My 3rd-level cleric attempted to turn skeletons in a room with an evil altar and a desecrate spell. I rolled a 12 + 2 for Charisma, for a total of 14. On the Turning Undead table, this gives you up to 4th-level undead. My DM said the turning failed. When asked why, he said the -6 penalty on my turning check is subtracted from the 4th level I can turn.

Isn't the -6 taken from the roll of 14, giving me an 8 on my turning check, giving me a -1 level, so I would be able to turn 2 Hit Dice of undead? Or am I misunderstanding how turning undead works?


2 Answers 2


You are essentially correct

The key is that desecrate specifically says "Each Charisma check made to turn undead within this area takes a -3 profane penalty," (later modified to -6 by the presence of the appropriate altar).

When you try to turn, you do these things:

  1. Make a Charisma check (your "turning check")
  2. Look the result up on a table. If the result on the table is high enough to potentially affect any nearby undead, proceed to step 3.
  3. Roll turning damage (not described as a charisma check, though you do add CHA to it)
  4. Apply damage, adjudicate effects.

You correctly identify that the penalty is normally applied to the Charisma check in step 1.

However, note that if all skeletons had at least 3 hit dice (or turn resistance, or were bolstered, etc.), you still would not have been able to turn anything. I would avoid jumping to the conclusion that your DM was "wrong" here, even from a very strict rules-as-written perspective.

If it bothers you, you should likely spend a short time before or after your regular game-time talking to your DM about how it works. And hey - if he really does want those bonuses to go directly to HD values, consecrate and various other bonuses to that check will make you an undead-turning beast!


Rules as Written, you probably have it correct...

...but the usual Rule 0 Caveat* applies.

I wasn't able to find any specific rules about 'evil altars', but the desecrate rules state that you take a -3 profane penalty to your Charisma check. If we assume the evil altar has a similar affect (be it an explicit -6 profane penalty, or -3 of a different type), then that would also apply to your Charisma check, bringing you down to an 8 and thus a cap of level 2 and 2HD of turning.

But as I said, I couldn't find any rules about evil altars, so it is likely homebrew and thus it could function differently.

Either way, if you are still concerned, have a quiet word with your GM. Not accusatory, just to understand how their world works. Perhaps they did get it wrong, or perhaps this place is truly so Evil that the power of Light and Good are all but impotent. Sounds like a good challenge to spice up a boss fight!

* GM is always right

  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess, the second paragraph of desecrate description in your link has enough information on the effect of altars on the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ols
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 7:37

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