Better Gaming Through Anime

Exactly what you'd expect to hear on a vulnerable raid, right?

Exactly what you’d expect to hear when a boss is vulnerable during a raid, right?

Plenty of you have read of my recent character builds, many inspired in part through two anime programs: Sword Art Online (SAO) and Log Horizon (LH). Both shows are now airing a second season.

These two programs, based on light novels, aren’t quite like the usual fantasy, supernatural, mecha or other anime plot themes. Both are heavily influenced by MMO gaming design and concepts, including monsters, character classes, terminology, strategy and relationships to current technology.

Both second seasons have illustrated gameplay in ways that, I think, would be a great primer to people who are new to the multi-multiplayer online format, and new to Dungeons & Dragons game design in particular.

How these characters play is critical if DDO ever implements the concept of the mythic raid/quest. We can talk about the idea, but these game-inspired anime series already live the idea–and show how desperately they fight despite cohesive teamwork.

What makes both shows interesting is that the players aren’t sitting behind a computer screen while at play. Either they are connected into the game by a special brain wave interface that makes the Oculus Rift seem like a 1970’s Atari console joystick (SAO), or for reasons unknown, the game has turned life inside out, and they live as their avatars (LH) within this alternative reality.

Both series (their 2013 first seasons and their 2014 current second seasons) are available to watch, free, at the Crunchyroll web site, with a slower release on Hulu Plus. Mind you, the LH season 2 English subtitles are atrociously poor on Hulu, wrought with typos and gross mis-translation, so I’d recommend Crunchyroll for your viewing.

Character Classes

Sword Art Online character classes, in the original death game story arc, were generally based on your preferred weapon training. The original game world, Aincrad, was a magic-less world where weapon skills formed your character. There were no archers or mages or magic in general; you could use daggers, spears, axes, and swords of all kinds. Save for the protagonist, Kirito, no one could dual-wield swords (and the protagonist received that ability through no action of his own). Character levels were less D&D based and were more exponential as seen in games such as World of Warcraft.

By the second arc, “Fairy Dance,” a new game world based on the SAO game engine introduced flight as well as magic. Characters could choose a fairy-like elven race, each with specific specialties, such as elemental, healing, shadow arts, summoning, gadgeteering, beast taming and the like. Unlike the first SAO, character levels mattered less; rather, mastery of magic and weapon skills as levels were emphasized.

As the SAO engine became a de facto open-sourced game engine, many games developed, even overlapping and allowing import or transfer of character data with in-common information between games. Imagine being able to move a WoW character to DDO or Lord of the Rings Online and back. Game items would not transfer, but your basic stats and skills would move with your core character.

Shiroe, the main character in LH, is a master strategist, watching ahead while watching all player stats. Wish DDO has a closer analogue.

Shiroe, the main character in LH, is a master strategist, watching ahead while watching all player stats. Wish DDO has a closer analogue.

Log Horizon, in contrast, is much more heavy throughout its program on character classes. In fact, the game that’s become a new reality, the fictitious Elder Tale, is a DnD-like game world, set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, half the size of the actual one.

The players, pulled into this reality as living avatars after a major game update, still interact with the world’s game mechanics (levels, spells, weapons) through a diegetic interface (as do the digital avatars in SAO). The light novel’s author has acknowledged the book’s inspiration from DnD and other games.

LH has four class-type categories with 90 subclasses that can supplement fighting or non-combat or tactical prowess.

  • Warrior:
    • Guardian: A high HP Fighter-style shield-and-sword tank with Intimidate aggro-controlling and damage-mitigation
    • Samurai: A high HP shield-less fighter that sacrifices some defenses for greater attack combinations.
    • Monk: A high HP unarmed fighter that works remarkably similar to the DDO version, with many attacks with very short cooldowns.
  • Weapon-type:
    • Assassin: Abilities very similar to the Rogue Assassin with high sneak-attack and very high weapon damage at the expense of defense and a required element of surprise. Depending on the subclass training, can use stealth tactics to move and travel and teleport short distances soundlessly.
    • Swashbuckler: A dual-wielding fighter, with average defenses. Their swift attacks can damage enemy stats and saves to weaken them. Can use light weapons or swords with many variations.
    • Bard: Very comparable to the DDO Bard. Uses song magic to buff and augment allies and weaken and charm enemies. Can use a limited weapon set or no weapons at all. Types almost match the pre-Update 19 prestige enhancements.
  • Healer:
    • Cleric: Very similar to the current DDO implementations. Highly regarded in the LH world as healing options appear strictly limited to this and other healing classes. All other classes have to focus on evading or mitigating damage and cannot battle-heal.
    • Druid: Very similar to DDO versions. Has (destructive) animal companions, rooting and dismissal spells and is a strong healing class.
    • Kannagi/Shrine Priest: Less comparable to the Favored Soul, this class is designed to block damage to allies before it happens, including buffs, with some weak attack spells and some healing options.
  • Mage:
    • Enchanter: A wizard-type class that specializes in magic to greatly augment allied attacks, root or bind enemies and debuff them, with a few weak direct attacks. The central protagonist, Shiroe, is this class. Combined with his knowledge of the game and mastery of calculating enemy and allied combat data ahead of time, he is highly-regarded by his friends as a master strategist that can take a small force and wield it as if it were a raiding party against a superior force.
    • Summoner: Creates summoned beasts or spirits creatures to battle for them.
    • Sorcerer: Highest offensive magic user, at the natural sacrifice to HP and defense. Combined with a Bard, a Sorcerer’s attacks can be augmented substantially.

Combat

Both programs show elements found in many MMOs.

Safe-zones

In both universes, player-versus-player combat has restrictions. In the original SAO, you can’t be killed in towns but combat creates a terrifying knockdown and fatigue effect. SAO variations with territorial/racial boundaries would allow races of a territory to kill those of other races who are present in their towns, with the foreign race unable to defend or fight.

In LH, player combat is expressly prohibited, where NPC town guardians will appear and kill even the strongest adventurers for infractions. LH players exploit this in many ways without violating the combat rule, including handholds, kidnapping and limb locks, as well as even sexual assault (in the light novels anyway; the anime tones this element down for broadcast concerns).

Wilderness areas

Respawns occurred slowly in the SAO worlds. A single boss commanded access to the next floor of the castle-like world, each with unique environments and skies. In the original arc, the game’s creator trapped nearly 10,000 players in the game, unable to log out or be removed from the game from the outside. You had one life, and if you died in the game, you died in the real world. Save the towns, death was possible anywhere.

Later story arcs in the SAO series removed the death-game premise but cleverly adds a real-world consequence of some sort from game objectives that promotes a compelling story line in each arc.

In LH, respawns are part of the natural game mechanic and explained as a magical and natural function that makes enemies essentially immortal. That’s counterbalanced by the player as the Adventurer, who also are immortal and resurrect on death (though not without a price).

Character attack

SAO sword attacks had cooldowns where players had to defend or escape before attacking again. LH attacks, spells or weapons, also had cooldowns that varied based on class. As you might expect, the more powerful or useful the attack or defensive action, the slower the cooldown.

The original SAO story arc had less emphasis on tanks, with no healers available. As the story arcs and new worlds evolved, the general tanker/damage/healer teams became more prevalent and helpful.

LH has always stuck to roles in combat. Teamwork is critical, no matter how small. Episode 2 of season 1 illustrates how good teamwork needn’t have a full party–just a smart one.

Raids

Here is where both shows could really teach a few DDO players on how things are done.

In the original SAO, a raiding party consisted of 49 people, seven groups into seven teams. LH raiding parties were four teams of 6 people for 24 players–twice that in a DDO raid.

While SAO episodes would only generalize the raid functions as front-line fighter and healer/mage support (if any existed), LH made exacting differentiated group roles: tanks, DPS, healers and support.

Where Sword Art Online’s writing emphasizes the character story at the expense of explaining game mechanics except for critical plot points, Log Horizon is superior at turning game mechanics into high drama. The show illustrates specific actions, such as attacks by name, cooldown limits, common MMO issues such as limited ammo, magic points, or weapon wear-and-tear, combined with enemy and boss attacks, their patterns, timing and ramifications for the Adventurers fighting them. Never has a party wipe seemed so realistically portrayed on-screen than in Log Horizon 2.

The episodes say and show what characters know and act, reach their highs and limits, with their communication to others virtually identical to what we’d see in party chat.

Three raid bosses, no escape, total surprise. Party wipe.

Three raid bosses, no escape, total surprise. Party wipe.

It’s the scope of organization that’s interesting to watch in LH season 2. The protagonist, Shiroe, is well-known for his strategist planning for battles large and small.

But even he finds a dreadful surprise when something very unexpected occurs in one raid battle that, in DDO, could only be classified as a game admin taking over a boss NPC and wielding it’s powers manually. In short, the boss goes off-script and adapts to the party attack. He calls in fellow raid bosses from other locations to kill the party. Imagine Aaretreikos from “The Shroud” calling in the Truthful One and the Stormreaver during part 5 of that raid, without notice.

The closest actual problem like this in DDO would be if a GM began to control the boss manually.

Both shows would be boring as hell if they portrayed their gaming as DDO does. We shouldn’t expect our raid bosses to throw something totally new at us each time we entered. But good drama allows these shows to work that premise into story with more than thrilling results.

Teamwork is the Key

Both game-based anime shows do a fine job of bringing a game world to life and keeping true to the MMO vocabularies and monsters such as kobolds or demons.

While SAO is ultimately a story about a male protagonist and a growing base of female players he has helped and who adore him, LH is a story about gaming, since the Adventurer’s lives are literally and fully immersed in the new game reality.

As one might expect, some LH and original SAO players decide never to fight,  since it’s still a very scary experience to battle in first-person. In SAO story arc 1, the death-game, some opt never to play, and others go literally insane, forming a murder guild, one that player-kills for sport in a game where death is real.

But both shows emphasize teamwork and communication. Unlike DDO, tackling a raid boss alone is completely impossible (although SAO’s Kirito managed it a couple of times , once by overleveling and once with a special skill and sheer luck).

There are plenty of threads on the DDO forums where players complain that the game is “too easy.” To resolve that, I’d propose that the game difficulty be able as a “impossible” setting. No matter what the enemy is, they will be 5 times the level of the party’s strongest character. They’d have weapons that could slay you in a handful of hits, or even a single hit if you are not wary. No matter what weapons and gear you have, no matter your level, no matter your magic, only strategy and a full party give you a chance, period.

Your party can’t simply hack and slash at it. It might have a series of party-deadly attacks, even one-hit kills. Your team will have to watch the boss and his minions very carefully.

And, to make things interesting, the quests would have randomized weapon powers, effects, immunities and number of bosses. Some may intentionally target and prioritize killing your healers or tanks. Your team can’t simply stand out in the open.

And raid parties become much larger, say 24. And some might say that’s not enough.

Zergs would be impossible. Soloing would be impossible. Winning would be improbable.

The idea isn’t new, of course. Talk of “mythic” raids and quests are bandied about of late.

The players would be forced to see why Dungeons & Dragons is the most popular game design. It’s not the gear, or the class, or the levels or the versatility. It’s teamwork. It’s always been about teamwork.

As the anime shows illustrate well, solid MMO play is ultimately in perfecting a team. Not everyone can or should be the “ultimate fighter.”

Want an illustrated example? Go to Crunchyroll and see LH season 2, episode 3, “The Abysmal Shaft,” to see how a raid party has to deal with a very, very complex raid boss–the first of many for them.

Stealth Ops: Spies in the House

There's ALWAYS a ninja somewhere. Can you find her?

It’s Spy Vs. Spies in this quest. Or, if you’re me, ninja vs. pirates.

I’m continuing my series of posts where I give detailed analysis of quests that benefit players that use stealth tactics and deliver a larger XP or resource-savings reward for doing that.

Often, these quests will likely be ones that are rather reviled by the usual zerging slasher forces or those players that don’t “read the manual.” That is, they log in, select a quest and enter, often unprepared and armed to the teeth–and fated for a long day. Or, the quest is an unusual design: multiple levels, required keys or levers, or more ambush points where your party is more vulnerable than necessary.

The details in these guides will be more detailed than what information you’ll find in the DDO Wiki articles in terms of navigation and way-points, but aren’t meant as a substitute.

Also, these posts will eventually cross-link to the Stormreach Shadows guide, where formatting limits are a bit restrictive for images and the occasional video.

Let’s start with one of my personal favorites: “Spies in the House.”

Preparation


Note: Update 23 has a bug where, if you start “Spies” while you have the “Sentinels of Stormreach” quest chain in-progress, the quest chain giver will not offer you the chain end-reward loot list on completion. Run “Spies” before starting “Sentinels” as a workaround, or run “Spies” after you complete the chain. While related in the storyline, “Spies” isn’t part of the Sentinels quest chain so you needn’t speak to Taggart d’Deneith, the Sentinels quest chain-giver.


“Spies” is one of a handful of quests where the exit is straight up, over a harrowing series of climbs. Not coincidentally, several of the quests I’ll review in this series have climbing and multiple levels.

I’d argue that “Spies” earns the title for the most challenging of these climbing quests. Unlike other climbing quests, Completing “Spies” requires agility way beyond that needed in quests such as “The Coalescence Chamber.” You need at least at least +10 Jump in this place–and that’s optimally your number while you’re in Sneak, which gives a -20 penalty to that and Tumble.

Thus, medium and heavy Armored Fighters, Clerics and Paladins have a harder time in quests like “Spies” because their Armor Check Penalty works against their Jump skill. These classes as well as Wizards, Artificers and Sorcerers also have Jump as a cross-class skill where it’s cost-prohibitive to add many, if any skill points. Potions, items and spells to give stacking Competence and Enhancement bonuses that raise Jump to a useful level can help a lot for such characters.

Stealth will also be problematic for all classes who aren’t Bards, Monks, Rangers or Rogues since Hide and Move Silently as also cross-class skills. Rangers, Druids and strong-UMD Rogue can help here, too, in addition to items. (For suggestions to fix that, see this chapter and this chapter in the Stormreach Shadows stealth guide.)

A Feather Falling item or long-lasting spells is also required here throughout the quest. Falling here means falling a long way that will likely leave you very vulnerable, feeling very lost, and unable to catch up easily. Striding speed is also very important in the final levels; buy some Haste potions.

“Spies” makes every attempt to keep you from going upward using simple barriers that must be activated or bypassed before your party proceeds. In “Coal Chamber,” it’s a matter of running up and up, with no requirements to jump except down with a Feather Fall item to a shrine. In “Spies,” if you have low Jump, you’re going to have a harder time. A few places require you to leap up swiftly to grab onto something should you fall out of alignment as you make your way.

Don’t bother using your in-quest map here. Like “The Pit” and “Chains of Flame,” the multiple layers of the quest map do not reveal any information of use to navigation.

The Entry Level: “Ninja, Please!” (Or, “Why Clerics Can’t Jump“)

You start the quest next to a very high sewer shaft that drops to an underwater point. Even with Feather Falling off, it seems that it’ll take about 10 seconds for you to hit the water below. That’s a portent of your long climb back up, elsewhere. Stealth teams should buff up here and activate Sneak before dropping down since the underwater point below will prohibit you from activating Sneak.

Once you’re down, ahead is a small alcove guarded by ice mephits and water elementals. Your fastest stealth party member can move to the lever to pull it, opening a gate to swim down the sewer tunnel while others rush by the enraged elementals. You don’t have to fight these guys; simply pulling that lever and leaping into the water ahead avoids them.

The wide underwater pit ahead is filled with sonic and spike traps with fences to force your path. High reflex/evasive characters can avoid them. A Rogue can disable all the traps for bonuses. Non-evasive characters should carefully swim forward and, on returning to solid ground, stop and stay in Sneak to stay a bit hidden. In the water lies one of three valves that control an air jet that teams should use.

Out of the water and in Sneak, you’re surrounded enter a vast complex with catwalks and scaffolding above. To your relative left (northwest and southwest) in the wide-open area are many skeleton archers and a few Blood Tide fighters and mages. East and ahead from the water is a small dead-end tunnel with another couple of traps and a second valve for the first air jet.

The third and last valve of this first jet is in the northwest corner, guarded by a few humans and their skeleton charges, next to the air jet itself.

A non-stealthy team would have to make their way along catwalks from the northwest, pelted by skeletal snipers not only above but way above you, shooting where you cannot shoot back. It’s a killing field.

And even then, a non-stealthy team must make a couple of careful climbs to a valve that lowers a drawbridge for the team to climb up a series of fixed boxes to another scaffold level. Miss your mark, and you’ll fall down and back to the water entry.

For stealth teams, there’s a better way.

Lower Level: Jet-Setter

After activating the first two valves, carefully make your way to the last valve, dispatch the skeletons and mages there and activate the last valve, located next to the jet itself. If your team stays in that corner, you shouldn’t be detected by the skeleton archers to the far left, watching the catwalks and scaffolding.

With the three valves activated on the lowest level, two air jets activate. One lifts you up to a catwalk just above you, where a second diagonal jet hurls you up and to a wide catwalk across the way, above the center of the bottom level.

What you do here depends on your party composition.

Teams with strong Jump skills can simply use your Jump prowess and Feather Fall for controlled guiding, using the two jets to make your way up to the center catwalk, and then jump down or across a bit to the lower scaffolding with the closed drawbridge to climb up fixed boxes that lead up through holes in the scaffolding for a couple of levels to higher piping. Traversing this way in Sneak avoids any detection by the skeletal archers very close by. There is likely one lonely human guard here in hiding at the drawbridge scaffolding. If anyone’s stealth skills are poor, he will find you.

If your party is a mix of low-Jump characters that aren’t as agile, a lone stealthy character can make the jet leaps, then head southward and up and over some pipes to reach the valve over dead-end scaffolding to the far south, above the watery entry, that lowers the drawbridge. Unfortunately this means that your party’s walk to the bridge will likely fight the lower archers and a couple of human fighters along the catwalk and platforms to the now-lowered drawbridge as even your stealth skills will be compromised at such close proximity. Your fighting might also alert the archers much higher up. This is problematic since you’ll be fired at, but cannot target back because of your attack angle.

Once your team has climbed up at the highest scaffold via the fixed boxes, jumping is required to a pipe that’s close enough to stand on. Your team must stay in stealth here; above are more skeletal archers that will rain down arrows on you at an angle where you cannot counter-attack. The path north on the pipe leads to a puzzle wheel that controls an air jet behind and above you in the southwest corner. It’s the only way up for everyone.

One party member can sneak to the wheel and turn it twice to activate it’s second light to the right, which activates the proper southwest jet that will launch your party members to yet another scaffold above. Left of the puzzle wheel is a constantly-blowing jet that catapults your team to that larger southwest jet. Everyone’s got to traverse the northern pipe: watch out for the break in the pipe on the way or you’re going to fall. A Bard in your party that can give Invisibility to your team helps a lot here in avoiding detecting from the now-closer archers above you.

Keep in stealth throughout this entire progression, even if your Hide/Move Silently scores are poor. A stealth posture keeps you slowed and in better control while traveling on the thin pipes. You may need to stand up for the jets to launch you.

On using the southwest jet, you should land by some fixed boxes on a scaffold just below a large mob of skeleton archers, human necromancers and a couple of gargoyles. You’re going to leave stealth to attack them by making your way up the boxes to a small landing just south of the group and then charging ahead to a scaffold and up to their location. Note how high you are; if you slip without Feather Fall, you’re in for some serious damage.

Eliminate the entire guarding force ahead–specifically, 10 skeletons whose undeaths control lighted locks above a prisoner gate and a valve to the path onward. A valve set precariously on a corner edge of the area of the archers along the stone wall, near a locked gate, activates a small jet that launches you back to the center scaffolding to a level you couldn’t climb to reach. Here, another set of boxes sit below a second valve, guarded by a couple of gargoyles. This valve opens that locked gate near the first valve, where you rescue the first of four Deneith prisoners. Just inside this gate is another valve that opens the larger gate to the east entry and forward.

Depending on difficulty, there may be a trap just inside, as well as air mephits. Your second prisoner is just to your left from within this entry; a lever opens his cage.

Ahead, at the apex of this short hall, several skeletons will spawn that you should eliminate. At the end of the hallway is an electrified shaft and a ladder with more mephits. Evasive characters in stealth can likely just go up the ladder and evade the electricity trap and mephits, who won’t follow. But a Rogue in party should find a control box above to disable the trap for more vulnerable party members. Eliminate the mephits if they are a hassle.

At the top of this shaft, opposite the ladder, is a treasure chest across the shaft’s wide chasm. It’s locked, so if your team hasn’t the means to unlock it, you should skip it and continue on through the last of the skeletal guards. A hidden door near the ladder reveals a lever; it’s purpose wasn’t clear to me, even after several runs before, until now. Flip it, and it activates air jets to push your team to that locked chest. It appears to be a semi-random pulse that turns off, requiring you to flip the switch again.

At least two skeletal mages, skeletons and several skeleton archers await you ahead: eliminate them to unlock a lever in the T-intersection to the end. A third Deneith prisoner awaits rescue here, and there is a treasure chest as reward for coming this far.

That lever opened steel doors to your next adventure. The good news is that you’re done with undead guards. If you thought your trip was tough so far, just you wait.

Grid Level 1: Rowan and Friends

Just beyond the steel doors are rest and resurrection shrines, guarded likely by a one or two Blood Tide fighters. Your team should use this shrine as you’ll be unable to return to it once you proceed.

At the end of this path you’ll see several Blood Tide archers on catwalks lining a wide, very electrified grid floor. This is the first of several grid floors you’ll find that can’t be disabled and will pelt you with 30-60 damage per second, easily killing party members that stand on it for too long. If you’re missing Resist Electricity or Protection against Electricity buffs, use them now.

With a mixed party, your best tactic is to go into Sneak and drop down to the northern wall and to a path on along the electrified floor, sneaking in below the archers and to a lower catwalk. A single guard along the last part of  the path could alert others if he spots you; a quick kill or good stealth bypassing is recommended. Strong archers or throwing characters might opt to remove the archer guards. Monks with Abundant Step or classes with a long-jump, instead, might leap directly from the shrine level over to the upper level catwalk–better if you’re invisible if you do this unless going immediately on the offensive.

Northward is a watery fortress sealed by a steel gate that you must bypass. Guards are all about here. Your team can go left (westward) and around, up a watery fall, where a skeletal mage awaits you to return it to inanimate bone. Left (east) of here is the base of Rowan Watzun, a red-named necromancer that loves death spells: Have at least Deathblock items equipped as you attack him and his guards.

Once Rowan is down, a lever in his lair, by a chest, opens the path ahead to the upper catwalk. You’re assaulted by backup fighters immediately after Rowan dies. Resistance here is comparatively slight; you may want to eliminate all the archers along the catwalks if your party is of weaker stealth skill. A stronger stealth team can lure any standing guards by Rowan’s lair to remove them without alerting the catwalk archers, leaving them unaware of your presence throughout this next segment.

To the south are additional pipes and valves. On a ladder above is your fourth and final Deneith prisoner and a chest, both caged. Two valves here are at ground level open the prisoner’s cell and part of the way forward; one is guarded by mephits. A stealthy character can activate that lever without waking the mephits at all. As with all stealth quests, resist the temptation of breaking boxes: the best bonus you can get is Vandal, and only with luck and a few deaths.

At the southwest corner on a ladder is another shrine; make this rest count: Your last shrine is near the end of the quest, a long way up.

At the last prisoner’s level is a pipe to the east where the third lever awaits. All party members must climb up to this pipe (via the prisoner’s ladder) and west to yet another platform and air jet to move forward. Without a Rogue to disarm it, your team will have to brave some blades that slash about around this jet. Historically, the blades don’t hit often–and the blades are the last of your worries.

Grid Levels 2 and 3: This is Where It Begins to Suck

Before your team uses the jet, buff up again with any and all electrical resists and absorption or Protection from Electricity buffs. You’ll be very glad you did. Your Feather Fall is essential here, as well. A CON and/or False Life item or spell is extremely helpful for low HP players. You’re going to have to soak up a lot of voltage.

This jet is one of two in this area that are hard to navigate as you’re catapulted upward a little blindly. You’ll be sent high up and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a pipe to a small platform near a valve. Whoever reaches that valve should turn it immediately.

If you’re unlucky, you’ll hit your head and bounce back down and must climb back up to the jet.

If you’re very unlucky, you’ll overshoot and land on yet another electrified grid floor. If you do, run left (north) to your only safe-haven, some fixed boxes that lead up to a cross of pipes.

Once your party is up, you’ll find fire elementals and, if you’ve been unluckier, an air elemental. You must kill all the elementals that spawn here (four total) to proceed. This won’t be easy for melee teams; the elementals are often floating about, away from the pipes you’re standing on, and inaccessible.

If an air elemental spawns, your luck is terrible. It will likely blow party members hither and yon. Your best bet is to congregate by the sole group of fixed boxes to the north to avoid getting electrocuted, standing on the lowest box.

Ranged icy weaponry (Snowstar, Chill Shard and the like) or spells that hurt fire elementals are required. Melee teams will be lucky if the elementals come close enough to attack.

The fire elementals throw fireball after fireball, often floating over the grid and out of melee range. If you can hit them by direct attack, do so. Your non-Evasion party members should seek cover; they will not survive against the fireball pelting for long. An air elemental complicates your attack. Evasion characters should separate, giving the party a chance to move the aggro around as you make your attacks.

This area is where I imply how hirelings and summoned creatures are less than useful since they’ll be extra things you’d have to look after or will draw unwanted attention and jeopardize your safety. If they die on the grid, leave their soulstone. One exception for summons: if you can summon a water elemental or other thing that can float to attack the elementals, it’s worth a go.

Once the elementals are down, turn the remaining valves in this area and, carefully timing the blowing air vents that threaten to make you run the dangerous grids again, head around to another air jet. If you don’t clear the elementals, the steel door above this jet remains closed.

This jet blows you up to a marginally safe start point, but no safe destination. You must run across yet another electrical grid. High-evasive characters have a very low chance to save against the damage, but everyone should rebuff with Protection from Energy and, if needed, Electric resistance. There is a small group of fixed boxes ahead as your only sanctuary. Don’t worry about stealth here to the boxes: Run! Speed is life.

More valves above on the pipes, and this time, guarded by mephits. Just to be nasty, a valve that reduces some of the damaging steam leaks have jets that will push you off and onto the grid if you don’t time them right when using them. Unlike the level below, however, killing the mephits just makes your life easier. Once the valves are done, you’re clear to jump and run carefully to a ladder up.

The Last Floors: Daylight

Stay in stealth as you traverse this floor and to a ladder nearby some water run-offs. Else, you’ll awaken water elementals that will fire on you. A rest shrine is here on this next to last floor for those who need this final oasis.

The serious stuff is behind you. You need only to reach the last floor where two gargoyles start trolling you but end up only annoying each other.

The gargoyles guard two final valves. (Any other valves you see at this level are decoration only.) One closes steel doors ahead to form a floor as well as open steel doors just ahead to the quest’s end. The second activates a lightning trap that’s not disarmable.

Let the high-reflex member of your party turn a valve. I don’t believe you have to wait for the gargoyle chat to complete to do this. A couple of Blood Tide fighters will assault you by the last door but they are nothing compared to what you just endured.

Put on your Voice of the Master for a big XP payout before you approach the first chest you see, no matter what your difficulty. On Epic difficulties, an epic chest spawns to your right on a gridded scaffold cubby hole.

Use your Finish button rather than using the provided tunnel. Otherwise, you’ll spawn in Stormreach Harbor, rather than next to the quest giver in House Deneith.

Video

This is a long quest that can get longer without better descriptions. So I’ve taken time to record this quest to give you a better visualization. Good hunting!

Zen Mastery, or, How Not to Die

My wife and I failed in our saving throws against disease last week. I caught the flu and she found the norovirus that’s so hot right now. So this is a quick and dirty post without a lot of fanciness while I recover.

Pynthetica the Zen Archer is level 19. With a bow for any occasion, she’s multi-shotting 30 seconds every minute as she makes her way through various places.

The Devil Battlefield was a low hanging fruit for Favor bonus where a guildmate joined me to conquer the four flagging quests for Yugoloth stat potions. Going at these quests at-level is something I’ve not done before. Kiricletica and others were on early Epic levels to give them an edge.

Pyn’s a consistent hitter, all Monk, all archer. As I noted before, there’s not a lot of flash to her. She has a few tricks from the Arcane Archer training to add elemental damage and break DR, sure. Her trick is the high passive ki regeneration (she starts at 58 and gets to 120 or so in a few minutes, even standing) that allows use of Ten Thousand Stars anytime she’d like. Manyshot may give more 4-arrow hits, but TTS has only a 1 minute cooldown and lasts 10 seconds longer.

With level 19 came a +5 WIS tome to bring her to 39, so close. If I could grab a Shadowsight for a rare WIS +7 Heroic item, great. She was armed with House Deneith potions for overdriving her TTS a little bit before this run.

Her miss-chance defenses are decent but not yet superior, with 19% Dodge but great Incorporeality thanks to a little Ninja Spy training. While she has some Shiradi training awaiting her as an Epic character, I suspect her Grandmaster of Flowers and Shadowdancer training might help more in different ways. I’m still studying.

Sins of Attrition

We started with “Sins of Attrition,” Elite difficulty. The quest is primarily a series of narrow, sometimes trapped halls. Many ominous statues of bearded devils and orthons line the halls.

My guildmate, a level 24 Epic Swashbuckler, had excellent DPS against our initial resistance. She had only two problems.

The first one was Heystack, the level 18 Cleric hireling that’s now dumber than ever before with Update 23. I like him only as a walking Death Ward mass clicky. Often, even in Defend mode, the hireling just stands there, letting himself get pelted or chopped to bits by a trap or enemy.

Pyn was the second problem. After we chose a banquet item from the first feast hall and eliminated the upset table guests there, the statues lining the halls animate and attack us. I had problems in best targeting enemies with Improved Precise Shot active. If I targeted too far down a hall, I generated too much aggro. Target too few, and my guildmate and I were left exposed for too long. The low cooldown of Ten Thousand Stars, combined with the crit power of a Bow of Sinew, helped to dispatch the mobs fast once I had a shooting solution that didn’t wreck aggro.

Archers just aren’t the best in narrow spaces. I should’ve switched to Archer’s Focus to limit striking too many enemies at once and maximizing damage to the tanking character’s target.

We finished well enough on Elite and moved on to the next quest.

Bastion of Power

More narrow halls greeted us in this Elite difficulty attempt. This looping, multi-level fortress isn’t too bad with a stealth option. On the first level you need to find and use two switches that lead you on to a level where you must find an exit.

The switches are randomly placed. Without stealth, one alarm will alert the entire fortress, and devils, demons and orthons come streaming out of halls and portal gateways, with Dungeon Alert a high probability. There are no shrines nearby. I parked ol’ Haystack by the entrance.

We were detected and had to fight our way to the switches. The adjoining level wasn’t much easier as they were already aggroed by the general alarm and added to an early Dungeon Alert that cascaded perilously from Orange to Yellow to Green.

Once at the first outside point and near a shrine, we refreshed our Death Ward and moved ahead to find the rampart entrance. This section required careful searching for a path to the upper floors and the next entrance, meeting more resistance with a new twist; a couple of orange-named lieutenants and cannonballing gelatinous cubes.

We finally made it to the ramparts and prepped for a horned devil boss. The fight started off well, with my guildmate’s high DPS carving holes in the boss while I targeted trash. The boss switches gravity where I was able to reach one of three upper tiers and switches there. I lit two, leaped for a third and was killed by some trap or a Disintegrate spell before I could touch the last switch, which would have unlocked a third of three chests and instantly kill the horned devil.

Haystack was predictably unable to multi-task and died before he could resurrect me, so it was up to my guildmate to survive the marilith that appeared. She slayed with with lots of action boosts, killing it with only a sliver of her own HP remaining.

On to quest three.

Genesis Point

This quest is complicated and lots easier with a guildmate. The DDO Wiki article for this quest is critical as it’s easy to pull the wrong switch or lever and make the quest impossible to complete.

Fighting here on Elite wasn’t as bad since there were fewer narrow halls. After clearing the control rooms, we put some weaponized, infected wildman hostages out of their misery, freed the hostages on one area, disrupted a pep rally in another. and deactivated a device within a maze, earning some loot as we moved on.

We picked the mephit-filled energy conduits as our final battle, always the preferred fight of the four available by most parties, to complete the quest. There, you activate force fields to find three red-named mephits, gather them up and slay them at the same time. The Swashbucker and I made short work of them.

One more to go.

A New Invasion

Thankfully, we didn’t require Elite difficulty for this one to gain our needed Favor. This one’s the three-level maze you must carefully search to find holes that drop you below to the next level. Enemies are everywhere and fighting is inevitable in most locations.

Entering on Hard difficulty, we hung to the left wall to make our search and made it to the boss’s cubby hole in about 35 minutes. After discussing the battle plan, we parked the hirelings permanently for this part. They’d get us killed easily.

The pit fiend’s lair is round with trapped platforms all about. You have to stick and move, avoiding the trapped platform as it charges up and detonates with inescapable Force damage. A team has to stick-and-move, timing their movement so they stay on a platform briefly, swatting at the devil before moving and avoiding the trap going off in our faces. If anything rests on those platforms: character or soulstone, it continually goes off, which is very bad.

For a change, I felt useful. Ranged attackers do great here because they can shoot and spin, kiting the boss around the lair, never staying still against the traps. I just needed to avoid kiting too fast so that the better DPS of my guildmate would dispatch the boss more quickly and so we stayed in sync with the platforms to avoid having two go off in our faces.

In a short time, the boss was dead and our new-mail indicators lit up; the Yugoloth had our Favor presents waiting. I passed a Shintao Cord to my guildmate for a later incarnation as a light Monk.

So now Pyn can use three potion types to overdrive her WIS from 39 to 46 for greater attack in crunch times.

Stealth Ops: Chains of Flame

M_walkthrough_chains_of_flame

Use this map from the DDO Wiki.

Continuing my series on quests that favor a stealthy approach, we explore tactics to use against a very formidable Gnoll stronghold in “Chains of Flame, ” one of the three flagging quests in the Sands of Menechtarun series.

“Chains” can suck on so many levels, literally. Like “Spies in the House,” “Chains” is a multi-level adventure where your quest map is mostly worthless. Being pelted by gnoll archers, fried by elementals or sliced into bits, pelted and fried by numerous traps is the name of the game here. And you’ll need to free at least 15 slaves by speaking with them.

But a stealthy approach will help you infiltrate the fortress where you can better control when and how you attack, and especially control if you’re attacked. Beefing up your ranged attack options isn’t a bad idea for careful use in a few locations.

“Chains” comes in a Heroic and Epic version. The pathing is identical.

With a recent update, “Chains” offers a boatload of XP, making the trip very worthwhile.

Soloing this adventure bites with all the inevitable fighting. Stealth Team Six mode is recommended.

Preparation

Even with an experienced party hacking everything to bits, “Chains” is a very long quest; set aside at least 1 hour. With an experienced guide, it takes about 15 minutes from the Sands desert entrance to make your way to the quest entrance alone.

As with most stealth adventures, hirelings and summoned creatures draw unnecessary attention and may get you killed more than helping you. Be as self-sufficient as you can with self-healing options. Keep any hirelings on passive mode and stationary at all times, and take advantage of their new instant-teleport ability to skip them over deadly places if you’re using them as a healerbot or Divine Vitality fountain.

There are only two distant and hard to access shrines, so resource management is critical. Most importantly, carry Feather Fall, always wear Deathblock for frequent encounters with gnoll mages, and Death Ward when facing superior mages and for the end-fight.

Also carry plenty of Remove Curse and Disease solutions, have at least some Lesser Restoration options, but most importantly carry Fire Resistance and Protection from Fire solutions at hand by the end-fight, as original guild ship amenity fire protections wane after 1 hour if you haven’t a Ranger or other mage in the party.

An optimal stealth party has a Rogue Assassin (assassinations/trapping) or Rogue Mechanic (superior trapping), Ninja Spy (tactical kills, ranged thrown attacks), Ranger (Resists and Camouflage, ranged missile attack) and Bard (buffs, especially Invisibility, Blur, and Haste, charms or Domination, and in the worst case, crowd control). Fewer party members can be more beneficial in some places, but more members naturally help in the expected firefights.

Don’t enter this quest with a weak ranged solution. To lower your resource consumption, you may find that eliminating some attacks from above will make your mission easier before you reach that level. Or, if your party is a mix of agile and non-agile characters, ranged support is essential to save non-agiles from excessive damage.

It’s All About Keys, Slaves and One Lever

Take advantage of the quest article on the DDO Wiki. It will save you time and grief. Maps will detail the proper path that avoids unnecessary backtracking or fighting.

To avoid being redundant, I’m only noting special tactics you can use at certain locations, rather than discussing the pathing. I like to use the wiki’s block diagram map, shown here.

Your primary mode in stealth ops here is infiltration. You will be seen. But you want to minimize your exposure to snipers and mages at all times while transitioning outside of the fortress, along bridges, catwalks and outer paths.

Before opening that first door at quest start, buff up. There aren’t very many “safe” areas (at least, until you clear them), and spells can make noise that attract attention. Park and make passive any hirelings here; most of them cannot sneak and will draw fire that will reveal you. Using uncontrollable summoned creatures is a very bad idea that might increase your aggro and waste resources.

On every door, always stand to its side to avoid being seen by others ahead of the door.

Your mission begins over a long bridge over a big pool of lava. All above you are gnoll snipers with high Spot, ready to pincushion you. In harder difficulties and certainly Epic play, the bridge may be trapped and may have mephits. Stay in Sneak as you move across this first bridge. Halfway across, gnolls will burst through the door ahead. Sneak back to the start’s interior as they’ll stop at that halfway point. Then launch a ranged attack to pull and slay the gnolls inside the start area while keeping the archers outside unawares.

The first section requires you to go to the left doors several times to gain three keys before you can enter the locked door at the right of the first intersection. From there, the path is generally hard to mess up. If you can’t open a door, you’re missing a key.

Treat every exterior path as a sniper kill-zone. There will almost always be snipers above you. As you rise up the fortress, mages and snipers will appear on your level. Never exit without being in Sneak.

If you have one in party, keep your Rogue out in front, not your kill team. There are several deadly fire, spike, spinning blade and swiping blade traps in a few locations.

Cul-de-Sacs

Many intersections will have cul-de-sac doors where other Overseers (holders of keys) reside with guards and some prisoners. Often these levels will have archers and fighters and mages, but also more backup above you, raining down death.

After eliminating Overseers, freeing prisoners and gathering keys, be sure to search out any levels that open paths ahead in the cave. Chests may also be found in these cul-de-sacs, but one will be locked and require a Rogue’s handiwork or a Wizard’s Knock spell.

Shrines, Slaves and Optionals

There are only two shrines. The first you’ll find on your path after opening locked door #1 at intersection #1 on the wiki map. The second requires you to lower a drawbridge and clear enemies guarding it around intersection #9 on the wiki map. Because of this, casters must be careful not to power-cast and have mana reserves if you choose a higher aggressive posture.

Saving Gaspar the Dwarf near intersection #2 requires a high Bluff to cause a fight. If you haven’t a Bluff option in your dialogue with the ogre mage, you can’t save Gaspar. Provoking the mage gives you two keys; one to the Stolen Treasury Key and another door key. Don’t save the dwarf and you’ll still get the pass key but lose the XP and the Stolen Treasury Key. Paradoxically, a Rogue with a high Bluff also likely has a high Open Lock and doesn’t need the Treasury Key.

By intersection 6, you can rescue a minotaur from his fire elemental guards for XP and a chest.

You will certainly find 15 slaves on your path, a required objective, but it’s the 16th slave (whomever your party finds next) that gives you the required Royal Firebrand Key, which opens the chamber of the boss at the very top. So always free the slaves, but remind your party that the 16th slave will give that Firebrand Key to one member of your party, and they have to live long enough to open the boss door. If that party member gets separated or, worse, dies in the lava pool, that key may be irretrievable and the quest must be restarted.

Observant stealth teams might take it as challenge to find every slave. This requires patience, stealth insertion, jumps to areas off the path, even a quick swim through lava if Dimension Door isn’t handy. Without D-Door, I’d strongly recommend that only a Monk at character level 12 perform this, as they will have Abundant Step. An agile Human with the Dragonmark of Passage can whip up a D-Door, too. Otherwise, don’t try to complete this or rescue is impossible.

Getting access to the second shrine near intersection #9 isn’t required, but there are slaves nearby it.

The last locked door has Erath the Blinded. Any party member with Blindness Immunity equipped can take the halfling’s curse, where it will have no effect. If you have a cleric hireling in your party, they’ll likely to remove the curse permanently. Remove Blindness potions, however, do not work against this special curse.

The End-Fight

There are two red-named bosses to slay. One is an efreet that enjoys frying anyone he sees. Kill him first if you have non-Evasion members in your party. The gnoll boss is mostly a fighter with Displacement ability, a Stunning Blow attack and a few other divine attack tricks, but is mostly a bag of HP. He’s often guarded by two Firebrand mages.

Unload all the damage you have throughout this fight. A chest or two awaits you. Picking up the Orb of the Efreet from the left side of the throne ends the quest.

On returning to town, you must speak with the quest giver to gain the Orb of the Djinn (not the “Orb of the Efreet” as noted incorrectly in the video–that’s what you pick up), which is your flagging item for Zawabi.

Video

Many ninja spies died…getting you this video (not).

Grab some popcorn; it’s going to be long. Click on the CC to show the captions. I switched to a less-restrictive caption tool, so these should be easier to read.

Ryncletica had the advantage of Poison damage to dispatch the bosses with relative ease.

 

 

Purple Haze

ScreenShot01462

Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss this guy

(Well, I think that’s how it goes.)

Poison is a highly underestimated attack. I don’t know of others that talk much about it.

The reborn Ryncletica knows better. At level 11, she’s still using two of the level 4 Tiefling Assassin’s Blade to mow down enemies that are three times the weapon’s level–and shows no sign of stopping.

I recently posted Ryncletica’s build in greater detail as a favor. While doing that I learned about the Primal Avatar’s Epic Moment and a lesser ability that also has Poison damage with a stacking effect similar to Ninja Poison. However–it might not work if my attacks aren’t still piercing or slashing.

I’m so looking forward to returning to Epic play. But for now I wanted to show just how deadly Ninja Poison can be–more so than when Kiricletica went Viper Style on many, many enemies during her first life.

Everything about Ryncletica is venomous. Every attack she makes delivers a Poison dose: the Tiefling blade, Venomed Blade effect, Sting of the Ninja on critical hits, and Poison Soul Ninjutsu on Touch of Despair strikes.

When Ninja Poison kicks in, even in small stacks, the vulnerability effect takes hold very, very quickly with that much Poison damage seeping into the pores of any enemy.

The result is that purple damage numbers from Poison appear almost immediately on most enemies I attack. Even if I switch targets, any enemies I’ve previously attacked are still being damaged by Ninja Poisoning.

Isolated enemies are either paralyzed first and then hacked very quickly away. Tougher orange-names might be paralyzed and hacked away. Red-named bosses get Touch of Despair attacks to weaken their fortification and get the full Ninja Poison dosage to rid them of their hit points.

Recently, I took both Kiricletica and Ryncletica through “Hiding in Plain Sight” Elite. Kiri prefers no hirelings. Despite her Single Weapon Fighting, her Half-Elf Cleric dilettante healing, healing amplification, her low-kill tactics and similar defenses to Ryn, at level 12, it was hard on Kiri to make it through the quest. By the boss fight, the three orange-named lieutenants were more threatening because Kiri’s weaker saves kept getting her held by Hazadil’s dancing-balls.

But Ryncletica, at level 11, had it easier. With the hireling out of combat and parked away in case of HP crisis, Ryn snuck up to the bosses, quickly paralyzed and slew one of the orange-named lieutenants and sent the other two on a goose-chase, with Hazadil trying to hold Ryn in dancing-balls. But Ryn’s saves were too strong.

When Hazedil made the mistake of coming down from his perch, Ryn poured on the poison and the boss died in a fraction of the time that it took Kiri and her faster melee speed.

I’m usually conservative in leveling the Ninja Spies. I try to have at least a 1-level advantage when entering an Elite quest (that is, I’ll enter a level 12 Elite quest on character level 13).

But Ryncletica’s power and her higher defense for her level is allowing me to match levels or even enter below Elite difficulty level.

And baby needs a pair of Envenomed Blades with greater Poison damage.

Video Example

Talk is cheap. Here is a video of Ryncletica carving up things in “Eyes of Stone” Elite, two levels under, using level 4 shortswords.

Watch all the purple. There’s purple everywhere. Purple haze, all in their brains. And spleen, and many other body parts.

Click on the CC to see captions.

U.S. Holiday

This week is more like a fourteen-day version. Things may be quiet on the blog this week while I enjoy family time during the Thanksgiving holiday and prepare for yet another week-long business trip immediately after. Let’s hope the online gods will grant us stronger wifi at our base hotel this time.

Can’t Attend Mah Bizness

Business travel all this week left me in mobile mode, trying out the Mac client for DDO with general success, save one problem.

The hotel’s wireless access points were terrible, leaving me with a very short window to play. The laptop I use also becomes an oven if used for too long.

Next week won’t be much better but I plan to get a video post up this weekend with more on the Poison Master build.

The Poison Master In-Depth

dnd-lego

I know building is not always this easy. I wish it were.

Normally, I’m not much into describing build data. I’m bad and lazy at it. I also think it takes away from the organics and serendipity of designing a character.

Nothing at all against RJ Cyberware’s excellent Character Planner, but I haven’t used it for some time.

I tried using the latest version to partially assist me, I realized it wasn’t updated yet for Update 23 and the Harper tree. (I’m aware that Ron has passed the torch to a co-developer.)

But a kind person PM’ed me to detail what I’m doing with Ryncletica by specifics as I train her to be a master poisoner.

So, here goes.

Drow 32-point build, third life. Base stats:

STR: 10, DEX: 17, CON: 12 , INT: 10 , WIS: 18, CHA: 10

The high WIS is to ensure strong DCs to use finishing moves. DEX is critically important for modifiers for damage and to-hit, to, AC and Reflex. Tomes for DEX and WIS are important.

I’m sure tome bonuses are missing a bit in this, but I’m winging it here. If you can max out an ability with tomes, get them. None of Ryn’s attacks or abilities are prohibited with lower DEX or WIS, but they will be more effective.

Ryncletica is a stock Ninja Spy except in these key areas.

  • Drow racial enhancements
    • As a Drow, she gains Shuriken Expertise as a free feat, generating more stars on an average throw than in her Half-Elf past life.
    • She also gains +1 to-hit and to damage bonuses from at least 3 levels of Xen’drik Weapon Training for her shortswords (primary weapon) and shuriken.
    • Key to the poison-master build is the Update 23 changes to Venomed Blades, the same ability shared with the Rogue Assassin. Venomed Blades adds 200% to Melee Power, which aids Ninja Poison as well as any other poison damage. Both Ninja Poison and the Venomed Blades boost stacks, quickly yielding purple numbers as the poison vulnerability of Ninja Poison quickly applies.
  • Harper Agent enhancements
    • Up to +7 Melee Power points added through this tree to take advantage of the Venomed Blades boost. (This is better than my initial build calculation.) It’s a heavy AP load since the build still wants 41 AP in the Ninja Spy tree for the complete Ninja Master core ability (Vorpal, +2 DEX and +1 competency to shortsword crit threat range and +2 to bonus for shuriken threat range).
    • Several enhancements add to Universal Spell Power, which may help in general healing and damage.
    • A point of DEX comes from this training from the second core training.
  • Ninja Spy enhancements
    • Ninja Training and Advanced Ninja Training cores use DEX-to-hit and DEX-to-damage, and add a chance for an additional star to be thrown per attack (in addition to Shuriken Expertise). Ryn will be a weaker star-thrower than Shuricannon Szyncletica but far stronger than half-elf Kiricletica.
    • Only two Ninjutsu abilities are trained: Poisoned Soul and Poison Exploit. Other AP that would train the line, including Touch of Death, are ignored. Poisoned Soul injects 5 stacks of Ninja Poison on each Touch of Despair finisher. Poison Exploit rips out all Ninja Poison at 1d20 damage per stack. In training the Deadly Exploits enhancement, the Poison Exploit damage rises to 1d50 per stack…and is magnified by Venomed Blades and Melee Power for potentials of thousands of points of poison damage. Ryncletica can still deliver negative energy damage but poison is the primary death dealer.
    • With up to 20 stacks on an enemy, combined with Melee Power and Venomed Blades, a 100% poison vulnerability of Ninja Poison increases from the Venomed Blades as well as weapons with Poison enhancements. At level 11, Ryncletica still uses two of the Tiefling Assassin’s Blade, which has Wounding (CON damage that reduces Fortitude saves) and Poison (stacks with Ninja Poison effects and Venomed Blades). Any living creature gets shredded quickly by these effects. Tough enemies like duergar are easy prey with these blades and DEX-to-damage.
    • No Mercy enhancement adds an additional 30% more damage to helpless enemies.
    • Finishing Moves are central. Dark finishers can paralyze, mute or blind. These increase the speed of the poison-master’s work. Common finishers are also applied.
    • The Unyielding Strike ki attack is a quick and powerful Diversion/Bluff effect that not only helps me charge the paralyzing Freezing the Lifeblood finisher but twists enemies around very reliably, allowing me more free attacks, even against undead and elementals.
    • Shadow Double will help with burst DPS from doublestrike to deliver more poison with dual blades.
    • A little Sneak Attack is trained for prerequisites and will add some DPS when enemies are helpless, stacking with No Mercy.
  • Weaponry
    • Poison damage stacks. Some enhancements and weapons that claim to give poison damage often are stat-damaging effects and not Poison damage as a separate property as is elemental, negative energy and Force damage. Ninja Poison magnifies any Poison damage, including its own, from allied attacks (including the Poison spell) and effects.
    • The Tiefling Assassin’s Blades used have a Ruby of the Endless Night slotted, energy draining enemies while the blades have Wounding, a very useful property that damages CON (thus reducing Fortitude) and deliver Ninja Poison.
    • At level 16, two of the Envenomed Blade will be used for greater Poison damage and armor-piercing, with Paralyzing as a side benefit. The hunt is on for Shards of the Envenomed Blade to make an Epic version(s) of this weapon that will take it through to level cap.
    • The Snowstar is in use for tactical ranged fighting, but Ryn owns a few crafted stars that will deliver Ninja Poison at range (as a bug in Sting of the Ninja still  prevents named stars and challenge-crafted stars from doing this since Update 21). High DEX and Shuriken Expertise aids with faster kills with more stars per throw.
    • The hunt is on for a Quiver of Poison. This adds Poison damage to thrown weapons.
  • Feats
    • Two Weapon Fighting line. Off-hand damage is helpful here.
    • Ten Thousand Stars. Ryncletica skips Stunning Fist to add more damage with thrown weaponry. Against enemies with poison immunity, distance with damage is paramount.
    • Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Combat Expertise, Whirlwind Attack. Miss-chance effects are excellent for this build. At level 11, Ryncletica uses a Green Steel helm with DEX skill bonuses and permanent Blur (20% Concealment). Dodge should be at least 25% by level 20, and Ninja Spies can use Shadow Veil for 25% Incorporeality. Combat Expertise will be trained once INT reaches 13 for an AC 10% boost. Whirlwind Attack is this build’s only tactical melee attack that can dose multiple enemies.
    • Improved Critical: Piercing for the shortswords.

It looks like my initial calculations for AP underestimated my available points. I have a few more AP for Harper.

So, 41 points minimum required to add the Ninja Spy enhancements. Bracketed numbers show total AP in the tree to that point:

  • Basic Ninja Training (core): 1 pt
  • Poisoned Soul: 2 pts
  • Stealthy: 3 pts [6]
  • Advanced Ninja Training (core, 5 AP spent, Monk level 3): 1 pt
  • Faster Sneaking: (3 ranks) 6 pts [13]
  • Sting of the Ninja (tier 3, 10 AP spent): 1 pt
  • Shadow Veil (core, 10 AP spent, Monk level 6): 1 pt
  • Unbalancing Strike (tier 2, 5 AP spent): 2 pts
  • Poison Exploit (5 AP spent): 2 pts [17]
  • Flash Bang (tier 3, 10 AP spent, 3 ranks): 3 pts
  • Sneak Attack (tier 1): 2 pts
  • No Mercy (tier 4, 20 AP spent, 3 ranks): 6 pts [28]
  • Deadly Exploits (tier 4, 20 AP spent, 3 ranks): 6 pts
  • Poisoned Darts (core, 20 AP spent, Monk level 12): 1 pt
  • Diversion (core, 30 AP spent, Monk level 18): 1 pt [36]
  • Shadow Double (tier 5, 30 AP spent): 2 pts [38]
  • Sneak Attack (tier 2, 5 AP spent): 2 pts [40]
  • Ninja Master (core, 40 AP spent, Monk level 20): 1 pt

To get maximum Venomed Blades, I needed 18 AP in the Drow enhancements:

  • Spell Resistance I (core): 1 pt
  • Xen’drik Weapon Training (tier 1): 2 pts
  • Drow Dexterity (core): 2 pts
  • Vermin Lore (tier 1): 1 pt [6]
  • Venom Lore (tier 2, 3 ranks, 5 AP spent): 3 pts
  • Xen’drik Weapon Training (tier 1): 2 pts [11]
  • Xen’drik Weapon Training (tier 2, 5 AP spent): 2 pts
  • Xen’drik Weapon Training (tier 3, 10 AP spent): 2 pts [15]
  • Venomed Blades (tier 4, 15 AP spent, 3 ranks): 3 pts [18]

The remaining 21 AP struggles to activate as much Melee Power with a few side benefits:

  • Agent of Good (core): 1 pt
  • Traveler’s Toughness (tier 1, 3 ranks): 3 pts
  • Awareness (tier 1, 3 ranks): 1 pt
  • Versatile Adept I (tier 2, 3 ranks, 5 AP spent): 3 pts
  • Harper Leadership (tier 2, 3 ranks, 5 AP spent): 3 pts [11]
  • Versatile Adept II (tier 3, 3 ranks, 10 AP spent): 3 pts [14]
  • Harper Training I (core): 2 pts [16]
  • Agent of Good II (core, level 6, 10 AP spent): 1 pt
  • Highly Skilled (tier 3, 10 AP spent, 3 ranks): 3 [20]
  • Versatile Adept III (tier 4, 20 AP spent, 3 ranks): 1 pt [21]

Challenges

Ryncletica the poison-master is intent on using Melee Power and Venomed Blades to increase her already-heavy poison damage. There’s insufficient AP available to train other Monk trees to add more passive ki regeneration, Concentration skill, or Dodge. No other enhancements outside of the Drow, Ninja Spy and Harper Agent trees can be trained.

Ryncletica must rely on only +2 total passive ki regeneration from training the Stealthy enhancement in the Ninja Spy tree and Greater/Ultimate Ocean Stance once at level 12 (at this writing, she’s 11). Since she is a melee character, ki shouldn’t be major concern as she rises in level. She may gain more ki regeneration in Epic play.

A handful of enemies are completely poison-immune. These include non-Warforged constructs, devils, demons and undead. Ryncletica will fall back to DR-bypassing weaponry, including unarmed fighting. She should hold her own, through not be exemplary in such battles, although her Drow weapon attack bonuses will make her slightly superior to other races with blade fighting.

Thankfully, enemies with high poison resistance can be weakened and overcome with enough poison, which a Ninja Spy is built to do. As with most Ninja Spies, Ryncletica is best against living, non-outsider enemies.

Ryncletica has no wand or scroll ability. She must rely on potions, clickys and her innate Monk skills for healing and other needs. Her very-strong miss-chance defenses should offset damage as her poison attacks rapidly degrade the enemy (as well as good tactics, picking when and where to fight).

Skill points are devoted to Hide and Move Silently, Concentration and Jump. What few benefits Ryn could gain from cross-class training Use Magic Device are offset by her own innate abilities or items (Blur and Invisibility are standard tools).

Ryncletica, as neither Human, Half-Elf or Shintao Monk, gains no healing amplification bonuses. She must fight carefully as battle damage is not easily and quickly restored. If any skill points aren’t used as noted above, she might consider adding them to the cross-class Heal skill for 1% positive energy spell power per point for a slight improvement to battle healing. Ryncletica’s motto is “kill fast, escape faster.” It would be interesting to contrast a double-bladed Ninja Spy like Ryn against a Tempest Ranger.

Ryncletica could retrain as a Single Weapon Fighter for much greater innate Melee Power bonuses that would allow the 11 AP in Harper Agent to be allocated elsewhere. As Kiricletica is already a SWF build, I wanted to test the TWF benefits, especially with Epic play. This is a personal preference. Ryncletica is built to maximize poison damage, not overall attack speed.

Other Equipment

Ryncletica owns an Icy Raiment that will do nicely from level 14 in most instances. She may own a White Dragonscale Robe for better AC protections.

Short of the Icys, her gear is rather off-the-shelf. I’m not going to go down this complete list as it is laughable to most, but I’ll note the highlights.

  • Icy Raiment or White Dragonscale Robe. High Dodge/AC or higher AC.
  • Nightforge Gorget: Heavy Fortification with a Deathblock augment gem combines an essential protection.
  • Jidz-Tet’ka: Still useful in mid-Heroic game as its Tri-Kreen poison helps in paralyzing while in Ocean Stance, as well as other stance benefits such as Jump in Wind Stance and healing amp in Fire Stance.
  • Green Steel DEX helm: Permanent Blur and a 2-click Displacement for emergencies.

In short: Any equipment that boosts AC and miss-chance are a plus. Any gear that increases WIS and DEX and saves are a plus. Any gear that adds Poison is a plus. Any gear that damages CON is a plus. As a melee character, increases in Fortification beyond 100% is critical as you head to Epic play.

Epic Play

I’m fond of Shadowdancer with this build for its stealthy controls, especially with high Dodge, Improved Invisibility and Shadow Manipulation.

However, the damage benefits of Primal Avatar look very attractive, particularly with abilities such as Insidious Spores, which spreads nasty Poison damage that can be amplified by Ninja Poison’s vulnerability. The Avatar’s Epic Moment, Avatar of Nature, also has a Poisoning attack that adds stacking damage that, combined with the perfected Heroic Poisoner training, should cause incredible Poison DOTs (200+ or more) per 2-3 seconds. The standard training of Rejuvenation Cocoon is also important. Primal training also adds more WIS if desired.

Grandmaster of Flowers remains a strong cross-train to improve ki regeneration and as a destiny for use in high-combat situations.

I see 150% or greater Fortification is critical to survive. Training the Unyielding Sentinel destiny and using any tricks learned from forum user and Master Assassin Nokowi to gain very high fortification will reduce the high-crit damage that Epic monsters can do.

Currently…(Updated from First Post)

Ryncletica is still doing very well. She’s getting some push-back in damage as she nears level 12. Concentrating on getting No Mercy trained and Greater Ocean Stance for more ki. Once that’s reached, a couple more Melee Power points are planned before continuing Ninja Spy training, then more Harper Agent points gradually through L16.

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