The Alexandrian

Optional Turning Rules

November 5th, 2007

Turn Check

A turning attempt is a burst effect with a radius of 60 feet. The cleric sets the DC of a turning by making a turn check:

d20 + cleric turning level + Charisma modifier

Saving Throw

Undead in the range of a turning must make a Will save against the DC set by the cleric’s turn check. An undead can Take 10 on this saving throw. Turn resistance is added as a bonus to this roll.

Effects of Turning

Even if an undead succeeds at their saving throw, they are still shaken as long as they remain within 60 feet of the cleric (-2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks) for the duration of the turning attempt.

Any undead affected by a turning attempt cannot approach within 60 feet of the cleric, nor can they take any action (direct or indirect) against the cleric or anyone within 60 feet of the cleric. Any undead affected within 60 feet of the cleric must immediately back away to a minimum of 60 feet. If the cleric approaches affected undead, the undead must back away as soon as possible.

If an undead fails their saving throw by 10 or more, they are frightened and must flee for 1 minute (as per the normal turning rules).

If an undead fails their saving throw by 20 or more, they are controlled or destroyed (as per the normal turning rules).


As long as the cleric concentrates, a turning attempt lasts for 1 minute (10 rounds) per turning level of the cleric. Any new undead coming within 60 feet of the cleric during this time are affected by the turning unless they make the Will saving throw.

A cleric can use additional turning attempts to force new saving throws for undead previously unaffected, or to extend the duration of the turning. As long as no lapse in concentration takes place, these additional turning attempts do not allow a new save for any undead already affected by the turning.


In my experience, the by-the-book turning rules are broken. When it works, it either makes an encounter too easy or its completely useless. Worse yet, this tends to shift with level: At low levels, turning generally makes undead encounters too easy and anti-climactic. At high levels, it’s useless for anything except cleaning up mooks who are almost incapable of touching the PCs. And there’s no meaningful “sweet spot” in the middle because any given turn attempt is binary: Either its completely meaningless or it ends the encounter.

The problem, as I see it, arises from the twice decisions to (a) make turning dependent on the undead’s Hit Dice; and (b) have no Constitution score for undead. Without a Constitution score, designers need to pump up an undead’s HD in order to give them enough hit points to survive against the increasingly powerful attacks of the fighters and arcanists. But, as a result of these extra HD, the higher-CR undead simply outstrip the cleric’s turning ability.

These optional rules try to address these problems in three ways:

First, by having the cleric’s check set a Will save DC for the undead. This not only causes the ability to scale better against undead with higher CRs, it also creates a varied reaction: Some undead will make their saves, others will not.

Second, by having a range of possible reactions (depending on the margin of success for the check), it makes turning more dynamic and (again) helps to scale the ability with level: A high-level cleric taking on mook skeletons will unleash a wave of divine force strong enough to turn their undead bones to dust. But when that same cleric faces off against a lich with a CR equal to his level, he’ll still be able to have some success (even if may need to struggle for that success).

Third, by designing the default level of success into an ability which allows the cleric to control a battlefield, but not instantly end an encounter. (The goal here was to create something that looked more like the bog-standard Hollywood version of turning: The vampire must avoid the holy symbol, but is not driven into a mindless panic by it.)

The disadvantage of this system is the variability of results: By having both the cleric and the undead roll 1d20 with opposed results, you’re introducing a 40-point range of possible results. Even with these results on a bell curve, this wide range causes some problems (particularly because the range of effects only covers a 20-point difference).

This high variability is combated in two ways:

First, the undead is allowed to Take 10 on its Will save. This is a non-standard exception to the normal rules, but it means that a powerful undead will never be forced to tuck its tail between its legs or be turned into a dust by a much-less powerful priest due to the random capriciousness of the dice.

Second, the cleric is allowed to bolster his previous turn attempts by burning another turn attempt. Clerics typically get a lot more turn attempts than they will use in a day anyway, and this gives a practical use for those “wasted” resources.

Obviously one of these reduces the variability of the undead’s results and the other reduces the variability of the cleric’s results, so overall balance is maintained.

I’ve been using these rules with great success in my campaigns for more than half a decade now.

INTERESTING VARIATION: Have the turn apply as a 180-degree cone, so that it only affects undead in the direction the cleric is facing. Allow the cleric to switch the direction of this cone as a free action (on their turn) or an immediate action (when it’s not their turn).

TURNING FEATS: Many official sourcebooks for the game now have feats that allow a cleric to use their turning attempts to produce other effects besides repelling undead. These are another great way for clerics to use their turn attempts as a valuable resource.

Share on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterShare on StumbleUponShare on FacebookShare on RedditShare on Google+Digg this

One Response to “Optional Turning Rules”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    Justin Alexander
    Based on my experience, you’d want to stick with the same math I use:

    10 + cleric turning level + Charisma modifier

    The primary reason I didn’t go with a flat result is that I found most cleric players wanted to roll the dice when making a turning attempt.
    Monday, May 12, 2008, 4:28:13 AM

    Maybe you should just install a DC for the Cleric ability just like most spell like abilities? I’m thinking 10 + half HD + Cha Mod, with optional feats (im, great, epic) that improve this by +2, +4 and +8? If you fail your will save by 4, you are frightened, by 10, you are destroyed or controlled.

    1st level cleric, Cha 14, is a DC of 12. Zombie will save = +0 (?).

    Result 12+ = No effect.
    Result 9-11 = Can’t approach.
    Result 3-8 = Frightened.
    Result 2- = detroyed or controlled.

    I think that this might just work 😀
    Thursday, March 06, 2008, 9:09:16 AM

    Justin Alexander
    What would you suggest as a solution? What do you want to see happen when you make a turning attempt?

    I mean, the default turning rules seem to produce the results you don’t like: The only thing they can do is make the undead run away (unless they’re much, much weaker than you).

    For example, look at what happened the second time you fought the bloodwights: Your turning attempt drove all but two or three of them back into their warren nests. You’d effectively neutralized about twelve of them. of them. Under the bog standard turning rules you would have been able to turn no more than six of them (2d6 + Charisma bonus + your level = 2d6 + 2 + 2 = 16 HD total / average 3 HD per bloodwight = 6 bloodwights).

    There’s also been times when the undead have made their saving throws. But there’ll be times under the bog standard turning rules where your role isn’t good enough to effect them, either.

    For example, your check of 16 would have been a raw die roll of 12, right? Under the bog standard turning rules that would have given you a turn check of 14. You would have been limited to affecting undead with 3 HD or less, and you wouldn’t have been able to affect any of the advanced bloodwights (who had 4 HD).

    And note that even those undead that succeeded on their check were still shaken, so you still had some tangible result even when the undead made their saving throws. (Under the standard turning rules, a failed attempt does absolutely nothing.)

    I’m not trying to minimize your concerns, but I am trying to establish that these house rules are making turning better for you than it would be if we were using the standard turning rules.

    So let me go back to my original question: What do you want to see happen when you make a turning attempt?

    Another option would be a turning effect that had no chance of causing undead to flee but simply caused reliable damage to all undead within range. Maybe 1d6 per two levels with a Will save for half from the undead?

    Or we could simply swap out the standard anti-undead turning effect for one of the alternative effects from Complete Divine. Instead of spending a feat you’d simply lose your standard turning ability and replace it with something that would be more useful for you.

    Let me know. Drop me an e-mail.
    Tuesday, November 06, 2007, 3:02:44 AM

    I’ve found turning attempts to be discouraging, as nothing ever happens. As a level 2 cleric with a turn modifier of 5, I need to roll a 16 or higher just to get them scared of me, if i’m lucky. And with only 4 attempts per day, I feel this class ability is almost useless. And even if it does work, they run! Usually deeper into the dungeon where we aren’t ready to follow, or they sit in a corner and we pick them off. Boring. =)
    Why bother taking Extra Turning? I’ll never be able to destroy an undead, even with a nat. 20. And the thought of spending one of my rare feats on repurposing turn attempts is frustrating, Especially if I want to starting thinking about a prestige class and making sure I get the prerequisites. (that’s my $.02)
    Monday, November 05, 2007, 10:52:21 PM

Leave a Reply



Recent Posts

Recent Comments