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Turn Undead

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Avaunt, soulless hellspawn!

A standard spell which causes The Undead to panic or be destroyed, depending on the work.

The idea may have come from one of two possible sources, both connected with vampirism. One is the movie trope of a religious person repelling a vampire by using a cross. The other is an old superstition actually practiced in the middle ages on bodies suspected of being vampires. Apparently, one of the ways to stop such a corpse from rising was to literally turn it, burying it face-down to make it "bite the dust and not people". The idea could also be influenced by the religious practice of exorcism, or driving away evil spirits or demons. Probably, there is also some connection with the more general Christian practices of exorcism, which go back all the way to New Testament times.

If such a power is imbued into a weapon rather than a character, then it's a specific case of Weapon of X-Slaying instead of this trope.

Subtrope of Holy Hand Grenade. Closely related to Revive Kills Zombie. Can be a side effect of the Care-Bear Stare. Can be a possible way to make Fearless Undead run away. Contrast Cross-Melting Aura. Not to be confused with Animate Dead and its logical conclusion, Zombify the Living. If a character is turning into an undead creature rather than turning them away, see And Then John Was a Zombie.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Featured in L'Armée du Nécromant ("The Necromancer's Army") — the first album of the Comic-Book Adaptation for Kaamelott, parodying both Arthurian Legends and Tabletop RPGs. King Arthur and his knights going on a mission to investigate a surge of zombies, they bring Father Blaise with them, on the principle that priests are supposed to have powers against The Undead. However, Blaise never tried this before, and all his attempts are failures. Except at a critical moment toward the end, after hours of prayer, where he obliterates a group of giant zombies, almost accidentally (and fries his holy symbol in the process).

    Comic Strips 
  • Being a Dungeons & Dragons-themed series, Piffany the cleric in Nodwick can of course do this. She calls it "de-naughtifying."

    Fan Works 
  • In My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return, the paladin incantation used by Applejack to wipe out the undead horde that is closing on them. It's dangerous (she says there is a risk of all of them dying in the process) and quite lengthy (necessitating the other mages to set up a protective barrier in the meantime) but very efficient in the end.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God, the party's cleric uses Turn Undead on a horde of specters sent after them by a lich.
  • Attempted in The Mummy, where the shady Beni tries to use various holy symbols to turn the title mummy away. It doesn't work. When he tries to use the Jewish holy symbol with Hebrew incantations, though, Imhotep recognizes the language and decides to make him his slave instead, as the ancient Hebrews were once the slaves of the Egyptians. It also means there's someone around who can actually understand him, which is a plus when you're trying to rule over people.
  • Filipino film Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Moveeh has the villagers, led by the eponymous heroine, doing a musical number on the steps of a church which ends with the crowd forming a cross, which results in vaporizing the invading zombies. And no, that's not the most outrageous part of this movie.

  • Fighting Fantasy:
    • Most books with many undead enemies provide you with a spell that can banish them without fight, notably in Knights of Doom.
    • In Dead of Night, one of the talents you can choose as the Demon-Stalker is "Banish Undead" which, well, banish undead monsters. It's also the Achilles' Heel of the Blight Demons.
    • The Keep of the Lich-Lord features the Charm of Unbinding, an exceptionally powerful variation that obliterates every undead around at once, and can prove vital against the Big Bad.
    • Night of the Necromancer uses it as a twist: Since you are a ghost, many characters mistaking you for an evil spirit will use it against you.
  • Lone Wolf: In The Buccaneers of Shadaki, just showing the Moonstone (a powerful Good Artifact) to an undead immediately destroys it.

  • In The Faraway Paladin, after making his vow to Gracefeel (the Goddess overseeing souls entering the cycle of rebirth), Will gains a benediction of Divine Torch. It can immediately send off undead around him, making it useful considering one of his primary antagonists is the God of Undeath.
  • In Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead an anti-zombie formula is developed. Just a drop landing on a zombie will revert it into a normal corpse. Also, for other uses of "Turn Undead", a Cheerful Child turns to an Undead Child under the control of a Necromancer-y scientist, but makes a Heel–Face Turn and helps the heroes in the climax.
  • Dumbledore uses fire to this extent in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when he and Harry are cornered by the zombie-like Inferi. But instead of burning them like you'd expect with fire, he merely uses it to drive them back into the lake where they'd been lying. Time, and Dumbledore's weakened state, is implied to be why he didn't destroy them.
  • "Living" Vampires in I Am Legend flee from religious symbols, albeit this seems to be more a psychosomatic reaction due to their previous religious upbringing (a Jewish vampire is immune to crosses but fears the "Meguen David").
  • KonoSuba: Aqua's "Turn Undead" and "Sacred Turn Undead" are her only consistently useful combat skills, capable of inflicting heavy damage even to very powerful undead beings. Unfortunately, being The Millstone of her party, her holy aura is so strong that lost souls can detect it from vast distances... meaning that she's usually the reason why undead are attacking in the first place.

  • Dice Funk: As a cleric, Anne has access to the spell, but it's actually Rinaldo who attempts this by apologizing profusely to the undead victims of The Stoneroot Massacre.

  • Amtgard, which has its roots in Dungeons & Dragons, gives Turn Undead to the Monk class, which forces the targeted undead to avoid the monk for a 1000 count. And also gives Banish to Healers, which temporarily kills an undead. For clarification on "temporarily": Banish makes an undead stay out of the game for a 500 count, which is longer than a normal death, but does not count against their allotted number of lives.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons is probably the Ur-Example (and Trope Namer).
    • Turn Undead is a power of clerics and paladins; it causes one or more undead to panic, or be obliterated if the cleric is sufficiently stronger than the undead. The earliest editions also allowed you to turn demons and other denizens of the Lower Planes if you were at a high enough level to do so.
    • Then there is Turn Undead's Evil Counterpart, "Rebuke Undead", which enslaves weak undead rather than destroying them. Evil clerics can also "Bolster Undead" which makes them more resistant to turning.
    • In some settings there are the "Deathless", Good Counterparts of The Undead. The roles are reversed here: they can be turned by evil clerics and rebuked or bolstered by good ones.
    • And if the cleric has one of the elemental Domains, they can rebuke creatures of that element and turn creature of its opposite.
    • This became something of a Game-Breaker in 3.5 Edition. Owing to Turn Undead mostly being a Useless Useful Spell, spending turn attempts became a common cost for powerful abilities for Clerics, limited by the few charges a Cleric had each day. Adding the ability to turn something else doubled the reserve, and since Clerics could get 2-3 Domains, it meant heavy hitters like Divine Metamagic (add extra spell effects and pay for them with turn attempts instead of increased spell levels... including the ability to cast an extra spell each turn as a free action) could be used many extra times each day.
    • The Sun Domain in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition allows for a once-a-day use of "greater turning", in which if a normal turning attempt would turn the undead, it would instead totally destroy it. Complete Divine has a prestige class that allows you to do Greater Turning more times a day.
    • The Epic Level Handbook, which contains rules for characters past the level cap of 20, lets epic clerics and paladins gain a permanent aura of turning. Instead of using one of their limited turn attempts, they can just sit back and watch as lesser undead "dust" themselves by getting too close.
    • Just don't expect the "obliterate" option to work in Ravenloft, where scaring undead off is the best result you can reasonably expect.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition continues this trend, not only by including the classic "Turn" and "Rebuke", but also by adding such powers as "Smite Undead" and "Abjure Undead".
    • Fifth Edition, similarly to 3rd, acknowledges that Turn Undead is generally a Useless Useful Spell. At the same time, it's too iconic of an ability to rule out. Fifth Edition Clerics gain a "Channel Divinity" power on a long cooldown at level 2, determined by their Domain. All Clerics also gain Turn Undead as a bonus Channel Divinity ability, sharing the same pool of charges as the generally more applicable ability they get from their subclass.
    • Wizards get in on the action too, with spells like destroy undead and undeath to death.
  • Exalted:
    • The Zenith Caste have the innate ability to deal hideous amounts of damage to the undead, as well as the ability to touch a corpse and grant it an instant cremation, ensuring the corpse won't rise as a zombie and the higher soul will enter the cycle of reincarnation.
    • Beyond the Zeniths, there are a number of charms with the Holy keyword that do grievous damage to "creatures of darkness" (including demons, undead, and Unshaped raksha).
    • Sidereals have a number of powers dedicated to killing undead in a very painful fashion. All that needs to be said about them is that most of these powers are in the Medicine tree, while the main healing stuff is in Archery. Sids are weird.
  • GURPS has a few spells that do things like this. There is also the True Faith advantage which has an enhancement (called Turning) that makes this possible without a spell.
  • In Munchkin, this trope is:
    • Parodied: the Wannabe Vampire can be banished (and its treasures collected) by a Cleric saying "booga booga" to it.
    • Also played straight: both the Warrior and the Cleric have the ability to trade in cards for a one-shot bonus in combat (up to three cards per fight). The Cleric's bonus is fully three times as high as the Warrior's, but only effective against undead monsters.
  • Pathfinder, a derivative of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, gives clerics, paladins, oracles, and warpriests the "Channel Positive Energy" feature in place of 3E's version of Turn Undead, implementing it as an Area of Effect burst of positive energy that can be used either to heal living beings or harm undead (for Good-aligned clerics; Evil clerics, and Neutral clerics who so choose, instead get Channel Negative Energy, which harms the living and heals undead). Affected creatures get a Will save to take half damage, in place of the overly complicated Hit Dice formula that 3E used. An additional feat that is actually titled "Turn Undead" lets the user choose to make affected enemies flee from the user instead of damaging them (Will negates).
  • Despite taking place in a Darker and Edgier Crapsack World, Vampire: The Masquerade has a very rare trait called "True Faith" which allows a person to actually drive off vampires by brandishing holy symbols at them; normally they laugh at such attempts. At higher levels, even hearing such a person pray can make a vampire flee or grovel.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The God of the Dead Morr marks some of his Priests so that their presence is a Supernatural Fear Inducer to undead, who are normally immune.

    Video Games 
  • In Age of Wonders, every races' "priest" unit, with the obvious exception of the Undead Doom Priest, gets the Turn Undead ability. The Highmen Paladin (cavalry unit) also gets this ability. If it hits, it damages and stuns the target for three turns. It's most useful against the Undead Wraith, a weak unit with physical immunity which is otherwise difficult to even attack for most low level units.
  • The Avernum series has the Dispel Spirit spell under Priest Magic. It can only effect undead but inflicts heavy irresistible damage.
  • In the Breath of Fire series of games, there is the spell "Kyrie" which instantly kills all Undead enemies present in the battle. Even bosses, which is why most of the installments that had this spell tried to avoid undead bosses or simple made the spell unavailable till after said undead bosses. Usually learned by the Nina of that installment.
  • In Chrono Cross, the spell HolyLight — already powerful — automatically kills undead enemies.
  • Crossfire has both Turn Undead, which inflicts fear upon the undead, as is standard, and, less specifically, Holy Word and Holy Wrath, which damage only creatures considered to be enemies of your god, whatever they might be.
  • Dante's Inferno has this in the form of Absolve finishers, though it effects demons as well as the dead.
  • In Diablo and its sequel, there are three types of enemy: animal, demon, and undead. For each of the latter two, there are possible item enchantments that do extra damage. The first game also features the Holy Bolt spell, which specifically harms only undead. In the sequel, this is one of several anti-undead attacks available to the Paladin, who also has an Aura called Sanctuary which pushes Undead away from the character and hurts them a bit. Its main use is to keep the Pally from getting dogpiled. It also greatly increases your melee damage on undeads.
  • Dragon's Crown has the D-B-G (Dead Be Gone) Rune Spell, which kills all of the enemy undead you're currently fighting.
  • Dungeon Crawl has the Recite ability for followers of Zin, god of law and purity, which can apply a number of negative statuses to undead and other unholy creatures. The Disrupt Undead spell is a non-Holy Hand Grenade variation as it is actually a Necromancy spell itself.
  • Dungeons & Dragons-based games:
    • Baldur's Gate: Also based off the D&D rules, the game amusingly takes it a step further by making undead who are outclassed enough literally explode into Ludicrous Gibs.
    • Dungeons & Dragons Online pretty much follows the tabletop game rules with the Cleric class. Includes the ability to take additional feats and enhancements to improve your ability further, such as being able to turn more undead or more powerful undead than your level would otherwise allow. The Evil Counterpart "Rebuke Undead" returns as necromancy spell "Command Undead" for Wizard class. Should you specialize necromancy on Archmage Enhancement, you can cast it without spell materials by the time when you reach Lv2 Spell specialization.
    • Eye of the Beholder: This is a power for the cleric or the paladin, along with the 2nd edition rules.
      • In Eye of the Beholder, it is an automatic function, as long as the character is holding a holy symbol.
      • Starting with Eye of the Beholder 2: The Legend of Darkmoon, it becomes a selectable action like any spell-casting, though not limited in use.
    • Icewind Dale: Baldur's Gate's sister game operates on much the same principles, and here too sufficiently outclassed undead will explode into bits when successfully turned.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, this spell effect causes undead to flee. Skyrim now has master level spells; the master Restoration spell "Bane of the Undead" now not only sends undead fleeing in fear, but also burns them, causing damage over time. If they die from the spell, instead of a corpse or a pile of bones, they leave behind ashes (which means that they can't be resurrected by necromancy). Using Bane of the Undead onto the living makes them overreact and potentially become hostile however, because of the Fire Damage, even though it does no harm to them.
  • This is one of the spells you can mix up in Elvire II: Jaws of Cerberus thanks to the spellbook, though there's only enough ingredients available for one charge (or two if you mix it under Brain Boost). Less useful than you'd think given the setting is a horror studio being taken over by demonic forces. In fact, it's only useful once, to defeat the flesh eating zombie guarding the meat locker in the haunted house set. It is flat out useless against any of the other undead running around, such as the skeletons roaming the catacombs set or the vampires nesting in the attic.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy has the Dia line of spells, which only harm undead opponents. In all subsequent installments, Cure is used in place of Dia. In fact, it got its name in the Japanese version as an abbreviation of "dispel undead".
    • Final Fantasy V has Requiem, a song for the Bard job class which deals heavy damage to all undead enemies.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has a couple of specifically anti-undead abilities and spells: Exorcise and Burial might permanently remove an active undead (when they lose their HP they come back after a few turns if you don't do anything) and always removes inactive ones, Sanctify is like Exorcise except with a range and area of effect, and Requiem removes inactive undead from play while heavily damaging active ones. Bonus points for the one-line help option actually referring to Burial, Exorcise, and Sanctify's effects as Turn Undead.
    • Exorcise and Burial are also present in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic III, Destroy Undead is an air magic spell that deals damage to all undead creatures on the battlefield. Necropolis has an inverted version called Death Ripple, an earth spell that damages all living creatures. Destroy Undead is overall a lot more powerful, since normally only Necropolis has undead creatures.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Goddess Shield will cause Cursed Bokoblins (basically undead) to cover their faces and back away slowly in fear when brandished at them.
  • In Ley Lines, the Sunbeam spell and the priest's Exorcism ability work only against undead troops, and have a pretty good chance of obliterating them.
  • Light Crusader's version is a ranged magic spell that can instantly kill undead enemies, including the otherwise-stubborn skeletons, poisonous zombies, and ghosts that can bombard you with fireballs.
  • In Might and Magic, the turn undead spell deals vast amounts of fire damage, but only to undead.
  • NetHack actually has two versions of this:
    • The spell Turn Undead (and the Wand of Undead Turning) damage a single undead monster and make it flee, but when used on a corpse it "turns" it into undead — in other words, brings it back to life. The latter is generally the more useful function, as it allows the revival of powerful pets, while most high-level undead have a good chance of resisting the former effect.
    • There's also the special ability limited to the Priest and Knight roles, which affects every undead and demonic creature you can see within a huge Ao E. It does no damage, but has a chance to kill outright, and those that survive will flee. However it leaves you a sitting duck for up to five turns, so using it is a bad idea if there's a non-undead enemy nearby.
  • In Quest for Glory V, the paladin's Destroy Undead ability that blow undead to chunk of bits, at the cost some of your stamina.
  • Ragnarok Online has this for the Priest class, which either deals minor damage to an Undead monster, or deals enough damage to outright kill them.
  • RuneScape used to have a "Crumble Undead" spell early on in the standard spellbook. However, it is kind of weak compared to later spells.
  • This is Ryuna's basic ability in Shining Tears, as part of her role as the White Mage. Considering how many Undead enemies appear early on, it really comes in handy.
  • Sunless Skies: Subverted with the events aboard the Wreck of the Boatman: When presented with an entire crew of undead, one of the options is to try and turn them away with prayer. But since these undead are a strange sort of Revenant Zombie caused by time buggery and not unholy in the least, they actually join you in this prayer, and thank you afterwards for lifting their spirits before explaining what's going on.
  • Total War: Warhammer III: Legendary Hero of Chaos Harald Hammerstone has an aura that does this, removing the undead attribute from undead, causing them to route (when normally they suffer damage instead of routing), but also preventing them from receiving any kind of vampiric healing, be it from spells or a Corpse Cart aura.
  • In Trials of Mana, Charlotte's High Cleric class has access to the Undead Away spell. It can do 999 damage to any undead to the game, including her path's final boss, the Dark Lich, if she is high enough level, for a mere 1MP. In the remake, it doesn't do as much damage on hit, but it has a chance to instantly disintegrate undead mooks outright. It also significantly harms undead bosses Dark Lich and Malocchio, though she might want to use Holy Bolt instead, which costs 5 MP compared to Undead Away's 8.
  • In Ultima III, the spell Pontori (or "Undead" in the NES port) is a low-level Cleric spell that has a 50% chance of instantly killing Skeletons, Zombies and Ghouls, similar to the Wizard spell Repond/Repel, which has a similar effect on Orcs, Goblins and Trolls.
  • In Wandering Hamster, the glimmer item is specifically made to kill skeleton enemies for good (otherwise, they just keep respawning unless you run away).
  • Wild ARMs series:
    • Tim Rhymeless of Wild ARMs 2 has this spell with the same name and effect. It can even instant kill undead bosses (hint hint).
    • Yulie Ahtreide from Wild ARMs 4 has her "Sanctify" and "Hi-Sanctify" spells. They are very powerful, and the latter can one-shot any undead enemy regardless of its HP. However, there's only a handful on undead enemies in the game, leaving its usefulness a bit limited.
    • Sacred Slayer class from Wild ARMs XF has the same "Sanctify" spell, as well as wielding special sabers, that kill the undead in one hit on a Critical Hit.
  • One of the paladin's spells in World of Warcraft was originally Turn Undead. It's now called Turn Evil and extends to demon targets in addition to undead ones. World of Warcraft paladins also have a Holy Hand Grenade spell called "Holy Wrath" which affects everything, but stuns undead and demons.

  • From Goblins, Forgath the dwarf cleric uses Turn Undead on a swarm of zombies (created from alternate universe doubles of his party). More keeps coming, though.
  • Uriel (an Anglican minister in RL) of Little Tales usually gets annoyed when Gen asks if he can scare off vampires. Though he does once wonder if a zombie priest can turn himself.
  • Parodied in Oglaf, where after a successful turning attempt, instead of driving the undead away, the cleric orders them to have sex with each other for her amusement.
  • The Order of the Stick, being based on Dungeons & Dragons, features several examples.
    • Durkon once gets overenthusiastic with the power, using it every time he mishears something vaguely indicating an undead's presence.
      Durkon: A lich is binding ghouls? TURN UNDEAD!
      Roy: Okay, now you're stretching it.
      Vaarsuvius: Sweet merciful gods, my poor useless eyes!
    • In the big fight ending Book 1, Durkon yells "Turn Undead!", which Redcloak counters with "Bolster Undead!" Not wanting to be left out, Belkar shouts "Stab Undead!" while doing so.
    • "Negative Feelings": Redcloak and a hobgoblin cleric versus the ghost-martyrs shows the reversal against deathless mentioned in the Tabletop Games section above, by using negative energy to turn the positive spirits.
    • "Elan Would Be So Proud": Ho Thanh the Paladin turns some Wights by using his katana as divine focus. Good thing this isn't 1st Edition, or Tsukiko would have turned him in turn.
    • "Spell Check": Durkon vs. Malack. Unfortunately, since the vampire is also a cleric, he can bolster himself.
    • "Next Week They're Getting Drab": A young gnome cleric tries to turn Vampire Durkon. But since she's too low level (and vampires tend to be quite resistant anyway) it has absolutely no effect.
      "Durkon": Turn? Ye couldnae turn a year older on yer birthday.
    • Clerics of Loki also have this ability despite the normal alignment restrictions, as demonstrated by Hilgya Firehelm. This is because Loki thinks the undead are disgusting: "lo, they are such gross, icky things."
    • Very early on, Rich Burlew made a strip that was a pun on the phrase "turn undead": in it, Durkon literally turned into an undead creature, and Roy didn't understand that when his comrades told him, thinking they referred to the Turn Undead ability. Though Rich decided not to publish that strip, since the party had no means to undo this development at the time, the idea eventually evolved from a one-off pun to a full-fledged plot arc. The strip was eventually published as a bonus strip in the compilation book Blood Runs in the Family, in which Malack turns Durkon into a vampire.
  • In PronQuest (a NSFW MMPORG parody webcomic), a Paladin following instructions on how to "Turn Undead" does so... by giving their skulls a quarter-turn.
  • Rusty and Co. is another comic based on D&D:
    • Turn Undead is what happened to the Princess's wight boyfriend. (Mimic understood something different, though...)
    • In Level 9, Madeline uses her Paladin power to chase a gaggle of zombies that are swarming Y.T.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: Lord Lewstrom VII is at last, after many years, reunited with his sister Ata the High Priestess. Too bad that by this time he has become a lich, and Ata's first reflex is to blast him with holy power. "BEGONE UNDEAD!"


    Web Videos 
  • JourneyQuest: This Web video series brings us the undead cleric Carrow, who had the misfortune of becoming a Revenant Zombie thanks to Magic Misfire while serving Vieris, the undead-hating god.
    • He once turns a large group of zombies while wandering though a city of other undead. Unfortunately, he looks at his holy symbol and accidentally turns himself, running off farther into the horde of undead who don't react in any way.
    • Bonus points for later trying to turn Death herself... and accidentally blowing his own arm off in the process.


Video Example(s):


Turn Undead

Under normal circumstances, Turn Undead can barely effect someone of Ainz's power. But since Aqua is a goddess, it causes him much more pain than he was ready for.

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