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.
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.