Great Cleave vs the laws of Physics


Last weekend, a player pointed to me the fact that a character with Great Cleave can waste 8 militia foes each round without making a sweat!

While players are expected to be heroes and all that, I don't think a 7 lvl barbarian has the right to wipe out say thirty 1st lvl militia commoners in half a minute.
In "The Phoenix in the Sword" it seemed that Conan beating 20 soldiers was an amazing feat, I don't want it to be common. Plus, Conan didn't win in, say, two rounds.

Any ideas to fix Great Cleave?

PS: As for Savage Cleave, if you have an army with soldiers within 5' of each other, well, it can make Asterix look realistic :shock:


you still have to hit and kill with each blow.
A 7th level barbarian isn't going to be able to do that unless they are completely unarmoured.

Your barbarian is going to be looking a bit worse for wear anyway with at least 8 attacks on him each round. With +2 flanking bonusus and +1 per previous attacker at least 5 of those attacks are going to get him. That will hurt.


Those soldiers almost took Conan down because they were well-trained and wearing armor and he wasn't. It would be extremely difficult to great cleave eight 3rd-4th lvl soldiers wearing armor. Its doubtful that great cleave would come in handy at all in such a fight.


urdinaran said:
Also, since you can't take a 5' step when doing so, you can only possible kill 8 opponents in this way.

Now you can. There's this feat Savage Cleave from H's Fiercest. It allows you to take a 5' to keep using cleave when in Fighting Madness. I don't remember if you can do it more than once in a round though.

Zul Daire

There has been some variation feats like thisone in other supplements and is also a special ability of a prestige class in DnD.

I beleive the variation I saw in another book put a limitaion based on your movement. If you had a movement of 30' you could take 6 5' steps in between cleaves. Being regular DnD Heavy Armor has a movement of 20' thus only 4 5' steps between cleaves in said armor. If you moved 40' per round you had 8 5' steps...and so on.

Even so I have to agree that unless you are facing peasants, children, elderly, or weak animals you will rarely see this feats used to full potential.

Oh wait. I remember great cleaveing hordes of skeletons as they were pouring out of a portal in 3E DnD game a few years back. Still I was 10th level and at that time we were still factoring armor into AC rather than DR.

DR is the big equalizer to this feat.


Great Cleave is useful when facing lots of low level mooks, not when facing well-trained and disciplined warriors; has its upside and its downside.


Let's do the math:

A 10th level Southern Islander (or Cimmerian) Barbarian can have a Str of 24. If you add Fighting Madness (not unlikely, as it's even a requisite for Savage Cleave) then you have an astounding 28 Str Class Berseker. If he uses a Bardiche or Greatsword he will do 2d10+13 per hit. Add the fact that Power Attack (another likely feat for a Barb) doubles its effect with 2 handed weapons and he could easily spend 2 points in PA for a 2d10+17 damage.
His Attack would be about 17, with an Armour Piercing score of 12+ (so any DR from armour would be halved).

So, his foes would at most get a DR of 6... vs an average damage of 27 8and a minimum damage of 19).

If they have no significative Con modifier this is what would happen:

Any 1 lvl Commoner would get killed without rolling dice.
2 lvl Commoners have IIRC 8 hp, so would get wasted the same way.
3 lvl Commoners would suffer same fate.
1 lvl Soldiers, with 5 hp wouldn't stand this damage.
At 3rd lvl, a Soldier would have an average of 15 hp. It would give him few chances to survive the hit, but if the Barb gets unlucky, he would live (barely).

And the Barb would hit at those foes ALL the time, unless he got a 1 (always a failure), barring supberb devensive tactics on their part paired with lousy luck on his (with an average to hit result of 27, it is pretty easy
to do the job).

As for Initiative, it would be the only problem. But a typical mid to high level Barbarian, Borderer or Nomad would usually win as they have the best Ref saves (whereas a Commoner or low level Soldier can only pary for good luck with the dice).

End result: 8 mooks per round w/ no serious chances of weakening the PC (that is, until there are about two hundred foes dead at his feet). And that's just a single PC.

Given that in most adventures the troops have at most 4th level I think it can become a problem. And then, there's realism (which a PC blasting hordes of a thousand 1st lvl Commoners can upset).

I have to run a game with a such kind of Player Charcters yet, but want to be prepared to avoid this kind of nuisances before it takes out the mood of the setting.

Sorry for the long rant and thanks for your ideas (though you can understand I just can't throw heavily armoured high level mooks at my players all the time... and this feat works all the time).


I've been there in my short GM career. Theres a barbarian in our group like the one Maximo describes. He wastes almost everything he hits. The mooks that would close in after he ends his killing chain from greater cleave, will be harshly penalized, because in addition, the barbarian has Leave no prisoners, which lowers their DV and attack bonus I think. So they are formidable opponents. Even with increased damage reduction threasholds for though monsters. And now, there is not only PA to increase damage, but Reckless attacka s well. When I have to desing antagonists, now I try to see how they can have a the best DV and Fort save to give them a chance.

That's with barbarians with the highest strenght and Fighting madness, but soldiers can be as deadly and will have many more feats, although they can't have Savage cleave unless they have fighting madness as well, so they will come from a barbaric culture.


Give the soldiers reach weapons and bows (with any applicable feats) and start the encounter with the PC's 200 feet away :)

Or have the commander of the soldiers improved sunder the barb's weapon or improved trip or improved disarm him. Soldiers get tonnes more feats than Barbarains, so make good use of them.

All fights with NPC's don't have to be a straight "I deal more damage than you" melee cleave fest.


As a DM you have a lot more tools at your disposal
in our group the players are now 13th level and they are deadly,
remember the players are the “heroes" of the story, however, there’s a lot of things to make the game challenging, first the massive damage rule applies to them as well, a lucky critical from a low/mid level npc will force them to do a massive save as well,

the thing here is the players are very specialized in the way they approach a fight, you should think of that, not throwing grudge encounters, but if the players have a reputation then their strengths might be also known, a crafty villain will look for a way to capitalize on their weaknesses,
in regular encounters, or the ones the players prepare for, most probably the players will have the upper hand, and that’s good, they are the heroes for a reason, but there’s other times when don’t pick the time and place, then the npc’s can have an advantage,

for the specific case of the barbarian greater cleave combo,
there’s a couple of things,
1- archers like it was mentioned before,
2- Grapplers, the thing here is the grapplers have to win initiative or somehow increase their defense to survive the barbarians onslaught, but if they gang on him he’s done, he cant use his 2 handed weapon and while 1 npc grapples the rest can clobber him, he can’t even defend himself,
3- Thieves flanking, or feinting ,a couple of sneak attacks and he’ll think twice before jumping in the middle of a crowd
4- Trip and disarm, like it was mentioned before

The thing here is if the NPC’s go toe to toe they are going down, the npc’s have to be more intelligent than that,

This not only goes for the barbarian power attack combo, but all the players are deadly, just to mention some of the characters that run in our game (not to mention the barbarian Voltumna talked about :D )
Cygnus moro: Turanian soldier wit tulwar and improved critical/power attack greater cleave etc,
Tiberio: Aquilonian brawler, this guy has 6 attacks, +10 damage on each +power attack etc.
Burgos: Zingaran soldier/thief +6d6 of sneak attack with greater feint nuf said
Raksha: Zamoran thief/barbarian, this guy is the more rounded character, not only deadly in a fight but versatile in any situation

Any way the thing here is that the DM has a lot more tools to use than the players, the knife cuts both ways, you should see this guy scramble when the thieves of arejun come after them, or the Yoggite Barbarian slaves of Zamboula, or the Zuagirs are chasing them across the desert or a garrison of Shemite Asshuri

Mark Dunder

And the Barb would hit at those foes ALL the time, unless he got a 1

That's a 5% chance to hit. A lot of percent die resolution RPGs have 'im hit always with only a 1% chance. 5% chance to hit no matter what the odds, would make you a major player in Las Vegas.


Yep the barbarian warrior built around the bardiche can kill a bundle of low level goons in a single round.

But that is the way they have geared their build. One of my players chose the bardiche as it had the most damage. Let him have his fun.

Put them up against an ooze shoggoth style thing last week. That had him running like a girl.

That build also has major weaknesses. The biggest being defence. The only way he can attack 8 guys in a single round is if they have moved in and attacked him in their go. The defence will be poor and the flanking charging and multiple attacker bonuses will be huge. Get some spears for angry picts in there with a 10 foot reach and your barbarian is facing down 16 guys the last of whom will be on about a +24 to his attack roll.

Yes in the situation you described it looks horrible. But that is the nature of all characters. Put them in their ideal situation and they own!
Have a bunch of archers spread out and attack him while riding around on ponies and suddenly the borderer next door with the archery feats is looking a lot better.

I think the main problem with the deal is not great cleave (the ability to level loads of mooks) but the power attack with the 2H weapon that is already doing 2d10 damage. That is the biggy which makes any fight a bit of who strikes first wins.

Mark Dunder

I think the main problem with the deal is not great cleave (the ability to level loads of mooks) but the power attack with the 2H weapon that is already doing 2d10 damage. That is the biggy which makes any fight a bit of who strikes first wins.

That sounds really good. In fact from stories I read on historical warfare, the wild eyed Keltic warrior who attacked so fast and furious, welding those huge swords, usually killed their opponent on the first hit. So perhaps the damage is not so far off.


Well, what if a char uses a pike? forget about 8 kills in 1 attack.....try 26 possible kills!. what about taking a 5' step back and as soon as someone enters his threat, attacks of opportunity start the process all over. there should be a maximum # of attacks per round rule no matter the feat or weapon.
Maximo said:
So, his foes would at most get a DR of 6... vs an average damage of 27 8and a minimum damage of 19).

This goes beyond being able to kill up to 4th level guys. On average you are forcing the Massive Damage save every round as well, so even if your opponent has 50 - 100hp they still have to save or die.

I don't particularly see a problem however, as a DM I enjoy watching the massive blood baths. But I also like Arnolds movie just as much as REH's stories, "No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad, why we fought or how we died. No, all that matters, is that two stood against many."


Does cleave/great cleave work on attacks of opportunity? If so, that seems kind of silly. What about an enemy provoking an attack makes a pc be able to attack the other enemies in a group (via cleave), when they didn't provoke the attack themselves? Also, since we're dealing with 6 second rounds, at what point do we say that a pc has completed more actions than physically possible in that time period? In the previous poster's pike example (or any reach weapon), a power attack/great cleave combination seems overpowered when combined with AoO.

A sequence such as this:

1. close within 15 feet of the enemy
2. attack with max power attack
3. great cleave the enemies buddies
4. 5' step out
5. enemy closes, provoking AoO
6. repeat steps 1-3
7. any surviving enemy closes in, repeat steps 1-3 once more

Of course, the above assumes that the pike weilding pc wins initiative.
Still, with a sequence similar to the above, there's a potential kill of multiple guys per second, which seems highly improbable, if not impossible.

Assuming that the GM enjoys such a combat, what would the enjoyment be for the other players, incapable of such a feat since they have a different build that doesn't take advantage of that?

A maximum number of attacks per round, in this case, almost seems like the only way to preserve the game. If cleave does not work with attacks of opportunity, there's still the potential problems the OP points out, but a kill limit of the number of enemies that can surround a character might be realistic, although that realism fades as the maneuver is repeated.


If a gm feels that a player is taking advantage too much of a certain rule they can create a situation to penalise them. If nothing else, you could create some house rules - like Cleave not applying to reach weapons or AoO for example. I'n my games the Cleave and Greater Cleave feats conjure the image of somebody "cleaving" their way through opponents, so we only really use them with big slashing weapons like swords and axes. We like to go for cinematic effect.


Well, I think rules should support the game and not the opposite. As the GM, you are allowed to say "no" to anything, even if the rules say "yes".

Alternatives :

Weapons like bardiche and pike are useless in a building, a cave, and so on. In a narrow corridor or stairs, even a broadsword may be ineffective.

If the guy's so lethal at close range, make the NPC start throwing furniture, nets, rocks, oil lamps,..., at him. Being low-level doesn't make them stupid.