Enhancement Alpha: Ninja Spy

After taking apart the proposed Henshin Mystic class tree, I conclude my look at the alpha enhancements for Monks with this last installment of my admittedly biased review of the last of the three prestige class enhancements, the Ninja Spy.

In comparison to the live Shintao Monk enhancements, there wasn’t a lot going for the original Ninja Spy that had a serious “wow” factor for many players as it had only two levels versus Shintao’s three levels to upgrade.

Over time, however, I’ve discovered that playing what enhancements we did get to their fullest made ninjas a powerfully versatile scout and infiltrator that later synergized very well with the Shadowdancer Epic Destiny.

After the rather disappointing changes proposed in the other trees, I expected to have to nickname this tree as “Ninja Spy III: Electric Bugaloo“.  As it turned out I’m actually quite pleased with the changes–with a few caveats.


Ninja Spy

Core abilities: Ninja Training, Ninja Training, Shadow Veil, Poisoned Darts, Diversion, Ninja Master

  • PRO: Ninja Training (Level 1) gives you shortsword proficiency as ki weapons immediately at Monk level 1. An excellent way to start off the class.
  • Ninja Training (Level 3) lets you use your Dexterity modifier for damage using piercing (shortsword) and slashing (kama) weapons. You also might throw an additional shuriken during an attack. This seems to add the features of  Ten Thousand Stars (which is now missing from any of the other trees) and the now more-disused Weapon Finesse feat.
  • Shadow Veil (Level 6) is the renamed Shadow Fade, one of the most versatile and popular abilities on live, which give you 1 minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality, leaving you incorporeal if you must attack. It’s missing it’s ki regeneration mode, but this re-appears as a separate feature, later.
  • Poisoned Darts: You spit a cone of poisoned darts and hit your targets with Ninja Poison. What “Ninja Poison” is and how it differs from other poison effects I haven’t figured out as yet.
  • PRO: Diversion: You expend a turn of Meditation to go invisible and create a dummy that attracts monsters. Yes. I like this one a lot, provided that Monks get an extra Meditation turn from somewhere (we get only 2 per rest).
  • Ninja Master: You gain +2 Dexterity. While you are centered, you gain a +1 competence bonus to the critical threat range with shortswords and a +2 competence bonus to the critical threat range with kamas and shuriken. Any piercing or slashing weapon you wield gains the Vorpal ability. If I have to fight, I don’t mind this, although it sounds a little wimpy, save Vorpal. Everyone likes Vorpal.

The core abilities aren’t bad at all, but let’s go into the tiers and hope for more tidbits.

Tier 1: Nujitsu, Stealthy, Sneak Attack Training, Faster Sneaking, Acrobatic

  • PRO PRO PRO: Nujitsu gives new attacks in place of the elemental vulnerability attacks that now belong to the Henshin Mystic. These are all toggled effects and only one can be active at a time, I’m sure. These augment your Touch of Despair finishing move. You’ll gain a new attack on each tier.
  • Impending Doom gives you +25 ki and +25 HP if an enemy cursed with the Touch of Despair dies within 30 seconds.
  • Poison Exploit  purges an enemy of Ninja Poison, dealing 1d20 poison damage per stack of Ninja Poison removed. In short, Ninja Poison is just as bad coming out as going in.
  • Poison Soul adds a stack of Ninja Poison to an enemy every 6 seconds for up to 30 seconds.
  • Wave of Despair causes all nearby enemies to take a negative level. Wow.
  • PRO: Stealthy gives you more Hide and Move Silently points. At its highest rank, you gain +1 ki while sneaking (the counterpart to the “One with Shadow” effect on the live servers).
  • Sneak Attack Training gives you some points to your sneak attack damage as did its live predecessors.
  • PRO: Faster Sneaking adds more speed to your sneaking, up to 50% faster (which likely stacks with your Striding ability). Currently, with both Ninja I and II selected, your speed increase was only 20%, so this is a great upgrade, potentially allowing a Ninja to always run silent.
  • Acrobatic: More points to Balance, Jump and Tumble, plus up to 3% more to your Dodge Bonus. More Dodge is welcome.

Tier 2: Ninjitsu, Subtlety, Sneak Attack Training, Elemental Ki Strikes, Agility

  • Subtlety reduces your Threat to as low as 40%.
  • CON: Elemental Ki Strikes here are the same ones found in the Shintao class tree and are quite redundant. Can’t something else work here, devs? Ninjas fight, but they can specialize in much more.
  • Agility adds up to 3 to your Concentration, Reflex saves, and your Dodge Bonus cap.

Tier 3: Ninjitsu, Flash Bang, Sneak Attack Training, Sting of the Ninja, Wisdom/Dexterity

  • Flash Bang is a ball you throw that has a chance of blinding on a failed Reflex save and stunning them with a failed Fortitude save. Would be nice if this could be used as a diversion or noise maker, although Diversion is available now, as well.
  • Sting of the Ninja: You poison your weapon with a secret mixture. While you are centered, piercing and slashing attacks you make deliver a stack of Ninja Poison on critical hits. Shuriken apply this effect on damage instead of on critical hits. Unarmed combat requires a set of handwraps for this to apply (as well as a way to deal piercing or slashing damage). Oh, this one was going so well until that last caveat. For this attack to work unarmed, you need to have the Brawling Gloves crafted for yourself (piercing attack) or be at epic levels to use Vorpal Strikes (slashing damage). Perhaps there are other ways to use this while unarmed.
  • CON: Wisdom/Dexterity: The devs threw this one in, as with other class enhancements.

Tier 4: Ninjitsu, Deadly Exploits, Sneak Attack Training, No Mercy, Wisdom/Dexterity

  • PRO: Deadly Exploits augments your Poison Exploits special ability by increasing your Ninja Poison damage.
  • PRO: No Mercy: You deal up to 30% more damage to helpless opponents. Do get your Stunning Fist DCs maxed for this one.

Tier 5: Touch of Death, Crippling Strike, Shadow Double

  • Touch of Death hasn’t changed, except that its cooldown appears to have  increased from 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Crippling Strike is the same as the Rogue ability of the same name: A strength-sapping effect of -2 STR that accumulates. Not bad, but I expected more at this tier level. Perhaps combined with Maladroit effects (while using some Night’s Grasp handwraps that also add negative energy damage) this could be quite fun to have.
  • Shadow Double: You perform a melee attack with +2[W] and gain 100% melee doublestrike for 6 seconds. In a crowd, perhaps, with the right Cleave effect and good Two Weapon Fighting, it might be a nice addition.

What’s Missing?

The occasionally useful but always cool Dance of the Water Strider, where you can run on liquids, is gone from the Ninja Spy tree. It’s not that hard to add, but for some reason the devs removed this. This ability does have several applications in quests, specifically in the “Accursed Abbot” quest where a Ninja can run over deadly-to-touch water to complete an objective.

From Alpha to Omega: Epilogue

Quite a few players on the Lammania forums seemed understandably disappointed or confused by the changes seen in the alpha. I’m one of them.

Of these, the Ninja Spy tree is now more fortified and has suffered the least detrimental changes and the best overall gains of all the Prestige trees. It favors the subtle approach and has potentially devastating attacks using Touch of Despair alone. I like it.

Shintao Monks have greater protections but is the only class tree that has built-in healing amplification. If you’re a Ninja or Henshin and are not Human or Half-Elf, you have no healing amplification in your build, anywhere, without items.

My favorite spell-like ability, Rise of the Phoenix, is transformed into a self-serving ability that  no longer raises dead, leaving players to grind for more limited ways to do this. Monks already have a restore-all panic button available in the Grandmaster of Flowers epic destiny: Wholeness of Spirit. Why add a second that doesn’t help others? Shintao alpha also shares a redundant set of elemental ki attack enhancements with the Ninja Spy that should be removed or incorporated elsewhere.

Henshin Mystics aren’t nearly as cool as they could be. They hoard the only Void Strike attack and at high level, breaking the Void finishers for all other class trees. Their use of Fire as a dominant ki attack as well as bludgeoning attacks with staffs (with no changes to DR bypassing, such as adding slashing damage) as well as no changes in attack speed make the new class a questionable choice.

I’m looking forward to the Ninja Spy update. For all else, not so much. But this is an alpha look. Let’s hope that the devs have listened to the feedback and make a few useful changes that don’t gimp one class or overly favor another.

  • Monk healing amplification. For all class trees.
  • A lesser Void attack, or better, Void Strike for all without using the Henshin tree.
  • Return “Dance of the Water Strider.” We do use that in the Abbot quests as well as stealthy, fast approaches in some places, and for quick farming during the Risia Ice Festival.
  • Boost the quarterstaff speed in increments and add some DR bypassing for the Henshin.
  • Add something other than Fire damage in Henshin that won’t be worthless against devils, demons and other high-level enemies.
  • Make the Monk stances selectable as feats but don’t overpower the class and give them every stance. Void Strike or an elemental stance to add at 6, 12 and 18.

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. John
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 12:47:25

    Not sure if you noticed, but 10k stars was added as a feat, and stripped from it’s enhancement status.

    I believe Water Strider was unfortunately removed because it doesn’t work everywhere that there is water. In that case, it might be easier to just up and remove it, instead of implementing it to work everywhere.

    My biggest problem with Ninja Spy so far is it’s heavy emphasis on the short sword (and later on kamas and perhaps long swords if one goes that route) and shuriken. I loved this, because it improves the use of other ki weapons. There aren’t too many ways to make an enemy helpless with just shortswords unless you plan on using ability score damage, Unbalancing Strike (which will be amazing for Ninja Spies, thinking it over). Having to swap weapons around can be quite a pain, especially with so many blatant effects intended for armed combat. It sort of took out the need for having to take Stunning Fist, and put in the need to take the Improved Critical feat in it’s place.

    If I’m not mistaken, Touch of Death was changed to allow for players to use it armed, so it’s not just an unarmed strike anymore. At least, I recall that from the alpha, but I may be mistaken. I hope I am not, though.

    I’m on the fence about the healing amplification. While I realize it was a Shintao pre-requisite, it seemed to be intended for purely Shintao, and I never really took that line on my Ninja Spy. Perhaps if they were to make the line available at the first tier of Shintao instead.

    The ki strikes were what is available for unlocking a particular Adept stance. I suppose they just separated these amongst the various trees.

    Something you didn’t seem to mention, however, was one no longer needed to be a specific philosophy to qualify for a particular PrE. While of course, this would lock you out of the left most set of these, you could now be a Harmonious Balance Ninja Spy, or an Inevitable Dominion Shintao (you just wouldn’t be able to qualify for either Rise of the Phoenix or Touch of Death).

    • teachersyn
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 19:17:54

      Insightful stuff, John. There’s so much variation but so few AP that it’s questionable how much you can use to get better DR as a Ninja or more negative energy/DPS as a Shintao. Thanks for noting the Ten Thousand Stars–wondered where that went, and time was short to review every permutation.

      On Water Strider: I think the devs were just lazy. One dev created it in code but others found it hard to implement throughout many places. Oh, well. That’s baseball.

      Yeah, the special ki strikes were part of the stances, but to have them in two trees is just sloppy. There shouldn’t be a repetitive set of items unless it’s an ability enhancement.

      I think the new Ninja stuff adds something to bring foes down to helpless, but my head is swimming after a long day of work to recall it. Goodie on Touch of Death’s change. Most Monks I know stay unarmed; it’s generally faster. Even I pull out the shortswords for special occasions (kamas do better, especially against zombies). The alpha looks to make shortswords more attractive, and that’s not a bad thing.

      As you can see in my posts, I lament the change that philosophies and stances gave that not only helped the most of a build but defined it. The alpha makes things very generic in places and limited in others, so it’s a matter of wait and see, I suppose.

      • John
        Jun 04, 2013 @ 03:42:45

        The 10k stars will be interesting, seeing as that’s now a new feat for Zen Archery monks to take. But, I suppose that these feats are freed up because of lack of need for TWF and other non unarmed feats.

        I think a lot of problems in DDO are from older devs and newer devs just not working it out. The problems that consistently pop up for Handwraps alone. Sometimes I wonder if the whole game would be better off being rewritten.

        The Strikes are in all three trees. Seeing as you can only select one in total, having it available in all three trees allows for people to be able to select more than one.

        It’s a shame. Even with a double in speed of short swords, unarmed damage is still going to pull out leagues ahead. I didn’t think that Blind was considered helpless. The only thing I can see that qualifies for that is the trip from Unbalancing Strike.

        Waiting will certainly have to happen. I personally just liked the theme of a Ninja Spy with a shortsword. Suppose it’s a shame that daggers aren’t in too. There’s many of them that fit in with the Ninja theme. Throwing Knives as well.

        I think, with the new format, it may be better off to stick to a main tree. Many of the capstones look good, so going around with 30/30/20 may be difficult.

        I’m also concerned about AP costs to qualify for Racial PrE’s. Some of them seem to have great synergy, but the costs seem steeper that way. Such as a Drow Ninja Spy Tempest. Oh well.

  2. kavatch2
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 16:08:57

    Monks should get bonus meditations based on 1/2 their wisdom mod and it looks like with the ninja master enhancement I’ll finally be able to use my dream edges. Finally the schorched handwraps from 3BC wilderness deal peircing damage for a low level start on the sting of the ninja.

    • teachersyn
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 19:23:14

      I was hoping they’d be some handwraps out there one could find for piercing damage. Nice find.

      Yeah, the devs go back and forth with their pseudo-Buddhist and Japanese names for various things. I eat my popcorn and enjoy them. One pre-alpha ability in on a dev’s thread called one “Breaking Wind.” I think they threw that name in just to have a bit of fun before finding a less laughable name.

      Henshin really is hard to sell at its current setup. Let’s hope they sharpen the edges on this a lot.

      I’ve got two Dream Edges I’m dying to give to one of my toons. It’ll likely be my Ninja now, but time to go farming for the Dream discs to get them unlocked soon.

  3. kavatch2
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 16:25:12

    Ok so Henshin is Japanese for transformation. Should’nt we have some kind of transformative powers based on this alone, Im looking at the animal paths here and ninjas are also Japanese but thats not relevent to my point. Shintao is just made up (I think ), so my point is where in Japanese culture do you see any kind of combative monastic order anywhere, that shit is Chinese for gods sake get it right Turbine. Also the Henshin monk finishers better be good or imma be pissy.

    • shiikun
      Jun 10, 2013 @ 12:44:29

      To be fair, there really isn’t a Japan or China in Eberron. Shintao reminds me of Shinto, which has some roots in Taoism. This could explain the use of moves that target extraplanar creatures. Maybe the Monk class is a sort of mix of Onmyodou, Taoism and Buddhism, among others. As for martial monks, I believe there were some sects of warrior monks during Feudal Japan. While not around anymore (though they just might be in isolation), they did exist.

      If the transformation aspect of Henshin is what you’re thinking of, then it could also refer to the animal stances as well. We just don’t get to see them work differently, because, well, that’d be a pain to have that, really. Though, I think it’d be fun to see Monkey fighting. Would make Halfling males even funnier, what with the /dance anyway.

      I don’t think Henshin is getting any new finishers, as they just changed 10k Stars to a feat, gave it a replacement, placed the current Inevitable Dominion strikes into Henshin, and gave Ninja Spy a series of stances to augment their Touch of Despair finisher. The only thing really working is that Henshin now gets access to Void Strike for the Moment of Clarity and Curse of the Void. However, due to their fifth tier ability, they’ll also gain access to an opposite philosophy strike, which would theoretically make playing them even more piano like. Using a quick ability from Shintao or Ninja Spy, gaining access to a finisher toggle (I like Wave of Despair and Difficulty at the Beginning).

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  5. shiikun
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 13:18:14

    Overall, I really like the changes to Ninja Spy. I’m definitely going to enjoy the added stealth speed, improved stealth numbers, and keeping the Ki Regeneration through stealth. I will miss the Dance of the Water Strider, though. I hope that it’ll be reimplemented in Enhancement Beta, and actually designed to work on all liquid surfaces.

    I’m on the fence about Diversion. On the one hand, it offers something to draw agro away, but on the other, it uses a meditation usage. However, I don’t really use them all that often anyway. I’ll just have to wait and see how it works out, I suppose.

    The Stealth Speed is one of my favorite perks to this. Monks are already fast, but now, with striding, base monk speed and now this, we may just be able to keep up with other party members running while in stealth, and slightly faster anyway with the Empty Body feat activated.

    It’s also interesting to notice that Ninja Spies lose their Improved Critical: Shortsword, and it’s instead replaced with an increase in threat range. It is also interesting that they leave room open for Kamas, Long Swords, and possibly bows as well. It’s a shame that these don’t get some form of +[w], though. Unarmed gets a huge boost from Shintao, so I’m surprised that Henshin or Ninja Spy don’t get some kind of damage boost as well. Comparing a very easy 4d8 to a 1d6 is huge, especially considering offhand and doublestrike chances.

    I can see a lot of non-ninjas taking the stealth boosts from the first tier, then pretty much leaving it be, or perhaps taking it up to Shadow Fade, err… Shadow Veil. I can see my Shintao or Henshin taking full ranks of Acrobatic, Faster Sneaking and Stealthy. Possibly a Touch of Despair finisher toggle too. All of Agility from the second tier, and voila, Shadow Veil for about 14 AP.

    • teachersyn
      Jun 10, 2013 @ 17:15:40

      As long as they add more Meditations to use like Cleric/Paladin Turn Undeads or Action Boosts, I’m good. Or, they can add an enhancement that allows Ninjas to gain a Meditation with a specific successful strike (such as Shadow Strike in Shadowdancer). I really like the speed boosts, too, if they stack with Monk speed and Striding. FAST ninja. Ninjas have always been on the shorter stick for [W] but its still not horrible. Again, I play my role. I don’t expect a ninja to be a perfect undead slayer anymore than a Shintao excelling in infiltration or sneak attack.

      • shiikun
        Jun 10, 2013 @ 17:30:38

        It seems that only the Henshin will be given extra uses of meditation. For distractions, I wonder if one of the abilities for Ninja Spy will work like a shuriken being thrown, making a noise and calling enemies to it, but remain hidden in stealth why doing it.

        If I am not mistaken, it works by lowering the penalty to your speed when sneaking, while not actively granting a proper speed bonus. If that’s the case, it should all stack.

        True, and the lack of damage really doesn’t matter when playing to that particular role. A decent pair of radiance weapons or the blinding enhancement may just be enough to offset some of that to begin with. Not to mention, in a party setting, the extra sneak damage is likely only to give you so much hate compared to another Rogue.

    • teachersyn
      Jun 10, 2013 @ 17:18:59

      The new Ninja finishers are terribly powerful. Going to be many many more of us around–but I also know that many players are “one clickers.” Touch of Death was easy since it was a punch. But fewer do the finishers such as Touch of Despair. That’ll change for both Light and Dark.

      The lack of a low level Void Strike leaves all non-Henshins in the cold for a void attack, period. Bad, bad design. Having to take a crapload of otherwise unused enhancements to get Void IV again: Worse.

      • shiikun
        Jun 10, 2013 @ 17:42:31

        I can bet some people will at least try it out, anyway. I believe you’ve mentioned before that Stealth play often gets a bad reputation because people aren’t willing to really learn it. And those are very powerful. I think Waves of Despair might get more use, though. What with monks in general losing Wisdom for their DCs, a few negative levels to help ensure certain abilities actually go off, might just be a bonus.

        The whole piano playing is the biggest issue I have with a monk right now. Sometimes I think it’d be better if newer strikes just replaced the older ones so I wouldn’t have to bring so many down. My Shintao in particular enjoys using the various buff finishers, and usually has the Wind, Fire and Earth one active.

        From what I have read, Henshin was given Void because of those void finishers. The Henshin Mystic PrC has a similar move called the Riddle of Interaction, which works similarly to the Curse of the Void.

        • Kavatch2
          Jun 12, 2013 @ 10:57:13

          I’m actually a bit of a cheater since I bound ALL of my elemental attacks to two keys. On my keyboard 1 does all tiers of my earth and fire ki strikes at once and 2 uses all tiers of my lit and cold strikes. It uses about 80 ki per cycle but it also does crazy burst dps.

          • Kavatch2
            Jun 12, 2013 @ 11:00:53

            So I don’t need spider hands to hit all dem piano keys except when I want to do anything like finishers or switch gear or drink pots or change stances or combo for finishers or stealth or cleave or toggle pa or toggle anything really… Fucking piano.

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