There’s apparently a new designer article on D&D 5e up on turning undead. It looks like 5e might be moving away from the WOTC standard of “turn dead just does damage to undead” and moving more toward the TSR D&D standard of turn undead actually driving away or even destroying undead. You know, like the effect of the cross on vampires in legend — which is where the idea of turning undead originally came from. This sounds like a great idea to me. Those familiar with Microlite74 know I replaced the 3.x turn causes damage “turn undead” from Microlite20 with a more TSR-like version.
However, I’ve seen a lot of WOTC D&D fans objecting to this design article around the net. One of the more common objections I see is like this one:
Well, the mechanic sounded interesting until he got up to “the monster runs away, disappears, or stands far away from you” as the actual outcomes. All of those are just encounter ending powers, or, more annoyingly, encounter delaying powers that mean you have to go play hunt-the-fleeing-skeleton. That is the exactly the reason turning made way for damage in the first place.
Thinking about all these objections to turn undead as an encounter ending power, I remember I seeing the same objection to a number of old school style spells and effects: they are encounter ending powers. I’ve never paid much attention to the “it’s an encounter ending power” objection because it never made any sense to me. Encounter ending powers are good things in my book. They allow a combat encounter to be handled with less risk to the PCs and with fewer resources expended. Unless you are playing in a “My Precious Encounters” style game where the GM spends hours setting up combat encounters and feels short-changed if the combat encounters don’t take up almost as much time to play out as they did to design, I can’t see any reason to why anyone would really object to a spell or power that would allow the PCs to end the encounter quickly (and at little — or at least less — risk to themselves).
Let’s take the current topic of turning undead as an example of why an encounter-ending power like “turn undead” is such a great thing. The party has discovered a tomb with — they hope — some treasure. However, it’s guarded by half a dozen ghouls. These are 0e-3.x Ghouls that can paralyze those they hit. You can fight them and risk death, which more likely than normal because they can paralyze those they hit for a long duration. If you beat them, you can lick your wounds and check for treasure. Or your cleric(s) can try to turn them. If they fail, you can still fight if you wish. But if they succeed, at least some of the undead will flee the room or at least flee to the far corners if they can’t leave the room. At worst, this leaves you with fewer to fight. At best, this drives them all away, leaving the party to collect the treasure and move on, having spent fewer resources and with less risk of damage. Encounter-ending powers sure look like a good thing here.
I really can’t understand why so many people apparently don’t like them. Perhaps this is just another old-school/new school division? All I know is that D&D without encounter ending spells and powers just does not feel like D&D to me.