Maybe it's just too early in the morning and my brain does not properly connect with the rest of the body, but...

...yes, this is a question about primary sources.

What happened is I was talking with some guys I know and we were talking about different versions of the same things in different books, when I mentioned that usual thing about primary sources taking precedence over later publications.
Someone asked me where these things were written so I opened an errata file or two - PHB and DMG namely - and... those rules I wanted to find aren't there, where I expected them to be, at all.

Quoting from those errata:

When you find a disagreement between two D&D® rules sources, unless an official errata file says otherwise, the primary source is correct.

Ok, this I expected. Primary sources are correct. Right. But that's only half of what I needed to support my claim.
I keep reading on, skimming over the part where it talks about tables and text and then there's the definition of what constitutes a primary source. Sorta.
PHB is primary for something. DMG is primary for other things. MM is primary for some other. But I see nothing about precedence between, say, MM2 (with 3.5e upgrade) and Stormwrack.

What I expected to find was some text on the lines of "a book printed earlier is considered a primary source, unless the one printed later says otherwise". I know something like that exists, because I trust people who have been telling me so for ages, both here on this site and somewhere else. I even thing I saw it once on the books but...


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    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, your asking which secondary books take precedence over other secondary books right?...ie a conflict between say Complete Adventurer & Complete Warrior? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben-Jamin
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben-Jamin Close. He's asking for the definition of the hierarchy, not the actual hierarchy order, but the criteria which determine that order. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Does the Rules Compendium overrule the core books? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


Primary Sources

The following text is at the beginning of each errata file. (This one from the Player's Handbook errata.)

Errata Rule: Primary Sources

When you find a disagreement between two... 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 vs. 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.

Many read this as saying that other texts are primary sources—for example, the Expanded Psionics Handbook as the primary source for psionics (replacing the earlier edition's Psionics Handbook as the primary source for psionics) and Tome of Battle: The Book of 9 Swords as the primary source for martial adepts and martial disciplines—, but the Errata Rule mentions no texts beyond the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. DMs must decide which sources beyond these (if any) are the primary sources for their campaigns.

But, clearly, the three core books take precedence over everything each covers, including the Player's Handbook's exceedingly broad mandate to cover "rules for playing the game" (whatever that means). (Note that the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are given non-exhaustive lists, but the Monster Manual is given what's apparently an exhaustive list, taking precedence only with regards those items. This is weird and probably not a huge source of worry to anyone unless one's going to gamer court.)

Secondary Sources

In one question, the D&D Frequently Asked Questions, Version 3.5 (last updated June 30, 2008) answers not an actual rules question but a publication question. That question is reproduced below:

Both [Complete Arcane] and [Player's Guide to Faerûn] include a feat named Innate Spell, but the prerequisites and uses per day differ. Which version is correct?

Unless stated otherwise, any time that a rule appears in two different sourcebooks (other than the PH, DMG, and MM), the most current sourcebook is considered correct and all previous sources are superseded. A book’s credits page lists its publication date (typically near the bottom of the page).

In this case, [Complete Arcane] (published in November 2004) supersedes [Player's Guide to Faerûn] (published in March 2004), and thus its version of Innate Spell should be considered the official version. (41-2)

I can't find another reference for this oft-quoted meta-rule.

In rare cases, this creates confusion. For example, the armor special ability fearsome that originally appeared in the Magic Item Compendium (Mar. 2007) was superseded by the much better armor special ability of the same name in Drow of the Underdark (May 2007) then was superseded again by the original version in the Magic Item Compendium (July 2013).1

Warning: There are Internet places where bringing the Main FAQ into a discussion gets one mocked, shouted down, and accused of witchcraft. It is cited here only out of necessity, and I will happily edit this answer to reflect rules provided by a more well-regarded source if one can be found.

  1. Which version of the armor special ability fearsome should be used in the campaign? Whatever the DM decides. This DM allows the version from Drow of the Underdark.
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thank you, as that's explicitly the inference I mention, explicitly why I say only that no other texts are mentioned, and why I did not say that the inference was somehow mistaken. I was trying very carefully to raise points not dig in. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no implication that the core books are the only primary sources. The language in the errata rule is very explicit that those three books are the primary source on the listed things, but it literally uses “for example” – thus the implication you draw is explicitly contradicted by the errata rule. Thus your footnote 1 is incorrect, and rather than “reinforcing” the errata rule, the FAQ is contradicting it. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Although I disagree, I am comfortable making this answer even neutraler. But just so I know more: What rules changes occur when primary sources beyond the core rules are in effect? That is, what rules argument is won when a reasonable text's considered a primary source and lost when a it's a secondary source? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan In my 3.0 group we had a debate whether the new polymorph spell (Tome and Blood) was to take precedence over the core version (complicated by the fact that we only used core for that campaign). Which monster abilities are gainable from shapechange was the 3.5e problem (does Frostburn take precedence over MM2 3.5e upgrade?) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Tome and Blood actually says, "This version of the spell [polymorph other] is now official and supersedes the version presented in the Player’s Handbook" (94-5), so while I guess that could still cause arguments, wow, those'd be some serious rules lawyers. By the way, the Player's Handbook (2012) updates to current the rules for changing form via spells and even the special ability wild shape. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 17:36

there aren't tertiary sources to consider, so your worry is unnecessary. the core rulebooks are primary sources, and supplements are secondary sources. some rules from supplements become errata'd in and the source it's found in counts as a primary source for that ruling in that case, but generally speaking you won't have much difficulty between supplements because they will likely both be secondary sources.

do situation occur at all in which one supplement counts as a primary source and another supplement counts as a secondary source? sure. but it's pretty rare. the only example I can think of is the introduction of Swift and Immediate Actions to the game. in other words, the source which first introduces a new game mechanic counts as the primary source for that rule over other sources that also make use of that mechanic. Action Points, Immediate Actions, so forthe. if two different sources have two different sets of rules for the same thing, the primary source is which ever source introduced that rule in the first place, unless there was an erratta rule change.

  • \$\begingroup\$ We were talking about different versions of monsters appearing on different manuals (that are not MM1). Anyway, I recall something about printed first = primary, which is wat I'm trying to find. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 10:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ then my answer still stands. if the monster has multiple versions across different sources, the primary source is that which the monster was first introduced, unless there was an errata change. for example, Duergar use MM as a primary source, over the Expanded Psionics Handbook. the same rule applies with monsters who appear in multiple version but only in books other than MM1. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 21:15

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