Turning Through the Ages

In our last session we played with the B/X Changelist I posted earlier to see what it was like.  It was pretty good, but last session was dominated by a visit to town, so I’ll give it another session before really calling a verdict.  We did discover a few small problems, and one big one.  One of my players who plays a cleric asked if we would use the B/X turning chart or the LL one.  I hadn’t realized they were significantly different — turns out they are.

I decided to also look at other versions of the turning chart to get some historical insight on how the chart has changed over time.  I was surprised to see that it changes radically from one edition to the next.  Rather than post all the charts here to compare, I wrote up a spreadsheet (in open office) that you can download.  I also have that as a PDF for easier reading.  In both the first page is the raw charts from various editions of D&D, and the second page has them all translated into percentage values, as some editions use different size and numbers of dice.  Below is some discussion about the key differences I discovered in various editions:


Always the starting point, OD&D looks pretty similar to the charts I’m used to looking at from B/X and Labyrinth Lord.  It’s a 2d6 chart based on level vs. type of undead.  In my pdf I include the HD of the undead in parenthesis, as later systems will convert to HD based rather than call out specific monster types.  One thing that is interesting here is that the HD of some common undead is lower than I expected.  Skeletons are only 1/2 HD, and zombies 1 HD.  More on that in the B/X section.


B/X gives us exactly the same chart as OD&D, but the HD of the lower level monsters has changed.  This gives us the odd presence of two rows for 2 HD monsters (zombies and ghouls).  Of course, anyone that’s ever fought either will tell you that ghouls are way tougher than zombies and kind of deserve their own row.  Frankly, I kind of think OD&D did it right here from a mechanical vantage of having a unique row per HD, but on the other hand I just can’t seem to swallow skeletons having the same hit points as goblins.


In AD&D we get the switch to a d20, which forced me to convert all the charts to percentages so I could actually compare them.  (Probabilities for 2d6 shamelessly stolen from this site.)  The other thing AD&D introduces us to is a wider band of possibilities.  This is likely due to their also adding many more same-HD entries (look at how many 4 HD rows we have!)  Another oddity is the sometimes presence of a 19 value (levels 1-3, 9-13).  Also note that compared to B/X, AD&D is much slower to grant destruction.  A level 8 B/X cleric can destroy a 4 HD wraith, the same ability is not granted in AD&D until 14th level.


The 3.0 SRD switches us to HD based rather than specific monster based rows.  It also introduces a modifier to the roll, based on Charisma for some unknown reason.  For comparison’s sake I assume a cleric with no modifier, which essentially turns all those 22’s into not possible.  Given 3.0’s permissive ability rolling, I suspect this is probably not realistic.  Another interesting thing to note is the algorithmic autoturn.  In fact, I had to extrapolate this entire chart as the SRD just gives equations based on HD of undead and level of cleric.  The interesting is that by the chart auto-turning happens if the cleric is more than 2x the HD of the monster.  Given the presence of a “1” entry in the chart though (which is also essentially an auto-turn, except for you clerics with a very low Charisma), this means that auto-turn is basically non-existent until level 9.

Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth Lord is very interesting.  Here we revert back to a 2d6 mechanic, but expanded from B/X to include a wider band of chances.  Compare 5th level for example.  At 5th level a LL cleric has an 8% chance of turning a 7 HD monster, a power the same B/X character won’t get until 6th level.  On the other hand, the B/X 5th level cleric is automatically destroying 1-2 HD undead (skeletons and zombies), which the LL cleric won’t get to do until level 7.  It’s like the LL cleric gets a more gradual curve, with low chances (but still a chance) of turning more powerful undead earlier, while the B/X cleric has a sharper curve that automatically turns or destroys less powerful undead sooner.  Also of note, LL has special text in the ghoul entry noting that it turns as if it’s a 3 HD undead, but still only counts for 2 HD when totalling HD turned.  This is a curious ‘fix’ for the lack of a special ghoul row in the chart.

So I’m not seeing a clear winner here.  AD&D and 3.0 are just too far different to even consider.  OD&D and B/X are virtually the same, while LL is what we’ve been using to date and is better in some ways and worse in others.  I think ultimately I’m tempted to go with B/X for no reason other than it’s one less thing to put on the changelist.


7 thoughts on “Turning Through the Ages

  1. You also need to look at what gets turned on a successful roll. In OD&D you turn 2d6 monsters, in most later editions you turn 2d6 hit dice. That means under later editions you’ll probably never turn more than one vampire or 2 wights.

  2. Two very minor typo corrections: (1) “swallow skeletons having the same hit points as goblins”, think you mean “kobolds”; (2) in the spreadsheet, AD&D wraiths don’t have 4HD, they have 5+3 (MM p. 102).

    On that latter point: Just look at all the “core” undead from OD&D (excluding latecomers shadows, ghasts, etc.) Then as I’ve pointed out before, all of them in AD&D get exactly a +1 HD boost with the exception of the ghouls that you highlight. So I would be pretty quick to say that ghouls “should” get 3HD to fit the rest of the system there.

    But on the other hand, I’ve come to not mind OD&D stats as written. Zombies are 1HD, same as a normal man’s body. Skeletons obviously have even less there, so 1/2HD doesn’t bother me much (and allows PCs to maybe chop through bigger hordes thereof).

  3. I’m pretty sure the Charisma modifier in 3.0 D&D is because Charisma is explicitly strength of personality. So a high-Charisma cleric has a very strong presence and force of personality, so he’s better able to force away or otherwise back down the undead. I mean, it affect Intimidation too, so it’s not just how likable you are.

  4. @Delta – Good points. The goblins thing always surprises me – for some reason I expect goblins and kobolds to have the same HD. Clearly though goblins are 1-1 and kobolds 1/2. Either way, I think it’s still valid to say that I’m surprised that skeletons would have less or the same HD as either of these smaller, weaker monsters. The AD&D wraiths are surely just a typo though, and when I have the original doc I created the PDF from (it’s on my work computer) I will try to update it.

    @Peter – That may very well have been their reasoning, but it sounds bizarre to me. The idea that the living dead would care how strong a personality the priest has seems ridiculous. I envision the undead recoiling from the manifestation of the deity’s power, not from any force of will the cleric himself can bring to bear. I imagine the roll to be more indicative of the susceptibility of the group of undead rather than anything to do with the abilities of the cleric.

  5. @Jeff – I was not aware of that detail of the turning rules in OD&D. I suppose that’s yet another indication that the strength of turning undead increased greatly between OD&D and B/X, despite the fact that the chart looks identical. I wonder how aware the authors were of this change, or if they just blindly copied the chart without thought to what they were implicitly changing.

  6. Re: Charisma in 3E — I totally agree with Paul (although I’m always surprised at how widespread the support is for what 3E did with the interpretation for it).

  7. Also: I was just reminded that bumping ghouls up to 3HD was something that I specified in my “Diminutive d20” rules from a few years ago.

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