Stand and Deliver

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I’ve enjoyed my new Deepwood Stalker to the point where I’ve “hyper-leveled” her with all the holiday bonus XP, VIP and play-through bonuses over the last few weeks.

Artemistika (or Misty, as one guildie calls her) has everything trained for best tactics and damage with her bows.

Once I corrected a bad feat choice, choosing Improved Critical: Piercing and not IC: Ranged, and once Aerenal Grace (DEX to damage) was added in, Misty’s DPS began to rise. With Improved Archer’s Focus in the mix and one special ability, the damage is absolutely astounding.

Others disagree on using Aerenal Grace, as noted in this recent thread. They recommend certain gear but also a multiclass format. The only thing they all agree on is getting a Silver Longbow–the one bow that Misty didn’t have at hand in her Heroic life, having acquired one just recently.

I disagree with the thread’s conclusions. I suspect they aren’t taking advantage of the class role and playing it as DPS build, ignoring that managing aggro is the key to the Deepwood Stalker build. This Ranger is as challenged to deliver powerful attacks as an Assassin if they cannot position themselves without attention from the enemy.

That thread on an Elven build also noted the addition of Ten Thousand Stars as a secondary DPS option to go with Manyshot. In short, the posters essentially recommend a monkcher build. I don’t think that’s necessary.

The Deepwood Stalker is meant to stand still and create cumulatively powerful sustained damage with plenty of skills. I had no problems with this build in Heroic once I understood this point, especially after aggro-management training I gained through another Sneak Attack-enabled character, my Assassin, Sukitetica.

I’m having great success with my Elven Ranger because I train hirelings to help me master the art of ranged aggro control.

A Quick Heroic Life

Around level 16, I decided to whip up a Black Dragonscale Robe, rather than it’s light armor counterpart, on the suggestion of a commenter to help balance Misty’s AC with her ever-growing DEX in Heroic. It also allows me to consider a Zen Archer or Shuricannon 2.0 track for her later, using that robe.

Black Dragonscale armors are known for their Haste Guard and armor-piercing qualities that reduce enemy fortification. My understanding is that, generally, this effect stacks with other fortification-reducing effects. I wore this through level 22, noted below.

I trained in much of the good stuff from the Stalker tree, including Heavy Draw, Improved Archer’s Focus, Killer, and Leg Shot. I might tweak these a bit to get the last special shot, Head Shot, but it seemed a bit random to be successful based on the description.

At Level 20 and Above

Misty’s now at level 23. She’s trained two-thirds of Shiradi Champion, a bit of Primal Avatar for Rejuvenation Cocoon, reached enough training to open the martial ED trees and used a Key of Destiny to immediately open up my second preferred ED, Shadowdancer. I want to have this trained by the time I hit my first Epic raid for greater defenses and Sneak Attack damage, with dominating a high-CR enemy for a powerful aggro management option.

At 45 DEX in Shiradi, Misty is not to be underestimated but still has room to grow that ability. If I could afford a +5 DEX tome, I’d add that in, too, but that will have to come some other time. A tome with only +3 is the best I can do right now. Getting Yugo potions to boost this up will have to wait. Attempts to start this are challenging due to aggro management overload (see below).

I still need Unyielding Sentinel’s Brace for Impact trained in to survive an EE strike with higher fortification, and have a small collection of Fortifying items for adding in Exceptional Fortification. With more training, I want 180% or higher fortification to survive while not moving. Since my AC is practically meaningless at 53, fortification and miss-chance effects are priority, next to tweaking my hirelings for the best aggro solution.

The nicest gift came through a visit to the Magma Forge by Szyncletica: A tier-0 Thunder-Forged Longbow. It’s my standard weapon now. After a run through a few Storm Horns quests on Heroic Elite, I was blessed by the guild master with a +5 Anarchic Longbow of Disruption. Being of the Neutral persuasion (after being so used to being Lawful as a Monk), I can equip it without any neg-level issues. It’ll have to do while I work on getting a Green Steel triple-positive bow.

Some very, very hard grinding, through three tours of the “Druid’s Deep” chain and hunts through the King’s Forest and the High Road netted enough Commendations of various types to buy the three items that form the Woodsman’s Guile set from the Druid trader.

But there’s something more to Misty’s success than mere ED training and new gear.

Badass Hirelings

Yes, I said “badass” and “hireling” in the same phrase.

Since level 20, when not with other guildmates, I’m accompanied by two specific hirelings: Albus Gladwin, a level 20 Favored Soul with Death Ward, and my level 20 Onyx Panther.

Now, that doesn’t sound like much until you add in two important bits of training I’ve added in, and mentioned before.

  • Augment Summoning feat: Your summoned creatures, charmed minions, and hirelings have +4 to all ability scores, increased health (amount equal to what the toughness feat would grant: Total hit dice +2), and increased fortification (+50%).
  • Harper Leadership: Your hirelings, summoned, and charmed creatures gain [+2/+3/+4] to all ability scores.

So my hirelings have +8 to all abilities, more fortification and HP. Combined with Ranger buffs to protect them against the usual elemental damage, Albus and the Panther make for an excellent, resilient and controllable aggro team. I can boost both up a bit more for crunch times using:

  • Heroic Companion (Harper tree): Action Boost: Grants an ally +0.25/+0.5/+1[W], +2/+4/+6 to hit and saving throws, 0/+2%/+4% Dodge and 0/0/+10 Physical Resistance Rating. (Cooldown: 30 seconds).
  • Animal Growth (Ranger spell): Grants an Animal, Magical Beast, or Vermin a +4 size Bonus to Strength, a +4 Size Bonus to Constitution, and a -2 penalty to Dexterity.

Albus gets the Heroic Companion buff while the Panther enjoys the Animal Growth buff, boosting STR and CON stats it can change for a +12 ability score buff for the cat.

And when I need a wild-weasel aggro magnet that always protects me (at the cost of attracting some aggro), I have a Shard of Xoriat to summon a squishy Taken, illitid, Evil Eye or beholder. These summons also gain the benefits of my Augment Summoning/Harper Leadership powers and any buffs I give them, making them far stronger and durable.

The result? A very durable team for me to stand and deliver punishing damage as Archer’s Focus increases and critical damage of 200, 400, 600 and even some 1200 hits fly from my bow.

Sure, DPS is important. But DPS in combination with keeping enemies at bay while you deliver the damage means sustained DPS. That is, the ability to continually shoot and shoot without any retaliation from enemies because of strong aggro management and being interrupted. For a Stalker, the Archer’s Focus magnifies my competence bonuses to attack, up to 25 times.

Aggro management beats high DPS. Even if you’re using a masterwork bow, a strong aggro solution keeps the enemies off you, no matter how terrible your DPS may be. That’s not only a resource saver but a life saver.

On the contrary, when (not if) your high DPS isn’t high enough without aggro management, something will turn on you fast for generating damage on them. And that something obviously had higher HP than your bow could remove. That also means that the monster likely has higher attack potential than you can withstand, and you’re a dead adventurer.

Attack so hard that the enemy can’t turn on you until it’s too late, and stay far away, and you got the gist of Misty’s fight strategy.

Misty manages crowd control so well that I use Manyshot only on occasion. I’ll kick it on with a solitary boss that my team has locked down (more on that team in a moment) or in a crisis where a lot of trash appears and it’s important they are dispatched before the aggro team and I are overwhelmed.

Without Manyshot, I can take down a training dummy with 150+ normal damage per shot once I debuff it with a Deepwood Stalker core enhancement:

  • Mark of the Hunted: Expend a use of Animal Empathy. Your currently selected enemy receive -10% Fortification, -10 Armor Class, -10 Spell Resistance, and suffers a -4 penalty to all ability scores for 3 minutes.

As noted before, a Deepwoodsman generates more and more damage as their Archer’s Focus builds up. Add in the debuffing effects of being Marked and the damage becomes very severe. When I activate this ability against anything, my damage skyrockets, especially if I’m got my posse in the right place to keep aggro on the targets.

The Mark lasts for three minutes, more than long enough to destroy just about anything I target, even a boss, although I’m sure some red-names won’t be as damaged by getting Marked.

Aggro Management, Woodsman Style

This process isn’t very different from how I’ve applied hirelings with Sukitetica, except that Misty is trying to stay still and continually fire on enemies kept under aggro by the hirelings.

Here’s my usual attack plan:

  • I’m sneaking at all times when scouting. Hireling party is buffed, including Freedom of Movement.
  • I send in the hireling attack team against a mob.
  • For larger and stronger mobs, I tell the Panther to Intimidate them, which works very well in keeping the mob’s attention. The hireling’s buffed nature makes them durable even when surrounded against small to medium mobs of CR 25-30.
  • I begin to pick off the weakest enemies, letting my Archer’s Focus build to 25, where my damage becomes powerful, with 75-100 damage per normal strike and more with critical hits and special attacks. If all is going well, I never move. I move the hirelings so I keep my damage primed while standing still, the hallmark of the Stalker build.
  • I back off attack until the hirelings start attacking on an enemy and then join in so that I limit the enemy’s chance to turn aggro on me before it’s too late for them. The farther I’m away, the better.
  • Should any enemies come at me, they get hit by a Sniper Shot to bluff them about, a Leg Shot to cripple them, or I move briefly into the mob and tell the Panther to Intimidate my attackers to pull them back into the attack fold.
  • I’ll refocus the hireling’s attack to Champions last, or next to last if there is an orange- or red-named boss in the mix.
  • Champions and named monsters get Marked to debuff them, increasing my damage to them by about 20-30%. I’ll also use the Pin ability to hold enemies in place briefly.

The results in many fights are impressive on Heroic Elite to most Epic Hard fights. The hirelings last a terribly long time, even when surrounded, while I pick off enemies with near-impunity. The key is to wait for the right moment: an important quality as a good hunter. Once the hirelings have aggro, I’m open to shooting.

The hirelings are beginning to strain now against the Drow in Epic Hard, however, as these guys hit hard with fortification-reducing attacks, Drow poison and more.

Aggro management is also difficult against fast-moving or teleporting enemies, such as devils and demons, some of which also are harder for any ally to Intimidate. I can’t easily keep aggro in the many quests in the Devil Battlefield as yet, so I’ll have to go in over-level and with a larger party to make those happen on Elite difficulty to get my Yugo favor.

I like Albus for his Death Ward, but on level 24 I may look to another Epic hireling that can heal himself and a fellow aggro-magnet while still dishing out damage.

When in a live party, Misty is more formidable because I’m often exploiting the fact that most players just go HULK SMASH on everything, generating aggro so strongly that I just sit back and shoot.

To improve my hireling’s survival as I reach into Epic Hard, a bit more Primal Avatar training is in order. There’s the following abilities I’ll want to Twist into Misty while in Shiradi mode. The second of the three is most appealing.

  • Friends of Nature (Tier 1): You call forth a small nature animal, providing a bonus to nearby allies. Duration: 3 minutes. Cooldown: 3 minutes. (I choose the Frog for +2 PRR to my NPC minions)
  • Natural Shielding (Tier 2): Your summoned and charmed pets, hirelings, and monsters gain +[30/60/100] maximum HP and +[10/20/30] PRR. Rank 3: Natural Creatures also gain evasion: When they make a successful Reflex save to avoid damage, they suffer no damage instead of half damage. (Natural Creatures include: Animals, Elementals, Magical Beasts, Plants, & Vermin)
  • Summer Smoke (Tier 3): Toggle: Nearby allies have a small chance to deal [5/10/15]d20 extra fire damage with their attacks.

The last two require a crapload of Twist of Fate unlocking that may not be likely, so I would have to have Primal Avatar as the active destiny and Twist any other abilities over. I might buy a Twist of Fate tome to get that second slot unlocked as soon as possible for a tier 1 while using two earned points for upgrade the tier 1 slot to use Shiradi as dominant–preferred since I have a lot of extra DEX from it.

Extra credit if using Primal Avatar could come from:

  • Autumn Harvest (Tier 4): You and nearby allies have a 5% chance to heal [10/15/20]d10 when nearby enemies die. Not affected by spell power.
  • Summon Dryad Elder (Tier 4): Summon a Dryad Elder. She uses her magic for damage spells as well as support and healing (Regenerate on self, Death Ward on group, Mass Cure Critical Wounds on others – heals enemies as well.)

Fury of the Wild has one ability I could Twist as well:

  • Primal Scream (Tier 1): Nearby allies are raged gaining +[3/4/5] morale bonus to Strength and Constitution, and suffer a -2 penalty to armor class. Nearby enemies take up to [10/20/30]d20 sonic damage. [3/4/5] uses per rest. Duration 3 minutes per use.

So, with that Fury ability, the hirelings get a +13 minimum boost to STR and CON. The Panther sees a +17 to STR and CON. That’s a tough little kitty.

There might even be an Epic Bard hireling that could pump up the numbers further. Doesn’t seem practical for me to look into Fatesinger abilities. I’d lose on the DEX abilities as I would with hanging around in Primal Avatar.

I’m not optimistic, but if these abilities can help an Epic hireling or summoned creature stay healthy and fighting long enough at Epic Hard or harder in combination with my Heroic stuff, I might have something. I still need to research any other EDs or feats that might add to allies. Suggestions welcome.

In any case, I need to fully train both Shiradi and Primal Avatar to qualify for the Epic Destiny feat, Doubleshot, by level 28.

More Invisible than Invisibility

What’s also notable are Misty’s stealth skills. I’ve added skill points to Hide and Move Silently throughout Heroic training, and she gained a few more points to this through her enhancement trees and some Shiradi training.

The result is astounding. With ship buffs and the Woodsman’s Guile set equipped, Misty sits at about 75 Hide/Move Silently. about 10 points better than any of my ninjas. She can boost both to 85 or so with the spells Camouflage and Pass Without Trace.

And as a Ranger, Misty has the Hide in Plain Sight feat that adds more H/MS and reduces slows Spot bonus, so she can move much closer to enemies before their Spot bonus can lock on. That’s helpful since Misty’s sneaking speed is only two-thirds that of any of my ninjas, despite training in Faster Sneaking and wearing Striding gear.

Generally, once you get any skill to 75 or more, I think you’re good for Epic Elite stuff that involves that skill.

But I don’t know if Misty or the hirelings will cut it at that level just yet. Hide/Move Silently are tactical, not defensive skills. Short of the Panther’s Intimidate, Misty has very few ways to shake off or escape enemies that come at her before she can kill them.

The skill of my little hunting party has made for the fastest explorer completion of the Underdark. It took perhaps under 2 hours to complete my map with these two hirelings at my side. The downside to Misty is that she has no way to save any collared slaves. None of her skills allow a safe removal of collars in wilderness and quest areas.

Misty also tends to take spell wards completely in the face without a Rogue in party. The ordinary Evasion feat with only a 30 or so Reflex save won’t do it against saving from harsh damage from any spell ward.

Pushing the Limits in “What Goes Up”

Trying to keep a streak, I sent Misty and friends into the Heroic Elite “What Goes Up.”

Mind you, I wasn’t very optimistic on this attempt. I took the highly formidable Szyncletica in there at level 25 and got hammered despite her skill. In this quest, you’re besieged by an army. Even with a full party, it hurts. But I love this adventure: the music, the setting, the stakes, the challenges–everything.

At the start, aggro management became a bother. When there are more than ten or so enemies, keeping aggro with a small team becomes very challenging because some enemies tend to split off, especially in tight places. I had to time my exit from stealth very, very carefully or aggro control was lost. Thankfully, the hirelings were durable and, with some close calls, we made it out of the orc and frost giant zones.

The damned Shadar-kai are my team’s worst problem to-date. You can easily guess why. When some start spinning with that Spiked Chain Attack, the low-DEX hirelings get debilitated quickly. Misty can avoid that damage thanks to her high DEX modifier, but needs to relocate the hirelings fast if chains get zipped about. Only when I can cripple one do I have a chance to put many holes in them while my aggro team is forced into disarray.

Because of the Shadar-kai reinforcements, completing the second level where Orphaun was held took more care. With an adjustment to strategy, we did clear away much of the control rooms, found Orphaun and eliminated the mage and his minions that were activating the mythallar.

ScreenShot01511Our party met its Waterloo at the top of the glacier. It was a valiant fight, but the zerg rush of orcs with supporting battle healers were far too many to keep in an aggro check.

Perhaps if I could max out the party with a high-DPS Rogue and Paladin, we might have stood a chance. But Albus had quickly drained his mana after the 2nd wave from the battlements near the glacier entrance.

I began battle healing both hirelings myself while picking off what I could before we lost aggro control completely. I’ll have my hands full by creating two aggro teams that way. With several Gold Seals (if I can’t convince guildmates to join me) it’s also a bit of an expensive challenge.

I am not finished yet. Short of a live party, Misty is going to dial in those Netherese and meet this challenge. Just as with Szyn, playing “What Goes Up” feels like an epic adventure and dares you to challenge it. The Netherese must fall.

A Little Update: My level 98 guild also possesses two other ship buffs that give a total additional +5 to summoned/hireling abilities. Misty’s now training Primal Avatar to add in more protections and a Dryad summon I look forward to seeing in action.

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20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. James
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 10:29:41

    A note: some monks get annoyed with summer smoke as it removed their handwraps properties. I do not know if this is still in effect. Do you know the last bridge next to a ramp prior to entering the end fight? I’m fond of jumping to it from the fight as they cannot attack you. However if a group peel off and go around the long way to attack you from under you, the archers can hit you. This is the safest spot to heal up though. I usually jump across, gnab soulstones, jump back and rez in safety. Can’t rez from bridge pity.

    • teachersyn
      Jan 26, 2015 @ 11:13:53

      Assuming you’re speaking of the end fight of “…Up”: Thanks, I’ll look for that spot. Since Misty’s a full Ranger with only bow attacks, the Summer Smoke thing won’t apply to her but I’ll remember that if there are friendly Monks with me. Helps to have Displacement to kick on against enemy archers. Pity I haven’t enough slots to add Deflect Arrows somewhere. But, going Shadowdancer with enough Fate slots unlocked, I can have a little Shiradi going, more Dodge and other miss-chance with Shadow Form and still deliver DEX to-hit/damage–perhaps Dominating one enemy to add to my legion of deadly hirelings!

  2. Saekee
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 11:59:00

    hi spence, nice writeup. I am looking forward to what you can do in Fury of the Wild with an adrenaline click right before the auto-crit of the deepwood. It will be an insta-kill!
    My dex-stealth build is in love with Fury since I can stalk up to selected enemies, knock them down with a terrible adrenaline shot, and finish them off (this is melee).

    • teachersyn
      Jan 26, 2015 @ 12:12:59

      Even a little Adrenaline boost could help, that’s for sure. But sustained damage is the hallmark of the Stalker, not burst DPS. I’m seeing 120+ normal hits, better with other factors, that doesn’t require anything special, especially with finishers like Sniper Shot and Merciful Shot when they’re just about done (20% HP). Only so much I can Twist, and Fury and P.Avatar lack DEX training for the sustained hurt. That’s why I also like Shadowdancer, including it’s Sneak Attack hurt and defenses.

  3. teachersyn
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 12:46:43

    A forum thread on hirelings notes the Druid Past Life feat that adds stacking +2 to hireling/summoned ability scores, up to 3 past lives. Wow. Guess what life Misty might do next?

  4. geoffhanna
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 13:29:59

    That is a formidable quest for any solo char no matter what you bring or how you go about it.

    • teachersyn
      Jan 26, 2015 @ 14:08:00

      Agreed! As noted, my super-Shroud-soloing Shuricannon got her ass handed back to her on Heroic Elite the first time. I was distracted by the shinies of being atop a flying frickin’ glacier! I was pleasantly surprised how far my little posse got considering they had to aggro an army!

  5. Tholgrin
    Jan 26, 2015 @ 16:04:49

    Lithe (tier 2 Shadowdancer) is something for serious consideration, especially on a build with evasion. The +6 to AC might not be much, but +6 Reflex most certainly is.

    I’m assuming you don’t have an owlbear? The level 17 one is tough as nails, and with your ranger buffs, would probably make for a nice addition to your Animal Aggro Squad 😛

    Also, don’t forget about the Sellsword’s Tavern ship amenity to add another stacking “almost Augment Summoning” to your critters. If you’ve a small ship, there’s nothing preventing turning it on, grabbing the buff, and returning it back to “normal” immediately after. (Except being lazy, which is my problem with a few amenities.)

    Also, feathers.

  6. DDOCentral
    Jan 27, 2015 @ 08:08:37

    Reblogged this on DDOCentral.

  7. erdrique
    Jan 30, 2015 @ 09:46:01

    Nice write up indeed!! I’m currently working on a low level stalker myself and have really enjoyed it quite a bit. I have always found the Onyx Panther and Owlbear hirelings to be extremely helpful when it comes to sneaking around things, allowing them to take the aggro and then popping in later. Look forward to hearing how you progress!!

  8. FuzzyDuck81
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 12:22:05

    The dryad summon from primal avatar is nice – she’ll even throw regenerate, death ward & a couple of other buffs on you! The only real problem being you have no realistic control over when she’ll bother, but still its a nice little thing.

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