Throwing It In – A Shuriken Ninja

Inspiration comes from multiple places. After learning of the destructive magic within the throwing star wielded by a fully trained Ninja Spy, I thought briefly how it would be cool to see more use of shuriken before my attention wandered off to Quintessica and her Mystic abilities.

Somebody accepted that challenge. Forum user “Firewall” designed a build that specializes in throwing stars, and I’m shamelessly, proudly creating a version of my own.

The “Shiradi Shuricannon,” by Firewall

I love this design. For starters, it’s a pure Monk, which immediately drew cheers from me.

Firewall wasn’t trying to use the typical min-maxing that comes from multiclassing, but to utilize every racial and class ability, skill and feat to generate the strongest damage you can from the shuriken.

Firewall chose the race that gains natural proficiency and expertise feats with shuriken: the Drow.

His ability stats were atypical for any Monk I’ve played or seen, but for a good reason.

STR 8/DEX 20/CON 14/INT 10/WIS 14 with a 36 point build. Very low STR is weird, yes.

But STR doesn’t define damage when you have a Ninja Spy where DEX to damage ability now applies for piercing and slashing weapons. A high DEX, with Shuriken Expertise, also defines the percentage chance of throwing an additional star per attack.

Over the character’s training, you add in feats that improve the number of stars thrown or extent of damage, such as Point Blank Shot, Quickdraw, Precise Shot, Precision, Rapid Shot, Improved Critical: Thrown, Improved Precise Shot and Ten Thousand Stars.

To help with miss chance, he adds in Dodge and improves that further by selecting the racial ability Improved Dodge for up to a 3% additional bonus. And then he takes the racial ability “Xen’drik Weapon Training:” which adds +1 to hit and damage with shortswords, rapiers and shuriken. Being a ninja, she also gets the Shadow Veil ability for invisibility and incorporeality. She just needs a little Blur happiness from somewhere.

Firewall uses much of the Ninja Spy tree to add poison damage, stealth, dodge and agility, but also dabbles a bit in the Henshin Mystic tree to gain more DEX and passive ki regeneration. That’s an important thing since ranged/thrown damage cannot generate ki, while some throwing abilities will require ki to activate. He threw some points in abilities there that I couldn’t see the point about initially for combat, such as Negotiator.

Reading on, I realized that he wanted the extra Diplomacy for use with the Epic Destiny, Shiradi Champion, and its Epic Moment, Audience with the Queen (a special buff with at least a DC 20). He also put points in the Shintao tree to gain two core enhancements (10% healing amplification, some Tainted protections), and adds points to Ki Shout (use Concentration skill for Intimidate), Conditioning (more Concentration and HP), and points in Exemplar. That’s a weird one since the few Intimidate points given are worthless, but there is the 2 points to Heal for positive healing amplification.

For skills, a point into Tumble, some more Diplomacy, and encourages points in Hide, Move Silently, Jump, and Spot as one has the points to use.

The real challenge in this build isn’t the overall damage, but what you are able to throw at your enemies. Of all the weapons in the game, the shuriken has very few named versions. All of these have the “Returning” feature so you can use it all the time. Throwing stars seem to be in-vogue, so its harder to find loot-generated stars with Returning as its feature. You’ll pay more if they have additional effects or properties such as being Adamantine or Silver.

I’ve been hoarding a few of these long before the enhancement pass. Sadly, my crafting efforts had left some of the better ones bound to the character that holds them. This leaves me with gathering the handful of named stars I shuffle about my characters as they level and crafting a few others for tactical use as required.

  • Shadow Star: A simple star that’s easily farmed from the Shan-To-Kar quest chain. Despite having no elemental damage, its Keen property leaves quite a sting.
  • Snowstar: An improved version from the Sorrowdusk series from a recent update makes this Icy Burst star quite useable.
  • The Morning Star: A new item from “Friends in Low Places” in Wheloon and the only star I’ve seen with an augment slot. Designed to rip undead or shadow enemies apart.

In addition, I need an acid solution (trolls of any kind), a Pure Good solution (I have a couple of Silver returners that I can craft) and an Adamantine solution (golems). But there’s still the likelihood that good ol’ fisticuffs will be required. This build doesn’t specialize in unarmed fighting as well, but I can see taking one Two Weapon Fighting feat to ensure that a couple of shortswords with common DR solutions will take care of what I can’t pew-pew into the afterlife.

Items with Deadly and Accuracy can help, as well as a Doubleshot bonuses I can find on things.

Now, going the full Ninja Spy route means that the build’s throwing stars gain Vorpal at level 20. When you’re throwing as many stars as this character can do, the damage must be completely incredible.

Firewall notes that Shiradi Champion is used as an Epic Destiny for obvious reasons to support and augment thrown damage and a few Epic Feats that will finalize the damage as an Epic character.

A New Member of the Dojo

Getting home yesterday, I rolled up a new character. In celebration of the new character’s difference as well as personal tradition, she has a backstory that is quite different than others in the dojo.

“Szy Dun’Robar was groomed from birth to be a powerful leader. But, as is the way the Drow of the Forgotten Realms, competition to be the Matron Mother is fierce and deadly. Approaching her Age of Maturity, Szy was ambushed by rival sisters and huddled into the darkness of the Underdark, stripped of all gear and left to die. Thankfully, one family friend had learned of the plan and infiltrated the ambush team. The man, a Drow servant named Zhang, left a small cache of essentials and a map in a crevice, with a note: ‘Leave the world of Toril. Find yourself in the outsider world of Xen’drik. Return when ready.’ it said.

Szy made her way to the outskirts of the village of Eveningstar and to a mysterious portal, bristling with Drow energies but smelling of something less..ambitious. In her weakened state, Szy lost consciousness but was discovered and cared for by a small residence of Monks. Recovering, she learned was weaker physically–far weaker in fighting unarmed than others in this monastery. The abbess told her, “Let your inner gifts grow. Use our training to magnify what you already know. What can you do?” she asked.

Szy picked up a wooden training throwing star, like the type she’d played with all her life–and threw it squarely at a wooden training dummy, piercing the dummy with the star, wedged firmly as if the star were made of steel.

The abbess learned of Szy’s life story and warned the young Drow that justice isn’t revenge. In honor of her new teacher, Szy chose the name Szyncletica and began discipleship under Senior Teacher Ryncletica in the art of the ninja. Perhaps, one day, she’d return to the lands that people here called the “Forgotten Realms,” and to the House of Dun’Robar–not to rule or slay, but to humble them and their Matron. To let them know that Szy’s shadow would be ever haunting them and stopping their dark plans against all who simply want to exist.”

Meet Szy, newest Toril refugee.

Meet Szy, newest Toril refugee.

Szyncletica (or “Zin” for short in pronunciation) is a young Drow, so some sacrifices were made in her ability points. Thankfully I have a small supply of tomes to give her to compensate a bit.

I skipped the preamble of Korthos and zipped her immediately to level 7 to see what she could initially do. It took quite a bit of hopping from bank character to player character to find suitable gear for her, and she still lacks a bit.

But, armed with what she had, I stepped her into the Searing Heights to screw with things there.

Holy crap. If anything lasted more than three throws, it was because it was a rare encounter. Using only the Shadow Star (which has no elemental damage at all), the hits were fast and accurate. Most things died before they could come remotely close, and her high Spot allowed a ridiculous high target distance. Szy is an impressively nasty slayer, even at a paltry level 7. It almost seemed as if she had been an archer.

I can’t wait to add more ninja training points to gain poison damage. Concentration and ki regeneration are priorities since she can’t use Ten Thousand Stars with less than 20 ki without a non-throwing way to generate it.

Unfortunately, ki attacks can’t work with thrown weapons, so poison and other weapon damage will have to do. That does mean that I can focus all my feats and abilities to maximize the tiny stars in her hand.

Like Hawkeye in Marvel Comics, Szyn will work better from a distance. She’ll need to go very, very ninja in narrow dungeons and sewers to avoid attracting too much attention that she cannot handle. She’s got “scout” written all over her, but infiltration requires her to be able to fight back with more durability.

As for self-healing, it’s a double challenge. Thrown weapons can’t use Vampirism.  She hasn’t any spell-like abilities related to healing. I’ll have to see what can be done, but she’s likely going to avoid hordes unless distance gives her an advantage. As in her imagined backstory, Szyn may always be vulnerable to mobs.

"Is this how all of you clerics dress on Xen'drik? WTF were you THINKING, Flower?"

“Is this how all of you clerics dress on Xen’drik? WTF were you THINKING, Flower?”

I’ll be trouncing through the “Sentinels of Stormreach” adventures to gain access to House Deneith’s weapon supplier for partially-returning shurikens if they suit the need.

Of course, getting one of the Wheloon stars is strong in my mind.

Stay tuned. At least Teacher Firewall helped me stop my hemorrhagic gushing about Mystics, right?

(Updated to correct the misspelling of my own character’s name. That’s sad. It’s pronounced “Zen-CLET-ti-ca” as in, ‘What is the sound of one arm throwing?’)

Monastic Mabar Meditations

No giant skeletons this year. That would have caused (even more) lag.

No giant skeletons this year. That would have caused (even more) lag.

With the Mabar Festival here once more for an extended stay through November 11, let’s recap what well-enlightened Monks should discern for work in their vocation.

  • Wraps of Endless Light: A very popular set of handwraps that are very, very good at undead destruction. These, as are all Mabar gear, are bound to character. But they aren’t exclusive. You can easily make two or three versions of these for improved damage as you progress in levels. If you have time to farm for only one pair, get the Level 12s, which seem to work quite well even with an Epic character.
  • Cloak of Night: While this item might be overshadowed by improved gear found in Gianthold and the High Road, this item provides one of the harder miss-chance effects to get, anywhere (short of training as a Ninja Spy) in Heroic mode for a Monk: Ghostly. While 10% incorporeal doesn’t sound like much, remember that this works in combination with Dodge and Concealment to offer a chance to avoid damage altogether. The Deathblock effect is also welcome with level 16 or higher items, as is the Dodge bonus.
  • Gloomy Potions of Death Ward: For just 25 Motes of Night (about the average return of a Cursed Fingerbone), you can stock up on these for all your characters. They last 10 minutes and are quite unbound. I would tend to use the recharging Visor of the Flesh Renders and its 8 minute buff (often my characters carry at least 1 pair), but these potions help in emergencies and special occasions.
  • Ruby of the Vampire Slayer: I think this is the must-have for all unarmed Monks this year. For two Signets (a special token given to you with your Spectral Dragonscale on killing the Mabar dragon), you can receive this gem, which adds 1d4 Light damage and gives your weapon the Alchemical Silver property. It’s a Minimum Level 1 gem that’s absolutely perfect for use in the Devotion handwraps to convert them (or anything with Good alignment) into powerful Harry/Vampire Beaters from the moment you socket it. They’re unbound as well, so use one character to get them for your low-level characters.
  • Ruby of Ghostbane: I like the simple combined undead bane/ghost touch effect you find on dropped items, however weak the overall item’s damage might be. This ruby can change that, especially if you can find a good disruptor weapon with a red augment slot.
  • Festival Solar weapon enchanting: Like the Icy Burst formulas in the Risia Ice Games, you can add the rare Light damage property to an non-crafted, non-named item. Unlike the Risia Festival, getting this damage property takes only one kill of the dragon to get the Signet you need–no grinding for the right formulas. Light damaging weapon is extremely rare to the point where it almost doesn’t exist (again–anyone seen any Coruscating weapons lately?). Add it to your Harry Beaters or apply it to Force weapons for better Whisperdoom Beaters (her only full weakness is Light).
  • +5 Ability Tome (1 per character): Do I have to spell the significance of this item out for you? it takes 3 Signets to get one, which means (as Micki’s reported) that you need a really successful series of dragon fights to get what you require.

While you prepare your dojo for war against the respawning dead, please remember to enjoy a quest or raid or two during this time. There’s plenty of things to find and do outside of Mabar, The Plane of Lag. New players would appreciate it.

UPDATE: I cursed Mabar (as if it didn’t do that enough to us). Due to clear performance issues, Mabar will disappear several days earlier, after this Friday AM on November 1.

Totally Trippin’ Mystical Girl

Even on Normal, "Prey on the Hunter" is nasty-full of giants. But Quintessica saved the dragon, and had a nice chat.

Even on Normal, “Prey on the Hunter” is nasty-full of giants. But Quintessica saved the dragon, and had a nice chat.

I’m still getting the feel of the epic Henshin Mystic as I progress my first one through early Epic levels. Over the weekends, I moved through the Eveningstar quest chain and then into the Drow city quest chain, sticking to Legendary Dreadnought training and increasing Quintessica’s fighting options there.

(I know. I promised not to gush more about the Mystic. I kept my word with the last post. I didn’t say I’d stop writing about it altogether. Besides, it’s a new class tree and very little is out there in the wilds of the interwebs as to playing it as a pure Monk. I might be one of a very few number of sources on how the class plays.)

Ultimately, as with Lynncletica the tanker, Quintessica will have at least two Destiny modes of fighting. In Dreadnought mode, she favors the takedown power of her quarterstaff, using ki attacks to weaken but relying on various special melee attacks for greater hand-to-hand damage.

And then there’s Grandmaster of Flowers mode–something I’ve really, really have wanting to integrate. The answer to why should be clear. Quintessica’s ki bar at the moment is around 400 ki. With all her passive regeneration, her bar at rest continues to rise to about 380 ki. In short, it’s practically full most of the time.

So, I thought I’d see how I could dump that excess as would a spellcaster with mana to burn and/or shrines galore and with not a care in the world of running out. I wanted to utilize every ranged and tactical ki attack that a Mystic could do while also staff wielding. It’s time to go all Jedi on the masses.

Mystical Grandmaster

Most of you are familiar with Grandmaster of Flowers, the epic destiny that gives epic Monks some very good ranged and area-of-effect fighting options with ki attacks. Most of the time, even as an epic unarmed Monk, we’ll get low on ki reserves or find that we’re spamming attacks faster than the cooldowns in this destiny.

But the Mystic brings in additional ki attacks of its own, combined with doublestriking, critical damage and high ki regeneration. So, in Grandmaster mode, here’s all of the offensive ki strikes a Mystic can do. Since cooldowns are 3, 6 , 9, 12 and 15 seconds for the most common attacks, there’s plenty of time to spam each one of these almost constantly in battle.

  • Ki Bolt (Mystic) – Fire and Force damage from a very long-range attack, 3 seconds.
  • Incinerating Wave (Mystic) – Fire and Force damage, long-range directional attack, 9 seconds.
  • Fists of Iron (Mystic) – 3(W) ki attack with +1 critical range and threat multiplier, 3 seconds.
  • Void Strike (Mystic) – 10d6 Force damage, on Vorpal, erases enemy from existence, 3 seconds.
  • Lily Petal (GMoF) – 300-400 magic damage to single enemy, can be evaded, 6 seconds.
  • Orchid Blossom (GMoF) –  300-400 magic damage to multiple enemies, can be evaded, 12 seconds.
  • Drifting Lotus (GMoF) – 300-400 magic damage in area-of-effect, 3 second knockdown probable, 15 seconds.

And then there’s the staff-based tactical attacks…

  • Cleave: 1(W) strike in a forward arc, 5 seconds.
  • Whirlwind Attack: 4(W) strike in 360-degree spin, 5 seconds.

I’ve learned that my Two Handed Fighting feat really isn’t all that effective, While Fighters have enough feat slots to take the full line to be more effective, a Monk (this one, anyway) can’t do it. I’ve swapped out that feat in favor of

  • Great Cleave: 2(W) strike in a half arc, 5 seconds.

That’s right. I’ll have three separate cleave effects–and these don’t count the Legendary Dreadnought strikes when in that mode. This will disable my human enhancement for glancing blow effects but, like THF, Great Weapon Aptitude wasn’t all that effective in relation to all the ki damage I add to strikes, anyway.

Those two freed AP can now give me Greater Heroism. Imagine three cleave effects going off after I knock down a mob with a Drifting Lotus. The mob will not be getting up.

I wanted to test how most of these effects would work against some tough foes and decided to try out the Cannith Manufactury recently. Filled with Warforged, heavily fortified living constructs who could not be neg-leveled (my preferred way to attack, using a Dreamspitter), I needed to resort to stronger staff attacks.

On entering and getting assaulted immediately, I found a new and disturbing change with the artificers there. They like to throw the Lightning Motes spell a lot now. This is a ranged electrical daze spell that takes 3-9 seconds to shake off. Update 19 changed the effective DCs here, and you’re likely to get stunned immediately.

I can’t imagine what many players are doing against these guys now–but being a Monk, I had the Grasp the Earth Dragon finisher to make me immune from stun for a short while as I targeted the artificers.

Healing Speed

One thing I find more challenging is self-healing. With an unarmed Monk, stunning is common, so you can take your relative time to build up Healing Ki finishers for greater effect. But with a Mystic, it’s damage, damage, damage.

You can still work in the healing finisher but you’re likely also spamming special strikes. This is far more likely the case when using Legendary Dreadnought’s many attacks as opposed to the fewer options in Grandmaster mode. None of the Dreadnought attacks break up finishers, being tactical strikes…you’ll just find it harder to fit in the ki attacks with the LD attacks.

Quintessica sits around the 515-540 HP range, so she’s a bit more durable but still takes a beating, despite rarely standing still. Healing Ki hits around 80-100 with the Purple Dragon Gauntlets equipped and a weaker Devotion item that I should upgrade sometime.

For crunch times I should add in an Ardor potion for an alchemical bonus. I’ve built a steel +2 Aligned Quarterstaff of Vampirism with a silver gem in its red augment slot as a better Harry Beater and emergency survival stick to help.

Defenses

QuinAndGholaFanQuin can blur herself, but finds her fight times last much longer than the Dance of Clouds’s one-minute buff since she often takes on mobs wholesale. That’s riskier since mobs bring a kitchen sink of trouble.

I’ve been reworking tactics, using the very-long range Ki Bolt to pull single enemies for an easier mob dilution. Despite her ability to take on mobs, it’s not Quin’s better idea unless there’s not a choice–she’s a might squishier defensively than Lynncletica the tanker and Ryncletica the Ninja if in the wrong place.

It helps that she doesn’t stand still long while throwing ki attacks and weapon spins. In the Cannith quests, I’ve learned to do this with enemy Artificers as they are clearly the most dangerous now with their stuns and Blade Barriers for those in party without Evasion.

In short, Quin really needs a greater blurring option, so she’s got a Green Steel helm in mind for later. Same problem is true for Dodge and Incorporeality. She’ll never see numbers like Ryncletica the Ninja, but something has to be better than nothing. An Epic Ring of Shadows remains on the docket. For now, she’s using some Treads of Falling Shadow for a 10% incorporeal. A bit of loot rearranging leaves Quin at 24% Dodge in LD mode, so that’s practically maxed in any other fight mode.

Damage

This is the question that many prospective players want to know. How much do all of these effects hit? How often? How is the quarterstaff damage? How useful is Incinerating Wave, especially in Epic? Answer: It’s surprisingly good. With spell power in the 140s or better, a Wave hits a typical enemy with 120-250 damage combined–more if they are vulnerable. This stuff stacks up as you smack a mob up every 9 seconds–and remember that often spell criticals make things worse.

Jump in with the best damaging quarterstaff I have, the Stout Oak Walking Stick, and hits of 60-80 with 200-500 criticals start popping up, even a 600 or 700 one from time to time. The unlocked Rahl’s Might still works when I need a slashing option.

I’m building a Green Steel quarterstaff for a stronger, durable Harry Beater. (A rust monster literally chomped my Metalline of Pure Good staff very quickly in a recent “Rainbow in the Dark” run. Oh, Rusty!..how could you?!)

GMoF ki attacks are potent magic; those who cannot evade get another 300-400 damage. With the right timing, you throw a Wave (it moves slowly), outrun it to drop a Drifting Lotus to knock them down, make some cleaves just as the Wave hits for more damage, jumping back with an Orchid Blossom to finish off stragglers. Some never rise from that knockdown.

Ki Bolt is very handy. How so? I took Quin into “The Jungle of Khyber” on Epic Normal, accompanied by my faithful panther and Klin, the Cleric With a Demon Summons That I Can’t Spell Right Now. We slay well enough, getting into a small pickle with an overwhelming mob that kills the hirelings and requires me to go into pick-off mode to rescue them. After, we venture into the beholder area.

We pick off two of the Xoriat beachballs conventionally. Then I spot two floating far away in the mushroom grotto (where the three runes reside). I send bolts at one beholder from extreme long range, so far that the beholder can’t fire back anything nor can discern who’s striking him to charge forward and attack. I have lots of ki and lots of time with 150 damage per strike. Scratch one, then two beholders.

Twisting in some LD attacks as well as the cleave effects while in Grandmaster mode should add additional hell. When red names appear, the Stout Oak Stick is the go-to weapon with its powerful critical hits and Aligned effect that assures that anything that hasn’t combination DR bypass (such as a pit fiend) is going to get hurt. Add in the Action Boosts for damage or haste and Quin officially holds title as my dojo’s greatest DPS Monk.

The Trip

Testing Quin’s solo mettle in the Devil Battlefield, I found three bosses, all golems, in my travels. I pull out the Walking Stick and go flailing. And I tripped the golems, over and over again. The Stick trips anything on a vorpal with no save possible. It’s quite humorous as well as a powerful effect against bosses, not to mention the poor devils and demons that go prone from the hits.

It’s not quite reliable as Stunning Fist can be, but I’ll take it.

I’m almost ready for my own private Burly Brawl.

Mabar Hijinks

Logged in yesterday to see that Mabar had returned. The code generally looks good with a few bouts of lag while 0-2 in killing the dragon (both altar protect failures).

What Quintessica loves is that the graveyard’s type of L20-25 occupants are limited to vampires, lichs and lots and lots of fleshy Shadar-Kai. Now I know many players dread these guys because of their ferocious attacks with their spinning chains.

I prefer to aggro about 10 of them and apply all of the above attacks. Drifting Lotus + Cleave + Great Cleave + Whirlwind Attack = 8-9 dead Shadar-Kai. The lichs are very dangerous; use any knockdown AoE you have and have a Shield clicky at the ready for its massive missile attacks. Limited to using attacks that work publicly, which excludes Lily Petal and Incinerating Wave. I get by.

The amount of Cursed Fingerbones I collect per hour is just insane. Now I did mention these Shadar-Kai guys aren’t undead, right? That means that they take neg-levels and critical hits so very nicely.

I’m stocking up on Death Ward potions for the entire dojo, but I know that many, many players will be playing hard and heavy through the 11th.

For Turbine will give you a +5 ability tome of your choosing, 1 per character, with enough collectables you get from three Mabar dragon kills.

Well played, Turbine. Well played.

Mystic needs a strong set of muscles.

Not-So-Off-Topic: Rusty and Co.

"Eat post?"

“Eat post?”

A few weeks ago, a little bored while waiting for some work at work, I started to browse through one of my web pleasures: TV Tropes.

As I was pursuing something D&D related that I’ve long forgotten, a stray link kidnapped me as always, pointing me towards a webcomic called Rusty and Co.

If you play DDO or D&D, this is a must-read with only one downside.

Rusty and Co. is (mostly) the story of three adventurers. What makes them different is that they are themselves monsters that jumped sides to work as Good or Neutral mercenaries.

There’s Rusty, an adorable little rust monster with a simple vocabulary to resolve many plot issues. (“Eat sword?”)

There’s Mimic. He’s a Mimic. He shapeshifts, finds work for the trio and is the most (only) competent spokesman. Good Diplomacy skills, for a box.

Lastly, there’s Cube. He’s a gelatinous cube, the team’s muscle, the very silent type and a complete badass.

None of them have hands. That might make an adventure hard to start when you can’t open the door to it. But that doesn’t slow them down.

Over the course of their adventures, they find human and humanoid allies. All of them have their appeal.

There’s the Princess. She is a powerhouse unarmed fighter that is anything but a damsel in distress and is barely Lawful Neutral. Sound familiar?

We have Madeline, the Paladin. Cute, severely brave, a bit of a ditz (low WIS), and relentless. Has the most awesome fighting style and smites evil with mere gardening tools (you’ll have to read to figure out why).

There’s Roxanne, an elven Bard with incredible cunning. Can weaponize sticks of wood but not in the way you think.

We also have Prestige, a young wizard and a bit of a detective. She gets involved in the Mob–run by a bunch of illitids.

And there’s Stabs, a halfling Rogue that totally lives up to their reputation.

Through the trio’s adventures, you are assaulted with incredible bits of D&D and fantasy lore, puns from the hells, other monsters and tons and tons of laughter, not to mention wonderfully drawn panels by the web artist, Mike R.

To give you a sample, I present this panel. Here, our paladin and cube are fighting an elder god that stopped by Reality for a cup of coffee, maybe, while threatening to destroy all life as we know it…

Madeline the Paladin + a Ninja Gelatinous Cube = Sheer Badassery.

Madeline the Paladin + a Ninja Gelatinous Cube = Sheer Badassery.

The downside to the laughter and drama and D&D kitsch? It’s a weekly webcomic.

So start from the beginning from the Archives, read it slowly and digest it well.

By the time you’ve caught up, you’ll be dying from anticipation. And don’t forget reading the comments below each panel–they’re just as funny as the comic.

Death Seekers III: The Search for Soulstones

"I do not tolerate failure," Blofeld said. Too bad he's not leading the party. Shit would get DONE.

“I do not tolerate failure,” Blofeld said. Too bad he’s not leading the party. Shit would get DONE.

In my previous installment, I entertained the majestic problems of certain quests that are not only challenging for their level, but can also be train-wrecked by a blundering party member.

Let’s dive into the meaty level 12-18 level quests that are extraordinarily difficult to play with an at-level party and/or when your party is filled with..er..colorfully bad gameplay.

Now the game difficulty ramps up the damage significantly, as well as the consequences for a party’s lack of vision. The good news is that more players you encounter in a PUG have greater experience and are less likely to cause a party grave distress.

Usually.

Remember that the list is trying to note the quests where simple bludgeoning, stabbing, slicing and spellcasting just won’t do. There are many difficult quests that proper application of mana and sword will overcome. This list, while not even close to inclusive, hits the highlight reel in my experiences.

While I was going to discuss quests but not raids, I’m going to make one little exception and add the most popular raid in the game. You know why.

Let’s recap the rating system again:

  • Navigation: Does the quest require many switches and keys to use to progress? How hard are they to find? How linear is the adventure? Are there traps? Are there quest-required puzzles? How much resistance is encountered to find objectives? Is the quest just plain confusing due to its sheer size?
  • Enemies: How many? What’s the dominant race? Do they respawn? Do they attack with effects that are harder to resist or avoid? Are there one or more kill zones where they’d likely entrap you? Does their nature limit your fighting ability?
  • Bosses: How many mini-bosses? What damage resistance do they have? What special attacks do they do? How do you escape from it if you cannot kill it? How large is their entourage?

Invaders! (Level 12)

Navigation: 2, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 8

The Waterworks get an extraplanar makeover, thanks to a Xoriat invasion. Xoriat Flesh, Fire and Ice Renders, along with many Thaarak Hounds invade the area, sending kobolds running and screaming through the halls.

Your party likely ends up joining the kobolds in their panic if you weren’t prepared on entering this misty hellhole. The Renders are the last thing you’d worry about.

There are beholders. Note plural. As in approximately 10-12 anti-magic cone wielding neg-leveling beholders, ready to zap you and your party quickly into the afterlife.

This quest is extremely tough for PUGs in this free-to-play quest, whose members may not likely have some better gear found in the premium adventures that provides at least Deathblock to ward a glancing magic blow by a beholder that’s not quite trying to kill you yet.

The navigation is the easy part. It’s the same Waterworks format, although many hidden doors. rare encounters and passageways found in the original quest are not present here. The sole shrine you can use is near the end-boss’s room. Do visit there for a bit of a laugh.

Death Ward is surprisingly less important because beholders also love to strip your buffs before disintegrating you (which Deathblock cannot block). What’s really needed here is a strong, nurturing healer-type with a big pile of Restoration/Greater Restoration scrolls to keep parties from being energy drained down to toddlerhood.

Also needed is a strategy. There’s a right tool for any job, and that job is beholder slaying. Parties that scream and leap into a beach ball flotilla of these things are going to die so rapidly that party leaders may start petitioning Turbine to make Soulstone Collectable Bags.

Teacher Syncletica, in an earlier life, demonstrates how shit gets DONE.

Teacher Syncletica, in an earlier life, demonstrates how she got shit DONE.

Send in your Monks and Paladins, especially if they are Light Monks or Warforged. They are excellent candidates since they have great saving throws, spell resistances and are immune from level drain, leaving them more likely to have the prowess needed to quickly take down a beholder.

Monks and specific Paladins are designed to take down aberrations like these. Shintao Monks get Tomb of Jade far earlier than in their pre-Update 19 lives and should have a great stun attack to Jade one beholder while stunning and killing a second one.

The stealthy approach also works. I don’t mean trying to use Invisibility–beholders have a lot of eyes and see through that nonsense. But it takes them a bit longer to notice the hidden adventurer. Since Faster Sneaking is now standard equipment on Rogue Assassins and Ninja Spies, this would be a great time to hustle up there and use Assassinate or Quivering Palm to let the air quickly out of a Xoriat beach ball. Remember that the stealth AI is more vigilant. The beholder WILL see even a sneaking player–but if you time your speed right, the beholder will have less time to react.

Your party has to explore this truncated version of the Waterworks and find portals where (gasp!) Elder Beholders hold station. They simply have greater HP but are no less vulnerable to becoming monastic beach balls if you have Monks in your party. (Also remember that Bard and Monk buffs are special; they can NOT be removed by beholders.)

Humanoid minions are helping out the beholders. A few locations have chaos orbs floating about to make your adventure that much more stimulating.

As soon as your party stitches their flesh back to their faces, be sure to tally up your Outsider (Invasion) tokens. Get 25 of these bound-to-character gems and speak to an NPC nearby the quest entrance to exchange them for some decent gear. You can only get one item per life, but it’s a boon for the free-to-play character. Of particular note is the Ring of Balance. It comes with a Green Augment slot and a 100% Fortification gem that you can easily remove and place in other gear if the ring isn’t to your liking.

Frame Work (Level 12)

Navigation: 6, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 8

Ah, what fresh hell is this? Well, it’s not too fresh. Ever visited a cattle barn? It’s like this–only these cows aren’t going to let you tip ’em.

It all starts off well enough, with your party sauntering through the countryside surrounding the minotaur city, looking for ballista parts, taking down the periodic panther, wolf and spider.

And then one of your party members goes all Leeroy and storms into the minotaur city.

Frame Work requires a bit of subterfuge for most parties, by targeting the Minotaur Runts before they have a chance to ring the alarm bells.  It’s not that most parties don’t want the extra kills if you’re going for the slay-everything option. You just don’t want half of the whole city to wake up at once and cause a persistent Dungeon Alert from which there is no escape for your pitiful little band. Therefore, kill off a region of bull-men, lick your wounds, find and kill the next runt, and then ring the alarm yourself when the party is ready.

If you find that your party has a griefer that zooms about ringing bells like a Christmas caroler or unnecessarily alerting more and more minotaurs, don’t follow him/her. They will die, heinously. Leave their stone alone and do not resurrect them. Sic semper stultus.

There are two entrances. Entering either one is easy enough by using the stoning wand on one of the two guards (completing a required objective) and then pulling the second guard from afar to keep from alerting others inside.

A stealthy player can literally jump over the wall at the lake entrance to open the gate, or you might want to sasshay your group up to a gate and wait for several minotaurs to happily open the gate for you so they can kick your teeth in.

The key in the quest for a typical party is not to separate, pull and isolate kills, and kill the runts first.

When Cabal Seers show up, look out. They’re often the reason why your party Hulk Smasher turned into a soulstone rapidly since these red-names use lots of energy draining and death spells. As a reward for killing those guys, chests will materialize somewhere nearby. But please caution your party to clear out the area before wandering around. There are many dead-ends where minotaur bands love to surround and entrap careless players.

Another opportunity for the impatient in your party to die without dignity is to bum-rush the ramp to the Minotaur Chieftain, which is loaded with extremely deadly one-time blades. Going up the ramp also starts the end-fight mechanic, which isn’t a nice time to have it start if you’re still neck-deep in minotaurs.

There are three bosses, to make matters worse. A final Cabal Seer might be inside the fortress, too, and shamans are busily healing the enemies while you’re running for your lives from the gods-awful clusterfrak bull rush (often with yet one more alarm sounded to bring the rest of the city down on your heads).

Foundation of Discord (Level 13)

Navigation: 3, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 10

This quest is so batshit-crazy hard at any level and difficulty that I’ve already dedicated a whole article on it. Read it and weep.

In the Demon’s Den (Level 18)

Navigation: 7, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 9

This little orphaned free-to-play quest is available in the courtyard of the Inspired Quarter. Inside, you have respawning gnolls, fire and earth elementals, fiendish felines all about. In a central room is Aurora the maralith, who laments how hard it is to find good help these days as you slay the army she sends after you. You can probably feel for her, too, if you have a bad party.

On Normal difficulty, this one’s just a bash-fest, with the marilith attacking only after you slay three fiery d’jinn ritualists that are part of her ritual.

But on Hard and Elite, your party has to bring their A-game, and probably the A-game of three of their friends, to beat this one as a team. Here, the marilith attacks immediately. You know mariliths: Why use one sword when six will do? Here’s the kicker: She can’t be killed until all three ritualists are slain. She loves to generate dangerous and damaging fog while she tries to skewer you.

It’s nowhere close to easy. If you have a tanker, they and a healer have to take the angry marilith off on a stroll and away from the rest of the party. From there, you have three tunnels filled with all manner of nastiness that you must kill to get to the ritualists at the end of each tunnel. Your remaining party needs to separate and take on legions of enemies found in the tunnels. Do the math: If two are kiting the marilith and there are three tunnels, then two people are likely to go alone into one of those dark passageways.

And your party has to coordinate. On Normal, you can slay each ritualist one at a time and they don’t come back. But on Hard/Elite, what’s left of your team, all divided in three locations, have to kill the ritualists within 30 seconds of each other or they respawn.

Once that’s done, the marilith is vulnerable and the party has to yet again cut through respawning resistance to get to the marilith to gang up and slay her without getting tossed about or knocked down or cut into six tiny pieces.

Oh, and the levers you may need to progress through areas are often trapped. Some of them wind around and confuse you easily.

Wrath of the Flame (Level 19)

Navigation: 2, Enemies: 8, Bosses: 8

This quest (and “Running with the Devils”) makes even experienced players forget some basics about damage reduction.

The place is filled with Silver Flame humans: Paladins, Wizards, Fighters and Clerics. Because they are the Silver Flame (often Lawful Stupid), they are misled by their leader (who isn’t who she says she is). Despite being gullible and easily misled, the Silver Flame are really nasty fighters as they turn on you.

But then you’ll hear messages in chat: “My weapon’s not working.” “They’re immune to my attacks.” Cue the curb-stomping of the party by the Silver Flame–a group not known for its extraordinary fighting skills–if their tendency to constantly hire adventurers out to clear out their many many tombs and catacombs is any indication.

Many player weapons and attacks don’t work because the Silver Flame (and the Eladrin in “Running with the Devils”) are Good-aligned. Many of our player weapons are also Good-aligned, making them ineffective in damage.

Worse off, the Flame’s battlers aren’t stupid. They usually and immediately cast Death Ward, too, making it harder to swat them back with Life Draining or negative energy attacks. They’re often as well-buffed as your own party.

The best weapons against the Flame are those with the Aligned property. Such weapons will hit with the opposite damage reduction of an enemy. In the case of the Flame, they get Evil damage. You can also try Banishing weapons, since the Flame comes from the same plane as you and aren’t native to Shavarath.

Players can make things even harder on themselves by the time they encounter Lightbringer (just as you reach the imprisoned Yugoloths). A massive army of the Flame surround her. Don’t attack the army–attack Lightbringer! After a moment, you’ll see that she’s a succubus that had disguised herself as Lightbringer. Once the idiots in the Flame realize the deception, they become your allies immediately–and a very good thing as a mob of Shavarath enemies pounce on you. Keeping as many Silver Flame bodies alive helps this part of the battle.

The Shroud (Level 17)

Navigation: 8, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 10

The Shroud is DDO’s most popular raid. It’s also the raid most likely to fall apart because of the complexity of objectives and the coordination required from every party member. For that reason, I’m making this sole exception in not mentioning raids, which are naturally difficult. The Shroud is run so often that you’d think everybody can do it reliably, especially when many Epic players enter in.

If you believe that, I have some beachfront property on the shores of Argonnessen that I’m sure you’ll love.

The Thirteenth Eclipse (the Shroud’s official name) requires players to complete five flagging quests as well as use ingredients you gather from each completion to create a Signet Stone that is key to completing the flagging. Some players (the ones that don’t bother to read)  won’t follow instructions to complete the final flagging steps and often delay the raid’s start. Most party leaders aren’t patient and kick them out if they’re not flagged. The lesson? Read, read, read.

The Shroud has five parts. It’s amazing how much is going on and is still quite a lot of information to juggle for experienced players. The challenge is keeping the party focused on the task at hand at all times. It’s too much to go into detail, but let me summarize where parties often cause their own demise.

Part 1: Kill everything, destroy the portals quickly.

This part is typically the easiest, but it can get screwed up if a party leader doesn’t guide everyone to destroying portals in the general order that they spawn. The DDO Wiki article for the raid shows when and where the portals turn up. If parties break up, getting these portals down fast enough will be unlikely before too many portal keepers appear to ward the portals, causing the raid to fail.

Part 2: Kill off trash mobs in the maze, pull and separate 4 Shavarath lieutenants, kill them, destroy their respawning crystal over their spawn point before they return.

This part has “cluster” written all over it. You’ll see your Hulk Smashers go nuts in removing trash, and that’s good. The crazy begins if someone gets too close into the interior of the maze before all trash is destroyed that could affect the party’s bigger fight. The lieutenants have special area-of-effect buffs for each other that make them nigh-invulnerable. Having spare devils poking you makes things all the harder. If the lieutenants are out before the trash is gone, look out.

Pulling the lieutenants down the eastern side of the maze to the south side of the maze is a common tactic, but your Hulk Smashers can make things more difficult if they aren’t listening, forcing players to separate too widely within the maze and spreading healing and DPS resources too thinly.

The next part of this craziness is telling the brain-dead in your party to coordinate the kills of the lieutenants so that they all die at about the same time. If the deaths are staggered too widely, one monster might make it back to the respawn point and comes back to life to torment the party. The respawn crystal can only be destroyed while all lieutenants are ghosts and before any one of them reaches the respawn point. Destroying the crystal also requires the party leader to designate a crystal-destroyer–often a spellcaster–to loiter carefully around the maze’s center to be ready to quickly destroy the thing at the right time.

Part 3: Solve all puzzles, avoid the Whirling Blades, don’t step on the yellow wards, refresh the fountains before a prismatic wall appears and wipes the party.

This area is timed. It requires the brain-dead of the party to think as they may materialize, alone, inside a sealed room where an infamous Shroud puzzle awaits. The puzzle doesn’t have to be solved to add the purifying water to the fountain–but your party will lose 2 chests. An inexperienced player will not know where to find a Shroud puzzle solver or not care, stomping quietly and futilely on their puzzles while not alerting others that they can’t solve it themselves in time.

Again, the party leader is key here. They have to brief the party before entering on what not to do. Don’t destroy any crystals above the rooms, except the three that ward the wading pool where the water fountain resides for bottles of water.

If things are going too slow, the party leader could sacrifice the two chests, destroy the room crystals so the water can be added to all fountains. The party leader also has to keep the team on puzzle-solving status, and that everyone is running through the maze, avoiding the yellow glyphs that cast Horrid Wilting and Greater Dispel Magic to debuff you, and the invulnerable, unavoidable Whirling Blades that will kill the squishiest or careless of your group.

And heavens help you if you are running a raid with fewer than 12 players. It’s probable that one or more rooms will be unoccupied, their puzzles unsolved, its fountain dry. Happen to bring in someone with Knock or who can pick locks? Or will members in party even bother to report an empty room?

Part 4: Kill Arraetrikos.

Bad party leaders neglect warning the group only to enter this next area as a group and only once buffed. Once things start, this bash-o-thon gives parties very few opportunities to regroup. They’d also make sure that all weapons are properly readied to fight a pit fiend.

Like “The Reaver’s Bane” and “Tower of Despair,” player deaths are rewarded with a trip to a penalty box (in this case, a jump into Part 5) where you cannot be resurrected until Harry is killed.

Hulk Smashers that love to kill, kill, kill, might kill devils too quickly, sending many Whirling Blades that spawn from the deaths into your party to kill them, especially on Elite where the blades do maximum damage.

Harry appears in the room’s center and awaits the right weapon to hurt him effectively. This is where your party’s DPS makes all the difference. If melee fighters aren’t using weapons with Silver and Good properties, the fight will be slower.

Good parties on Normal and Hard difficulties might take Harry down in one or two rounds. On rounds two and later, more devils appear before Harry–and more Whirling Blades threaten to kill more party members. Then Gnoll Idolaters appear and cast healing beams at Harry. Well-prepared party leaders ask if there’s a Monk in party with an Everything is Nothing nuke ready to use at the room’s center to swat all the gnolls simultaneously so that all others in party can continue the beat-down on Harry. Otherwise the leader has casters ready to kill the gnolls.

Too many deaths and you’ll end up failing. Sometimes this part can fail even with an experienced party due to lag or misfortune.

Funny thing: My guild ran the Shroud, short-manned by two, on Elite, just last night. Many of us were Epic level; it was an ingredients run. Things went bad in part 4 but by that misfortune of many players being in the wrong place. One of our healers was killed almost immediately and our second had computer issues and disconnected twice. Harry was barely down to 75% by the end of round 3. By then, only the DC’d healer, myself (on Quintessica the Mystic in her first run in this 2nd life) and a Paladin were the last alive.

The guild party was resigned to fail but were in good spirits, rooting for me and the paladin to complete it. Quintessica  dived in, trying to recharge her EiN “Death Blossom” while fending off devils, as was the paladin. For the next round, my Death Blossom wasn’t ready, so I ran about to kill the gnolls while the Paladin stood his ground against Harry for a time alone. Another round and our DC’d healer was able to reconnect to recharge us once before he was killed. I blew away almost all the gnolls with the Death Blossom in the next round before battling Harry once more by round 4.

In a notable example of the Update 19 changes to how effective poison can slay you dead, Quintessica was prepping for round 5 when she suddenly found herself at room temperature.  The combat log said something to the effect of Harry’s pit fiend poison delivering a 1,000 point dose at me. Wow. So much for the old Monk immunity to poison thing (that takes care of natural stuff but not supernatural or magical now). But cheers to Quintessica, who was far more effective and durable as a Mystic. Going to look that pit fiend poison up, though.

The guild called the raid for another night. The paladin, still alive and alone in part 4, was so badass-durable that he actually had to let himself be killed to leave the instance.

Part 5: Kill Arretreikos (Again).

After your whole party dies on using the last altar (by design) and materializes in a new area, you’re revived to fight the four lieutenants from part 2 again. All buffs (including ship buffs) are lost on entry.

Separating them as before is easier with the large area but some zerging party members might kill all the lieutenants before the party can rebuff or recharge their spellpoints before Harry appears on the death of the last lieutenant. Typically, you keep one lieutenant alive while buffs and recharging goes on.

Harry is angrier here than ever, often and randomly changing his target, and moving about. Good party healing, appropriate buffs  and melee teams adjusting position to box Harry in place should make this an easy fight. I did say, “should.” Thankfully players can be revived here should they die–at the expense of the healer-types having to change focus from the lead fighters to the dead.

Taking Requests

That’s my take on some of the tougher quests to coordinate or run with an at-level group. There are plenty more but they don’t rank up to the pure evil seen in the ones I’ve listed. That’s a matter of opinion, so if you know of a quest that can really go the wrong way fast because of the quest’s sheer scope or ability to cause players to goof, then let me know about that quest so I can run it again (crap) and note the pitfalls we might find.

Death Seekers II: The Wraiths and CON

"I have been, and always shall be, KICKING YOUR ASSES."

“I have been, and always shall be, KICKING YOUR ASS.”

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the dunderheads that screw your quest up.

Here is the second of several installments discussing quests that are far tougher than you think at your level–at least for some people who decided they have little else to do but not pay attention and make matters worse.

Part 1 discussed a few low level quests where ill-equipped PUGs and small parties will suffer nastily without foresight before entering.

Part 2 hikes it up a notch with quests that drag you through the dirt, even if you’re well prepared, due to its overall complexity or difficulty.

We’ll play around the level 5-11 range in this installment. Later installments will look at 12-20 and a few Epic ones–but not too many. That’s why they call them Epic, silly.

Let’s recap the rating system:

  • Navigation: Does the quest require many switches and keys to use to progress? How hard are they to find? How linear is the adventure? Are there traps? Are there quest-required puzzles? How much resistance is encountered to find objectives? Is the quest just plain confusing due to its sheer size?
  • Enemies: How many? What’s the dominant race? Do they respawn? Do they attack with effects that are harder to resist or avoid? Are there one or more kill zones where they’d likely entrap you? Does their nature limit your fighting ability?
  • Bosses: How many mini-bosses? What damage resistance do they have? What special attacks do they do? How do you escape from it if you cannot kill it? How large is their entourage?

The Pit (Level 7)

Navigation: 11, Enemies: 5, Bosses: 6

This quest definitely needs to go up to eleven out of a possible 10.

I heard so much wailing, gnashing of teeth and lamentations from other guildies about “The Pit” early in my DDO history that it must’ve been 2 years before I ever attempted to try it myself. And by the time I did it, I entered in with an overpowered level 16ish Ninja Spy that could dodge bullets in her sleep by then.

I’ve said it time and time again: many players don’t read or listen. The young or immature gamer will often treat MMORPGs like DDO at first as if its a twitch game, hunting for something to immediately kill, failing to realize that there isn’t anything nearby to kill. At that point, their brain freezes in confusion and annoyance. I’d just let them wander off and die. It’s better that way since hunting down their soulstone might be more time consuming than completing the quest.

The Pit is one of a handful of puzzle-as-quest adventures. In the bowels of House Deneith are immense furnaces that have shut down due to troglodyte infestation. Your mission is to clear out the hordes and restart the subsystems. The challenge? Well, let me just post one of many player-designed maps of the place.

Witness the horror of...THE PIT, in 3D

Witness the horror of…THE PIT, in 3D

As you can envision, the Pit is a massive area.  It’s formed of two shafts with occasional interconnects and winding spiral platforms, like interposing helixes. Each area is keyed for the Dungeon Master (DM) to speak its name. Players who don’t read or listen will bail on you for this quest mechanic alone since they’ll go off one way while you go another. Voice chat is particularly useful here if your party bothers to turn their sound on to hear you.

Each player received a little guide to the Pit by the NPC that bestows the quest, but I suspect almost none read it, save the DDO Wiki folks that have taken time to generate a map to clarify the instructions.

It’s DDO Stairmaster time as you search for one or more sub-objectives to complete, which opens a path to each of the furnaces. There,  the armor-clad players with a Jump of -5 suddenly find themselves briefly useful in removing a few troglodytes and worthless while more agile characters make their way up to the furnace under-workings to re-entrap annoyed and enslaved fire elementals that power each furnace.

After a point in all the sojourning back and forth through the Pit, minor force and sonic traps light up. The non-listening dunderhead players who fail to listen are often lit up like a Christmas tree by these non-disarmable traps, not listening to the fact that you can walk carefully to lessen or avoid damage.

The fights in this quest aren’t particularly nasty, save the end-fight where trogs spawn in mobs as you activate the last switches. Good ranged attacks and a tank to gather attention work well there. The challenge is the absolute patience required by all in the party. The Pit is like a good baseball game. Younger generations can’t sit still that long. They expect to be immediately saturated with stimulus. “We’re in game now, entertain us.”

But hey, wait, I have a new quest complaint.

Prove Your Worth (Level 5)

Navigation: 9, Enemies: 5, Bosses: 3

This Three Barrel Cove adventure rates high on my annoyance meter. Fighting isn’t an issue.

The challenge, even for agile characters such as Monks, first comes from the agility trial. It’s a series of incomplete ladders in a shaft where all in party must ascend. To move from one ladder to another, you have to twist your character as you break one grip on that ladder in hopes of grabbing the next one behind you. Miss, and you fall downward and lose your place. (It’s the same frustration you find much later if you lose your step within the shafts of  “The Coalescence Chamber.”)

Party members without a feather-falling item will be a burden to advancing. Even experienced players will get steamed when your character just can’t time things right. You may need to tweak your turn rate in your game settings to help.

The next challenge is the puzzle of Rackum’s Conundrum. You will need the DDO Wiki puzzle hints here, and even then, the puzzle is far from intuitive.

The Faithful Departed (Level 8)

Navigation: 8, Enemies: 7, Bosses: 9

How many people you know have done this free-to-play adventure in House Phiarlan?

If you’re in a PUG, you’ll learn the definition of “frustration” and begin to understand why some people can rationalize murder as you watch your own party members wreck this quest.

The adventure begins in a beautifully rendered area of meandering cliffs where an old elven burial temple resides. Drow have decided to enter these ruins for something shiny and, in the process, are desecrating the remains of Elves there. The mission is simple: Stop the Drow. There’s a catch, of course. There are four special Elves buried there that come to unlife when they are threatened with attack. You must not allow them to be destroyed by the Drow forces. The catch to the catch? These Venerated mummies are vulnerable to your attacks as long as there are enemy Drow left standing in their rooms.

For that reason alone, a PUG filled with Hulk Smashers will quickly fail this quest. “Don’t use AoE spells,” you’ll shout to one guy. “Stop hacking the Venerated!” you scream to another.

At least 3 of the 4 Venerated must survive. Of course, there are sizeable mobs of Drow, scarrow and spiders throughout, switches to pull where said mobs like to have a cup of coffee while waiting some action, and a several nice traps for your armor-clad hipster player to stumble into and make sushi of himself by not listening to a knowledgeable party leader.

If you’re able to save the first three Venerated, then you can go in with guns blazing at the end fight where the last Venerated exists. But the reason why I note this quest is that you’ll likely have killed one mummy too many beforehand and have a very hard time saving this last one from the hands of your own party.

The Ruins of Threnal (Level 8-10)

Navigation: 6, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 5, Incredible NPC Stupidity: 11

That’s right. I’m adding the entire chain. Many players run this quest chain as hard as they can just once so as to obtain their matching set item, the Mantle of the Worldshaper, or a special end-chain reward.

Why only once? One reason: Coyle. Second reason: A terrible quest chain mechanic that sometimes bugs advancement for the unaware.

It’s not that the Threnal quests are particularly difficult, save one. Many players hate the dialog choices with the NPC quest givers. They aren’t clear, and choosing the wrong selection will negate a a couple hour’s work of completing a part of the adventure. In short, the player actually has to read what’s in the dialog.

The adventures in Part 1 and 2 are generally linear, but get hairy in part 3. Sadly, as DDO adventures go, the storyline barely makes sense, so the entertainment value is lost. (What do giants have to do with Threnal? Why are they about in the end fight? And what kind of lame non-epic end fight was that?) Threnal seems to be a developer’s attempt at a cave-based horror story that didn’t work out.

(I know, it's not the same as KHAAAAN!

“…And I shall keep on…hurting myself, leaving you all here in this library…bored alive…bored alive….” Party: “COYYYLLE!”

Let’s jump to the one adventure, the nadir of quests at this level, that annoys even the experienced adventurer: In “Hold for Reinforcements,” you must protect Coyle, a zerging, raging spellcaster that is only effective in getting himself killed, which, not so coincidentally, causes you to fail the quest. Your mission, for 15 mind-numbing minutes, is to keep Coyle alive.

The challenge lies in the precision and preparedness of your party. Specifically, you need to do all that you can to keep Coyle out of the picture, protected and out of sight. A party playing at-level may or may not have Invisibility, Blur, significant elemental protections and resists, Blade Barrier and summoned creatures that are helpful after you talk to Coyle, giving him a tap on the head to knock him out, lying prone in the library’s center.

You can finally let the Hulk Smashers in your party off their chain, hoping they’ll listen to your instructions to watch out for Coyle and protect him should he reawaken.

If your party is savvy, the enemies attack you and don’t get close enough to see Coyle, waking him from their attacks and causing you distress. If all your party can do is to knock Coyle out, this quest is a grave pain, especially when the ice mephits spawn directly in the center and will quickly wake Coyle to fight and force your party to reset.

In Part 3, you’ll encounter a couple of beholders. You’ll know what people don’t have Deathblock on at the sound of the ding(s). Screams of “What happened to my sword/axe/armor?!” will come from the dunderheads that start hacking the handful of rust monsters indiscriminately.

Should you feel inclined to play this awful chain again, just use your quest log to abandon only the West series of quests, which will reset South and West but keep you flagged for the Eastern quests where Coyle must be baby-sat. Friends don’t let friends run the Eastern expedition…again.

With the addition of the Artificer came an addition to the chain end-rewards, an in-joke from the devs. It’s a runearm named Recoyle. It’s item description says, “A part of his spirit lingers on, and is STILL causing you problems.” The runearm throws out Force damage and, naturally, increases your own Threat level by 25%. Enjoy.

Delera’s Tomb (Level 5-8)

Navigation: 8, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 6, Incredible Player Stupidity: 8

Yep, I’m adding an entire chain again. This quest series is very popular to obtain the Voice of the Master experience trinket. Like Ruins of Threnal, this chain can get borked up for the final fight, “Thrall of the Necromancer,” if you don’t know the proper order to speak to Delera and Hargo (speak to Hargo twice, then go speak to Delera). Unlike Threnal, the trips through the spacious catacombs of Delera’s undead hideaway can be quite fun.

But “fun” is relative, as these quests are filled with all manner of undead. In the first quest alone, traps are abundant, locked doors and many incorporeal wraiths are present. How many parties have you been in where somebody didn’t bother to have a Ghost Touch weapon or item for the stat-damaging wraiths, or a Good-aligned weapon for the non-ghostly Ghostly Skeletons?

It’s an experience-rich chain but is also a quintessential example of a dungeon that requires a talented and versatile party at low levels to complete without deaths. I can’t count how many times someone’s gotten roasted by the fire trap at the start of one of the quests, or skewered by a spike or dart trap. Please–let the Rogues lead.

The tombs can be a bit winding with mild to moderate puzzles, jumps and lots of stairclimbing. It’s practically DDO Stairmaster in there. Arcane mages are weak physically but are nasty to the armor-clad that fails to target them immediately.

Warn your Hulk Smashers not to go silly on breaking sarcophagi in some areas. Often this spawns far too much fighting for an at-level party to handle without some ramifications later.

Power-casting isn’t a very good idea in Delera’s catacombs. While most quests have more than one shrine, most are a long ways off.

Spawn of Whisperdoom (Level 11)

Navigation: 7, Enemies: 8, Bosses: 9

You remember this spiderly magical beast, don’t you? She was completely unkillable in a quest in the Groundhog Day…er..the Attack on Splinterskull series. Now, you’ll find her again and see that she has been downgraded to barely killable.

It’s an expansive cavern, with a small fortress and many ogres to fight to obtain a key. There, you’ll find one of two shrines and a trap-filled corridor to said key. With key in hand, you kill off Whisperdoom’s daughters to make the mom appear, while also slaying many orge mages.

The caves of Whisperdoom’s lair are circuitous with many cul-de-sacs. Spiders are very numerous, with web attacks quite effective in slowing or killing your party, and they continually respawn even after quest completion. Evennote the Everlost is right in that we do need to be able to craft an Improved Shard of GPS for places like these.

The challenge is Whisperdoom herself. She’s not a spider, but a magical beast. Her defenses are ridiculously formidable, and she casts all manner of deadly spells, particularly Horrid Wilting and Acid Fog. Her weakness is Light damage. Good luck in finding light-damaging weaponry at your level. You need something to kill her fast as she also regenerates.

There are a few locked items and hidden items throughout. A person that picks them all up for delivery to an NPC later might get a web-immunity cloak.

And the Dead Shall Rise (Level 11)

Navigation: 5, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 9

This a fun one but with a design dynamic that eats the unprepared for lunch. Set in a uniquely and awesomely rendered death-tower, the whole adventure is filled with hordes of undead of all kinds, especially wraiths, skeletons and neg-leveling wights. But it’s the many, many traps that kill at-level players with ease without a determined Rogue in party. There’s precisely one shrine in the place, and that is behind a hidden door. Don’t rely on True Seeing or Detect Secret Doors with Update 19–remember that certain doors now have saves that require a Rogue or Artificer to find it.

Being a spiral climb, it’s almost impossible to get lost. Roman numerals mark the floors in the central shaft. Traps exist in both the central shaft and in the passageways between altars. One combines an air blower with a blade trap.

It’s the boss himself that’s a cheating bastard. You haven’t much time to charge Validus the lich as you instantly materialize in his chamber. Try to keep him by his throne or you’ll have nothing to stand on, literally. He begins to break the floor up, causing you to fall down the height of the shaft and forcing a return run up the spire.

You may return to find Validus standing contentedly on the non-floor where melees cannot walk, leaving only spellcasters and ranged weapons a chance at killing him, a powerful undead sorcerer that lobs death spells and chain lightning any chance he gets. He’s got a permanent Fire Shield of Cold, too. You did bring something to deliver ranged damage, right? And deathblock? At the ding(s), the time will be dead o’clock, precisely. Melees have a tough time, but casters will have a very hard time damaging him as he will save 50% of the time against a Disintegrate spell.

After all is done, don’t recall out right away. Two or three chests await. A couple are on isolated ledge within the inner heights of the spire (some resistance might be encountered). The last is at the ground floor that opens up on Valdus’s (second) passing. It’s trapped–as you see by the dead party members that reached it earlier.

Back with more quests o’ doom in a later installment. I’m sure I’ve missed a few gems you’d like to hear, so mention them for a later write-up.

Death Seekers: Guides for the Unprepared (Part 1)

While terrifying, dragons are often the one thing that DDO players are more prepared to handle. You'll still pee your pants for a second when one suddenly appears.

While terrifying, dragons are often the one thing that DDO players are more prepared to handle. You’ll still pee your pants for a second when one suddenly appears.

Being a game, Dungeons & Dragons Online is designed to challenge a player character (and, by extension, the player) with immersive and chaotic dungeon designs, puzzles, hordes of enemies, mini-bosses and dungeon bosses.

When any of these items are multiplied, you get that quest. You know what I mean. That quest that almost killed you the moment you stepped inside. That quest that caused so many deaths in party that the kill count is almost lower than the party death count. That quest that has haunted your dreams. That quest that becomes part of lore, whispers and murmurs of caution and dread, of confusion and resignation.

That quest that can turn your party’s “Aragorns” into “Brave Sir Robins” in moments.

Surprisingly, I’m not necessarily speaking about quests where dragons show up. Dragons are so well-known in their ferocity that most DDO players are often more equipped to handle dragons than what they may encounter in several quests.

Recently, I’ve decided to begin discussing these quests, perhaps over a series of posts, to try to clear the air, give players more information on what to expect and to prepare than what you might find even on the venerable DDO Wiki.

And, of course, provide a personal insight on why some quests are just pants-soilingly terrifying.

I’d like to create a general series of ratings, each from 1 (low) to 10 (highest) on specific issues of each quest. For now, let’s break it down to

  • Navigation: Does the quest require many switches and keys to use to progress? How hard are they to find? How linear is the adventure? Are there traps? Are there quest-required puzzles? How much resistance is encountered to find objectives? Is the quest just plain confusing due to its sheer size?
  • Enemies: How many? What’s the dominant race? Do they respawn? Do they attack with effects that are harder to resist or avoid? Are there one or more kill zones where they’d likely entrap you? Does their nature limit your fighting ability?
  • Bosses: How many mini-bosses? What damage resistance do they have? What special attacks do they do? How do you escape from it if you cannot kill it? How large is their entourage?

My ratings are totally subjective, based on my experiences in party or solo.

Let’s start with a few low-level ones in memory in this first installment. Here, preparedness is the solution to most woes. But just wait, I’ll bring up “Foundation of Discord” and quests where cunning is critical.

Proof is in the Poison (Level 4)

Navigation: 8, Enemies: 7, Bosses: 5

Of the many Coin Lords favor quests, this one is thankfully not part of the Sharn Syndicate chain. The name of the quest says it all. You begin with many a locked door where acid and poison are dominant. Traps are few but in well-placed locations where death is sure to players who like to zerg about, starting at a bridge where a fire trap will roast you. Should you fall down to apparent safety under the bridge, spinning blades will appear to chop you to bits. Throughout the area are mobs of sneak-attacking Quickfoot fighters and mages that threaten to overwhelm you.

Few players seem to enjoy this quest because the layout can be maddeningly frustrating for people who don’t pay attention. The area is surprisingly linear, but if you wander off and fail to stay in party (especially when running at-level), death is swift.

Each major progression is sealed by a door that requires a specific key. You’ll need to run down many hallways, burst open many doors and kill many enemies to find what you need. This place has only one shrine, and it’s not found until you reach the halfway point of the adventure. Players who love to smash breakables will love and hate it here, especially with the newer stealth AI and its stronger Listen checks for the mobs. They’ll easily find you if you smash so much stuff that you’re practically aggro-ing half of the dungeon.

A good Jump skill is handy here. Good healing management, with acid and poison resists are essential. Many parties die often here because they rely on their hirelings (who often recklessly run into danger themselves) or live healers too strongly since curses, poison and acid damage are so frequent here and resources can become sparse if you’re a stingy player that doesn’t carry some items of your own. “HJEAL MEH” types get a name in here in my parties: “He Whose Stone We Carry.”

The end-fight isn’t very challenging in that the scorrow boss isn’t terribly powerful. He does have a sizeable entourage guarding him, so pull as many of them away first before jumping the boss. Also, if you haven’t hit all the breakables, the boss room has quite a lot that you can crush to get your Ransack bonus.

Freshen the Air (Level 4)

Navigation: 3, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 5

For some reason, I enjoy this one, which you’d think would ensure that the quest would not make it to this list. Perhaps I like it for the schadenfreude of the thing when I join a poorly-prepared party.

TroglodyteFirst off, the adventure is timed. You have 30 minutes to complete it. Prepared parties will have no trouble in completing it with time to spare.

Unprepared parties will forget that the many, many troglodytes that inhabit this place emit a stink attack that slows your attack and movement speed, among other things. Kill them quick, don’t loiter about them, but don’t run madly through the area to attract more than you can handle.

While there’s no one significant boss (there’s only a queen boss that is easily slain), the place is filled with trog shamans with potent magic attacks. For that reason, the shamans are one objective: Kill them all.

The place where things can go pear-shaped is the central room where shamans and kobolds rain death from above from perches you can’t reach.

This is a classic kill-zone because those in your party who go all “Ooooh! Shiny!” at any breakable they see will charge headlong into the room and get quickly killed by said death-from-above, as well a few roaming trog fighters. Better to use ranged attacks to systematically remove trogs and kobolds (who are on unreachable platforms for your level) before going in to destroy the several large crates that are part of your central objective.

There’s only one shrine, which is guarded and at the halfway point. If a party dies too early here, a wipe is almost assured since the mobs ahead will prohibit rescuers from reaching the shrine safely or with sufficient time to complete.

Things are quite linear here so it’s essentially impossible to get lost. Do laugh at the players that do, please.

Irestone Inlet (Level 4)

Navigation: 2, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 6

Here’s another clusterfrak quest in the making for the unprepared. Pirate hobgoblins respawn quite a bit here, so wondering solo players can get ambushed instantly.

The objective is straightforward in rescuing several hostages. However, each are guarded by many, many enemy mobs with very nasty hobgoblin mages, who enjoy using Ray of Enfeeblement on you. As a Monk, getting hit more than once by this spell immediately uncenters me and inhibits all Monk skills, particularly fighting. Others might fare worse. Always carry a generous supply  of Lesser Restoration and Remove Curse potions into this area.

Also not to be underestimated are the ogre fighters with (at-level) devastating slash damage that seem to cleave robe/outfit wearers in two.

Often, Scartongue, a mini-boss kobold that appears, can give parties trouble with his AOE concealments and magic attacks, confusing a party while his compatriots take advantage.

After killing one ogre mini-boss, Dinks, you’ll learn that you need to carry several powder kegs to use to blow up the pirate’s nearby ship. Each weighs 20 pounds and can tax low-STR players. Get hit by Rays of Enfeeblement while carrying several of these and you may be left helpless, hardly able to move and unable to fight.

There are a couple of shrines but they are spread across the island. The respawns will become daunting to stone-carriers if they aren’t close to either shrine.

Yaaryar, the boss, appears shortly after you blow up his schooner. It’s still quite an impressive explosion to watch–but not too close! If you are on the ship when it blows, your soulstone may be permanently blocked in the water and no one will be able to retrieve you. The boss always appears while heading in the direction of the schooner’s remains. He’s not hard to kill but has a moderate entourage.

The Crypt of Gerard Dryden (Level 3)

Navigation: 1, Enemies: 11, Bosses: 3

Yes, I know my rating scale was 1 to 10. This one deserves special mention.

This fourth adventure in the Catacombs quest chain is impossible to get lost–making it easy for party members to find your soulstone should you get too cocky and wander off. Skeletons and wrights are thick in this place, ambushing you often and fast. Many, many sarcophagi are here, often bursting open to flank your party.

The unprepared forget that some quests are resource intensive. Mobs will come that quickly deteriorate your weapons and deplete healing options. Skeletons require bludgeoning weapons to be most effective, but many players will bash them with swords anyway and damage them. You also need a Good-aligned weapon for best effect. That cool looking Frost greatsword you have there will do little against the cold-immune skeletons. Light Monks will have it easier here with a good pair of Pure Good handwraps or quarterstaff, since ki can be renewed quite well here to buff and heal a party. The wights can be taken down with slashing weapons but aren’t bludgeon-resistant. Thankfully–no zombies, but there are a few non-undead things like spiders, if I recall.

Did I mention the mobs? There are four rooms where a required lever rests, all but one room filled with a couple dozen sarcophagi and dozens of enemies inside  that zerg-rush you. Crowd control (even if only bottlenecking them using their entryway) is critical or you’ll get surrounded.

There is precisely one shrine. If you clear everything you find before someone dies, getting their stones to a resurrection shrine isn’t a problem. The challenge is to the trigger-happy spellcasters in party who don’t remember that Hard and Elite rest shrines cannot be used more than once. Worse, the casters could be using ineffective spells or power-casting unnecessarily.

Oh, and just when you’re done with the first four level rooms, you’ll get another four with similarly nasty mobs.

I did mention the mobs, right? To get Conquest, you’ll need to kill about 232 enemies. If you have a good ranged fighter, they might crack open more sarcophagi before they explode to destroy 222 breakables for the Ransack bonus.

More quests to come in a later installment. Stay hungry.

In Gaming, Never Tell Me the Odds!

This game is a simulation. Simulations have rules. Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken. A few need to be ignored completely.

This game is a simulation. Simulations have rules. Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken. A few need to be ignored completely.

I promised that I wouldn’t go raving about the Henshin Mystic again. And I won’t.

Normally I also space out my posts to allow stuff to sink in and not to hog the OurDDO blog feed.

But a recent post in the thread that discusses why the Henshin Mystic class should be revamped led me to a curious epiphany about DDO and the players that inhabit it that I had to write about.

Here’s the post’s content, so you needn’t click on the link unless you’d like to (re)read the entire thread.

So, I was considering a crazy max Wis DC-based Monk. Henshin of course. Before I took the plunge I put together a spreadsheet outlining my DCs…it was very eye opening.

With a 50 Wis, which may not be MAX, but is pretty damn high…some real deficiencies are highlighted (I probably got some of these a little wrong):
Ki Bolt, Reflex, DC 50
Incinerating Wave, Reflex, DC 50
Cauldron of Flame, Reflex, DC 50
Various Finishing Moves, Fort / Ref / Will, DC 53

That’s it?! PLUS the Henshin ones are Reflex so will be Evaded…? Ugh.

Ok, well, I’ll have to be GMoF for those Ki blast ability thingies too:
Orchid Blossom, Reflex, DC 48
Drifting Lotus, Reflex, DC 48
A Scattering of Petals, Fort, DC 58
Everything is Nothing, Fort, DC 58

Ok, cool…ASoP and EiN I can work with of course…but damn, really?! Another two low DC Reflex abilities? For crying out loud…

Why would I bother when I could:
Quivering Palm, Fort, DC 64 (with an Improved Sunder prep for +3 more DC)
Stunning Fist, Fort, DC 68 (maybe with Improved Sunder for +3 DC)
Kukan-Do, Will, DC 59 (with only a 20 Cha)
Unbalancing Strike, Ref, DC 64 (Sneak Attacks! Works on bosses!)

Yeah, I’m really gonna need a solid way to get another +10 DC on those weak abilities before I can consider using them.

I commend Spencerian for actually playing it through, but I looked at those numbers and just had to walk away…

I’m not centering that poster out. But it’s a good reflection of the sentiment or mindset that gets overused in the game of late, and seen quite a bit in the forums for both the right and the wrong reasons.

Let’s break things down to three kinds of DDO player that I see here.

The Button Masher

This player might come from a console or arcade gaming world where you have limited but powerful gear while playing a protagonist or anti-hero, roving here and there, destroying and/or solving things to achieve a goal. Such games emphasize what the gear does as a device in the game (“Use boomerang to activate switch”) rather than the object’s specific caliber or metric as it relates to damage. Player characters don’t generally grow in power except from acquisition of gear or key quest objectives. Action is continuous and strategy and puzzles are common. Examples include The Legend of Zelda series, the Halo games, and the Metroid series.

When these players are introduced to RPG games like DDO, they initially enter in with a mix of confusion with things such as ability stats. After punching in some numbers, they have great enthusiasm to play at first. But their joy turns to frustration quickly when simply bashing your sword against something isn’t enough to survive, much less succeed, as their ability and skills are improperly set to the increasing challenges of the game.

Button mashers don’t initially comprehend the analytical knowledge in character design and gear mechanics as well as game mechanics and strategy common in all RPGs until they decide to ask and study for themselves.

The Pen And Paper Tactician

"Your character is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of this game. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here." Like the Architect, some ignore the WHY and ignore the human element.

“Your character is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of this game. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision.” Like the Architect, some underestimate the magic and unpredictability of the human element.

This player has played one or more desktop table games quite a bit at some point in their lives. If they aren’t playing Dungeons & Dragons, the board game, they’ve latched onto many, many other pen-and-paper games where flashy graphics don’t exist and the internal visualization of imaginations around a table, surrounded by fellow players, runs at maximum density.

With a dungeon-master (or game master) guiding the players and setting the stage and environment, the players create characters from a wide selection of traditional roles with ability scores, skills, attacks, and gear.

During adventures, they use dice to determine success and failure based on difficulty saves to skills and abilities such a high Strength or Dexterity. (Most of us who play DDO can feel a very familiar pattern here, naturally.)

While DDO’s game mechanics rely heavily on similar principles from its pen-and-paper version, there’s a point where this tactical precision causes a dissonance when pen-and-paper information becomes some odd sort of oracle that predicts success or failure based only on the difficulty checks or a few variations of abilities, while ignoring the unique human element found in live-action gameplay and not in turn-based desktop play. Character planners. Crafting planners. Puzzle solvers. Wikis. Forum threads that crunch the numbers. Messages of dissent and condemnation (without ever rolling up and playing that character live) come from queries that illustrate the poor statistical odds of your spell power and difficulty checks. Portents of doom are given to you that predict that your character will be gravely underpowered in high-level play.

OH NOES.

You see where I’m going here.

My gameplay style fits my character class. It’s all about balance to achieve enlightenment, stability and, of course, perfecting that superior mystical practice of kicking ass. Many others that play, too, realize that we should follow a middle path.

The Gamer

The gamer has been around. They’ve played consoles. They might have played arcade games if they’re old like me. Dabbled in pen-and-paper games once, perhaps, or have played them quite a bit. All in all, they enjoyed something from each. They surely have generated a preference to a particular type of game or game style, or might find their fun in the diversity.

The gamer has learned that mashing buttons wildly on a console game won’t work, but mashing buttons in a specific pattern gets results. When they roll up a pen-and-paper character, the gamer might find it more important to have a good team of friends that don’t take the specific character stats too seriously or question the dungeon master’s campaign too harshly.

When things go pear-shaped, he loves the fun you get from the fallout, especially if the dungeon master takes the cue, gives the party an out to save themselves, even if it’s going to cost them their loot, experience, or their dignity. PnP gamers enjoy the adventure over the number-crunching and the odds.

Most importantly, while the gamer never goes in unprepared, he’ll never shy away from an opportunity. Despite the odds based on other player calculations, the type of folks in the party or the difficulty of the fight ahead, they sometimes just go with the flow and see what happens.

The gamer’s experience means that they’ll likely take a character that should not survive in a high-difficulty quest, based on probability demonstrated in the many variables one could roll up,  and (with good resource management and teamwork) not only survive but emerge triumphant.

It’s a Game, Silly

Never tell a good gamer the odds. They'll only defy them.

Never tell a good gamer the odds. They’ll only defy them.

I speak from a bit of authority. I have a Bachelors of Science in Parks and Recreation. Yep. I have a college degree in playing.

It’s important not to overdo the math in game play. When the math goes overboard in the right way in recreation, you get the scariest but safest roller-coasters that pull more G’s than some jet fighters, making you feel like death is coming around the next drop but leaving you safe and sound at ride’s end. That’s a principle known as apparent risk.

When the math heads in too draconian a path, you get stoic, Vulcanized probability, devoid of the human dynamic, which is often naturally unpredictable. The flavor of the gaming moment, the sense of adventure, is lost in over-number crunching, of application of tactics without regard for what trouble the party’s rogue can stir up, despite being in a quest where combat is more prevalent than trapfinding.

While it’s important to study the numbers in DDO to ensure you have enough of this and enough of that, nothing in number crunching will ever substitute for experience and certainly not in simply trying something out. I’m not only speaking of the experience in confirming that a tactic will work reliably based on the math, but sometimes just going into an adventure and telling the numbers to go frak themselves.

In that mindset, LEERRRROY…JEEENNKIINS had it right. He had a damned good time (although he went about it in the wrong way) and he even had some good chicken while in play.

While Leeroy did move before thinking, his party showed a bit of dispassionate overthinking. Not in their expected goals, but perhaps in a distillation of that very moment before play, and even during the chaos that Leeroy started. Gaming is not just measured in success or failure, but in the pleasure of the moment.

I have a personal example. Some time ago, my guild had just completed a Shroud run and were looting the chests. As I completed looting one chest, I hear a distinctive whine I’ve only heard in a couple of quests–the sound of something charging up and not in a good way.

One of our guild’s most reliable, enjoyable and incredible players, who specializes well in party healing, had decided to drink a Potion of Wonder. These things have random effects. Recently, the devs thought it was funny to add “detonation pack” as one effect.

Most of the party was blown to kingdom come by the Shroud altar. It took a few moments of confusion before the party realized what happened and erupted. Not with anger or threats or rage, but bursts of laughter and disbelief.

No amount of cold calculations can anticipate the fun our party experienced by getting blown up real good. As a reward that all of us took back that night, none of my other guildmates will EVER let that player live it down during later raids while we buff up, eternally memorializing his decision by reminding all players to drink future Potions of Wonder at a minimum safe distance.

I’m determined to go back to that thread with a video or a completion screenshot with my Epic Mystic, triumphant in some Epic Elite quest, with a significant amount of slain enemies and few to no deaths of my own. I’ll have Quintessica dance a jig.

But I’ll have a smile on my face as well. Not because I showed up the naysayers, but because I had a damned good time trying not to die, or managing to win despite the odds.

Win brilliantly. Die gloriously. Fun, always. Hope you get blown up good real soon.

Mystical Training: The Good Shepherdess

History and tradition suggests that wielders of shepherd's staves have great power. Using it, much less wisely, isn't a matter of min-maxing.

History and tradition suggests that wielders of shepherd’s staves have great power. Using it, much less wisely, isn’t a matter of min-maxing.

The Henshin Mystic is a curiously different type of Monk, and I’m beginning to see where the developers were going with it. As noted before, when there’s new content or class abilities, I find myself engrossed with playing and discussing it until my eyes turn red, trying to understand all the nuances and advantages and weaknesses as I go.

I’ll try to make this post the last one for the Mystic for a while…I swear atop a pile of orc corpses!

Some DDO forum members have heavily criticized the Mystic as being too light on spell power and special abilities. Being a player that loves to push a pure Monk to its limits without multiclassing, I’ve disagreed with their assessment, based on what I’ve experienced in gameplay. More on that in a bit.

I’ve also had to change my thinking radically on the use of tactical feats as well as how to play this particular Monk.

Most of you are familiar with these feats, although I’ve used them sparingly to this point since the Monk has one famed unarmed combat feat (which gains benefits from tactical DC bonuses) that pales to others: Stunning Fist. No character can stun as rapidly or surely as a Monk, which helps a lot in party tactics.

Now armed with a quarterstaff as a Mystic for practically all fighting and loving it, I was reluctant to give up staff fighting in favor of going unarmed for stunning, no matter how often I can make stuns land. There’s just far more sustained damage with a Mystic and a quarterstaff. More versatility.

There’s incredible versatility of a two-handed weapon like the quarterstaff, especially with Update 19 and the Mystic training. The developers wanted to make the Mystic a very superior quarterstaff attacker. They just didn’t need to rewrite or create a lot of new feats or abilities to make this happen for them. The Mystic’s special ki attacks are just icing to help in crowd level damage, which a Mystic is great at doing better than any other Heroic level Monk or non-spellcaster.

So here are things I have already or have begun to work into and out of my combat routine as well as discoveries that may be a bit noobish for a few of you veterans of sword-and-board fighting. Bear with me.

Out: Stunning Blow

After you’ve enjoyed the speed of unarmed stunning, Stunning Blow is quite disappointing. It’s highly unreliable for me, likely because my STR isn’t quite as high as Fighters at that level who would use it. It also has a far slower cooldown.

I added Blow not long ago to try it out. Since it’s true to its name (and not in a good way), It’s getting swapped out for…

In: Improved Trip

I’ve done some research on which is the better: Stunning Blow or Improved Trip. While a few responses noted that Fighters have enough feat slots to take both, those who didn’t have feat slots out the ying-yang generally favored Improved Trip. On a good DC, it knocks an enemy prone. Not for 6 seconds as with stunning, but for up to 1 full minute. While prone, the enemy can’t do anything. It’s not quite helpless as with stunning, but word on the street is that it is far more reliable.

Improved Trip also has a 10 second cooldown. No rapid use here, but it may be good as part of a chain of attack strategies. It requires Combat Expertise, but I have that already as part of my other combat requirements.

In my early tests, it looks like Improved Trip needs a really high STR to work, so I haven’t much success. Since my attack damage is also tied into STR, it’ll serve to continue adding points to it as much as possible. It may be that I’ll swap this out for something that aids in damage if Trip requires a crapload of DC improvements and STR I cannot muster.

In: Improved Sunder (and eventually, Cleave)

Early in the Monk guide’s second life, I’ve watched several forum members all but require the use of Improved Sunder for better DCs to stun. Improved Sunder gives a similar effect to Improved Destruction in that it damages AC and fortification. Unlike Improved Destruction, Improved Sunder adds a stacking -3 penalty to fortitude saves for up to 24 seconds to make landing tactical attacks easier.

Given that I plan to ensure that my enemies get a good Trip into the afterlife, I’m thinking more of this feat. As an unarmed Monk, we’d spam our elemental attacks, the late lamented Void Strikes of old, and Stunning Fist. With a staff, an Improved Sunder might be the first attack, followed by a Trip attempt.

The challenge here were my remaining feat slots as I approached level 20 and where to fit this one in. I thought of trading off Stunning Fist here and sacrifice my former dominant life as an unarmed stunner. I sacrificed Stunning Blow instead. I kept thinking, as I worked Quintessica to level 20 over the past weekend, that I needed something to “fall back” to if something goes wrong with staff fighting. But really, little has gone wrong. In place of stunning, Quintessica doesn’t let something live long enough to damage her.

Several prerequisites of Legendary Dreadnought abilities require the Cleave feat, despite me having Whirlwind Attack already. I hope to punch that one into Quintessica using one of the Epic Feat slots.

Previously Added: Combat Expertise and Whirlwind Attack

Many players think others are nuts to spend four feat slots and have INT 13 on a Monk to get Whirlwind (Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Combat Expertise), especially if they continue to believe that the feat is bugged for everyone. I have all these feats already trained with Quintessica.

Like the Hide/Move Silently/Jump points I invested in most of my Monks before Update 19’s change to the stealth system, I find myself still justified in taking Whirlwind. It’s a 4(W) attack, folks. What happens if that thing goes critical?

The answer is, about 300-500 damage.

I’m searching about for a paralyzing weapon to help with light crowd control since this attack hits all in its wide attack area.

Combat Expertise is a really good idea for a Mystic. While they get impressive damage ability, their class tree adds practically nothing to their defense. Toggle on this feat and you get a 10% bonus from your total AC added to your AC. Nice, right?

Then all that a Mystic needs to do is to switch to Mountain Stance. In Grandmaster mode, you get (among other things) a 20% bonus to AC. Better, right?

How ’bout this? Combat Expertise and Grandmaster of Mountains bonuses add together. I get a 30% AC bonus in this mode. That is superior. With Quin now at level 20, this stance is often where I keep her.

Strength and Damage

The quarterstaff is a stronger weapon than a one-handed blade. The advantage comes from how damage is calculated. With a single blade, you add your STR modifier to your melee attack roll and your damage roll. If you wield a two-handed weapon such as a staff, your damage roll is 1.5 times your STR modifier. Ow. That’s hefty.

That brings me to Power Attack. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this one, likely because I nerfed myself when taking this and also taking Weapon Finesse on my early unarmed builds, screwing with my attack rolls, I think, while fighting with less STR.

With Power Attack, one-handed weapons (and unarmed attacks) exchange 5 from the attack roll for 5 damage. But quarterstaves double this bonus, exchanging 5 attack for 10 damage. Hefty, hefty, hefty.

Let’s add in the Mystic’s Staff Training and Staff Specialization that adds to-hit and damage and ultimately raises the critical threat and range. More hefty.

So the quarterstaff’s simplicity belies its effectiveness. Now all one needs to do is to use the right one, as mentioned in a recent post.

The New Spam: It’s Got More Spam in It

As mentioned before, a Monk’s unarmed attack pattern is commonly  a flurry of blows designed to (1) halt a target (2) damage it severely (3) kill it quickly (duh). This is often done by starting with a  (1) Stunning Fist, (2) chained elemental attacks and some finishing moves often peppered in to heal or buff or debuff, and (3) Stunning Fist again. If you have Improved Destruction, use Improved Sunder or use neg-leveling Life Stealing effects, you can keep a target immobile in a state of permanent stun to their death.

But a staff-wielding Mystic has to think “fighter” and less monastic. I suspect the results should be as good, if not better, than in unarmed mode (I can’t believe I just said that).

So, at first I imagined Quin beginning with an (1) Improved Sunder to reduce AC, fortification and fortitude save, (2) Improved Trip to knock them on their ass, (3) a Quick Strike mode, adding 25% doublestrike to the mix for 10 seconds while (4) spamming elemental, Void Strike attacks and chaining finishing moves as she goes, repeating the sundering and tripping as needed. She kicks on Power Attack for more stubborn enemies but otherwise keeps defenses up with Combat Expertise, switching to different Monk stances as ki management and defenses require.

This should be a great attack chain–but it’s wrong. Not against solo enemies, but mobs. That’s where the Mystic does its magic.

Quintessica reached level 20 this past weekend. As I began training her Legendary Dreadnought skills, I took Quin into “Lines of Supply,” a new and creative Stormhorns quest. There, several caravans of enemies emerge from a cave, some moving slowly to their destination, others zerging. They don’t stop to fight you; they have orders to keep moving. Depending on the enemy’s speed and durability, you have a very limited time to destroy them before they reach the end of the path and out of your reach.

My Onyx Panther and a hireling (for Death Ward and a little healing when he thinks of doing it) began the counterassault at approximately 12-15 enemies at once. I threw Incinerating Wave (a targetable, moving Wall of Fire and Force damage) as fast as the 9 second cooldown allowed to soften up the group. I mosh-pit into the mob and spin away with Whirlwind to knock more sense out of them, then break out and repeat.

I only had a problem with the gnolls, who fly by in a hasted rush and require a more direct knockdown or paralysis to slow long enough to kill. I couldn’t blast them all fast enough.

After this interesting and different quest was done, I thought of what Quin could’ve done if I had her Grandmaster of Flowers powers activated.

The Good Shepherdess of Bad, Bad Sheep

Not quite as peaceful as this Good Shepherd. Less Messianic overtones. More use of the stick.

Not quite as peaceful as this Good Shepherd. Less Messianic overtones. More use of the stick.

As mentioned a moment ago, I came across a DDO forums thread with comments from many players on what they like and don’t like about the Mystic. There was a mixed level of supporters versus dissenters.

I’ve read through the entire thread to-date to sum up the general arguments against the Mystic.

The first 5 are from the original poster:

  1. Using a quarterstaff means that you can’t use Stunning Fist.
  2. The DCs for finishing moves are too low.
  3. Spell power is too low.
  4. Not a “magic monk” as seen in films.
  5. DCs and Wisdom aren’t competitive at end-game fights.
  6. We can’t play the Mystic like an unarmed Monk.

I chimed in favor of the Mystic’s good qualities. No surprise, there.

The most common complaint suggests a sense of failed expectations on the part of some players. They expected a LOT more “Mystic” to the point where the class tree would appear magical. I can appreciate their imaginations. However, implementing something new like the Mystic had to have some checks and balances. Further…and this is important since this is a form of D&D we’re talking about–the 3.5e ruleset of the pen-and-paper class that our Mystic is based on (named there as a Henkan Mystic) isn’t staff-dominant, is still ki-based and still wields fire damage on attacks. It’s far less “uber” or magical in that version than the DDO counterpart.

Stunning Fist is working as intended. Emphasis on the fist part. You can play the Mystic without the staff and stun things. But that’s not where it’s training goes.

It’s not as if the dissenters are new to DDO, and they have lots of play experience, so I’m not trying to vilify them. But here are my points to support the Mystic class tree’s abilities, especially now that I’ve reached level 20 and can see more clearly where the Mystic path continues.

As I did early on in playing the Mystic, some posters lost sight on the Mystic as a different kind of fighter that works with more Fighter class principles, not Monk. And they’re totally wrong on the quarterstaff damage and the Fire/Force damage numbers that I’ve seen.

I capped off my comment to remind people that the Mystic is a new class tree. Like the Ninja and Shintao lines, it takes time for it to mature.

So here’s my summations.

1) The Mystic is designed to be a mob-harassment character.

Combined with Incinerating Wave to weaken a mob, the Mystic uses their monastic skills to evade and dodge attacks, delivering death by bludgeoning to those who get too close, while pouring on the Fire and Force damage. In Heroic mode, the player has to think outside of the unarmed Monk box and more as a typical Fighter, adding in Cleave and similar tactical feats for improving weapon damage, while adding in the more offensive ki strikes. Stunning is not to be for the Mystic–but mass damage to mobs is the thing.

That doesn’t mean at all that a Mystic isn’t a decent fighter. Far from it! The right staves deliver harsh damage. But, like any other character, you often need to add in a special attack to gain an advantage–you can’t just go in swinging. For unarmed Monks, it’s Stunning Fist. For the Mystic, you send in an Incinerating Wave in Heroic, or something else. Unlike a ranged player, the Mystic does hold still for some fighting, but needs a little distance to throw a few effects to keep the mobs forming up ahead of her, and easy prey for the rest of the party.

You don’t play the Mystic as a typical Monk. That’s refreshing, and leaves room to explore.

By level 20, my Incinerating Wave deals 100 or more combined damage–more if the spell critical hits, if I’m wearing spell power boosts or if the enemy is especially vulnerable.  That’s a very good start against a mob, particularly if you can do it every 9 seconds while they’re just chasing you around for a bit before you smack them about like gnats after a few passes.

2) Grandmaster of Flowers mode will be so wickedly-powerful in combination with a Mystic that it’s almost overpowered.

When Quintessica reached level 20, she trained her last core ability, Serenity. It’s a vestigial part of the old Monk capstone that mates well. She got +2 WIS, +10 Concentration, +1 to passive ki regeneration and +25 to Fire and Force spell power and more to critical chance to that damage.

What most Monks see at level 20 is that their ki bar has greatly improved with nice level of regeneration, often going to perhaps less than 1/2 filled after a few minutes of idle. Most Monks see +1 or +2 at this point to passive ki regeneration.

Quintessica sees +2 to +6, depending on if she’s in Ocean Stance, has less than 50% health, and has Grandmaster of Flowers destiny up or has twisted one ability called Enlightenment. By the time her ki bar stops filling while idle, it’s 3/4 full, around 280 ki.

This would be like a spellcaster’s Echoes of Power getting a boost to regenerate mana five-fold, I figure. Quin has massive reserves of regenerating power.

In short, with all of the Flower power attacks, the magic-balls of Lily Petal and Orchid Blossom, the knockdown-rich stomp and magic slam of Drifting Lotus, combined with the Mystic’s own powers of melee and ki damage, make this class a whirling dervish of death. Spellcasters can be too fragile and generate too much aggro if they target too much at once. The Mystic wants this attention. Not so much as a tanker, but to keep a mob aggravated, weakened and chasing them–while the rest of the party clobbers them from behind.

A Mystic is a staff-wielding shepherd that leads her sheep to the slaughter with attacks that damage from afar and compel the evil sheep to follow, lining up for their doom. They’re more durable than many casters and can regenerate power to fight far longer.

3) A Mystic in full combat mode using the Legendary Dreadnought mode has heartstopping potential.

Where the Mystic comes up short in Heroic mode: More HP and STR, is compensated in Dreadnought mode. Quin will also have more tactical DCs for Improved Sunder and Trip. More PRR from Improved Combat Expertise. More area-of-effect damage swings from Momentum Swing and Lay Waste (once I divorce myself of one more feat or add Cleave for this prerequisite). Attack Boosts, especially Haste, that, combined with Quick Strike, should make terribly, ridiculously quick work of even Red-Named bosses. There’s also the Lightning Mace strike with a staff, which will deliver 10d100 electrical damage and 15% enhancement to doublestrike for 6 seconds.

Since the Mystic should be training up the non-monastic tactical feats such as Cleave, that leads them to charging up the LD’s Epic Moment: the Master’s Blitz.

When I used this with Lynncletica in an Epic Hard “Devil Assault,” I mopped the floor in that place! As you know, Lynncletica is my tanker and has impressive damage in unarmed mode. But Quin’s attacks at level 20 often exceed L25 Lynn’s, and Quin is barely back in her Epic jammies.

Add in the spin attacks and LD strikes with the Blitz, and Quin should be the most powerful fighter in my dojo.

Guess I’m going to have to throw some screenshots up with piles of dead Drow at my feet.

Theatricality and Deception, Part 2

Ninja_crouchBefore Update 19, I spoke of the gameplay skills and tools of the trade to make ninjas emulate as much of the tactical and gadget prowess as illustrated by non-powered superheroes and master spies.

With the new Ninja Spy enhancements and general changes in the game, I wanted to touch on some important changes that really add to the Ninja Spy lifestyle.

  • Rather than debuffing with elemental damage, ninjas gained a trademark ability from their lore: poison. This stuff is bad going in and going out if you use skills that magnify the damage. It’s not an instant kill effect but a great way to add damage-over-time to tougher bosses.
  • The Ninjitsu effects (which replaced the elemental debuffs that are now part of the Henshin Mystic tree) can inflict or withdraw poison, boost your HP and ki temporarily, or give negative levels to enemies en masse. These effects are toggled at will, individually, and activated when you let loose a Touch of Despair finisher. Happily, Update 19.2 has fixed the Wave of Despair negative-level finisher from giving negative levels to your allies.
  • Flash Bang. My favorite new toy will stun and/or blind a group for 6 seconds if they fail one or both saves. Compare it to Batman’s smoke bombs that can be used in a similar way. Great for ninja escapes and first strikes.
  • Jumping and tumbling while in stealth adds loads to mobility, allowing you to circumvent mobs more effectively than simply walking between them.
  • Faster sneaking makes sense for a good ninja.
  • Escaping a mob that detects you, using stealth or invisibility, is a bonus. One new tactic I use against small to medium-sized mobs in a wide or long dungeon with some nooks and crannies and turns is to purposefully attract the whole mob against me, then go emergency stealth, let the mob pass by, and continue ahead.
  • Ninja Master. As noted in a recent post, any centered weapon that gives piercing or slashing damage will also slice a head clean off (or give 100 damage) by a fully trained ninja.
  • Shuriken. Holy moley. Do you know how deadly even the weakest of these are now when thrown by a full ninja?
  • Flash stepping: A quick move every Monk gains with Abundant Step to quickly bypass a mob or trap as if you’ve teleported around them (unchanged, but thought I’d remind you of it)

One humorous addition in the Ninja Spy tree is Deception–an emergency escape trick. Use a turn of Meditation to bring a training dummy into existence with a huge hate-magnet signature, simultaneously making yourself invisible. From there, a Ninja should go immediately to stealth, using Abundant Step to escape the mob that came close to overwhelming you.

The funny part of Deception comes from the dummy’s appearance.

Overbearing swagger. Pompous hat. Yep, looks like a pirate to me.

Overbearing swagger. Pompous hat. Yep, looks like a pirate to me.

Somebody on the developer team knows of the enmity between ninjas and pirates, so it was logical to make enemies go after a fake pirate (is that an oxymoron?) and not an actual ninja.

These three kobolds just outside of the entrance to the Searing Heights from the Marketplace were itching for a fight anyway.

They still hate us.

They apparently hate rogue wooden pirates more. Yay, kobolds!

Foundation of Discord: Unsafe at Any Level

Get used to seeing a LOT of these in one Gianthold EE quest.

Get used to seeing a LOT of these in one Gianthold EE quest.

Recently, I joined some guildies on Ryncletica the Ninja on an Epic Elite run of “Foundation of Discord,” a walk-up optional quest within Gianthold.

I’ve played this one before. I rank this quest with others like “Proof is in the Poison” and “Acid Wit” as quests that are far tougher running at-level than other adventures. I would assert that “Foundation” is the toughest quest in Gianthold. Here’s why.

I completed this quest on Ryncletica in solo mode (no hirelings) on Epic Hard, so I knew what to expect in EE. You have to slay three Concord guardians to reach Patrick, a very nasty boss in a very well guarded room with archers on platforms, several Aurum mages, fighters and clerics, and continually respawning fire, air and earth elementals. All the guardians and bosses are surrounded by Bards that love to use stunning spells, Clerics abound who are too good with Cometfall and Greater Command, Wizards appear that freeze and zap you silly, and shadowy Rogues amerge with brutal sneak attacks.

On my EH run, after using several turns of Shadow Manipulation (dominate) turns on two earth elementals that guard Patrick to whittle down his HP, I finally dove into the recess where he stood and pummeled him. Stealth and infiltration tactics (pulling individuals to kill and controlling the volume of attacks) helped a lot.

But EE was a different matter.

Ryncletica’s skills at stealth are partially negated with a party, naturally. Stunning things in EE is harder. It’s the versatile nature of “Foundation’s” mobs that’s the key to its difficulty. Some quests have fewer spellcasters and more fighter-types. This one is caster-rich and their AI is relentless in targeting. It’s as if the mobs are more coordinated than in previous updates. Remember that the dwarf-like Duergar that dominate this area are very resilient and resistant to paralyzing and stuns.

We were all getting sniped by Rogues but the real challenge involved taking down each Concord guardian. I don’t know how they were trained but it was clear that they had Ryncletica’s number: Monks are most vulnerable to slashing damage. My high Dodge and Reflex did little here to keep from getting eviscerated several times by the guardians. Others in the party fared no better. A few Shadow dominations put one enemy on our side for a time. I started to target the Bards and Rogues to give the mobs a taste of their own medicine.

Bloodied and dead more than a few times over, we make it to the large room. I was able to sneak in and enable all the sonic traps to bust Patrick out of his invulnerable forcefield while the rest of the party kept the elemental’s initial attention. Then the fun started as the elementals began to earthgrab everybody. Normally, earthgrab is a just a nuisance, releasing you before something serious happens. But in EE, earthgrab holds and then squeezes the life out of you with 100-point or greater damage. Further, other elementals often took advantage and walloped you to death if you weren’t there already.

After several attempts to lure and Dominate the spare elementals in an attempt to bum-rush the boss, as well as removing any Aurum guards (which, thankfully, don’t respawn) I came up on one idea, borne of desperation after looking at Patrick’s stats. Apparently my dojo characters really hate dwarves and duergar, as I’ve amassed quite the collective kill counts in my Monster Manual, allowing me to see the boss’s hit points.

Patrick had 118,000 HP. Between the elementals tagging us, there was no way we were going to survive for any length of time in direct melee. We were all running out of resources.

But one advantage came to mind. Patrick was effectively immobile in the center of that pit, Since we had access to pillars above him, I suggested we take the “death from above” strategy, smacking him with any ranged attacks we had.

The elementals still threw Fireballs and made long-range earthgrabs, while an irritated Patrick used ice spells to pull us off of our perches. I took advantage of Ninja Vorpals with my tiny throwing star and extra attacks to pull a few more HP off the boss. Some of us were still dying to elemental waves but not nearly as rapid as before. Thank goodness Patrick did not regenerate during this battle.

After nearly 1.5 hours, of which nearly 30 minutes was spent trying to kill the boss, it was over. Our repair bills were more epic than our rewards, that’s for sure.

If you’re feeling cocky about your build, take some friends into EE “Foundation.” You’ll be quickly humbled (certain paladins excluded, perhaps).