Turn Undead 5e

Published on November 16, 2023, Last modified on January 8th, 2024

Banish the undead with the power of your faith! Here’s how the cleric’s Turn Undead can be a game-changer in your 5e adventures.

Arcane Eye may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn more.

What is Turn Undead in 5e?

Turn Undead is a classic feature of the cleric class in Dungeons & Dragons. It is a powerful ability that allows clerics to use their divine powers to repel and even destroy undead creatures. In D&D 5e, this feature becomes available to clerics at 2nd level as part of their Channel Divinity, symbolizing their growing divine power and connection to their deity.

How Does Turn Undead Work in 5e?

When facing undead creatures, a cleric can present their holy symbol and expend a use of their Channel Divinity to Turn Undead. Each undead that can see or hear the cleric within 30 feet must make a Wisdom saving throw against the cleric’s spell save DC. If they fail, they are “turned” for 1 minute or until they take damage.

What Does “Turned” Mean?

Being “turned” means the undead must spend it’s turn trying to move as far away from the cleric as possible and can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of the cleric. This implies that they must spend their action to use the Dash action, unless they are being held by an effect that keeps it from moving or there’s nowhere to move.

They also can’t take reactions, which doesn’t have anything to do with moving away from the cleric that is turning them, instead it’s an additional debuff.

Destroy Undead

At 5th level, clerics that use their Channel Divinity to Turn Undead have the chance to instantly destroy any undead in the effect’s radius if their CR is low enough.

Cleric Level Destroys Undead of CR Examples of Creatures from MM
5th 1/2 or lower Skeleton, Zombie, Shadow
8th 1 or lower Ghoul, Specter
11th 2 or lower Ghast, Ogre Zombie, Minotaur Skeleton
14th 3 or lower Mummy, Wight
17th 4 or lower Banshee, Ghost

If the undead targeted by this effect has a lower CR than the number denoted in the “Destroys Undead of CR” column associated with you cleric’s level and fails their save against Turn Undead, they are destroyed rather than just turned. What’s more, is this effect bypasses Undead Fortitude, so it’s a great way to deal with a large number of zombies intent on eating your brains.

Tips for Using Turn Undead

Turn Undead is a fairly niche tool in a cleric’s arsenal, as it only targets on kind of creature type. Luckily, when you’re facing off against hordes of zombies or a haunted mansion full of ghosts, it’s an extraordinarily powerful tool for various tactical situations.

Understanding when to deploy this ability is important though, because lower level clerics can only use it once per short rest, and high level clerics only get a maximum of 3 uses between rests. But, when used effectively, it can turn the tide of battle and save your party from overwhelming undead threats.

Save for Multiple Low CR Undead Foes

When your party is swarmed by hordes of low CR undead, like zombies or skeletons, Turn Undead is incredibly effective. It can prevent you from being overwhelmed by the sheer number of hits you’ll take, giving your party the upper hand.

Even in confined spaces, turning hordes of undead is effective because they can’t use their action to attack and can’t take reactions, allowing your party to easily navigate the battlefield and focus your fire on one zombie at a time till you’ve picked your way through them.

Combine With Focus Fire and Single-Target Attacks

Seeing as an undead that fails their death save is turned for 1 minute or until they take damage, it’s smart to focus your fire on your undead foes that saved from the effect first. This will allow you to deal with them while their allies are still turned.

Once the non-turned undead are dealt with, focus your party’s fire on a single undead that didn’t manage to save. By only doing damage to one turned undead at a time, you’ll be able to easily overwhelm them with action economy while sustaining minimal damage.

When Not to Use Turn Undead

While Turn Undead is a powerful ability, there are situations where it might not be the best choice. Recognizing these scenarios is key to maximizing its effectiveness.

Solo Undead Enemies

In encounters with a single, powerful undead enemy, Turn Undead may not be as effective, especially if the creature has high Wisdom or is immune to being turned. In a circumstances where you’re facing off against a lich or other CR +18, other Channel Divinity options or targeted spells will be more beneficial.

Can’t Hit More Than One Undead

Turning a single undead likely isn’t going to be worth your action when you could simply be outputting damage that will work towards killing the monster for good. If you more than one undead isn’t within 30 feet and can’t see or hear you, it’s best to bust out ol’ faithful and start blasting away with guiding bolt.

When You Don’t Have the Required Components

Turn Undead is essentially a spell that uses Channel Divinity “slots” and requires somatic (brandishing your holy symbol) and verbal components (speaking a prayer censuring the undead). If you’re silenced and can’t be seen, you can’t turn the undead. If you a can’t use a hand to brandish your holy symbol, you can’t turn undead.

Turn Undead 5e FAQs

Does Turn Undead work on all undead?

While most undead can be affected by this ability, some powerful undead have resistance or immunity to this effect.

Can Turn Undead destroy undead?

At higher levels, clerics gain the "Destroy Undead" feature, which allows Turn Undead to destroy lower CR undead.

Is Turn Undead affected by the cleric's deity?

The power of Turn Undead comes from the cleric's faith, but the effect is generally the same regardless of the deity.

Turn the Other Cheek

Turning undead is just one ability offered by the cleric’s patented Channel Divinity. While it may not be applicable in every encounter, pulling it out at the right time can turn an encounter with hordes of undead in your party’s favor.

So, make sure you remember this tool is in your cleric’s arsenal the next time you delve into a crypt full of necromantically-powered zombies!

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. He is a Adamantine best-selling author of Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery on DMs Guild and is a contributing author at D&D Beyond. Follow Mike on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.