Turning the Undead

It is difficult to exaggerate my longtime frustration with the cleric class. Though my first D&D character was a cleric, I have long felt that there are numerous issues with the class, both in the rules and in the way it’s played and viewed.

Though I have tried many adjustments to the cleric over the years, my recent return to pretty strict BTB play using the 1981 B/X D&D rules means that my so-called “fixes” are–for the most part–off the table. So I’m sticking with what I see as insufficient XP requirements which are significantly easier than the fighter’s despite being a more-capable class. I’m sticking with the wonky spell advancement table which grants both third and fourth level spells at sixth level and a fifth-level spell one level later. I’m sticking with the very low turning numbers which render what I see as a fearsome undead relatively impotent relatively quickly.

One change I am making though, is to interpret the turning undead rules to be what is quite possibly more in line with the original implementation. Using Turn Undead – are we getting it wrong? as a starting point, I am decreasing the effect of a successful turn from “the monster will not touch the cleric and will flee from the area if it can”–essentially a failed morale check–into more of a “repel” effect which protects the cleric while not driving off the undead and allowing them to still attack others.

Here is the rule as I’ve currently got it written:

A cleric may attempt to “turn” (repel) 2d6 undead monsters using his or her holy symbol. (Certain bane objects may also be used, such as garlic against vampires.) The cleric must present the symbol or object firmly and the undead must be able to see the cleric. Consult the Clerics vs. Undead table and cross-index the cleric’s level with the type of undead encountered:

“–“ means the cleric cannot turn that type of undead monster.

A number means that the player must roll that number or higher on 2d6 in order to turn the undead.

“T” means that the cleric automatically turns this type of undead monster.

“D” means that the cleric automatically dispels (destroys or disintegrates) this type of undead monster.

A cleric may turn or dispel 2d6 undead monsters at a time. If multiple types of undead are encountered simultaneously, the least-powerful are affected first.

If the turn attempt succeeds, the affected undead must remain beyond striking distance (5′) and may not attack the cleric in any way that round. Other characters may be attacked as normal.

Undead which have been turned for three consecutive rounds will be driven off, attempting to flee from the area as fast as possible. Those unable to flee will be dispelled as per a result of “D” on the table.

Beginning at 7th level, clerics are able to extend protection to others, with turned undead repelled 5′ for every experience level in a radius centered on the cleric. Those within this circle cannot be attacked by turned undead in any way.

Undead of unusual strength may be allowed a saving throw (vs. spells) to overcome a successful turn, as may those affected by a “D” result. Use of inferior holy symbols (wooden or improvised) may also allow a saving throw.

This will make turning the undead more like the “holding off the monster with a crucifix” effect in the old movies, dialing the power level down while still allowing clerics to drive them off as the ability became to be used. Also, I feel better about the low turning numbers (which allow skeletons to be turned automatically at second level) if the effect of success isn’t so dramatic. Finally, I actually INCREASED the results to affect 2d6 monsters rather than 2d6 hit dice.

We will have to see how this ends up playing out, possibly adjusting it further based on play. But I’m fairly happy with it and looking forward to extended testing in use.

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2 Responses to Turning the Undead

  1. Fr. Dave says:

    I ran an LL game where the party at one point had three clerics. In order to make undead encounters more interesting (make the party actually feel some modicum of fear), I would bolster higher HD undead encounters with low HD undead like skeletons and zombies. The Turn ability affects the lower HD monsters first. Thus, despite having three Turns, the nastier undead still had a chance to get in a number of licks and even had a chance of forcing the party to retreat.

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