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Encounter-Ending Powers are a Good Thing!

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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.

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faoladh said...
March 12, 2012 at 11:03 PM  

OK, I have to admit that I don't even understand the objection in the first place. The point of encounters is that they end and the adventure continues. A power that ends the encounter allows the adventure to continue. So, I don't understand the problem. Do they think that an adventure is just a string of encounters or something?

cibet said...
March 13, 2012 at 12:22 PM  

You are only looking at low level mook type undead. Suppose the party meets that vampire or lich nemisis they have been hunting for months. When the party finally gets to fight it they don't want the cleric chasing it away by turning, they want to destroy it. This goes for any reasonably powerful intelligent undead. Just chasing them away with a turn means the dm has to track them and the party has to chase them down or wait to be ambushed.

cibet said...
March 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM  

Btw, 3.5 did not damage undead it turned them by hit dice pretty much like every other edition before it.

Philo Pharynx said...
March 13, 2012 at 2:37 PM  

I think it's an old-school/new-school thing. New-schoolers like balance. How do you balance a cleric when they are more powerful against one type of creature than others? However you balance it, your character's value will depend on the campaign you're in. If you are fighting the Dread Den of Dead Duelists, you're the man! If you're going up against the Society of Sorcerous Serpents, you aren't going to be able to help as much. 3.5 tried and 4e succeeded in making other characters a viable option to having a cleric in the party. I can see somebody going for a warlord if they don't think they'll be facing a lot of undead and choosing a cleric if they knows the bad guy is a necromancer.

Even in old school, I wasn't a big fan of turning. Monsters that flee into places you don't control are monsters you have to worry about later. I'd mostly use turning to put them in a bad spot where we could take them out one at a time.

I think turning should be something optional that you choose, and it should be based on the enemies of your faith. I could see some clerics turning devils or demons. This would be how you could have a cleric that becomes an exorcist.

Khayman said...
March 13, 2012 at 3:59 PM  

I agree with Philo, especially on the last point.

Turning was also convenient to use as a signpost of a cleric's relationship with the 'home office'. Otherwise belief (and roleplay) becomes just another feat or class ability.

Randall said...
March 13, 2012 at 9:33 PM  

@Cibet: If the party wants to kill a vampire they've been hunting for months, why would the party's clerics try to turn it? Unless, of course, the party is losing the battle? Just because the players might not want to turn every undead they meet doesn't make the power useless. Also, not every undead a party meets needs to be killed. For example, sometimes they might just want to drive it away so they can continue their overland journey in the morning or the like.

@Philo Pharynx: I'm sorry, but I can't understand the new school "obsession" with balance to begin with. I'm running a dungeon I designed in 1976 or so today for a group of players (and characters) I had never dreamed of back then in 1976. It certainly isn't balanced for them nor was it ever balanced. It just is. What the players choose to have their characters do in it (attack, oparley, avoid, steal, etc) from the monsters there is fine by me. I don't really see a role for "balance" at least as new school seems to see it. So while I admit that "wanting balance" is probably a defining feature of "new school", I just don't get it -- and probably never will.

-C said...
March 14, 2012 at 6:59 AM  

Brilliant post!

@Cibet: So? Who cares? If they want to fight it, don't turn it. If they do Dispel Evil or turn and destroy the campaign vampire, awesome! Why would anyone want to dictate the result of an encounter. I wouldn't want to waste my players time or insult them by trying to take away their win from them.

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