Turning Undead

We continue to work on our modified Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition game and I think I’ll have a serviceable player’s handbook ready for use by the end of the week. One of the many tweaks we’ve made is to the turning undead function. I love the turning undead ability of clerics, but I have always thought that it was over-powered, particularly once they start vaporizing skeletons and zombies willy-nilly. So we’ve changed it up a little to still allow for that while toning things down a notch.

Interestingly, a current thread on Dragonsfoot is discussing this topic and someone posted a bit from Gygax on turning:

So many of the very most interesting “monsters” were subjected to that rude capacity of turning/destroying that I initially bestowed upon the cleric class that I did indeed come to rue the initial benison gven to that class. My plan for a revised edition of AD&D was such as to limit that power somewhat while adjusting things for the capacity of undead to withstand “turning” so as to make things more challenging for PCs without emasculating the power of the cleric.

I was actually thrilled to read this, as it reinforces my belief that turning needed tweaking and that my solution is viable.

Here’s what we’ve done:

Cleric Level Turning Undead (d20) #
1 HD 2 HD 3 HD 4 HD 5 HD 6 HD 7 HD 8 HD 9 HD Spec.
1 13 16 19 20
2 10 13 16 19 20
3 7 10 13 16 19 20
4 4 7 10 13 16 19 20
5 1 4 7 10 13 16 19 20
6 1 1 4 7 10 13 16 19 20
7 1 1 1 4 7 10 13 16 19 20
8 1 1 1 1 4 7 10 13 16 19
9 1 1 1 1 1 4 7 10 13 16
10 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 7 10 13
11 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 7 10
12 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 7
# When rolling to turn undead:

Rolling target number +12 indicates that undead have been destroyed (save if 5+ HD)

Rolling target number +6 indicates that undead have been driven off for 2d6 rounds

Rolling target number or greater indicates that undead are held at bay (5’ radius)

A roll of natural ‘1’ always indicates failure

3d6 HD of undead are affected beginning with the weakest in terms of HD

The result of this is that turning is not pass/fail but graded. Standard turning does not scare away undead but only holds them off. Rolling higher may drive them away as normal and rolling real high may destroy them outright (or take control of them if the cleric is evil/chaotic/Dark Sided).

This has only very limited play-testing so far, but the initial results have been good. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

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9 Responses to Turning Undead

  1. Jeff Rients says:

    I can see the merit in your scheme. Personally, I feel like Turning is the key ability of the Cleric class, especially in versions where you get no spells at level 1.

    • Kilgore says:

      Ah, that’s a good point. LL *does* give a spell at first level, and the AEC ramps up the number of bonus spells for high WIS, also. We’re using that.

      I also forgot to note that 5+ HD undead which make their save vs. destruction are driven off for 2d6 rounds.

  2. Derek says:

    The methodology I used to use was to give each undead a saving throw against spells. Succeeding meant that there was no effect, succeeding by more than the save number + 1/2 the save number meant the cleric had a penalties casting spells or attacking the undead. Failing was broken into three bands, the greatest equaling destroyed, the middle band meant running away and the least failure meant being held.

    so, if the save number was 12, failing with 1-4 was destroyed, 5-8 ran away, 9-11 were held ( I know it’s not perfect, but it worked).

    if the save number was 12, 12-18 was no effect, 19+ the cleric was penalized.

    Rough, but it worked and was usually easy enough to calculate on the fly. I don’t remember if I used save vs spell or save vs petrification.

  3. Restless says:

    I always liked the bell curve of using 2d6 for turning. Perhaps the cleric starts with 2d6 and gets an additional d6 at level 5, 10, 15, etc.? The average roll goes up, with possibilities for spectacular success, but it’s not just a linear up or down like with one die.

  4. Derek says:

    Save would be individually. I have lots of dice and if individually is good enough for the party, it’s good enough for the non-party as well. 🙂

    It also helps when the group of nine skeletons are not identical. I once had a group of 12 skeletons, three of which had enchanted weapons and amulets of proof against turning. When the cleric failed to turn those three (in the first wave) away, he didn’t try on the follow-ups. It really wrecked his day and nearly the party’s too.

  5. Fool on the Hill says:

    Question: those undead held at bay (5′)… for how long?


    • Kilgore says:

      Excellent question. I’ve ruled that as long as the cleric maintains the effort–holy symbol held high, faith unshaken, willpower exerted–the holding at bay will continue. Turning attempts on subsequent rounds against additional undead may be attempted during this, though a failure ends the chances to try for more.

      I’ve not had to deal with whether the 5′ radius is mobile, but I think it probably is. I.e., the cleric can provide a sort of “protection from undead” circle for a party to back out of a crypt or the like.

      One thing I’m not sure about is: if some undead are held at bay, can those same undead be successfully driven off the next round? Again, I say probably yes. So a 2nd level cleric facing 1 HD skeletons could roll a 12 the first round, holding them off. The next round, she could simply maintain by keeping up the faith (so to speak), or she could try for more by rolling again. If she rolls a 16 (6 more than the required 10) she would successfully drive them off.

      If she rolls a 2 in her second attempt? I don’ t know. Does she simply maintain the holding them at bay? Or has she overextended her effort and cracked?

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