The Burly Brawl, DDO Style

One mob? One quarterstaff, then.

One mob? One quarterstaff, then.

When I play with one of my characters, I often do so in a binge of weeks at a time before switching to another one. My current binge is with Quintessica and her new skills as a Henshin Mystic.

As you know, they use quarterstaffs to fight (albeit not exclusively). As a traditional weapon, unlike handwraps (which aren’t weapons, so the Monk’s innate damage is calculated from the character in unarmed fighting), I have to think long and hard as to how to generate the most damage per swing, and to effectively make as many swing attempts as possible.

With level 17 in the bank, I keep having dreams of what I’ll be able to do as I reach Level 20.

Doublestrike Power and STR

A Mystic gains quarterstaff training that’s similar to the Rogue Acrobat (and, as of this 19.2 Update, skills of these trees still appear to stack, for those Min/Maxers playing at home). So far, the two things I’m looking at are higher STR and greater doublestrike.

My Heroic-level doublestriking was (a still impressive) 32.50% for 10 second bursts while in Wind Stance and using the Quick Strikes ability at level 16. By level 18 now, it sees for Heroic at 35% (10% Grandmaster of Wind with Quick Strikes). With Power Attack active, it’s a blast to beat-down many enemies using Quick Strikes while spamming Void Strike and elemental form attacks like crazy. Quick Strike is a Morale bonus so adding Doublestrike prefix gear won’t help. Wind Stance adds doublestrike as an Enhancement bonus. I don’t run in Wind Stance generally due to its weaker defenses, but it sure helps in getting your Training Dummy “Hours of Practice” buff very rapidly. (The poor thing.) I won’t be hanging around Wind Stance for too long since it generates an average amount of ki and it’s a stance with fewer defenses.

Oh, I almost forgot the Fabricator’s Gauntlets and Fabricator’s Bracers. The unlocked set adds that Cannith Combat Infusion that procs often enough, adding some AC and a 5% Alchemical bonus to doublestrike. So, if all the stars align at level 18, Quintessica’s doublestrike ranges between 35 to 40% with Quick Strike, Ultimate Wind Stance and/or the Infusion going off.

And there’s more I might gain with stacking untyped doublestrike in Epic levels from Grandmaster of Flowers, maybe another 3 to 6%, A flickering dream tells me of Epic Gianthold’s Flawless Black Dragonscale Robes, with its matching Epic Helm of the Black Dragon, give a stacking 3% Artifact doublestrike bonus that I can dream of obtaining after several “Caught in the Web” episodes.  (n.b.: I had the wrong set mentioned here earlier; it’s the Black set, not White, that gives the 3%.)

STR determines damage with a quarterstaff, and the weapon isn’t typically Finesse-qualified. Perhaps more so than with my tanker, Lynncletica, I’ll need as high a STR as I can make for Quintessica to generate higher damage. As much as I love the Mystical Fire and Force spell-like abilities, they aren’t going to take down whole mobs immediately, but will damage them significantly enough from staff fighting for me and my party to whittle them down faster.

So, where does a Heroic pure Monk go to get more damage from here?

Quin uses Whirlwind Attack, which does work well quite well in mobs (and doesn’t appear to be bugged). I don’t think there’s enough feats to add Cleave and Great Cleave, but perhaps I could consider Improved Sunder for this build to bust down the armor protections faster.

Damn it, but I can’t stop thinking of Quin in Epic mode. Crunching doublestrike gets me excited. She’ll have 25% (Quick Strike, 10 secs, Morale bonus), Grandmaster of Wind (10%, sustained, enhancement bonus), Running with Wind (Grandmaster of Flowers tier 2, 3% sustained in Wind Stance, untyped), Hail of Blows (GMoF tier 2, 3%, sustained, untyped). If the Fabricator’s set is worn and it procs, that’s another 5% Alchemical bonus for 6 seconds. That’s a total of 25%+10+3+3+5 = 46% maximum doublestrike (16% sustained in Wind Stance, 6% without it).

And what happens if I train as Legendary Dreadnought’s Lightning Mace and later twist in both tier 2 GMoF abilities?

That’s 25%+15+3+3+5+5% (LD, Lightning Mace, 15% enhancement for 6 seconds, or +5 with Wind Stance, one overwriting since they both enhancement bonuses, and Cannith Combat Infusion) = a maximum, theoretical and brief 56% doublestrike chance (10+3+3 = 16% chance in Wind Stance, 6% without it).

Then add another 3% from a full Flawless Dragonscale set. Brief 59% doublestrike, 19% sustained in Wind Stance.

That’s a lot of Twists of Fate, a lot of luck and a lot of grinding time. Not even sure if that’s viable in battle, but achieving a fraction of this speed should be good. Imagine all that going off in whole or in part with LD action haste or damage boosts.

The Big F’n Stick Thread

During some research, I found this long-running DDO forums thread on how players have worked on maximizing quarterstaff damage over the years. At over 118 pages, I’m still reading it.

The one thing I’ve taken away from that thread is the joy of glancing blows, an ability inherent with quarterstaves. Effectively, there’s yet a chance for additional attacks with this in effect.

The Two Handed Fighting line improves this opportunity to insane levels that I I really want to use. I’d like to put a point or more into the Fighting Style ability and choose the Great Weapon Aptitude option: Glancing blows produced by your two-handed weapon attacks have a +2%/+4%/+6% increased chance of producing magical weapon effects such as flaming. There are 3 ranks that require the latter two THF feats that I may not have slots to improve, but we’ll see. Between doublestriking and this, there should be much bashing.

I spent quite a lot of feats to get Whirlwind Attack, which is equally worthy and adds needed Dodge to this defense-weak build, in my opinion. I have a few feat slots left as I move to 20, so I’m grooming to take these feats for more attacks.

Emulating the Burly Brawl

Glasses: check. Longcoat-like robe: check. Big f'n stick: Check. Attitude: Oh yeah.

Glasses: check. Longcoat-like robe: check. Big f’n stick: Check. Attitude: Oh yeah. Neo, eat your heart out.

I’m a huge fan of The Matrix movie series. My second-favorite fight in the movies is known as the “Burly Brawl.” There, Neo (the One, who really knows kung-fu and 57 other ways to fight) must use everything he knows to fight out a respawning army of rogue, viral, former agent Smiths. The ass-kicking is simply intense, as both Neo and the Smiths are Made of Diamond, neither one being able to harm the other, only knock each other or throw them away temporarily.

Neo fights unarmed for two thirds of the encounter. He holds his own well enough with 5 to 10 Smiths. Neo is Harried by 20-30 and begins to be overwhelmed by 50.

Neo thinks out of the box and improvises a quarterstaff, pulled out of concrete and away from its former role as an iron playground pole or fence post.

Then the fun starts. Neo starts wiping the floor with the 50, turning most of the Smiths into balls in a batting cage. It takes another 50 Smiths to slow Neo down again before he decides to fly away to escape, leaving the match (barely) at a draw.

For those who haven’t seen it or need their memory refreshed, here’s a video clip. It’s one of the first uses of digitized versions of people mixed in with live, choreographed fights. (You’ll know it’s digital Neo when his shoes change appearance to a raised heel, while Keanu wears a flatter sole.) My favorite fight, later in the Merovingian’s chateau, is all live action wire-fu, twice as badass and a far better music track to go with the fighting. Neo shows his Weapon Master Fu throughout this one.

There’s a perfect place (two, really) where I look forward to Quintessica emulating much of these fights. In her first life, she’s taken on the devils in “Devil Assault” solo. But it’s the continuous, multiplicative terror of spawns in the end fight of “The Weapons Shipment” where every Shintao Monk I own has had to show their mettle.

Going solo there, the speed of the fighting and the amount of enemies mean that finishing moves is all you have time for without getting slammed. all but preventing use of items to heal. You have to keep yourself going entirely through fighting prowess, vampiric effects and ki.

In this case, the need to deal with multiple attacks left Lynncletica and Syncletica more vulnerable as solely-unarmed fighters. But in her second life, Quintessica’s staff work might make things far more interesting. Her Fire attacks will be largely ineffective against devil-spawn, so maximizing her Force damage will be critical. Lots and lots of Whirlwind Attacks with the Woo-Woo Stick to maximize the area-of-effect, negative levels and glancing blows (combined with Seeker and related effects), in addition to Every Light Casts a Shadow to mass-neg-level as I can. Weaken your enemy to strengthen yourself.

My biggest worry is that she won’t have as much healing amplification as I’d like. But then, a Mystic is a dervish and hardly stands still long enough to get attacked.

I’ll likely start her working things unarmed to build ki and keep up. Then the Big Stick comes out by the time the Orthons appear, at the latest, and I will not walk softly at all.

The Stick of Destiny

As to which stick to use in there? Maybe I’ll have a Green Steel Mineral II or Lightning II crafted by then. Otherwise it’s the Metalline of Pure Good crafted stick.

Very recently, an awesome high-powered guildmate escorted my level 18 self to the Dreaming Dark’s hideaway and blasted him for quick access to his Dreamforge.

There, I had enough essences to unlock two weapons: Rahl’s Might and my now-fully upgraded Dreamspitter. I have a Holy Crystal, life-stealing, Force Bursted, Evil Outsider WOO-WOO STICK now. And the Rahl’s is a Force Bursted slashing crit monster. I pulled a few 300 criticals with that thing!

The Dreamspitter’s many neg-level songs of Woo against mobs during a guild run into “Friends in Low Places” were so constant that I was practically crooning like Perry Como. So my personal nickname for my Dreamspitter is now officially my “Perry COMA Stick”.

Quin’s staff-based Burly Brawl won’t happen for at least one or two more levels. Quin needs more boosts to healing amplification from the racial tree, some Two Handed Fighting, and the Fabricator’s Ingenuity set. At level 20, getting that awesome Stout Oak Walking Stick would be nice going in there, as well as wearing more protective gear.

One critical deficit that I’ve always had with Quintessica’s lesser reliance on the old Prestige paths that boosted HP is simply keeping those hit points high enough to be a reliable melee. At level 16, she was a bit sickly at 300. I grabbed some Argonessen favor for 10 more HP, and now armed with an Alchemist’s Pendant, more ki on hit and 10 more HP to make Earth Stance a viable option.

She has fair Dodge numbers (16%) but her work is so ki-intensive that blurring herself steals attack options and she hasn’t AP just yet to add to adding Shadow Veil for Ghostly or improving racial traits just yet. Sounds like I’ll need to put a perma-blur item somewhere here. An epic Ring of Shadows might be the best tactical option.

Hopefully I’ll make some time to make a video of this fight to post here (with music, cued to “The Burly Brawl” music from the movie soundtrack) with the results when that day comes. No link or it didn’t happen, right?

Redefining Roles in My Dojo

Light...Dark. Matters not, it does. Colonel Sanders is no longer our master.

Light…Dark. Matters, it does not. Our master, Colonel Sanders, no longer is.

The remarkable changes of Update 19 is forcing my altitis to get a grip on reality.

As you might guess, I have several Monks.

What you might not guess is that I have a few non-Monk characters, too. More on those unwashed heathen later. Right now, I’m compelled to differentiate how my Monks serve my guild and me.

Since creating the Monk guide, I’ve realized that play time with each major variation was key to keeping some level of competence in documenting what feat, skill, item or enhancement can do. I generally defined my Monk’s roles as did many other players, as if they were buckets of fried chicken that you ordered up. “Light” or “Dark?” Do you serve it primarily cold, hot, nuked or poached?

As I gained better understanding of the elemental Monk stances, the differentiations also broke down to the old Prestige classes (Shintao or Ninja Spy) and what Monk stance they favored, and why.

Now, the class trees offer so much variation but with substantial changes that my original attempts to have a Monk that specialized in any one Monk stance or philosophy is useful as so many crumbs at the bottom of the Colonel’s box of biscuits. Let’s break down what’s happened.

When Everybody’s A Super…

Syndrome…No one will be.

Remember Quintessica? My “Avatar” Monk that mastered all the elemental stances by refusing to master a PrE? Yeah, she’s just one of the gang now. Update 19 automatically grants all elemental stances to you as your Monk levels, as feats. The good news is that all that AP spent in the past can go to other enhancements. The bad news is that the Avatar is a stock feature for all fully-trained Monks. She’s since moved on to finishing move and quarterstaff mastery.

I’ve also heard in casual conversation (to my horror) that the higher stances (known also now as “Forms”) can be chosen by low-level Monks. That is, if you have a feat space, you can choose it with 1 Monk level at any time, rather than letting level progression auto-grant it to you. Makes for an interesting but strange option for Kensei fighters.

The news did caught me off-guard. It left me in both an existential and ontological crisis for a bit. pondering things like “Why be a Monk anymore if any otherwise-unskilled Tom, Dick or Arretreikos can buy up a feat and punch about, too?”

Of course, a Monk is still more than just an unarmed bludgeon, thankfully. We still matter. There is still a delineation of why Monks are still relevant in DDO. What we can do that others cannot.

But we can no longer use elemental stances as a benchmark. Every Monk is an “Avatar,” a master of all elements.

As the poster child for a lost role with Update 19, I retooled Quintessica quickly as my first Henshin Mystic to gather a feel for the new enhancements, as noted recently.

But now there’s still the matter of repurposing the rest of my posse.

Please Choose One of Your 505 Options

I kid you not. The variations of the class trees allow you (with at least one multiclass or Arcane Archer option if from an elven race) that you have five hundred and five individual core and tier abilities from which to define yourself as a Monk in this new age.

This purposefully excludes non-divine spell caster class trees just to keep my sanity (you’d likely add another 200 variations), does not include Barbarian and Bard trees (impossible to multiclass with a Monk), and only counts Human, Half-Elf and Elf races.

My Monk guide (now mostly revised) is concentrating on 125-or-so options for now: The three Monk class trees, the Kensei class tree, and (coming soon to the guide) the Arcane Archer tree if an elven-type race that can add this tree with a few AP, racially.

If I try to keep to practicing what I preach, then my dojo (and friends who drop in) need some retooling. Here’s what I have in mind for characters who haven’t received or self-defined their roles already in this Brave New Game World, such as Lynncletica the Tanker, Quintessica the versatile Mystic, and Ryncletica the Ninja.

Arcane Archer Monk (Half-Elf)

Pynthetica is my next to oldest character (Syncletica being the oldest). She’s a human Ranger Arcane Archer, a past favorite from my Neverwinter Nights days. She’s never experienced a True Resurrection, so she’s due.

My goal is to have train all of my characters (unless a dedicated non-Divine spellcaster or dedicated healer) with significant (6 or more) Monk levels. Likely, most will have much more. Each character is going to get a weapon specialization (lowercase) that melds with their monastic training. I have a Rogue that’s competent at traps but uses Ninja skills and is training up as an Assassin.

In the case of Pynthetica, she’ll become a Half-Elf, train the basics in unarmed combat and then add in the Arcane Archer tree. She’ll need the Zen Archery feat for Centeredness with the bow and may be lighter in overall punch than either fully-trained Monk or a Ranger AA. But with that Cleric dilletante, she’ll be quite versatile.

I like the idea of going Light in philosophy here for some healing regeneration, but going Half-Elf with a Cleric dilettante will shore that up, so Dark is a better damage option although much of its work can’t work in ranged mode.

Pyn should be quite competent going pure Monk or adding in 6 Ranger levels to gain Manyshot and a few granted feats. Since you needn’t take a second class for AA as an elven-type, it’s a matter of putting the Action Points where they matter. I think this will be my first priority on this next Fall weekend (after taking Lynncletica in “Devil Assault” to farm a bunch of Tokens of the Twelve).

Light Kensei Swordfighter (Warforged)

I have a Warforged Monk named Synthetica. Yes, the name begged to be used.

To complete my original quartet of elemental users in the past, I had planned to make the robot into a Fire-Stancer since healing her (“it?”) would be complicated given the racial healing problems.

Now that only Humans and Half Elves get anything on the racial side from healing amplification (with the Warforged’s options just trying to keep them from being a burden), I plan to make Synthetica into something far more unusual. Using the very interesting Kensei enhancements that sync well with Monk abilities, I’m going to work on giving the robot a much longer arm than any of my Monks. Specifically, Synthetica will eventually use a greatsword.

Starting out, it will be a mostly unarmed affair, and a minimum of 8 Fighter levels may be required to get the best power. Since you can’t add ki proficiency with greatswords from any Monk class tree, Synthetica will need the entire Kensei line to make a greatsword a Centered tool, adding perhaps a few points into Shintao for some self healing. This one should be fun if I keep it a secret to my guildies. Imagine that we’re in a quest and things are looking bleak, when suddenly an unarmed Synthetica pulls out a huge sword and begins a school in how to carve and filet. It wouldn’t be my usual style and I look forward to it.

Dark Kensei Weapon Master (Half-Elf)

This is Theacletica,  mentioned recently, who is going Dark for damage and training in light blades. Since shortswords are easily added to any Monk with one point in the Ninja Spy core abilities, she’s likely to stay with these until she takes the full Kensei line and adds kukris, daggers and a few other sundries. She won’t throw the kitchen sink at you, but will throw every bit of the kitchen’s pointy, edged silverware.

Rogue Henshin (Human or Halfling)

Allysen is my first Rogue and has had growing pains. Mostly this not her fault. I love to play many characters in solo mode. You can get only so far with a Rogue since they specialize in damage that works effectively and only when someone else has the attention of the guy you’re attacking. She’s been at level 17 for a dreadfully long time.

I’ll need to force her to level 20 and then TR her. I may keep her as a Halfling (hear the murmuring praise by GamerGeoff) for the Dragonmarks and some gear she already possesses from her Thief Acrobat days. For greater damage and versatility, she could train as a Light Henshin with some Ninja Spy. She’ll forsake her life as an Acrobat, since many of the abilities there are also found in Henshin (with little benefit or compatibility with each other).

The problem is that being a Rogue is a very skill intensive path. You’re good at it, or you suck, and there’s no middle ground. Frankly, fighting is secondary for Rogues. I could use Cassietetica as a model (a Rogue Assassin Ninja) and steer Allysen towards the Mechanic path a bit. Still, AP is AP. I make Allysen a decent fighter or a decent Rogue. Of all the characters, Allysen is the greatest challenge for Heroic living.

Wind Stancer (Human)

This is what Syncletica, a Shintao, is now. Epic levels have not been friendly to her at all. She takes tremendous damage there from which she can’t heal fast enough, even with an impressive healing amplification.

I’m not giving up on Syn as a Wind Stancer, but she really needs more beef to counteract damage. In Heroic, she’s fine, In Epic, not so much. That likely means, as she reaches Epic levels, to pile on Legendary Dreadnought training, Unyielding Sentinel and Shadowdancer epic destinies for more protections.

I put her through a Lesser Resurrection recently, adding a few points in the Ninja Spy tree for faster sneaking, more Dodge and Shadow Veil (easy 25% incorporeality), while remaining points go to Shintao. Got her more Dodge, too. I took her into one fight in Eveningstar and recalled her back bloody and in pieces, despite having miss-chance skills like her old student, Ryncletica. Sigh.

The Dreadnought mode gets many Action Boosts that a Wind Stancer could use to throw out more damage than they take in. Some Shadowdancer abilities can improve her DCs to go with LD as well. I’ve just got to find the right balance for my primary toon and namesake to these enterprises.

The Avatar is Dead, Long Live the Avatar!

Henshin Mystic: The new path of the "avatar."

Henshin Mystic: The new path of the “avatar.”

You may remember my pride in Quintessica, my one Monk who had mastered all Grandmaster elemental forms, like Aang in the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series.

With Update 19, everyone gets all elemental stances, right up to Grandmaster, as feats, automatically. It leaves Quintessica’s original design as a bit useless. I still thought possessing all elemental forms overpowers the class right up to yesterday’s debut.

That said, I mourned the death of Quintessica’s build, then decided for something different.

If Quintessica already has elemental form mastery, perhaps she can attain a new level of mastery. Something that blends both sides of the Monk philosophy–weapons or no weapons. Light and Dark.

Logging into Quin recently, I retrained her in the ways of the Henshin Mystic.

Spell-Like Abilities

The good news is that Henshins are effectively spellcasters that use ki. The devs specialized them to wield a quarterstaff to great effect in damage while also throwing incredible Fire and Force damage with a few area of effect attacks. They don’t have many spell-like abilities, but they also gain improvements in weapon damage.

That means that spell power is as big a thing for Henshins as for Wizards and Sorcerers. Spell power increases the damage of a particular element or power, be it Light or Negative Energy.

I don’t play any spellcasters except a Cleric and an Artificer, and their job doesn’t emphasize damage as much (or I just suck at playing them). That said, I needed to learn more on spell power.

For casters, they often get metamagic feats that can greatly boost their spell power for more damage. That’s nice and all, but for the Henshin, this is a pickle. Ki is mystical but not magic. Therefore, they haven’t any metamagic abilities to boost damage. They appear entirely dependent on the Henshin tree’s various abilities for spell power boosts to Fire and Force, throughout their lives as inherent abilities. Whether these numbers are offset by the class’s melee damage to form a character that works as well as some spell casters is the big question I have as yet to play out with Quintessica’s new form.

After inherent abilities, implement, equipment  and alchemical bonuses from items have to do. Quarterstaves often have these as part of their nature. So the crazy amount of Thamaturgy staffs out there might be useful.

I wonder if taking a level or two of a Sorcerer or Wizard (I’d lean to the Wiz) to get basic metamagic feats would help here, and if that spell power boost would work with the Henshin’s ki attacks. Given the overhead of such a thing, I’m not sure if I’ll ever try this.

Melee Combat

Quarterstaves aren’t bad for damage, but they wear out very quickly. If I’m going to love any quarterstaff, I’d better attune them so they don’t take permanent damage. Quarterstaves are also bludgeoning weapons so they’re no more useful against zombies than your fists.  Best to keep a pair of kamas handy.

The stance “Lighting the Candle” is great to add Fire damage to any wielded weapon or unarmed combat.

Remember the elemental debuffing moves needed by the old Dark Monks to get Touch of Death? These are now part of the Henshin class tree. Activate any of these attacks to give an enemy a 10% vulnerability to an element. Fire is a Henshin’s prime damage dealer, so spamming the All-Consuming Flame debuffer will be nice to do.

Quin had amassed many handwraps that helped in unarmed damage reduction, so she needn’t take any Shintao stuff. She already knows how to get the most of any elemental stance. She just needed some quarterstaves, some points in the Henshin tree and continue her schooling.

Disadvantages

Henshins aren’t dependent on a staff but they help with spell power if they have any properties. Should you choose to go as an unarmed Henshin, your spell-like abilities that boost Fire and Force damage will be less than when wielding a staff.

As with any weapon, a staff is ultimately slower than fighting unarmed and, as noted, suffer greater damage. The Henshin tree boosts damage using the Quick Strikes ability for improving doublestrike for a brief time. Since you’ll get the full Air Stance training, a Henshin in Air Stance should be a DPS monster. They also improve their Critical Threat Range and Multiplier, thankfully.

Many players questioned the emphasis on Fire during the beta because, well, some of the nastiest enemies are Fire-frickin’-immune, such as the devils of Shavarath. That means that Henshins need greater Force damage with their area-of-effect skills or go toe-to-toe with more melee damage. Of the two spell powers, Force is what I’ll be looking to find more to add. There are a handful of powerful quarterstaves, such as an unlocked Dreamspitter, that have great Force Burst damage.

You can’t just go to a vendor to buy “ki potions.” This energy is generated only by fighting early on. The Henshin gains several abilities with ki generation in mind as they train. First, they gain extra Meditations. Other Monks get only 2 per rest. The Henshin may have as many as 5, if I count right. It’s going to be rough going for Henshins in that using shrines to restore Meditations used in high-level abilities means that you also destroy your accumulated ki.

Thankfully, Henshins do improve on their passive ki regeneration. Think of it like the spellcaster’s “Stir of Echoes”, but allows a larger regeneration to the character’s stable pool, where ki generated and lost achieve a balance. At level 20, a Henshin should have a vast supply and should be able to regenerate faster than other Monks. That said, Quin has been mostly in Fire Stance to build ki, and she’s slower to do so than when unarmed (more damage per second). Hopefully this means that standing about in Ocean Stance with these effects will passively regenerate 3 or 4 ki per 6 seconds at high level.

Lastly, the Henshin’s defenses are somewhat weak in that there’s little in the class tree to improve AC, saves or miss-chance. You’ll need good gear as a melee-happy Henshin. STR determines a Stunning Blow success, but lower DEX means less Reflex and AC bonus. You’ll need WIS for a large ki pool.

Is this what GamerGeoff meant by the “Return of the DEX build?”

The Master of All Finishers

While revamping the Monk guide for Update 19, I realized I hadn’t a page that listed every available finishing move. So I made a new chapter.

There are 17 finishers in all. Shintao Monks and Ninja Spies can perform 11 of the 17  (theoretically, adding in the currently-broken level 10 finishers). Five finishers are philosophy-restricted. You can’t use Dance of Clouds as a Dark Monk because you have Fists of Darkness. Likewise, a Light Monk can’t use Freezing the Lifeblood without Fists of Darkness.

But the Henshin, thanks to two Tier 5 abilities, has the ability to perform all 17 finishers.

The first of the two tier 5 abilities, Balance in Dawn allows you to select a ki strike with a powerful effect but one that’s opposite of your chosen philosophy. Effectively, if you are a Light adherent, you gain a Fists of Darkness with a slower cooldown. For Dark Monks, a slower Fists of Light.

Unlike their normal counterparts, using Balance in Dawn strikes has a massive effect on allies (for Light) or enemies (for Dark).

  • Every Light Casts a Shadow: Cost: 15 Ki, Cooldown: 12 seconds. Dark ki melee attack: Perform an attack with +2[W] damage. On Damage: Target suffers 1d4 negative levels. If the target dies within 10 seconds, all nearby enemies suffer 1d2 negative levels.
  • Shadows Cannot Exist Without Light: Cost: 15 Ki, Cooldown: 6 seconds. Light ki melee attack: Perform an attack with +2[W] damage. On Damage: Target suffers 1d6 Light damage every 2 seconds for 10 seconds. This can stack up to 10 times. If the target dies within 10 seconds, all allies around the target receive 100 Positive Energy healing. (This healing effect is unaffected by Spell Power.)

This move does allows a Henshin to use the Healing Ki finisher, or the Touch of Despair finisher, and unlocks any moves that require them. In party battle, a Henshin can really upset a mob’s advantage in numbers or give decent party support.

Finally, there’s the matter of Void attacks and the second of two attacks to unlock the Master state. Update 19 removed all original Void Strike attacks (all enhancements) and gave one and only one to the Henshin–the counterpart to “Void Strike IV,” now just Void Strike, a tier 5 ability.

Void Strike does the same as in the past: massive Force damage with a vorpal confirmation sending the enemy to nothingness.

For other Monks to attain this attack this means not only a substantial use of AP that gimps their other trees, but will also lock them into the Henshin tier 5 and out of other trees. That means that the level 10 finishers can’t really be used by other Monks except a Henshin that takes Void Strike. (Hopefully the devs will add a low-level Void Strike as a trainable feat to rectify this someday.)

Hm. That “avatar” style looks to be back on the menu.

The key here is to do what few Monks do: Take advantage of all of the finishers in daily life.

I’m talking more of the core finishers that all Monks can do, which are typical spamming one element three times to form the finisher. Then there’s the matter of the level 10 finishers, of which the Henshin (at present) is the only one capable of using.

So, a Master of All Finishers? How does that play out in practice?

Stay tuned and see. A Henshin that can burn and break, debuff, neg-level, burst healing effects, and charm enemies has got to have some joy to it.

(Note: I know that the Dark portion of Balance in Dawn is as bugged as the Ninja Spy’s Wave of Despair in that it gives negative levels to allies. I learned as well that you can neg-level yourself with it! Whoops. A workaround is to hand out Death Ward to everyone to easily fix this until the devs resolve the problem, if it’s not working as intended.)

Throwing Stars of DEATH!

One shuriken plus one fully-trained ninja equals a powerful ranged attack as never before on a Monk.

One shuriken plus one fully-trained ninja equals a powerful ranged attack as never before on a Monk.

A quick note to being a Ninja Spy with the new Update 19, news of which I discovered very recently to my delight. Most of you who’ve played Monks know of shurikens, or throwing stars.

As ranged weapons, they’re likely the weakest of all, with only a 1d2 damage range. Only the ones that include “Returning” should matter to you.

Over the years, successive updates have added feats or abilities to raise the occasional damage, such as Shuriken Expertise and Ten Thousand Stars). Nevertheless, throwing stars added some themed mystique and limited ranged options befitting a fully-trained and well-equipped Ninja Spy.

Generally, most Monks used a throwing star only when they were totally unable to attack something in melee (thankfully, a rare occurrence). But Update 19 brings a scimitar-sized ray of sunshine specifically to ninjas. At level 20 in the Ninja Spy class enhancement tree, you are eligible for the final core enhancement:

Ninja Master: You gain +2 Dexterity. While you are centered, you gain a +1 Competence bonus to the Critical Threat Range with Short Swords 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.

Let’s unpack this one from my experience last night with Ryncletica, your Friendly Neighborhood Ninja, while finishing up an Epic Hard solo run through “Feast or Famine” in Gianthold.

It’s Not The Size That Matters

After nearly an hour of patient infiltration to the final fight, Ryncletica has arrived too late to remove the boss and his guards from the final room before hunting party had also arrived, leaving me with no fewer than 45 enemies to clear.

Her ship buffs are exhausted but Ryn is still quite capable, with a full set of Shadow Charges as a Shadowdancer. Remember the Conservation of Ninjitsu applies here (as it did to those bastards in the old monastery, whose stolen fortress I imploded after killing their boss).

So I decide to pull out the recently updated Snowstar, one of only a few named shuriken in the game, and begin carefully smacking one enemy at long range to pull that one out of the main hall, isolating and eliminating orcs one by one. I prefer to remove any spellcasters first as they are often buff or heal enemy fighters.

So, out plods out one of the enemy mages who got a love-tap from the Snowstar. He stops for a moment in reconsidering chasing me down,, so I throw another star at him…

…and a large “100” popped above the mage’s head, in addition to a purple-tinted Poison-drop symbol.

Wait..what?

Feeling increasingly amazed, momentarily confused and downright edgy, I just kept throwing and throwing in curiosity and surprise, studying the damage results until the mage’s HP dropped to less than 1000, when that last throwing star severed his head from his body.

Holy Crap on a Cracker. I just remembered this was a new feature. Even a low-powered shuriken in the hands of a fully-trained level 20 ninja can vorpal an enemy, adding 100 damage on a critical, instantly killing if the enemy’s HP is less than 1000.

The competence bonuses make a star’s damage more extensive as well, and early Ninja Training core abilities add greater chances for a Doubleshot effect, throwing an additional shuriken per attack (So that’s why the guy took 200 to the face from one throw!).

As well, the critical threat range on the throwing star, normally only 20, has now gone to 18-20 in a ninja’s hands, increasing the likelihood for a vorpal hit. Further, the enemy’s getting smacked with stacking magical Ninja Poison, which is a damage-over-time effect.

But Wait! There’s More!

Prior to Update 19 there were only two named-item throwing stars: the aforementioned Snowstar and the Shadow Star (recently updated with a useful Deception ability that makes enemies confused as if Bluffed, slowing their likelihood to attack you).

With the arrival of the new Wheloon quests (specifically, “Friends in Low Places”) comes a third named shuriken: The Morning Star:

  • +5 Enhancement Bonus Solar I (1 to 6 Light damage)
  • Flaming II (2 to 8 Fire damage)
  • Ghostbane II (2 to 8 undead bane damage, Ghost Touch)
  • Red Augment Slot (!!!)

It is…out of character…to say that Ryncletica, an enlightened Monk of the Order of Syncletica, who lives a vow of charity and asceticism, covets this weapon.

It’s not out of character for me, the player, to squee throughout the game, cleaning Wheloon out until I get my hands on that sumbitch.

Until then, my crafter made some shards for a stronger throwing star. Yeah, I could start work on a Green Steel Shuriken, but crafting one (and with an augment slot if there are any)  just seems neater.

Besides, I had immediate need of crafting up a Holy Silver of Bleeding or Maiming shuriken for a date with Harry.

For those enemy spies keeping score at home, Ryncletica is capable of insta-killing you in four ways:

Sleep well, my adversaries. Sleep well.

Reclaiming the Old Monastery: A Tale

An invaded monastery filled with dozens of Drow Monks, versus one very miffed Ninja. There's only one conclusion you can draw from this.

An invaded monastery filled with dozens of Drow Monks, versus one very miffed Ninja. There’s only one conclusion you can draw from this.

Every so often, I write a bit of prose based on my characters and situations in the game.
 
Not long ago, I visited Soami Gardens for the first time with Syncletica and a handful of guildmates. I was in awe. There’s a monastery in the game?!
 
My awe changed to anguish as the game revealed that, not only had the monastery been abandoned but was now home to a Drow sect.
 
This story imagines how Ryncletica the Ninja learns the news of the old monastery’s corruption.
 
She does not take the news well.

~~~~~

Accusations

“You are sure of this?” Teacher Lynncletica asked me.

“I’m certain. You’ve done your own exploration of the giant lich’s corruption of the Frost Giants. Soami Gardens had become a den for evil adherents to an evil plan revealed to us by the Argonessen.”

Lynncletica appeared to review my report from memory, her eyes gazing downward in contemplation and recollection. “If other reports are true, that place is filled with undead as well.”

“That’s right. I am less effective against the walking dead than you, but I am no less deadly,” I said, as I opened, inspected and resealed some hand wrappings that were imbued with the power to disrupt and obliterate the undead.

Lynncletica kept quiet a moment before she said, “I won’t question why you want to purge this old shrine of evil. The question is whether you should do this alone.”

“No one else has the heart for it, nor the training. And I plan to make the old monastery my dojo, eventually. The souls lost there, as well, deserve retribution.”

I stood up slowly. “To fight this darkness requires someone darker.”

A day later, I arrived at the hidden underwater refuge where the Argonessen had hidden the Stormreaver and took a portal to the distant, forgotten paths that lead to Soami.

Smells of moss and decay filled my nose from the overgrown jungle. Where once was groomed gardens and sculptured trees and bushes was now curious crackling, dead earth and tangled roots and something not unlike mournful sighs, rising high and loud for moments before they fell low, momentarily drowned out by a chittering insect and what few other tuffs of wildlife could survive there.

Small pieces of once-sturdy timbers, jade, obsidian and clay tiles covered the earth. Small amounts of glass shards from broken windows, intermixed with small golden paint flecks attempted to welcome me as they surely would have done to visitors long ago when they were once resting, intact on the buildings.

A chilling presence nearby stopped my hidden advance. There was a face in the air, as substantial as a campfire’s smoke observing me. I did not move as the mouth on the apparition’s face moved out of sync as a  feminine voice said to the air

–You are not Drow. You are not insane–

“I’m not. I came to rid this place of the Drow,” I said in a low voice, not desiring to get the attention of any others.

–If you were Drow, I would eat your soul, or I could eat it now–

“That would gain nothing, brother. Do you seek rest from your solitude here? If I can destroy the Drow, would you find peace?”

The ghost’s form flickered uncertainly for some time before disassembling into smoke, with only the face keeping integration, hovering mere centimeters from my own.

–Free us– were the ghost’s final words before the last of its smoke dissipated.

Industrial Pollution

dojo-3My intelligence led me past the destroyed and barricaded central entrances of the old monastery to a small disused entrance.

On entering, thick smells of oil and grinding metal assailed me, becoming stronger and louder. No longer were the halls of this place a refuge for any kind of quiet contemplation and enlightenment.

The ghost’s warning of Drow did not disappoint. Two robed wizards stood talking, their backs turned to me, while I listened to them from the shadows. Even with elven senses, I was far too quiet for them to notice me.

“Since when do we Drow pay homage to giants?” the first wizard said with an irritated hiss.

“I understand that our compensation was substantial,” the second wizard answered.

“And piles of platinum are exchangeable for our honor? Against the traitorous giantkind? Disgusting.”

“I know that there is more to the…transaction. As a magister in lower ranking, I am not obligated to discuss this matter further with you.”

“I think you should–ugh…

It took the higher ranking magister one second to turn to find his companion dead on the floor. By the time he turned about to find his attacker, I stood with a death-palm at his neck.

“I’m not part of this order, so you may oblige me of this giantish transaction in exchange for your life. What giant?”

Sweat formed on the wizard’s frozen, silent face. I watched him pucker his lips like a stubborn child sitting at a dinner table with a plate of vegetables. “You cannot be deaf with ears like mine. Now, tell me about this place and the giant you work for. I will not ask a second time,” I said, moving my hand closer to his neck.

“Yes..yes…I will tell you. The giant goes by Incanni. He’s asked us to slay and bind a dragon for him.”

“Why?”

From the edge of my vision I saw the wizard’s finger move as I heard something muttered in the ancient Elven tongue.

He never finished his attempt to strike me with magic as my palm snapped forward like a snake’s head, a fatal quivering of ki energy neutralizing all energies through his body. Avoiding additional noise, I grabbed the dead man’s body before it hit the floor, then hid the two Drow corpses in a darker corner before continuing.

Drow working with giants would be like the Devils of Shavarath visiting Stormreach to help rebuild the harbor docks. Giants had been enslaving Drow for centuries and were hardly allies anywhere in Xen’drik.

There was something familiar about the giant’s name but I couldn’t place it. A loud clang pulled me out of thought and back to full attention to my mission.

A large blue force field, hardly of monastic craft, clearly marked the path forward. After finding a series of switches, the field dropped and I entered the deeper recesses.

Incanni

RynSoamiDoomsphereClearly the Drow hadn’t been the ones that destroyed the monastery; it was done years before.

I suspected a Xoriat attack was to blame for the monastery’s demise. I confronted a doomsphere during my attempt to enter the building’s original entrance, nearly being killed before I was able to release it from its haunting of this once-hallowed place.

The Drow had simply found the lost Soami Gardens as a suitable isolated place to transform the deserted monastery’s underground catacombs, once filled with the entombed remains hundreds of monks from ages past, hollowing the tunnels out for their unholy installation.

They left the angry ghosts of the long-dead monks that tried to defend this place floating above as unwitting guards to shoo away the curious. A tome inside one disused room confirmed this. Twisted by the insane energies of Xoriat, the ghosts outside fight almost anything. I was merely fortunate to escape the one shade to whom I spoke.

The Drow had been entrenched in the catacombs a while, maybe a few years.

But not much longer if I had anything to say about it.

I had completed unlocking a path forward when a kama’s blade appeared at my throat.

“Move and die,” the weapon’s wielder said. I watched a dozen Drow, some lightly garbed in dark, loose fitting martial outfits, surround me in front, with surely as many behind.

They escorted me to the bowels of the installation. Wet smells of moss and earth mixed with something rotting and putrid, the odor growing more and more concentrated as we got closer to their leader. One guard stopped me with a brusque hand, searched me far too intimately and provocatively as he removed my shortswords, a small pack of healing balms and a couple of small finger-sized scrolls. You can never truly disarm a monk, however, so the guard remained as large as before.

I expected someone with stature to be in charge, and wasn’t disappointed as I heard the strange clatter of multiple legs on stone with a loud hiss. The boss was a scarrow, a hideously large fusion of scorpion and Drow bodies created by the dark magics of the god Vulkoor. This scarrow was different from others I have encountered: twice the size and heavily armored by translucent plates of insect armor: chitin. The grace in which he entered suggested that this thing was faster than he appeared.

“What’s this, a monk who has come to join our order?” the scarrow said in a terrifying grin, his teeth serrated like an assassin’s dagger edge. “Tell me, monk, why are you here?”

“I came to cleanse this holy site,” I answered simply, truthfully.

“Ah. That implies that you have any more right to be here as we do. We simply have the right through our might.”

“Is might all that you find honorable? Do you sacrifice your race’s own honor to work with giants?” I didn’t bother with subtlety. I wanted to press the one button that would cause the most aggravation to the Drow.

It worked. The scarrow lept forward with insane speed, swinging a claw’s side at my face, hurtling my body backward against unyielding earth and stone. My ninja mask partially dislodged as my head hit the wall and my sight blackened a moment.

The scarrow squinted and laughed mirthlessly with my race now revealed. “An elf? Maybe a weak human-tainted one? Hm. I would think you might understand then what our race would gain as wielders of the arcane, even with weak blood such as yours.”

I moved to a squatting position, still close to the well where I fell. The guards had moved backward several paces to give their boss plenty of room, surrounding him. leaving him in the center of his complex. Behind him, a small box rested on  a smaller altar. Tiny ribbons of bluish light  streamed up and away into the darkness.

The scarrow’s claws clicked in excitement. “Incanni believes we will fully give him the arcane powers he’s asked for us to leech from Omaekrix’s corpse. We will do what he asks, but we Drow will gain some power of our own to use in changing Gianthold into the new Drow citadel, a launching post for greater things you cannot comprehend.” The scarrow inched closer to me, his rotten breath smelling of game and fish. “Do you know what that means for you and your kind?”

I said nothing.

“Of course you don’t. But you won’t have to wait to find out.” The scarrow turned about a quarter. “Guards, leave me.”

“Yes, Master Sannyasi,” one of the guards said, as I watched what few Drow I could see begin to march out.

A clawed appendage suddenly seized my neck, squeezing and lifting me up. “Come, monk,” Sannyasi said. “I will give you a brief tour.”

Barely able to keep my feet to the floor, the scarrow dragged me forward to the small altar. “Here are the remains of a dragon. Through arcane principles your simple mind can’t understand, we separate the elements of the dragon’s life. In that stone is the enchantments that Incanni designed. But in this stone,” he said as he pointed to a small pendant around his neck, “I take in the powers of a dragon’s body. Endurance. Speed. Immense life-force that an army could not take from me.”

He threw me again, but this time I was able to tumble and land partially on feet, coughing for breath.

For some reason, being tossed reminded me of an earlier adventure, long ago. There was a mountain fortress. More Drow, such as these. Despite their racial hatred, they, too, worked for a giant. A storm giant at the mountain’s summit. I remembered now.

“I know that name…” I said.

“Yes? Do tell? The giant’s name?”

“Incanni. The Summoner. An insane giant that my party and I killed some time ago.”

The scarrow made that saw-toothed smile again. “Go on,” he said, obviously amused.

“Sor’jek Incanni is dead, so how could he be aligned to you?”

The scarrow swayed back and forth on his legs. “Well, I don’t know the whole story there,” it said with a sing-song lilt to his voice, “But I’m sure that he had some outside help to return from the dead.”

If Incanni was revived, it would not have been from the short-term resurrection effects of a cleric. Something would’ve had to forcibly reanimate his destroyed body. That meant only one thing even I knew, with my limited knowledge of the arcane. Sor’Jek Incanni had become that lich of Argonessen’s fears, a powerful undead creature.

And with Incanni’s knowledge of arcane power combined with his undead form, in time he could take down what remained or giant- and dragon-kind with ease if he mustered the right powers.

Sannyasi stepped forward. “But come now. You came here to rid the temple of evil. I’m sure that you’ve been wanting to fight me by now. What does your meager monastic arts offer compared to the physical prowess of a scarrow infused with the power of a dragon?”

He was right on this: I did want to fight.

I assessed my objective. Sannyasi was far too accommodating. I suspect he would have crushed my neck earlier if he had wanted. Every enemy I know who has stolen power had paid a price to do so. I simply needed to know what that price had been, and to steal it back.

Attack

The scarrow’s legs crouched a moment then sprung, its claws forward and wide open, attempting to grasp any part of me and slice it in as many parts as it could.

I tumbled away and concentrated, drawing my center away from this world, leaving part of myself in shadow. I would be harder to hit for a time while I considered how to destroy a scarrow that effectively channeled the immense vitality of a dragon.

I was alone. Even if I could outlast Sannyasi, I would be quite depleted after and easy prey to his angered minions.

I scanned about for a key, twisting and diving and jumping, dodging most of the maddened scarrow’s attacks. Few enemies I’ve met were as relentless or as energetic. I knew my limits. Intellect, not brute strength, would better defeat this thing.

Not far from the dead dragon altar were a small series of tiles. Just as I saw them, Sannyasi punched me solidly. I reeled back and over the ledges to the tiled floor.

I watched the tiles pulse. I saw the scarrow’s dark eye’s darken to the same beat. I knew now. It was a matter of severing the connection.

For that I needed a distraction.  Forming the disciplined moves to augment my ki, I generated a duplicate of myself, passive and radiating hate. With a cloak of invisibility now applied to me, I summoned a dark panther beast to further keep the scarrow busy.

Sannyasi hurled himself mindlessly, as monsters often do, at the passive duplicate.

Still invisible for a few seconds, I memorized the tile, discerned the complex flows of energy that linked Sannyasi to it.

I found the pattern just as the scarrow destroyed the duplicate and had nearly finished off the summoned panther. I gripped the one keystone, turning the tile.

Nothing seemed to happen. The energies about the altar seemed just as luminous.

Suddenly aware of what I was trying to do, Sannyasi ignored the summons and jumped straight at me from the ledge above. With my back to the altar and nowhere to run, it would decapitate or disembowel me at that speed.

In desperation, with a foot, I twisted a second tile just as the scarrow collided.

Epilogue

Teacher Lynncletica handed me a cup of cinnamon tea. I almost spilled it as I took the porcelain cup using a bandaged hand.

“So you found the right tile.”

“I did,” taking a cup at my tea. “Sannyasi had linked his life force to the dragon’s. It gave him great power but also left him vulnerable to death if that connection could be severed. I was fortunate. You personally know I can’t stand puzzles.”

Lynncletica smiled. “Neither do I. We both have a…fondness for a direct approach.” A few moments of silence passed before she asked, “And what has become of the monastery?”

“Insanity begets insanity, fellow teacher,” I answered.

~~~~~

I pushed the scarrow’s lifeless corpse off of me. His life stopped when his link to the dragonshard essence stopped.

I gathered the dragonshard up for use later with the Argonessen representatives.

To escape, I would need to use a special scroll that would pull me to the Temple of the Sovereign Host; I was too bloodied to make my way out on my own power at present, and healing would take too much time. Sannyasi’s minions would surely be here soon.

But I couldn’t just leave this once-reverent temple, the memories and records and secrets of these lost monks, in the hands of these Drow. Yet I wasn’t an adherent to the Light but to the Dark. I had no direct powers to cleanse this place in light, so I knew what I had to do.

I used a talisman that could summon a Xoriat beholder to my charge. A  beast appeared, intelligent and far from tame, gazing at me with its one eye while the many eye tentacles gazed about.

“You summoned me. I will guard you for a time,” it said, sounding a bit bored.

“No. I want you to open a Xoriat portal, here,” I said.

The beholder’s one eye blinked as a smile grew from its macabre mouth. “Really? A change from the routine of “zap this guy” and “disintegrate this guy” and “fling this guy”? Sounds…fun.”

The beholder squinted at me. “Lawful One, you know that to do what you ask would release Xoriat energy into this structure briefly. It will destabilize all matter and anyone inside will see their world for what it cannot, should not be. Well, at least to them, anyway. The place could use a makeover…”

It stopped talking a moment as if waiting for me to comprehend what I was asking. “You really want me to destroy this entire structure, yes? To pull a part of it into Xoriat itself?”

“Yes. Count to 20…slowly…then proceed,” I said, activating my scroll.

The beholder laughed. “I like how you think, flesh creature,” it said, before moving away from me and turning its gaze upward. “There are Drow here. I think they’ll love how I’ll redecorate this place…” it said, wandering off happily, floating up a ramp.

The last thing I saw as my teleport began was the beholder’s wide grin as a red portal began to grow inside the alcove and chunks of stone and Drow began falling, unable to run away, all collapsing towards the chaotic energy.

Rest in peace, my lost brothers. Your monastery is now cleansed.

Ninja Assassin: DDO Stealth 2.0

RynRestsAtShrine

I’ve been dying to put Update 19’s new stealth features to a harsh test.

School was in session recently with your favorite ninja, Ryncletica, in “Return to Cabal for One,” Epic Hard, solo, no hirelings (until boss fight, with the Onyx Panther).

For those not in the know, here’s a quick summary of what’s changed for the player.

  • Players can jump and tumble in stealth, at a -20 penalty to those skills. I have been officially vindicated in adding more points in Jump. You still shouldn’t add more than 40, but if you do, you’ll jump better while in stealth.
  • This now-standard feature required that the Shadowdancer ability to give you jumping for 30 seconds was nerfed and revised to faster speed, sneak attacks and whatnot.
  • Several class trees offer abilities to greatly improve your sneaking speed, such as Agility in the Ninja Spy tree.
  • Strong Hide and Move Silently scores makes escaping a fight quite practical, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Enemies will behave less strangely and much more consistently.

  • EnemyHeardEnemies are much more vigilant and attentive. If they hear or see anything, they move realistically to investigate it (a red “?” appears over their head) .
  • Enemies have swift and increasing Spot bonuses in their field of vision in an arc in front of them. This is represented by flashing eye symbols over their heads that grow in number and change color to indicate they’re getting a better fix on you while in stealth or if invisible (which is still essentially Hide +20). This Spot change takes only a second or two–they’re very fast to find you if you loiter.EnemySpot2
  • If an enemy sees you, a red eye appears over them. They will chase you until you kill them or if you can break their line-of-sight of you and hide again, being still and quiet, forcing them to find you again.EnemySees
  • After a few moments of fruitless searching, enemies will give up, sometimes walking back to where you found them.
  • As before, some enemies will find you without eyes (Thaarak Hounds), through vibrations (spiders) or because you still breathe (some undead).
  • While you can still sneak up on a beholder, their 360 degree arc means that they will spot a sneaking player faster than before. Never try to use invisibility on a beholder or you’ll get laughed at moments before it blasts you into atoms.

I picked “Cabal” because it’s hardly a stealth-friendly quest. Entering on Epic Hard and dead-solo ensured that I would get a workout and any Epic character advantages were generally evenly matched. No healer hirelings is standard for Ryncletica, who can heal herself well enough and knows that most hirelings attract a stupid amount of attention.

Entering

On entering, my first tactic was to divide and conquer the first guards surrounding Gardak, the scheming false turncoat, pulling them towards the entrance for easy kills. Next, pounce like a cat on the enemy mages, the most challenging guys who love to throw disco-balls up to dance you to death or use Glitterdust to obscure their allies.

I told the scheming hobgoblin to disable all the traps as part of the deal, knowing that I’d see him again at the end fight. I could’ve let the traps stay as a betting man since Ryncletica’s Reflex save of 56 (52 and a boost)  was strong enough to pull the super-trapped lever in EH “Haywire Foundry” without getting punctured. If I was certain that the enemies were damaged by their own traps, I would’ve left them in place. Yet I knew life would be stimulating enough with the fights to avoid traps in the mix.

After cleaning up a small group by the second door, it was officially game time.

Targeting

After opening any door, I tumbled back and went stealth, to minimize whole mobs on the other side from attacking at once.

“Cabal” is nasty as most locations are narrow corridors filled with hobgoblins on patrol. My targets, the conspirators, awaited in rooms off of these corridors, often with more guards inside.

I could sneak by the hordes in several hallways but I always needed to leave an “out,” or escape. So, for the first hallway, I used Shadow Manipulation to dominate an enemy mage, which compelled most enemies to group up and kill him, while I slew all of them to make my escape path.

I opened up the room of the first target and tried to pull a guard or two. Whoops. The whole room reacted and tried to chase me down. I ran, turned a corner and went stealthy and invisible–the first test of the new AI. The hobgoblins followed…and ran right by me, swinging and yelling in vain as they searched for me. (My Hide/Move Silently scores are in the low 70s in Shadowdancer mode and a Drow Piwafwi equipped.)

Letting them zerg by, I skulked off back to my target, still in his room.

Killing the first conspirator took a bit, being a red-named guy with a couple of stray guards. One down, three to go.

Another Dominate made a mage my ally, who took out a few hallway guards before succumbing. The second door was more in the open, so it was time for my next trick for a few stray guards. I snuck up behind one and used Quivering Palm, the Monk’s weaker counterpart to Assassinate. Works similarly but pulls you from stealth. I re-hid and repeated the measure often, making quick and quiet eliminations going up the hallway.

Conspirator #2 slept through my pulling of their guards out of his hiding hole. This time, I escaped upward, atop a high platform. Enemies just knew I was near as I looked down at them. Their Spot searches were busily pinging, but they couldn’t quite fish me out. Eventually they gave up. Too bad. Another Dominate kept the searchers busy while I removed Conspirator #2.

Conspirator #3 was in the shrine room and his guards were treated to the same plan as his predecessor.

Funny thing about the last two, in rooms on an upper level. Their guards, most below, just stood there as I sneaked up the ladder. I guess I was pretty quiet in opening the door, much less sneaking inside. Here, I Dominated one mage and used him to keep most of Conspirator #4’s minions running about as I ended their boss.  Conspirator #5 was easy after I Dominated a guard, which kept his attention while he and I had our tussle on the center platform of the room, free from being interrupted by any of his guards.

The End Fight

One thing I didn’t calculate well in this run was elapsed time. My ship buffs had disappeared by the time I made my way to the boss given the methodical use of stealth as a killing tactic. Rather than fighting the zerging masses within the last two hallways to the boss’s door, a bit of Abundant Stepping and stealth put me in the boss room, leaving the last dozen minions unaware and out of the game.

Buffless and alone, I knew there was no way in hell that I could take on the boss while he was surrounded by three mages, two Winter Wolves and two fighters. I sneaked about behind the oversized pillar in the room’s center and made the second boss appear from the rear exit, near his now-unavailable chest.

I had a couple of useful options: First, thin out the herd. Over a few minutes, I hit Dominate spells on the two mages to rid myself of them. The attacks provided me with needed intel as I targeted them. Each boss had over 21,000 HP, while their minions had about 2100. (It pays to complete your Monster Manual accomplishments to see enemy stats, folks.)

The second option was to add a bigger, durable distraction and then pummel enemies while their backs are turned for sneak attack damage as well as damage impunity. As I said, generally hirelings are useless. But not all. I summoned my reliable Onyx Panther. But apparently, the big cat made some noise on materializing and the bosses and their entourage suddenly arrived to investigate. I found myself looking at the kill party dead-on.

I bailed, tossing a Flash Bang (stuns and blinds a mob) and going stealthy in hopes they wouldn’t chase me. It worked. They slew the mighty panther quickly, giving me an ominous insight about their damage; the Level 20 Panther is not easily killed. Fortuitously, the party stayed in that back room to guard the hireling’s soulstone. That worked out well to move the mob, although not as I planned.

That gave me time to recharge my Shadowdancer charges with two  to three minions near the boss door. Ha. I had a shot again.

I used a throwing star, pulled the lesser boss Gardak away  to near the room entrance to fight him (mostly) alone (a Wolf wanted to play, too). It took more than a few Heal scrolls, even with my miss-chance effects working, to put that guy down.

Finally, the big boss, who had cleric skills and Blade Barriers galore. Whatever. I’m a damned ninja that can practically evade a machine gun burst in my sleep. I learned my lesson from his comrade, however, and kicked on some Displacement for added help in the second fight. A few more Heal scrolls later, the hobgoblin’s lesson was over.

Stealth can’t directly help you in a boss fight except, perhaps, to escape one, but it makes getting to it quite easier. Just watch your ship buffs if you’re dependent on their benefits–or just carry some scrolls if you’re able to use them.

The Kensei: Where Was THIS Hiding?

Riddick: Weapon master. He'd kill you with a tea cup.

Riddick: Weapon master. He’d kill you with a tea cup.

As I have been trying to update the Book of Syncletica guide, I stumbled on something that I hadn’t noticed before with the new enhancement trees.

I’ve heard of the Kensei fighters, sure. I was never sure what they were, except that they were more often dual-wielding, high DPS fighters.

I was doing some research to see where any class could increase their Dodge cap past 25% a day ago. I knew from experience that Ninja Spies could do this by 3% but then I learned that another class tree had this option.

I was sad to learn that their ability is identical to the Ninja Spy’s and thus, cannot stack. But as I read through this updated Kensei class tree, I could feel my eyes begin to bug out of my head.

The Kensei was familiar to me because I knew it under a different name in my Neverwinter Nights gaming days: “Weapon Master.” Effectively, the Kensei can choose a favored weapon and specialize in its use to much greater effectiveness than others. I didn’t pay attention to it back then because unarmed fighting wasn’t available to that class in the game.

What really caught my eye was that the Kensei class tree had integrated benefits for Monks who add points to this tree.

Without hesitation, I decided to break one of the Book of Syncletica’s rules, just this once. For those not in the know, the guide’s goal is to teach a player that’s new or inexperienced in the Monk to build and master a pure Monk, non-multiclassed, right to level 20 and beyond. I’ve not enough experience (or patience) to learn every multiclass option, and it’s advanced stuff, so I don’t cover it in any great detail in the guide (except note which classes may be more suitable or not in multiclassing).

But for the revised Kensei class tree, I decided to add it to the guide.

I’m a complete greenhorn on this build, so the chapter on it is quite incomplete until I can write about it with more authority. The history of the pre-Update 19 version showed a little Monk synergy as well. But with the versatility of the new class enhancement trees, a Kensei can make a more effective Ninja Spy into an non-Rogue assassin, give them greater effectiveness in fighting, and (while you needn’t take many Fighter levels to gain the benefits) greater durability.

I’m sure you can pair the Kensei with any Monk class trees, but I think that the Ninja Spy and perhaps the Henshin Mystics would gain the most. The Shintao Monk design is meant to work more as an unarmed fighter. While the Kensei abilities can augment them a little, the Shintao class tree is more aligned to accommodate tanking and endurance over power of attack.

I rolled up a new character, Theacletica, and plan to see how she takes to using shortswords, and eventually, kukris and throwing daggers, all while Centered. Perhaps a 14/6 Monk-Fighter, I don’t know. Given that I already have a Ninja, I’m leaning to the Kensei’s Tier 5 abilities, which I need to be Centered with kukris and daggers.

You learn something new every day with Update 19.