Turning

The turning system is painful, and I'm reminded of that fact every time I see the group's cleric use it (we're doing a 3.5 RAW campaign right now). The turnings rules were one of the first things I revised for 3.5, lo these many years ago.

The turning system has many flaws:

  • The limit of undead you can turn is based on HD. Undead are, pound for pound, far more powerful for their CRs than almost anything out there - especially skeletons and zombies. A gray render zombie, for example, is listed as CR 6 (or CR 10, if you use UK's rules), but it has 20 HD. This means, in effect, that a L6 cleric will never be able to turn it. In fact, you'd have to be L16(!) to turn one; by then, a gray render zombie is a negligible challenge (under either CR system). Oh, and we can't forget the fact that a cleric's level must be twice the undead's HD to be able to destroy it. Never mind that a gray render zombie is a negligible challenge for a L20 cleric; he'll never be able to blast it to dust.
  • Once you make a turn check, you have to look on a table to see the maximum HD of undead you can turn. This is time-consuming and awkward, especially in the middle of combat. A smart player would have a cheat sheet for just this purpose, but there really shouldn't be a table at all.
  • After you look at the table, you have to roll (again!) to see how many HD of undead you turned. Here comes the fun part: just because you rolled high enough to turn that wight doesn't mean you can actually affect it - you might roll poorly and fall short of its total HD. Does this make any sense to you? It surely doesn't to me.
  • Finally, after everything's said and done and if you DO turn the undead… they run away! Now, that might be useful for some encounters (you're facing something far more powerful than you can handle, or you just want to drive it away from a fallen comrade), it's not very conducive to actually destroying the undead - if you corner them and get too close, you break the turning. Which means the cleric has to hang back while the others charge forward and hack away at the undead (which, by the way, can still defend itself, albeit at a penalty).

So, with all this mind, I set about fixing the system. The original version of this system set the upper limit by CR instead of HD. This means that a cleric of a given level can turn any undead of his relative power level, no matter how many HD it has. I later changed it to a flat opposed Will save, which eliminates the table entirely and makes it so that a cleric of any level has a chance, however small, of turning an undead far above his power level (or a very good chance of destroying lower-level undead).

I added in different effects - the standard turning (make the undead flee), bolstering, and commanding; I changed the rebuke effect so it works for both good and evil clerics (good clerics should be able to cow undead with their power without making them flee, so their companions can hack them up), and added an energy burst (perfect for wiping out hordes of lower-level undead without screwing around with opposed Will saves, or damaging higher-level ones).

And finally, I changed HD of undead to total number of undead - instead of affecting x number of HD, you affect x undead. Since it works off the undead's Will save, not its HD, a cleric can theoretically affect ANY undead. While this may seem powerful, it's really not - since all undead can make Will saves (and the DC is 1d20 + Cha), it's very unlikely that a cleric of any level can affect huge numbers of strong undead, while higher-level clerics could easily blast through hordes of low-level undead like skeletons and zombies. All undead were given standard turn resistance because an analysis showed that they needed it. The ones who already have it, like ghouls and wraiths, add the +2 or +4 on top of their standard TR.

Best of all, this system can be applied equally to any creature, not just undead. There are several clerical domains that allow for turning of elementals and lycanthropes, so this works perfectly.

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