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The idea may have come from one of two possible sources, both connected with vampirism. One is the movie trope of a religious person repelling a vampire by using a cross. The other is an old superstition actually practiced in the medieval on bodies suspected of being vampires. Apparently, one of the ways to stop such a corpse from rising was to literally turn it, burying it face-down to make it "bite the dust and not people".
Subtrope of Holy Hand Grenade. Closely related to Revive Kills Zombie. Can be a side effect of the Care Bear Stare. Contrast Cross-Melting Aura. If a character is turning into an undead creature rather than turning them away, see And Then John Was a Zombie.
Anime & Manga
- Melissa and the other priestesses of Mylee have this ability in Rune Soldier Louie.
- Etoh in Record of Lodoss War uses this ability now and then.
- Slayers: Amelia uses the spell "Megiddo Flare" with the help of a stone of binding in one episode.
- Spoofed in the card game, where a Cleric can turn a Wannabe Vampire just by saying "booga booga" at it.
- Also played straight: both the Warrior and the Cleric have the ability to trade in cards for a one-shot bonus in combat (up to three cards per fight). The Cleric's bonus is fully three times as high as the Warrior's, but only effective against undead monsters.
- Featured in L'Armée du Nécromant ("The Necromancer's Army") -- the first album of the Comic Book Adaptation for Kaamelott, parodying both Arthurian Legends and Tabletop RPGs. King Arthur and his knights going on a mission to investigate a surge of zombies, they bring Father Blaise with them, on the principle that priests are supposed to have powers against The Undead. However, Blaise never tried this before, and all his attempts are failure. Except at a critical moment toward the end, after hours of prayer, where he obliterates a group of giant zombies, almost accidentally (and fries his holy symbol in the process).
Films -- Live-Action
- Attempted in The Mummy Trilogy, where the shady Beni tries to use various holy symbols to turn the title mummy away. It doesn't work. When he tries to use the Jewish holy symbol with Hebrew incantations, though, Imhotep decides to make him his slave instead, as the ancient Hebrews were once the slaves of the Egyptians. It also means there's someone who can actually understand him, which is a plus when you're trying to rule over people.
- Dungeons and Dragons is probably the Ur Example (and Trope Namer).
- Turn Undead is a power of clerics and paladins; it causes one or more undead to panic, or be obliterated if the cleric is sufficiently stronger than the undead. The earliest editions also allowed you to turn demons and other denizens of the Lower Planes if you were at a high enough level to do so.
- Then there is Turn Undead's Evil Counterpart, "Rebuke Undead", which enslaves weak undead rather than destroying them. Evil clerics can also "Bolster Undead" which makes them more resistant to turning.
- In some settings there are the "Deathless", Good Counterparts of The Undead. The roles are reversed here: they can be turned by evil clerics and rebuked or bolstered by good ones.
- And if the cleric has one of the elemental Domains, they can rebuke creatures of that element and turn creature of its opposite.
- The Sun Domain in 3rd Edition allows for a once-a-day use of "greater turning", in which if a normal turning attempt would turn the undead, it would instead totally destroy it. Complete Divine has a prestige class that allows you to do Greater Turning more times a day.
- The "Epic Level Handbook", which contains rules for characters past the level cap of 20, lets epic clerics and paladins gain a permanent aura of turning. Instead of using one of their limited turn attempts, they can just sit back and watch as lesser undead "dust" themselves by getting to close.
- Just don't expect the "obliterate" option to work in Ravenloft, where scaring undead off is the best result you can reasonably expect.
- 4th edition continues this trend, not only by including the classic "Turn" and "Rebuke", but also by adding such powers as "Smite Undead" and "Abjure Undead".
- The Kender Spoon of Turning, from Dragonlance.
- GURPS has a few spells that do things like this. There is also the True Faith advantage which has an enhancement (called Turning) that makes this possible without a spell.
- The Zenith Caste from Exalted have the innate ability to deal hideous amounts of damage to the undead, as well as the ability to touch a corpse and grant it an instant cremation, ensuring the corpse won't rise as a zombie and the higher soul will enter the cycle of reincarnation. Beyond the Zeniths, there are a number of charms with the Holy keyword that do grievous damage to "creatures of darkness" (including demons, undead, and Unshaped raksha).
- Arkham Horror has a cross that counts as a magical weapon except it only provides a combat bonus against undead enemies.
- Baldurs Gate
- Based off the Dungeons and Dragons rules, the game amusingly takes it a step further by making undead who are outclassed enough literally explode into Ludicrous Gibs. This later became the rule for D&D 3rd edition.
- It also has the Mace of Disruption, which is very disrupty and allows you to plough through all but the most durable undead with ease. Amusingly if you find the sidequest to upgrade it it even works on Kangaxx the Demilich, whose piss-poor save vs death spells means he stands a good chance of eating an instant kill the round after you strip his spell protections.
- The Azure Axe has the same "save or die" effect on undead as the Mace of Disruption. There is a small chance it even works on Bohdi.
- In The Elder Scrolls series, this spell effect causes undead to flee.
- One of the paladin's spells in World of Warcraft was originally Turn Undead. It's now called Turn Evil and extends to demon targets in addition to undead ones. World of Warcraft paladins also have a Holy Hand Grenade spell called "Holy Wrath" which affects everything, but stuns undead and demons.
- Crossfire has both Turn Undead, which inflicts fear upon the undead, as is standard, and, less specifically, Holy Word and Holy Wrath, which damage only creatures considered to be enemies of your god, whatever they might be.
- Tim Rhymeless of Wild Arms 2 has this spell with the same name and effect. It can even instant kill undead bosses and Bonus Bosses (hint hint).
- In the Breath of Fire series of games, there is the spell "Kyrie" which instantly kills all Undead enemies present in the battle. Even bosses, which is why most of the installments that had this spell tried to avoid undead bosses or simple made the spell unavailable till after said undead bosses. Usually learned by the Nina of that installment.
- In Nethack, Turn Undead works like this on undead beings, but when used on a corpse it "turns" it into undead -- in other words, brings it back to life. The latter is generally the more useful function, as it allows the revival of powerful pets, while most high-level undead have a good chance of resisting the former effect.
- This is Ryuna's basic ability in Shining Tears, as part of her role as the White Mage. Considering how many Undead enemies appear early on, it really comes in handy.
- Final Fantasy I has the Dia line of spells, which only harm undead opponents. In all subsequent installments, Cure is used in place of Dia.
- Final Fantasy Tactics a 2 has a couple specifically anti-undead abilities and spells: Exorcise and Burial might permanently remove an active undead (when they lose their HP they come back after a few turns if you don't do anything) and always removes inactive ones, Santificy is like Exorcise except with a range and area of effect, and Requiem removes inactive undead from play while heavily damaging active ones. Bonus points for the one-line help option actually referring to Burial, Exorcise, and Sanctify's effects as Turn Undead.
- In Diablo and its sequel, there are three types of enemy: animal, demon, and undead. For each of the latter two, there are possible item enchantments that do extra damage. The first game also features the Holy Bolt spell, which specifically harms only undead. In the sequel, this is one of several anti-undead attacks available to the Paladin, who also has an Aura called Sanctuary which pushes Undead away from the character and hurts them a bit. Its main use is to keep the Pally from getting dogpiled. It also greatly increases your melee damage on undeads.
- Ragnarok Online has this for the Priest class, which either deals minor damage to an Undead monster, or deals enough damage to outright kill them.
- In Wandering Hamster, the glimmer item is specifically made to kill skeleton enemies for good (otherwise, they just keep respawning unless you run away).
- In Might and Magic, the turn undead spell deals vast amounts of fire damage, but only to undead.
- In Ley Lines, the Sunbeam spell and the priest's Exorcism ability work only against undead troops, and have a pretty good chance of obliterating them.
- In Quest for Glory V, the paladin's Destroy Undead ability that blow undead to chunk of bits, at the cost some of your stamina.
- Eye of the Beholder: This is a power for the cleric or the paladin, along with the D&D 2nd edition rules. In Eye of the Beholder, it is an automatic function, as long as the character is holding a holy symbol. Starting with Eye of the Beholder 2: The Legend of Darkmoon, it becomes a selectable action like any spell-casting, though not limited in use.
- In Seiken Densetsu 3, Carlie's Bishop class has this skill. It pretty much does 999 damage to any undead to the game, INCLUDING HER PATH's FINAL BOSS if she is high enough level for a mere 1MP.
- In Chrono Cross, the spell HolyLight -- already powerful -- automatically kills undead enemies.
- Runescape has a crumble undead spell early on in the magic book. However, it is kind of weak compared to later spells.
- Dante's Inferno has this in the form of Absolve finishers, though it effects demons as well as the dead.
- The Order of the Stick, being based on Dungeons and Dragons, features several examples.
- Oglaf (NSFW): Not... quite the turning you had in mind...
- In Trope Overdosed the Webcomic, Turn Undead shows up, complete with an Incredibly Lame Pun.
- PronQuest (a NSFW MMPORG parody webcomic, now defunct): A Paladin following instructions on how to "Turn Undead" does so... by giving their heads a quarter-turn.
- Uriel (an Anglican minister in RL) of Little Tales usually gets annoyed when Gen asks if he can scare off vampires. Though he did once wonder if a zombie priest can turn himself.