Maim is the Name of the Game

Last week we looked at the status of "cleaving" type attacks through the ages of D&D editions -- and were somewhat surprised to find it listed in the core rule books (maybe as an optional rule) of every edition to date! Okay, except the 80's Basic line, but everything else.

A side-point we've made there, and in the Wandering DMs chat on the subject, is that since the core books from Original, 1st, and 2nd editions never gave any identifying label to the ability (fighters getting multifold attacks vs. very-low-level enemies), a crazy kaleidoscope of different names sprang up in supplements, video games, 3rd-party works, the OSR, etc. My recent work made me pursue what the most recognizable name would be among those many options. 

Here's the poll I ultimately asked to the big Facebook 1st Edition AD&D group:

Poll for sweep attacks name

A total of 146 votes were cast here. As you can see, by far the most popular option there was simply Multiple Attacks with 94 votes cast (64% of the total). However, I am incredibly not fond of that as an option, because it explicitly gets used in the rulebooks multiple times for other types of abilities in both OD&D and AD&D. For example, monks are described as getting multiple attacks in their first appearance in OD&D (Supplement II, Blackmoor, p. 1):

... monks of higher levels may make multiple attacks during a melee round (see STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES)
And more definitively, here for creatures hostile and benign in the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual (p. 5):

Multiple attacks usually indicate the use of several members such as multiple hea[ds] or two paws raking with claws and a bite from the monster's jaws.

Clearly, none of these are what we're talking about in regards to the fighters-versus-mooks mode of combat, so using the term for that would only cause confusion, I think. 

That aside, the next most-favored choice by a large margin is Sweep Attacks, garnering 30 votes (21% of the total), noted in last week's blog as recognizable to anyone who played the very popular AD&D Gold Box video games circa 1990. This is what I plan to call the ability myself in my classic-D&D materials in the future.

Other options, like Cleave Attacks, Heroic Fray, Fighting the Unskilled, and Combat Dominance only garnered between 1 and 5 votes each. (Note that there's a possibility of bias in the poll, since Facebook only shows the top 4 options at any time, and participants need to see and click on a "Show More" button to access the rest.) 

As part of our research, I think we compiled a pretty interesting list of names used in a variety of video games and OSR materials, for this or closely related abilities:

  • Heroic Fray (2nd Ed. AD&D Combat & Tactics supplement)
  • Heroic Fighting (Hyperborea)
  • Fighting the Unskilled (OSRIC)
  • Combat Machine (Swords & Wizardry; previously "multiple attacks")
  • Combat Dominance (Castles & Crusades)
  • The Cuisinart (Wizardry video game)

Furthermore, the Facebook AD&D group poll has the option for "something else" which generated yet a larger and growing list of options -- some serious, some in jest, and some in a range of good taste. A selection the examples include (generally just a single mention each):

  • The Cuisinart (gaining 4 mentions)
  • La Machine (French analog to the Cuisinart)
  • Meat Grinder
  • Lawnmower Mode
  • Mowing the Grass (despite "Mowing" being unvoted in poll)
  • Weed Whacking
  • Snicker-Snack
  • The Aragorn
  • Minion Attacks
  • Rabble Attacks
  • Fight the Horde
  • Shredding Mode
  • Pest Control
  • Zero Level Attack
  • Cutting the Chaff
  • Spartan Attack
  • Full Auto Attack
  • The Mouli
  • Cinematic Attacks
  • Hackmastery

Notably, eminent D&D author Frank Mentzer (creator of the entire BECMI line, which is the only edition to expunge the rule) offered "Slice & Dice" as his term of art for the ability which he explicitly disliked so much (see prior post for details).

Frank Mentzer: slice & dice

Are there any other prominent names that I still haven't discovered? What's your favorite?


  1. I've recently started using Sweep in my games, after replaying Pool of Radiance a year or so ago.

  2. I think Savage Worlds, or some other loose, cinematic game like that, calls it the "Mook rule".

    For myself, I tend to call it "Cleaving", but it's not a strong preference.

    1. I don't think SW has a "Sweep/Cleave" type rule in general, but it does have a general rule that unnamed enemies (known as "extras") go down in a single good hit, as well as being generally less effective than named characters (they roll fewer dice).

      SW *does* have a Sweep rule (it's a feat/edge you can take), but it doesn't require that you're fighting mooks, it's just a general special attack where you hit everyone around you.

    2. Perhaps it was Legend of the Five Rings, then.

    3. I think one or two people on Twitter also mentioned mentioned "Mook Rule" when I asked there, but didn't mention a source for it.

  3. I came in with 3e, so I'm inclined to go with "Cleave", but I also think I'm kinda hesitant to go with that for this ability, since the Cleave feat, being based on getting kills, is ever so slightly different from the general ability to make several attacks on low-HD enemies. I think I lean towards "Sweep Attack" for this, having been playing Pool of Radiance recently (though I'm supposed to be getting a C&C game running, I should probably get more comfortable with the term "Combat Dominance").

    1. I've certainly been using "Cleave" for a long time myself (which honestly seems a bit more evocative to me), so I've got to re-train myself as well to use "Sweep" naturally.

  4. I really like John Higgins “heroic fray” rule (though I’d probably cap it at D8), but if using the AD&D rule RAW, I think I’d just call it “reaping”...like a scythe through wheat, you know?

    1. Yeah, actually, I think I was considering "Reaping" myself at one point. I'm kind of surprised it's not on the big list of suggestions above now.

  5. Out of curiosity, has Mentzer said he really dislikes that rule or is that just an inference from the fact that it didn't show up in BECMI? I'd be curious as to his thoughts on it either way.

    1. Whoops, realized I'd kind of skimmed past the "Basic" section in your last post where you talked about exactly that. So he legit doesn't like it, interesting. I'm not quite sure if I find the "unfair to the monsters" argument all that persuasive given that monsters get multiple attacks and PCs otherwise don't.

      Personally, I use the "make another attack after you kill an enemy of equal or lesser HD than you" version of the rule in my own B/X game. Not quite as powerful as the AD&D variants, but gives the Fighter a little something. I also limit it to Fighters for now, though I may expand it to include Dwarfs at some point.

    2. I did the same thing in my B/X games, for fighters and dwarves.

      These days I run a version of S&W Whitebox with no non-humans. Only fighters get the extra attack after downing a foe, and I call the ability "Killing Machine" as a nod to Jack Vance. (Also Deep Purple and Judas Priest, but mostly Jack Vance.)

    3. Wow. I also love that label.

    4. Matt, I see how my reference to Frank was a bit vague; just added a link there. Thanks!

    5. Random follow-up as I was revisiting this post: I still use the same implementation as described above ability, but I've moved to calling it "Deadly Dance" (instead of Cleave) to differentiate it from the named Cleave feat/ability in layer editions. I quite like "Killing Machine" as well though.

  6. Sorry for being late to the party, here. The first RPG I played was actually Warhammer Quest (pub. 1995) which includes a similar rule called "Death-Blow." If a PC of any class drops any monster to 0 hp with one attack, they make an immediate follow-up attack on another monster in range. This can result in chained attacks vs. low hp monsters. Later versions of the game seem to include a stipulation that the monster must be at full hp for this rule to take effect.

    1. Wild! That last bit (full hp req.) is part of the 5E optional rule currently. It's funny, because frankly I'm not seeing the issue that mandates that. I wonder what it is?

    2. My guess? Prevent synergy with any aoe spell that damages a bunch of enemies with the fighter sweeping through to finish off all the survivors. Making it so you have to take them from full health to 0 enforces the mooks only without explicitly calling out only vs 1hd, at the expense of needing to carefully track all their HP and mysteriously skipping the ones that have taken any damage already.

    3. @Joshua Macy: My interpretation doesn't make it so you have to take a target from full to zero in one hit, only that each time you drop a foe you get a chance at another attack. It's still mook-related as you probably aren't going to be dropping five trolls a round or whatever (or vampires, or liches, etc), no matter how many of them have some previous damage. If you do, then that's great, but has as much to do with how much they've been hurt as anything else.

  7. In my 52 Pages rule set I called it "Follow Through."


  8. Nah, ya gotta think marketing, something snappy, like...
    Mook Mopper
    Goon Grinder
    Stooge Stomper
    Goombas Shall Be Splintered

    ...or even the classics...

    Berserker Rage

    1. That's not bad, actually.

      When I'm not trying to synch with someone else's language "Turbo-Attacks" tend to come out of my mouth.

  9. I think it depends on the edition and era you are trying to capture the feel of.

    Chain mail and LBB are not big on “named powers”. Most game mechanics are described in paragraph form under fairly generic headings. Number of attacks, chance to hit, chance to save, damage inflicted, and damage capacity have a long history in war games and thus formed the basis of early D&D. It was common to simply describe deviations from the norm in paragraph form. Fighters make multiple attacks per round when fighting untrained man-types (increased HD represent training, animal instinct, strength or size). In this era, it is more appropriate for the player to apply the description of how they do it (wading in, cleaving three at once, a frenzy of blows, etc).

    Each edition after that was a step in the direction of codifying options and creating named powers. This culminated in 3E feats, and 4E powers (or whatever they call the everyone is basically a caster mentality).

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. But, different ways have a different feel and encourage slightly different play styles.