The Death of the Zen Archer

With Update 49, the major changes in bow feats and power brought a sudden hiatus to my love of archery.

None of my Zen Archers have a true monastic connection now.

I know Standing Stone Game’s devs are hard at work at reducing lag while keeping performance and weapon effectiveness going. Early in U49 development I put in my two cents on the forum threads on not screwing with the Ten Thousand Stars feat (commonly used by “monkchers” to add a 2nd classic Manyshot option) by at leaving that feat effectively unchanged for Monks and for the use of stars.

I got my request. Ten Thousand Stars still does what it has for shuriken.

But TTS no longer works at all for bows.

This broke the effective use of bows for my Zen Archers, which were all single-class Monks.

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t play any of them. Far from that. The U49 changes actually improved a few bits. For starters, one of the changes made all bows inherently DEX to-damage for any class unless you add another feat or enhancement with higher ability stats (such as a Ranger and its Bow Strength feat, or the universal tree’s special INT, WIS or CHA to-hit and to-damage enhancements).

So that meant that the being an Elf of some sort was not required to gain the Grace racial enhancement to add DEX-to-hit later if that build needed it.

Using TTS allowed my archers to use their ki for their Manyshot-like feature, which had a smaller cooldown of 60 seconds. TTS also saved a feat–Manyshot itself. It took longer for the Zen Archers to qualify for that feat, anyway, based on Monk BAB.

My problem is that there’s no ki connection to the use of bows.

That is, bows cannot use any of the melee-based ki strikes. Likewise, finishers cannot work with ranged weapons. A Zen Archer can switch to handwraps or other melee weapon to activate light or dark finishers, but there’s not a lot of point to that as that removes the bow from the equation and perhaps more vulnerable.

There is still the benefit of the miss-chance powers (Dodge, Incorporeality, Concealment) and monastic evasive powers inherent in many Monks that can make the current builds work fine. And adding the new Manyshot feature works just fine as well.

And when I don’t play my Monks, I love love love my Rangers. If I ever quit my love of Monks, you’ll see me fawning over the Ranger.

There’s also my starthrowers, which are now just as deadly (if not more so) with new flavors, thanks to variations from the universal trees. The performance changes to Doubleshot is still up in the air for me in terms of effects per apparent throw with stars, but it’s not a showstopper.

So what’s the future for my Zen builds?

The answer comes from the devs. In the near future, there are plans to add more trees or feats to expand the use of bows for other classes.

Maybe, just maybe, options might arrive to add true support for Zen Archery feat users so that Monks:

  • Could integrate ki for special bow-only abilities
  • Give bow Weapon Proficiency as part of such enhancements. That means you don’t have to be an Elf to use a bow without a harsh feat deficit.
  • A weak Arcane Archer-like use of ki to imbue bows or ammo or provide extra offensive and defensive things while adding a flair that no other archer class possesses (reading up from other D&D designs might be nice here)
  • Bonus points for enhancements that give one thing for dark Monks and other for light ones in archery

Such feats and enhancements would require specific Monk levels and might be anti-prerequisites to the Arcane Archer, Elf or Ranger abilities to avoid performance or overpowered class issues.

Until that day, there’s not a lot of reason to play Pynthetica or any of the new ones. But, as they say, Soon.

Hardcore Monk V: Victory

For my goals, at least, I “won” in the Hardcore IV season.

There were several goals a player could aspire to meet. Since I was new to Hardcore play, I chose only two: 1) Reach 1750 favor, and 2) Reach level 20.

I did both, and using the very first Hardcore character I created: Petracletica, the Ninja Spy.

It wasn’t easy, but it was fun. I’d like to say I survived and succeeded by skill alone. But as many of my friends (most also in my Ghallanda guild) would say, luck played a big factor.

As noted in past posts, the greatest challenge in HC IV was surviving the special Monster Champions present there. They were even color-coded for your convenience if you had a good Spot score. Some you knew to be careful not to attack too harshly in melee or get a stacking disease effect that could kill you faster than you could remove it. Another champ was the spellcasters’ bane with their Rage spell that left players Silenced. Another would have Poison attacks that often weren’t a big problem unless the champ was also a caster that also added their own nasty elemental spells.

It was that Poison-armed one, the Disciple of Avassh champions-as-casters, which often killed my party members with a single attack.

But why did Petracletica survive caster after caster, enemy after enemy?

She was the Master of Hide and Seek, I think.

A newer guildie on the HC server was dismissing the use of Sneaking while Petra was clearing level 10 quests while banking Level 15 at the time. One of his builds was a caster, like a Pale Master build that is admittedly quite good at clearing and soloing.

But because this new guildie is joining my Ghallanda guild (where Monks are the dominant class) I had to school him with some information–the reason why Petra likely survived to Level 20.

The Hide and Move Silently skills were, in my opinion, the most powerful abilities that Petra possessed. As I told the guildie in chat:

  • NO enemies would know I was present unless they possessed tremor-sense (bats, spiders), life-sense (some undead), or were some bosses that would know of any enemy in range (rare). True Seeing does not reveal a hidden player. A good Listen or Spot skill would–but most enemies don’t possess this.
  • The H/MS skills, together, allowed me to control when and how to strike an enemy. This was particularly useful since I could slay some champions before they became a threat to my party, flanking them and ending them with the Ninja Spy’s sneak attack combined with her weapon effects and enhancements.
  • H/MS likely saved me many, many times from enemy casters that would attack you from long range.

As noted previously, Petra was a Halfing with the Dragonmark of Healing to make her somewhat self-sufficient to cast Heal and related spell-like abilities limited times for myself or others. The added sneak-attack dies from the Halfling tree combined with the Ninja Spy versions for powerful first strikes.

Lastly, the Feydark Illusionist tree was a godsend. Just a few points invested and I had Shadowblades: Force DR weapons that bypassed almost every DR, including incorporeal. But their power really came to the fore by levels 12 and higher. They gained Phantasmal Killer, snuffing out enemies very, very fast. While each blade would not proc very often, carrying two blades as a two-weapon fighter made Petra quite the room-clearing Monk.

Other tricks were standard monastic fare to help: Flash Bangs to momentarily stun and blind to make removing most of a mob quick and easy. Subtlety enhancement to reduce the aggro level from melee attacks. The list goes on.

There wasn’t anything very special in surviving, as far as I say otherwise, except that I realized a few critical points to remember in clearing quests:

  • Avoid most quests that had beholders. While I would be far more equipped to silence and slay those oversized eyeballs than other melee classes, I didn’t want to take the chance. I made one exception: The Threnal quests, where I would be required to encounter two or three in the course of the quest chain. And then, I sent the hirelings in the party at the monster first.
  • No Xoriat quests such as the Harbinger of Madness chain. Same reason as the first, but Thaarak Hounds were a greater threat to me since they sense sneaking with their blind-sense and their own brand of Phantasmal Killer.
  • Run Elite only to reach 1750 favor. After that, I ran no quest higher than Hard difficulty. This helped survival for sure.

But before you think that Hard reduced the chance of death significantly, I will tell the story of the late Lamai, a powerfully great Bard at level 12 who explored Castle Ravenloft with me (on a different ninja, the star-thrower Rubycletica) on Hard.

The run in “An Invitation to Dinner” was going just fine. As we approached the Chapel on level 2 of the castle, there’s a spot I know will be filled with wights and ghosts, with 1 or 2 Wight Priests certainly there.

Ruby, as a ninja, was sneaking. I spotted a priest. It was a Disciple of Avassh champion. I had prepared to use my raven and Falconry’s trip attack to take it out. But before my shot had hit its mark, the caster saw Lemai and fired off two attacks. His Bard songs helped blunt one element of the attack, along with a timely heal by my Favored Soul hireling, but another part of the attack caused the dreaded “ding” in my headphones as Lemai melted from poison.

Hard difficulty could and would be happy to kill you. I stayed that course to level 20.

Of course, the chance for a mimic spawning with any chest opened increased in potency. By level 16 I could definitely see how the mimic’s CR increase made it harder to kill them off than earlier. Their acid damage increased as well. Myself and others running with me did not hesitate in breaking off a quest chain to get “P-Buffs” from House Phiarlan before entering another quest as we leveled beyond 10.

By Petra’s arrival at level 17 or so, she had Gianthold quests and later, those in Sharn. But in recalling how nasty the halflings in Sharn could be, especially with their artificers’ hard-to-see exploding construct spiders, I concentrated on all of Gianthold. With completing “Gianthold Tor” (after playing all but “The Crucible”) I reached “maximum heroic XP.”

I’m happy to complete Hardcore, and grateful to get my cosmetic awards.

But why oh why, SSG, are these cosmetics so butt-freaking-UGLY in comparison to the previous HC cosmetic rewards?

I mean, I know these are in theme with the season of Xoriat-based monster champions. But this design? I don’t ever want to wear these with anything, much less proudly wear them as a HC survivor.

Congratulations! You get to wear…clawed squidskin.

Anyway….Petra was immediately retired from play to complete HC. I don’t expect a high score on the leaderboards; not my goal. Rubycletica and two others continue play to gather gear and aid other friends to level them up and meet their goals. Since HC rewards are by-account, it’s not necessary for any other of my characters to survive, so I can be a little more aggressive.

Now to plan the final HC strategy: What comes over from the HC server to Ghallanda at season’s end with the free transfers. I have gathered a lot of good gear. But I already have 29 character slots on Ghallanda! Somebody there has to leave before I must buy more slots. I think only 2 characters are coming over.

Hardcore Monk IV – The Dark Before The Light

I’ve typically had three active characters on the Hardcore server. A “main,” or leader character with the most advancement, synced with my Ghallanda guildmates who I accompany. A secondary character is played that I tried to keep no more than 3 levels less than the main. A third or even 4th character are warmed up and played to at least Level 5 or 6 in case the worst of the worst happens.

That worst almost happened a couple days ago.

I’ve typically sent characters into quests or chains to farm on Normal or Hard difficulty. The Feywild became very attractive for its set items that would greatly add to survivability for all.

And during my off-days from work I played alone, accompanied by one or more hirelings, to complete some quests on the secondary and tertiaries, although never with the main.

The first to go was Dianacletica, a Zen Friar archer which was left in a performance crisis with the bow changes of Update 49. Losing the use of Ten Thousand Stars for bows, she was enjoying the use of the bow but with no applications available to her from being a Monk, save the passive feats and enhancements. At Level 6 or so she lacked sufficient base attack for Manyshot. So I put her to work on leveling.

I had her in work in clearing “Redfang the Unruled” when I encountered the room with all the poison traps. I had the cute and reliable Rogue hireling Kirsten to assist with the traps. But getting her to each area for the control boxes proved too much for Diana. Lag didn’t help, and Diana fell to “misadventure,” her level lacking sufficient protection or evasion as she was poisoned to death.

I carefully took stock of the situation and returned to Feywild farming on Rubycletica, the Level 7 starthrower, on Normal quest difficulty only.

During one of many runs into “The Knight Who Cried Windmill,” a lovely and short quest with a fun allusion to Dante’s literary knight, Don Quixote, something weird happened. It wasn’t death, thankfully.

On a Heroic Hard run, I encountered my first-ever feytwisted chest.

But wait. Aren’t these things supposed to drop only in Legendary Feywild quests and wilderness area?

Well, I didn’t argue with the game and accepted the reward. It’s too bad that few feytwisted items are suitable for Monks.

Ruby is my 2nd starthrower Ninja Spy attempt. Working with the weakest weapon in game, as well as the most scarce, I opted on stacking many secondary effects to greatly improve her damage. More on her later if she reaches Level 9.

Shortly after Diana’s demise and after logging out from a fruitful farming run on Ruby, I opted to take in Serethetica, my Level 9 Mystic, into an Elite farming run in “The Endless Revels.”

She attacked some pixie in the shrine room, which apparently was a champion, and the Mystic quickly died, likely a Stained or Symbiont of Ysgithyrwyn, which can deliver quickly lethal stacking debuffs.

Losing two characters in two days took me aback.

But for some crazy reason, I put my trust in farming the Feywild some more with my main, the Feydark shortsword wielding Petracletica, currently L10.

Several successful runs in the Part 2 quests yielded a few more great items for her use, including the awesome mage-hating Gloves of Tranquility. I stopped when I was ahead after completing that.

Petra’s in need of more HP (aren’t we all?) to survive hits. I’d love to add a Indomitable Wrappings belt for her and are still considering it, but it would mean I’d give up the powerful Haste effects of my Black Dragonscale Tasset. The Mimic Hunt level 8 reward would add 30 HP, but waiting to use the level 12 version to give 40 HP seems more tempting.

However, temptation has what gotten me killed lately.

Petra is loving Feydark Illusionist. At level 9 or so, her blades upgraded in power. In particular, the blades have Nightmare effect on them, which often instantly kill with its Phantasmal Killer. A bit more AP investment had also added permanent Blur and Shield on her, significantly increasing her innate defenses. She needs more Dodge (and may reach as much as 38% if she survives) and has lots of Incorporeality to help in fights, but she has been surviving well. Another AP point will also allow her to remove her own negative-levels or other effects from her Dragonmark.

In party, Petra’s high stealth leaves her an opportunist assassin, taking on the nastier bosses by flanking any mob and throwing Flash Bangs to buy the party time when we become momentarily overwhelmed. Good stealth often allows us to avoid fights to get to switches and quest items, which I’ve done more often.

The scariest thing Petra lacks are the now-difficult to farm Visor of the Flesh Render Guard Death Ward clickies. I have only one, and am reticent to use. But as it can’t protect me if I don’t have it in inventory, so I’ll have to add it to Petra’s growing equipment stack.

Petra’s Halfling Dragonmark, the healing ones, saved one party member in a surprisingly dangerous Elite “Memory Lapse” when our player Cleric, Sparkpaw, was incapacitated in an expected ambush (of which I neglected to warn about). Fumbling with my toolbar, I was able to throw a Cure Moderate Wounds on her but was too late to save our second player Cleric, Tilla, who took a fireball directly to the face.

After a death, our party often rolls up new tertiary characters.

My two recent deaths were both Light Monks. And there were two more Light Monks before that which met their maker.

But only one of the three Ninja Spies I’ve made have succumbed.

Imagine that. The Monks with no innate combat self-healing are doing well.

I might’ve cursed myself now by saying that.

I’ve rolled up a Warforged Shintao. Let’s see how she works.

Hardcore Monk III – Less Paranoid and More Prepared

Since last writing, my Hardcore level 6 starthrower, Stelacletica, got one-shotted in the Crypt of Gerard Dryden, likely by a champ with very energized magic missiles. I had just got her gear and most other effects working except one, which was a big sad.

Of course, a dead character takes their inventory and equipped gear to the grave, which is problematic when you farm for something nice, only to find it buried for the duration of the season.

But unlike the last death I experienced, I felt more determined than depressed about it. And I really wanted a ranged character in Hardcore.

I revised and revisited my Zen Friar build. My original build (which will be in the revised Monk guide–its updates are about 1/4 done!) used a Wood Elf’s racial skills as a central tenet. In my first archer on Hardcore, the late Loreicletica was an Half-Elf instead to add Cleric dilettante abilities for self- and party heal and buff options. I still think that’s a good idea, although the lack of innate longbow proficiency cost me an extra feat over other builds, making development of the build slower.

So Dianacletica was born in the Zen Friar’s original design, a Wood Elf to take advantage of ranged power, incorporeality and missile deflection enhancements. Dominantly an archer, this Light Monk build can also wield a quarterstaff, mostly to build up ki for buffs if needed. It’s still a work in refinement for reasons stated in a moment.

So far, Dianacletica was rather inexpensive to build and is at full basic form at Level 6, thanks primarily to fixing an oversight in the original build.

As you know, I am a big fan of the Falconry tree, which uses a summoned bird to support you with trips, blinding, fortification bypass, and other ranged or melee damage. Falconry adds some ranged power but, more importantly, allows uses of WIS as your to-hit and damage stat, just as Harper Agent allowed INT for this, Ninja Spy allowed DEX for it, and now Feydark Illusionist does for CHA.

There were two Killer Instinct enhancements, one that gave to-hit by WIS, and the second for damage by WIS. In my original build I took both for my Monk. But that wasn’t necessary at all, thanks to the one feat that allows a Monk to use a bow as a ki weapon in the first place.

That’s Zen Archery. It’s description: “You can use your Wisdom bonus instead of Dexterity bonus to determine bonus to attack with ranged missile weapons if it is higher.” That’s what Killer Instinct I does.

So I saved 2 AP that I could apply to something else, only requiring Killer Instinct II for WIS for damage. That “something” was in getting the Henshin Mystic tree completed enough to add Lighting the Candle, which adds Fire/Force damage to all weapons–a bit less on non-quarterstaff weapons, but a very helpful addition.

Dianacletica is also now a bit more paranoid about champions. Priority on building will be increasing HP first over damage through any enhancement and gear available, since the most dangerous problem is getting one-shotted by a champion (twice for me now) by some effect. Naturally, the more hit points you have, the less likely you’ll die.

She carries and more proactively uses several Shield clickies before engaging many mages that might have magic missile. And since she doesn’t have any enhancements to avoid getting Feared, she does carry a lot of Remove Fear potions to ward off the killing fear debuff of the Valaara’s Leg champion.

I will likely try to run the Attack on Splinterskull chain at least twice at Normal to carry at least two Visors of the Flesh Render Guards for Death Ward from the chain reward, along with having a player party member or hireling with the spell when at all possible.

Through some lengthy farming runs on my HC Mystic, I got a useful Greatbow of the Scrag for Diana, with its good blunted ammunition and higher base damage, along with a Giant’s Roar bow to vary things up.

So I get all of this running happily for Dianacletica and then Wednesday 4/21 shows up.

It’s Update 49 time, and this is a big big change that hopefully will improve something that players have cried about forever to fix–and that’s lag.

Even the release notes for Update 49 read like a light novel, as it details what is being changed to reduce the cumulative effects of game servers calculating every single little damage calculation, which slowed down the server performance for you or others, no matter where you were.

Effectively, the amount of floaty-text damage will reduce as the server takes a different and more efficient way to show your doublestrikes and doubleshots or other mass-effect damages.

Bows were specifically targeted in this update, with new animations to support changes that add more damage, slightly faster animations, an inherent use of DEX to-hit and to-damage for bows (which I assume is overridden by other enhancements) as well the change of Manyshot from a slow high-burst damage feat to a pulsed, more efficient feat.

There’s more, but what interests me, and what was not directly answered in the release notes, is how the Ten Thousand Stars feat changes with this update. Like Manyshot, TTS was a burst damage effect, primarily for shuriken, but useable with bows or any other throwing weapon that you can make a ki weapon. It added doubleshot and ranged power effects based on your WIS ability.

There is no information on if, or how, TTS has been adjusted in reflection to the changes to the bow-based Manyshot feat.

What was also noted that the update does nerf, for now, non-bow attacks, as the update changes the relative attack speed bonuses of certain feats but without changing how thrower animations work. I will have to visit my Astracletica starthrower on my home server of Ghallanda to see what’s changed there.

But for Dianacletica, I’m concerned about general damage, her exclusive use of TTS for burst damage, but also an aesthetic: The Wood Elf already looked great in carrying a bow as they ran. Sounds like I’ll get a different appearance, which is sad.

I have seen bow work on Lammania from a popular DDO YouTuber which looked promising for the standard non-Monk archer. Perhaps now I can revisit the original Zen Archer again (as well as other Zen Archer variants I made) and save feats or AP since DEX to-hit and damage is already present on bows to make them more useful and fun.

I can feel optimistic about one thing overall, as we all should everywhere but especially on Hardcore: The risk of lag death should become much less. Less risk for movement lag which “pushes” you into a trap, or that perhaps causes you to not be able to react to distant mage’s missile attack.

I would happily own the cause of death from my own mistakes rather than feel depressed that the game killed me because it simply was too overburdened.

Hardcore Monk II – Death and Life Everlasting

I always felt that some of my tips for defenses on a Monk were generally ignored by many players. Things like miss-chances and certainly fortification go a long way, as well as the benefits of finishers, particularly those of the Ninja Spy.

But in Hardcore, I’ve learned everything matters. Everything.

I’ve created four characters now, with the 3rd week in play.

The first order of business for all of them is the persistent use of acid-absorption items when opening a chest, which could always spawn a deadly spitting mimic. Other elemental absorption gear, from rings, cloaks and outfits, tend to drop well, and most are well-geared at present. So has fortification items, thankfully.

But what I did not prepare for as well were the special Hardcore monster champions, based on the other crazy Daelkyr of Xoriat.

During party play, in the 2nd quest to rescue Arlos, we encountered a kobold shaman. I knew to be wary of them already with their potent lightning damage and concealment fog that makes them hard to target.

I had my newer build, a Zen Friar, on the attack. I had just glimpsed the monster and its reddish champion name and popped a Falconry Diving Shot attack in hopes of tripping it.

Moments later, a Fear symbol appeared over Loreicletica’s head, along with a banner message that appeared too fast for me to read.

Seven seconds later, Loreicletica was dead. And as you know, you have one life to live in Hardcore.

I read up on all these special champions after that demise.

Of the nine champions, the one that killed me is the most dangerous: Valaara’s Legs. Each champion has a special quality with other special defenses or attacks. In the case of Valaara’s Legs, after review on the wiki, I discovered:

The fear of death is upon you! If you do not remove this fear, you will be stricken by madness so painful it may destroy you!

“NOTE: Once this champion hits you, a 7s timer appears on your debuff bar. The debuff icon is simply a fear icon with a red edge. All the champion’s hits, including spells, proc it, but it has an internal cooldown to re-proc the debuff on you, almost 8s cooldown. 7s timer on all difficulty. Remove fear spell or pot to remove this debuff, or Hafling/Aasimar’s Bold fear shake off will work.”

So that’s how I died.

My two survivors are Serethetica, an Aasimar Henshin Mystic, and Petracletica, a Halfling Ninja Spy. Both have the Bold enhancement that will remove fear or shaken effects by 3 seconds with that enhancement maxed out with 3 AP.

Both characters also carry the unbound Remove Fear potions from the Marketplace on their toolbars, to apply to party members that show that red-lined Fear symbol.

Other champions aren’t much better, but slightly less deadly.

With the archer’s demise, I decided to create a new backup character. And that’s the effective limit of players I should have. It takes time, especially with all the cautiousness you and your party have in proceeding through a dungeon, in the number of characters you have in work. Altitis in Hardcore means you’re not progressing fast enough to reach any of the rewards. Best to stick with one character, and that means a lot of coordination with members in your party in clearing quests at the highest possible character level for that dungeon before Hardcore lockout, 4 levels above the quest’s base level, kicks in. For example, the highest player level that can enter a Level 1 quest (no matter what difficulty level you select for the quest) is Level 5. Go to level 6, and you’re locked out of that quest forever with this server season.

But back to my 3rd character. I realized I erred the moment I made Stelacletica, a Drow Ninja Spy.

She’s using the weakest weapon in the game, the shuriken.

In non-hardcore play, finding or crafting shuriken wasn’t a big problem. But in Hardcore, there just aren’t that many stars. You get the useful Sworn Silver and Ethereal weaponry, each with a red augment slot, with just a few ingots from the Borderlands. But the next named star is the Shadow Star from the level 3 quest chain, Seal of Shan-To-Kor. And naturally, you want to run these quests at as high level as possible for favor used to receive your Hardcore rewards–if you survive. So farming at-level is a very risky thing, even with the guaranteed list of all named gear from the chain if you dare to run it three times, even on Normal difficulty.

Because crafting is a time-luxury no one has in Hardcore, Stela is stuck to what damage she can generate through any enhancements or feats. Based on Firewall’s old Shuricannon build, I’ve tweaked the build a bit with the use of the Falconry universal tree for crowd control. But that tree doesn’t add any weapon damage effects.

It’s good that there is an artificer in our party, which can give elemental weapon buffs that noticeably add damage. But I can’t always expect an artificer in party. The Shuricannon build used both Ninja Spy Sting of the Ninja and Drow Venomed Blades enhancements for whopping poison damage on many enemies. But that’s not enough.

My experiment with Feydark Illusionist came up with nothing. Its Shadowblades imbuement for weapons is simply a +1 enhancement bonus.

So I’m going to invest in a bit more from the Henshin Mystic tree to fight to survive: Lighting the Candle. It’ll add Fire and Force damage to the stars. To get that enhancement, I’ll need to spend 10 AP, but in the process I’ll also get Contemplation for +1 passive ki regeneration needed for using the Ten Thousand Stars ability, and more ki with the extra Concentration skill points added.

I better enjoy TTS while I can; the new updates coming may change how Shuriken Expertise and Ninja Spy’s similar ability provide burst or ranged damage, mostly in part to reduce lag, which I understand.

Petracletica is an excellent scout at level 7 with one hireling to help, deadly when she adds more virtual party members as meat shield combatants, giving her time to assess what is going on. She’s already entered the Feywild and scored a Rockslide Ring. Shadowblades are a godsend in Hardcore since they’re nothing but Force, which blows through most damage reduction and incorporeality. Additional Feydark Illusionist enhancements to add permanent Concealment and Shield are equally helpful.

But now the next challenge: Getting through Splinterskull. The need for an emergency Death Ward option is vital as we approach Level 9 and far more dangerous mages.

And Petra is still not sure if she can hold out a balance of DEX high enough for Reflex saves and weapon to-hit/damage in coordination with WIS for sticking finishing moves, given that higher CON is really needed for more HP. Hopefully one of the rewards of the Mimic tokens, a belt, might be useful to boost her health situationally if she can get enough tokens after fending off mimic after mimic.

Hardcore Monk Part 1 – Using Everything I Know

Thanks to the new friends in my guild on Ghallanda and their past gameplay prior to joining me, I decided to try something new.

I’ve joined the Hardcore server for Season IV.

Almost immediately in after character creation, all kinds of anxiety and paranoia crept into my head. Some of it I couldn’t fully understand until one of us had an untimely (and, naturally) permanent death with their bow-wielding Rogue in the Borderlands.

But let me back up to my strategy, such as it is.

Petracletica, the Ninja

I suspect many players put defense as a secondary priority over sheer killing power in normal server play, and that’s understandable.

But from what I can gather in Hardcore mode, that’s not nearly as easy an option. For those unfamiliar with the basics of Hardcore, here’s a two sentence summary: You get one life. Die, by any means, and that character is done, trapped (with any gear or currency) in a special realm until the event is over and the developers open the server for World Character transfers should you so desire.

With that in mind, Petracletica arrived as a Halfling Ninja Spy.

Halfling would not normally be my first choice for what I had in mind, but Hardcore threw my usual build strategies under the bus. I had no access to any of the resources unlocked or stored on my home server, so the Drow race wasn’t available, nor is any of my old gear or currency.

But Halfling would give me access to the Mark of Healing, which I can use to survive and throw emergency heals at others, especially early on while every single thing that drops from breakables and chests is prized and sold if unusable. Potions right now are hard to come by as my team begins.

Never has level 1 starter gear been so valuable to so many, especially the usable items from the Borderlands.

Petra’s central build will be a starthrower with melee backup by a shortsword. I want to keep anything as far from me as possible while slaying it. I’ll be adding in the Falconry tree to trip or blind enemies when possible. For anything else, the ninja finishing move skills to paralyze, blind, and nauseate come to the fore. Halfling throwing, sneak attack and Dodge bonuses can help here if I can afford them. What I can’t outgun, I will outrun and evade, perhaps long enough to recall if possible to try again.

When I can do so, I won’t kill at all. I’ll sneak past it.

I used that strategy well during my play with Kiricletica, the lone ninja, way back when.

But, I will be in a party almost all the time. Thankfully hirelings are surprisingly useful here to fill things in to form a traditional D&D style party with all the party needs but without a deadly committal to be a tank.

Ninjas provide a better self-sufficiency over a Shintao Monk to me. While Shintao has good defenses and can self-heal with ki, they are not initially strong until level 9. In fact, I find them pretty dang squishy. They are also one-trick ponies, extremely good in melee work and party buffs, but not much else without some expensive adaptations.

Other non-divine classes have similar limitations, of course. I’m just working with what I know. And, point to point, a low-level Ninja Spy can outrun and outgun many others at their comparative level, I feel.

Is My Reputation At Stake?

Everything I know and tried to teach or relate about Monks is coming to the fore for my party to survive to level 20, at the least. (Work on the updated guide does continue, by the way.)

I’m listening intently to my party and their experience. There’s different rules to entering quests at certain levels. So leveling up too swiftly may permanently lock you out of quests you want to complete. So level 3 is where we will sit as we gather gear to survive. I want fortification and deathblock right away. Gear drops early on for some of these effects, thankfully. The Protector’s Heart set items from the Korthos quests together give 25% fortification for something quick to find before entering Stormreach.

Level 3’s not a bad level for me; I was able to take my Monk philosophy strike and can now do the ninja finishers potentially. I need far more Concentration skill, however. My ki pool is too low, even with passive ki regeneration available with Faster Sneaking enhancement maxed.

We’re ranging everything we can. I spent a feat on Shuriken Expertise (something a Drow would get for free) to get a chance at an extra shuriken thrown per toss. With Falconry tree in play, I will likely take the Killer Instinct enhancements to make WIS my damage and to-hit stat, so I can pump it nearly exclusively to also ensure both bird strikes and ninja finishers connect with high DCs.

Sadly, during our farming for kills and gear in the Borderlands wilderness, our Rogue died after a knockdown left him vulnerable while the party got separated. My paranoia and adrenaline kicked up at that moment and I realized why it felt more personal.

The death made me recall why I initially made Kiricletica, based on a popular anime/manga series.

By now you’re likely familiar with “Sword Art Online” (SAO), a series of anime and manga that tell the tale of a well-experienced teenaged gamer that, in the original story, is among one of over 10,000 players in a totally immersive RPG where you are in an Oculus Rift-style visual, complete with some sensory benefits (eating, touching, pain), as your game interface is your brain.

Things go badly for all of these gamers when the creator of the game decides to become a god. The hardware interface all players wear is rigged to microwave the brains of any players who die in the game. You cannot log out until the game is fully completed, on beating the ultimate boss.

Drama ensues.

The Hardcore server’s Obituary announcements of deaths that occur were very numerous during our party’s initial hours of play. We realized why from the cause of death announced.

The devs activated the Mimic Hunt.

I had just returned to the game after a hiatus and had never played that mode before. So now, every chest we find, desperate for anything out of it we can use, now has a chance of spawning a dangerous mimic.

The many deaths recalled the first episodes of SAO, where about half of all player deaths recorded during the game’s two years of uptime occurred in the first month. To me, it seemed no different on the Hardcore server. The mimics are relentless.

Defense skills, careful leveling and gameplay prowess trump gear and aggression. It’s what helped the main character survive. It’s what worked for me with Kiricletica. I hope it works for Petracletica.

And if it does not, you’ll see a post about her death and what I’ll try again.

Wish me luck!

Note: WordPress loves to change its features, so this post looks terrible since trying to wrap text around an image now requires a PhD now. Apologies for the archaic look.

At Last a Kensai, and Five Other Things

The members of my young guild and I have been playing so often that writing has become rather secondary. I’m very sorry about that; working from home means computer time becomes taxing, even for gaming.

But let me see if I catch everyone up with small summaries of builds I’ve been enjoying and will add to that eternally updating Monk guide in its new version (more info to come).

Zeldacletica: The Abbey Guardian

Originally, because swords are cool, I planned for Zelda to ultimately wield a greatsword, blending Fighter-like melee prowess with centered monastic benefits.

But that development road seemed too darned expensive with action points as well as long delayed. The One with the Blade enhancement in the Kensai tree required 30 AP to unlock to treat a greatsword as a centered focus weapon. So Zelda would’ve had to wait and fight as a rather gimped Monk, fluent in none of the enhancements, unable to use anything useful other than a quarterstaff, until she met the 30 AP requirement.

So then I reconsidered. Just to see what they were like, I made Zelda an Aasimar, going down the Fallen path for eventually stacking bonuses to Doublestrike, fear immunity, extra melee power and healing amplification. The Healing Hands enhancement provided 7 Heals, effectively, which I thought would be gravely needed.

That’s because the last time I tried to make a Kensai, it died on the vine, likely because the Monk benefits in innate defense were less present with a multiclassed character. Evasion, Dodge, AC…all of these were under threat.

But today’s available gear, a crafter on-hand, and some additional thinking set Zelda on a path to surprisingly fun gameplay.

I decided to make the focus weapon as one Zelda could use immediately without any additional feats or enhancements: A quarterstaff. With that Monk weapon, Zelda could utilize everything as the trees developed. Recent fun with the Mystic tree told me that Zelda’s offensive power, at the least, should match a Mystic, if they could endure the damage with fewer Monk levels. So, in addition to AP in Kensai and Aasimar, a few points were placed in the Henshin Mystic tree to improve staff damage, add Quick Strike (25% Morale Bonus to Doublestrike) and Lighting the Candle (adds fire and force damage to every weapon, even ranged).

I imagine the “Abbey Guardian” as the first person a stranger would encounter at my dojo’s gate. The Fighter levels and feats ensure that even a single guardian could overpower a hoard of attackers for a short time.

As I was building Zelda, Saekee (who was kind enough to drop by Ghallanda and join the guild with a new character) suggested some armor appearances to give Zelda that “samurai” look. Thanks to having some 20ish active characters and tons of ingredients, a trip or two into “The Mindsunder” quest yielded the Elocator’s Habiliment. Then, after buying two Mirrors of Glamering, the armor was copied as a cosmetic armor, and then (from my original Mystic, Quintessica) I made a glamer of her Sireth quarterstaff and then added the special Feywild Illusory weapon glamer effect from a saga reward. It wasn’t long after the image below that Zelda obtained the shorter Slate-Scale Capelet that completed the look nicely.

Zeldacletica, Aasimar Abbey Guardian.

With 12 Monk levels, Zelda has what she needs to do most of the monastic skills as a Light Monk. But what she excels at, more so than even my latest Mystic build that uses Falconry’s WIS to-hit/damage abilities, is sheer damage-per-second. The Guardian is a STR build. In a crunch fight against a horde, I kick on three things: The Aasimar’s Divine Purpose, the Mystic’s Quick Strike, and then launch into the fray, punching up the Kensai Haste Boosts, various powerful attacks from that tree as well. The room-clearing action happens when Zelda goes all whirling dervish, with Cleave, Great Cleave and Whirlwind Strike as fast as she can pop them.

Another feat stacks in the damage: Swords to Plowshares, improving a staff’s damage by increasing their critical threat range.

Weaknesses include things implicit with a Monk with only 12 levels: No Grandmaster stances. No innate spell resistance. Lower Dodge. Much of this I have been able to compensate for with gear.

Because of all of this going for her, Zelda sits at level 21 right now but has completed many Epic Elites, gained 5000 favor and has done my favorite ultimate test for a soloing Monk: Heroic Elite “What Goes Up.” With the Favored Soul Albus as backup (not needed as much except to keep some Death Ward on against an army of mages), Zelda (and the DDO Wiki) helped me realize something I didn’t see in previous runs of this always-awesome quest.

The army comes at you in finite, although initially and seemingly overwhelming waves. Zelda crushed the orcs and handful of mages and was tooling out hit points from the boss when she realized things seemed a bit quieter. She had cleared things fast enough that the eventual spawns of the ice elementals with the always-spawning mages and Shadar-Kai were comparably less. It didn’t hurt that Zelda fought off the orcs very close to the flight pillars, taking them down simultaneously with the orcs. So, lesson learned: Take down the enemies faster to reduce the seemingly overwhelming force.

Epic Destinies are a happy thing for a melee fighter like Zelda. Grandmaster of Flowers is nice, but ones such as Unyielding Sentinel, Legendary Dreadnought, Fury of the Wild and Shadowdancer should allow Zelda to switch up well to meet raid needs as I work to get her in some multi-guild raids with the Sons of Ares and others.

One more build to talk about in this post.

Artemistika: The Zen Friar

Years ago as I set up this guild, I transferred an Elven ranger over to help with renown. With the guild now filled with a few other players, I decided to TR this ranger to a new Zen Archer variation.

My past archers tended to use the Ninja Spy enhancements so that passive ki regeneration through the Sneaking enhancement was possible. But I reconsidered whether a Light Monk could do the same thing. The answer came from the Henshin Mystic tree and the Falconry tree paired up. The Mystic’s Contemplation ability added the needed ki so that the Ten-Thousand Stars manyshot counterpart could be used often (it has a 1 minute cooldown). Artemistika could wield a quarterstaff for hand-to-hand fighting and to use Light Monk finishers to buff herself and her party. But her go-to weapon is naturally a bow.

Falconry adds great crowd control and attack measures as noted recently. Going the Killer Instinct route for WIS to-hit/damage allows powerful DCs to ensure anything that can be blinded or tripped by the bird will happen. As a full Monk, Artemistika has the usual miss-chance features, but new gear with Lesser Displacement has helped quite a bit in fighting.

As a Wood Elf, she initially trained in Wild Step for a quick burst of movement speed and the rare Missile Deflection 10% to add to her defenses.

Misti here has also received more glamered armor to give her a great look.

More on these two and three other builds I’ve been enjoying at a later time.

The guild has a number of players with a creative knack and tenacity about them that has not only made gameplay great of late, but has prompted me to build yet another ninja.

A Monk Barbarian That Rests More Often

Yes, I know the title is a bit of clickbait for those who know the contradiction.

To be any Monk, you must have a Lawful alignment. This means that, of the many classes in Dungeons & Dragons Online (which bars the player use of Evil alignments right now), a Monk multiclassed with the Barbarian class is impossible.

With the latest DDO update released in preparation of the “Fables of the Feywild” expansion, a new player race appeared. At first news of it, I was rather “meh” about it since my interests were elsewhere in building up a new Monk archer, among other projects.

But then, one of the acolytes in my new mostly-Monk guild, The Syncletican Monastery on Ghallanda, appeared with a Monk of the Shifter race.

At first, I admit that the appearance threw me off. The Shifter has a very primal, animalistic look, not unlike that of a werewolf (which, of course, is where the class is descended from).

But then I watched Kemai at work with his Shifter, which has unique movements to any other Monk.

I fell in love with it right away, and worked to clear out a character slot, occupied by a sad inactive Gnome Wizard in my list of characters, to build one of my own.

I find myself learning how Barbarians work without actually being one.

Meet Floracletica.

Right off, you can see how the Shifter race appears in attack mode. While all other Monks have clenched fists in fight stance, the Shifter’s long, clawed hands are in more of an open-handed slashing look.

The character building for a Shifter shows very different hair and facial features. These, of course, change nothing of the gameplay, but did put me off in terms of aesthetics at first (I find myself always gravitating to humanoids and less to the blends like Warforged) until I was able to find a Shifter face that looked placid and even lovely, as if she were of a regal line of humanoid lions.

Shifters, apparently, are always barefooted.

Having never played a Barbarian in class or kind, I decided to create Flora at level 1 (rather than L4 or higher Veteran options) to get a feel for what the class does and does not do from the very start. I am not at all disappointed so far.

From what I am able to interpret thus far from reviewing the racial enhancement trees and other info from the DDO Wiki, the Shifter specializes in enhancing attack and defense while also providing a stacking bonus via Rage.

Normally, I steer clear of using Rage through potions as this can negate other Monk attack or defense abilities, like the Combat Expertise feat. (I think I am wrong here as only the Barbarian version might prohibit spellcasting or the Combat Expertise to work.)

But these characteristics are innate to the Shifter, so if my Monk was to move forward, I needed to learn to embrace how Rage works.

The Barbarian use of Rage gives a morale boost to STR and CON with a decrease in AC. The Shifter’s racial version appears to have a stacking Rage bonus to any potion enhancement to this. So I can drink a Potion of Rage that will stack with the effect.

I did test whether the granted feat for all players, Defensive Fighting, a lesser version of Combat Expertise, would disable itself with the use of Shifter raging. Naturally, the feat disabled itself on clicking my racial raging.

Flora is, so far, a stock Shintao Monk, which should work well for a Shifter. There are, like Monks, two paths to consider on character build. The Wildhunt Shifter offers +1 WIS and a +4 Rage bonus to Wisdom and Dexterity, a +2 Morale bonus to Will saves, and a -2 penalty to Strength. The Beasthide Shifter contrasts with +1 CON and a +4 Rage bonus to Armor Class and Constitution, a +2 Morale bonus to Fortitude saves, and a -2 penalty to Wisdom.

I picked Wildhunt Shifter for now as lower WIS does not seem prudent to a Monk. This grants later improvements to Dodge, spellcasting while Raged, and giving Lesser Displacement automatically while in Shifter Rage. In contrast, the Beasthide Shifter path will later augment PRR, healing amplification, threat generation and a modest HP boost, which is equally compelling for a Shintao.

Looking at Flora’s claws, I was hoping to see innate slash damage added to the Monk’s inherent bludgeoning of unarmed attacks. While that damage isn’t automatically added, slashing damage is added through the Maul enhancement, giving a Druid-like bleeding attack for a few moments with this active attack.

Added Cleave early on for a good non-ki attack, which works nicely.

Other later enhancements look interesting. The Howls are mass debuffs to enemy saves and buffs to allies. Magic Fang is an old ability I used for my summoned or animal companions way back in my Neverwinter Nights games, adding +1 to weapon enhancement damage. As Shifters are both humanoid and animal for purposes of spells and and other uses, Magic Fang will raise her handwraps enhancement or when completely unarmed. (Still remembering that handwraps are now weapons because I’ve been playing that long now from when they were not.)

There are enhancements to augment the saves and abilities on summons, which isn’t something I will expect to do with Flora.

Even meditating on a Shifter is a treat, which I liked. While all other Monks meditate with hands clasped in front of them as if in prayer, the Shifter sits in a more Buddhist-styled open-armed meditative posture used in yoga.

I like this appearance that appears to be added by the devs as a purely cosmetic change. The Shifter, as a character, seems more in need of a deeper meditative state as a raging Monk, which seems counterintuitive to an otherwise traditionally contemplative class. Greater contemplation through raging, I guess.

This may have been added in some update that appeared during my hiatus, but thanks to the devs for correcting the cosmetic error where Monks armed with bows or other larger weapons would show the weapon in Meditation poking through the character’s head. Now weapons are temporarily hidden while in Meditation.

Because the Shifter’s raging powers are consumed action boosts in a sense, resting at a shrine, normally more of an option for a Monk since rests will deplete stored ki, might be more of a thing for Flora. There will be less use of shrines on completing the last core racial enhancement that regenerates the Rage boosts every 90 seconds.

Racial enhancements to natural armor are welcomed, which I assume stack with enhancement bonuses. And while I won’t be seeking joining raids where petrification is likely (sorry, almost no one plays “Ascension Chamber”), having that innate ability to be immune to petrification is a nice touch against medusas, although I wonder if it will also ignore the debuffing caused by the medusa’s initial attempts to petrify you. (Almost looking forward to trying this out if I have it unlocked in time for the level 12 quest, “Eyes of Stone.”)

Also nice is a special mass-paralyzing howl based on WIS DCs, which will come in handy for tougher fights.

Overall, I see an interesting future for Flora as my guild’s first effort at a tank (my oldest and most experienced tank, Lynncletica, is still around on my original guild and will likely stay there for some time as I complete some Legendary flagging on her and gather up some other items or abilities in Epic Destinies long neglected).

Now, off to get some Striding and melee alacrity items for her, as she slashes and moves in slower motions than I care to see.

The Adventures of Hjolan and Kellicletica

The monastery’s ranks slowly but happily grow, as does its reputation.

One acolyte shows great promise. She’s Hjolan, training in the Shintao unarmed arts. Lately she and my newer single-weapon wielding Ninja Spy, Kellicletica, have teamed up on many adventures as they move from early to mid-level questing.

Pairing light and dark Monks makes for rather rapid questing with good synergy. The Shintao grabs the aggro. Hjolan admits to never being great in stealth and so has often leapt headlong into mobs where even Aasimar fear to tread. But right behind him is Kelli, her Tiefling Assassin’s Blade slicing, dicing, poisoning and slaying with sneak attack, CON stat damage and lots of Ninja Poison.

Despite my recent love of what Falconry does for several Monks, Kelli is pretty stock Ninja Spy so far. Her main skill, which I’m exploiting well enough so far, is that she’s a Halfling. Her healing dragonmark provides useful Heal spells for emergencies or in-combat along with a few Cure Serious and Light options. While not as diverse as going Half-Elf for their Dilettante options as my low-kill stealth master Kiricletica has once done, the Action Points used are far cheaper, too.

Another benefit for defense as a Halfling are Dodge bonuses and increases to Dodge cap, which stack with related enhancements in Ninja Spy. At level 13, rocking gear to give her Adherent of the Mists set bonuses, she’s at 33% Dodge.

Halflings gain extra Sneak Attack dice to add to Kelli’s strikes and Sneak Attack bonuses to hit hard.

To hit fast, Kelli uses only one shortsword and Single Weapon Fighting feats. Ninja Spy requires bulking up on DEX for to-hit and damage but also WIS for ensuring her dark finishers land and stick. Of course, some CON is needed to survive a strike or two, as are items to add Blur or other concealment to go with her 25% Incorporeality miss-chance.

Lastly, to be jack of key ninja trades are some throwing enhancements at the upper end of the Halfling tree to fight off enemies with shuriken at range. Not sure if these stack with the Ninja Spy’s endgame level 18 powers, but it’s likely.

Standard stealth skills raised high to avoid many fights or to flank enemies, although newer quests take this more into account with required stops to speak to NPCs or interact with objects that leave her obviously vulnerable.

That still leaves Kelli with a ton of AP to work in somewhere else, and I’m not yet sure where to go with that.

I’m simply pushing the stock Ninja Spy as far it can go.

One quest chain that I don’t see as popular as it once might have been is the Assault on the Slave Lords.

I don’t blame others playing this one less often. Hjolan and I did parts 1 and 2 of this and my memories of why it’s not as popular came back quickly as we progressed. It’s a taxing chain. Enemies at Elite level are extremely numerous, varied and powerful. Traps are prevalent and require a good Rogue. Shrines are few, hirelings drain themselves of spellpoints rapidly and player death is probable without a proper attack and defense plan. Come light into the domains of the Slave Lords and you will die.

I’d played this one enough, and died enough times, to know where we had to go, trying to recall what to skip. I wanted to save more slaves but frankly the deeper one-way corridors of enemies, bosses and one shrine at the end of all of that just wasn’t worth the trouble in part 1.

Part 2 gave us a small respite as the hobgoblin mobs were numerous but not quite as potent. Still, it was a terrible grind with two hireling clerics which weren’t very discriminating in spellpoint use.

The good news was that bosses were less of a problem because of our high DPS. Between Hjolan’s unarmed strikes and my Ninja Poison-edged blades, the bosses were hardly a threat.

Hjo had been looking forward to the final fight, which has four red-named lords, all being recharged by a central boss. Hoped to poison DoT every one of them to slow and then stop them before they stopped us, which wouldn’t take long seeing how the hirelings we had were as good as dead with little sense to concentrate on healing the player characters.

Putting Slave Lords part 3 at a later date, we entered the lands of Barovia and the domain of the sinister Count Strahd. Thanks to previous characters who have entered the domain, Kelli already had a Borovian shuriken and shortsword, each with Rubies of Ghostbane from the Night Revels.

As noted often, Ninja Spies are best at slaying the living and, unlike the Shintao, are weakest at the undead because the ninja’s destructive use of ki manifests as negative energy effects, which are, best, harmless to the undead. Ninjas use swords rather than bludgeoning weapons as well, making cutting down skeletons slower. So gearing up and striking sure and fast is Kelli’s best offensive act, with avoiding fights altogether a second tactic.

Hjo and I had little worries in “Death House” (such a series of tragedies in this storyline). Hjo has blended in some Rogueish search and disarm skills, but on Elite they aren’t especially great. I opted to bring in Fira, a capable halfling Rogue to keep us a little safer.

Likewise, the hags at Old Bonegrinder and the hordes of wolves in “Fresh-Baked Dreams” weren’t nearly as much a problem as I’ve had with light Monks or my archers. Kelli could slaughter well out there, with Ninja Poison very effective against the pie-making witches since, as a melee fighter, she’s used to fights in close quarters.

Then, dinner time with the Count. Numerous encounters in the enormous Castle Ravenloft in “An Invitation to Dinner” have left me overly cautious even on my self-healing Monks. Thankfully, the synergy of our two Monks made completion relatively easy. The starting fight with the cursespewing Shadows of Hate thankfully resulted in no fatalities with even the hirelings, thanks to Hjo’s spamming of Healing Ki with lesser-restoration buffing. From there I was optimistic in our reaching objectives, even taking on Strahd a second time for another chest. The ghostbane-enabled Borovian Shortsword did wonders.

A running joke between Hjo and I involves her tendency to take excessive damage. On a whim I asked how much fortification she had after leaving Ravenloft. Well, it was not 100% or greater, which was horrifying and surprising. Hjolan had survived much to-date that should’ve killed her twice over, especially Slave Lords.

I strongly suggested a detour from Ravenloft to a duergar mine, in “A Relic of a Sovereign Past.” There, Hjo could gather adamantine ore there and quickly whip up a Nightforge Gorget necklace for 100% fortification to live a lot longer.

Duergar, or dark dwarves, can’t be paralyzed. But Kelli easily nauseated many, leaving them completely unable to spellcast or fight, saving us a lot of trouble against many casters and fighters.

By the quest’s end, we opted to fully piss off the duergar king, at which point I poisoned him to the point where he was bleeding green in seconds. As his personal blackguard appeared, rather than concentrating on one enemy, Kelli ran around the crowd, hacking away and delivering Ninja Poison to collectively hurt the enemies and generating ki before settling on eliminating each one as Hjo kept aggro and punched many of the guys into oblivion.

With a gorget equipped (Kelli opted to make one for herself while there with some spare ore she brought along), Hjolan and Kelli continue their work to cleanse the realms. More to come; it’s been historically rare for me to run with other Monks so continually.

Bowmaster Revisited

If you recall from years (!) ago, I developed two all-Monk archer builds. The first, the Zen Archer, was a high defense miss-chance archer with pretty impressive attack stats. But with criticisms about the Zen Archer’s dependence on bow qualities for damage, I made the Zen Bowmaster, an Elven terror with very high WIS DCs for its Arcane Archer enhancements that were fully capable of paralyzing and slaying mass enemies even in raids. The Bowmaster’s downside was the trade-off of overall damage for other abilities from the AA tree.

Well, with the Falconry enhancement tree, I’m revisiting the Bowmaster yet again for several critical skills which should improve both damage and takedown versatility options.

And because guild masters apparently must be an alt-character addict, meet Melithetica.

Melith is Elven, so as to get the AA tree. But unlike Paracleta (version 1), the enhancement changes will be less spread out over three or four trees. In fact, I won’t put nearly as many action points in AA, either. The potency of this Bowmaster comes from one stat: WIS, through the Falconry’s Killer Instinct enhancements.

In Bowmaster v1, Paracleta boosted her WIS dramatically for the AA DCs to be incredibly effective. But that meant that DEX, still the damage stat through the Elven Aerenal Grace enhancement, was less. DEX to-hit came from a few points to activate Ninja Spy’s first core, Basic Ninja Training. Some extra Ranged Power came from the Harper Agent tree.

No longer. Killer Instinct allows WIS to manage DCs of both Falconry and AA while also also being the controlling to-hit and damage stat.

One stat to rule them all. Almost.

No Monk is going to live long without DEX, CON, and STR. So Melith will need tomes and gear to keep DEX up (critical for reflex saves), CON for hit points, obviously, and STR to carry gear and do what melee she may require.

Falconry will also give the bird, literally, to enemies she fights. Bowmasters don’t fear the mobs, so the use of attacks which make enemies helpless in the tree (Diving Attack, Go for the Eyes, Coordinated Attack) means that, combined with Falconry’s No Mercy (same from Ninja Spy) and the use of Assassinate DCs in both AA and Falconry, Melith will be a very strong damage dealer and, I hope, trash controller by the time she gains Improved Precise Shot. Be it one enemy or ten, Melith may have a shot solution.

With only three trees to groom, not four, they’ll be significant AP saved and redirected for damage or protection. Grace will not be needed. There’s gear about to add Displacement by epic levels, so going the full dragonmark path is optional. Recent raids I’ve played such as Killing Time demonstrate the need for Magical Resistance Rating to go with whatever Physical Resistance Rating gear can be provided (Lynncletica, my tank and most durable Monk, was getting her clock zapped a lot there). There’s still also passive ki generation to work out, but when she really really needs it, she’ll have it by level 12 or so.

I’m unsure at this point which tree will get the bulk of points, but I’m leaning more towards Falconry than AA. Since Elven AA takes longer to level, particularly for the doubleshot bonuses, this build won’t focus on it so much, and should be less expensive. Quality shots (lots of elemental damage and situational control) over quantity.

As with Paracleta, feats are tight. Hoping to add Shot on the Run in addition to the usual ranged feats. But I may need to trade off something.

Just got a Greatbow of the Scrag, an eternally nasty grind to farm as with the Tiefling Assassin’s Blade in the wilds of Three Barrel Cove, so she’s committed now to growing and killing.

Stay tuned.

Life Finds A Way

I’ve planned to do something for what has turned into years now.

I’ve noticed a serious increase in the number of new players on my return. It’s obvious because most aren’t in a guild and so haven’t a guild name in their name. That’s OK: DDO doesn’t require a guild, although you get a lot of benefits (particularly buffs, extra storage options, faster crafting and resurrection options) if you are.

The Great Plague of 2020 has clearly been an influence on DDO gameplay. It was a very nice gesture for Standing Stone Games to make the entire world practically free for a time, and then offered a dirt-cheap offer to continue play with most of the original modules permanently for only a few DDO points and coupon code. Great sports in a time of need, especially since literally escaping to worlds free of COVID-19 was what some people really needed to relax a while.

COVID-19’s effects on my life, like many, have left me working from home. In real life, I help to keep 1/3 of the US power grid operating. While that has great job security (without us, both health care workers, food suppliers and those also isolated at home are in deep trouble) the boredom and tedium has been trying.

So between work, some gaming helped. But self-isolation has really made me lonely. Today’s announcement hopefully will both fix that and inspire me to get the updated Monk guide to a usable state.

The Order of Syncletica was often written in a third-person voice in past times to illustrate the many kinds of Monks and their non-Monk cohorts which I’ve played. Between this blog and the Monk guide, DDO became a new life for me, which, as life did, had some downs to go with the many ups.

Today, the dojo has become a real place on the Ghallanda server. There’s a new guild there, and I am the guild master.

The Syncletican Monastery is looking for members. There are a few caveats.

  • Unless you are a specialist class (all mages, Clerics, Rogues, some Bards), your character MUST take at least 3 Monk levels. That will require your character to be Lawful, as there are no un-lawful Monks. The whole goal of the guild is to train Monks in the monastic way. We do need some non-Monks and don’t expect everyone to keep their characters with Monk levels from life to life. The two classes which will likely be discouraged will be Fighters (unless adding Monk levels for Kensai) and Barbarians (non-Lawful). But that comes to the second caveat:
  • The Monastery’s purpose is a training guild. That is, if you are interested in creating a Monk and learning to use them from level 1 to 30, this is your place. Once you feel comfortable with your character, you can stick around with other Monks you make, leave the guild to grow in your next reincarnation or create a specialist character to aid others. The guild’s not trying to get the highest renown or the best buffs or even the greatest reputation, except as a great place to learn the Monk class.
  • Raids. I want nearly all-Monk raids. Years ago, my long-time guild managed to organize a virtually all-Monk raid for “The Shroud.” What a curb-stomp that was. From the simple to the complex, raids will test your mettle as a Monk.
  • New members may have a private goal. Your guild master is, naturally, Syncletica. But she has been a hermit. To get her back on the field, she will be donating anything she can give from her supplies to new and growing Monks to free herself from retirement and a horde of equipment. Until she can unburden herself, she can’t help out in adventures. I do have several other characters to aid at some levels, but I need more low-level ones for training.
  • Your home is one of the better guild ships that astral shards could get for its current level. I and a friend (who I fear no longer plays) have worked the guild alone to a respectable level 35. We can do better.

Now, these rules are somewhat flexible, save the first one, but being a Monk and learning how to play is the key reason I made the guild. The old Monk guide was moved to a new host but still has the basics.

I may schedule times where players can party up with me to learn the basics in several quests, traveling with one of my own as we do. It won’t be long before I need officers who share my vision of gameplay and fun.

My hope is that, as I play with more of you first-hand, I will find my way to completing the new guide with the new quests, gear and strategies you need to survive and win.

I will be online all day from 9:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time Saturday September 5 to get started. You can send a game mail to Syncletica if you are interested in signing up a character at any time. As things grow, I may get a guild website with scheduled events, roster and calendar. But for now, we’ll play it by ear.

The Monster

Not the DDO kind of monster. No, no.

It’s the kind of monster that is more ravenous and difficult to satiate but virtually impossible to kill.

It’s the monster called creativity.

And creativity is continually buffed by the demon called progress.

So, as noted in my last post, I am updating my Monk guide. I greatly appreciate how it has been helpful, even in its very outdated state, during my absence.

Life had a way of pushing me out of DDO for a time. That stuff happens. As a result, I’ve found myself looking at my own guide from the outside in. I was rather surprised how still useful it was.

I was planning on completely starting from scratch.

But I ran into some problems right away with my desire to update it. Over the 5 years or so as I updated and added, it grew to a tremendous size. That’s not bad except if major changes in the game came along. You can imagine how much has changed between its last revision at game Update 33 and now (46).

Gameplay has told me that, as far as the class goes, the Monk is really the same. Some improvements and changes on game mechanics were done, such as stealth in the last recent update, and that nerfed the monster’s ability, not the player. Some new enhancement tress appeared which are pretty nice, and a butt-ton of new gear and quests, of which I will need to consider as far as how to guide someone in play.

So, to make a long story short, the new site (which will be hosted here on WordPress) will be more of a very major revision than a rewrite.

My hope is to have it ready before July ends.

That’s because it will be accompanied by a special announcement that may be an additional aid to new players to the Monk.

I treat the guide, this blog, and my unnamed project seriously. Unlike most other classes and races (where favor can unlock them), you have to plop down real national currency in DDO to unlock the class.

Time for the lot of you that’s joined the game in the era of Killer Cooties to get your money’s worth, right?

In related news, the original guide was hosted on the old Google Sites. They have also made a major upgrade so I was forced to move the book to a new version of Google Sites. Actually, it reads and looks better, although I liked the old book theme.

You may still be able to reach the original guide at its usual link:

https://sites.google.com/site/bookofsyn/

But I recommend that you go to the new site and its slightly different link, because Google says that the original site will eventually be deleted. Besides, aside from coming here when it’s ready, you’ll eventually find the link to the totally updated guide there. Here’s the recommended site until the new one’s ready:

https://sites.google.com/view/ddobookofsyncletica/home

Birds Make Everything Interesting

Catching up on the game (happily–there have been so many new updates), I’ve gravitated to three builds that are less punchy and more specialized in regards to Monks.

Became immediately interested in two new universal enhancement trees. A halfling Rogue I made (creating yet again a new alt) started work with the Visani Fighting tree and absolutely loved the DPS and backward blade handling appearance. One Ranger decided to play with the Falconry tree, which is what I’ll touch on more now.

Falconry is a curious tree. You get an indestructible bird (the appearance you choose doesn’t matter) that is undetectable by enemies if you’re sneaking or invisible. But what the tree does with the bird is provide first-strike tools that have begun to enhance the one-trick limits of two builds of mine.

Laylacletica and the Improved Zen Archer

Laylacleta’s ability to knockdown and blind enemies greatly assists in crowd control.

Layla is a Zen Archer. As others may recall from past posts of Pynthetica, the Zen Archer build I developed emphasized a simple pew-pew all-Monk Elf archer with no other ranged enhancements (no Arcane Archer or Deepwood Sniper). What Zen Archers lack in variations of attack they compensate for by high passive defenses with Dodge, concealment and incorporeality, making them so hard to hit that they down others before they could have a chance. Zen Archers used portions of the Ninja Spy tree to gain advanced Sneak and passive ki regeneration so they could use their Ten Thousand Stars many-shot effect every 1 minute as needed.

But on attack with a Zen Archer, things start charging at you, and there is only so much one can passively avoid in attack when 5 enemies or more begin to target you. As with Rangers and Arcane Archers, there has to be something more to slow or stop enemies to give an advantage.

For previous Zen Archers, I relied on the effects of my equipment, such as fortification bypass, hamstring/tendon slice, and more, to aid in taking things down before they got too close. Doubleshot was also dramatically raised as well as Ranged Power since most of the action points went into Harper Agent for increasing passive Ranged Power and general bow damage.

But such effects can only go so far, so you either had to attack smarter or not at all, lest you get several axes, blades and spells to your face all at once.

With Layla, I thought to give Falconry a try. I would lose a little Ranged Power in sacrificing the Harper Agent tree, but I would get sizable potent first-strike attacks that gave damage but also some crowd control. The first, Diving Attack, is effectively a stunning knockdown that works (for Layla) on just about all but red-named monsters. The second, Strike for the Eyes, blinds most enemies. The third, Coordinated Strike, is a mass blinding and bleeding effect on mobs.

Now Layla could stop enemies in an improved capacity, downing things faster with less damage. Using the attacks cost no ki, no spell points and had very fast cooldowns. But there were other benefits that saved action points throughout her build with this tree change.

Falconry has some Sheltering and healing amplification benefits found in other trees. So I didn’t have to pump lots of points into the racial and Ninja Spy trees to get similar effects. Layla’s Elf tree has the same points for improved bow damage and Dex-to-Damage and Dex-to-Hit benefits, but there’s more, so much more to Falconry that benefits Monks to the point where I could save more points.

Falconry adds Killer Instinct to the mix. Like Harper’s Know the Angles and Ninja Spy’s similar core abilities, rather than using STR for damage or attack, Falconry lets you use WIS for both. For a Monk, that’s awesome. WIS boosts so much on a Monk that there are savings afoot. In the case of Layla, I could now just pump WIS and put less points in DEX save to improve Dodge and Reflex. For now, she sticks with DEX-to-hit and damage as I experiment.

I’m still in work as to Layla’s new level of rampaging with this variation. I should mention that Falconry has No Mercy, the same Ninja Spy enhancement which pummels helpless enemies with extra damage. Normally, without Epic Destinies, Pynthetica couldn’t really use this unless she got off a lucky shot from a bow effect. But with Falconry, blinding and knockdown mean that a Zen Archer smacks down things far more effectively to helplessness and so can kill faster.

The only downside to Falconry for the Zen Archer is increasing the aggro to a build that doesn’t want it. I may toy more with maximizing a Ninja Spy enhancement, Subtlety, as well as equipment bonuses which lower threat level so enemies are less likely to turn around on me and keep to my meat-shield Clerics, Rogue or Fighters that I deploy on attack when there are more than 3 or 4 enemies.

Annithetica and an improved Mystic

And then, I had a yen to play again with the Henshin Mystic.

So with Falconry’s WIS-to-attack and WIS-to-Damage ideas in mind, Annithetica was born. But here, I take Falconry to a deeper use.

Like the Zen Archer, the Mystic can generate aggro. In fact, they make far more of it than any Monk with its ki-based Fire and Force attacks. But Mystics lack in defense, as my previous posts about Quintessica note. So, like the Zen Archer, the Mystic could use an edge to stop or slow some enemies enough to give it an edge to reduce damage if the build couldn’t pump up its miss-chance, armor or sheltering effects (which are still necessary).

So this young Mystic has a falcon floating over its head now. By level 10, I moved to Killer Instinct’s WIS for damage and attack rolls and I needed to only add further STR points beyond reducing changes for enfeeblement. Took care of that cheaply enough with my +2 Tome from 1750 Favor. A bit of DEX and CON, but WIS will do wonders for constant ki and other Monk abilities.

She’s been tearing through most dungeons by outright incineration of enemies in mass. Built similarly to Quintessica, the Mystic needs the Cleave and Great Cleave feats to spin up that mass damage. But with very high WIS for her level and all of her Mystic abilities amped by the WIS modifier, I see very significant fire and force damage to the point that Incinerating Wave firewall can destroy mobs in one strike.

Something new got added: Two Handed Fighting, which apparently got an insane Strikethrough bonus that is effectively the melee version of Improved Precise Shot’s multiple-strike feature. Also, the feat Spring Attack now includes an actual spring attack that can help start a fight faster by leaping at a target and smacking things right away. So the Two-Handed Fighting feats will keep pouring into this build.

What I hope with Anni here is to add the falcon’s helpless effects to blind en masse, combined with No Mercy, to burn the ashes of the ashes of many more enemies before they can become effective. Being able to knockdown something and then slam it from existence is one goal. All that Anni needs now is the right attack after knockdown. Probably one of the Elemental Ki Strikes, like Fists of Iron, to make a killer 3W hit with extra weapon damage modifiers, uprated by No Mercy and helplessness.

Defense was still an issue early on, as Mystics are a little squishy, and Anni’s gear was less than optimal for Dodge and Sheltering until level 12. As she hit the Ravenloft quests, she’ll got the wonderful Bavarian Quarterstaff, which has been awesome throughout the game with its absolutely lethal damage output (Layla uses her Barvarian Longbow as her ultimate kick-everyone’s-ass bow, not just undead). Since WIS activates so much, some additional gear leaves Anni at level 13 with 50 AC, max Dodge of 32% and about 32 PRR. Time to look for a metalline boss-beater as she moves forward.

Anni has even encouraged me to work through the Necropolis quests, of which I’ve never been a fan, mostly because it felt like a grind and required parties for mandatory levers. I just love incinerating undead now.

More to come on this. These experiments to the builds will, I hope, become part of an updated, all-new Monk guide.

Light Returns to the Monastery

I will admit to becoming a little burnt out on DDO. What seemed to be a somewhat short break turned out to be a over two-year hiatus. Perhaps I’ll detail what I was doing, gaming-wise, in that off-time on another day.

But I kept my DDO account active. And on returning to the game recently noticed so many fresh and new things to be and to do, especially about my favorite class.

Looking at the new enhancement trees, I rolled up a halfling Rogue to try out the Vistani Fighter enhancements. Dang, that’s a DPS build if ever there was one.

Then I dusted off my Zen Archer build. It still has gas. I was hoping to work in the new effect Missile Deflection to aid in overall defense, but it’s limited to certain races/enhancements, so I’ll have to come back to that.

So much fresh content. The secondary Keep on the Borderlands starter quests were lovely. And Mists of Ravenloft — wow. I am blown away every time I enter that one, and there’s still so much left to do.

There are many tweaks in the game which are nice. The best news for me so far is that none of them have invalidated any of my builds thus far. This might be one benefit of my tendency not to create multiclassed characters. But I am far more open to the idea. We’ll see where that goes.

When I last left off, I had some things in mind to share with other players. Thanks to one friend (who seems to have sadly left the game or has moved her players elsewhere, understandably due to real-life developments) I have a small guild with precisely one player: Me.

I will be seeking additional members in my little guild once I flesh out some details on why it could be useful to others.

And as waited as Update 46 Patch 2 was being implemented in downtime, I had a new build idea.

Without getting anybody’s hopes up, let me finish this return post with some goals I have as I return to play:

  • A new, updated Monk guide. This will be hosted in another spot, simplify reading, and have more build suggestions. It’ll also rid itself of cruft that’s not only outdated but available otherwise on DDO Wiki so it’ll make things easier to keep updated. I will keep the original guide in its place with pointers to the new guide once I have enough of the new guide running.
  • A new Monk build, as noted. As I have in the past, development and gameplay about it will be posted here.

See you soon. Like everyone else in the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has left me with a bit more home-time but also provides more opportunity to play.

From the Silence Comes Energy

Ryn3aSorry for the dubious record of 6 months without so much as a “hello.”

As they say in my guild, “real life comes first.” My new job also reoriented my free time, enjoying family and caring for their needs and my own, while my priority to game had dropped. While I do get in two hours or so of DDO per week since March, that pales to the 15+ hours I would find the play years before. Burnout was also a factor.

Thankfully, DDO keeps changing, so now there is more for me to explore and consider, even if I’m reduced to only monthly or bi-monthly posts.

Too much has changed for me to delve immediately to in-depth analysis, so let’s go to the basics, which I can expand on in later posts.

  • Update 36 Named Items: A few interesting baubles for the Monk class, but nothing struck me as spectactular or notable, save perhaps for the Red Fens set updates, which are always handy for mid-level Monks as they struggle to level 12.
  • Quintessica, my Henshin Mystic, has completed many a Deathwyrm run, showing her general competence in stick fighting. But still that tree lacks improved stick-fighting and defensive skills over other classes. I’ll be reviewing that stock build to see if other trees could improve it.
  • Update 37’s introduction of missile deflection seemed a bit redundant to me since the Deflect Arrows feat, as well as miss-chance effects tend to fulfill this role. To date, I’ve not seen any item that provides this feature. I hope to add it to Pynthetica, my original Zen Archer. Changes I couldn’t discern some months ago seemed to make her far more susceptible to injury in raids, as if her miss-chance powers were negated.
  • After a very successful first-life, the Zen Bowmaster Paracleta got a heroic reincarnation. Originally built as a damage-dealer, the Arcane Archer DC changes allowed Paracleta to become a potent crowd-controlling monster. This time, I’ll work on additional tweaks to increase both damage and AA DCs.
  • My proudest build is the Poison Master, my Drow Ninja Spy. Great DPS, a versatile scout, lots of tactical options, Ryncletica’s most serious foes are those she cannot overcome with ninja tactics or poison–generally, the undead and demons/devils. She’s about to go through Deathwyrm runs to improve her weaponry as well as giving me to to play with options. I may create a new alt with less baggage to firm up the build’s first-life play options and variations.
  • The Sentient Weapons feature is nostalgic, taking me back to the Neverwinter Nights game expansion that introduced Enserric, a sentient weapon that threw humorous quips as you fought with it while also offering a power bonus.  I’m still studying the impact of this feature and may write about it another time. I do love the idea of feeding said weapons items that you collect that build up over time in banks and caches but cannot use yet cannot sell. DDO sometimes seems intent on turning us into hoarders without ways to utilize what we collect.
  • Update 37’s new raid and the Ravendark quests are just the thing for a Shintao Monk. I hope to play it through with Lynncletica soon. The named items here are actually very interesting, although gathering them from what are probably the pinnacle raids available in the game seems a little defeating.

I hope to get the Monk guide updated (perhaps with an entirely new look) to clear out outdated information and perhaps focus on gameplay-specific features of my builds to emphasize how to play the Monk classes as whole. No promises as to when this will happen; I need to study the best way, if any, to make that happen.

See you sooner, than later.

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