The “Stealth Team 6″ Challenge

It can be a little like this, minus the guns. That's serious Underwater Action there.

It can be a little like this, minus the guns. That’s serious Underwater Action there.

A lone hobgoblin patrolled a cave corridor deep in the hobgoblin halls. The guard stopped by three crates, their dim shadows blocking what little light from the surrounding torches could emit into the tunnel. With nothing to see, the guard turned and followed his steps back up the hall to his previous checkpoint.

Behind him, the shadows around the crates moved. Three adventurers studied the guard’s movement in silence.

With a gesture forward, Ryncletica pointed to several more crates where she and two other ninja could hide. Together they moved ahead with no noise; dripping water from stalactites above were far louder.

Passing the guard, they reached another lone hobgoblin guarding a treasure chest. Isolated enough from neighboring patrols, he’d still alert others and the ninjas could get overwhelmed should he bolt.

All three could see that this one was more stout, more decorated, and certainly more dangerous than the lesser guards behind them.

Kiricletica made a hand gesture to the others, who nodded and melded into the shadows. Kiri pulled out a single blade and channeled her ki, her blade’s tip dancing as she etched the signs of Water, Darkness and Water into the air. moving to point-blank range to the idling boss.

A single swing of Kiri’s blade disrupted the ki of her enemy, paralyzing him. The two other ninja moved in on stealthy feet. Two seconds later, the boss was dead,  never having a chance to make a single attack or call out for help.

Ahead, after evading several small patrols by clinging to the corridor’s edges and ledges, a single guard ahead stood idle at a thin chokepoint, unmoving, his back to the team. They couldn’t sneak past him without being discovered.

Ryncletica approached and held out a straightened palm charged with dark ki. She quickly touched the pressure point on the guard’s back. He collapsed immediately, dead. Ryn had to leave stealth to do this, so Szyncletica and Kiri were at the ready.

A small band of enemies saw Ryn and charged in. Szyncletica raised up, her arm a blurry motion as throwing stars whizzed by Ryn’s head, striking and killing the five guards before they reached the team. Szyn reminded the team that additional kills were necessary in their mission to thin out the forces as well as killing their leader.

A large mob blocked a door. Out of direct sight of the mob, Kiri pulled out a star and lobbed it at a barrel left and in a small cul-de-sac. As the mob moved to investigate, the team sneaked behind and away, the final boss still yet to come.

~~~~~

With the Update 19 changes to the stealth AI, I tried to gather a group of guildmates, months ago, with high Sneak skills to join me in quests where we complete objectives with minimal kills, good trapping, looting wherever possible, with few enemies noticing.

I called the idea “Stealth Team 6,” which worked well in name both to a Shout Out to the famous U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 ops group (which doesn’t really use their old name officially, but damn it if that will stop us from using it) as well as the maximum size of a party.

It didn’t gain momentum with my guild at the time, thanks to the widespread number of levels as well as many players that preferred to play more Epic content or eschewed Hide/Move Silently in their builds.

So, I thought I’d farm out the idea for anyone, guild or no guild, on any server. The challenge is very similar to what Kiricletica did primarily in her first life, except that she cannot open locks or disable traps.

The extra challenge for ST6 squads is that they are a larger party that must work cohesively or else one person could blow the cover on everyone. Most importantly, the team would fail their mission.

ST6 is a proposed way to play DDO, with self-imposed conditions to change things up a lot for a static group,  PuG or guild. You could even blend in other self-imposed conditions such as permadeath.

ST6 gives a group an opportunity to train in stealth tactics as a group, learning from more experienced players if one’s handy. It’s also more fun to share in the knowledge that your entire six-person team killed only 2 guys, bypassed dozens, even hundreds of enemies, and snuffed the boss quick to gain that treasure.

By mastering stealth tactics, some quests that seem like death traps can be managed easier. Remember that one quest in the Necropolis chain where you split up and have to deal with a gauntlet of skeleton archers that will  fill you with arrows yet are too far away to easily attack? Not a problem for an ST6 team. You just sneak on through, hit the lever to the door ahead and continue. Archers won’t shoot what they cannot see.

ST6 players also learn to become more self-sufficient in normal play, remembering that the most optimal path isn’t always the obvious one.

So, when conventional ways to complete a quest are harder, tiresome, resource-intensive or just plain boring, it’s time to form up your Stealth Team 6 special ops.

Team Deployments

ninjaspyWhat classes could qualify for ST6 missions?

While any class could do some work in an ST6 team, the Bard, Monk, Ranger and Rogue (including the Shadar-Kai race) are best suited because Hide and Move Silently are class skills for them, allowing their numbers to go to their maximums.

I’ve spoken fondly of the synergy of the Ninja Spy and Rogue Assassin before.

If you’re unfamiliar with the stealth mechanics in DDO, read the DDO Wiki Sneak article. I just updated the article with a few additional tips and clarification.

The character itself should at least:

  • Wear no armor or light armor. Else, you’re going to be subject to the Armor Check Penalty on critical skills needed for best stealth missions. Most importantly, you’ll be unable to swim faster or jump higher while in stealth. Jump and Tumble have a -20 penalty while in Stealth, requiring expertise in avoiding detection by going up and above enemies, rather than around.
  • Have maximum Hide and Move Silently (H/MS) scores. Everyone, but especially team members who aren’t Bards, Monks, Rogues or Rangers should wear any gear with Competence or other bonuses to improve their scores. Hide reduces the time for enemies to “lock on” your location with Spot while sneaking within their line of sight. Move Silently reduces their chance to hear you while sneaking. Invisibility cannot count here. While invisibility is immunity from enemy Spot checks, it is ineffective against Red Names and other enemies with See Invisibility or True Seeing. High MS + invisibility against a beholder = dying adventurer. Hide will reduce detection against True Seers until you’re about body-length to them (2 meters). At that point you have the brief but very workable element of surprise, be it a Stunning Fist, Assassinate, Finger of Death, whatever. Kill what you must quickly, as silently as you can, and don’t let even other party members know what just happened, much less the enemy. Invisibility can greatly supplement but not replace Hide.
  • Have high Jump scores. Most people simply add a maximum of 10 points to Jump and stop, using spells or potions or items to increase the number if needed. Jump scores above 40 give no benefit unless you’re in Sneak. There, you have a -20 penalty. So increasing Jump to higher numbers ensures that you can leap atop high locations even while in stealth.
  • Class role coordination. As implied above, you’ve got to be able to stay hidden as a team, doing as much as you can while hidden. Trappers are critical for team members who might hide as well as any other on the team but lack Evasion to pass through deadly traps. A good Wizard or Sorcerer with Knock can substitute when the team Rogue is handling other business. Monks and Assassins could form an assault team to clear pathways quickly and quietly with Quivering Palm, Assassinate and other moves. Swashbucklers can light tank and give party buffs as needed,  give Invisibility out to others, and slash mobs silly.
  • Stealth tactics mastery. This includes but isn’t limited to:  never striking any breakables, ever, unless using one to attract enemies away from your position or an objective; always remaining in Sneak except in battle, but returning to Sneak any time when moving; letting Rogues open locked doors rather than bashing them in for a silent entry; avoiding a giveaway of team position unless as part of a coordinated feint. Enemies with tremor-sense (spiders) and what few others that can defeat/ignore H/MS require a finer touch that a team would have to figure out on the fly. Example: the epic quest “House of Broken Chains” can be done well in stealth but one location has spiders that must be pulled away from the captured slaves so the slaves won’t attack you so that you can rescue them later.
  • Stealth speed. The Deepwood Stalker Ranger, Ninja Spy and Thief-Acrobat Rogue have the Faster Sneaking ability to increase stealth speed by up to 50%. A core ability in the Shadowdancer epic destiny can add full movement speed briefly to a sneaking character. Speed isn’t absolutely required but is very helpful to get out of an enemy’s line-of-sight and to a target as soon as possible. Combined with the class’s natural fast movement and enhancement training, the Ninja Spy is the fastest stealth class.
  • Shadow approach. Zerging is never welcome in a stealth team unless you zerg as a team and in formation with the precision of the Blue Angels flying team. Higher experience is gained not by kill count but low bonuses (Insidious Cunning-10%, Discreet-7% and Devious-5%) and completing any optionals if low-kill count can be maintained or if party agrees to mission changes based on the quest. Some quests will need you to slaughter to advance or activate other objectives; the goal is to kill what you must but not enrage the whole dungeon as you do it.
  • Direct Action. A stealth team’s advantage is that they can be as small as they want and therefore less detectable, but their disadvantage is that they are small and more vulnerable to mob overruns. Therefore, what an ST6 team cannot outwit by stealth, they must outgun. While fighting, however, they can use their innate stealth tactics against the AI to keep more enemies from joining the fray. Say your team is moving through a corridor when one of your party is detected. If the enemy is a scout, ranged members must take that guy out before he rings an alarm. If the enemy charges, the team has to eliminate him without attracting more attention from others.

Mission Objectives

A ST6 mission could go many ways because every quest is different, of course. The advantage to playing in ST6 is that your team exploits the environment and expected behaviors of your enemies to press your advantage. While we’ve all done this non-stealthy ways in parties, an ST6 team will apply this to avoid attacks when possible, not to counter them.

Let’s take apart a quest or two to show what an ST6 mission might do.

“The Kobold’s New Ringleader”

Kiricletica shows how using breakables aided her in a successful solo, low-kill run through this level 2 quest on Elite in this video. Details on the quest can also be found here.

“Frame Work”

This quest is built well to handle any kind of party and has only two objectives: Use a special Flesh-to-Stone wand to stone any non-boss minotaur and then kill the Minotaur Chieftain.

One stealthy approach is to shoot yourselves into the fort using a repaired ballista. Team members can scatter, with high Spot gear to see the stealthed panthers and wolves as you gather enough ballista parts. A Rogue Mechanic will be able to repair one or more ballistas to allow teams to approach from several angles.

As the ballista shoots you, it pulls you out of stealth on activating the thing, so be sure to go back to Sneak while in flight. From here, the operation is a matter of team pride and preference.

The stealthiest approach is repairing a ballista, near the bosses inside the fort, which will shoot you into the chieftain’s lair without needing to open its gate, and bypassing the traps on the ramp to that gate.

You could wipe out the town, take out only the Cabal Seers for their chests, stone any Minotaur Runts to make setting off alarms impossible by enemies, or go in to the end-fight as a group, stone the Runts there, kill the red-named Chieftain and use diversion tactics to allow all to loot the chests before escaping with the ballista there.

“Blockade Buster”

Another quest designed to favor stealth; using doors there will not break Sneak or cut Invisibility. The Dungeonmaster’s first words to you sums up your mission nicely:

"The Droaam fleet has gathered here during this dark night --
probably for mutual protection.
Such measures might help against a naval attack--
but not against you."

 

The optimal party would be Rogue Assassins with a Ninja Spy or two. The ninja goes to seek out the crest on each ship since they can go invisible at will with ki. Once the crest is found, all sneak to the lower deck, where the Assassins remove the kobolds before an alarm sounds, or mages use Flesh-to-Stone or Finger of Death.

Lastly, a Rogue opens the mine bay doors for all others to leave as he uses Trapmaking skills to make detonators.

Optionally, any captains lounging about in their quarters (especially if guarding a crest) could be taken out safely as a team. One captain is often on the bridge of one ship and would cause too much consternation on deck to eliminate.

A perfect score of 9 killed (3 kobolds each) or less with all detonators going off fast enough for none of the crews to raise alarms makes for a nice bit of bragging and extra XP.

“The Claw of Vulkoor”

Arguably the toughest stealth mission in the game, especially as a team. After killing the fire giant wizard, the team can use assassination/instant-kill tactics on the giants before going stealthy to use the pressure plates to charm the guardian scorpions while avoiding detection from any scorpion.

It can be done, even at Epic Elite. You gain massive XP and extra chests for completing all stealth optionals, having only killed what giants stood in the way.

At the start, the tough part is that the giants have See Invisibility, so anyone that’s relied on it before will not do well here.

The toughest part involves staying out of sight of randomly moving and patrols of scorpions in tight spaces.  Sneaking by them is harder if you don’t move fast in Sneak (Ninja Spy and Rogue Acrobat trees have Faster Sneaking enhancements to increase Sneak speed).

Team “Uniform”

I add this part for kicks and giggles, but if you’re going to go in as a stealth team, go big in terms of looks. It’s great for morale.

Ninja Masks. Hoods. Dark clothing. Glowing goggles. The Shadowfell look.

This is a good time to spend those Turbine Points to get some great cosmetic armor. You can standardize or look like a rag-tag outfit. A little role-play should be very fun here.

Techniques

A strong ST6 team has many, many tools to complete objectives with deadly silence.

  • Stealth. This goes without further discussion.
  • Distraction. Enemies nearby will move to investigate a sound. If you use a single breakable to pull enemies while remaining in stealth, you can sneak behind them, often clearing your path to reach a lever or to continue to your objective.
  • Assassination skills. As noted, the Monk’s Quivering Palm will insta-kill, at the price of pulling that Monk out of stealth. A Rogue Assassin would be the point-man for the true Assassinate ability that keeps them hidden.
  • Charms/Domination. The Bard’s skills to make your enemies your allies can make them fight with each other while your team presses on. Shadowdancers can use a dominating ability.
  • Paralyzation. Hold Monster spells. The Freezing the Lifeblood finishing move to paralyze for a full minute.
  • Muting. The Pain Touch finishing move nauseates an enemy. They cannot attack or cast spells for a full minute.
  • Neutralization. The Pain Touch finishing move will mute enemy casters. All other insta-kill spells work here.
  • Ninja Poison. Against tougher enemies, the damage-over-time effect of this magical poison of the Ninja Spy can make takedowns of most of the toughest bosses easier, magnifying any Poison attacks of the group.
  • Bluffing. Not only useful for combat pulling, but also for NPC dialogs for a tactical completion.
  • Diplomacy. Some quests offer a better no-kill/limited-kill option with good Diplomacy.
  • Intimidate. While normally you’re not trying to pick a fight, a Shintao Monk’s Ki Shout could allow one character to be a diversion while others sneak away and continue to an objective. A Shintao Monk is a resilient self-healing character that can take on a group. A Swashbuckler could also take on this role by charming enemies, killing what she must, and then leaving the scene.
  • Diversion, the ability. The Ninja Spy’s Diversion technique is a hate-magnet dummy he can deploy when a team is becoming overwhelmed or need a strong distraction, aggroing everything in range so that the rest of the team is ignored and can escape.
  • Disable Device: Traps are not a problem with a typical well-trained Rogue.
  • Search. Your Rogues will find the hidden loot, side passages quite well.
  • Ranged attack. Archers and throwers are great here, as would be a powerful Wizard and Sorcerer. Your agility allows you to reach a high ground to pelt enemies if required.
  • Open Lock: Same as for traps, Rogues can open locked doors without attracting attention.
  • Spot. At least the leaders should have high Spot skills to see hidden enemies way ahead so that the team can determine how to avoid or remove them.
  • Diversity. Only the Rogue hasn’t an innate self-healing option, but offers many other abilities to a group. Adding a Dragonmark of Healing will fix that if a halfling, and Use Magic Device works well, too. Half-Elves and Rangers can use wands and scrolls with the right training. A well-prepared ST6 team doesn’t require a dedicated healer.
  • Cooperation. A ST6 team must excel at this as no other, just like a SEAL team. You must have a strong leader here, and team members must cooperate and coordinate. Dissention is failure.

Implementation

Hopefully this idea will generate some interest through the game as a play alternative. Perhaps you’re already doing it.

Take my suggestions, modify them as you see fit and then get some groups going. I hope to recruit others on my own server and guild, pointing them to this post for instruction.

See the DDO Wiki articles for more on the mechanics of stealth in the game:

Let me know if you’ve taken up the challenge and tell us of your results.

Let’s See More Attack Animations!

If there were any one new cosmetic addition you could add to Dungeons & Dragons Online, what would it be?

My wish might be for more attack animations.

Attack animations shouldn’t be impossible to code in. In fact, we’ve seen a new one with a new class not long ago: the rune arm attack with the Artificer. I’m not sure if the addition of Orbs also changed how mages seem to work as well. So it’s not a matter of impossibility.

Attack animations would be purely aesthetic and not change one iota of your abilities.

So why not consider new attack animations based on a few criteria?

  • Class
  • Tree
  • Cosmetics

Class

The Artificer looks like any other class with a sword or a crossbow without a rune arm equipped. That should be its default. Because of what a rune arm is, you can’t really have it work other ways. Same for the crossbow.

For the unarmed Monk, there should be two or three animations to choose. I liked the variations in Jade Empire based on the attack style you selected.

To make the dev’s life easier if needed, once chosen in the Character Creation tree, this unarmed attack style can’t be changed until a reincarnation. This selection might also reflect how you’d handle other weapons, too.

Druids would see options for Animal Form. Greatsword users would be happy. Longsword and bastard swords would see a variation.

All other classes should get at least two variations. It would be nice to see a piercing attack animation that would reflect the rapier for Swashbucklers to look more authentic. Quarterstaff users should also see a new version that’s less club swinging and more “Friar Tuck”-like, or true to the bo staff style.

Tree

And here’s where it should get really good. Class trees should show specific ways to hold a weapon based on whether you’ve trained a specific weapon style (Single Weapon Fighting, Two Weapon Fighting).

This could be based on the dominant number of action points spent in a tree. Let’s take the Ninja Spy in this example, just to appease me.

Ahsoka from "The Clone Wars." Reverse-grip two-handed fighting.
Ahsoka from “The Clone Wars.” Reverse-grip two-handed fighting.
(c) Disney.

 

They’d fight unarmed based on the Character Creation selection with one of the three weapon fighting styles. But as a Ninja Spy, they should hold weapons quite unique to their tree.

Ahsoka  with reverse-grip single weapon fighting.

Ahsoka with reverse-grip single weapon fighting.

I’d live to see the reverse grip option for Single Weapon Fighting, with a backward grip on one weapon if using Two-Weapon Fighting. As shown, one young Jedi in The Clone Wars animated series had this going on, big time.

This could be automatic based on unique tree/feats such as Monk philosophy or spell school, to pick two examples, or selectable in the Gameplay or UI options.

The sellable kick here, if Turbine wanted to do so, is that certain styles would be wholly restricted to a class. The Monk, being a Premium class that is available only as a Premium account or as a VIP, would get the “cooler” styles. Same could be true for other unlockable races or classes.

Cosmetics

And, if you have TP, you could buy up other attacks as cosmetic additions. This would supplement what you have chosen for more diversity. Some would not work without a prerequisite, such as TWF or SWF.

This could be added for the spell casters so they’d see differences.

Or, weapons themselves could have cosmetics. If you can’t swing nicely, then at least have something that looks nice as it swings.

Problems and Benefits with the Idea

Some classes don’t lend themselves to change. I can’t imagine how archery or crossbow use can be changed up. I mentioned rune arm usage and its apparent limits.

But I want Turbine to earn the bucks needed to keep the game worlds profitable so we can keep playing. Such animations would be entirely optional, so it’s not forced down our throats. But, like the new Ninja outfit cosmetic armor (identical to the highly-popular Spider-Spun Caparison epic outfit), we’d be all happy to pay for looking good and looking cooler if it were offered, right?

And if there were lots of options, lots of TP would be exchanged. We’d be happy. The devs would be happy. Warner Games would be happy. And such changes shouldn’t break anything.

Thoughts on the idea?

The Lone Blade: Kiricletica Reborn

Kiri's a little closer to the single-bladed Akatsuki than her "Sword Art Online" inspiration. And not nearly as cute when assassinating.

Kiri’s a little closer to the single-bladed “ninja” Akatsuki from “Log Horizon” than her “Sword Art Online” inspiration, Kirito–although Kiri’s not nearly as cute when assassinating.

Feeling impulsive a few days ago, I gathered up some Tokens of the Twelve with the L26 Kiricletica, made a Heroic True Heart of Wood and proceeded to start a new life with my soloing Ninja Spy.

My impulsiveness made me forget to buy up a boatload of Yugoloth potions, but I still have a modest supply.

And the new ingredients system for the Shared Bank makes localizing collectibles needed for the House Deneith ability potions for more emergency WIS or DEX so much easier. I’ve also been more crazed in farming anything mossy for those WIS potions.

Reviewing the quest list, there wasn’t much else Kiri could accomplish that was necessary to do, although I entertained clearing all other lower quests for a time. She’d mastered Shadowdancer and Grandmaster of Flowers.

But I wanted to give Kiri a few important changes under her cloak for this second life.

The Lone Blade

Kiricletica’s first life had one general problem: attack speed. As an armed Monk, damage per second with shortswords is a bit lower than fighting unarmed. She had offhand chances with the Two Weapon Fighting feats but didn’t train them in full.

She was able to pack in more damage with many enemies, thanks to Ninja Poison. However, takedown speed is critical in solo ops so that the isolated enemies you remove do not have an opportunity to strike back or call for help.

Kiricletica is now the first of my Monks to use Single Weapon Fighting.

It was a clear choice to boost attack speed for a character that’s not a one-man army. My exploits with Flynncletica sold me on this idea immediately.

By level 15, Kiri as a SWF user could have 30% base Combat Style bonus melee alacrity, not counting stacking enhancement bonuses from Wind Stance, Haste, or her Melee Alacrity trinket. For quick takedowns, that’s a help.

I said “could” because feats can still be tight if I want to add in Whirlwind Strike for some combat options. If I have to pick, it’s obviously for more SWF speed.

Kiri won’t enjoy the innate stacking Doublestrike, Dodge or AC bonuses that Swashbucklers like Flynncletica can gain with the right training of that class’s enhancements, combined with SWF.

But that’s not the point. The Ninja Spy already masters a shortsword with impressive attack bonuses, Dexterity to Damage, as well as enjoying inherent abilities as a Monk. If I can add some morale bonus Doublestrike in from something, great. She’ll also gain Shadow Double later for a burst of 100% Doublestrike with 2x weapon damage for 6 seconds with a 30 second cooldown.

To my pleasant surprise, Single Weapon Fighting is treated as a Monk Class Feat. Curiously, I couldn’t initially select it during character creation with the granted 2 ranks of Balance already in place, the feat’s only prerequisite. I had to backtrack and add two more points to Balance before the feat was selectable.

Dodge and the Half-Elf Cleric Dilettante returned as well. Using scrolls and wands is just too good to pass up. Training Mobility and Spring Attack for Dodge as well as Combat Expertise for more AC.

I felt more reserved in training too much of the Half-Elf tree, and I shouldn’t be. I chose the Elven side in Kiri’s first life for more Dexterity, which was rather meh, but going more Human this round should be more advantageous with its Action Boosts for special needs, and more additional ability points. Improved Recovery is a no-brainer for needed healing amplification, as is boosting the Cleric dilettante for using Heal and Restoration scrolls.

She ate a saved 30,000 XP gem from a very lucky Daily Dice roll to send her straight to level 3, where she’s already taken the Dark path and trained much of the good stuff in the Ninja Spy tree, lacking only Sting of the Ninja for a while longer.

Kiricletica has the maximum WIS I could add to her on creation: 18 base. She’s already 24 WIS with buffs, inherent bonuses and Ocean Stance  at level 3, still lacking an enhancement bonus item. I exploited her power immediately, using “Freezing the Lifeblood” finishing moves on the few orange bosses of a few Korthos quests. Kiri had 48 base WIS and could boost it to 54-56 with potions by L26. I want to see 60 there for perfect finishers.

Once damage-enhancing abilities such as No Mercy are trained again (up to 30% more damage to helpless enemies), takedown speed will be insane, especially with Human Action Boosts and more DEX. Of course, the assassinate-like Quivering Palm at level 15 should apply quite well with Kiri’s very high WIS DC.

DEX is still important and is the second critical stat. I want to get this much higher than her first life, perhaps 40-45 by Epic. This should help not only sword damage but increase Kiri’s throwing star prowess. If feats allow (and I doubt they will), I’ll add Ten Thousand Stars to her in this life.

Ki retention and generation is the real challenge to making this work at such low levels; Kiri’s DCs for her finishers at her level is rock-solid. A crafted Concentration +7 helm sits on her head for a bit more help. Eight action points are going to train the Henshin Mystic’s Mystical Training (more to finisher DCs)  to ultimately gain the Contemplation ability (more Concentration and another passive ki regeneration point).

Not a single point goes into any Shintao ability.

I dug up a Phiarlan Mirror Cloak  for more Hide/Move Silently until I can use her Cloak of Shadows once more.

She’ll try to have a bit more Spot, too. Colliding into the asses of other stealthy enemies while sneaking around yourself is outright embarrassing.

The Revised Mission

I’ve got a lot of characters to get up to speed and also to TR in keeping with improving my ability to help others enjoy the game and improve their skills.

While I love, love, LOVE playing Kiri in solitary mode, and will still do so from time to time, I’m trying to hold her back while I TR and level up a few others, as too many of my characters are loitering around at higher levels.

I’ll still keep Kiri to her original soloing challenge rules while alone as a matter of role-play, but she’ll be likely joining parties more often. I’m only questioning whether to move her to level 5 right away.

Flynn and Szyncletica will be diving into several “Devil’s Assault” runs to generate as many Tokens as I’m able to do. I’m determined to get my dojo to be less top-heavy so I can help out other players and have more fun to boot.

 

The Real Heroes in DDO

I've been too much like this guy. Maybe we've all have been.

I’ve been too much like this guy. Maybe we’ve all have been.

Not long ago, my guild leaders had, ingeniously, created a user chat channel on Ghallanda and then invited other guilds to link in. Result: a meta-guild chat channel where anyone can call for assistance, advice or just to talk. This helps a bit in trying to form up raids and other quests.

But often I cannot help, and I realize now I’m contributing to a larger problem.

DDO’s leveling system compels you to push yourself along. It doesn’t take long for a first-life character to go from 1 to 20 since there is no XP penalty.

Add in a Tome of Learning you received at the start, Experience Elixirs, a Voice of the Master, playthrough bonuses and other quest-related bonuses and your character will be capped before you can say “Troll in the dungeon!”

But what is harder to do, for me at least, is to return those characters to the start.

I’ve generally thought this is just a personal problem, so I just play. I’ll begin to think that, hey, I need to do some “Devil’s Assault” runs to build up some Tokens of the Twelve and get a few characters reincarnated.

While I’m twiddling my thumbs, however, other players have needs.

Selfishness

In the game, the adventurers are generally considered mercenaries at worst, heroes at best.

But the NPCs are simply objects we interface with in order to get a mission and get rewarded for it.

There should be a larger fight we, as players should be rallying to battle.

All veteran players should fight to keep others in the fight. I’m speaking of helping anyone that needs a hand. For any quest. At any level, at any time you’re available.

That all sounds logically sound, right? But often we have our own agenda as we log in. Perhaps we had planned a series of quest runs with other guild mates.

In my case, I’m often playing alone. Sometimes its by design because of a character’s goals, like Kiricletica. But even she has had exceptions to her rules and has joined a group once in a while.

It’s clear that soloing the game is less helpful in helping a fellow player out. And I have no problem in assisting except…

  • my characters are all too high in levels
  • I don’t like playing my under-equipped level 11 cleric
  • I don’t have anyone flagged
  • I need to log off to do an errand/make a meal/get some rest
  • I really need to do this “one thing” this evening for this one character
  • I have a latent fear of joining a disastrous PuG filled with strangers
  • (Insert other lame excuse here)

So, over coffee this morning, I’m making an examination of conscience. This isn’t a new thing for me, but I often do it in the context of my Catholic faith, before going to Confession. Keep the spirit shiny and all that.

But since DDO is filled with real people, the concept still applies, despite this as a venue for recreation.

We all enjoy feeling being heroic in the game. We feel a sense of accomplishment after beating a tough quest. But should that feeling be only of self-aggrandizement? Posting your achievement on the DDO forums? Posting of your victories on a blog? (Guilty as charged.)

I should be helping the real people to their victories, too. To help them overcome their obstacles so that they not only have better characters but are also better players that will also help others and, thus, help the DDO community stay healthy. I shouldn’t simply play alone as often as I do.

I do help a little for others with this blog and the Monk guide. But scholarly writing and advice is one thing. Commitment by action is another.

What triggered all of this for me was a player, online in the meta-channel last night, that complained and lamented that, despite several people online at the time, no one would come to their aid.

This wasn’t some non-player character. This was a real person that needed help, even from the context of play. If you didn’t know, I literally have a Bachelors of Science degree in Play (Outdoor Recreation). I know that, without play, people show poor judgement skills, are more depressed, and are simply unfulfilled.

I even saw this complaint from my own guild leader, who logged off in frustration after venting one day. At first I was put off. “You’re the frickin’ guild leader. It’s your responsibility to encourage others to play,” I thought.

But now I realize that putting all of the responsibility of cooperative gaming at the feet of the guild leader was like asking a president or prime minister to fix everything as if they were some kind of superpowered and omnipotent being.

I’m an adventurer, too. I can help.

So I questioned myself. Phrases of “Why couldn’t I help?” turned to self-lashings of “Why didn’t I help?”

In What I’ve Done, and in What I’ve Failed to Do

I should be a lot more, in gaming, as this guy.

I should be a lot more, in gaming, like this guy.

I’ve discussed recently what I’ve hoped to do with my characters in their next or present lives. I’m going to add a larger challenge for myself to this.

For my Monks, Syncletica and Lynncletica, I want to TR them so they can join in assisting any players. I don’t play them as often, so I can keep their adventures in parallel with what other players require. They’d both be on their third lives so XP will be less plentiful and so they’d level slower. I’d like to have a 5-level differential between them. If Syn is level 1, then Lynn is level 6.

For Ryncletica, I’d also TR her but have her concentrate on guild-related help but also join in that same separation. I want to have a Heroic character available at any 5 levels (5, 10, 15). That’s a lot of Token farming and it will take time.

Newbie first-lifers Kiricletica and Flynncletica will still be played as they are until I can TR them. Szyncletica, now the ace character that can solo most anything, will stay an Epic character for farming Tokens and other tasks, assuming Lynncletica’s place as the ultimate character in my dojo.

It’s fun to write here about what I’ve discovered about the Monk class or what others have found and how you might be able to apply that knowledge for your own gaming. But I also see now that true heroism, in the very spirit of Dungeons & Dragons, requires cooperation. Doing that which is required for others. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Further, DDO needs more adventurers to come to the aid of other adventurers. Soloing can be fun, but that’s not what players in DDO, a multiplayer environment, should be doing exclusively.

Heroes, by definition, are sacrificial. There is nothing gained for free. Neither true joy, freedom or accomplishment can be attained by simply paying attention to our own needs. The classical hero often dies in the accomplishment of their mission. Western stylings of heroes often make them ride off into sunsets or rooms with bags of money and members of the opposite sex. This was why Neo died. Why Russell Casse died.

It’s not dying that’s important, but to express how important it is for others to succeed by investing your time, your energy, as much as yourself as you can, to help others reach that goal.

Being merely an adventurer does not make one a hero. You gain that honor not from what you do, but from what you do for others. Some players need saving.

A recent post by Evennote shows that she’s already way ahead of me in trying to help someone when no one else will. Good on you, Even.

Solo Shroud Update

Family obligations keep me from trying to make more attempts to complete “The Shroud” on Normal with Szyncletica as often as I wish. It’s also a far longer task because I’m alone in there, so I need at least 2 hours, uninterrupted.

That said, I did make a second attempt a weekend ago. Completed part 1 without issue. Part 2 had a great pull of lieutenants that I removed in one round.

Part 3 ate me again. This time, while I spotted the prismatic wall while in the center, I began to carefully follow it as I removed more crystals.

Not so smart. The DDO Wiki page warns that the wall has a tendency to make a new copy of itself at corners as it moves down a side. Zapped again for being too close to said corner.

At least Szyn’s combat prowess is confirmed with parts 1 and 2, right?

Must Be My Charming Personality

Everybody got their party hat? Yes?

Everybody got their party hat? Yes? Great!

On first building Flynncletica, I was attracted to the use of Dexterity to Damage for her Swashbuckling fighting style. I knew how well that worked based on my experience with the Ninja Spy’s identical ability on Kiricletica and others.

I’ve considered recanting DEX-to-damage to try a different tack with a Different Tack (the ability), which determines which stat (other than STR) defines your damage.

My DEX is a bit higher after a few points in it. I chose Halfling to improve her Dexterity. I can get my CHA about as high as DEX when I want to convert the masses through a Fascinate song and then a Mass Suggestion.

But as I learned the hard way in a Heroic Elite run of “Friends in Low Places,” I wasn’t quite the charmer as I hoped by the end fight. I thought I needed more CHA and/or needed to concentrate on CHA for Damage.

I’m Feeling Fascination

Still a bit wet behind the ears as a Bard, I’ve only started to use Fascinate to halt enemies. Now at level 18, she’s trained Mass Suggestion to effect a mass charm on enemies.

I have no problems in training non-damaging spells and songs. It’s my monastic upbringing. Playing Shintao Monks, I’m often buffing and supporting allies as well with Healing Ki, finishing moves and elemental curatives like the Lesser Restoration SLA, Restoring the Balance.

At lower difficulties or with enemies with lower Will, Suggestion sticks well, answering the enemy challenge to “You and whose army?!” But I’d like to ensure that Mass Suggestion sticks rather well in Elite difficulties.

Since the ability Different Tack allows CHA to work as damage, pumping my character’s CHA to improve its modifier, not DEX, would be the prudent thing if I want Flynn to dominate fights by redirecting them as allied attackers with CHA as the sole modifier for all things important.

Thankfully I had some foresight on this on reaching 1,750 favor.  I chose a +2 CHA tome and then used two upgrades for an inherent +4.

I had strongly considering using a Lesser Heart of Wood to redo my stats, adding back the DEX points to CHA–but not too many. I still need higher DEX for good Reflex saves.

I’m looking more at CThruTheEgo’s “Monte Cristo” build for bardic advice, after getting my build inspiration from another DEX based thread for a soloing Bard.

As more of you know than me, Fascinate’s DC is the Perform skill +d20. With Perform maxed out now and using a Perform +13 ring, using the effect works quite well.

With some Spellsinger training, I could Fascinate specific monsters that otherwise can never be Fascinated. But I’m heavy in Warchanter training now, enjoying the attacks that freeze enemies and abilities that add PRR and doublestrike bonuses. At level 19, Flynn had 32 PRR (with only a PRR +2 gem) and 29% standing doublestrike.

I’ll gain Evasion, another 1% Doublestrike, +2 DEX and +2 CHA with level 20 and the Swashbuckler capstone enhancement. So, perhaps, I’ll stay where I am, but use Epic Destinies and items to add more CHA to get my Will saves higher. The DEX will help Reflex to make my miss-chance effects work better.

I have a lot of destiny grinding ahead of me.

But I had look at the Charms as they stood now and commit to a direction.

Not Magically Delicious

Back to that end-fight in “Friends in Low Places.” Knowing the enemy zerg-rush of that last fight, I began dropping down Mind Fog and Otto’s dancing balls to slow things down, then readied myself to Fascinate and use Mass Suggestion to boot. My goal wasn’t to kill the mobs but to keep them off immobile and off of me while I concentrated on killing the last boss to prevent more enemies from spawning.

It didn’t work. I think these enemies had a higher Will save, for one, as I could pick off and charm the straggling bands of invaders but had a harder time slowing the camp attackers. I became overwhelmed too quickly to mount a counter-offensive.

I needed to improve my charming personality.

Charms break down into several sub-abilities. You can charm most humanoids and some monsters except oozes, constructs and undead (although you can Fascinate them with a bit more training).

Suggestion has a different DC calculation: 10 + (Bard level/2) + CHA modifier. I’m all Bard; that’s good. But at CHA 22 at the lowest, I need to keep up my girly poise if I’m to redirect my enemies.

My best DC is 28. I’d rather have 35 or better in Heroic.

CHA seems the go-to stat, but does that all but guarantee that Charms and Suggestion will do as I want?

There’s also a second charming effect, Dominate, that I enjoy. I’d rather convince a Orthon follow me around to go with the rest of my summoned posse.

I did some reading on builds and realized that the Shard of Xoriat would be more useful than for the great meat shielding beholders, renders, mind flayers and Taken you can wield from it. It’s also a bardic treasure with Exceptional CHA +1 and Greater Enchantment Bonus.

If I read that right, Greater Enchantment Bonus adds a stacking 2 to my overall Charm-related DCs, right? Please let me know if I’m reading that wrong. I think it’s comparable to  boosts like Combat Mastery, which help tactical feat DCs for things like Stunning Fist for Monks.

So, I’ve got CHA +4 in tomes. I can also wear a +6 CHA enhancement item, having plans to slot a colorless gem in either of my level 20 armor or shield.

The next items I can imagine would help are collectible-generated Potions of Influence (stacking +1 to +3 CHA bonus) that I can use any time, as well as the +2 Yugoloth favor potions from Amrath and the quests of the Devil Battlefield. Toss some Turbine Points to the DDO Store and I can add in the stacking +2 Elixirs. So I can add up to another +5 to +7 now for brief periods.

I planed to go into the Devil Battlefield as soon once I hit level 20, wanting to have a better-than-average level when heading into these quests on Elite. Last night I impulsively tackled “Sins of Attrition” on Elite, coming out of that CR 21 fight by the skin of my teeth. Haystack the hireling over-healed throughout the quest, straining our spell point reserves. Eventually I left the sumbitch behind until the last battle. I just needed the Death Ward from the guy, anyway.

But…do you see my mistake in all of this thinking?

I mistakenly believed that Will saves are improved by CHA, when it’s WIS that affects a Will save, right? I need the Force of Personality feat to make my CHA modifier work for Will saves, as there’s no way I’ll add anything to WIS on Flynncletica unless a +5 tome comes dropping from the sky on her head. At least…that’s my understanding of it. Please tell if I’m wrong before I gimp another character!

The next feat slot for that comes at level 21. I was going to slum it out with potions until that time. But…I chose to make a feat swap. I can live without Improved Shield Mastery (with a small loss of doublestrike and PRR) to be a better charmer into Epic.

Epic Bling

One thing that’s a little disorienting involves what the comely young Halfling Bard chicks are wearing this year on Level 20 and beyond.

I have only three items in my cavalier’s wardrobe on reaching 20: a tier-3 Epic Swashbuckler shield, some tier-3 Epic Duelist’s Leathers, and an Epic Elyd Edge. I thought of adding a Heavy Fortification gem in the shield’s blue slot and a +6 CHA colorless gem in the armor so I can dispense with my Minos Legens, perhaps moving its Vitality +20 colorless gem to something else in the future and freeing my head for something more interesting later.

Looking about Eveningstar, I realized that there doesn’t appear to be any bard-inclined epic gear as we can get for Monks (the Sun Soul set) or Fighters (the Purple Dragon Knight set) or Wizards (the Battle Arcanist set).

There are a few options through the Druid trader, such as the Lenses of the Woodsman and Boots of the Woodsman. The Leathers light armor isn’t bad either although not attractive enough to swap out for the Epic Duelist’s Leathers, even with the equipped set bonus.

The Purple Dragon Gauntlets with their greater STR, CON bonus and 30% healing amplification would be welcome, I’m sure, as perhaps the Iron Mitts, and the Kobold Admiral’s Tiller from Epic Three-Barrel Cove.

But you can see where this is going. An epic Bard Swashbuckler seems to be more of a motley of items that don’t have much set complementarity with each other as opposed to items from the Eveningstar sets.

The popular Bard SB threads again offer some suggestions. Two of them caught my eye.

  • Sage’s Mantle cloak (from “The Tracker’s Trap”) for equipment Enchantment Focus bonus
  • Intricate Field Optics goggles (from “Return to Gianthold Tor”) for Insightful CHA or CHA +8

Flynncletica, having a desire for a Corymrian weapon, recently completed the challenge “Ring of Fire” with all optionals completed (bye, dragon!), my first character to complete a full challenge. She obtained a serviceable level 16 rapier with ingredients gathered but does plan to run challenges to make level 20 and 24 weapons.

Additional suggestions from the adventurer’s peanut gallery are welcomed.

Epic Destinies

"Wait! I have one more buff before you blow up that car!"

“Wait! I have one more buff before you blow up that car!”

I did mention I will find myself grinding my ass off to gain not only specific abilities but the many Twist of Fate slots required to hold them?

For once, I may not mind this. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to take the easy way out if I can do so.

One Key of Destiny (I hope) as a first-life character and I’m unlocking Unyielding Sentinel out of the gate. I want its Shield Prowess, Brace for Impact and Legendary Shield Mastery immediately for defenses. Once that tree is trained, it’s off to Grandmaster of Flowers to slum it out a bit as a monastic fighter as I unlock the Martial tree. I might actually put away my swashbuckling gear for a bit as I train this, wielding only a shortsword for a bit of flavor and to impress the other Monks.

Then, on to Shadowdancer for its extra doublestrike and Shadow Form for better incorporeality. I see this destiny as my default once I train enough Fate points to unlock what I desire to Twist from other places.

The Shadowdancer greatly improves Flynn’s scouting and ambush abilities and will help her survive it better. Her miss-chance effects will be stronger with up to 50% concealment, 25%+Dodge and 25% Incorporeality of Shadow Form to go with higher AC and PRR.

Next, Legendary Dreadnought for more fighting prowess and fate points before training Fatesinger and Divine Crusader. And yes, I could even talk myself into Draconic Incarnation and Magister.

If I cannot use a Key of Destiny to start, I’ll begin as a Fatesinger and earn my prerequisites the old-fashioned way by unlocking the spheres, one by one.

In short, sure. I want them all. All the Destinies.

I’ve never trained more than three destinies on any one character before, and even then, one of those destinies wasn’t fully trained. But with a Swashbuckler and its hybrid lifestyle as fighter and bard, I won’t feel as stripped-down while moving between or training destinies.

While as a first-life, where there’s no XP penalty, this is the best opportunity to make the most of Flynn’s abilities. I’ve never had a reason to be a destiny completionist–until now.

Kiricletica’s Bane

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

Kiricletica looks nice here, but she’s just posing. She should look less aggressive. It doesn’t pay to be a highly-visible ninja.

It’s been a bit since I last spoke about Kiricletica. Inspired by the character of “Kirito” in the light novel/anime about a VRMMORPG called Sword Art Online, Kiricletica emulated the anime character in generally completing her adventures completely alone. No hirelings (save a few quests where switches needed more than a single person) or summoned creatures as active fighters. And there’s the self-imposed limit to kills.

The Shuricannon Szyncletica stole my attention away for a time. Bugs in the game that stopped Ninja Poison from applying with Updates 21 and 22 also dampened my spirits to complete Kiri’s first life and reincarnate her for a second go.

With Ninja Poison working again, I logged in recently to find problems in playing Kiri.

There’s nothing wrong with her, but me. I’ve become a bane to Kiri’s success. (Any pun you detected is intentional.)

It’s because of a speed differential I’ve put in my head.

Of late, I’ve been primarily enjoying two characters with insane attack speeds: Szyncletica and the swashbuckling Flynncletica. So Kiri’s attack speed, as a shortsword wielding ninja, seems very very slow. I have a Melee Alacrity item but I don’t often drink Haste potions to boost things.

There’s also Kiri’s built-in attack methodology. While Szyn and Flynn can scream-and-leap into most any fight, Kiri’s designed to avoid fighting, picking off or eluding isolated enemies as required, then isolating the boss and eliminating them. Her primary DPS comes from Ninja Poison.

Finally, there’s a matter of scope. Kiri was not built as the ultimate fighter, but the ultimate victor. Completing the mission, not attaining the highest slayer count, or even all optionals, is Kiri’s design.

Difficulty is also not supposed to be a factor. The Epic Elite barrier that so many complain about on the forums when it comes to melee fighting is one that Kiri shouldn’t be trying to breech except in rare fights (perhaps “House of Rusted Blades”). Frankly, EE melee fighters hit very hard–harder than Kiri can withstand. She can complete most things on Epic Hard as the combat challenges are a bit less. More on EE issues in a moment.

Lastly, there’s the matter of raids. Raids are all about fighting in a group. Kiri cannot keep up by herself. With “Tempest’s Spine” as an exception, she doesn’t do raids under her solo rules.

So where does that leave the Most Loneliest Ninja?

Still happy, I think.

There’s Much Left to Do

My challenge at Kiri’s current level, 26, is three-fold. First, to push through some experience to add Legendary Dreadnought’s Improved Combat Expertise for a little PRR. Second is to complete her leveling to 28, just to say she can.

The last goal (and I don’t know if I have patience to do this) is to complete every quest available in the game that does not absolutely require multiple characters to complete. Raids are also off the table.

I’m not attempting to complete any remaining quests at Elite difficulty. I’m just trying to complete things, period. If there’s a Favor incentive I can see that can gain me something useful (such as those that gained me Yugoloth favor potions), then that’s a secondary goal.

Building a second Thunder-Forged Shortsword isn’t a bad idea. There may be a few more low-level items to farm before a reincarnation.

Some adventures may exceed Kiri’s powers, even if I were playing her optimally as before. For instance, completing the Wheloon quests, especially the Storm Horns series, seem damned impossible with this build in terms of thoroughness. The zerg-rush attacks in “Breaking the Ranks” and “What Goes Up” is going to hurt. It’s an arena fight like “Tharaask Arena.” Conservation of Ninjutsu be damned. Kiricletica would get slaughtered.

It’s Not Her, It’s Me

But let me get back to my mental handicap with Kiri’s fighting prowess. I’ve obviously shown her able under my gameplay to complete 3 of the 4 Devil Battlefield quests on Elite, by herself, to gain sufficient Yugo favor. I couldn’t just go stealth through all that. Further: Many devils and demons are poison-immune, so Kiri really had to fight it out to complete things.

So am I gimping my own playstyle with Kiri by playing high-attack speed characters?

I think so, although it’s not irreparable. Kiri’s design required the utmost patience, the most serious mind. I would leave Kiri in stealth for several minutes in a quest, contemplating my next moves, building up ki and studying the AI of a target I had to kill or could not bypass.

With Batman-esque determination, I executed the plan. Such meta-roleplay did work. But I’ve gotten out of true. Kiricletica isn’t very special in terms of character design or gear as a Ninja Spy. But she has a very specialized skill set, and thus, manner of play.

I took Kiri back into “Impossible Demands” on Epic Elite. While damaging Priestess Vicala to begin the hostage rescue wasn’t a problem, I immediately became overwhelmed in taking on the fighters of the hostages in room 1.

A post-mortem review revealed the one thing I pushed Kiri into doing; Offensive attacks. She normally lures single enemies out, before killing them as a viper would. Else, a horde of spiders can kill a sole viper.

It’s funny but Kiri is going to have to train me to play properly again, rather than me, the player, retooling her and reallocating this and that. Kiri is fine. I’m the one that sucks.

Broken Tools of the “Ninja Assassin” Trade?

Kiri is, in part, a perfection of ninja skills I first learned from her teacher, Ryncletica.

The Kunoichi...where brute strength is lacking, cunning through poisoned blades do the work. (Credit: CreativeCut.com)

Kiri’s perfected a few of her own, such as high-dosage poisoning, paralyzing and enemy pulling.

With Update 22, how many new things will she had to add to her Ninja Utility Belt? And can she meet a new game mechanic change?

A foreboding example of Update 22’s aggro/AI changes came in a DDO forum thread where a player noted that the fun challenge of assassinating only the Minotaur Chieftain in “Frame Work” not only didn’t work but became a clusterfrak when mobs surged in from all throughout the city. What caught my eye (in screen shots) and the poster were all three Cabal Seers, high-level mages, suddenly spawning  from their perches, hundreds of meters away, to guard the chieftain.

That’s too much of an aggro change. While local enemies should be attracted when you slap the boss, the “local” definition has changed to say, “Somewhere in the quest.” The Seers shouldn’t have a hot-line to call themselves in from halfway across the city and materialize atop you.

The only way I can think of working around this is to partially violate the limited kill rule by assassinating the Cabal Seers first. But then, if the AI is still wacky, that might bring more terror on my head if I don’t remove any Runts that ring the bells. And now, how far can those Runts detect you?

I do have an idea to improve on Kiri’s attack speed in her next life. More on that another time.

For now, I have to remember how to be a ninja. After all I’ve completed with Kiricletica, isn’t that weird?

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