The shambling undead pounded on the door. It wouldn’t hold much longer.
With a shattering sound, the door was ripped open and the zombies surged into the church. The Cleric watched as the zombies defiled his holy place.
He raised his hand, clutching a powerful amulet. He prayed, feeling the connection between himself, his holy symbol, and the divine.
“BEGONE FILTH!” the Cleric shouted. A brilliant light shone from his hand. The undead fell to their knees as the light spread over the horde. Shrieking and howling they ran, tumbling over themselves in their haste to flee.
What is Turn Undead 5e?
Turn Undead is a class feature ability that all Clerics can use. It can be found in the Player’s Handbook on page 59.
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.
lt 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.”
Some things to keep in mind about Turn Undead:
- Turn Undead is not a spell.
- It is not an attack.
- It’s a specific class feature and part of the Channel Divinity ability.
Turn Undead is part of the Cleric’s Channel Divinity ability.
Channel Divinity is the Cleric’s defining ability. All Clerics are able to actively channel the power from their chosen deity for various effects. As Clerics level up, they’ll be able to use their Channel Divinity skills more often between rests, and their Domain (Subclass) will allow for multiple different effects as well.
Channel Divinity and consequently Turn Undead can be done once per long or short rest. At level 6, players can use their Turn Undead twice per rest, and finally, at level 18, they can use their Turn Undead and Channel Divinity 3 times per rest.
Who can use Turn Undead?
Clerics are the only class that can use Turn Undead. There are some spells that deal additional damage to Undead, but there is no spell in DnD 5e called Turn Undead.
All Clerics gain the ability to use Turn Undead at level 2. This means that regardless of what Domain (Subclass) the Cleric chooses, they will always be able to use their Channel Divinity to Turn Undead.
Paladins also are able to use Channel Divinity, but they do not gain access to Turn Undead. They have other “Turn _______” abilities like Turn the Unholy, which works similarly to Turn Undead but affects Undead and Fiends.
The “Turn” Effect
Like most people when they first hear the term “Turn Undead”, they imagine a character actually turning into a zombie or a skeleton.
The Turn Undead ability DOES NOT actually turn you into a zombie, skeleton, or any other undead.
The Turn effect refers to undead creatures literally turning and running away from the user.
When the undead creature fails their Wisdom save they must use their action for the next minute to move as far away from the Turn Undead user as possible. This basically forces Undead that fail their Wisdom save to spend the next 10 turns moving as far away as possible from the Cleric.
While fleeing, the Undead cannot use its reaction and can only use the Dash action. If they can no longer move anywhere they can use Dodge.
This means that they’re going to run away as quickly as possible and won’t attack anybody for the next 10 turns. The effect ends once someone attacks them.
When to use Turn Undead
Thematically, Turn Undead is the quintessential holy character raising their hand and a bright light shining forth. Any undead are actively repelled by the Clerics’ divine magics and they’re pushed back.
Out of all the different ways to use Channel Divinity, Turn Undead is only useful if you’re surrounded by undead creatures. It has no effect on anything else.
This gives it a very limited scope. Unless you’re dealing with a lot of undead creatures, you won’t use this ability very often, but it can be incredibly useful when storming a Lich’s lair or in a campaign focusing on zombies or other undead.
This is why Turn Undead is part of the wider Channel Divinity ability. Because of this, it offers a lot more versatility to the Cleric, but Turn Undead still remains one of their iconic abilities.
Destroy Undead Upgrade
At level 5, Turn Undead gets a huge upgrade and adds the additional feature: Destroy Undead.
If an enemy fails the Wisdom save of Turn Undead, instead of forcing them to flee, they are destroyed outright. The effect of Destroy Undead only occurs if the target is at a particular Challenge Rating or lower.
As you level up, higher CR enemies will be affected by Destroy Undead.
|Level||Destroy Undead CR|
|5 – 7||1/2 or lower|
|8 – 10||1 or lower|
|11 – 13||2 or lower|
|14 – 16||3 or lower|
|17 – 20||4 or lower|
If enemies are of a higher CR than in the chart, they will still flee instead of being destroyed if they fail their Wisdom save.
Turn Undead vs. Destroy Undead
There can be some confusion between Turn Undead & Destroy Undead. They both work the same way, but with different end results.
- Both abilities only affect undead enemies within 30ft that can see or hear the Cleric using the ability.
- Both require a Wisdom Save.
- Both are limited by the number of uses of the Cleric’s Channel Divinity.
Turn Undead is the weaker of the two and will only force undead enemies to flee if they fail the Wisdom save.
Destroy Undead is the upgraded version and will outright destroy enemies according to the Challenge Rating Chart above. If the enemies have a higher Challenge Rating and still fail their wisdom save, then they flee instead of being destroyed.
What does Turn Undead do in 5e?
Turn Undead forces all Undead characters within 30ft to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, they must spend their actions moving as quickly away from the user.
Despite the name, Turn Undead DOES NOT make the player a zombie or any other type of undead creature.
Does Turn Undead destroy undead?
Turn Undead does not destroy undead. At level 5, the Turn Undead ability gets upgraded to Destroy Undead. This ability can destroy undead that fail their wisdom saving throw if they are below a certain Challenge Rating.
The chart to determine whether they are destroyed outright or flee can be found in the Player’s Handbook on page 59.
Is Turn Undead a spell in DnD?
Turn Undead is not a spell. It is one of the possible effects of the Cleric’s Channel Divinity class feature.
It’s similar to a Druid’s Wild Shape in that they are both not spells, but usable abilities of a specific class.
Turn Undead 5e FAQs
What does Turn Undead do in 5e?
Turn Undead forces all Undead creatures that can see or hear the user to make a Wsdom check. On a failed wisdom check, they are forced to flee as far away from the user as possible for the next 10 turns.
At later levels, Turn Undead is upgraded to Destroy Undead and has the chance to outright destroy undead instead of making them flee.
What does it mean to turn undead?
Turn Undead refers to a DnD ability that forces undead to turn away and flee from the user. It DOES NOT mean that the user can shapeshift or turn themselves into a zombie.
What are the rules of Turn Undead?
The rules for Turn Undead can be found in the Player’s Handbook on page 59.
When using Turn Undead, any Undead creatures that can see and hear the user must make a Wisdom saving throw. If they fail it, they are forced to flee as far away from the user as possible for the next 10 turns.
What is the Turn Undead spell?
Turn Undead is not a spell in DnD. It is a class ability for Clerics. It forces the undead to run in fear from the light.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.