A New Year’s Revolution

Time is hardly on anyone’s side. As 2014 arrives, I have many things to prepare, both as a player, a man approaching (gasp!) 50, and as a father.

I’m not posting about any New Year’s resolutions as I think they generate an artificial intention in yourself. If you can commit yourself to completing anything important in your life, why wait until the turn of the year?

That said, here’s some things you can look forward to seeing in the Monk guide and this blog in the coming year.

Video Illustration

Thanks to a recommendation from Micki, I’m going to try out Bandicam for recording video shorts for the Monk guide to help people with the basics of building and training their characters. In advanced chapters, I’m hoping to create quest examples where certain abilities, such as stealth, can make a quest easier as only a Monk can do.

Since WordPress and Google Sites (where this blog and the guide are hosted, respectively) support YouTube embedding, this should be an easy matter to complete.

I won’t have quite the lovely voice that Micki or BonnieBew (who seems to have lost or deleted her page…sad) has provided us in their video captures, but hopefully I’ll make up for my baritone with useful information.

A Little More Flavor

I’ve fought with getting my special Monk flavored characters working over the year. Part of the problem is getting distracted with shinier known-quality or new class trees, like the Mystic and definitely the Shuricannon.

I’ve been wanting to make a Kensei Monk and complete my Elven Arcane Archer; the Kensei has been sitting on the bench for far too long. Expect to see more of her in the near future.

Also, with the failure to launch my Rogue Assassin Monk due to spreading out action points and skill points too thinly, I may send Cassietetica to the heavens and reroll a new character with lesser Monk emphasis and more Rogue power. I really like to add more of the Ninja skills but a Rogue should be good at finding ¬†and disabling traps and picking locks. That’s the class role.

I’m also hoping to improve and expand on the Epic Monk’s abilities. Can a pure Monk solo an Epic Elite? Through video and preparation and guile, I’m going to take the primary Monk types and show how it’s done.

A Little Less of Me, Figuratively and Literally

I’ve been playing far too much of the game. I want to lose up to 50 pounds and maintain a good physical routine. So, my “50 by 50” campaign begins this week to lose up to 50 pounds before I reach 50 in June. For some of you, your youth protects you a bit, but that won’t last. For more on this depressing topic, take a look at this 2009 GameSpot article.

For the official record, and for others to chide and cheer and bully me into my habit, I stand at 233 pounds. By June, let’s see if that number reaches under 200. Studies and personal experience show that less weight does help, not only against larger health problems such as cholesterol (mine’s a bit higher than it should) but depression and creativity. The last three years have had many ups and downs, from my wedding to my mother’s passing two weeks prior, and several legal fights to keep my son’s rights protected.

A game is just that. While I enjoy it and the friends I’ve come to know through it, I can’t use it or any other device to hide from or delay things that need attention. This isn’t news to any of you, of course. We all have to think like this. Perhaps I’m just reminding you to do the same while I remind myself.

I look at my friends in the SF community. As a whole, we don’t look good at all for our ages. Geeks of all kinds, from science fiction to gaming to technology geeks are too sedentary and fall into bad habits, often justifying our appearance under the false guise of being “diverse” and “individualistic.”

Think of the “new” names for illnesses like fibromyalgia and then add in old standards like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. I’d guess that the average geek is heavier and less healthy than the average person that doesn’t participate in those activities.

I just know, for sure, that my chair shouldn’t creak when I sit in it.

So, that means I’ll be curtailing gameplay quite a bit to meet that goal. I’ll still look forward to weekend play, but weekday play, Lord willing, will drop quite a bit as I not only keep fit at the gym after work but also take care of important matters for my son’s upcoming high school graduation and entry into college.

All in all, it may mean that I post something here on the blog only once a week, but no less than that. So if you have me in your weekly reading, I hope I don’t disappoint. It’s not like I haven’t many things to talk about; my drafts folder fills with several unfinished posts that I work on and publish when ready.

Happy New Year!

I wanted to thank everyone that pops in to read my thoughts on the game and experiences. I’m just a typical player as most of you are and don’t pretend to have any special knowledge or skills in the game except to compile existing information into something more digestible and immediately helpful. I hope I’ve helped. I also give a hearty thank you to everyone in the DDO community that’s supported the Monk guide and read this blog, correcting and criticizing as necessary to ensure that what’s found here is accurate.

DDO is a community, and this blog or the guide wouldn’t be here were it not for your help. See you next year.

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The Piker’s Holiday Song

While OurDDO’s Evennote is the Queen of DDO Filking, I had something scratching in my head this Christmas Eve and I had to get it out.

Imagine the tune of “Sleigh Bells” and sing along while you join that PUG,
won’t you? ūüôā

Just hear those slay bells jingling,
Ring-ting-tingling too,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you,
Inside the orcs are falling
And friends are calling, “woo hoo”,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you

Buff us up, buff us up, buff us up
Let’s go, let’s look at the show,
We’re piking while the others take a go,
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,
They say, get in there and play
We’re piking along with a song
As the others kill things ahead.

Our points are nice and rosy,
And comfy cozy are we,
We’re huddled up together
Like two birds of a feather would be,
They’ll take those spears before us,
And shout things coarse at you,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.

There’s an Irestone party
Forming in the world today,
It’ll be the easy way to gain some loot today,
We’ll be looking important
While the other’s hit points start to drop,
And we hustle by them to hear
The loot chests pop; Pop! Pop! Pop!

There’s a happy feeling
Nothing in the Store can buy,
While we pass around the plat’num
While the others die,
It’ll nearly look like we tried to help
But worried we would fry,
These wonderful things are the things
We remember till our next life!

Just hear those slay bells jingling,
Ring-ting-tingling too,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you,
Inside the orcs are falling
And friends are calling, “woo hoo”,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you

Buff us up, buff us up, buff us up
Let’s go, let’s look at the show,
We’re piking while the others take a go,
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,
They say, get in there and play
We’re piking along with a song
As the others kill things ahead.

Our points are nice and rosy,
And comfy cozy are we,
We’re huddled up together
Like two birds of a feather would be,
They’ll take those spears before us,
And shout things coarse at you,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.

A blessed and peaceful Christmas to all of you.

Slay hungry, my friends.

Here’s Your Shrine: Bad Moments in Gaming

It's a clear sign. Let's see if others can read it.

It’s a clear sign.
Let’s see if
others can read it.

I’m a big fan of comedian Bill Engvall. He’s closer to to my own age, so I relate quite well to his jokes about family life and observations of people in general.

His signature joke is called, “Here’s your sign.” When people say or do remarkably stupid things, Bill imagines up a witty, often sarcastic answer to their obliviousness, on the premise that some people should have to wear a sign announcing to all that they have just been stupid.

Gaming has these great moments, too. In the case of DDO, the stupid illustrate their incompetence during the course of adventures in a myriad of blunders into traps, bad choices in fighting, bragging before they die, and other creative ways to kill themselves.

You’ve been there. You might be in a party in part 4 of the “Delera’s Tomb” quest chain. Experienced players know that the starting hallway is trapped. But we’ll sit back, grab our popcorn and wait for somebody to forget.

Ding.

“Did I just find a trap?” the hapless player asks.

“No, you just transformed yourself into a more invulnerable character,” another player says.

In these cases, other party members pick up their soulstone and carry it to a place of safe haven for the temporarily insane, mis-prepared and distracted.

“Here’s your shrine,” the rescuer says.

So I’ll recap a few great moments where great gaming is interrupted by great stupidity, often to other party members delight, by compiling some of them from the web and past DDO forum posts.

And once I put on my +5 Moronic Hat of Great Shaming, I shall relate a time or twenty-two where I, too, threw my own brain under the Stupid Bus.

Nominations from the OurDDO Contributors

I’d thought I’d start where the soil is fertile. ¬†Members of OurDDO and the late MyDDO have already documented and archived their Moments of Shame.

So out comes the clothesline, friends. I’m airing your own dirty laundry.

Newlywed. Former DDOCast host. Experienced gamer. We could use these titles to describe our own GamerGeoff. Today, however, we shall note his own recollections of when he and fellow party members rolled a 1 in gaming.

Of greatest note, read on about how Geoff made several critically bad assumptions about a “Group of Wrongness” he had joined in a run in “Taming the Flames.” Personally, it’s one of my favorite quests. But then, I play Monks. I have great saves, love freezing weapons and rarely have problems in that quest, even when soloing. But for the non-evasive, fire-prone players among us, life is always stimulating there.¬†Geoff began writing and carrying his own signs of shame throughout that one. He got lots and lots of assists from the zerging, inexperienced party members.

And Geoff recollects how his guild, the Halfling Commandos, redefined the word “chaos” in a “Tower of Despair” run when their tanker for Sulommades discovered that having no fortification gear can make his job harder.

Our lovely BonnieBew shared with us some selfies of silly last September in the form of a series of YouTube videos. I like the titles more than anything. “Tomb of the Gynecologist” just sounded like a disaster in the making. For Bonnie, that seemed to be true.

OurDDO administrator and Filker Extraordinaire Evennote has humbly shared many moments of involuntary shrineage on her blog. There are good moments in tough gaming where, eventually, everyone’s resorted to gaming in the buff.¬†She recants, in song, how hirelings are often the cause of many moments where they hand you your own soulstone, thanks to their recklessness. She’s a great player but has been saddled with a few party members who stretch her good gaming abilities to the limit to where something breaks. Often, it’s the player that tried to exceed Even’s infinite frikkin’ patience. I’ll say it for Even: She can’t fix stupid.

And as for me…

I’ll just make a short list of my shame.

  • I can’t recall how many times that I’ve killed one of my Monks, returning to the guild ship to repair, replenish and rebuff. I can, however, recall with regretful clarity how, while still with less than 10 HP, switched myself from Earth Stance to Fire Stance to improve my Wholeness of Body healing. I killed myself as my HP changed from 10 to -1o HP so many times that some guildies think my floating soulstone on the ship is a new ship buff item.
  • There was the time where Syncletica was using the training dummy, smacking it hither and yon. I gave it a solid Void Strike hit and…the training dummy disappeared. “What did you do!?” the guild leader asked, trying to figure out what happened to the poor thing and checking the anchor point for the dummy in disbelief. Turns out that I wasn’t alone and the game had to make an update because the Monks were sending dummies into the afterlife all over the place. (My guild leader suggests that I and other Monks had punched our dummies back in time, to the old Marketplace bazaar. Look around the grounds of the end-fight to “The Chronoscope.” It’s filled with training dummies.)
  • And there’s the recent blog post on how the devs seem to hate giving healing amplification to half-elves. I ranted and raved until a few forum posters handed me my sign. I was a victim of Turbine Doublespeak. Players were trying to gain Improved Recovery from the Half-Elf racial tree not only through the normal racial enhancements but by taking the Half-Elf Monk dilettante that has the same thing.
  • Any time I enter “Irestone Inlet” without any Lesser Restoration potions.
  • Hell, any time I enter the Inlet with a party. There’s just something about that quest that brings out the idiot in all of us.
    • Party member A and C go this way
    • Party member B and D go another way
    • Both realize they’ve died too far away to reach the shrine
    • Scartongue holds up a sign saying, “You’ve just been schooled by a kobold.”

Here’s Your Shrine: The Board Game

There are quite a few forum threads where players recount great moments in game fail. Surely you have some tales of your own.

For the holiday season, feel free to recount your moments of shame or, better, someone else’s great fail, in the comments section. It’s fun for levels 1 to 100–join us!

Game Events: Asking for Trouble or Triumph?

Not long ago I stumbled on an article regarding a remarkable event in “World of Warcraft” ¬†in September 2005.

Well, really, it wasn’t a planned world event, but their worlds were apparently quite shaken by it.

The backstory goes like this. A new raid was added to WoW at that time. The end boss of the raid had a special infectious attack called “Corrupted Blood,” which is similar to debuffing and disease spells or effects in DDO that damage your CON and lower your hit points. The closest counterpart is the dreaded “Mummy Rot.,” only, imagine a version of this that would hit your whole party if someone infected was close enough to you.

This boss debuff was meant only for the raid. But somehow, a handful of players managed to leave the raid with the effect still within their character. These players intentionally walked through public areas such as towns, spreading the infection. As this was a raid level infection that hit for several hundred or more points of damage and was persistent, many low-level characters were struck dead instantly.

Watch the video above. Imagine that’s the Marketplace. You’re just shopping when your HP meter drops nearly to zero, and others around you drop dead. Many, many players are just dropping. You got to get away, but from what?

The WoW servers, predictably, went chaotic. Interestingly, people behaved as people would behave in real life. Clerical characters began to aid others. Many ran for their virtual lives, into the virtual countryside and out of the plague-ridden towns. Many died. A few more  tried to use their infection to spread it to others.

Eventually the WoW developers managed to isolate and scrub the disease from all characters and summoned pets that players purposely infected so as to continue the assault. But by then the damage was done. Not enough to cause WoW to close up shop, but enough to bring a cautionary tale to the virtual world.

The Corrupted Blood incident became quite popular in the scientific community. These epidemiologists studied the sociology of the players, comparing it to what people do in actual pandemics. Not to be outdone, the anti-terrorism community also turned an eye to the incident as a model for how terrorists become opportunists, causing the most harm to the most people in the most time possible.

Despite the fact that this was an exploit, it did something that’s missing in DDO. It caused a human reaction that required you to act, now.

Are Game Events a Thing of the Past?

I’ve never played WoW and don’t plan to do so. That’s because it took years of Neverwinter Nights gameplay to shake me from years of my Diablo II¬†“crack habit,” so I knew that any other Blizzard game (yes, that includes Diablo III) would ruin my life. (Not that DDO is as light a habit for me as my obligations would want that to be, but that’s another tale.)

I wasn’t around as well for a DDO game event of 2008, where a game module update introduced a Shavarath invasion of Stormreach, the eventual destruction of the central Marketplace, and several quests for players to gather ingredients needed to beat back the invading hordes.

Sound familiar? It’s because the events seen in the Level 6 raid, “The Chronoscope,” allows players to relive that module, specifically a more wider invasion of the Marketplace as a whole, including the original Marketplace tent’s destruction.

Today, all we seem to have for game events in a more public sphere is a passive but quite prominent and repetitive drop-in of a white dragon near the Argonessen representatives (all dragons in human form) near the House Kundarak Marketplace bank. Occasionally, some special merchants appear and contests to gather coins or other items will activate in public spaces, such as the Risia Ice Games or Festivult. However, these are quite passive in that they don’t affect everybody and are totally optional to use.

So, why isn’t there a larger, more game-encompassing event going on in DDO? Something that would effect all players and (per their level or game account) strongly encourage them, perhaps require them, to marshal their efforts to the event’s goals?

Perhaps such events are dangerous to the game’s overall stability. Perhaps world events such as these would discourage general game play and turn away the free-to-play community and upset VIP subscriptions.

It’s not as if we players or the developers couldn’t think of possible storylines. I brought up a thread in the Suggestions & Ideas subforum on a Drow war, where Eberron Drow, tired of being butt monkeys to the Faerun Drow as they attempt a move on Xen’drik itself, decide to fight back. The replies generally didn’t meet with high praise. Most people seemed burned out by the Drow, with the new Menace of the Underdark expansion.

What world events we experience today are often challenges that haven’t one bit of urgency or need at all.

Some Suggestions

With the MoTU expansion, Eberron itself is being threatened with total destruction by the Demonweb. Not that anyone who just created a new character is aware of this.

And the Quori, the race that hides within the false religion of the Path of Inspiration and are known as the Dreaming Dark, have failed to invade Xen’drik long ago and are threatening to do so again, this time without the giants of old from stopping them as before. What? You didn’t know of this invasion?

And the land of Drooam has landed a massive invasion army on the outskirts, have burned down one Stormreach district, heavily damaged Lordsmarch Plaza and planned to take over Stormreach as well. Did you miss this news while you were reading the latest posts on Feydsbook on your DRUID smart-ansible by Cannith, Inc.?

I also think there’s some evil cleric that’s raising an undead horde in the Necropolis that wants to make all of Xen’drik part of his new empire, too.

I guess my point is that there are many, many world events already in play. What is lacking in the public instances is an urgency, an appearance of desperation, of fire raining down. Of some NPCs occasionally running in fear in the Marketplace while a small group of invaders slam through the city and a world event message calls out for heroes to quickly dispatch them. Of the city sky turning red and adventurers called to be alert for a Shavarath invasion–right now. Low-level players are guided to protect NPCs at their level and fight off appropriately low-level Shavarath invaders that sneak past the more fortified Epic adventurers.

And none of these events should be telegraphed or announced by Turbine. They should just show up.

These events could be tied into the quests they relate to in-game. They could form a motivation to play by leading the players to the new Sagas NPCs. I haven’t gotten into completing any of the sagas because nothing is compelling me to do so. Not loot, or experience, or even a requirement to save myself or others from harm.

The world of DDO should have a more “live” feel to it. There are limits to how much a live event can and should do, and careful attention is required to keep low level players from getting way, way over their heads and for high-level players from becoming virtual gods by giving them a serious challenge that requires more cooperation and team play. Live events should have a compulsory hold on players without fully requiring them to do them. They shouldn’t be isolated as Mabar or Crystal Cove.

World events could also be done with great subtlety and intrigue. I would love to just log in one day to find mail message that tells me to go to an NPC that wants you and others to do this and that, unlocking a chain of events that (amidst all the other work to do) requires me to save Stormreach and to guide others to do so or to safety.

C’mon. Do you think a week where a zombie plague threatens all of Stormreach wouldn’t put a spring in your step as you run to stock up on potions? In such an event there’s a chance of griefing if a live player were infected, so it would be better for NPCs to be running about doing the deed. That is, a zombiefied NPC version of you. You get infected, your character is logged out and you must log in to another character (or specially granted character given to all players) to do a specific quest to remove the affliction (with substantial rewards, of course). Players that don’t opt to play can watch the spectacle but aren’t infected.

A horde of Quori pouring out of House Cannith would make all that ghostbane weaponry useful.

The WoW Corrupted Blood event was a totally unplanned event that shook that game at its roots by its urgency. What if that Argonessen dragon suddenly started stomping down a ramp into the Bazaar? Would you call out to some guildies to try to head it off? What would or should the lower level players do? What if some evil Drow genius had weaponized Mummy Rot and was infecting the public instances? Would a world event ask others to seek out the cure? How would this Rot effect overall play? Should it?

I’m all for bringing the immediacy of adventure to DDO. It needn’t be as “oh crap” as the WoW plague. But something out of left field that all could enjoy wouldn’t be a bad thing if you just tie it in to existing adventures.

Solo Raiding

It’s rather a contradictory term: “solo raiding.”

Raid (n.) - a sudden attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft or other
armed forces in warfare.

Note the plural. To enter a raid (a high-difficulty adventure designed for up to 12 party members) as the only party member, makes the ultimate boast of being a one-man army.

Not that this contradiction or wild claims have stopped anyone from trying–and sometimes succeeding.

I’ve been reading quite a few posts in the Achievements subforum on soloing “The Shroud” and “Zawabi’s Revenge” (ADQ2) and it got me to try a few out myself.

Solo raiding at-level is almost unheard of. Raids often require many skills and resource-intensive fighting that no one character can typically meet the requirements. So higher-level solo raids are often done by characters that are significantly over the raid’s level, and on Normal difficulty.

I’ve completed only two solo raids prior to this bout of insanity: “Tempest’s Spine” and “The Chronoscope,” levels 10 and 6, respectively. Both adventurers were Shintao Monks for their durability and self-healing. Of these, only one has Epic levels, and I’ve sent in Lynncletica successfully on Epic Hard. I know that neither of these raids have remarkably tough challenges for solo players with good self-sufficiency.

Last week, I added a new character to the table: The star-thrower Szyncletica against the Demon Queen. After that, I tried a solo run in The Shroud with Lynncletica the tanker.

Advantages and Challenges for Szyncletica

Szyncletica rapidly leveled to 26 in her first life. Her sustained DPS is the best in my dojo with many random effects going off from Shiradi Champion, off-hand passive effects, as well as the spelltouched shurikens she uses.

I’ve tried Heroic ADQ2 on Lynncletica before, perhaps shortly after Update 14 and Epic Destinies. The gnolls perched atop the pillars ate her alive, despite her powerful defenses. I tried keeping a ranged option handy to remove them but it was too slow.

Szyn, on the other hand, uses only stars to attack.

I imagined that her DPS should knock most of the tower gnolls quickly away between their respawns, particularly using an Improved Paralyzing star she owns. ¬†She can attack the marilith at any stage and, through strafing and Improved Precise Shot, attack any effreeti and the marilith at once. In one video from an old 2007 player, it looks like the Monk archer there just plain ignores the gnolls above. But the raid’s likely changed since this video.

Szyn’s greatest challenge was crisis healing. She had potions but that was it, aside from Shiradi’s Healing Spring. It was touch and go on how well this would work as Szyn stays well out of melee range and attempts to use many miss-chance abilities to slow down incoming damage. ADQ2 is all-fight: no rest, no respite. Using Wholeness of Body is not an option.

I bit my reluctance to switch Destinies, activated Primal Avatar and entered a Epic Hard “Jungles of Khyber” run recently. I completed that run with an immediate 4 Destiny Points and activated Rejuvenation Cocoon in full.

That’s a nice ability. It simply throws out a nice healing boost and some temporary HP with spell points. Combined with Devotion and healing amplification, the results would be sufficient to keep Szyn healed in battle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I got Cocoon trained after my attempts at the Demon Queen. More on that in a sec.

Thankfully, the loot gods have been good to me. I just received a level 24 Cold Iron spelltouched star with Wounding and the occasional Disintegrate. Kicking on the Stay Good stance should make that star effective enough to bust the Queen’s DR.

The DQ Solo Attempts

Szyn-LailatWith a load of Haste potions and after some study, I completed the pre-raid, rebuffed and tried a raid run.

I armed Szyn with her L20 Icy Burst of Improved Paralyzing and removed the effreti and elementals without issue.

After a few words with the Demon Queen, the fight was on. I removed the gnolls very quickly to the point where they were a non-factor.

I did what I could to concentrate all my attacks only on the marilith, no matter where she was, letting Improved Precise Shot weed out any effreti that got in the way.

But I was having a hard time keeping healed from the glancing damage that Lailat managed to get on me.

She was down to virtually no HP at all when I took one hit too many myself and expired. And then I saw something odd.

Szyn-vs-Lailat1-eNI realized I had mistakenly took Szyn in against the Queen on Epic Normal difficulty and nearly beat her. Note the Queen’s virtually out of HP. It was that close.

Beginner’s luck, it turned out. I tried another run on eN and got curbstomped faster, before Lailat had lost half of her HP.

Determined to get something done, I ran through once more, on Heroic Elite.

Funny: Lailat in eN is around Level 26. On Heroic Elite, she’s CR28 and felt a bit harder to hit.

Szyn-vs-Lailat-hEBut I held my own and the marilith fell. It was my first solo raid victory on a non-Light Monk, characters that have all the healing toys compared to their Dark brethren. No vampirism. No Healing Ki. No Cleric dilettante. Just a throwing star, a weak battle healing option and sheer sustained damage per second.

But perhaps, before I TR, I will try an eNormal once more, armed now with Cocoon since those first runs, and with a stronger resolve.

Going Solo in the Shroud

The barbarian that completed a Shroud run solo had to fiddle a few things and was incredibly overgeared to ensure some success. First off, he was level 28–that’s a capped character. Lynncletica sits at 25 now. Next, he multiclassed a couple of Fighter levels to go with his Barbarian. Looks like he used the Fury of the Wild Epic Destiny with some Primal Avatar things mixed in, perhaps some Legendary Dreadnought.

I decided to go in with Grandmaster of Flowers but with Twists from Legendary Dreadnought and Unyielding Sentinel that boosted fortification, PRR, and DCs.

The damage that the Barb could do was quite remarkable, sometimes making 3,0oo point critical hits. I was thinking too far ahead, on what to do in Part 4 against Harry and his recharging gnolls.

So, armed for bear, I took Lynn into a Normal run.

You might guess what happened. Lynn loses in part 1. Her DPS is sufficient to take down the portals but far too slowly. The portal keepers arrive and lock up the Shroud with Shavarath, sealing my fate.

A post-mortem made me recall an old contest that I had planned to write about: A DPS contest where players were asked to enter¬†Aussircaex’s Valley and test how fast they could remove a planar gateway that resided there.

This is the same type of portal seen in the Shroud. It never changes and has a fixed set of stats, is always 12,000 HP, is immune from most elemental damage and has 100% fortification. So it’s a perfect way to test out any character’s DPS.

The original contest set some weapon limits, but going in a raid, you’ve got to remove that thing fast and by any means necessary.

I did take Szyn in there and took that portal down in about 1 minute and 16 seconds, but I can’t remember if that was with my newer and Shroud-designed Holy of Greater Construct Bane star or using an older Aligned of Construct Bane one.

If I can add some Armor-Piercing properties in my off-hand, I’m sure I can whittle that thing down in under a minute. Time to study again. Looks like I could trade out the Celestia blade with my Envenomed Blade’s 10% armor piercing, but then I’d also lose the light damage that the epic shortsword can do. I’d have to test it.

And it looks like armor-piercing effects stack. So, in a perfect, beautiful world, wearing a regular or Flawless Black Dragonscale Robe and its armor piercing would stack with off-hand effects. I could farm for Black scales. I took Szyn into a few Heroic Tor runs and beat two of the three dragons on Elite but it was the black dragon’s acid damage that threw me off. (This was, again, before I got Cocoon trained up.) Some Black Dragonscale would be a good tactical alternative.

Lynn should do better, but I’m not sure. I’ve become a bit dependent on Grandmaster of Flowers. I needed the speed and critical hit power of Legendary Dreadnought, if just for part 1 alone. My concern remained on getting to Part 4. Harry wouldn’t be the issue; it would be my ability to remove the gnolls in later rounds before they recharge him faster than I could damage him. I wouldn’t have the Rage effects of a Barbarian nor as many Action Boosts. Without GMoF, there’s no ability to use Everything is Nothing to remove the gnolls very quickly.

But then, without LD, getting through Part 1 is likely impossible.

So, back to the drawing board.

Power Slaying: Szyncletica at Endgame

I thought I’d make some final screen captures of Szyncletica the star-thrower as she approaches level capstone in her first life. She’s L26 at the time I write this, and may likely reach L28 before Christmas if I still haven’t looted or crafted the essentials I think she needs for Life 2.0.

As noted before, this is a very powerful build that can take down single enemies well and do surprisingly well against mobs with the right shuriken. In fact, I have one of those “right shurikens,” getting lucky to get an Improved Paralyzing Level 20 spelltouched star. With Improved Precise Shot (IPS), she’s a very effective one-man crowd controller in some Epic adventures.

This is one character I’m looking forward to reincarnating with glee. It’s fun to play at all levels, and she will only get stronger, although I’m pondering my options for her weakest point.

Dragons

One of my first tastes of how good Szyn would be involved a foray into “Mired in Kobolds.” At the end, you encounter Valrath, a young black dragon. If you want all the treasure in that area, you can stick around to take out his much tougher mother, Sinvala.

Animated illustration of circlestrafing. The b...

Animated illustration of circlestrafing. The blue player circlestrafes counterclockwise around his red adversary, firing continually as he does so. Red, unable to keep track of the moving blue, misses with most all shots. Blue is at an advantage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I learned about many dragons is that they aren’t immune to poison. Szyn’s fighting style on dragons, given their relative size and difficulty in turning,¬† is basically circle strafing: (1) run around the enemy, (2) pelt them with debilitating stars and accumulate poison damage, (3) repeat until dead.

I was level 16 going into a Normal run on this, so I didn’t do anything especially “epic” except to survive a dragon. They spin and try to chase you, often spewing a nasty dragon breath of acid.

Because of their bulk, however, they aren’t as fast in chasing if you’re fast enough. By spinning about, the larger dragon cannot turn quite fast enough to hit you with their breath. Depending on the size of the area, you should be able to run without evading obstacles. In this quest, Valrath has a small group of paragon kobold fighters and shamans as well as the unstable power crystals that throw damage, and there are briar patches.

Being a ranged fighter with lots of Dodge and Improved Evasion, I stood my ground and immediately removed the crystals before beginning my run. I didn’t have to quite target the kobolds. They eventually got into my throwing pattern at the dragon and IPS removed them.

Szyn-vs-SinvalaValrath was my match at 16. Then I stayed about for Sinvala, who comes in at CR21 on Normal. She got the same treatment but much larger poison damage, often reaching 75 per tick.

As for touch healing, circle strafing works because the hireling is busy trying to chase you around and thus tends to stay out of immediate danger since the dragon is focused on the damage dealer–you. Occasionally I’d cut across the dragon’s flank to get a quick heal from my hireling (in this case, Isadora the Cleric) and then continue my circling.

I’ll likely go back in to see how I do against the CR30 mama dragon on Elite, while being 4 or so levels below her at around L26. Only Lynncletica has beaten Sinvala on Elite–and she’s a tanking Shintao with far greater defenses than Szyn.

A more recent adventure was in Epic Normal “Don’t Drink the Water,” where Szyn entered at L24 against CR27 Tharmalos, a green dragon that loves his poison breath. Strange that he’s not immune from poison, either.

Szyn-vs-TharmalosI attacked him the same way as with Sinvala: circle strafing. After a point, the area’s floor breaks up into pools of acid, so I’ve developed a third-eye, as it were, jumping while strafing to avoid the holes.

Against Tharmalos and his tendency to try to pounce on you like a 12,000 pound rabid kitten with a serious case of mange, standing still at any time against him was unwise.

So, in summary, Szyn’s speed, evasiveness and miss-chance, combined with firepower, makes her a fierce dragon slayer. Thankfully, the game offers a wide area to fight when dragons appear, be it in “Mired,” the epic Gianthold wilderness or the raid “Fall of Truth.” Else, she’d be a chew toy.

Bosses

If dragons can be felled, smaller bosses shouldn’t a huge issue in general. The problem here is typically maneuvering room. The smaller the corridor or room, the tighter circles I have to spin, and the more likely that a boss will chase me. Often here, their lair is too small and I collide with everything, forcing me to move the fight out of an area or use another tactic.

In solo play, my hirelings never out-do my damage rate and so keeping Threat is always a problem.

Since most bosses aren’t large or stay still, the attack pattern goes from circle strafing to kiting the enemy in solo play. I let them chase me but always stay ahead of them while continuing my barrage. This works very well against spell casters that sometimes cannot deal their most damaging spells due to my poison-dotting as well as any other Shiradi effects that interrupt their concentration. Distance is key against fighters as Drow hit with poison of their own as well as dangerous critical hits.

Unlike my melee Monks, Szyn has got away with just using her non-epic White Dragonscale Robe and adding a modest 110% fortifying set of gloves into the mix for Epic play. She just got a Blurry item to help with attacks so she’s more untouchable but can withstand a hit or two without serious complications. I’ve been farming for a Shimmering Arrowhead in “The Weapons Shipment” with no joy and imminent chest ransacking. I’m not reincarnating before I have this and one or two Green Steel weapons in her arsenal.

Shroud fighting is good for Szyn as she can hold still with Archer’s Focus to concentrate damage on the static Harry in part 4, sidestepping as required to avoid the occasional meteor. In part 5, she lets the melees engage for a moment and then attacks from a long way away, always keeping one of the melee fighters between her and Harry as a way to keep him from immediately breaking in a run towards her position.

When not strafing, the challenge is to stay out of melee range, keep enough miss-chance effects up to minimize ranged damage and not to kite enemies too far from their lair to avoid rubber-banding them back to their start, fully healed and more dangerous than when you had better health and buffs.

Poison, poison, poison. I can’t say enough on the positives of this dot effect. Slashing damage from the stars now confirm for me what Szyn is best at: Killing non-demonic, non-undead, non-construct hordes.

Weaknesses

Starting off at low level, mobs aren’t too good to encounter. With IPS, it’s less of a bother. But there are some things I just can’t take down very well.

Undead giant skeletons. They need the best bludgeoning DR and my slashing attacks with shuriken just don’t do it. Even with the vaunted Morning Star and using Shiradi stance “Stay Good,” I give limited damage. So much for any Subterrane trips until I get that Greater Disrupting Green Steel star completed.

Golems and living constructs. Without a smiting shuriken, it’s tough going on constructs. I began work on Elite runs in the Cannith Manufactury for the three quests there. In “Power Play,” it wasn’t too bad in using the spelltouched stars for damage. But in the end fight, the continuous respawns and awkward kiting I had to do became too complex and I died from Steelthorn’s team. I don’t have an answer for these guys through any named or high-crafting option at present. I could only craft up a Holy Adamantine Greater Construct Bane star to use on them and planar portals in the Shroud.¬†I hate artificers. They really use Lightning Motes nowadays to stun¬†very¬†effectively since Update 19. It’s not impossible for a smiting shuriken to be generated, I think. It’s just that the damn weapons overall don’t show up as often in loot generation, much less higher-end stars with great properties.

Demons and devils. If there are only a few individuals, it’s not a problem. When mobs show up, Szyn’s inability to poison them and their DR requirements (Good) limit the use of Epic Destiny options in Shiradi. I appreciate the “Stay Good” stance to add no-damage Good alignment to weapons. But this won’t work against pit fiends and horned devils. Perhaps paradoxically, while its harder to remove demonic mobs, my Shocking Burst Silver of Pure Good star easily robs these bosses of their life. Go figure. ¬†A better Green Steel Mineral II star is in the works. Szyn held her own quite well in an Epic Normal “Devil Assault” run with a couple of hirelings to light-tank. Even got a Shard of Great Power for my troubles. I’ll have two or three more runs there before Szyn is ready for her second life, in so far as needed Tokens of the Twelve, at least.

The Near Future

I’ve been organizing more guild Shroud runs that seem to be appreciated. Just had one last night (at the time of this post) and I think I finally have all the materials required to fully craft my Greater Disruption star. With maybe another run or two, the Mineral or Ice II will be next.

I see myself skipping the Demonweb quests this time around since getting XP isn’t the issue, but the right gear. Self-piking a Heroic series of Wheloon Prison quests to pick up more useful mid-level gear as well as Heroic Gianthold for similar items attracts me more. I’m even considering doing several Eveningstar challenges to build at least one more low-end spelltouched star to add to the next life’s arsenal, or encouraging a few guildmates to help me run the Cannith Challenges for a Frozen Tunic

In addition to the necessary Shroud runs, I’m looking more at epic Gianthold for thinking ahead to building an Epic White Dragonscale Robe and getting the matching helm. That means joining PuGs of “Fall of Truth.” My guild’s rather conservative on Epic and raid play compared to some, ¬†and I’m less likely to join a PuG, so I haven’t gotten out there much.

There’s also the matter of survival. Three emergency recharges of Healing Spring isn’t cutting it for sustained battle play where rests or places to hide to use Wholeness of Body are possible, such as a raid. While Szyn has some of the best DPS, she has the worst healing amplification of my characters–practically zero. Often this isn’t a problem since her fighting style allows her to stay far away from melee attacks and dodge or evade many magic and missile attacks. But in the Shroud, the Whirling Blades eat her alive, especially on Elite. I got smacked with 50-100 point ticks, and only the character’s speed avoided a nastier fate.

I’ll spend some PDK commendations for some Purple Dragon Knight Gauntlets before reincarnating but I need a better battle healing option. My usual alternative for my Monks, vampirism, can’t work on ranged attacks, which is all that Szyn is able to do in effective fighting.

After re-reading the Shradi Shuricannon thread once more on things I’ve might have missed, I’ll realize now I will have to bear disabling Shiradi for a time and start training a bit in Primal Avatar for Rejuvenation Cocoon and a little more health. Unlike the build specification, I don’t think I trained anything in Shintao Monk to gain 10% amplification, and it’s a bit late to worry about it now, given that I’m not planning on entering Szyn in anything in this life that requires it.

At the risk of sounding redundant, this is one reincarnation I’m looking very forward to doing, but I have to slow my excitement down and gear up for the next life while I can.

The Insane Tourist’s Guide to the Underdark

Underdark1In our first guide, we discussed the wonders inside the demon-infested catacombs of the Subterrane that tourists like some of you might enjoy.

The Insane Tourist might find the vistas of the Subterrane interesting, but not quite big enough.

Experienced tourists (that is, Epic characters) can take in the magnificent desolation of the Underdark, where not-so-happy dark elves plot to invade some towns of the surface world. It’s all drama down there. Yuan-Ti power grabs. Immense giant worms that try to eat you whole. A dragon. Zombies.

Sure, the Drow are rather ruthless and evil. But they also have style in doing it. And their digs (no pun intended) are pretty majestic for a massive underground canyon. You have to go see.

Preparations Before You Visit

The Drow aren’t standing about, asking for your tickets, passport or papers and ushering you inside the Underdark on a tram. As is their way, they’re out to kill or enslave you.

Therefore, you’ll need to be properly equipped for your trip. Weapons with Elf Bane are okay, but generally any good-aligned weapon will suffice to keep the crowds of natives at bay as they surround you in wonder and murderous intent. Remember that the Drow are more spell resistant than other enemies. They also tend to use more poison attacks that can be debilitating if you don’t pack some poison neutralization potions for the journey.

To reach the Underdark itself, customs require you to

  1. Be Level 20. You must be Level 20 or higher to enter the King’s Forest to find the sole portal into the area.
  2. Complete the “Lords of Dust” quest chain, and then complete “Beyond the Rift” to open a path for you from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms, if this is your character’s¬†first life¬†as an Insane Tourist.
  3. You may either venture through the King’s Forest to find the entrance on the barren hill, or complete the “Darkening” Eveningstar quest chain to gain access. Once you complete “The Battle for Eveningstar,” the portal to the Underdark activates inside Eveningstar Cavern. (Until you find another portal inside the Underdark or complete the chain, the other cavern’s portals may remain darkened.)

Once you’ve basked in the hospitality and quiet desperation of the villagers of Eveningstar, enter the King’s Forest from their town and head south. It may be easiest and safest to follow the path of the river to the east once you come to it, since it winds southward and just east of your destination.

As you travel, you’ll find many journals left for you to read by Elminster, known to be a powerful wizard and scholar of the area (as well as quite popular with the ladies and a goddess or two).

A Purple Dragon Knight outpost lies along the river’s edge just before the river ends at the southernmost reaches of the forest. You may want to stop there and speak to a mage inside, who can instantly teleport you from the outpost back to Eveningstar, and then vise versa for future tours once you speak to him while at the outpost.

Take some rest at the outpost, and then head westward until you find an easily identifiable barren hill with many Drow greeters. The entrance atop the hill allows you to find two sub-portals within the Underdark that make it easier later to reach a quest in the Underdark itself as well as the Drow city, Sschindylryn,  from the Eveningstar Cavern.

Update: One reader disagreed on the availability of accessing the Underdark. I am reasonably sure that any character that hasn’t entered the Underdark on their current life will find that the Eveningstar Cavern has only one of three portals active. You’ll only be able to use the single portal which (at that stage in your life) only returns you to Eberron (or, if you have one, a guild airship). The portals that activate once you visit the Underdark or¬†Sschindylryn are not active until you reach their respective entrances for the first time. You must complete the Eveningstar battle quest chain for the Underdark portal to activate inside Eveningstar cavern.

Your First Stop in the Underdark: Greet Some Slavers

The King’s Forest entrance rests above a caravan of Drow slavers from House Avithoul. Their charges are Eveningstar villagers and soldiers, each equipped with a magical collar that forces them to fight you, rather than sell you tschotskes and maps.

Underdark2-slaves

More slaves…and slaver’s loot…liberated!

The slavers are often shrouded in invisibility and accompanied by more visible Drow guards. A good Spot reveals their outline. Show them how hospitality is best offered by killing the slaver and his guards without harming their collared slaves.

You’re rewarded with XP if you can save enough of these less-prepared tourists you find here and elsewhere the Underdark by using your skills of disabling devices, your Concentration, or even brute strength to remove the controlling collars from the enslaved ones–without killing them. For Monks, you’ll likely need a Concentration at least 48 or better to have a fighting chance of removing the slave collars.

Next Stop: See a Real Drow Priestess and Open the Portal to Sschindylryn

After the slavers, you can make your way over a stone bridge to a small redoubt with a few Drow archers who are happy to show you what real arrows look like–points first and at high velocity. Be mindful that slowing and damaging Spell Wards are all over this area, making a quick exit harder to do. A Rogue in your tour group can disable these to make your trip less arduous.

Continuing southwest and up a path leads you to a welcoming party of more Drow slavers accompanying a Drow priestess. They’ll demonstrate their religious customs for surface dwellers by making you their sacrifice of the day.

If you want that selfie of you alone and not you with your soulstone, you might decline the Drow’s insistence to die horribly by slaying everyone else first, except the Priestess. She’s a special one. If you attempt to kill her, she’ll use her magics to leech the lives of anyone in her party to continue fighting you. Only when a Priestess has no more allies or slaves left alive to leech can you (easily) kill the Priestess herself.

Did I mention that the Underdark denizens love to use death spells? Be sure to pack something or bring someone that offers Death Ward throughout your tour, and at least be wearing a Deathblock item if you haven’t Death Ward options at hand.

With the twisted religious service over, head a little ways up the path to find a shrine and a portal to enter the Drow city of Sschindylryn. Once you enter this portal, you will have now activated sister portals to both the Underdark and the Drow city to make it easier to return to either destination, directly from Eveningstar Cavern.

Sschindylryn: City of Portals

See_Rock_CitySo that’s what all those “See Rock City” barn signs were talking about, right? You’ll never see them quite the same way again now.

As you might expect, there’s not a tour guide awaiting you to show you the fine eateries and museums inside the Drow city. It’s still quite scenic on the outside. Lots of waterfalls.

Scattered about the city and the southern parts around the city are missives from a Drow leader that discuss their desire to visit Eveningstar and Eberron and take what they want. Seems they’re also learning about things from your world, like guild airships.

You might want to pass on any requests from them for a ship invite.

Collect all the missives scattered about the city outskirts and inside the city and you’ll complete a full map of the area.

The Drow make you work for that map.¬†Watch your step!¬†Sschindylryn rests atop a wide canyon to an underground river so deep that the Drow aren’t daring enough to visit there. Fall off into the bottomless crevasse surrounding the city and your tourist days are temporarily over. Several of the missives rest along the edges of the canyon to give you sphincter-clenching sensations as you hop over gaps on the way to find them. It’s good reading, really.

Look up. THAT'S how you build a pyramid.

Look up. THAT’S how you build a pyramid.

The city is stunningly built. Ornately inscribed doors and spires, seemingly carved from the stone itself, form the many residences and halls there. Unfortunately, the Drow never offer open-house tours of city dwellings, so you will not be able to share that Eberron fruitcake you’ve been carrying.

If you want to get an idea of how to build a ziggurat (a stepped pyramidal building), stand at the city’s main entrance and look up.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don't even think how they get up there.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don’t even think how they get up there.

You’ll also find yet another portal inside the city. Taking this is a quick way to head elsewhere in the Underdark. But should you activate this portal, you may find yourself materializing on return trips to the Drow city at this portal and not the outskirts portal. There are one or two other city portals, but these are inactive (likely for a future adventure somewhere else in the Underdark).

Underdark-Scity3There are three areas based on the Drow houses to see as you slay the guards, commoners and driders that greet you on your tour. House Dun’Robar is a military house, specialized in training fighter legions. House¬†Avithoul, as you might guess from your first encounter as you initially entered the Underdark, specializes in the slave trade. House Szind offers to keep other Drow troops and slaves alive, even if you keep killing them, by using their necromancers to raise them as undead. Lastly, atop and inside the ziggurat of the city, is a Drow temple where you may get to meet the High Priestess and pay your respects.

Inside any of these houses you’ll find a magnificent living space. Tapestries adorn the walls. Sculptures and decorated altars abound. Racks of weaponry and military precision. The beautifully and tastefully decorated bedrooms of the Matron Mothers. Libraries filled with the knowledge of Drow over the milennia. Incredible furniture. The Drow blend form and function in a mesmerizing, captivating synergy.

Sadly, all of these areas are closed to deeper tours. Once you complete a battle to save Eveningstar from a Drow invasion, you can enter their Houses in the Drow city and get a closer look at mostly everything in House Dun’Robar without Drow complaint. But the illusion spell works only temporarily to allow you to contemplate the art inside House Avithoul, and the spell fails utterly in the necromantic spyworks of House Szind.

The city has at least one rare encounter in each house as well as two in the common area. These Drow and driders do not offer their wares willingly.

The Underdark Tour Continues

The wilds of the Underdark are contained on three levels. Being of natural formation, it’s not at all easy to find paths that lead where you want to sight-see. There’s also the matter of Drow and Yuan-Ti forces wanting to push you off these high ledges to your doom at your earliest inconvenience.

Key places to visit are noted in a copy of the full map. There is one additional portal that you can use to leave and return to the Underdark with greater ease than having to use the King’s Forest portal. Activating the Riz Malag portal makes it more convenient later to reach the quest, “In the Belly of the Beast.”

The ruins of Riz Malag.

The ruins of Riz Malag.

Ever seen a dragon up close? Any typical adventurer has done so, of course. Why stop now? In one of the harder paths to find, and a harder rare enemy to discover in his lair, is the red dragon Micahrastir. Now, dragons are rarely friendly. To them, you’re the snack on their version of a trip. You might be able to get a selfie of you next to his slumbering bulk, but if you’re that close, fighting him is probable.

Careful not to get knocked off of Micah’s lair by his wind buffeting if you’re trying to steal his loot (as is custom for adventurer tourists). Once a fight starts, the small path that leads up to him is destroyed and you cannot return to him in the same instance to continue your fight if you’re knocked off.

Overall, stealth is a wonderful and preferred way to enjoy your tour, especially if alone. You’ll certainly attract less attention if you are keen on reaching every encounter point. True to the name, however, it’s dark in there.

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

A vendor named Malchor is close by the Eveningstar portal into the Underdark. Now that you’ve activated a portal in Eveningstar Cavern, it’s easy to reach this vendor. Recall from anywhere in the Underdark, and then use the Underdark portal in Eveningstar Cavern and choose the option for the trader’s post.

Malchor’s having a promotion on his wares and will offer to give you a pair of his light-enhancing goggles at no charge.

The Underdark with goggles!

The Underdark with goggles!

These goggles better highlight the area, and they also mark hostiles in a red hue. Aside from changing your character’s gear setup, the goggles may cause contrasts in your sight that might annoy your appreciation of the aesthetics of the area.

Other notable encounters and sights:

  • The last priestess of House¬†Jegg’Dralnoc. A rare sight to find a priestess all alone in the wilds. Doesn’t look like Lolth is giving her any sympathy or alms. You’re not that type of “take pictures, leave only footprints” kind of tourist, however. Once she attacks you, you can take a certain pride in ending an entire Drow house all by yourself. Her altar is always in the same place, although sometimes she isn’t there, replaced by a Drow acolyte.
  • Nessaleesa, She Who Hunts Among Stones. A medusa has made a garden of stone–specifically, enemies she has turned to stone by her petrifying gaze. If you’re a Shintao Monk, it would be curiously fitting to turn her into jade stone, if possible, for a few moments before ending her.
  • Agathea, a night hag, has a little old place where she wants you to get together. It’s not a love shack, however. You’re to be part of our food supply, baby.
  • The Grand Waterfall. The Yuan-Ti like it, too. But they aren’t inclined to share it with you.
  • Tranquility Grove. Wow, man. Poppies poppies poppies…you shouldn’t rest here. At all. The flora will attempt to make you sleep here indefinitely. If you’re of elven heritage, you’re immune to sleep effects and should be able to traverse the area without problem.
  • Riz Malag: A rather striking set of ruins amidst the starkness of the Underdark stone. Do find this for your alternate portal out and back to get to “In the Belly of the Beast.” There’s many illitids and animated armors nearby.

Next time on Insane Tourism: The Storm Horns.