Notes on Turning Undead

This comes up every once in awhile, so clarifying a few things.

  • Effective Turning is based on conviction. Are you serious, determined, and fearless? Then you’re turning properly.

  • Turning is not based on volume. We know that some NPC 5 years ago may have said it was (or just got misunderstood), but it’s not. Screaming louder and louder is not effective. In fact, it makes the entire combat very difficult to do, because people have lots of trouble hearing calls, hearing responses, or even thinking straight. When it happens indoors, we get a “wall of sound” that basically destroys everyone’s ability to fight and communicate effectively, and makes some people want to claw their ears out.

  • We have a lot of new NPCs these days, and some of them need training and practice at playing undead and being turned (especially as powerful undead). We’re working on it. Please bear with us.

  • If you think an NPC isn’t “taking” being turned properly, a number of things could be happening. Maybe they’re confused or inexperienced. Maybe that undead is way stronger than you realize. Maybe they think you aren’t displaying good conviction (it’s ultimately their judgement call). Maybe they aren’t undead at all. Getting really loud is never the correct response. Worst case, call a “clarify.” Or try a different tactic. Or just play on.

  • Some information that might help: the more powerful the undead, the harder they are to turn. (This is one way to distinguish between the strongest “skeletons” and the others, even.) The exact effects vary by the number of turners. Sometimes nothing happens and you draw aggro. Sometimes you can just hold them at bay. Sometimes you get to straight up “pop” weaker undead. Sometimes there are a lot of undead and 1 turner can only split their attention between so many. Note: I’m not giving out any of the math or specific detail to this. It’s not your job to police it, and much of it is stuff you can learn through experience.


Am I understanding correctly that it is both the case that “how many people it takes to turn a skeleton” is intended as the only/primary distinctive marker between lower and higher level skeletons, and we should not rely on skeletons to take a number of turners obviously proportional to their beefiness because it’s hard for NPCs to gauge that/remember the rules?

To be clear: I agree that the turning mechanic is often confusing to parse as an NPC; I found it pretty overwhelming when I was a crunchy, especially for the volume/audio-processing reasons you mention. That being said, I have also always felt that the issues highlighted by this post make it pretty confusing from a player side as well - I know some players aren’t even aware that there are different levels of skeleton, and are just under the impression that a lot of NPCs ignore their turns for reasons they can’t figure out.

I think that it is likely the case that you can either make turning complexity the sole apparent distinction between skeletons of different levels or have turning be a mechanic with as much wiggle room for interpretation and confusion as it currently is, and doing both is (and has been) a recipe for frustration. Unlike other monsters, where the difference is just HP or a couple of calls, the difference between a skeleton that takes 1 average mystic and a skeleton that takes 2 (if they look the same) is something along the lines of “does the cool unique mystic skill get to feel like it’s useful or does the mystic feel like the NPC is no-selling their cool unique skill”.

I have no opinions on non-skeleton undead; it’s just awkward when things that look the same and are unambiguously affected by turning either are very different power levels OR are just confused, and trying to resolve a clarify in the cacaphony of an undead fight is usually a non-starter. I for one would be a big fan of skeletons in increasingly fancy hats, or some other kind of visual indicator to specifically handle the situation that I suspect is causing the majority of the frustration/confusion in the status quo

The range of effect for skeletons is partially thus: “weak” and “regular” skeletons will generally be driven back by 1 good turner. “Strong” leader-type skeletons will be merely held at bay (but a second good turner, or such, will drive them back). Obviously this can be complicated by large group fights and assorted weirdshit effects, not to mention safety concerns with indoor crowds.

I’m not really speaking to skeletons being visually indistinguishable from each other. (I mean, sometimes the leader skeletons are, well, leading, but that’s a roleplay thing). As you allude to, many things in the game are like that (grindelow, kobolds, strix, salamanders, spriggans, shades…), and it has generally been the intent that you often can’t tell how strong something is just by looking at it, and monsters do not always behave the same way.

There’s been a long-standing rumor that people were told explicitly to turn louder to turn better. The primary point of this post is to dispel that rumor. The secondary point is to publicize the notion that turning has a spectrum of effects. The tertiary point is to remind people to play nice and play on when things get confusing.

My eardrums definitely appreciate the encouragement to turn smarter, not harder :slight_smile:

I mentioned the other monsters with the intention of pointing out that, unlike other monsters, whether your skill “works” on a skeleton is apparently entirely dependent on how powerful the skeleton is, and since there’s no verbal response indicating that turning isn’t working because it’s not powerful enough, it has the potential to be uniquely frustrating for people trying and failing to use it to troubleshoot.

It sounds from what you’re saying like it is generally the case that a single turner should have some noticeable effect on a skeleton (and again, speaking specifically of skeletons - I know other undead are sometimes different, but that in my experience has rarely been confusing because they look different than Basic Skeletons). It has been my experience, though, that there have been fairly frequent instances of one turner having absolutely no visible effect on a skeleton (i.e. mystic approaches, chanting, talisman up, skeleton immediately slays them).

This is qualitatively different from any other effect in the game because there’s no back-and-forth cleanly indicating what’s going on, which makes the “did they misunderstand or take my hit” question hard to comfortably resolve, and like you said, turning is notoriously shouty, which makes resolving via clarify harder than it is in normal fights. Assuming the skeleton was not held appropriately “at bay” and going about my business is the path of least resistance, but because there’s no unambiguous feedback loop, it’s much more frustrating than a normal call, and opens us up to endless “well either the skeleton isn’t paying attention OR it’s more dangerous than the players thought and there is no way to tell which so it’s not worth changing our tactics on the assumption it might be the latter” conversations that obnoxiously blur the line between IG and OOG frustrated strategizing.

I guess my ultimate point here is: turning is a necessarily ambiguous mechanic, both from player and staff side. This ambiguity is pretty cool! But it also has caused no small amount of frustration on both sides as a result. It seems like it would perhaps be beneficial at some point to evaluate the pain points so it can maximize the interesting inject RP injection into combat without regularly devolving into OOG exasperation. I suspect that doing so would help with making undead fights more fun and pleasant for PC and NPC sides alike, long-term.

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My concern here is that the following all appear exactly the same:

  1. the skeleton is more powerful than one Mystic can turn
  2. the Mystic isn’t showing “enough conviction”
  3. the NPC is distracted and doesn’t notice the Mystic turning
  4. the NPC doesn’t understand the rules

Is the idea that I should stop chanting/turning every once in a while to ask a Clarify to see which of the 4 options is happening? Or is the idea that I should just assume it’s #1?

If I clarify, and the NPC tells me I’m not turning with enough conviction, and I think I am… what should I do to “increase conviction?” (if the answer isn’t volume)

With other enemy types, if they are more powerful, we usually see it in the calls they make or the calls they resist. That’s not the case here - undead don’t say “resist” or “ward” to my turning if they hear it, it’s got enough conviction, and they’re too powerful anyway. That leaves me with a lot of confusion.

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That sounds like an NPC who didn’t know how turning worked, or (maybe) wasn’t aware they were being turned.

Other note: we’ve always had a problem with our mummy costumes being mistaken for skeleton costumes (to be fair, the original mummy mask we used definitely looked like a skull face). And mummies are bad news for lone turners. We have a newer mummy mask now, but anything is hard to distinguish in the dark.

Right, but mummies have millions of venoms, so it’s usually pretty quick to tell which one is which there :slight_smile: big and small skeletons are pretty hard to distinguish by calls alone

An idea for the mummy issue, maybe having a black shirt with a bunch of gauze stitched around it may help differentiate a mummy from a skeleton at a glance?

And maybe in general implementing some obscure yet consistent form of costuming to denote undead power levels to players in a way we can learn over time, or look for if a turning that should work isn’t working so we can diagnose before a clarify if it is a mechanic or a misunderstanding or lack of conviction.

I recall a story I heard where a game placed a circle on the chest of a new form of an established enemy, whereby the players had to figure out that said form of enemy only took their final point of damage when struck in the circle. Having some visual sign that a given undead isn’t a minor or moderate undead may help streamline engagements.

If it were me, I wouldn’t know which of the 4 it is, but I’d just continue playing as if it’s #1. “Hey, that was kinda weird.” I would usually expect the majority of clarifies about this to be “oh, I can’t see shit in this mask, I thought your character was just being angry.” I like to give people the benefit of the doubt like that.

The best advice I’ve heard on how to turn with conviction is:

  • Move forward with confidence, and with faith that you’re not going to die (pushing forward in the front a fight is an effective way to die quickly, but…).
  • Be obvious who you’re going after, and that you don’t fear them.
  • Make sure your talisman is held forth and visible.

If you read between the lines on that, all of those are about helping the NPC notice that they’re being turned, by you, right then. Just, in a way that’s not screaming in their face.

The general idea, in any confusing combat situation, is play on and make the best call you can. (Sometimes that means you get hosed when you otherwise wouldn’t have, sometimes it means you decide to not have lost that spell, etc.) I don’t mean to lecture, but in case newer people are reading, this means that people should never be starting an argument in a fight, or trying to police each other’s rules and stats. Clarify calls are about confusion, not lawyering.

In really egregious cases, staff might quietly pull people aside and/or quietly retcon things.

Maybe its practice, but I can generally tell the difference between an undead I’m keeping at bay via turning, and one not paying attention to my turning. Undead being turned usually keep eye contact and often RP if being held at bay; if they are being driven away its generally obvious. Its really only the folks who seem confused that are an issue – and I have a lot of tolerance and love for new npcs, because you have to start somewhere. Also, I suspect there are times when there are situational modifiers (example: we are in a very necromantic place where turning works less well) so even a “simple” skeleton might not flee.

As a mystic, I sometimes intentionally turn with less conviction. Sometimes I don’t want the skeleton sprinting off in to the darkness, I just want it standing there out of melee range. Sometimes I turn enough to get their attention, and then stop so that they’ll try to close with me while I’m “distracted”. (Spoiler: Its a trap!) Sometimes I’ll turn hard and herd an undead where I want it, or get it to move away before we retreat. I love the tactical stuff you can do with turning.

I have had one NPC tell me I needed to be louder if I wanted to be turning, but not recently; and it sounds like you’ll be clarifying that on the staff side before sending undead out. I wasn’t at the most recent event, but I don’t really remember turning being an issue.

Would more distinctive undead costuming be nice? Absolutely. Am I necessarily going to be able to tell the difference between a “red swirl” skeleton and a “purple spiral” skeleton at night? Unlikely.