Although axes are numerically less powerful than long blades and maces & flails, their cleaving effect helps make up for this. Cleaving occurs each time you make a melee attack with any sort of axe, and allows you to strike every adjacent opponent with each attack. While axes aren't the most ideal weapon for taking out powerful single targets, they outperform all other weapons when it comes to dealing with swarms of opponents.
Whenever you attack a target, you also attack all tiles adjacent to you with a slight penalty to damage (70% of normal):
..... .sPs. .s@s. .sss. .....
@ = You P = Primary target (100% damage) s = Secondary targets (70% damage) . = Tile unaffected by your attack
Each tile is attacked separately, so you may hit some while missing others. Also, although attacks against secondary targets receive a 30% penalty to damage, each damage roll is calculated separately; while it usually won't be the case, you may wind up hitting a secondary target harder than you hit the primary, even before AC is taken into account. Even with this penalty, however, you'll still deal a tremendous amount of additional damage when facing multiple foes.
This effect ignores friendly units, allowing you to wield an axe without fear of slaughtering your allies:
..... .sPs. .s@A. .sss. .....
A = Ally. Note that you still cleave into the foe beyond it.
You can even cleave through walls:
..... .sPs. .s@## .sss. .....
# = Wall. The tile behind the wall is still affected.
- For cleaving to actually matter, you need to be facing multiple opponents at once. As such, physical tank-type characters have the easiest time of it; don't skimp on your AC, GDR, EV, and SH (if using a one-handed axe) if you intend to be an axe-wielder. If a gang of opponents seems too dangerous to deal with all at once, don't be afraid to use stair dancing and tunnels to limit yourself to one opponent at a time. It might be less efficient, but it's a whole lot healthier.
- Unless you worship Fedhas Madash, your cleaves will hack into any innocent plants or fungus you happen to be standing next to. Don't expect them to provide cover for long.
- Cleaving is great for dealing with invisible enemies. By holding CTRL and attempting to move, you'll swing at all adjacent tiles. This removes the guesswork normally involved in attack unseen foes.
- Although it may seem thematically appropriate to recklessly tab through combat while wielding an axe, try not to do so when actually facing a swarm of opponents. The AI's axe-attack decision making is rarely optimal, often wasting the heaviest attacks on enemies near death. This helps you learn that tab is a generally ineffective strategy.
- Cleaving has strong synergies with worshipping Makhleb, who restores some of your health on killing enemies. While it may be suicidal to engage a large crowd of enemies under normal circumstances, a strong axe wielder can survive and thrive very long under Makhleb's protection. But this does not work if most of the enemies you are facing are summons. TSO provides a similar effect, but only for killing evil beings.
- You can minimize the damage taken by only partially bottle-necking foes like this.
ooooo osPso ##@## ##.## ##.##
o = Other enemy that would normally swarm you if in the open. This limits your damage intake.
- Prior to 0.17, cleaving didn't work under confusion.
- Prior to 0.16, cleaving could not go through walls. This was removed because it limited the use of axes in doorways.
- Prior to 0.15, cleaving would not target the tile directly behind your primary target.
- Cleaving was implemented in 0.12, where it accompanied a drop in base damage for the three most powerful axes.