Enter the Assassin

"Assassinate."

“Assassinate.”

I’m straying again from monastic enlightenment, but primarily because I’m fond of Rogues, their complementarity with Ninja Spies, as well as my total love of stealth operations, recently codified for others.

There’s also the matter of refining what I’ve learned from my aging first-life Acrobat, Allysen, combining my stealth teachings from Kiricletica and others.

Say hello to Sukitetica. She’s a halfling Assassin, inspired by Log Horizon’s cute but deadly character, Akatsuki.

With Suki, my goal is to destroy my own fallacies about any limitations in the class. But Update 22 won’t make that easy.

The Art of Offensive Non-Aggression

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It's lonely being an Assassin--and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It’s lonely being an Assassin–and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Unlike Ninja Spies, Rogues, in general, have high to-hits but not necessarily high damage per attack. By the basic design, Rogues gain a far greater attack when enemies aren’t paying attention to them: Sneak Attack.

The benefits of Sneak Attack damage in stealth ops returned quickly to my attentions after only a few minutes with Suki.

When running Kiricletica during her self-imposed solo challenge days, I had to refresh myself about Threat.

Also known as “Hate” or “aggro”, Threat is a calculation by an enemy AI on how much damage it suffered from your character, even if you’ve not actually caused any damage. The Intimidate skill exploits Threat to pull enemies to tanking characters.

For Kiri, I managed Threat simply by avoiding attacking except when required. Even if attacked, I used attacks and gear that caused a momentary Bluff effect, where a target briefly turns their attention away from you, reducing their number of attacks on you.

The goal of an Assassin is to keep their Threat as low as possible while still keeping an aggressive posture. If Threat goes too high, not only will the enemy choose you as a target but it eliminates your chance to deal catastrophic damage by Sneak Attacks, the hallmark trait of fighting Rogues.

To their credit, Ninja Spies also gain Sneak Attack enhancement training identical to Rogues. However, Rogues gain class bonuses to Sneak Attack as auto-granted feats as they level, substantially increasing damage over any other class Sneak Attack powers. Being a Halfling, like Suki, affords a chance to train additional Sneak Attack dice on top of Rogue levels and Assassin tree enhancements.

So, to best manage Threat, Suki’s learned to always hire a meat shield and set him or her to fight.

Often, she chooses Clerics as they also have restorative powers, self-healing, and a fair amount of defenses. Such hirelings (or summoned creatures they can add to a battle) needn’t endure being surrounded for long. Lurking in stealth, Suki sends her mercenaries ahead to attract as many enemies as they can withstand.

Then she strikes the grouped enemies from behind. Using Single Weapon Fighting and combined with Dexterity-to-hit and to-Damage bonuses, she gains improved weapon damage. Kukris are preferred over daggers but Suki uses what tool is best, depending on the enemy. She holds onto a Muckbane for the oozes.

Combined with a strong weapon, Suki carves through her foes with swift, lethal precision. Even at her current level 8, armed with a highly damaging Blood Machete with level 8 Frost and Fire augment gems, anything that isn’t undead or a construct meets a very sudden end.

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

Anyone who forgets why Assassins exist, and who refuse to assist them in gameplay, epically fail to comprehend the very clear role of this class tree. A ninja can assassinate, but requires greater training (level 16). The Monk’s Quivering Palm attack does instantly and quietly kill a target (with a sufficient WIS DC) but it pulls the attacker out of Sneak.

The Assassin’s quintessential attack leaves the Assassin in Sneak and undetected.

But Suki is several levels from training the Assassinate ability–not that it works too well with Update 22. An overbalancing problem with enemy AI causes them to sense the Assassin after a quick kill. Bluff is also bugged, attracting enemies that aren’t targeted.

Thankfully, according to a report from Master Assassin Nokowi, Update 23 appears to rectify the issue, restoring the one skill and related Roguish powers.

Until she reaches Level 12, Suki is content to leverage other special attacks in her arsenal. There are three “poison” attacks. In truth, these are debuffing attacks which aren’t enhanced by Poison vulnerability effects such as those from the Ninja Spy’s Ninja Poison. Despite this, these so-called “Poison Strikes” can debuff enemy saves, increase damage, decease spell resistance or even paralyze under the right conditions. By “right,” I should say rare. Most of these go off only on Vorpal attack rolls.

Still, spamming these three attacks, in addition with Bleed Them Out and Shiv, both with increased weapon damage, aren’t a bad combination at all to ensure that whatever you attack is deader than dead in only 1 or 2 attacks.

Suki2

Suki had to go with an “Assassin’s Creed” look. Nope, never played that game. But their avatars look stellar.

Suki is training her stealth master skills but is quite the opposite of the low-kill edict of Kiricletica. Suki is, effectively, blood-thirsty. She knows her objectives as well as vulnerabilities and would rather take them out and not butcher an entire dungeon needlessly at greater risk to herself and her party.

She’d ask you to define “needlessly,” however, since enemies are in her way to her central objectives, loot and the exit. Seems that there will be few times where Suki doesn’t feel threatened. An Assassin, it seems, may be one living, death-dealing definition of paranoia. They do believe everyone is out to get them, and thus prepare themselves to counterstrike before her enemies can make a single attack.

As opposed to some anti-social ninjas you know, Suki would love to join her guildmates or even PuGs. She’s also an excellent trapmaster and lockpicker, and appreciates the fine work that other party members do in attracting attention so she can eliminate the tougher enemies without interference.

The challenge is ensuring that party members allow Suki to do her job. Assassins require cooperation of others to thrive.

Compensating for Lost Ki

I’m already missing two characteristics of the Ninja Spy: the Wholeness of Body self-healing feat, and Shadow Veil, a level 6 ninja enhancement that grants one minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality at will (for 10 ki).

Happily, I have some options.

This time I’m listening to Sir Geoff of Hanna regarding dragonmarks. Suki’s got her Mark of Healing. While eventually having a reserve of Heal is a good thing, it’s Break Out the Leeches that makes me giddy.

It removes a negative level, disease and poison effect stack once every 3 seconds. Leeches work per your Heal skill: If you have 10 in Heal, the leeches go to work for 10 seconds. Clearly, I’d like to have at least 12 Heal, more if possible for this cross-class skill.

I’ll miss the ki-based self-healing of a Monk less with these dragonmarks. Maximizing the Jorasco Dragonmark Focus adds a bit more versatility with more dragonmark uses and bonuses to Heal, per The Geoff.

As far as invisibility goes, I tend to stockpile Potions of Invisibility as I find them in quests. Suki carries several dozen. I shouldn’t need them as often if I invest a few additional points in both Halfling and Rogue versions of the Stealthy enhancements to substantially increase Suki’s Hide and Move Silently abilities. She’s trained Faster Sneaking from the Mechanic tree. and wears the faster Speed or Striding gear.

Suki is training her Use Magic Device skill in hopes of using Invisibility scrolls (UMD: 24) and other spells later in life. Such items can be problematic in the wilds as some have verbal components–you make sounds as you use them. That’s bad for someone that doesn’t want to attract attention.

I’m new to UMD. I’ve generally been an opponent of this skill since I mostly play Monks, for which it is a cross-class skill. But I see the great advantages of a high UMD skill that will eventually add in emulating a few monastic powers I’m missing (such as Blur) but several others I can never attain as a mere Monk, such as Teleport, Raise Dead, Resurrection and Heal. The Mechanic line has 3 points I could grab, but that’s an expensive AP drain. I’d rather boost my CHA and take advantage of many other items to get my UMD to at least 40 by level 20.

Incorporeality of any serious degree beyond Ghostly will have to wait until she reaches Epic levels and enjoys Shadowdancer powers.

Suki is a simple girl. Provided she has a meat shield, no trap, no locked door, no enemy will interfere with her job.

I wish that the game could allow you to pair your character with a hireling avatar based from your character list. A hireling version of Kiricletica the ninja or Lynncletica the tanker paired with Suki would be formidable.

Full Encounter Control

These guys know how to role-play in AD&L (Advanced Dungeons & Lawyers). Credit: Tegehel

These guys know how to role-play in AD&L (Advanced Dungeons & Lawyers).
Watch out for that OBJECTION! intimidate move!
Credit: Tegehel

Yep, I’m going to keep going with comparisons to DDO with the light novel/anime show, Log Horizon. The show depicts RPG teamwork so well that it should be required viewing/reading by all players.

With several of my characters redefined a bit based on the show’s “Assassin” and “Guardian” (more on the Assassin in another post), I’m reviewing who might best fit the role of the “Enchanter,” a class that provides critical party support to augment ally attacks or degenerate enemy defenses.

What’s harder here is that the Enchanter to emulate is Shiroe, the main character of the show. As he describes himself, Enchanters have weak attacks so they are best a party support character. But Shiroe’s successes come less from what spells he knows but in how he uses them and how he works with teammates.

Shiroe is well-known for his mind–specifically, he’s a terrific strategist. He’s so good that he (together with others from his old static group, who played so well that they beat high-end raids) is nicknamed as “Villain in Glasses.” As his friends and enemies learn, his strategy skills work both on and off the battlefield.

Let’s stick to combat, so as not to spoil your future viewing. Shiroe’s allies talk about his battle strategy they call “full encounter control.”

When some of us decide to play in a pick-up group, the worst case scenario is that you’ll find yourself, as party leader, trying to gain control with the inexperienced and impatient members of your party. All the while, the dungeon’s enemies are attacking.

Even with a group of guildmates, chaos may not be far away.

The reason that some quests go off the rails is not due to the quest itself. Most DDO quests are quite predictable. It’s the players involved, of course.

I submit for your consideration a few basics of battle combat I’ve picked up from Shiroe.

Get Acquainted

Shiroe has an apprentice, a girl named Minori, who plays a Shrine Priest, a healing class that also has player-support abilities. Realizing her inexperience, she makes a notebook of Shiroe’s strategies and tips.

When she herself is in a party, training to fight in a dungeon, everything goes wrong. Aggro moves from the tanker to the spell casters. No one’s hardly aware of what their enemies can do. The little party is woefully beaten, time and again.

Most importantly, none of the party is aware of what others in their own party can do.

Before the young party leaves for the dungeon to have their ass handed back to them once more, Minori forces them to sit down and learn party mechanics, defense grouping, and what spells or attacks each party member can do and how it can benefit in tanking, aggro, and offensive strategies.

After a day of learning and appreciating who can do what, the little party goes back into that dungeon and curb-stomps it effortlessly.

I know I have many regular readers (thank you!) so I’m sure you’ve gained a greater appreciation of the Monk class. But how knowledgeable are you about the Wizards? Artificer? Bard? I know enough from Artificer and Bard but I’m hardly an expert.

If we don’t know what spells, attacks and defenses are possible by every class, how would a party ever achieve its true potential?

Know Your Role

Ullevian is a scout. He's completely surrounded. And he'll return home without being seen.

Ullevian is a scout. He’s completely surrounded. And he’ll return home without being seen.

Minori not only taught her party in conversation what each class can wield, but why they wield it and when they should do so.

In DDO, the dynamics of “create a character and play” lacks a central element of Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop game. In D&D, you roll up a character that conforms not only with a specific rule set (the world, environment and class rules) but a class itself, which has a specific purpose, ultimately, as part of a team.

In DDO, once you make your character, you’re often shoved into the game, alone. Perhaps you’ll find some friendly folk and become part of a guild.  Or you’ll join a PuG and become hooked with good players or ultimately discouraged and never try again.

DDO doesn’t help keep the D&D teamwork concept needed to join others to have a chance at understanding your character and how it fits in the world.

DDO players often eschew roles because it gets in the way of combat. Maybe I should say that roles get in the way of players creating super-powerful adventurers using complex multiclassed builds.

Some players have no problems trying to super-glue trapfinding, combat and casting skills in one character. We’re likely not to see such a character in a party but only mentioned as a thread in the Achievements forum after soloing a raid. While soloing certain things for fun on occasion isn’t inherently a bad thing (I just did that myself with “The Shroud”), should solo running be the norm in DDO?

I say, nay, nay!

Many DDO quests do support (and sometimes require) a well-rounded party. “The Vault of Night” pre-raid is one shining example. Surely, every quest should be easily conquered with such a group.

Roles don’t mean you have to pigeonhole your character. Rogues don’t always have to only take down traps, but they should be trained to make a better effort than a Ranger. Monks won’t always stun, but they should be able to keep weaker party members protected by removing dangerous bosses. Wizards and Sorcerers, Bards and Artificers also can adjust a few things for flavor.

But in the end, a class exists to do something and do that something very, very well.

No class is better at trapfinding and disarming them safely than a Rogue.

No class can keep aggro better than a Fighter or Paladin.

In the LH example, the team’s first organized fight sent in their Samurai, a tanking class, to fight and generate sufficient aggro so that other party members were able to heal and support him. Once aggro was firmly in place, their sorcerer delivered the killing blow.

Is there something wrong in your party when your healer is leading your group into battle? Of course.

Trust Your Party…and its Leader

Shiroe and Minori were effective because they instilled trust between party members. Each leader coordinated their party to deliver the maximum effectiveness, even when that team comprised only three people.

The best guilds work because players have learned how a class works but also how a player works. Further, other players know of their leader’s abilities. This is especially true when a party enters an unknown area or encounters a superior force.

You can have good parties but poor leaders. As a result, you’ll likely lose the one element that Shiroe does all the time, battlefield or off the field. He thinks ahead. Way ahead. He anticipates how much HP and mana will be remaining for allies and enemies at a certain time. He’s calculating enemy attacks and movement. Shiroe’s friends believed that he was able to see about 30 seconds ahead in any battle. Minori emulated enough of Shiroe’s ability to see maybe 5 to 10 seconds ahead.

But seeing ahead in a DDO fight is far easier. Resources such as DDO Wiki already tell you what to expect. The challenge is first interpreting that data into the reality of the quest itself, and then having your party readied to meet that reality.

Communicating these elements requires someone to whom the party will listen. Some victories help here. Recovering from unexpected situations, more so.

How many parties have you joined where no one’s listening to the party leader? How many of these quests failed?

Leaders should know a quest inside and out.

But for DDO, a party leader needs to have some dungeon-master skills to help a team maximize not only their potential but also their fun in exploiting their roles to the fullest.

Sure, you could direct your party to scream and leap into a horde of orcs. Or you can have your Rogue lay a web trap or two, lure then into it and let your casters cremate the bunch while your fighters sharpen their weapons for later.

Creative leadership adds to the fun and reduces the repetitiveness of quests that will often give you the same objectives over and over. The trick is leading your team to conquer in another way or with greater stakes. Perma-death, stealth, naked, or with specific weapons. Pick your challenge.

This Is Our Reality

DDO isn’t “Elder Tale,” the fictitious RPG fantasy game in Log Horizon. But these fictitious characters, even the evil ones, play a better game of D&D than we do sometimes.

I’m sure, however, your best memories of the game come from the times where everything clicked, and not simply because you had enough DPS.

There is no “i” in “D&D” or “team.” Cliche, yes, but true.

Compare and contrast my post to an enlightening PDF excerpt from a D&D rule book where feats can aid in teamwork.

Szyncletica: Shroud Beater

It’s my first major accomplishment. Szyncletica, now a capped Epic Shiradi Shuricannon, defeated the Shroud on her own on a quiet Sunday morning.

Wasn’t easy.

Part 1

I had two attempts here. The first aborted at part 1 when I missed a second portal keeper that appeared.

I learned an important strategy: Portal Keepers are bound to appear if you’re slow at the portals, solo or not.

The key is to simply target and kill the keeper and then continue on with your work. Know the portal manifestation order and check all the portals.

If you hear a second warning after you’ve thought you’ve killed any keepers, you missed one and have less than a minute to rectify your mistake.

I took that knowledge into my second attempt and was able to beat part 1 without significant issue.

Part 2

I had a terrible group of lieutenants, about as annoying as a solo runner can get I had Kasquick, the troll, the lion and the fire elemental. The last two lieutenants are stupid fast in their ghosts returning to the center. I know from study that other solo runners have abandoned their run if they’d got such an over-speedy group. But I’m fast, too. I gave it a go.

After I killed off Kasquick near the southwestern tree and began working on the others, I noticed how much time had gone past before Kasquick had returned to life. On killing fire, I watched him get stuck within a corner, staying there for almost 3 minutes before the game AI forced him to the center to revive.

I tried to take advantage of that spawn slowness and the fact that this was a maze. The best place to slay them is near and just north of the southwestern recharge tree. The lieutenants have a tendency to get stuck or meander slower to the center and their respawn point. I needed that time; the lion was extremely fast in running back to the center, faster than the elemental.

With a series of timed beatdowns and some lucky procs from my Celestial sword’s passive explosions of fire and light, the lieutenants fell, the crystal eliminated and now, on to the dreaded part 3.

Part 3

This time, I thought of another idea to conquer this place, where the Prismatic Wall had taken me twice already.

I zoomed through the area, smashing as many crystals above the doors as fast as I could before I opened up the central fountain, retreated and waited.

I knew now that eliminating door crystals brought the Wall up faster. I wanted to wait to start any water runs until the Wall spawned so it wouldn’t spawn atop me.

Celebratory cannonballs in Part 3's regenerating pond.

Celebratory cannonballs in Part 3’s regenerating pond.

Finally it appeared. I began a careful series of runs out, always following far behind the Wall as I did my work, filling only one fountain and removing crystals as I retreated back to the center where the Wall does not travel.

I waited for the Wall to pass by my fountain door on its clockwise path, then sprinted out counter-clockwise to do what I could do.

It took about 30 minutes, but patience won, and I left part 2 with two chests and victory.

Now to go where few others have gone.

Part 4

I thought to myself that Part 1 and 2 were the most difficult because they had a time element. That was only partly correct. Part 1 is timed only once a portal keeper appeared. Part 2 isn’t timed at all except in the fine window you have while all lieutenants are down and the race to destroy their respawning crystal. It’s part 3 that requires the greatest timing.

One Ninja Drow, one battle.

One Ninja Drow, one battle.

Now, it was just a matter of combat. A matter of outlasting my enemies.

The Whirling Blades are a nuisance but not very dangerous on Normal. My thoughts in this first encounter with Arraetrikos involved one important factor: Beating his regenerative factor.

As Klorox the Barbarian showed, it was a matter of damaging Harry faster than he regenerated.

I kicked up my defenses, drank a DDO store elixir and a Yugoloth potion, and got to work.

Taking out the trash was easy enough, and then Harry arrived.

We meet at last, pit fiend.

We meet at last, pit fiend.

The Thunder-Forged Shuriken with its tier 1 upgrade did its work. I pulled 1/5th of his HP away on round 1.

Each time the pit fiend disappeared, I went into Sneak to boost my passive ki regeneration and used Wholeness of Body to recharge my HP to full.

Staying hidden also left me hidden from the devil spawns, allowing me to take my time in regenerating ki and waiting for my Eternal Potion of Death Ward to recharge.

The gnolls that arrived to recharge Harry fell very, very quickly each round to vorpalling stars and were never a factor.

Harry and I fought on. After 5 rounds or so, the beast fell.

Part 5

As ready for the final fight as I'd ever be.

As ready for the final fight as I’d ever be.

I waited at the part 4 altar to regenerate my ki to maximum and clear the cooldown on my Eternal potion.

The strategy here was similar to part 4, although I realized that I’d have a hell of a time separating the speedy revived lieutenants.

And just before I entered, I decided to buy some +20 Jump potions from the DDO Store.

It took a bit to slay the lieutenants.

Then Harry materialized once more.

Bet most of you have never seen this view of part 5 before, high above.

Bet most of you have never seen this view of part 5 before, high above.

I drank that Jump potion and leaped atop the center pedestal, running all the way up and was able to stand on the edge of the outside wall of the area. I pelted Harry senseless and with impunity.

After 15 minutes or so, the deed was done.

Another feather in the cap for Firewall’s Shuricannon design, even with a weaker design such as my own.

I give you a video of the last minutes of the battle.

 

And Sir Geoff: By request: the dance of victory.

ScreenShot01379ScreenShot01378

Maybe I found my final inspiration a couple of days ago, after discovering an old DDO thread of a much-earlier Shroud victory by the quintessential Sarlona guild, Caffeine.

Every one in the raid group used only Clubs of the Holy Flame.

Completed years ago, that’s still going to be more badass than anything I have done or can think of doing.

 

 

Stormreach Shadows: A New Stealth Game Guide

sslogo2I recently proposed a self-imposed team challenge I dubbed as “Stealth Team Six,

The idea involves two or more players, using stealth tactics to complete their adventures for a fascinating change of pace.

But I neglected to offer much more to help people of almost any class consider this idea.

A blog post or even a gameplay suggestion could only go so far.

I’ve spoken much about stealth tactics before in many posts, here, here, here, here and here. I also had a chapter about stealth tactics in a chapter in the Monk guide.

DDO Wiki has skill information, and much discussion can be found on the DDO forums.

But much of of it is rather incoherent, sometimes dated and dry as a car mechanic’s guide in the desert sun.

The flavor, the essence of what you must do and how to proceed is missing amidst all the technical data.

There’s just not a comprehensive game guide for training and applying stealth tactics in Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Well, until now, anyway.

Introducing Stormreach Shadows

I’ve built the skeleton of Stormreach Shadows, a new DDO game guide that tries to do what The Book of Syncletica did -offer a comprehensive player resource, but this time on the fundamentals of stealth.

Unlike The Book of Syncletica, however, this guide’s mission isn’t just for Monks. It’s to aid any class in exploring and applying any stealth techniques to their build.

At the least, a little stealth for any character could make a rougher quest into a less trying one on some occasions, even if you and your party don’t go all Splinter Cell on the place.

For classes that support innate stealth abilities, we hope to hone your training to the extent where you’re so invisible that the DDO gamemasters will have a hard time finding you on their own servers.

A few years of monastic play, trying things out here and there, allowed me to find (or rediscover) innate abilities of the Monk class. Now, together, we can study all class abilities to see how a stealth team can support each other, from spells to UMD and bardic song.

As time allows, the guide will also gain something I’ve been wanting to integrate in the Monk guide: Video examples in specific quests on using stealth. I’ve made a few videos with Kiricletica already and will incorporate these while also creating a few new ones with Sukitetica (my halfling Assassin) and others.

The guide will have a small chapter noting reported or known bugs as they relate to stealth. One intrepid player has been documenting serious bugs that affect the Assassin since Update 22 came out, and we’re trying to find more that could affect other players.

We’re Going Global on This One

Now, readers know that I primarily play Monks. I have limited experience with other classes, so I cannot easily know how Fighters, Wizards, Sorcerers, Druids, Clerics and other classes could use stealth principles without compromising their class’s central roles or abilities.

That’s why I’m not alone in the editing and compilation this time around. As I said, I’ve created the skeleton, but need more help this time around in getting some meat on its bones.

I’ve initially asked forum member Saekee, a fellow ninja stealth enthusiast and frequent commenter on this blog, to aid me in the guide’s initial development, filling in data from his experience. He’s especially interested in adding suggested multiclass builds to help create improved stealth masters, especially with classes that have very limited stealth potential due to their defense design, such as Paladins.

I also welcome any other players who’d like to assist us in developing and maintaining the guide’s class-specific chapters where their game experience will be helpful in noting spells, weapons, feats and skills of that class that could be helpful in ST6-style operations that I would not inherently know with my limited experience.

Stormreach Shadows won’t go “wiki” since I do want to keep editing control, and because the web site’s mechanics limit revision changes that could cause edit wars and other issues without a controlled delegation of who edits what.

But, again, I do welcome offers from any others who would care to contribute a few hours of their time by adopting a class-specific chapter and developing it so it will be as useful and accurate as possible. The class chapters could use adoption by anyone that’s used that class in stealth. I’ll want to limit one editor per class chapter.

And even if a class chapter is already reserved, we’ll always welcome corrections, additions and comments, which I’ll take point in adding if the chapter editor isn’t fast enough.

Don’t worry if you’re not very experienced in writing. As long as you don’t write exclusively in text-speak (It’s “before,” not “B4″–speak English, not bingo) and use proper English grammar and sentence structure sufficient enough for me not to be forced to rewrite most of your page, you’ll just fill in what you know, based on each class chapter’s pre-formatted template I’ll have up for each.

In my role as the managing editor of the guide, I’ll take care of concising, linking up and correcting and tidying up any results you submit for a consistent look once you’re satisfied with your contribution. Credits for writing can be added, if desired, with your DDO Forums identity.

If you’re interested, follow the instructions on the forum thread. This blog post will be a bit circular in soliciting help since you’re likely reading via a link on the DDO Forums’s Game Guides subforum. The forum page will detail what you’ll need to access the site as an editor.

The Ascetic Guardian

My posts have been filled with pleasant diversion from the blog’s focus.

Shuricannons.

Shortsword wielding ninjas.

Even Bard Swashbucklers.

Whatever happened to good ol’ fisticuffs?

Well, rejoice, Dear Heart, as now we return to those thrilling days of not-so-yesteryear of the thrice-new adventures of Lynncletica, the Little Mountain.

More sword than shield, Lynn's defenses will increase. But her attire befits that of a hermit until she is truly worthy to be a guardian.

More shield than sword, Lynn’s defenses will increase. But her attire befits that of a hermit until she is truly worthy to be a guardian.

With a third life, Lynn is not so little. Her larger physique granted by the third reincarnation makes her appear Amazonian, compared to others about the dojo.

Lynncletica returns as a Shintao Monk once more, leaving the role of the dojo’s Epic leader to Szyncletica for now. This time, Lynn is able to take full advantage of the Shintao training, which favors the Earth Stance for defense and power.

Of course, Lynn can never keep up with the Joneses in Boston, Mass., where their role as DDO’s developers continually tweak or change the curve of reality. Now comes Update 23, which will add a new mechanic for more melee and ranged damage: melee power.

The idea has many critics. Sir Geoff of Hanna has fired an early salvo of scorn about it. And I must admit to being darned confused about the notion.

I have read, in as much as time allowed, the expected updates to improve player defenses, especially against Epic characters. It would be nice not to get one-shotted by a minion. Four or five, maybe, if you’re not prepared. But the guys in heavy armor wear heavy armor and shields for a reason. It should take quite a lot of punishment for their characters to die.

What they need is something that scales with Epic damage bypassing, so the devs “Armor Up” threads had discussed adjustments with PRR and introduction of yet another mitigation ability, Magic Resistance Rating.

I find that welcome…but don’t we already have Spell Resistance for countering effects of certain spells? I believe I read that MRR aids against offensive spells, which makes a little sense with a sword-and-board against a powerful mage. But here, we come perilously close to that balance of mage versus melee where, all things being equal, mages lose. That’s why magic is what it is.

Peak Performance, Part Deux

Lynn’s return to Heroic continues my goal to get more of my characters to early levels to assist others. I’d also like Lynn, now gaining experience much slower, to help with Evennote’s great initiative, Players Helping Players, by helping her eventual avatar appearance on my server.

For now, I’m working to get Lynn to level 5. She appears for now  in some Ragged Rags as a mark of monastic asceticism, helping me to remember and appreciate the foundation of the unarmed Monk. Unless required or invited into party, Lynn enters on Elite without hireling support to help me train in defense and attack.

I’m particularly keen on preparing her for using Ki Shout. It’s an Intimidate effect that uses the Concentration score rather than Intimidate, a cross-class skill for Monks. I want to draw attention. I want the enemies to see only me, to fight me.

That sounds a little suicidal for a Monk, but here me out.

Log Horizon Revisited: The Guardian Motif

This fearless (or foolhardy) desire to serve more in the tanking role is certainly spinning off from my Log Horizon appreciation. This anime, where a D&D-styled game has become an alternate reality where the players live in that world as people based on their characters, has clear roles of battle tactics that serve the protagonists very well.

The first three main characters you see are an Enchanter (a Wizard-like character whose role is to augment his party member’s attack and defense) a Guardian (a heavy-armored fighter who intentionally tanks, that is, attracts all enemies to him to bear the brunt of the fighting while others in the party coordinate attacks) and an Assassin (which does as the name says) with ninja-like stealth skills.

Guardian: Taunter and Tanker Extraordinaire.

Guardian: Taunter and Tanker Extraordinaire.

I don’t quite have an Enchanter character, but Flynncletica the Bard comes a little closer to it. Kiricletica (despite the homage of her name to a Sword Art Online protagonist) is more like an Assassin with her Ninja Spy skills, so there’s a spot for a Guardian, and Lynn can fill that.

The second episode of the first series (a second series arrives this Fall) shows our Enchanter, Shiroe, and Guardian, Naotsugu, about to be ambushed by a player-killer group of at least 4 people. just nearby a large woods in a small glade at night. The enemy party consists of at least two Rogue-like people, a Fighter and a healer class.

What these four poor bastards don’t realize is that Shiroe and Naotsugu are perfect at their roles, trusting in each other’s abilities implicitly from their days as part of their game’s Ultimate Static Group, a non-guild renowned for their prowess in completing raids that even high-level guilds struggled to do.

I’d invite you to watch the episode, for free, online at Crunchyroll. The action scene is barely 10 minutes, about 5 minutes into the episode. But let me summarize how two players began to completely mop the floor with these four players in an excellent demonstration of teamwork. This show illustrates great RPG strategies we’re forgetting on DDO.

  1. Shiroe, the Enchanter, is seen casting a passive spell (but not announcing what he’s doing) as Naotsugu leaps in to gather aggro on the three attackers, their healer apparently staying behind the fray for support.
  2. As his maul-wielding fighter beats on Naotsugu,the enemy leader orders a nimble roguish attacker, using two chakrams, to attack Shiroe. Just as she leaps at him, Shiroe slows her down with Astral Bind, a rooting spell.
  3. Realizing a new problem, the enemy leader tells the chakram-wielder to switch places so he can attack Shiroe.
  4. Naotsugu notices the aggro change (and Shiroe trusts that he does) and performs “Anchor Howl”, a super-intimidate AoE effect that compels all in range to attack him alone. If anyone tries to ignore Naotsugu, he can make a nasty counterattack.
  5. With all three attackers now on Naotsugu, Shiroe realizes that the Guardian can only take that much attention for so long before his HP is gone. First, he casts what seems to the enemies as a worthless spell that throws floating lights around the enemy’s heads.
  6. Shiroe next targets the enemy fighter and casts “Thorn Bind Hostage”, a rooting spell that creates nasty magic thorns around a target that also roots them in place.
  7. Naotsugu strikes the thorns around the maul-wielder, causing him to lose half of his HP immediately. Surprised, the enemy leader calls out for the healer to restore health to their stricken member. Several thorns remain on the maul-wielder and the implications to all are deadly clear.
  8. Naotsugu strikes again at the punishing thorns. The enemy fighter dies and disappears (in this new reality, they are immortal and resurrect back in town), shocking the remaining enemies. The enemy leader shouts at their healer, who sways and promptly drops to his knees. Shiroe’s very first action at the start of the battle was to cast a sleeping spell on the healer, knocking him out of the fight, literally.
  9. The chakram-wielder becomes frustrated and attempts to attack Shiroe, but Naotsugu slaps her to near-death as she is still under the Anchor Howl intimidate effect. She soon runs away from the battle.
  10. The enemy leader, alone on the battlefield, calls out for his party backup, a Summoner and Sorcerer hiding in the woods. But Shiroe already knew about them.
  11. Shiroe’s count of “four enemies” was based on the fact that Naotsugu was momentarily stopped by a rooting spell not cast by any of the four attackers on the field. This was code to Akatsuki, the Assassin, who was in the woods as well and interpreted Shiroe’s message that more of the enemy were in wait elsewhere. Shiroe’s floating lights kept the enemies from seeing into the dark woods, where Akatsuki proceeded to assassinate the two mages without interference.
  12. Akatsuki drags out the dying two mages, who disappear. The enemy leader is totally alone and soon dies as well in a fitful and pitiful attempt to stab Shiroe, which Akatsuki does not allow.

It’s Naotsugu that played the dominant role in the battle. His role wasn’t as damage dealer but his aggro generation allowed all other party members to use their talents to the fullest without being under attack. No one paid attention to Shiroe’s strategic machinations until it was much too late. Akatsuki wasn’t known to the enemy party. She notes to the enemy leader, “your teamwork is full of holes.”

And note that the team of three had no healer of their own in party and were outnumbered 2 to 1. This continues into episode four, and even then, the team, now with two additions, has a only very weak healer as they ultimately must fight in another player-killer scenario, five against at least twenty five.

The central fight is a Swashbuckler against an evil Monk, cleverly taunted into a one-on-one battle. When the enemy Monk tries to dogpile on his sole combatant using the rest of his guild, guess who steps in and forces that mob to concentrate on him? Yep. That’s Naotsugu. In addition to Anchor Howl, he uses a special ability comparable to the Unyielding Sentinel’s epic moment to become effectively impervious for a time to buy Shiroe and the swashbuckler the time they need against the Monk.

Our guys win again.

Strategy works. Tanking is still awesome because a skilled party can handle far more formidable forces in this mode, rather than arming themselves to the teeth and attacking individually and on sight, each member likely pulling more threat to them than they could handle. The AI isn’t incompatible with this traditional style; the player attitudes now are. Everybody wants to be the star, it seems.

In contrast to what I described from episode 2 of the show, by episode 13, a junior group of adventurers show exactly how NOT to fight, losing and retreating again and again because of poor aggro management and only a vague sense of each other’s roles until one of them, a Shrine Priest that’s fond of Shiroe, begins training them to work as a team, with her work emulating Shiroe’s encounter-control tactics. That group becomes a bundle of power and dominance after that.

Lynncletica, Guardian Monk

So, Lynn is getting adjustments to make her a better Guardian-type Monk stylized a little after Naotsugu as Akatsuki is currently inspiring bits of Kiricletica. Her hit points will be sizable, her attacks powerful, but her defenses more formidable.

It’s not quite too different from her second-life as Lynn could handle almost any enemy in tanking but struggled a bit with Epic Elite defenses. My hope is that I can improve her against some EE as well, particularly as Update 23’s changes come into play.

She can heal herself and remove damaging curses and effects. Most importantly, Lynn can keep the bulk of the fight on her with her Ki Shout. From there, others in the party can debilitate enemies without fear of immediate counter-reprisal.

More and more STR will be Lynn’s regimen to eliminate targets, with close attention to WIS and CON.

I hope I can find a little more PRR than the 67 or so I managed by Epic, but it’s the miss-chance powers that I’d like more. Lynn never trained any Ninja Spy techniques and may consider it for Shadow Veil for 25% incorporeality. She didn’t have the strongest Dodge in the past, either, with maybe 18%. That’s got to change, too. She can Blur herself adequately.

One thing that the new Shintao tree has firmly discouraged me from doing is to train all the Elemental Curatives. Since Rise of the Phoenix only resurrects yourself and is no longer a Raise Dead SLA, I’ll only train the remove-curse and lesser-restoration abilities, which are great mass-effects in party, and shove the freed AP into Ninja Spy or improving more defense abilities. I’ll be immune to natural poisons and disease and can carry potions for magical types.

Combat Expertise will be retrained; it’s 10% stacking bonus to all AC goes fine with Earth Stance’s 20%. Lynn could get 100 AC without effort by level 20.

And, if team strategy is handled well, any party that Lynncletica serves won’t require extensive healing.

Lynn might train up additional abilities from the Ninja Spy and Mystic trees. The Henshin side has Mystic Training for improved finisher DCs, and an Animal Form style. Way of the Patient Tortoise has no negatives with more Concentration and HP, but Way of the Tenacious Badger seems nice in that my unarmed damage increases as my HP decreases, at the price of less Fortitude (compensated by higher CON). Adding more Dodge from the ninja’s Acrobatic ability is an easy choice to add points toward Shadow Veil. Perhaps, then, Faster Sneaking and Stealthy to add a bit more Hide/Move Silently and gain a point of passive ki regeneration.

I’m skipping Exemplar as before. The few points to unused cross-class skills Heal and Intimidate and the extra Threat generation I can gain through Devotion spell power and higher Concentration.

Deft Strikes and its increased off-hand attack rate is inviting, but Reed in the Wind’s extra Dodge is also helpful.

I’m curious how PRR will be effective for Monks with Update 23’s goal to cap PPR for unarmored folks. That said, I”m still a fan of it. So the Iron Skin ability gets maxed for 15 untyped PRR, as well as Conditioning for more Concentration and 15 more HP.

The jade attacks are always handy and will be trained, of course. If tier 4’s Instinctive Defense can be trained to reduce damage should Lynn become helpless (before I can use my Harper Pin if low on HP), then I’ll add it. I’m more keen on adding another CON point at this level.

Tier 5 of Shintao is filled with goodies. Meditation of War helps PRR but reduces Dodge cap in Earth Stance (at least until the last core enhancement offsets this). Empty Hand Mastery raises the unarmed attack hit die. I like Kukan-Do’s remote stunning but feel my CHA will never be high enough, and prefer to bring the fights closer to Stunning Fist range.

By Epic levels, Lynncletica will take more training as the Unyielding Sentinel, an epic destiny designed to tank and endure. She’ll lack only the ability to wear a shield for more defense but will gain more CON and PRR, and can amplify her Shield AC bonus from a Flawless White Dragonscale Robe once she creates one. There’s also the newer destinies that may offer more.

I’m looking forward to being more like a mountain, sturdy and invincible. Here’s hoping there’s more I can adapt in Update 23.

 

 

The Insane Tourist’s Guide to the Storm Horns

ScreenShot00930Continuing our guides to extreme DDO tourism to such destinations as the Subterrane and the Underdark, we turn our attention to what might be the most breathtaking place you’ll likely encounter in your travels to-date.

The Storm Horns is a massive mountain range on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Cormyr. Reminiscent of the American Northwest, this wilderness area is arguably MUCH larger than the King’s Forest, outside Eveningstar.

And if the greenery of the King’s Forest wasn’t enough, you are able to take in true vistas from the ridges of the mountain. You’ll literally make a climb up the mountain, with the climate changing as often as the denizens who, predictably enough, aren’t that fond of sightseers and will not offer much hospitality.

Occupying the mountain are the Netherese, descendents of some of the nastiest spell casters that ever lived, and who tire of not having a legacy of blowing shit up as well as their forefathers. These people aren’t exactly the kinds of magicians you’d invite over for birthday parties, lest you want it to be the last one you’ll see on this plane of existence.

Preparing for the Trip: Heroic and Epic Tours

Like the deadlands of Gianthold and the prison city of Wheloon, the Storm Horns offers a Heroic tour (Level 19) or an Epic tour (L27).

To reach the mountains, you must be able to reach Eveningstar. This requires a Stormreach tourist like yourself to

  • Complete the Lords of Dust quest series in Stormreach Harbor and then complete “Beyond the Rift” to open a path to Eveningstar for your first-life character, or
  • Use a Key to Eveningstar to make an extraplanar teleport to the town if you received such a key from a previous life.
  • Or,  use the Hall of Heroes Passport to go to Eveningstar directly from the login screen. Free feature if you’re a VIP tourist, or 795 Turbine Points from the DDO Store. (Thank you, FuzzyDuck.)

The Storm Horns, like the King’s Forest, may give level restrictions for entering. Check with your tourist agent for more details.

New and challenging inhabitants dominate all climes of the mountain. It’s critical to have a good self-sufficiency as only a few shrines to rejuvenate yourself exist in the area. With air elementals and other inhabitants capable of knockdown there, it is possible that you can be accidentally knocked off the mountain.

Feather-fall items are essential to have at the ready. You will fall to your death without feather falling or a similar ability.

The Forest

Even on entry, you're assaulted by beauty. Don't let yourself become assaulted by owlbears at the same time.

Even on entry, you’re assaulted by beauty. Don’t let yourself become assaulted by owlbears at the same time.

On entering, you’ll find a curious individual named Eldovar Fleetleaf that offers to teleport you immediately to one of three areas in the area for a price of Astral Shards.

You can decline his offer and find these special waypoints (Harper Stones) yourself, but this might take some time. For nine shards, you can move about more quickly if your tour group is already far ahead.

It’s strongly advised that you read the tour guide map from DDO Wiki to find these Stones for later (and safer travel). It seems that, once you find the Stones on Heroic, you needn’t look for them again in the Epic version.

Once you do this, future visits with Eldovar will teleport you to that location for free.

There are many streams off the mountain, with passageways across each.

There are many streams off the mountain, with passageways across each.

The forest is much like a snowy King’s Forest but with a significant gradation as you climb as well as an abundance of deciduous forest that sways in the breeze. Other flora, such as fields of wildflowers, are wonderfully sculpted.

Scattered throughout this and higher elevations are journal entry markers left by the inquisitive but prepared Oriphaun (Heroic tour) or the sarcastic and darkly humorous Netherese leader Amskar (Epic tour).

You will traverse for several hours in real time to find all 45 of these markers, and likely run face to face with imaginative and even mythical creatures as you find these little waypoints.

At the forest level, you might find satyrs: Half goat, half man. You’ll also see the owlbear in its native habitat.

There is a large lake to the west with a tiny island in its center that I’ll refer back as you reach higher altitudes.

The Tundra

This lovely lake grows smaller and smaller as you ascend.

This lovely lake grows smaller and smaller as you ascend.

As you climb higher, snowfall appears, but waxes and wanes. The cold becomes more sharp, and so do the bites of those that live here.

You’ll see griffons and something far more unusual: harpies, half woman, half bird, all shrieking. Be careful of their crooning, which can stun you or sometimes make you helpless.

The Netherese, who make camp of various sizes on the mountain, will not be happy that you have discovered parts of their plans. Gnolls, orcs, Netherese-allied humans, and giants are in league with the Netheril and will slay you on sight–which sort of makes sightseeing hard to do.

Your best stealth game can avoid some fights if you desire or are able to use it. Remember that the hill giants you first encounter have See Invisibility and (with the Update 19 stealth AI changes) have incredibly far Spot bonuses. They’re able to see you coming at least three times farther than most other enemies.

Midpoint

There's really not a bad view anywhere on the Horns...unless it's from within the stomach of a griffon.

There’s really not a bad view anywhere on the Horns…unless it’s from within the stomach of a griffon.

The cold whips you as if you were a redheaded stepchild. Drifting snow spins about as you walk.

Looking over the ridge, that reasonably-sized lake at forest level becomes very, very tiny and eventually fades from view with the blowing snow.

You must be very careful here as the Netherese have many of the largest fortifications built here.

They’ve added a familiar but no-less formidable enemy that you’ve seen in places such as in snowy Aussircaex’s Valley: Frost Giants.

The Summit

The desolate beauty is marred only by the Netherese at this point.

The desolate beauty is marred only by the Netherese at this point.

It’s all snowy from here on out. A white dragon occasionally takes up residence in the area, if dragon-spotting is your kind of thing.

Hopefully you won’t become part of the dragon’s favorite pastime: adventurer snacking.

The largest Netherese installations reside atop the mountain. These also lead to the last two quests in the series, if the tourist information is correct.

Watch out for the Ice Elementals. They are surprisingly powerful in attack. Strong fire spells will rid you of them, but they are very many, and you are fewer.

Special Attractions

The Netherese are poor hosts. That’s certainly because they have secrets to their secrets that they aren’t keen on sharing with you until Cormyr is destroyed, and you with them.

That said, check out the glacier entrances once you’ve completed the quests involving the Netherese occupation of the mountain.

By the time you reach the summit and the glaciers, you’ll be a witness to the Netherese magic-bomb facility and flying fortress–if you survive their attempt to use it before you’re forced to destroy it.

Nailed It: The Mirror of Glamering

I’m busy with a special project that I’ll tell you about very soon. So this is a very short post.

In my quasi-daily DDO news scan, some notes about Update 23’s changes came up from Sir Geoff of Hanna and over at Tactalicious & Craftalicious.

I’ve been hoping for more attack animations and have stated so recently. But one wish came true from all that.

More cosmetic armor. How much? As much as you want, it seems, thanks to an upcoming item called the Mirror of Glamering.

Think of it as a cloning tool, a photocopier if you will, of any armor or helm appearance in the game. We’ve got a whiff of this with the Ninja Outfit, a cosmetic copy of the Spider-Spun Caparison.

Now you can look as uber as you think you are.

Now, please Turbine, make it both a very rare drop but easily purchaseable (and tradeable) on the DDO Store. Give it a high TP. People will buy it. Trust me. Make some bucks to keep making us game content.

Don’t stop there, however! Add more new appearances based on class. “Tactalicious” asked for samurai armor (Kensei!). We’ve got ninja, so let’s try out those different attack animations? Yes? Maybe?

And thanks!

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