D&D Did You Know’s: Using Turn Undead on Fiends (AD&D 2E)

Clerical turning – the ability for clerics to channel the power of their deity and force the undead to cower before it (or, for evil clerics, to be controlled by it) – is one of the defining powers for priestly characters in Dungeons & Dragons, druids notwithstanding. While the power manifests differently in different editions, in most it’s a built-in class feature for clerics (and classes with similar themes, such as paladins).

While clerical turning had already become standard by the time AD&D Second Edition had rolled around, the diversity found in the massive breadth of 2E products that were released over that edition’s lifespan meant that clerical turning would see some new options also…even if these were relatively few and far between.

Perhaps the best-known modification to clerical turning is the revised turning rules that came into use if you found yourself trapped within Ravenloft. In the Demiplane of Dread, clerical turning was far less efficacious…though it was arguably strange that for evil clerics, using their turning power to control the undead was similarly blunted.

Far less known is the ability to turn lycanthropes, a power commanded solely by priests of the Knorr barbarians (from Jakandor, Island of War) who take the shapeshifter kit. While this functions best against afflicted lycanthropes, it also gives the shapeshifter power over natural lycanthropes as well. (And if you’re a DM who read that and immediately thought “but I bet it doesn’t work against wolfweres” then kudos to you for your deviousness.)

But just as (if not more) obscure – and the real subject of this article – is the change that was made to clerical turning in the Guide to Hell, right at the end of AD&D Second Edition.

Released in December of 1999, when AD&D 2E had less than a year of life left, the Guide to Hell allowed classes with the the ability to turn undead to also use that ability on fiends (while the book was about devils specifically, it notes that this allows turning to be used on “devils, demons, yugoloths, and so forth”). This required no kit or other alteration to do; it was explicitly allowed to all clerics, paladins, and by extension any other class that could turn undead. It even provided its own table with which to chart the results. (And, of course, it noted that evil clerics and their ilk could also control fiends in this manner.)

Needless to say, this is a notable boost in power for clerics, since fiends tend to be one of the major categories of monsters for characters as they get into the higher levels. While this notes that fiends can’t be turned on their home plane, it’s still a not-inconsiderable buff to give priests the ability to turn them.

Except, as it turns out, that boost was there all along. Sort of.

You see, the Guide to Hell explicitly notes that the ability to turn fiends, along with the undead, is actually explicitly stated in the PHB…for paladins. In the class description, it notes:

A paladin gains the power to turn undead, devils, and demons when he reaches 3rd level. He affects these monsters the same as does a cleric two levels lower–e.g., at 3rd level he has the turning power of a 1st-level cleric. See the section on priests for more details on this ability.

And that was it. Insofar as I can tell, nowhere else in the PHB does it mention using clerical turning to affect creatures besides the undead (notwithstanding an ambiguous notation on the Turning Undead table which says that turning “special” creatures include “certain Greater and Lesser Powers” – “Powers” meaning “deities,” of all things!). It appears that the designers, along with everyone else in the wider gaming community, simply forgot that paladins were explicitly granted the ability to turn “devils and demons” as well, along with the implication that this power extended to clerics too.

So really, the Guide to Hell was simply giving clerics back an ability that had been there, forgotten, since Second Edition had debuted.

(Of course, what it doesn’t mention is the possibility of the inverse of turning fiends also holding true: namely, that evil clerics can turn celestials while good clerics can rebuke them. That would also make for an interesting dynamic, particularly if you were playing celestial PCs via Warriors of Heaven, which had just come out three months previous.)


9 Responses to “D&D Did You Know’s: Using Turn Undead on Fiends (AD&D 2E)”

  1. rorschachhamster Says:

    As far as I remember, the AD&D 1st Edition turning table had a special entry, turnable in high levels, and this included lesser demons, devils etc…

    • alzrius Says:

      That was essentially the same as the “special” line in the AD&D 2E turning table also, save that where First Edition made it clear that that included fiends and their ilk, Second Edition had that notation mention various forms of unusual undead creatures (and that bit about “Greater or Lesser Powers”).

      First Edition had a few other variations on turning also – such as the rule about how, in a mixed group of undead, if a cleric couldn’t turn the master that commanded the others, then none of them were turned – but for the most part it operated the same in both versions of the game.

  2. Ryan Conrad Says:

    I agreed that It likely was left out of elsewhere in the PHB, but there is an errata somewhere that I read that dealt reminded people. (A Dragon Magazine ‘Ask the Sage’, perhaps?) I find it much more amusing that DMs of the edition so often forgot that evil priests can turn paladins. That is a scary power to have, as it could essentially limit a frontline warrior to less ranged weapons.

    • alzrius Says:

      A quick check of the Second Edition “Sage Advice” listings over on Dragonsfoot didn’t turn anything up that related to turning fiends (via a quick ctrl+f search for “turn undead”), though that only goes up through Dragon issue #250. I’d be interested to see that errata, since so far I’m completely unaware of it.

      But yeah, evil clerics turning paladins seems to be equally forgotten. I don’t think I’ve ever heard even a rumor of that happening in someone’s game.

    • AuldDragon Says:

      Indeed, Sage Advice in Dragon 248 had this to say:
      Q: The second note under the undead turning table in the Player’s Handbook says that undead living on the outer planes can be turned as “special” creatures. Thus I suppose that only undead creatures are affected. A baatezu or a tanar’ri cannot be turned. Right?

      A: If the note were correct, you’d be right. But the line should read “…and those creatures that dwell on the outer planes.” A good priest can turn evil creatures (evil priests turn good creatures) from the outer planes, provided the creature has 11 hit dice or fewer. (Neutral priests turn both or pick one set or the other to turn, as the DM decides.)

      • alzrius Says:

        Well so it does! I wondered if searching for “turn undead” would cause me to miss something, but since searching for either word by itself generated too many false hits, I figured it was worth the risk. Oh well.

        Still, it’s nice to see the Sage confirm that this should have been there all along! Now if only that was more widely-known…

  3. Geoffrey Says:

    Hmm. If we bring this to its logical conclusion then evil priests should be able to turn angelic beings.

    Come to think of it, do planar beings have this power as well, or do they have to rely on their mortal allies to turn?

    • alzrius Says:

      Unless its explicitly stated in their write-up, planar beings don’t have any particular ability to turn/rebuke creatures. I see that as being internally consistent; while some planar beings might work for the gods, clerics and paladins and their ilk actually worship them, and forge a special connection to directly channel their power.

      Now, you can have a planar entity that takes the next step and becomes a cleric, but besides going that far they don’t have any particular turning abilities. AD&D 2E rules for fiends becoming clerics are found in Hellbound: The Blood War, and for celestials are founds in Warriors of Heaven.

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