Zen and the Art of Stunning a Giant Senseless

In Gianthold Tor, the giants can become overwhelming. Sometimes an old-school approach is better. (Stolen from GamerGeoff)

In Gianthold Tor, the giants can become overwhelming. Sometimes an old-school approach is better. (Stolen from GamerGeoff)

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.

Sympathy for the Devils

The eternal battlefield. Are you too scared to take on the devils on their home turf?

The eternal battlefield. Are you too scared to take on the devils on their home turf? Leave your Epic excuses behind, stop being a baby and go fight for REAL.

I don’t know of many guildmates that bother to hang around in the Devil Battlefield much nowadays, especially with the Epic content in the Forgotten Realms.

But there is still much to be gained there between levels 18 and 24, especially for a Monk.

Before the Menace of the Underdark expansion, the Tower of Despair raid was a popular run, even for PuGs.

To run this raid required a character to complete the four flagging quests: “Genesis Point,” “A New Invasion,” “Bastion of Power,” and “Sins of Attrition.” You also needed to make sufficient runs through the two standalone quests, “Wrath of the Flame” and “Weapons Shipment,” to farm for four ingredients to make the special Boots of Anchoring, needed by melee classes in particular to avoid getting banished back to Eberron by one of the bosses during the raid itself.

Further, in comparison to other Level 19 quests, Shavarath enemies are demons and devils. They’re often filled with immunities and require at least Good-aligned weapons, never approach you short-manned and have bags of hit points to wear you down.

No wonder fewer people run this series.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, especially with Epic questing.

Reason 1: Yugoloth Potions

Today, the most important thing your characters can gain from the  Shavarath quests are Yugoloth Favor Potions. As the name suggests, you gain access to a special vendor when you have sufficient Yugoloth favor. This means you’ll need to run, at minimum, three of the four quests on Elite.

I found that you can leave “A New Invasion” on Hard and complete the others on Elite for sufficient favor, as the end-fight with “Invasion” is a claustrophobic nightmare of trapped floors and a very angry Pit Fiend, chasing you and chaining you to the floor to disembowel you on Elite difficulty.

So what’s special about the “Yugo potions?” They raise your ability scores, a +2 bonus that stacks with anything, including the DDO Store elixirs.

The downside to Yugo potions is that they also have side effects. For Monks, the four potions they’d favor might be the Essence of Betrayal (+2 DEX), Essence of Desire (+2 CON), Essence of Despair (+2 WIS) and Essence of Fury (+2 STR).

In addition to the ability score change, the Essence of Betrayal will also increase your Sneak Attack bonus but decrease your general attack bonus. The Essence of Desire adds a stacking +20 HP but slows your melee attacks by 5%. The Essence of Despair adds +4 to your Natural Armor bonus but saps -4 from your Reflex saves, while the Essence of Fury adds +8 to your Will saves against Fear while sapping your general Will saves to everything else by -4.

In Epic play, getting your WIS modifier and your STR and CON as high as you can is critical. The Yugo potions, in combination with the DDO Store potions, give you +4 to any ability score. The Yugo potions last 15 minutes.

Reason 2: Incredible Potential rings and their companion items

Any ring from the end-rewards of the Tower of Despair raid can be unlocked to show its “incredible potential.” For unarmed Monks, this means you can unlock a ring’s ability to add Holy Burst or other elemental burst effects to your attacks. Since a Shintao Monk can already train to bypass Silver DR, you become a natural Harry Beater with a Holy Burst ring.  Again, this works for unarmed Monks only. However, other effects of the rings, from spell power boosts to elemental absorption to Insightful stat bonuses, can also be available to any class.

It takes a while to make this work. First, get a ring from the raid. The drop rate isn’t high. Some in the party may be looking for the specific set ring for their class and choose instead to let others in the party to roll for their lucky allotment. All rings are Bound to Character on Acquire so you can’t trade them outside of the raid chest.

The rings are also Exclusive. If you happen to gain a second Monk set ring of the same name, you can’t keep it if you already have one in your inventory. I’d be biased and have any Monks roll for it first in party.

Each time you run the raid, you’ll also get a Shavarath War Trophy. You need 9 of these special ingredients, plus a properly imbued Shard of Great Power to unlock the ring.

Getting the class set item (for Monks, the Shintao Cord, Nyoko’s Necklace or Oremi’s Necklace) that matches the ring is a bonus but not required. You’ll find these items drop in the chests through all the flagging quests.

Teacher Syncletica has been the luckiest, owning an unlocked Kyosho’s Ring and its Shintao Cord. Wearing both gives her unarmed Good or Evil DR bypassing in addition to the Holy Burst on her ring.

Reason 3: Bragging Rights

The Devil Battlefield is, well, a battlefield. Nothing comes easy from a place that’s acquainted to eternal war. The mere victories of one adventurer mean nothing to those in Shavarath, unless you happen to come to their turf and kick their ass. A lot.

Which is exactly what GamerGeoff and his Gamer Girl recently did. Every quest, on Elite. They brought in level 20 and 21 characters. Hardly “Epic” characters that used strategy and the right firepower to complete. I know of many people that are horrified, and I mean horrified, to complete the Weapons Shipment at any difficulty, much less Elite. For characters like Szyncletica, it’s generally a turkey shoot. Lynncletica sees it as a good workout.

And I took Kiricletica through the whole Battlefield myself weeks before, dead-solo with no hirelings (except in one required quest, Genesis Point) and beat everything (that could find me while stealthy) on Elite difficulty to get her sufficient Yugo privileges.

Sure, few of us enjoy the devils. They’re tough. They’re meant to be.

But defeating the tough enemies, not getting an easy out…isn’t that what we play to do?

Go kick lots of Shavarath ass, or go home.

Update: Teacher Mernom also noted in the comments that there are alchemical ability score potions you can trade, using collectibles, from several vendors in House Deneith, that can also raise your ability scores, albeit very briefly (2 minutes). The Potion of Reason and the Potion of Health are two examples. You don’t need to go to Shavarath to get them, necessarily, unless the collectable you need happens to spawn there. I’ve played the game for over 4 years and never knew these existed. Thanks!

Saintly Swords Schooling by Saekee


My inexperience with heavy blades is aided by the good folk in the forums. Thanks for helping me not gimp another character.

My inexperience with heavy blades is aided by the good folk in the forums. Thanks for helping me not gimp another character.

With Kiricletica’s successes now allowing her to solo the Amrath quests and reaching Level 26, new guild members compel me to return to one of the two remaining specialty Monks I want to play and then document for the Monk guide.

I’ve already put in enough time on Pynthetica, going from a Ranger Arcane Archer to a Zen Archer. So getting my Kensei Monk up and running is my goal for this long U.S. holiday weekend.

Part of my routine to help understand a class’s role is to read the D&D roleplay information if possible on similar classes. Kensei means “Sword Saint” in Japanese. There are far too many unsaintly uses of the word, most of them dealing with anime varieties I don’t watch.

To gain the saintly component of this class, it’s synergy with the Monk class should form a fascinating attacker.

It’s a good thing I played Kiri the way I did as I learned more about the power of dark finishing moves that paralyze or disable enemy spells and attacks. Kiri’s training will also help in my first forays in multiclassing Monk with the Fighter class.

My goal was to make Theacletica, my Kensei student, a specialist light fighter with kukris, daggers and shortswords. She’s a dark Monk and so can use the same abilities that Kiri has, but now I’m aware of these at a much lower level.

I didn’t precisely know what challenges I had in building her. I wanted to stay Centered to use all Monk abilities, so robes/outfits only. She’s a Half-Elf so I’ll be able to work in self-healing and buffing with a Cleric dilettante. I’ve added a few points in Ninja Spy to gain shortsword prowess but this presents a problem. The Dexterity to Damage ability comes with using weapons once you train in the first two ninja cores. Shadow Veil is the third core, and I’d really prefer the high Incorporeality defense I can get since I will not have as much AC as a Fighter.

Fighters also normally use STR for damage, but I figured that I’ll need to build things more monastic than martial and put more emphasis on DEX since I planned to use light blades with the Ninja Training and its DEX-to-Damage.

Thea would have to strike fast and stop fights with the finishing moves since it may be some time before she can hold her own as a true Kensei. While not using Kiri’s first-life self-imposed rules, I expected to use the techniques I refined with Kiri to keep Thea alive.

The new stuff for me involved the benefits of the Fighter levels, required to eventually allow kukris and daggers to be centered for me. With Fighter levels I’ll get more feats that should add a lot of variation in attack. I don’t expect to add fewer than 6 Monk levels and no more than 12 Fighter levels.

While there will be fewer granted Monk levels and a serious challenge on some advanced abilities I enjoy from there, the Fighter levels will add many more Fighter bonus feats to augment her attacks. These include Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack and Whirlwind Attack as well as Cleave attacks, Improved Critical, and Two Weapon Fighting. With no maximum dexterity bonus to worry about as a non-armored character, perhaps using the Ninja Spy abilities isn’t a bad thing.

There’s just the careful application of Fighter levels to reach my desire of a maximum 12/Monk minimum 8/Fighter setup. I’m terribly afraid I’ll wreck this build as I did Cassietetica the ninja assassin (now a bank). I’m retro-adding settings from the DDO Character Planner to check that I’ll meet the Fighter prerequisites necessary for One With the Blade to make non-Monk weapons work as centered weapons.

Now, all these considerations I wrote here came long before Teacher Saekee’s meditations came up with something more deadly, reminding me how inexperienced I am with multiclassing, the principles of critical threat–and how a different weapon than any I’ve used can add to a character’s flavor.

Brushes with Death

In a recent DDO forums thread, Saekee asked anyone if they could confirm if the increased critical threat range of the Forester Brush Hook kama would stack with the Ninja Spy capstone and Improved Critical: Slashing.

Now, the Hook is special. It already has a 19-20 threat with a x3 modifier. Get the Ninja Spy capstone and you get 17-20. I confirmed this on Kiricletica with her dual-wielded kamas but hadn’t the ability to check farther.

If you take Improved Critical: Slashing, that range goes batshit: to 13-20, as Saekee proves on one of his characters:

Why I'm going to add IC: Slashing to Kiricletica immediately. DAY-UM.

Why I’m going to add IC: Slashing to Kiricletica immediately. DAY-UM.

Now, if you get the Epic versions of these, they’ll help a bit with damage, but does that matter when you’re likely to make powerful DEX-to-damage 3x criticals around 40% of the time!?

Your dojo must be very proud of you, Saekee. Props for the discovery.

I will be tooling up Kiricletica for this, for sure. But this discovery makes me realize how screwed up Theacletica’s current weapon choices may be. A Kensei should emphasize weapon damage. It’s what a Kensei should be about, right?

Resetting Theacletica

So now I’m tossing my light-bladed Kensei into the fire. Saekee’s probably made more non-Monk characters and understands weapon damage a bit more than I do, thus his discovery. I’d be a moron not to pay heed to it.

I had been thinking too much like a Monk and not enough as a Fighter to make my first Kensei shine.

It would be better for Theacletica to use greatswords and kamas. She’ll still have kicks and punches as a backup. As a multiclassed character, she can’t gain the Ninja Spy competence bonuses for critical threat. But the Kensei tree offers great weapon specializations for damage, more critical hit damage, and a +1 threat increase to the focused weapon. I just need Improved Critical: Slashing to make it work. I’ve got a number of greatswords in my banks, saved for whenever I got around to making a conventional fighter. For now, no reason to let those weapons sit about.

Going the greatsword route also differentiates her from Kiricletica, who is already mastered light blades. If I’m going to do a kensei, I should go for the really obscure weapon that you’d not see on a typical Monk.

I still need to study whether the Dark philosophy is still more prudent than the Light. Theacletica could really use the benefits of Shintao’s healing amp. Then again, a bit of training in the ninja arts gives Ninja Poison to really augment attack damage, as well as better miss-chance powers with Shadow Veil.

It also means that Theacletica should be focused on STR when using greatswords. I can’t add too much DEX just for occasional use of kamas, even though I gain that Dexterity-to-Damage. It’s one or the other, right? (Update: Saekee reminds me that greatswords, once Centered, become DEX-to-damage weapons, too with ninja training, being slashing weapons.)

A Monk with a greatsword also smacks of complete badassery on the battlefield.

Hopefully it’s not too late to salvage Theacletica’s build if I’ve already put too much DEX in her. If she’s too far gone, I’ll reroll her and report back.


Battle of the Zen Archers: A Wishlist

We need more zen archers. We need gameplay reasons to do so.

We need more zen archers. We need gameplay reasons to do so.

Pynthetica just hit level 14 and now has several good bows pulled from her old Ranger stores: A smiter, an icy-bursted Metalline of Pure Good, and the Bow of Sinew.

But rather than talk about Pyn’s general improvements (I’ll bore you later), I wanted to show you something interesting about the Zen Archer–not the one I play, but what you might find in a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop scenario.

The D&D Source

I’ve read a few comments over the years on how DDO isn’t like D&D. Given its use of an automated dungeonmaster, its de-emphasis on role-play and its need to create a realtime combat structure, they’re right.

But, as with the Monks in my old Neverwinter Nights games, the similarities are closer for the Monk to D&D than other classes, I feel.

Take a look at the Zen Archer as shown on the D&D Wiki to see what I mean.

It seems a bit familiar to the DDO Wiki articles on the Monk class, doesn’t it? The feats, the use of ki.

What’s naturally missing is any Arcane Archer stuff. That’s significant. It means that a Monk training with a bow, at least from the D&D perspective, was meant to be a potent standalone fighter. Adding in AA skills just helped with the damage needs in the DDO realm.

One thing that stands out that interested me is the base attack bonus graduation on the D&D Zen Archer. Compare to the general DDO Monk and you can see that the DDO developers really nerfed the hell out of their Monk. Where our Monks get a +15 BAB at 20, the D&D version is at 20, comparable to other melee fighters.

Is the part of the “great cabal” that keeps the Monks from becoming any more “overpowered” than they are? The mind boggles.

One thing that’s also notable is how D&D’s Zen Archer doesn’t presume Monk levels. In a sense, being a Zen Archer is more comparable to an Epic Destiny, or how Arcane Archer usage can be optionally added to an elven race.

Feats I’d Like to See for DDO’s Zen Archer

As noted, the feats, from their names and descriptions, aren’t much different from DDO, but there are a handful I wanted to note that would be great to see in the DDO arena.

  • Deflection Penetration: At 8th level, a zen archer’s arrows strike truer. When ordinarily an arrow would be deflected, snatched or reflected outright, the defender must make a Reflex save against a DC of 10 + ½ the zen archer’s character level + the zen archers Wisdom modifier in order to deflect the projectile. Otherwise, he is hit.

That’s similar to our fortification bypassing abilities seen with Ninja Spy’s Touch of Despair, Armor-Piercing qualities such as that on the Envenomed Blade, or with Rogue abilities. Perhaps adding this is redundant, but it’s defined as a special quality here if the class is played pure, and would also be great to differentiate it from Ranger or elven archers.

  • The Unseen Eye: At 14th level, the zen archer learns to aim with his mind instead of his eyes. When opposed to a miss chance due to concealment or the effect of certain spells (like entropic shield) he may reroll his miss chance percentile a second time to see if he hits. This class feature also bestows a +2 competence bonus to the DC of the deflection penetration ability.

This is another ability that’s similar to getting True Seeing or other ability that helps a character’s chances to hit against a concealed enemy. To make this an inherent element of a zen archer would also add favor and distinctiveness over other archer builds.

  • Zen Mastery: At 16th level, a zen archer’s mastery over his weapons of choice increases. The critical multiplier of any shortbow or longbow in his hands increases by one and becomes ×4.

Oh, why the hell not? This alone would make zen archers pop out of the woodwork with the bow’s power. It would encourage builds that aren’t monkchers because they wouldn’t take Ranger levels. Now, I’d add a WIS requirement here. Say, 24. That way splashing is discouraged because of the heavy WIS that would be worthless for Rangers, strain the INT needs of a Wizard and do little for a mixed Cleric.

  • Tongue of Sun and Moon: A zen archer of 17th level or higher can speak with any living creature.

This might seem like role-play here, but I can see this work as the ki counterpart to Improved Wild Empathy. Unlike the Ranger, however, this effect would work on anything except, perhaps, constructs and undead. Imagine a Zen Archer being able to use an orthon as a meat shield. You should require a high Concentration skill (30) and WIS 24 as well to pull this off with the usual WIS DC checks that Monks make.

  • Power Shot: At 18th level, a zen archer gains the ability to, through superior manipulation of ki, empower his arrows by sacrificing accuracy. He may take a voluntary penalty to his attack roll less than or equal to his Wisdom modifier, and gains a bonus equal to that penalty to his damage rolls.

I wouldn’t mind this one, either. Combined with Ten Thousand Stars, this would be a great panic button against a horde of low-HP enemies that aren’t difficult individually but would kill you in a group.

  • Zen Penetration: At 20th level, the zen archer has perfected the art of archery, and forevermore knows how and where to strike by a culmination of instinct, prowess and his excellent control of ki. The added damage done by bows due to the zen archer’s Wisdom modifier is henceforth considered magical and no longer subject to any damage resistance. Zen penetration also applies to the extra ki damage due to the Power Shot class feature, if applicable.

Sounds like this could be translated into DDO as “your arrows automatically bypass any metal-based damage reduction.” I wouldn’t add alignment here as that would be overpowered. But it would make sense to have this one if you also limit it to a toggled combat stance that cannot be used with Power Attack or Combat Expertise. It should also take a high ki amount to activate (50).

The Sound of One Bowstring

The role-play sections of that wiki’s article also feed well into how the zen archer should be played. I’d ask you to take a read at it.

To summarize, I think that the DDO Zen Archer could use more distinction as a player option. You can train a Monk to work as a Zen Archer but the game provides no real prestige or enhancement benefits to achieve a comparable similarity to its D&D counterpart. You have to glob a few things here and there and build the character quite manually, as opposed to the canned enhancement tree of the Arcane Archer.

I’m not recommending yet another enhancement tree. I’d just use Zen Archery to unlock more abilities within itself as Monk levels increase. Optionally, if you train Zen Archery, granted feats appear for you if you meet Zen Archery’s secondary requirements.

Most importantly, the DDO Zen Archer gains no additional natural abilities by using a bow as a Monk. You’ll have only a fighting advantage by adding in Arcane Archer training. Why does the Monk have to use magical abilities if a feat exists that doesn’t require magic to use bows?

The one unique DDO feat not seen in D&D’s implementation is Ten Thousand Stars, a Manyshot-like ability that works with bows. I think a Zen Archer at level 16 should gain a natural bonus to this ability over any splashed character. An extra arrow per 3 attacks would do it.

In a perfect world, without training one damn bit of the AA tree, I should be able to:

  • Train Zen Archery with 16 WIS and Monk level 3. This feat would expand power as your Monk increases in levels. It would also give longbow/shortbow proficiency (it doesn’t now) and make it a ki weapon as before. The key is that the feat would unlock more of its abilities as you gain Monk levels, to purposefully encourage more uses of the zen abilities.
  • Use my ki attack elemental strikes with bow attacks, if I have enough ki regenerating and take the Zen Archery feat and have enough WIS as a forced prerequisite. This removes needing to use magic from the AA tree to imbue arrows.
  • Gain +1 passive ki regeneration from Zen Archery at level 12 and Monk level 12, WIS 24 required.
  • Gain competence bonuses with Zen Archery trained and at levels 12, 15 and 18 with enough WIS and Concentration trained.
  • Gain bonuses with Ten Thousand Stars at level 16.
  • Charm one of most kinds of creature using ki, with Zen Archery and level 17 Monk.
  • Gain metal DR bypass. 3-5% Doubleshot and perhaps another critical hit bonus or multiplier with Zen Archery, 20 Monk levels and 24 WIS at level 20.

What do you think?




The Littlest Giantslayer

1500 GoliathsBefore Heat Mizer did a song-and-dance on my computer cores a few weeks ago, Szyncletica the star-thrower was back on the warpath. Continuing to show my tankers like Lynncletica that they aren’t the only ones that can hold their own going solo in Epic adventures, she’s ventured alone into the especially dangerous wastes of epic Gianthold, improving her fight experience and completing flagging quests on EH once more for an eventual run into Gianthold Tor.

Anyone that’s visited the epic version of this popular quest wilderness knows how it’s far more hostile than its Heroic mode. The giants have massive HP, can literally seem to see you from a mile away with their proportionate Spot bonuses, and often dogpile on you with three or more at a time.

Oh, and dragons like to drop out of the frickin’ sky and eat you.

Szyn, however, has taken a page or two from David’s book on getting giant shit done.

I’ve been playing her pure solo (like Kiricletica) since she went Epic, occasionally adding my Onyx Panther or another hireling for a little support occasionally (Restorations or aggro management). Doing this keeps me in control of what I fight and where, giving me the advantage.

The key to Szyn’s giant-slaying success at first was her level 20 Icy Burst, Crushing Wave, Improved Paralyzing spelltouched shuriken. Combined with Improved Precise Shot and Shiradi effects such as Nerve Poison, the high DPS just carves through hordes of giants with complete dominance. Still wearing the Golden Guile, its Improved Deception often bluffs the hordes, slowing their rate of advance.

And with level 23 reached once again, out came the Celestia. This adds firebombing and light-damage for spectacular mass-damage effects to already weakened mobs.

And then I got a new ML24 star crafted that causes faster damage to giants with some hidden nasty “spellplague” effects.

I didn’t bother going stealth too much. I wanted to attract attention.

To Szyn, a Drow with emmity to giantkind, Zoarinnia here looked like a winged giant... and just as easily eliminated.

To Szyn, a Drow with emmity to giantkind, Zoarinnia here looked like a winged giant… and just as easily eliminated.

The giants weren’t the only victims to Szyn’s davidic imitations. One dragon decided to show up and met death with a bit of circle-strafing attacks with a Green Steel Mineral II star (the go-to when you meet up with most red-named enemies).

A rare encounter with the sleeping dragon guarding a chest was far too easy for a Ninja Spy to sneak up and claim the goodies before purposely waking the dragon afterwards to remove it from existence. Five more dragons met their end before she slew her 1,500th giant.

The orcs in Epic Hard “Feast or Famine” shared the hurt, despite being a level 24 quest that should’ve given them a little edge against a technically weaker single enemy at level 23. Virtually immune to the many traps that line the doors, Szyn blasted through the orcs in the narrow hallways, dispatching the lieutenants and friends to get their passage keys. The hobgoblin party was slain before it could leave its hidden tunnel ambush point.

At the end fight, I decided just to open fire on everything that moved, concentrating first on any mages and then removing everybody, including the hunting party, before taking the boss down to complete the quest.

Earlier, Szyn slaughtered the orcs in Epic Hard “Return to Cabal for One” for her first flag.

One of the more annoying and difficult quests in-game, even with an Epic character, is “Prey on the Hunter” in the Reaver’s Refuge. You have to run a gauntlet of frost giants to rescue a dragon that’s too arrogant to think they need to be rescued. Just for a break from Gianthold, I buzzed through that one on Hard difficulty–risky because the giants were nigh-impossible for me to drop fast enough using any other Monks I had on Normal difficulty, including barely successful completions by the frost-giant-hating Lynncletica and the fiery staff wielding Quintessica the Mystic.

But Szyn does not tolerate failure. She quickly pummeled any giant with the Celestia’s raw fire and light power and IPS of the stars. She made it to the dragon and, to redirect aggro once the unrelenting red-named boss arrived, used a Diversion dummy. That little super-hate magnet pulled everything toward it, including the dragon, allowing me to target the boss giant faster for a quick takedown. Yay, me.

Gianthold’s loot is still well-enjoyed by many players, especially with the Epic mode and the changes in Gianthold Tor. Szyn wants to farm another Ring of Shadows for herself (she lacks Blurry at present). Epic Hard “Madstone Crater” is next. Here, she might need a Fighter to hold some attention at key points. I’m wondering if she could survive an Epic Elite run. Maybe once she’s back to level 28 prowess. Maybe.

There’s also the matter of getting her Flawless White Dragonscale Robe created. I’m about at the limits of the Frozen Tunic’s advantages and need better overall defenses with more HP since Szyn now draws a lot of aggro in solo mode with killing as a strategy rather than avoiding fights. The Flawless Scale, combined with its matching helm, can help here. More on getting Szyn ready for real EE play in a later post.

As others know, “Madstone” is difficult for some parties, much less trying it solo because of the many attacks you must thwart against the giant sages that are attempting to destroy the tainted crystals throughout the quest. Szyn’s paralyzing attacks work well here but she can’t be omnipotent and be in two places at once to guard the wizards.

I’ll post her attempt at tackling Epic Hard “Madstone Crater” sometime.

Mystical Spell Power: Getting Fired Up

Too much spell power? Credit: Clint Cearley. (c) WoTC

Too much spell power? Credit: Clint Cearley. (c) WoTC

In tuning up Quintessica to experiment with the Fire Drake-style use of Draconic Incarnation to heavily boost spell power, I asked myself, “Self…what is the highest spell power that a Mystic can achieve?”

This chat between lobes began after a few sips of coffee and after a DDO thread search for anything regarding maximum spell power. I found a useful one. It’s based on a 18 Sorcerer/2 Favored Soul build with probably more lives than a cat. Still, it’s a useful foundation for my research.

Most Monks concern themselves with only one type of spell power: Devotion. It boosts positive energy spell power for healing. That doesn’t mean that any Monk couldn’t chug down some Alchemical potions to help with their elemental ki attacks. It’s just that they’re not likely to do so.

The Henshin Mystic is different. They also concern themselves with boosting Fire and Force spell power, for their spell ki attacks deliver damage from these two elements.

The challenge for the Mystic is that they aren’t arcane spell casters. So metamagic feats– “easy buttons” that allow spell power boosts for Wizards, Sorcerers and other arcane classes–don’t apply to the Mystic. Ki is ki, magic is magic. If you train them in, they will not change your spell power. So pure Mystics must rely on innate and item-related spell power bonuses in Heroic play but, as the Fire Drake training shows, can leverage spell power boosts in Epic play, using Draconic Incarnation and other epic destinies.

Heroic Mystic Spell Power Sources

Using the DDO Wiki sources, here’s what Quintessica’s innate spell power basically sits at by the time she reached her class tree capstone, Serenity.

  • +25 Fire (5x core abilities)
  • +25 Force (5x core abilities)
  • +25 to Fire (Serenity, Level 20)
  • +25 to Force (Serenity, Level 20)
  • +15 Universal, Implement bonus (3 spell power * +5 enhancement staff equipped)

That’s pretty basic, right? Even I can understand this.

Let’s add in a few easily-obtained item-related sources, permanent or temporary, with ML 20.

  • +90 Fire (Combustion gem in red augment slot): Equipment bonus
  • +90 Force (Impulse gem in in red augment slot): Equipment bonus
  • +20 Fire (Potion of Greater Inferno): Alchemical Bonus
  • +20 Force (Potion of Greater Impact): Alchemical Bonus

So Quintessica, level 20, bare-assed,with only a staff in hand, no buffs, two gems and a couple of potions, should have

  • + 175 Fire spell power
  • + 175 Force spell power

That’s not too bad for a non-arcane character. Quintessica also gains spell critical chances in her training, but I’m not that smart to add in their ramifications in fighting here for now.

Now lets explore how Epic Destinies play into this, adding  some special items that Quintessica might find.

Epic Mystic Spell Power

So, in Epic play, Quintessica has to deal with more powerful enemies, some with greater spell or elemental resistances. That’s fine.

Do remember that, despite all this number-crunching, that a Mystic is still a Monk, a melee fighter at its core, not a spell caster. Any additional spell power supplements, not replaces, a Mystic’s ability to cause heavy damage.

Looking over the EDs, it appears that the Mystic benefits best in overall spell power with Draconic Incarnation. Then we’ll use Twists of Fate slots of other abilities from two other destinies: Divine Crusader and Shiradi Champion. I’m not brooching the grinding time necessary to reach these abilities, only exploring what is possible.

Draconic Incarnation (active destiny)

  • Dragon Heritage (tier 3, three ranks): +30 to Fire spell power
  • Secondary Spell Ability: (tier 4, two ranks): +20 to Fire spell power

(UPDATE: Secondary Spell Ability may only allow me to increase spell power to some other element, not Fire. Thanks Mercure.)

Divine Crusader (Twisted abilities only)

  • Interrogation: (tier 1) +5 Universal (passive)
  • Flames of Purity (tier 2, three ranks): +30 Fire spell power
  • Empyrean Magic* (tier 3) +20 Fire spell power (+2 Sacred bonus to Universal spell power per fire spell cast, stacks 10 times)

Shiradi Champion (Twisted abilities only)

  • Fey Form (tier 2, three ranks): +30 Universal spell power

And that’s all I could find.

I put an asterisk on Empyrean Magic since I don’t know if a Mystic’s spell-like abilities count with this ability’s Fervor counter to boost spell power. I will not count it in the calculations below, also represented by another asterisk.

Summing It Up

To help in calculating the maximum damage, let’s make Quintessica a level 25 Epic character (20 Monk, 5 Epic) so that she can also use the strongest Alchemical potions. Quintessica can also wield a +5 Thaumaturgy fire staff, ML 25, which should allow a +15 Implement bonus and a +120 Equipment bonus to Fire spell power (we’re presuming that Quin can find this loot-generated staff). I don’t think adding augment gems matter here since that Thaumaturgy staff would have the higher stacking number versus 114 Equipment spell power of any gem. I’m not sure how the Potency effect of this staff factors in, so I’ll be conservative and not include it in my calculation.

I’m sure I’m going to screw up this calculation by double-dipping somewhere with a bonus that cannot stack. If you see an error, speak up.

  • +50 Fire (Henshin Mystic level 20, untyped)
  • +50 Force (Henshin Mystic level 20, untyped)
  • +120 Equipment (Universal, staff Equipment bonus)
  • +15 Implement bonus
  • +30 Fire spell power from Draconic Incarnation abilities
  • +5  from all twisted Divine Crusader abilities for Force damage*
  • + 35 from all twisted Divine Crusader abilities, Fire damage only*
  • +30 Universal from twisted Shiradi Champion’s Fey Form
  • + 25 Alchemical Bonus (Superior Inferno potion)
  • +25 Alchemical Bonus (Superior Impact potion)

Quintessica’s Fire spell power at level 25: 305. (Removed Secondary Spell Ability.)

That’s noticeably more than what our Fire Drake author calculated (280), although he did not presume a quarterstaff was in use. Her Force spell power would be 245.

There is enough Twist of Fate slots for the two Divine Crusader abilities and the one Shiradi Champion. Two slots would need to be upgraded to tier 2 abilities. That means I need 11 Fate points to make this happen. Ow. Realistically, I’d not likely train so hard and only unlock the first two for tier 2 only, for ‘only’ 8 points.

These spell power numbers are great for a Mystic, but I know pales to what our arcane brothers could possibly gain. In the thread I referenced, the poster was able to generate 917 spell power, spread about various elements.

These calculations don’t add in other stacking item effects that Quin could find on her journey, such as a Flawless Blue Dragonscale Robe (Draconic Fury: +15 Artifact bonus), the Planar Conflux or an Earddweller (Psionic bonuses). But it is quite illuminating to see how much damage a Monk can do with Force and Fire. It might also be possible to add cross-class skill points to the new Spellcraft skill to add a little more power if it is not absolutely restricted to specific classes.

As our Fire Drake author has reported, what spell power he generated (combined with the DI abilities) seemed more than enough to destroy things for a Shintao tanker, with only partially trained Mystic skills.

And no Sorcerer’s weapon is going to make a 500+ critical hit in melee to supplement the infernal beat-down from both staff and ki attack from such a fired-up Mystic.


The Fire Drake: An Incinerating Monk

Your dreams of being like Zuko the Firebender from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" might have been answered.

Your wish of being like Zuko the Firebender from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” might have been answered.

It’s great when someone discovers something new or insightful, especially in the world of Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Teacher Saekee’s been nice to point out insightful threads I might be interested in reading. One thread he recommended, by senior student Robbenklopper, describes how the poster trained the Draconic Incarnation epic destiny for his Monk.

For those not familiar (as I am not), Draconic Incarnation is an Arcane destiny that’s generally for Sorcerers with some application for Bards and Wizards. It focuses on improving spell caster levels and spell power of any element you choose. It’s not a destiny to which Monks, masters of ki, not magic, would normally gravitate.

But what student Robbenklopper discovered is about to pull me partially away from the contemplative martial artistry of the monastic so to better understand the power of sorcery.

The Red Drake

I’m effectively a complete newbie to any arcane classes (except Artificer). I have no Wizards, Bards or Sorcerers in my dojo. The closest character I have that thinks in terms of spell power (the mechanism to amplify a spell’s ultimate damage, broken down by elemental types) is for my Henshin Mystic, Quintessica.

Robbenklopper’s inspiring thread discusses his “Red Drake Monk.” He was able to leverage training in Henshin Mystic and Draconic Incarnation with his Shintao Monk and Combustion augment gems, with a Twisted ability, Flames of Purity, from the new Divine Crusader epic destiny.

His results? A massive boost in Fire spell power. He notes that using the DI abilities, he has generated 3,000+ fire damage and 400 damage using a finishing move (I must assume the Fire related ones such as Breath of Fire, the Burning Hands SLA). Two specific DI abilities, Dragon Breath and Energy Burst – Fire, simply incinerate his enemies.

This got me thinking.

Of Mystics and Magic

What would a fully trained Henshin Mystic, with innate training that adds very useful spell power boosts to Fire and Force damage, gain from the Draconic Incarnation destiny, based on Robbenklopper’s discovery?

Robbenklopper’s character trained only to the third Mystic core ability, Incinerating Wave, a firewall-like attack of Fire and Force damage. He estimates that a fully trained Mystic, with the Serenity core ability, could have as much as 280 Fire spell power, not counting what other effects such as spell lore could add in.

Quintessica is obviously my candidate to find out if she could generate so much Fire damage that she leaves nothing but ash in her wake.

She’s only trained the Grandmaster of Flowers, Legendary Dreadnought and portions of Unyielding Sentinel–hardly a qualifier for her to claim DI. I am not, however, against buying my destiny. I had to do so for Szyncletica, a new Monk at the time, for her to immediately use the Shiradi Champion destiny for her star throwing.

So, as soon as I check the budget, a Key of Destiny is coming for Quin to buy the Draconic Incarnation destiny.

Next comes the task of what to train in the destiny. Robbenklopper warns to pick the fire-related abilities since trying to amplify other elements may weaken your spell power overall.

Quin’s current Fire spell power at level 23 is around 150, roughly. I’m not a great number-cruncher but I’m going to try to figure out what she will gain from each training tier and abilities. The core abilities just add SP to the mix, but spell points are required since the abilities activate magically.

Tier1: Energy Sheath, Dragonhide, Draconic Perception. I can gain some elemental absorption, and improvements to my fortitude save, natural armor, Spot, and reflex saves. These do nothing for spell power but the Destiny Points spent will open the next tier and satisfy prerequisites.

Tier 2: Go Out With a Bang, Barrier of Scales. “Bang” turns you into a bomb with AoE damage once your HP drop below 50%, also turning you Improved Invisibility for a time. “Barrier” adds some damage absorption. Again, spending points here is needed to get to the meaty stuff. I can imagine using Cauldron of Flames to attract and damage enemies before blowing myself up real good with the Bang to finish off a mob.

Tier 3: Dragon Heritage, Piercing Spellcraft. All of the DI abilities use INT or CHA for their DC successes–neither stats are favored by Monks. That said, you pick the color of your draconic inspiration. For Quin, that’s likely the red dragon, with up to +30 Fire spell power once fully trained. Piercing Spellcraft could help ensure that the damage hits, but being a Monk, the results gained here in spell penetration may be inconsequential.

Tier 4: Energy Burst, Secondary Spell Ability. Robbenklopper loved the damage with Energy Burst-Fire. The Secondary Spell Ability seems like I’d get another 20 spell power to Fire.

Tier 5: Flyby Attack, Dragon Breath: With the fire spell power as high as Quin can get it, these abilities (the first emulates Abundant Step + phase-through enemies) smack enemies with the fire damage trained to this point. The poster noted complete toasting of epic giants with Dragon Breath: 3,800 points of damage.

More Firepower…or More Anything

Quin’s own innate Mystic training should also get a sizeable boost with the spellpower updates. I may already have a high Combustion augment gem on-hand to add to a slot in some fire-aligned Thaumaturgy staff. In this mode, Quin doesn’t focus as much on melee damage (yet can still do so well with her staff training) as to pump out maximum Fire damage (with a bit of Force damage) from the stand-your-ground Cauldron of Flame, Incinerating Wave and Ki Bolt.

As Robbenklopper noted, he was able to generate nasty unarmed damage with handwraps loaded with spell power augments as well.

As time allows, I’ll get Quin trained up and post a video if possible on the results.

As Robbenklopper noted, you’re not limited to Fire here. You could train the Electric side or other elements since things like demons will laugh at your attempts to burn them. The only one missing here, I think, is Force damage, which would have been a great option for a Mystic.

I’m still working on a “cool” name for this Mystic fight mode. I think Robbenklopper’s “Fire Drake” stands on its own well for the unarmed fighter. Stay tuned. Props to this man for his incredible discovery.



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