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I cast “Cleave”

One of the optional rules we’ve been using since the DMG first came out in 2014 has been cleave. Sometimes we go long stretches of not remembering it, other times it is used a lot.

Here it is as presented in the book, p 272:

Cleaving through Creatures

If your player characters regularly fight hordes of lower-level monsters, consider using this optional rule to help speed up such fights.

When a melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit points, any excess damage from that attack might carry over to another creature nearby. The attacker targets another creature within reach and, if the original attack roll can hit it, applies any remaining damage to it. If that creature was undamaged and is likewise reduced to 0 hit points, repeat this process, carrying over the remaining damage until there are no valid targets, or until the damage carried over fails to reduce an undamaged creature to 0 hit points.

In other words, excess damage carry over to nearby enemies, but only if the original enemy was still one-shotted from unharmed.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that this option should only be for level five characters or higher (still regardless of class). It messes up some low-tier threats, like stirges. On the other hand, it makes fighting them more consistent with the swarm rules.

I also feel like it gets pretty cartoon and farfetched to see these slices through a horde of foes. Like, the enemy is so weak that one chop goes through a whole bunch of them. Cool the first few times but outstays its welcome.

Here is how I’d want it to work instead (the same mechanics as the book but diegetically a li’l heftier):

One-shot? Keep swinging!

Whenever you one-shot an enemy with a mêlée attack, and have damage remaining, you get a free additional attack, but do not reroll any dice. Use the same to-hit roll result as previously, and the damage you had remaining from the last attack. You cannot move between the attacks. If you then one-shot another enemy, you can keep doing this as many times as you want as long as you’ve got damage remaining and enemies within reach.

This is only for attacks against AC, not against their other saves, and not ranged attacks, and it’s only for attacks against enemies with full HP.

If you used mob rules to land the one-shotting attack instead of a dice roll, you’ve got to roll for the first of the “keep-swinging” attacks. If that hits, you’re golden. Otherwise, the attack is over.

These “one shot? keep swinging!” free attacks are in addition to any bonus actions, extra attacks, offhand weapon attacks etc, but unlike them, you can never move before a OSKS attack. It’s limited to what you’ve already got in front of you.

Also unlike other variants of extra, bonus, and off-hand atttacks, you’ve got to keep selecting new targets even if the downed character is still alive (for example, they have death saves remaining).

This replaces the “Cleave” option we used previously. This is available for all characters regardless of level.