Rebuilding Lynncletica (Or, How to Almost Gimp Your Monk)

I’ve finally gotten a grip on what “Armor Class” really means in DDO. For a Monk, it should be something helpful to know, since we can’t use leather or plate armor or wield shields. Yet, few people I speak to (at least, within my guild) see AC as something they concern themselves about as Monks. I’m guilty of this and have likely perpetuated the poo-pooage of AC over resistances.

AC? Resistances? Why Not Both?

It turns out (says me, guest-starring as Captain Obvious) that AC and resistances do go together. AC helps to negate a melee or ranged attack outright. It represents the attack roll that an enemy must roll to hit you. If you have 50 AC and the attack rolls a 49, he misses. So why doesn’t it seem that AC isn’t that important for Monks?

The answer comes from three feats all Monks receive over time. The first two are Evasion and Improved Evasion. You gain no damage with a successful Reflex save on attacks and (with Improved Evasion) only half the damage if you fail your saving throw. The last is Diamond Soul. At level 13, a Monk gets Spell Resistance equal to his Monk level +10, up to 30 by capstone. These three feats work together to mitigate many, many melee and magic attacks all by themselves.

Resistances (Fortitude, Will, Reflex) add to this to greatly lower the probability of become helpless (a Monk is dead meat if stunned, encumbered or paralyzed). A Resistance +5 item (to go with the Monk’s inherent increases in saves as they level) work great here.

Yet, a Monk is still getting very bruised by attacks that pounce through his AC. So why not get both sets of numbers up to higher levels?

How AC Breaks Down and Boogies Over Your Presumptions

Lynncletica (my Ultimate Mountain Stance Light Monk for those new to the show) had an unbuffed AC of 52 before I decided to Lesser Reincarnate her yesterday for one goal: Raise her AC by at least 5. But AC is broken down into subdivisions called bonuses, and this is where we catch how unaware I was about AC.

First Rule of AC: The Numbers Do Not Always Add Up. Armor Class has 9 divisions that determine if, say the bracers you wear and the outfit you have on will protect you more, less or the same.

Where can you see how things break down. Open your character sheet and hover your mouse pointer over your AC number. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Now, without going into immense detail (you can check out the DDO Wiki article for more comprehensiveness), here’s the run-down of bonuses you see and how they relate to Monks.

  • Base AC: Every character has at least 10 AC.
  • Natural Armor bonus: Comes from a class’s natural hide or magical effect. Barkskin gives to Natural Armor, as well as a few other non-Monk armors. Mountain Stance gives a +3 Insight bonus to natural armor (more on this in a sec).
  • Armor bonus: Comes from things you wear, such as traditional armor, bracers and the like. A few robes/outfits have this but most do not.
  • Shield bonus: Comes from using a shield. Monks cannot wear shields, so what is a (virtual) gal to do here? (See the very last sentence of this entry on how to get it, albeit briefly.)
  • Dexterity bonus: Add your Dexterity modifier to your AC. Monks that pump DEX up get tremendous AC boosts here. Lynn pumped more into STR and CON, which formed the dilemma.
  • Deflection bonus: Comes often from cloaks and rings under the term “Protection.”
  • Dodge Bonus: Of all the bonuses, this is the only one that (typically) allows you to stack it using items with different numbers. For example, wearing the Icy Raiment, Chattering Ring and Thaarak Bracelet together will give you a Dodge bonus of 9 (+4+3+2). The Dodge feat itself falls under a another category: Feat Bonus.
  • Size bonus: Become a Halfling and you get +1 to your AC.
  • Insight bonus: This one’s tricky. An Insight bonus may apply in its own category or apply into another bonus. For example, Ultimate Mountain Stance gains +3 insight bonus to Natural Armor. So that number shows up under Natural Armor, not as Insight Bonus.
  • Miscellaneous bonus: A catch-all category for effects that come from effects or enhancements, such as a Paladin’s aura or Halfling’s Hero Companion.

Second Rule of AC: Adjust your gear, feats, ability score and enhancements to help maximize your number. So, Lynncletica’s problem didn’t involve her gear. She has several bracers, Dragontouched Vestments and the Icy Raiment outfit. Cool. But what was not cool was when I realized that hardly any of it stacked in the right way for more AC.  Without peacetime buffs (guild ship or House Phlarian), I had a standing AC of 49 or so with the Icys on. What was I missing?

On a Monk, there are three special ways to get more AC, with two in your direct control. The first comes from a Monk just being a Monk: the Monk AC bonus, a granted feat that gives you up to +5 stacking AC bonus under a special bonus category: “Centered bonus.” You’ll lose this if you are uncentered, so Monk splashes that use anything non-Monkly never see this bonus. The second we spoke of already: Dexterity bonus. The last is similar: A Monk gets more AC based on their Wisdom modifer as well. So, a Monk with great AC often has pumped DEX and WIS to 30 or more, gaining +10 AC from each ability. Lynn suffered here; I was so intent on damage and HP that more ability points were placed in STR and CON.

So, after careful consideration, I was off to our friendly neighborhood reincarnation NPC and mindflayer.

Just a little R.E.S.P.E.C! (Find out what it means to me!)

(with apologies to Aretha Franklin)

So I brought a Lesser Heart of Wood, thought about how really stupid it was to respec my toon within 2 hours of our guild’s very first Monk-dominant Shroud run (A very fun run: 7 Monks, 2 Healers, 1 Artificer, 1 Bard and 1 Sorcerer dragging a China-sized industrial-strength can of Whoopass into Meridia), then ignored the screams of warning in my head and began the process anyway.

My objective was to raise Lynn’s AC without wholly compromising her light tanking ability, HP or STR. To do this, I would have to retool the Monk’s four main stats: STR, DEX, CON and WIS, but also add points to something that few Monks should ever consider except for this case: INT.

So I stripped Lynn of all gear, committed to the LR, and got to work. Now, when someone says they’re a “STR-based Monk,” it means they didn’t take the Weapon Finesse feat. This means that a highly strong Monk’s attack modifier comes from their STR. Take Weapon Finesse, and your DEX modifier is used for attack, although your STR is still used to determine how hard you hit. I decided that Lynn was too strong and pulled a couple of points off, applying it to DEX. Next, I pulled a few points from WIS and moved them to DEX and INT. Why the hell did I put points into Intelligence? The answer: Combat Expertise (+5 stacking Feat AC, another bonus category).

I redid my enhancements (choosing 1 DEX from Human Adaptability and Monk Wisdom I)  and looked at the result. Lynn lost about 10 HP to one less Toughness feat. OK. Lynn gained 2 to her Dexterity AC bonus and lost 2 from a lower WIS bonus (but compensated by my ToD ring). After exchanging Improved Critical: Bludgeoning for Combat Expertise with Fred (you get an identical effect from Greater/Ultimate Mountain Stance), the results were in after adding my gear back. I improved AC quite a bit. I made a Google spreadsheet before all this to help in determining how things stack. I made two sheets, one for the Icys and gear and another for the Dragontouched Vestiments, to see how stacking gear would gain AC. You can view it here.

The Icy configuration gave the best maximum self-buffed AC. But I created a serious problem. Lynn’s lower STR had reduced her attack rolls! Her fists began to whiff by enemies while I was with a party on the following day. Luckily, the same place that showed Lynn’s reduced attacks was also the answer to restoring her attack bonus.

I was playing with guildies in the just-re-opened Smuggler’s Rest and Crystal Cove challenges!

Lynn owned a Level 16 Ring of the Buccaneer. The two stats that could help were the Protection bonus and Dexterity bonus, which sat at +4 and +5 respectively. I slammed down minotaurs for a few minutes and gained the doubloons to immediately upgrade to an Epic Ring of the Buccaneer. (DEX +6, Protection +5). Halfway there: I gained 1 more AC from the Protection Bonus, negating the Icy’s +4.

A couple of runs through Crystal Cove allowed me to get Tier 2 on the Ring: DEX +7. That did it, Lynn was able to hit her enemies again at CR21.

Epilogue

So I’m finally faced with one last dilemma. Lynn’s DEX is now higher than her STR. The idea of calling Lynn a STR-based Monk was silly now. But, more so, I really need better to-hit. Come Saturday evening, I’ll trade off Power Attack (which would work against attack rolls) for Weapon Finesse.

I was originally going to respect Power Attack for Combat Expertise at first, but Fred warned that removing PA would require me to respect other feats as PA was a prerequisite of some kind. For what? I think it’s a bug, since nothing I can think of for a Monk would require Power Attack. I’ll do a bit of research before I attempt to respec once the respec timer is done.

But now, unbuffed, Lynncletica sits at 57. Add ship buffs, a Barkskin +3 potion (did you know that this stacks to Ultimate Earth stance’s insight bonus to Natural Armor?), and a Shield clicky (only 1 damned minute of +4 Shield bonus AC) and Lynncletica sees an AC of 63. Lasting potions from the DDO store as well as party buffs will raise her to really good AC levels.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Postscript: One thing to note  in all of this is that I managed to improve Lynncletica’s AC despite my near-constant use of Mountain Stance, which adds +2 CON and discredits you 2 DEX.

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Crunching AC Numbers

With all my “L33T UBER MONK TANK1!!” talk lately, I’ve began to study something that you’d think I’d know more about, but don’t. That’s Armor Class, the various bonus types and how a Monk should really, really work to make this number high. In a later post I’ll take Lynncletica apart to see where she needs some work to think of herself as tanking material.

The Little Mountain Rumbles

Lynncletica, my Grandmaster Mountain Light Monk, is far tougher than I ever imagined. She’s practically a tank now, and that’s high praise for a class that many consider to be…squishy.

It’s hard to be squishy when you’re focusing the power of stone, however, and Lynn proves it. She’s now almost as equipped as Syncletica was (recently TR’d) but with a few new twists. At 509 HP unbuffed and in Ultimate Earth Stance, Lynn has shown that she can take far more damage per second while dishing out damage and healing herself simultaneously for good measure.

I’ve mentioned her many solo runs into the Subterrane to get the Icy Raiment outfit. Finally, that paid off yesterday after, maybe 18 runs there. But an hour prior to that run, I and a fellow guildie, an up-and-coming Monk named Krekette, took a run through the Cannith Manufactury to score (for her) a pair of the Fabricator’s Gauntlets from the rare Iron Defender that appears there, while also getting its twin item, the Fabricator’s Bracers.

Now, I’ve always advised my fellow guildies with Monks to always get your Jidz-Tet’ka bracers made and in use throughout the lifetime of your Monk. The versatility of those bracers to augment Monk stances is always handy, even if you never get them upgraded to an Epic version. Frankly, I recommended them because, short of some Armored +8 bracers or a crack at some Levik’s Bracers for healing amplification, there wasn’t much better for a Monk to wear.

The Fabricator’s set has set me on a new path of enlightenment, at least for Lynncletica. In Ultimate Earth Stance, she generates far more threat than Syncletica. I don’t need Intimidate when I can just go b*tchslap a foe and have him chasing me for as long as I keep smacking him. The Gauntlets are the greater of the two: STR +6, Resistances +5 (awesome, as saves, not AC, define a Monk’s defensiveness), and Melee Alacrity 10%.

Great Buddha-on-a-Biscuit.

Many new Monks love Wind Stance for speed, but Lynn prefers power, which often takes down a foe faster due to the more powerful damage per strike and higher criticals. Why hit 10 times to kill when you can strike twice? That Melee Alacrity alone guarantees a near-retirement of a pair of Brawling Gloves she owns. The Fabricator Gauntlets are a perfect pair of gloves. The rare encounter that may drop these seems to love to give them to you; I own two pairs now, one to give to Syn to consider later in her second life.

The twin Bracers wet Lynn’s tanking whistle with Balance +10, Exceptional Balance +5, Incite 20%, and something called “Cannith Combat Infusion.” It’s a nice effect similar to the Madstone Boots where you get +4 to major stats, double-strike and +2 to AC for 10 seconds–but without the spell-barring effects of Madstone Rage. Oh, yeah, with additional threat from these, there’s no way that I won’t get and keep any monster’s attention.

It gets better. The Fabricators set can be unlocked from its Nearly Finished status with parts (ingredients) you gather by slaying through the Manufactury and in Cannith quests. When both unlocked items are worn, you get 25% stacking fortification and +2 to-hit and to damage. If this isn’t a Monk tank’s dream gear, I don’t know what is.

The Bracers required Krekette and I to be a bit attentive in trying to score them. They drop only from the chest of the Iron Fire Bomber, an optional, massive-looking CR28 Iron Golem boss you’ll find inside Blown to Bits. The good news is that the boss is really not difficult to beat at all; he simply has massive HP. The challenge involves why the Bomber got his name. He is courteous enough to warn 4 seconds before he randomly detonates, at point-blank range, his own kind of one of the many detonation packs you had successfully used to clear out huge crates throughout the quest. They do the same insanely fatal damage to you (1000-2000 points) if you don’t get clear.

Escape’s not a problem for a Monk with Abundant Step and Cannith Boots of Propulsion for speedy escapes. You just have to watch out for when the Bomber drops a det-pack. On one earlier solo run, he set a pack seconds after I freed him from his crate and the battle began, and I missed the cue to skedaddle. Lynn got predictably vaporized but a hireling resurrected her to complete the fight.

With care, Krekette and I beat the golem down. There sat my Bracers, finally! Took only 4 runs or so to get them. We did go next door to beat up the CR21 Warforged Titan as well and blew up all crates and killed one optional pair of rare WFs for a total of 5 chests. Not a bad day’s work. Still working on helping Krekette get her set.

After unlocking my set, I took them down to Garamol for yet another Icy run. I was feeling lucky today; I could feel it in my bones. The end fight was a little rougher with a couple of unexpected spawns (dammit, make sure Power Attack is OFF, stupid!) but Garamol fell again. This time, there they were, my prized pair of Icys. Too bad that the resistances from these and the Fabricator’s Gauntlet’s don’t stack…but if I need to switch to my Garments of Equilibrium, I won’t lose anything, either, with the bracers on.

I took one more detour to see how tough Lynn had become. With Icys and the Fabricator’s set on, I entered the Research Facility section of the Manufactury. That’s a L23-28 raid wilderness. I took Syncletica in there once…just once. The much more-damaging cannons there pulverized her (despite being more geared than Lynn as a whole).

Without a hireling, Lynn was able to clear all the L23 cannons in that initial hallway through perseverance, her smiting handwraps, Greater Ardor II potions, Haste potions and many retreats to heal up from Healing Ki and Wholeness of Body. I was feeling pretty cocky…until I opened the door to greet a CR28 Bladesworn Red-Named, who quickly illustrated to me (in conjunction with his posse of CR28 WF artificers and their repeaters) that Lynn has her limits.

But, my oh my, Lynn’s limits are greater than I have ever realized. I’m going to try tanking more often now! Stormreaver, it’s time we danced the dance of death. I’ll lead–watch your toes.

Samsara: Syncletica in the Cycle

sam·sa·ra

noun /səmˈsärə/ 

The cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound

Syncletica, my main girl, a Light Monk, entered through that circle through True Reincarnation and returned, again, as a Monk, with greater potential from lessons learned in her first, turbulent life. I had planned to TR her on Easter, but with a quieter household this week and trying to fight some personal blues, Palm Sunday was the day of Syncletica’s resurrection.

It’s my first time to use True Reincarnation, so I’m still learning the robes. I see that your character gains a free automatic feat for Past Life of your last class. For me, that’s Past Life: Monk, with +1 to damage rolls. It wasn’t what I was expecting when, after I leveled to 3 and chose my Philosophy (a Light Monk again), I saw a new feat: Past Life: Disciple of the Fist. This was what I was waiting to see. It sends your Monk’s unarmed damage rolls up by a step (so 2d4 is 2d6, 2d10 is 2d12, etc.), gives a boost to Concentration, and allows an Evasive trance.

That Evasion trance seems a little odd until I thought about it. Monks receive Evasion very early at level 2 (a reason why two levels of Monk is a popular option for some melee types). So, this trance may give characters with past Monk experience that TR as a non-Monk to get that Evasion back using this option and without multiclassing, albeit with the price that it is not a permanent feat but more like a clicky. It’s only active for 20 seconds and still requires the character to use light armor or less and not be encumbered.

Syn received a little makeover, giving her an appearance that’s more of a blend of the dark features of her desert monastic namesake as well as Asian features from the lovely kung-fu action girl that graces this blog as my avatar: Michelle Yeoh.

This time around, I didn’t suffer the problems in knowing what a Monk could do. Syn went through Korthos and made fish sticks out of the fish people, never entering a quest on anything but Hard difficulty or better. I missed my Healing Ki for some time, having the Level 1 cleric hireling Dryad (didn’t she have a helmet before Update 13?) help me out until I punched and kicked myself to Level 3.

To my shame, I hadn’t as many low-level gear from my guild’s Monk bank as available to me as I thought. I did have one nice item: the Fernian Wraps from the Threnal chain, with no minimum level.

So far, choices for Enhancements are in line, no APs wasted. Didn’t add Weapon Finesse again, yet, in study of what I may integrate from the classic Rockan’s build and his avoidance of it since STR and DEX are often so closely set for many Monks. Syncletica was built at first from my own Neverwinter Nights knowledge and had to be retweaked twice to fit DDO’s gameplay (including a Greater Reincarnation) to get her to what she was. Lynncletica is a better result of all that knowledge gained from Syn’s retwinking; STR-based, but far durable and happily sitting at 509 HP, unbuffed.

I’ll likely still choose Weapon Finesse since I get better AC over time and hits (Syn’s really missing punches at the moment). As for that second Past Life feat…yeah, I think resurrection and tighter XP rewards requires greater asskicking.

And, this time, Syncletica will ask her guildies to guide her through the entire Necropolis chain. As a Light Monk, you’d think this was a no-brainer.