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The Player's Handbook on Evil Clerics and Undead only says, "A rebuked undead creature cowers as if in awe (attack rolls against the creature get a +2 bonus). The effect lasts 10 rounds" (159). However, at the table recently there was some discussion as to whether a cleric that had successfully rebuked an undead creature could, first, approach within 10 ft. of that rebuked undead creature then, for instance, for 10 rounds thump on the rebuked undead creature with his handy morningstar—both with impunity.

What got us thinking was Turning Checks on Effect and Duration of Turning saying

Turned undead flee from you by the best and fastest means available to them. They flee for 10 rounds (1 minute). If they cannot flee, they cower (giving any attack rolls against them a +2 bonus). If you approach within 10 feet of them, however, they overcome being turned and act normally. (You can stand within 10 feet without breaking the turning effect—you just can’t approach them.) You can attack them with ranged attacks (from at least 10 feet away), and others can attack them in any fashion, without breaking the turning effect. (159)

We were unsure if that section above was the long description of what occurs generally and the description of rebuked specifically replaced the first two sentences but left the remainder intact, making it so a cleric that rebuked an undead creature can't approach within 10 ft. of the rebuked undead creature without breaking the rebuked condition.

The table felt that it was kind of overpowered that a strict reading enabled a cleric that rebuked an undead creature to approach the undead creature and, for example, take his time setting it on fire, yet a cleric that turned an undead creature is treated as though the undead creature had taken out a restraining order against the cleric that turned it!

That is, unlike the cleric that rebuked an undead creature, the cleric that turned an undead creature that then corners the undead creature is reduced to, like, lobbing sling stones at the turned undead creature, hoping the thing'll be destroyed before it regains its composure… unless the cleric's willing to approach within 10 ft. and end the turned condition so that he can finish off the undead creature more quickly.

Anyway, at the time we agreed that like a cleric that turned an undead creature, a cleric that rebuked an undead creature (which is cowering like a cornered turned undead creature) could not approach within 10 ft. without ending the undead creature's rebuked condition. None of us had a great deal of confidence in this ruling, though.

In all our years of play, we've just never had a dude on Team Protagonist that was consistently capable of rebuking well. (Most folks used their rebuke attempts for other things, but we're currently playing at level 1 and the dude doing the rebuking actually has a significant Charisma score. A first!) I know this might be really darn obvious, and, if so, I apologize, but, for my own peace of mind, is turn undead simply inferior in this case to rebuke undead? That is, if the cleric that rebuked the undead creature wants to, can he really just mosey up to the awed undead creature and for 10 rounds fearlessly club it into paste?

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That... is actually a very good question. I went back into the Player's Handbook to try and find any other rules on the subject. The Glossary makes the difference between the two abilities a bit more clear:

rebuke undead: A supernatural ability to make undead cower by channeling negative energy.

As compared to:

turned: Affected by a turn undead attempt. Turned undead flee for 10 rounds (1 minute) by the best and fastest means available to them. If they cannot flee, they cower.

Per the glossary, the big difference between the two isn't the cowering, it's the fleeing.

So far as I can tell, you are correct in your reading- rebuked creatures don't shake off the awe when clerics approach within 10 feet, allowing them to hammer cowering undead with impunity. Then again, turning undead allows for ranged hammering (which is a slight disadvantage for your average cleric) or for your cleric to pin the undead against a wall while the rest of the party turns them to paste.

More importantly, I don't think the rebuke is overpowered compared to the turning, because although rebuked creatures don't shake off the effects, turned creatures are effectively under the effects of a fear spell, giving you a 3rd level spell effect against certain creatures at level 1. Granted, this ability isn't as awesome at higher levels, but I'd wager that destroying undead outright makes up for it.

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