Errata Rule describing Primary Sources

When you find a disagreement between two [Dungeons and Dragons] rules sources, unless an official errata file says otherwise, the primary source is correct. One example of a primary/secondary source is text taking precedence over a table entry. An individual spell description takes precedence when the short description in the beginning of the spells chapter disagrees.

Another example of primary [versus] secondary sources involves book and topic precedence. The Player's Handbook, for example, gives all the rules for playing the game, for playing PC races, and for using base class descriptions. If you find something on one of those topics from the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Monster Manual that disagrees with the Player's Handbook, you should assume the Player's Handbook is the primary source. The Dungeon Master's Guide is the primary source for topics such as magic item descriptions, special material construction rules, and so on. The Monster Manual is the primary source for monster descriptions, templates, and supernatural, extraordinary, and spell-like abilities.

Emphasis mine. So the most recent publication of the core rules--the 2013 editions of the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual--are absolutely primary, even if topics within those texts were subtly changed, outright contradicted, or the subject of FAQ or game designer commentary by other texts between 2000 and 2013 before those texts' publications, and even if uncorrected errors remain in any of the most recently published core books that were corrected by other books before the core rule' republication.

Flaws other books set right may have been backwardly-uncorrected--or whatever Orwellian phrase you might want to use--by the republished core rules.

The Rules Compendium Asserts Its Own Primacy
The Rules Compendium's Introduction says

When a preexisting core book or supplement differs with the rules herein, Rules Compendium is meant to take precedence. If you have a question on how to play [Dungeons and Dragons] at the table, this book is meant to answer that question.

So while the Rules Compendium is meant to take precedence, it, officially, can't.

Why Reject the Rules Compendium?

Some folks enjoy playing by the rules--the rules are there, someone was paid to write them, and some (probably) paid to acquire them--, and having the core rules changed by a source and only that source makes them uncomfortable, like somebody's trying to pull a fast one. Some of the Rules Compendium's so-called clarifications are outright changes to the rules, and that bugs folks.

Examples of changes implemented by the Rules Compendium include...

  • Charging through Hindrances: The PH says, "You must have a clear path toward the opponent, and nothing can hinder your movement (such as difficult terrain or obstacles)" (154) then goes on to define a clear path as empty of such things as opponents and allies. The RC allows the use of some skills to avoid movement hindrances during a charge (27).
  • The Action Needed to Activate Some Magic Items: The DMG says that activating of spell completion and spell trigger magic items "is a standard action" (213). The RC, says, "Activating a spell trigger [or spell completion] item takes the same amount of time as the casting time of the spell that the item stores" (85).
  • The Survival DC for Avoiding Quicksand: The original Survival skill check DC for avoiding quicksand is 8 (DMG 88). The Rules Compendium on page 103 increases this DC to 15 without commentary.
  • Touch Spells and Threatening an Area: The PH is unclear on whether a creature who lacks the feat Improved Unarmed Strike, a natural weapon, or both threatens an area with a touch spell's held charge (PH 141-2). The RC puts forth decisively that "a spellcaster delivering a touch attack spell... count[s] as armed. Being armed in this way counts for both offense and defense. So a creature armed in this way can make attacks of opportunity, and such a creature doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity when attacking" (16).
  • Using the Skill Sleight of Hand: The rules for the skill Sleight of Hand are on PH 82. The RC maybe expands but possibly replaces this description on page 117, yet the RC excludes the entries Action, Try Again, Special, Synergy, and Untrained present in the PH. Some RC changes go unmentioned in the text yet appear on the nearby table (e.g. a creature suffers a -20 penalty when taking a move action to make a Sleight of Hand skill check). Whether the RC's Sleight of Hand skill description is to supersede or supplement the PH description is unmentioned by the text.
  • What It Means to Be Hidden: Using the PH alone, the only effect of being hidden while in combat (beyond being undetected) is the possibility of combat ending to take advantage of a future surprise round. This is substantially changed by the RC's description of the skill Hide (92).
  • When Daily-use Items Recharge: The core rules don't provide a general rule for a magic item (or, for that matter, any special ability) with 1 or more abilities usable per day to regain its uses of those per-day abilities, necessitating house rules. The RC addresses the recharge rate for daily-use magic items that don't otherwise provide them on page 86.

"This is Bizarre! Can I read more?"
Sure. Giant in the Playground forums' Curmudgeon is probably the most articulate and vociferous proponent of the Rules Compendium's flawed existence. His comments here summarize his stance well, and it's a good read.

Note: I'd like to make this answer a repository of links to questions and answers that demonstrate where the core rules and RC differ. You can add such into the Examples of changes... yourself or leave a Comment.

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Do not argue or discuss in comments. Please provide your own answer instead. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 5 '14 at 0:16
+1 for the excellent and meticulous answer, and for the repository idea. –  Gunnar Södergren Nov 7 '14 at 7:46

HeyICanChan has accurately described the argument I referenced in the quoted comment.

I did want to address some of the follow-up questions, however.

Is this merely a matter of house rules

No, the argument HeyICanChan describes does follow from a very-strict following of the errata rules.

is there a widely accepted solution for situations like these?

In my experience, the overwhelming majority of people take books that claim primacy, like Rules Compendium, at their word. Thus, yes, the widely-accepted solution is to treat Rules Compendium as overruling Core and other books when there is a contradiction. This primacy is also often given to, e.g., Draconomicon with respect to the definition of a true dragon. (Complete Psionics often does not get this treatment, but that’s mostly because it’s a very poorly-written book whose “errata” to psionics are widely reviled.)

Of course, even-more-widely-accepted is the fact that every game is played with houserules. I know people who have as explicit “house rules” statements like “we are using the Core rule for XYZ, not the rule in Rules Compendium,” or vice-versa.

And, for that matter, several examples of rule “changes” in Rules Compendium were things commonly houseruled before Rules Compendium was ever published. Both magic item activation times and stealth rules, the examples currently in HeyICanChan’s answer, were frequently considered unsatisfactory prior to Rules Compendium getting published, and houserules very similar to the rules in Rules Compendium were quite common.

What is the official stance?

Wizards has never, so far as I know, directly commented on the contradiction between the errata rules and Rules Compendium’s claim to primacy. One has to assume, though, that if they explicitly wrote that Rules Compendium supersedes earlier sources, that is how they intended that the book be used.

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