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OPTIONAL TURNING RULES
D20 Rules by Justin Alexander
This material is covered by the Open Gaming License.
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:
cleric turning level + Charisma modifier
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.
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.
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.
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