What is the sound of one fist punching?
The answer to this not-quite-zen riddle is: A ding, as in the confirmation sound of a Stunning Fist connecting to its target.
Stunning Fist is ever the keystone attack of most unarmed Monks. But for Pynthetica the Zen Archer, using Stunning Fist or any ki attacks outside of Ten Thousand Stars isn’t her usual knack.
At least, not until a Heroic Elite run on “Gianthold Tor.”
Why Evasion is So Needed
Over the weekend, a fellow guildmate and I had completed the three flagging runs for Heroic Gianthold, all on Elite. “A Cabal of One” showed we (a Warforged Artificer, a Half-Elf Monk, Tempys and Gorgal) had plenty of DPS. While my friend Shakalegg the Artificer had superior trapping ability, it was her ability to get to a few of the trap boxes safely that almost proved our party’s undoing. After the first conspirator was slain, we encountered a horrific closely meshed combination of poison and acid traps, with one super-nasty fire trap supporting it.
Shakalegg, lacking any Evasion, died on contact. So did our hirelings, who ignored commands to stay back or dutifully (and stupidly) met their end in assisting. I was the only one standing, with Improved Evasion saving me barely from immediate death as I cleaned up a few enemies before clearing the shrine, thankfully close by. (My guildmate, days later, revealed to me that she had neglected to wear any kind of fortification throughout those quests. Whoops.)
Pynthetica was at level 15 and had claimed Improved Precise Shot. Combined with a good paralyzing bow, she was able to use choke points, either doors or narrow hallways, to slow or stop anything that came along. I had to grab a soulstone of one hireling that sat direct in a trap’s jet, getting myself smacked with 110 Poison damage even with Improved Evasion on three tries before succeeding. One Abundant Step later, and our party was back in business, completing the quest.
“Madstone Crater” is never nice to small parties. It’s a kill-fest where you also must guard the three sages as they destroy crystals that make the denizens there quite ax-crazy. I had just made a speed farming run alone with Szyncletica a day before, through the entire chain, so I had refreshed my memory on what our party needed to do.
The first two sages were easy to guard. But there were many ball-lightning-happy ogre mages that were lobbing electrical death at us, killing the non-evasive characters quickly, leaving all but me on attack before I rolled a 1 and died as well.
I released back to rebuff and return but not before adding in a bit more firepower in the form of a L16 hireling sorcerer named Mekwi Therzyl.
Thankfully the sages cannot die, but forced to reset their attempts to destroy the crystal after enemies interrupt them with too much damage (“Too much! I must start again.”).
I set Mekwi on aggressive mode and he went to work like no other hireling I had seen to-date. His primary spells where Otto’s Dancing Sphere and Horrid Wilting, which he immediately used to lock up every enemy above the sage, where my bow work slaughtered what he didn’t kill himself. My guildmate had just reentered when the sage managed to complete his work and we continued on to complete the quest.
Mekwi: Highly Recommended Hireling…Mostly
Mekwi wasn’t done showing off how badass he was for a non-player character. In “Prison of the Planes,” Mekwi continued to show his DJ skill, setting up more than a few dances. But once we hit the rooms where the djinns went into their unkillable ethereal state while regenerating, Mekwi became quite annoyed with them and gave both the Finger–the Finger of Death spell, to be precise, destroying them despite their state.
Tempys, ever the poster child for the stupid hireling AI, moved when he was commanded to stay still. He managed to get himself killed despite being on the outside of one prison room, directed only to pull the prison activation lever. I’ve learned that Tempys survives better when I tell him to fight rather than defend as he’s so idiotic that he will neither defend or heal himself when attacked while in Defend mode.
We completed the rest of “Prison” without incident, rebuffed and entered “Gianthold Tor” on Elite. I was hoping to score a Level 13 Ring of Shadows from the end-reward (the reason I had Szyn make a speed run to try to get on from the chain end-reward, only managing to scare up a Level 12 Dream Visor for Pyn to use).
The starting fight with the hordes of giants went badly, with everyone but myself succumbing to fireballs from Pyromancer Fire Giants. My evasive nature held up and I managed to slaughter the last half of the giant mob.
But things got too sticky when a Stormsworn Earthcaller came tearing down the path heading to Snitch, the unruly kobold. Earthcallers are, effectively, battle clerics that also throw boulders.
Still alone, with four ghosts helplessly witnessing, my bow damage, even in TTS burst mode, simply could not take down the Earthcaller while he continually healed himself.
With my Death Ward buff beginning to fade and the probability of other giants hearing the fight, I had to go at it old-school with what I had left.
Pyn put away the bow, equipped some simple +2 Holy icy-bursted handwraps and punched the guy, at least a CR17, into obliviousness with a perfect stun.
Despite my goal of using bows as the dominant weapon, I did train up Stunning Fist early on. I had my regrets on doing this early in Pyn’s second life since Zen Archers are feat-starved and I realized later that I needed additional feats to make her a better archer.
But Stunning Fist saved the day, killing the Earthcaller. This was a great example of how the Monk forms the weapon as an unarmed fighter. Her handwraps were not extraordinary, but her WIS (built up to support Ten Thousand Stars) was already at 35, high for level 15. Pyn’s old-school unarmed fighting helped to clear two more Earthcallers and Pyromancers before she returned to her bow to clear the jaralith lion-demons and then open the shrine.
Once revived, Mekwi seemed to learn from his last taste of death, giving the Finger to any mage he saw without hesitation and setting a dance hall on any other giant he found. We completed the rest of the quest without incident, skipping the dragon fights this time.
Sadly, the end rewards for completing the chain on all Elite only gave the level 12 named items. Dang it. I’ll have to speed run Szyn later for a L23 Ring of Shadows for an Epic Pyn another time.
Rock-hard Hireling Atheism
Later on, I took Mekwi in with Tempys to complete “Undermine” on Elite. Here, the sorcerer did his usual thing against any Droaam kobolds and fighters quite competently.
But when we encountered the Elder Earth Elementals (say that three times fast), Mekwi and Tempys became completely worthless. They stood there as if in passive mode, neither fighting nor responding to any attack commands, as if the elementals weren’t there at all. It was if Mekwi stood there chatting with Tempys calmly, “Say, do you feel something? It’s rather breezy in here.”
Thankfully the elementals weren’t immune from paralysis and weren’t very powerful enemies, so I managed to take them all down on my lonesome. After removing 75% of the hit points of mini-boss Rhyolite with a well-timed det pack (the one guarding the first shrine), the quest continued on without a lot of problems, save the hireling’s steadfast refusal to admit that rock elementals existed.
From Level 15 Onward
My slogan that a Zen Archer is a Monk with a bow played out well throughout the weekend. While not perhaps the most powerful archer, Pynthetica the Zen Archer showed her durability and versatility by using swords or going unarmed to meet a party need. The innate Monk traits of speed, saves and stuns are still present.
Now equipped with a pair of Stonedust Handwraps (not yet fused for Vampiric), Pyn had an emergency stunning option. She needed it in a repeat run of “Feast or Famine” where the nasty Wyrm Cult Heresiarchs were throwing Enervate and Disintegrate spells constantly. After one of them blew me to atoms, I equipped the Stonedusts and stunned him and the rest of the spawning hunting party with extreme prejudice.
Now the fun begins in getting her build to work harder. Pyn had trained enough in the Ninja Spy tree to train a point of WIS from it. On the Arcane Archer side, she’s added two more points. In a perfect world, I’d get the No Mercy ability trained for extra damage while helpless, or Poisoned Soul to inject Ninja Poison for damage-over-time using swords. We’ll see how this plays out.
With still about 22 AP to go before level 20, she can train her third core ability for Aligned arrows, the last core I can train until level 22, given the elven Archer Archer’s slower leveling.
But there will be much she may not train in the AA tree, allowing those abilities to work through a bow alone while also leveraging some useful Ninja Spy abilities or racial abilities. Options for smiting (1 AP) might be ignored in favor of increasing the Will DC on the paralyzer attack, with its three ranks. I want to compare its DC at maximum to Improved Paralyzing that I see on Szyncletica’s spelltouched stars.
If the DC is still too low, I may skip Paralyzing arrows, too. Same for the Force arrows, with 3 ranks and critical damage added, too. Banishing is a better thing to have available so that bow damage can help. I’m thinking that “Acid Wit” will be much harder without it (the elementals there are very, very tough). It’s only 1 AP and one rank, as is Smiting.
There’s the matter of what racial abilities to train up. So far, I’ve been able only to use healing wands for battle healing, which isn’t too bad considering that I tend to need them only when I’m very outmatched (confined space, high DR/level enemy, only target present) and unable to remove enemies at a distance or pull some individually. Complete training of the Ranger dilettante is essential as it maximizes the Lesser Bow Strength effect for more bow damage. That’s 4 AP I must spend (a prerequisite ability adds another DEX point), 6 AP if I count that Improved Recovery II effect. I can skip the last two core abilities there.
But this leaves me with precious few AP for any AA combat abilities.
What I am prioritizing are all the arrow imbues up to the Improved Elemental Arrows for special effects. Pyn isn’t flashy. It’s the consistency and reliability of her attacks that are important. While slower in attack speed than Szyncletica the star thrower, she’ll have greater attack options because of the use of WIS, whereas Szyn relies entirely on the Dexterity-to-Damage ability of a Ninja Spy.
The last Heroic feat will be Improved Critical: Ranged at L18 to make her critical hits a bit more frequent.
As long as I continue to add in the WIS for the reliable and often-used Ten Thousand Stars (and the occasional stun), things look promising for Pyn.
A bit of searching the bags of other characters for Black dragon scales allowed me to add a Black Dragonscale Robe to Pyn. She still has the White Dragonscale Robe handy, but the Black Robe’s armor-piercing, stat-boosting Fury mode and Haste Guard has been nice on the DPS.