Turn Undead: 3.5 House Rule

I still play a lot of 3.5. It’s my primary RPG, and generally the default game my home group plays. I play other games with other groups pretty often, but when I call my buddies up to get a rpg game going, it’s probably 3.5. We’ve played a lot of 3.5, and we almost always have a cleric in the party. In conversation a few days ago, I was talking to some folks about mechanics and how I never actually found grapple that confusing, even though it’s the iconic confusing 3.5 mechanic. Someone brought up the turn undead rules, and frankly, that’s what should be held up as opaque 3.5 rules. I could probably calculate THAC0 quicker than I could find out if my cleric can turn a skeleton. It also got tossed out that it should just be a will save vs fear, instead of a series of tables, and so I took a few minutes and wrote it out to see how it would work. I’ve got to say, this is a lot easier to use, and I’d love to see it in play.

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Turn Undead

Times per Day: 3+Cha mod.
Range: Undead that can see you. (no longer 60ft)
Turning Save: Undead that can see you make a will save. DC 15+Cha or flee with supernatural fear. Undead are not immune to this supernatural fear, even though they are normally immune to regular fear.
Duration: Spend a standard action each round to sustain. +1 round per cleric level after.

  • Intelligent Undead whose CR is more than yours. Will save vs Shaken.
  • Intelligent Undead whose CR is yours, or less. Will vs Panicked.
  • Unintelligent Undead whose CR is more than yours. Will save vs Frightened.
  • Unintelligent Undead whose CR is yours, or less. Auto-fail. vs Panicked.
One may consider adding a simplified version where its simply will save to be Frightened. I like the little bit of complexity which ensures your lich isn't cowed into submission, but skeletons basically always are. You may want to play with this depending on your group's tolerance for complexity. A simple save vs frightened is very easy to remember. 

Rebuke Undead

Rebuke Undead has the changes made for turn undead as above, but different outcomes as described below.

Commanded Undead: This is strictly unchanged, which is worth pointing out.

  • Intelligent Undead whose CR is more than yours. Will save vs Shaken.
  • Intelligent Undead whose CR is yours, or less. Will vs Cower
  • Unintelligent Undead whose CR is more than yours. Will save vs Cower
  • Unintelligent Undead whose CR is yours, or less. Auto-fail. vs Commanded
Like above, you may just want to auto make it cower or command for simplicity.

Other Turn Undead Notes

Bolstered Undead: Not an option. Never seen anyone do it, and not worth converting.
Turn Resistance: Equivalent bonus on the will save for turn or rebuke attempts.
General things that increase cleric level for turn attempts: instead raise DC by the same amount.
General things that add turn attempt: As written.

Additional House Rules

While talking about turn undead, we should talk about one of its most broken abilities. Turn undead is pretty strong, but hit or miss if it comes up, and is fairly telegraphed when it does. If you know it’s an undead adventure, you are set. If you aren’t trekking through graveyards or battling zombies though, it sits unused. To combat that percieved waste of a feature, WoTC introduced the idea that clerics can burn turn undead attempts to fuel other stuff. Some paladins can use it for extra smite damage, but the real banger is a cleric using it to fuel Divine Metamagic. Essentially, clerics can say “Cool, don’t think there are undead today. Instead, I’m turning all my undead turn attempts into persisting all my core spells for 24 hours, or doubling their duration, or maximizing their effects.” This on its own isn’t that big of a deal. Its strong, but not off the charts. Where it gets wild is WoTC also solved the “we never fight undead, why do I have turn undead” problem by using the mechanic for other things. You can take the fire domain, and rebuke fire creatures, and the water domain for the ability to rebuke water creatures. Now, your cleric has 3 pools of 3+Cha mod turning attempts, each of which can be used to fuel these powers. Your cleric with a cha of 18, goes from 7 turn attempts to 21. Even better, there are plenty of prestige classes that grant even more domains. You can also take feats like extra turning, which expectedly apply their +4 turn attempts to each pool. It even stacks with itself directly.

If you have the ability to turn or rebuke more than one kind of creature each of your turning or rebuking abilities gains four additional uses per day.
You can gain Extra Turning multiple times. Its effects stack. Each time you take the feat, you can use each of your turning or rebuking abilities four additional times per day.

Extra Turning Feat, player’s handbook 3.5

With minimal effort, you can get a huge pool of turn attempts. That said, IMO there’s a quick fix that reigns it in easily with minimal to no work.

Multiple sources share a pool. No matter may things you can turn, you only ever have one pool of turn attempts.

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