Turn undead

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This article is about the #turn command. For other uses, see Turn undead (disambiguation).

The #turn (turn undead) extended command allows Knights and Priests to frighten, and possibly even destroy or pacify, nearby undead creatures by calling upon the power of their deity.

Only those two roles can use this ability. Members of other roles using the command will attempt to cast the turn undead spell if they know it, or else be told, "You don't know how to turn undead!". You cannot turn undead if you are unable to speak.

#Turn undead is, in fact, a special sort of prayer to your god, not a spell, although it doesn't affect your prayer timeout.

The name comes from Dungeons and Dragons, where it is a specific supernatural ability for causing undead beings to turn and flee. There are some unfortunate linguistic ambiguities associated with it in NetHack; for instance, the #turn command has the description "Turn undead", which might make a beginning player assume that it causes their character to become an undead creature!


Using the #turn command has the following effects[1]:

  • You exercise wisdom.
  • All hostile undead monsters in range and line of sight which fail a resistance check are turned. Turning has a range of 8 + xlvl / 5, rounded down, where xlvl is your experience level. If you are at least level 16, hostile demons may be turned as well.
  • Turned monsters will flee for an indefinite duration. These monsters are awakened if they are sleeping.
  • Certain classes of undead monsters (indicated in the table below), if successfully turned, make a second resistance check. A monster which fails this check becomes peaceful if you are chaotic, or is killed instantly otherwise.
  • You become helpless for up to five turns while you are praying, putting you at risk from any unturned monsters, or even turned monsters which recover quickly enough. The paralysis is reduced by 1 turn for every 6 experience levels after the first: you are helpless for 5 turns at levels 1–6, 4 turns at levels 7–12, 3 turns at levels 13–18, 4 turns at levels 19–24, and 1 turn at levels 25–30.[2]
  • You break atheist conduct.

Turning will not work correctly in the following circumstances:

  • If you are polymorphed into an undead or a demon, and your god is not chaotic, you abuse wisdom and aggravate monsters.
  • If your god is extremely angry with you, you abuse wisdom and aggravate monsters.
  • If you are in Gehennom, your god is inaccessible. Instead, you aggravate monsters.
  • If you are confused, you will awaken and unparalyze all monsters you would otherwise have turned. (You will still be helpless for the normal number of turns.)


If you are high enough level, turned undead monsters must make a second resistance check or be destroyed instantly, or turned peaceful if you are chaotic.

Monster Class Minimum Level
Z zombies 6
M mummies 8
W wraiths 10
V vampires 12
  ghosts 14
L liches 16

It is thus theoretically possible to instantaneously destroy an arch-lich by #turning, if you are at least level 16 and beat its MR of 90 in two sequential rolls, and are outside its native Gehennom.

Vampires will only have a chance of being destroyed or pacified if they are in base form (V), not if they are in a shapeshifted form (Bvd), though they will still be scared when shapeshifted.


Generally, any undead that this command can kill can be disposed just as easily by hitting them until they die (again), with none of the helplessness nastiness that this command entails. However, lawful and neutral characters with enough levels will find that this is a very efficient way in clearing out graveyards. For lawful and neutral Priests, whose quest involves fighting through dozens of graveyards and hundreds of undead enemies, this command can probably save them hundreds to thousands of turns compared to defeating every undead they come across one at a time. Keep in mind, however, that the Valley of the Dead is considered part of Gehennom, and turn undead will not work on the graveyards there.


Before NetHack 3.6.3, you did not need to be able to speak to turn undead. Also, the prayer only worked on monsters that you could actually see, rather than only requiring an open line of sight.



Turning undead has been buffed in FIQHack compared to vanilla. The helplessness effect duration scales with level. At level 1, you will be helpless for 5 turns. At level 24 you will be helpless for 1 turn. At level 30 you will be helpless for one action.

Note that since the Mitre of Holiness allows praying in Gehennom in FIQHack, it also allows the use of #turn.