Barricade The Zombie Apocalypse With Turn Undead 5e


Turn Undead is a fabulous way to terrorize those undead foes and maybe vaporize them on the spot.

Turn Undead

The moans and snarls get closer. The Cleric steps forward, her grip around her holy symbol tight as she casts Turn Undead, hoping against hope that it will be enough to stem the tide of the undead horde rapidly approaching her friends. Some of them seem to be impacted, but many more are still coming, and everyone prepares for a long, gruesome combat.

Turn Undead is just one example of the options Clerics have for their Channel Divinity feature. For more information about the various domains and other Channel Divinity options, go check out our other blog here.

When Does It Become Available?

A Cleric’s Channel Divinity comes online at 2nd level. You will have two options for your Channel Divinity, Turn Undead and something else unique to your Cleric Domain. At level 2, you only have one charge for Channel Divinity between short or long rests. Beginning at 6th level, you can use your Channel Divinity twice between rests, and beginning at 18th level, you can use it three times between rests.

How Does Turn Undead Work?

As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring the undead. Each undead that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage.

A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

Destroy Undead

Starting at 5th level, when an undead fails its saving throw against your Turn Undead feature, the creature is instantly destroyed if its challenge rating is at or below a certain threshold.

Cleric LevelDestroys Undead of CR
5th1/2 or lower
8th1 or lower
11th2 or lower
14th3 or lower
17th4 or lower

When Should You Use It?

The main limitation of Turn Undead is that it expends a use of your Channel Divinity. For most of your adventuring career, you only get one or two uses between short or long rests, so that’s a serious decision. However, depending on your Cleric Domain, this may be less of an issue.

Some Cleric Domains have broadly applicable or constantly useful Channel Divinity options, (think Grave Domain or War Domain), and you might not want to waste a use on Turn Undead. Other Clerics may find that their Channel Divinity choices are quite situational (like Forge Domain or Nature Domain), and they can use their Channel Divinity on Turn Undead without missing other opportunities.

Are There Any Limitations?

When it comes to abilities like Turn Undead, it’s crucial to be able to estimate the CR of your foes. Sure, it can technically affect any undead creatures, but the real draw of the ability starts at level 5 with Destroy Undead. When you need to eliminate a large number of enemies in a short amount of time, it’s hard to go wrong.

However, there’s nothing more embarrassing than trying to instantly destroy your problems and finding out that you underestimated their CRs and then awkwardly standing there, in the midst of the crowd, staring at your drooling foes who are, unfortunately, still alive. Sort of.

When Destroy Undead comes online, you can automatically destroy any undead at CR 1/2 and lower. Luckily, skeletons, zombies, and shadows are all CR 1/2 or 1/4, and they’re some of the most common undead enemies in the entire game. Once you hit level 8, you can take care of ghouls and specters. By level 11, you can handle ghasts, and more advanced skeletons/zombies (like minotaur skeletons and ogre zombies) as well as will-‘o’-wisps.

It’s not until level 14 that you can destroy mummies and wights, and you have to hit 17 before you can say goodbye to banshees, flameskulls, and ghosts.

In Summary

Turn Undead lets you get out of a potentially tough situation by forcing undead creatures to waste their turns getting away from you and disables their reactions. If you and your party need to escape, it’s great. At higher levels, you can outright destroy those baddies if they are weak enough, which is even better.

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