Monday, May 13, 2013
On Turning Undead
In the classic texts, Turn Undead is usually silent on the duration of its effect. It pops up in Original D&D Vol-1 for the first time without any text at all -- there's just a table at the end of the combat & spells rosters titled, "Clerics versus Undead Monsters" (it doesn't even specify when or how often clerics can use this). To my mind, the implication is simply that undead "run offstage" and everyone can forget about them at that point.
Now, the interpretation that Paul used in his game -- that was novel for me -- was that the cleric in question has to continue presenting his holy symbol and chanting in order to sustain the "turn" effect. So it's a bit like someone holding a vampire at bay, just out of reach, with a cross -- the cleric can't take other actions or spells or else the turning effect ends and the undead possibly come back. To me, this was surprising, as I'd think the effect effect was like casting a fear spell -- the power hits the undead and they're stricken, so then you can go on with other stuff like other PCs.
Interestingly there's no comment on this or any duration for the effect in OD&D, AD&D, Holmes or Moldvay Basic, Allston Rules Cyclopedia, etc. The AD&D DMG does say that when evil clerics use the power to control undead, they "serve for a full 24 hour period" (DMG p. 66). There's also a Skip Williams Sage Advice column (seemingly meant as cross-edition information) that asserted the effect lasted for the same time: "Q: What happens when a cleric turns undead? Does the turning have a duration? A: The undead run away from the cleric for one turn, then avoid the cleric for a full day, unless the cleric attacks them." (Dragon #134, p. 36). If that's the case, then it seems unlikely that a cleric is chanting all day to maintain the effect.
So I'm wondering what you think. Do clerics have to keep up the holy symbol to sustain a turn effect (kind of like keeping Dracula at bay)? Or does the effect hit the undead once and allow the cleric to do something else (more like an Exorcist drive-it-out for good)? And does the 24-hour duration sound right, or is there any book that says differently?
Edit: Sir Gawain in the comments points out that AD&D does include an explicit duration: "not less than 3 nor more than 12 rounds, moving at full speed for the duration if at all possible. The turned undead will be able to come back again, but they are subject to further turning by the cleric". [DMG p. 76]