I haven’t played a Ranger since Pynthetica’s first life, before the new stealth AI retool and enhancement trees.
And I’ve never tried out one particular flavor of Ranger that deserves some attention with the stealth revisions. This way I can learn more about this class path and shore up information in the Stormreach Shadows stealth guide.
So, say hello to young Artemistika, my first Deepwood Stalker. She just might be the best overall stealth fighter because of her very specific skill set.
What stoked me about the Stalker is the incorporation of stealth with powerful ranged attack. At first it struck me as a support build, like the Rogue. The Stalker seemed lacking, at first, the sustained DPS and imbue versatility seen in the Arcane Archer or the melee complexity of the Tempest two-hander or Ninja Spy.
But, reading between the lines as I try to do, I began to see more of the sniper and the rogueish stealth master inside this Ranger that I had to try, with a touch of an old idea I once tried in a lost Artificer.
The Stalker’s makes for the missing imbued arrows of the Arcane Archer kindred with the benefit of ranged Sneak Attack damage, allowing a powerful burst hit of damage provided that you strike fast and first, or preferably have an aggro-magnet keep the attention of everyone. Combined with high stealth skills, the Stalker can pick their targets and kill with only a few quick volleys before cloaking into the shadows to hunt again.
This Ranger is naturally stealth-able. Camouflage is especially potent to allow me to sneak past a mob at closer range than any other characters, Rogues and Monks included.
The Faster Sneaking skill is important as Rangers don’t quite move as fast as other classes and need that speed edge. The Ranger’s ability to improve Hide and Move Silently skills for supporting players looks very handy as well.
I’m looking forward to joining more parties with this build. While slower than the ninjas, Mistika makes up for stealth speed with better Hide scores. Eventual training gives Hide in Plain Sight, making Mistika likely the best stealth master because of her ability to weave through enemies at closer range than anyone else I have.
I’ve loved the ability to summon other creatures. I experimented with this summoner role with my second, late Artificer named Ayvanna. She trained her normal Iron Defender but also added in a second and, I think, even a third Defender to have a pack of dogs that grabbed aggro while she attacked with her crossbow and runearm.
When Pynthetica was an Arcane Ranger, she also had a simple Summoned Ally as befitted her spell abilities, occasionally using her Wild Empathy to add a second charmed creature.
With Mistika’s Stalker enhancements and a few others, I’m weaponizing my NPC helpers.
It’s one thing to charm an animal. But what if the animal I charmed with Empathy was also a Monster Champion (extra buffs, tougher to kill)?
What if I added the Augment Summoning feat (+4 to all ability scores, increased health and fortification) to this? And how about some Harper Leadership training (Your hirelings, summoned, and charmed creatures gain up to +4 to all ability scores)?
A quick check on the forums (with the answer given by the FuzzyDuck himself) confirmed that Harper Leadership and Augment Summoning’s boosts stack on your direct hirelings and summons, although not your hireling’s summons.
And finally, let me use my Empathy powers as a Fascination-like power against Vermin, Elementals and Magical Beasts if I feel like it.
So level 7 ‘Mistika (readied as a Veteran Status II character) tried this out on an Elite “Where There’s Smoke.” (Level 5). With Flower the hireling in tow, we popped off orc after orc. But the fun came when I remembered the wolves in the area.
In both packs there was a Champion among them. One use of Improved Wild Empathy later and that Champion was my dominated bitch (pun intended). A use of Charm Animal and a second doggie turned to my side, wreaking havoc with the neighboring orc parties.
This Christmas weekend, I was so enamored with ‘Mistika that I played her all weekend. It will be a bit before her best summoned creature is available, but I summon it in a pinch when I need more aggro-magnets. I can charm or dominate as many animals as they are available and as fast as my cooldowns, spell points and Empathy turns allow.
Improved Wild Empathy is really a Domination spell, so for five minutes, I have an extra helper unless I have to climb or drop off somewhere; sadly, such creatures cannot follow. Adding a charmed animal adds to the confusion. The benefit to Empathy powers is that they aren’t dispellable or breakable. My charmed animals stay that way, even if damaged. And these special charms can’t be removed even if you had Bard levels and used a Disarm Charm ability.
With Stalker training, your Empathy powers give you the ability to halt elementals, vermin, and magical beasts in their tracks. I knew just the quests where I wanted to test this ability. In “Haywire’s Foundry,” I smacked Empathy on the two fire and sole earth elementals that appear at the start, locking them in place for 5 minutes to kill them without retaliation.
That’s an awesome stopping power I also used in “Spies in the House” (the fire elementals with a possible and deadly air elemental) and against air elementals in general–I hate their knockdown powers.
This special Fascinate isn’t broken by anything, including damage. I’m limited by the number of Empathy turns I have, but then, using rest shrines isn’t as problematic for Rangers as it is for young Monks.
Artemistika is an Elf to gain greater weapon damage training for longbows or her rapiers with racial training. Her Mark of Shadow dragonmark adds Invisibility and, eventually, Shadow Walk, Displacement and eventually a nasty neg-level attack for crunch fights.
While Bow Strength improves the STR modifier to give longbow damage for Rangers, the Elf can train the racial tier 5 ability, Aerenal Grace, which lets DEX become the damage modifier, overriding Bow Strength. So, all ability points go to DEX and nothing but DEX for maximum to-hit, damage with a little AC and improved Reflex as a bonus. at least as much as maximum dexterity bonus allows.
I’ll add what I can to CON (HP) and WIS (Will save for Empathy and charming) with items, available enhancements and tomes.
Another racial ability, Skill, adds 3% untyped Doubleshot and much-needed Dodge while bypassing 3% of enemy Dodge.
The Stalker build emphasizes quick, powerful strikes with ranged Sneak Attack damage. The old prestige enhancements name was “Deepwood Sniper,” which still holds true in flavor in the succeeding tree.
Like Suki, Mistika shares the Killer enhancement, which adds a 5% Morale Bonus to “Extra Shots” (that’s the text; strange that it doesn’t say “Doubleshot”) for a few seconds after a successful sneak attack kill, stacking up to 4 times. That’s a 20% Morale Bonus doubleshot bonus I sorely desire, which will stack with any Enhancement bonus items I can find. Makes the “Mark of Death” raid more attractive, where the Epic Quiver of Alacrity rests.
The Stalker gains serious attack boosts when using Precise Shot’s Archer’s Focus, a stance which magnifies her attack the longer she stands still, especially with the final core ability that adds more stacks to this ability. Farther potency to very distant ranged attacks improves as well over other archers, where by level 20 I’ll always be considered in Point Blank Shot and Sneak Attack range.
But to keep the Archer Focus bonus, Artemistika has to keep control of the field. That’s why she’ll use her charm and summoning powers to keep her NPC charges up and attracting nasties.
To keep her animal army hardy, she can eventually apply elemental resists, Freedom of Movement, energy protection, and more. While Mistika’s hireling’s summons don’t gain the ability score boosts, the additional bodies in the crowd make for a formidable attack option.
Stalkers gain sizable positive energy spell power boosts as they grow. Combined with points in Heal as a class skill, her otherwise-weaker Cure Light and Moderate Wounds spells are very effective. I need it. My miss-chance effects are poor, with Dodge getting capped by the use of light armor, and no Blur or Incorporeality yet. Blur is my priority to ward off some melee and ranged damage. I’ll need to add in a Dusk (10% Incorporeality) item/augment somewhere, and do what I can in Dodge. Of all the things that worry me is generating enough AC and defenses. Having the light armor gives a small PRR bonus to ward off some damage.
Mistika does have a Shadow dragonmark, so she’s got a few but long-lasting Invisibility turns, and can train Shadow Walk, Displacement and even a special negative-leveling power if AP allows it.
Hide and Move Silently are naturally trained up, and she’s got great Spot bonuses. I’m going to boost that Search power up a bit more for finding those hidden doors, or look to Elven skills that might work if I have the AP to train them.
Artemistika first worked on her House Deneith favor for sturdy arrows. These have greater enhancements to them and drain far slower than standard arrows, so its a matter of having a couple of wide quivers of a 1000 each. I also carry Adamantine and Cold Iron ones for special needs. Sure, getting Conjured Arrows from the Ranger AA tree is possible but that’s AP I can use for something else.
I also zoomed her through some Cannith challenges for a Frozen Tunic, the first time I’ve ever spent time in such challenges outright with a new character. Not using it as much right now but I will before it’s freezing DCs start to be less effective.
At first glance, the special ranged attacks don’t look like much. And then I discovered the joy of Sniper Shot. This, like the Monk’s Unbalancing Strike, is a Bluffing/Deception shot. It’s got a relatively fast 6-second cooldown, making it great for me to spin about enemies and add in some extra Sneak Attack damage while they are bluffed.
Manyshot stays reserved for times where my aggro-partners are becoming overwhelmed and I need to clear out a powerful mob. I also use it against HP-heavy red-named enemies, of course. I miss the faster cooldown of Ten Thousand Stars on Pyn, but I’m getting by nicely.
As a first-life, Mistika is leveling crazy-fast, already at level 13 with a banked level as you read this. I’m prioritizing quests with high XP, specific favor rewards or gear and will shortly rev down the XP to complete favor and gain gear on low level quests I’ve skipped. Quests like “The Pit”, “Stormcleave Outpost” and “Spies in the House” were easily done. Had more problems with “Tear of Dhakaan” and couldn’t complete when I hit the respawning town room and I left my hireling active with fatal results.
The Serpentbranch bow I had on Pynthetica (bound to account) is still her go-to bow for most attacks, although I just crafted up a nice Aligned of Greater Construct Bane bow with an empty red slot for Maruts and other robots. Any bow that I can augment helps a lot with general DPS.
Same goes for finding items that add bonuses to Sneak Attack damage. A Halfling’s racial bonuses, in hindsight, would make an improved sniper, but the elven DEX-to-damage power might be offsetting this. A kindly guildmate (you know who you are) donated the Bracers of the Hunter to me that help with a bit more Sneak Attack damage.
I think a Ring of the Stalker is also in my immediate future, especially one for level 20. That Manslayer effect would be awesome and the exceptional Sneak Attack bonus damage welcome, not to mention some miss-chance effects.
Black Dragonscale Armor seems also in the future. I’ll have to farm for scales in Tor with the nearly implacable Szyncletica.
I’m wearing Deadly/Accuracy gear and a Seeker VI item with Improved Critical: Piercing trained. It’s making the critical hits quite potent.
So, to sum up, Mistika plays a little more like an Assassin. She brings her melee/aggro team in to lure a mob. This requires stealth; you get your summoned team close enough to auto-attack while keeping yourself from being seen.
This team is buffed up to stay alive, generating aggro just as I reveal myself and begin picking off the enemies that my team damages, minimizing the risk of hitting something that turns away from the pack and towards me. The sneak attack damage is key here. I’ll have special shots that outright kill weaker enemies, and if I can add points to Killer and other critical threat/hit effects, the damage stacks.
You just don’t go all pew-pew with a Stalker. This is a hunter. You have to deliberately arrange and pick a target for best effect.
Again, all of this ties to the stillness of the archer. Unlike my other ranged attackers like Szyncletica the thrower and Pynthetica the Zen Archer, Artemistika avoids movement while shooting. She’s gained Improved Precise Shot as a Ranger, but she’ll rarely use it since Stalkers can gain bonuses to Archer’s Focus with Precise Shot. The longer she stands still, the greater the damage.
I invested in a new cosmetic armor to seal in the look. I don’t normally go for blondes, but for Mistika, I’ll make a happy exception.
I’ll talk more on her Epic future as she quickly comes to it. Shiradi Champion and Fury of the Wild are natural fits, but so is Primal Avatar, especially with the summoned/hireling buffs there that might be sorely needed if soloing an Epic quest. Shadowdancer looks great, too, for better defenses and more Sneak Attack die.