In the first part, we looked at how Humans fare in the new enhancements tree alpha recently shown on Lammania.
Next, let’s look at how the Shintao Monk fares as a tree-based prestige.
The interesting and potentially useful advantage to the class tree system, overall, is that it provides a cafeteria-style selection. You aren’t limited to only abilities from one class tree. A Monk can pick enhancements from any three to form many diverse characters with interesting gameplay results.
However, there is something gravely off in the class trees. This doesn’t affect just Shintao but the class itself.
Monk Stances Changed to Auto-granted Feats
This is, to me, a terrible change. As I looked through the class trees, I realized that the various elemental stances (Adept, Master, Grandmaster) weren’t in any of the class trees, as they are in the live version. I found them, eventually, sitting in the Feats tab.
In the current framework, you had to carefully select your elemental stance enhancements with the limited 80 AP. It was possible to have all four Grandmaster styles at a sacrifice to other enhancements such as Void Strike or a fully completed Prestige track. No more. In the alpha, every single elemental form is granted to you as feats, not enhancements, at specific levels.
This overpowers the Monk. One of my most powerful characters is an “Avatar,” which has mastered every Grandmaster style. Building Quintessica put limits on some Prestige advancements but gear and gameplay offset this quite well.
By giving all Monk elemental styles, it overpowers the class since these abilities augment ability scores, skills, and defenses greatly. It also throws out what little (but enjoyable) role-playing philosophy that was present in choosing a style. Effectively, everyone’s an “Avatar,” and that’s frankly not realistic.
Monk stance effects are special, stacking with all other buff, item and spell effects for skills, feats and abilities. That means that all the new enhancements make a Monk far more powerful than it probably should.
Sure, you could only play one style. Yet how does this limit your character’s power?
I understand why these were moved as developers would have had to add the advancement tree in all the class trees, which would be impractical.
So why not give Monk stances as selectable special feat slots given at specific levels and with the same ability score requirements? Elemental Feats, it could say. A player could add a new school or improve something else in the Feat tree, but still have a limitation. Perhaps moving the Void Strike enhancements here would help since there’s a serious design problem with that as well.
Taking more Void Strikes or elemental stances would give balance as you can take all of one or the other, not both, as it is on the live server. While you must take the feat, you can always use the feat trainer to swap it out (which is more expensive than retraining enhancements but keeps a bit of a limit in place while allowing some flexibility).
Of all the changes under consideration, let’s hope that Monk stances don’t stay as shown in the alpha.
The Shintao Monk currently is still one of the most resilient character builds, able to outlast, outgun and, if necessary, outrun their enemies, and using fewer resources than any other class, thanks to ki. The alpha has boosted the Shintao’s defensive and offensive abilities–at the price of the Prestige class’s theme, it’s flavor, it’s role-play feel.
- CON: Bastion of Purity replaces Monk Improved Recovery and is only found in the Shintao tree. That means that if you’re a non-human, non-Half-Elf, Ninja or Henshin, you’re completely SOL for any kind of enhancement or class-based healing amplification, period. A Human or Half-Elf non-Shintao can get the similar Human and Monk Improved Recovery, but no others.
- Protection from Tainted Creatures gives a general buff against some effects, but this core item is more useful for the first level of unarmed DR metal bypassing for Byeshk defenses.
- Iron Hand just provides Cold Iron unarmed DR bypassing as did its predecessor in Shintao II live.
- Argent Fist improves the Tainted saves but adds the popular Silver DR unarmed bypass of Shintao III live, where the Shintao’s body is effectively a living, unarmed metalline weapon.
- CON: Touch the Void Dragon is an ill-named new effect that expends a Meditation turn for a nastily uber boost to all ability scores for one minute. This is a panic button that works like the Madstone or Rage effects, but it seems really overpowered, especially in combination with the auto-granted stances. (I say “ill-named” because this ability has nothing to do with any Void elemental attacks.)
- CON: To Seek Perfection seems thrown-in. You gain +2 to WIS and lose any penalties to a tier 5 enhancement called Meditation of War. I think this and similar high-level core abilities replace the heroic Capstones. If this is the case, we lose the enhanced ki effect and bonuses to Concentration here for Shintao students (it appears in the Henshin Mystic tree, to be discussed soon).
- PRO (mostly): Elemental Curatives are the same spell-like abilities that are available to Harmonious Balance students: Difficulty at the Beginning, Lifting the Veil, Restoring the Balance, and The Receptive Earth. This is a select-one item where you can select others in higher tiers. What’s changed isn’t a bad idea: Your Healing Ki finishing move (in addition to its mass Heal effect) also activates any and all of these curatives as you get them. In battle, this can be awesome to heal, remove curses, blindness, disease and apply a lesser restoration all at once with a single finisher. There are two problems, however: Are the curatives now a mass effect or do you have to select a target? Also, using the curative now is FAR more expensive in terms of ki, since you need maybe 30-40 ki available just for a low-level use as you grind out your finisher.
- Reed in the Weed sounds thrown-in, especially since Monks had naturally received a good Dodge bonus as part of their class. It’s not a bad idea to have an improved chance to miss physical attacks. It’s just not spectacularly inspiring here and should be available to all Monks.
- PRO and CON: Defensive Strikes a toggled Monk stance that trades offense for defense. It looks to be a great option for tanking Monks. It does seem to be steep in prerequisites, however. As well, this seems to support a theme in these trees that Monks are unarmed bludgeons that need to be less swishy, versus a lightweight fighter that has superior evasive and Dodge. In other words, how does this differ a Monk from a Fighter?
- PRO: Ki Shout shows that the devs are looking to improve a Monk’s melee effectiveness by using Concentration as an ersatz skill to help intimidate. I’m all for this as tanker Monks have had to sink double-points into the Intimidate skill and use Earth Stance to gain some traction here.
- CON: Exemplar (up to +3 in Heal and Intimidate, and up to 10% additional Threat generation) is a complete waste of an enhancement slot. This isn’t worth the points at all.
- Smite Tainted Creature is identical to its live counterpart in Shintao II.
- PRO: Iron Skin adds what seems to be stacking PRR to a Monk. Great promise for tanking. Hopefully the PRR bonuses in Mountain Stance remain to add to these damage reduction effects.
- PRO and CON: Elemental Ki Strikes are the optional ki attacks available through each elemental stance but with some new styles and changes. Eagle Claw Attack (Improved Destruction effect x2 and +2[W] damage, Fists of Iron (+3 [W] damage now!), Knock on the Sky (deflects damage and +1[W]) and Unbalancing Strike (same as the original). While very attractive, the problem I have with these is that they are found in two trees: Shintao and Ninja Spy. That’s a waste of good enhancement slots that ninjas or Shintao could opt for something else. One or the other need the same tree; not both.
- PRO: Conditioning isn’t anything bad as it gives more Concentration and HP. It’s more like the Animal Paths (now living on the Henshin Mystic tree), specifically, the Way of the Patient Tortoise.
- Jade Strike is identical to its live version.
- CON: Dismissing Strike, which banishes on a failed save, recharges slowly and thus hardly useful or rarely relied on by anyone I’ve partnered. Banishing handwraps aren’t that rare. A better ability could be added here, or a better effect.
- CON: Wisdom/Constitution is thrown-in. It’s clear that the devs didn’t have anything better to add to this slot.
- Tomb of Jade remains the same awesome punch as the live version.
- PRO: Instinctive Defense is interesting. Should you fail your save, you take less damage while helpless. Can’t argue with that.
- CON: Wisdom/Constitution: Again, as with tier 3, this seems thrown-in.
- CON CON CON: The change to Rise of the Phoenix actually made me angry. Light Monks offered Cleric-like abilities to supplement the real ones in addition to their fighting prowess. This change makes RotF into a self-centered invulnerability-meets-Diehard enhancement that returns you to battle. Since when did this class become so selfish and not a party-support class? Further, not everyone is going to go Half-Elf for a Cleric Dilettante, make clickies or grind for special items, spend points in Use Magic Device or have huge bags of platinum, Turbine Points, or Astral Shards just to get a Raise Dead ability! This is the one enhancement change that could make my cancel my account outright–it’s just that ridiculous. I don’t always run with parties, but do often have to raise my own hireling cleric because they are coded for Stupid +10 sometimes. I know that many don’t use this ability, but in this alpha change, you get your Monk Improved Recovery III equivalent anyway for this class tree, which was what players often chose instead of Rise of the Phoenix. Have the devs watched any martial arts movies lately? Or even read the 4th edition D&D rulebook? Monks, as a class design, do not serve themselves. Don’t change this ability, devs.
- Kukan-Do is generally the same as it’s live version.
- PRO and CON: Violence Begets Violence is a new fascinating ability that increases your critical threat range (when Defensive Strikes is active) to help deliver punishing damage up to 20x your threat range. It resets when you’re critically hit. Again, however, this ability doesn’t seem very monastic. Fighters fight. Monks fight when required, and with skill, not as a fancy bludgeon. Again, this seem to taint the class philosophy/design.
- CON: Meditation of War gives special insight damage or effects based on your Monk stance. It’s not a bad idea. However, the feature for Fire stance, where you get +2 to your Stunning DCs, seems offset by the fact that Fire Stance removes points from WIS, which generates tactical DCs for Monks in the first place. In short, the features offset each other ridiculously. Maybe this should be the Ocean Stance’s ability?
- Empty Hand Mastery moves a Monk’s hit die from 1d6 to 1d8. That’s nice but nothing new in that all Monks gained this at level 20 prior to a recent update. Damage is good except that, again, this seems like a dev’s wish to make the Monks greater fighters when we didn’t suck to begin with.
So, the Shintao line seems three steps forward and two steps backward. The quasi-philosophical feel of the Monk, peaceful and contemplative until provoked into mystical kicking of ass, seems like it’s being pointed to kill-kill-kill more than kill-help-kill. That’s not how the D&D class envisioned it to be. I know DDO is less role-play than action, but it’s the little details that matter in keeping a class differentiated from others. I can learn to bludgeon just fine, unarmed, as a Fighter. That doesn’t make him a Monk.
Coming soon: The Henshin Mystic alpha enhancements.