Turn Undead says the creatures turned must run away from you. But it also says they can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you.

If I am in a small zombie-infested room, and there's a door across the room through which a creature could escape me, and that door is 25 feet from me, and I turn everything in the room, what happens?

On the one hand, I imagine the Undead could escape out the door. On the other hand, the space on the other side of the door (and all intervening spaces) are within 30 feet of me, so maybe the creatures can't enter those spaces.

Rephrasing the essence of the question: if a creature is already close by and is turned, is it allowed to run away, or is it locked in place?


5 Answers 5


They would be able to move though the space; they simply cannot enter into a space within that 30 feet from outside that range. Otherwise, by that logic any undead within 5 feet would simply be unable to move, as moving away from you requires entering a space 10 feet away from you, which is a space within 30 feet of you. Turn undead is not designed to be used as a means to root undead in place, it's designed to make undead flee away from the person turning them.

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 could also be ruled that, because it cannot flee, being forced to move away from you requires it to unwillingly move closer.

Previous editions stated that undead would move away from you as fast as they could, and if you trapped them where they could not flee without moving towards you they would stay still, but moving closer to such trapped undead would break the the turning effect on them.

One option is that the undead between you and the door that are turned flee through the door by moving normally or using Dash action, while those that are trapped between you and the wall (who cannot reach the door without moving towards you) would move as far away as they can within the room, or stay where they are and may use the Dodge action (per the description of Turn Undead).

Another ruling a DM might make is that if a turned undead is able to end its move further away from the turner than it currently is, then it may move towards the turner in order to get away.

Ultimately the decision at this stage is up to the DM until further rules regarding turn undead are released, or one of the designers chips in.


PHB p.59 states,

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. [...] If there's nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

The "must" tells us that a turned creature does not flee of its own free will; the use of Turn Undead forces it to--must--regardless of its free will. The creature's free will allows it to decide how to move still, with this one stipulation: "and it can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you." There are no other stipulations on its free will.

If it can run in a straight line away from you, it must. If it has to squeeze against a wall to get to the door because you're 32 feet away from the wall, then squeeze it must.

While it's trying to move as far away it can shout taunts, pray to evil gods, or, whatever. If it has any options to move further, it must take them. Does the hipster-vampire have a bonus action that allows it to knit a scarf OR jump 80 feet? Then it must take the jump 80 feet option.

This portion is slightly more opinion, but I think it is patently obvious: It is quite well implied that any method the turned creature knows about which could allow it to get further away, it must use; stated differently, it is strongly implied that the turned creature cannot "play dumb," eg after running to 50 feet away, it can't say "well this hallway will lead me 10 feet back toward the Cleric, and even though I know I can then run 1 million billion miles away, I guess I can't do that, oh darn, I guess I have to wait here for 54 more seconds. Maybe I'll turn invisible and think about an awesome ambush." That's metagaming. Monsters don't know they're in a game. They know this primal feeling when turned:



It seems pretty clear. If moving for the door would require them to move closer to the cleric, even for one square, they cannot do it. They must move away, if possible, and cannot willingly move closer. They can't get to the door if moving toward it would bring them any closer to the turner. Even tangential movement would be disallowed, since they are specifically constrained to move away if at all possible.

Fiction (and real life) is full of situations, where someone fails perform an action which would increase their safety, but require them to do some they are terrified of doing. "Go ahead, bub, pick up the gun. Can you shoot me before I cut you into a shish kabob?" Or "I could get out of this shark cage and onto the boat where I'd be safe, but I have to swim across shark-infested water."

Creatures under the effect of a turning effect are unable to make an move that would allow them to get farther away, if such movement would take them any closer to the source of the turning.


The undead will either

  • bunch up in the spaces further from the source of the turn (corners).

  • make it for the door.

Below, "it" refers to the turned undead. "cleric" refers to the turning source.

Use this algorithm for each turned undead:

  1. It will move towards the door if:

    1. The first "5ft step" towards the door also makes its distance from the cleric equal or greater than before.
    2. Repeat the previous step, or go to the option below:
  2. It will move towards one of the corners of the room otherwise.

The option (2.) will make piles of animated corpses on the corners of the room as undead will bunch up in the same space on the corners. Good luck balancing all the miniatures in one space. Makes for a nice exercise. Just take care not to break anything when separating them later.

Rationale (all bold text added by me):

A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can.

So the movement is involuntary, forced.

From the movement rules:

you can’t willingly end your move in its space

The undead will just bunch up and cower on the corners of the room. Then they will take the dodge action until the turn effect is lifted. They are not there because they want.


Here's the relevant rules text, described the turned condition:

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.

Clarifying the 2nd Clause

Let's start with the second clause, because it's the confusing part.

it can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you

The literal reading implies that any undead within 30 feet of you can't move at all, since all the space around it is within 30 feet of you. That doesn't seem to match the intent of making the undead run away, especially since 30 feet is the range of the spell. I have to conclude that this is just one of the many poorly worded rules in 5e, where the rules as written do not match the intent. That being said, it's not clear what the intent of this clause actually is. I think it's easier to just ignore it, but I've seen two fairly reasonable interpretations:

  1. The creature cannot end its movement within 30 feet of the caster. This might result in the creature not being able to move at all if it is quite slow, in which case it would just dodge.
  2. Once the creature is more than 30 feet away from the caster, it cannot move back within 30 feet unless by forced movement, even if the only path to get further away from the caster than its current location would require it to do so.

The second interpretation seems to make the most sense. The undead has to run away, but once it gets at least 30 feet away, it has some freedom in how it proceeds from there. Getting back within 30 feet is just too terrifying, however, so it won't risk it, even if doing so could eventually allow it to get even further away.

Clarifying the 1st Clause

Here's the main part of the condition:

A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can

I would look at this not as further at every moment, which would necessarily be a straight line directly away from the cleric or along an obstacle, but as the farthest point from the cleric at the end of the creature's turn.

So, imagine that there is a skeleton 10 feet in front of a cleric, with a wall 10 feet behind the skeleton, at the end of a long hallway that ends in a dead end. The skeleton might run into the corner at the end of the hallway and stop, but it's only about 15 feet from the cleric. Instead, it could run past the cleric and dash down the hallway, getting maybe 50 feet from the cleric. Fifty feet is further than fifteen feet, so that's moving as far away from the cleric as it can.

The second clause doesn't seem to come into play here, although it might in a very large room with one entrance/exit. In that situation, the skeleton might run directly away from the cleric at first (and also away from the door), as that results in it getting as far away as it can on the first turn. Then, after that, it might try to move toward the door, but circling around the cleric at at least 30 feet, too afraid to get any closer.

Suggested Algorithm

Since the rule doesn't appear to make sense as written, and we understand that the creature should run away, while trying to avoid getting closer to the cleric, I would do this:

  1. Determine the furthest possible distance the creature can move this turn. This is probably moving and dashing, but could involve other actions depending on the creature and situation. Jumping off a cliff and letting gravity do the work could get the creature very far away, for example.

  2. Compare all the possible locations at which the creature could end its turn, including its current location. Among the available locations, choose the one that is farthest from the cleric. If there is a tie, choose the one that would give the creature the best opportunity to get even further away on its next turn.

  3. The creature moves to the location determined in 2. If the creature didn't move, because there was nowhere better to go, it dodges.

  4. Repeat until the creature is no longer turned.

In step 2, you might add "If the creature is already 30 feet or more from the cleric, don't include paths that require the creature to pass within 30 feet of the cleric." I don't think this is necessary, really, since we're only going to consider paths where the creature ends further away than they started, which was already more than 30 feet away. If they happen to pass within 30 feet of the cleric in the pursuit of getting even further away, no big deal.

Alternative Approach

If that's too complicated, here's an alternative algorithm, which doesn't really match the rules text. It would instead be summarized by "a turned creature moves as far away from the cleric as possible, and cannot move closer".

  1. If there is no obstacle, the creature moves away from the cleric in a straight line.

  2. Or, if there is a straight or convex obstacle in the way, like a wall or a tree, the creature moves along the obstacle in whichever direction moves them farther away. If the obstacle is at a right angle to the direct line away from the cleric, pick whichever direction gives the shortest path to another escape route. If it's still even (maybe it's the middle of a dead end), just pick left or right at random.

  3. Or, if there is a concave obstacle in the way, like a corner or the inside of a round room, then the creature can't move further away and dodges.

  4. Repeat each turn as long as the creature is turned.

To Answer the Question

As long as they can get further away on their turn, they keep running away. They might get trapped if they aren't very fast and you don't get too close.

In the specific situation of a small room, with creatures with normal move speed, they should run out the door.

If you use the alternative approach, then they would be trapped.


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