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The rules seem to imply that the undead have to be within range and sight/earshot only at the beginning of the effect. Which makes sense since part of the feature is that they run away from you and would then cease to be within range at some point. However, what happens if the cleric becomes unconscious or even dies, or is teleported to another city/continent/dimension? The undead would no longer know where to run to since they don't know your location. This leads to an interesting set of questions:

Do the undead track the cleric's location while they are running or are they just too afraid to care to look back? If this is the case, what happens if the cleric moves sideways and the undead running away from the cleric's original position would bring them closer to the cleric?

The implication of the second paragraph seems to be that they will perceive the cleric's new position only if they are getting within 30 feet of them. But then what if the cleric teleports or otherwise moves directly in front of them? Will they just keep running blindly until they reach the effect range and then turn heel?

I suppose the ultimate question is if the cleric is the source of the "fear effect". This seems to be implied by the rule saying that the undead try to run away from the cleric. Which would mean in turn that a disabled or relocated cleric would no longer pose a threat to them if the undead are aware of the cleric's new condition.

PHB page 59: Channel Divinity: Turn Undead

As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring the undead. Each undead that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage.

A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you. It also can't take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there's nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ooh, good question. Historical note: In many earlier editions of the game, turning undead explicitly caused affected undead to flee in terror from the character doing it (even if they were normally mindless or immune to fear). \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Sep 21 at 21:15

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Yes, the effect is for 1 minute

Nothing in the text of Channel Divinity indicates that the effect ends early if something happens to the cleric. The duration is stated as

If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage.

so it will persist for 1 minute, or until the undead take damage. If the cleric is unconscious does not matter.

Nothing in the text indicates that the undead gain any supernatural powers to know where the cleric is at any given time. How you handle it when they cannot ascertain the location of the Cleric any more is up to you, the DM.

Undead have a modicum of Intelligence, even Zombies. They will act to the best of their knowledge. One logical option is that if they turn a corner, they will continue to run from where they think the cleric is.

If the cleric teleports to a spot behind another corner closer than 30 feet of them that they are running to, and they don't know it, they are not willingly moving closer to the cleric. They think they are running away from the cleric, until they see the cleric. Then, they will turn around and run from him or her again.


P.S. Note that there is by default no facing in 5e (there is only an optional rule for it, DMG p. 252), and a creature in combat can see in all directions. So as long as the undead have line of sight to the cleric, they would be able to see the cleric.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm still not sure about this. Imagine the cleric drops dead right in front of the undead's feet. Would it still run away from the corpse? \$\endgroup\$
    – Graybark
    Sep 22 at 11:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Greybark: if the cleric is dead, the cleric is not the cleric any more, but a corpse, soul departed, technically an object. You are right that there would be no reason to further flee from them, as they are not there any more. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22 at 11:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Graybark: They're still fleeing in near-mindless panic for 1 minute from the divine power that put the fear of god into them. For turned undead fairly far from the cleric, the difference between unconscious and dead may not be very visible, and RAW it doesn't say anything about it ending if the cleric falls unconscious. The RAW argument for ending on death is only that "you" aren't you anymore upon death, in a metaphysical sense. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also undead know better than anyone that dead doesn't mean no longer dangerous \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 22 at 16:20

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