NOTE: The discussion below is focussed purely on Epic:Armageddon, which is the 4th edition of the Epic ruleset. For information about NetEPIC, a community-developed version of the popular 2nd edition rules, see the TacComs NetEPIC forums.
When you first start looking into Epic:Armageddon, you usually find the free downloadable rules on Games Workshop’s Specialist Games website, but you may also find something called the Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008. Alternatively, you may find something called the Epic Compendium. All of these documents are available as PDFs, free to download and use.
Three versions of the rules?? What’s that about??
As you would expect, the PDFs from GW are the official rules; there are, however, a number of errors (typos and the like) and changes to wording that GW has embraced over the years–these are documented in GW’s Epic Errata and Epic FAQ documents, which are of course also available for download (PDFs).
This is where the Epic Compendium and the Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008 come in. Both of these community-produced documents include the core Epic:Armageddon rules, BUT they also include fixes to the various erors noted by GW.
In order to improve visibility to the FAQ entries, the Epic Compendium includes the FAQ entries within the main body of the rules as footnotes. As of version 2.0, it now also includes most of the current and up-to-date army lists.
Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008
The Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008 also includes the error fixes, but it then goes several steps further by including all the community-approved changes that were being employed at the time (for example, a contentious change that appears in the Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008 is a change to the Vindicator that makes its main gun a Macro Weapon requiring 4+ to hit, rather than the Anti-Personnel 3+/Anti-Tank 4+ it was originally).
The Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008 also includes several of the major army lists; however, most of the lists included have since been superceded as the Epic community has advanced army list development.
Which should I use?
So which ruleset is the best one to use? At risk of looking like a fence-sitter, it depends; by that, I mean that the ruleset that is best for you largely depends on you and your intentions with the game.
If your intention is to participate in Epic:Armageddon tournaments, the accepted rules are generally the original rules plus any changes of clarifications in the 2008 Errata and FAQ documents, so your friendly (practise) games should also use these rules. To that end, the Epic Compendium is your new best friend because it includes all of these things in a single document–very handy.
If you are not really interested in the tournament scene, use the rules that you and your opponents prefer. In my case, I have in the past preferred the Epic:Armageddon Handbook 2008, largely because it made getting into the game that much easier by having everything I needed in a single document. Now that the Epic Compendium includes all the army lists, however, I think I will move over to playing with that document, as having the FAQ entries in-line with the main content makes it an exceptionally handy resource.
For what it’s worth, I ran a quick poll both on TacComs recently, and the result is shown below:
My spies tell me that GW and Jervis might be about to re-release the Epic:Armageddon rulebook PDFs on the GW website, and that these new PDFs will incorporate the errata fixes and those community-recommended changes with which Jervis agrees. Time will tell, but, if true, the re-released rulebook would certainly be the best ruleset to play to–stay tuned.
Hopefully, the relationships between the three main rulesets out there is now reasonably clear, and enables you to get stuck into your Epicing with confidence.
In any case, it’s worth mentioning that the differences between the rulesets discussed above are not so extreme as to make for fundamentally different playing experiences–they are all the same game, just with some variations, and the strategies and tactics that worked well for you in one should work well for you in all.