A Monk with Magic

archer

I have not been a fan of mixing up cross-class features experimentally on my Monks until recently when I just decided I need to let my virtual hair down and see if some skills could be used to benefit my characters.

I’ve not created a spellcaster character yet. And I wasn’t generally a fan of mixing features up between classes because I wanted to maximize my learning and experience on everything that the Monk could innately do.

But I also had a clear bias: Mages, specifically the evil ones, were the enemy. The Monk is a melee fighter that’s also a potent anti-mage with high saves, spell resistance and mobility. Perhaps I was taking a page mentally from Diablo II’s Assassin, a player class of that beloved game that was also very Monk-like with charging moves and effects that emulated magic to fight evil mages.

Over the years of play, this bias gave way to appreciate the benefits of using wands or scrolls and found the flexibility extremely handy. Kiricletica, my super-soloing ninja, is Half-Elf and uses the Cleric dilettante to give her high-level Cleric casting levels to use the important divine scrolls such as Heal. My halfling Rogue Assassin, Sukitetica, is very UMD-happy as many Rogues tend to be, armed with an arsenal of scrolls and wands that have saved a few parties in arena fights where soulstones are all over the place and party recovery is compromised because most people are too visible. Being sneaky is your ally and a special power.

So, with my ignorance and prejudice of magic purged from working with Suki, I decided to take the plunge on a pure Monk.

With completing my first eTR on Pynthetica, transforming her into a master untouchable sniper into a bow-wielding sneak-attack machine, I decided to throw some caution into the wind and try out the one skill I discouraged in my Monk guide for fear of gimping a class with few skill points available to it at the start: Use Magic Device.

The first requirement I learned in experimenting with cross-class skill leveling begins at level 1 (or in my case, level 20): Add a couple of ability points to INT and use the largest INT tome you can afford. Ta-da! I just gained 2 or 3 extra skill points per level over the base 4 skill points for a typical Monk. While this wasn’t required, it was essential for how I wanted to play Pyn as I tested the Shadowbow Ninja. She still needed high Hide and Move Silently numbers. Spot was critical. Concentration can never be ignored. There went the 4 granted points right there. The additional points allowed me to pump up UMD to its maximum cross-class limit of 11.5 points without compromising anything else.

Next, use tomes and items to raise CHA, the ability score that boosts UMD. So as I level I’ll be able to wear CHA and Insightful CHA items to add substantial points. Add in Yugoloth favor potions and DDO Store elixirs and I can boost my UMD easily to near 30 points alone. I’m taken advantage of my updated Cannith Crafting powers to make a CHA +12 cloak.

Then finally, equip any items that add UMD bonuses. There’s the Tome of Skill you can buy, and items with Competence, Exceptional and Enhancement bonuses. Only one item per category counts, of course. An Epic Treasure Hunter’s Spyglass, a Big Top, and a few other baubles move the UMD number up to the high 20s to low 30s.

Finally, with these items equipped, kick on Heroism/Great Heroism for an additional bonus to all skills. If Pyn were a light Monks, she could also use the Walk of the Sun finishing buff for another +2 untyped buff to skills.

At level 26, Pyn can now use Restoration and Heroism without fail. I really, really love getting Restoration and Heroism because I can remove negative levels from myself and party as well as buff my hirelings. Raising dead party members while in stealth is a critical party-saving measure because using scrolls doesn’t break stealth in most cases I’ve experienced.

Kicking in a few more tricks, I got 39 UMD, enough to handle Teleport, Greater Heroism, Heal, and Raise Dead. Teacher Jammond recommended work to use Tenser’s Transformation scrolls for +4 Alchemical boosts to STR, DEX and CON, and it looks like I can do that now.

Some scrolls just won’t work. Knock, for instance. I can cast them but the effect requires caster levels I’ll never have. I still have a lot to learn.

To catch you up on Pynthetica’s work on testing and perfecting the Shadowbow Ninja: It goes very well. In addition to UMD benefits, I’ve learned that the best hireling to take with her is a Rogue. That might sound a bit squishy but consider this point. Pyn generates nearly the same sneak attack damage per arrow as the piercing and other damage coming from the bow, and as a Ninja Spy has her own innate SA bonuses. A Rogue specializes in sneak attack, of course.

If the two of us are attacking, an enemy that is susceptible to sneak attack has no quarter, no way to avoid it. If the enemy changes aggro to me, the hireling’s SA is devastating. If the aggro returns to the hireling, I blow them away from Ranged Power bonuses, my Pinion’s Planar Focus: Subterfuge bonuses, the Ninja Spy SA bonuses, the Shadowdancer’s SA bonuses, effects from a Seal of House Avithoul, Deception bonuses…you get the idea. Anything that stands between two SA-happy fighters won’t last long enough to hurt either of us severely before the enemy falls. The takedown speed is amazing. I use a little Rejuvenation Cocoon to refresh our HP as needed and keep on going.

In a live party, Pyn’s SA can sometimes be too good and she’ll pull aggro. It’s better for her to be in parties where there is a good player with Intimidate or strong Threat to keep Pyn from having to stick and move.

I only wish I could have an epic Rogue with Sneak ability. I still have to toss the hireling into the fray and have her build a little aggro before I start shooting. That’s risky ’cause Rogues aren’t tanks.

I think a video is warranted on this, so I’ll try to post one in the near future.

 

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The Shadowbow Ninja

The recent changes to the Monk enhancement trees enhanced the already-great Ninja Spy tree. Of note:

  • Advanced Ninja Training: Any non-handwrap, non-quarterstaff weapon you can wield while Centered gains bonuses.
  • Diversion: For 50 ki, you create a hate-magnet training dummy (Cooldown: 3 minutes)
  • Ninja Master: +2 DEX and +2 WIS, Vorpal gained on any non-handwrap, non-quarterstaff weapon you can wield, +1 Competence bonus to critical hit multiplier.

I saw one immediate benefit to my Zen Archer and Bowmaster: I could save some AP by removing Aerenal Grace from the Elf tree since Advanced Ninja Training provided DEX-to-Damage for longbows. That’s done.

Then I kept looking at the new Ninja tree as a whole. Next to the Rogue and its trees, it is the strongest class for Sneak Attack damage (The Deepwood Stalker has better general ranged Sneak Attack but you have to power it first). I’ve leveraged this with the Zen Archer, adding a bit of Sneak Attack damage that procs when the many Deception effects and items she carries Bluffs the enemy and adds in that damage.

But the Sneak Attack bonuses were a bonus, not the focus of the Zen Archer.

So what would happen if you could maximize the power of Sneak Attack from a ranged perspective while also providing better Ranged Power to magnify all that, all while not compromising the basic miss-chance defenses of the ninja?

So I started drawing out a new build. I call it the Shadowbow Ninja.

Pynthetica-Shadowbow.jpgAll-Monk, all-ninja, a little Harper, and Elf. Unlike the other Zen bow-wielders, the Shadowbow uses the full Ninja Spy tree, gaining the full Sneak Attack bonuses as well as all the core enhancements. In particular, the last core, Ninja Master, adds more DEX and WIS, Vorpal on any equipped bow (and other weapons) and bonus to the crit multiplier.

The Shadowbow is a sniper, as does the Zen Archer, but it isn’t as dependent on the bow. With a pair of shortswords, it can do the standard deadly ninja stuff: Finishing moves to debilitate and eliminate targets, and Ninja Poison in melee fighting.

In this respect, the Shadowbow shares more traits with the traditional Ranger, alternating between ranged and melee attack. But the Shadowbow Ninja is all-Monk, gaining the benefits of stronger defenses than many Rangers, particularly the miss-chance effects and high Reflex saves, perhaps higher than the Zen Archer itself.

Like the Zen Archer, the Shadowbow adds in additional Ranged Power points through a few points in Harper Agent. She also takes advantage of a new ninja enhancement: Action Boost: Melee/Ranged Power, to get a +20 boost no matter the attack style.

The new Deadly Striker tier 5 adds a +1 Competence bonus to the bow’s critical threat range.

The Shadowbow sacrifices the improved defenses of the Zen Archer for that extra damage, so Pyn says goodbye to Deflect Arrows and her Elven Shadow Dragonmark for gaining Displacement. But Paracleta is similar limited so thankfully the loss of these two defenses can be worked around.

The Shadowbow is very stealthy, as are most ninjas. Because of the bonuses from Ninja Spy, she can also wield shurikens quite well, although not with as much prowess as the Poison Master (a Drow that gains natural proficiency bonuses) while similar to the Shuricannon, at least with Vorpal thrown weapons.

In any attack where the enemy is bluffed, aggroed or helpless, the Shadowbow takes full advantage. With vorpal, Sneak Attack and No Mercy  in play, there’s 30% more damage to helpless–and ninjas can make enemies helpless in three separate ways by melee. In Heroic play, effects such as Freezing Ice can make enemies helpless through ranged attacks, but in Epic, the gloves are off with Shiradi Champion’s Nerve Venom freezing enemies, as well as using a Twist of Fate to stack more helpless damage from Fury of the Wild’s Sense Weakness, which stacks with No Mercy. The Vorpal will help a lot against weaker trash.

It should be noted that Sneak Attack has a range limit. Deepwood Stalkers can extend their range, but all others are stuck with a maximum 49-foot distance for applying Sneak Attack with ranged or thrown weapons. This makes the Shadowbow a closer-range attacker for best damage. Pyn still uses a lot of Deception items to cause Bluff effects to slow the enemy down, even if Sneak Attacks cannot occur.

One feat I’ve been dying to add to the Zen bow-wielders with little success was Shot on the Run, recently updated to add +3 Ranged Power in addition to cancelling out any penalties to attack rolls while moving. The Shadowbow can be stationary and build up its Archer’s Focus bonuses to Ranged Power, or haul ass across the battlefield with a barrage of arrows like the Zen Bowmaster but have more superiority in a running attack with a bit more Ranged Power. If this feat doesn’t seem that effective, I can trade it out and reapply AP in the Elf tree for her Shadow Dragonmark and gain Displacement again.

If the going gets rough, the Shadowbow owns the full ninja utility belt: Flash Bang to blind and daze a group, or Diversion to throw a hate-magnet on the field while gaining Invisibility for a few seconds. The Update 33 change only requires 50 ki for this with a cooldown of 3 minutes, so it’s no longer tied to your 2 Meditation turns. That lends the ability be used more often as a tactical tool, such as luring a large mob from your path forward or aiding your rescue attempts in a pitched battle where most or all of your party is dead and you must grab soulstones.

In Epic play, Shadowdancer is a wonderful complement to the build. She’s even adopted a new hooded dark archer look, thanks to glamered clothing derived on the Night Revels gear. With that stuff on, he’s certainly more haunting with Shadow Form (see the image above).

Other melee destinies that worked with the Zen Archer should be useful as well. I love using all the Shadowdancer abilities, especially Executioner’s Shot and causing chaos in enemy packs with Shadow Manipulation. Very fun when dominating a Shadar-kai into chain-whipping the mobs for you while you sneak by to your real targets.

I was eager to try out this build, which I’ve mapped out successfully using Character Builder Lite. I decided to send Pynthetica, the veteran Zen Archer, down this route, and she’s become my first Epic Reincarnation, working her way back up from level 20. I chose the Primal karma to take the Epic Past Life feat Doubleshot for 3% more.

She’s now fully geared as I can make her with a completed Thunder-Forged Longbow with Mortal Fear (which I can’t use until level 28), heroic and Legendary Green Steel Longbows, and many other early bound-to-character bows, so she won’t be lacking for weaponry as she grows, although early levels leave me using my Unwavering Ardency much of the time. Would be great to get Blazing Embers with the upgrade with a Seal of the Black Abbot, which means some time in the rather-boring Orchard of the Macabre. But blinded is helpless and that would help.

Pyn did craft a new rare item: An Epic Bow of the Silver Flame, which works well with its blunt damage against skeletal and mummy undead (with a level 20 Fire gem) when I’m not using my triple-positive Greater Disrupting Heroic Green Steel bow.

I’ve also done something I’ve not done before on a Monk before: A greater effort to experiment with Use Magic Device on this build to add a few extra tricks. I added a little more INT to get the needed skill points without compromising her stealth or Spot skills and adding in CHA and UMD/Insightful UMD items with Heroism potions to raise the UMD DC as best I can.

At level 21 I can use scrolls like Knock and Shield (but although I meet the chance to use Knock, some things, like the locked chest in Spies in the House, just don’t open with my Knock and I don’t know why). I will need higher levels to equip items to raise my skill to use Raise Dead. I want Pyn to be able to perform rescues–gods know there have been some raids where party wipes have been rather tough to recover without a good rescuer amidst alert, temporarily victorious enemies.

Guess that also means I should work on fishing for the popular but oh-so-rare Cursed Blade of Jack Jibbers.

I need to play with her a little bit more before I post the CBL build data. And I still have a lot of rewrites due for the Monk guide, among other real-life challenges.

Changes in Destiny

portrait-lynncletica1“Does not work with handwraps” is a common phrase seen in several of the melee-based Epic Destinies.

But, with the changes to handwraps as an Exotic weapon, Teacher Mernom and myself immediately wondered if that restriction has been lifted. I decided to find out with Lynncletica, my Shintao Monk.

Some general changes to the Jade strike-related attacks are amazing to use. I’ve adapted them for use quickly as I farm in the Night Revels.

While the Strike Tainted Creatures attack does not proc very often, the second-highest attack, Jade Strike, is highly effective against anything, including red-named enemies, in reducing their fortification enough to improve damage. If the enemy’s Will save isn’t good, they’re encased in jade–and this is occurring much more often than before since the Jade strikes have improved DCs. Jade Strike’s fortification reduction and encasement has a short cooldown as well (around 30 seconds), making it my second-favorite attack against non-bosses.

Tomb of Jade seems also more effective, but combined with Jade Strike, my attacks nearly double in damage, going into 400 to 600 per strike, depending on the target’s DR.

Now to summarize how Epic Destinies are helping.

Legendary Dreadnought

I retooled the destiny points to add in Lay Waste and Momentum Swing and also added Pulverizer.

Wearing the Storm’s Harness handwraps, my inventory status showed 17-20 for the critical range. The critical threat multiplier showed X3 on the handwrap weapon data. That suggests that these abilities are applying.

Master’s Blitz certainly works as before and makes for great option in sustained fighting to boost overall damage, especially with effects that now work with the revised handwraps. With the Blitz going, enemies that get struck by Jade Strike are damaged far quickly.

In this and all destinies, the Melee Power boosts have risen dramatically. Where, in the past, I made hits of around 120 per strike, I now see hits in the 220s (depending on the target’s DR) with critical hits between 1100 to 3000.

Unyielding Sentinel

Not surprisingly to most of you, this is my all-defense destiny I use for tanking in raids or in the toughest quests. It has the highest Melee Power rating found in a few other destinies and many abilities that allow me to adjust my defenses while still delivering some damage.

This destiny doesn’t offer STR boosting as Dreadnought does, but with the handwrap changes, the overall damage has nicely improved.

The Tower of Despair Incredible Potential ring I have (which provided Holy Burst/Good-alignment for unarmed attacks) is behaving as it should, now that handwraps are true weapons: The ring no longer functions unless I am bare-handed with no handwraps or weapons equipped. To my understanding, Purify Weapon only gives Good damage, but not alignment, but I’ll check that. In the interim, I chose another point to CON in that destiny since I could use all the HP I could get.

That ToD rings will no longer work is a bit bittersweet because it gives one more reason why the Tower of Despair raid is rarely attended today. There’s little there to gain for the Epic or high-level Heroic character and now, nothing for the Monk. The rings were an answer for needed DR bypass for the Monk, not long after its introduction, especially since Green Steel handwraps weren’t possible. Time moves on, but a refresh to the raid would be nice.

Fury of the Wild

The berserker destiny should be a great one to use for Monks, and I didn’t expect it to disappoint.

While the overall damage is lower per attack with only +3 Melee Power per innate ability, the burst damage isn’t bad, but it can be inconsistent against enemies. That is, if you’re not readied against Blur or other miss-chance effects, your attacks miss and your opportunity is lost.

One significant benefit for the Monk (learned with optimizing WIS for Paracleta) is that I can heavily boost WIS through Primal Scream and Fury Made Placid, which gives me the highest WIS to-date for Lynncletica from any destiny, with all gear and potions (58). This makes the DCs for Stunning and Jade striking much more effective.

Grandmaster of Flowers

The Monk-aligned destiny didn’t gain any new advantages with the change that I can note for Monks themselves. If you have a non-Monk that needs to use the destiny, you’ll now gain Handwrap proficiency to wield them if you care to use them.

For Lynn as a tanker, it’s the least useful destiny of the melee destinies, and it feels weird saying that. The problem is that there are many good abilities, however, adding points to gain these abilities all but sacrifices the options I’ve used in other destinies to boost STR, CON or WIS. I do use Twists of Fate to add in particularly notable abilities from GMoF into more offensive destinies, abilities such as A Dance of Flowers, Piercing Clarity and Standing with Stone.

Shadowdancer

As with GMoF, life as a Shadowdancer using a Shintao Monk also shows little change. This destiny is more inclined to weapon use and augment stealth or Rogue-related features such as Sneak Attacks, threat reduction, and diversionary abilities that passively empower you rather than directly overpowering your enemies. Lynn can sneak but she’s meant to attract the ire of anything around her.

Fatesinger

Surprisingly, this is a decent destiny for a Shintao. You can choose STR throughout and the handful of abilities that can apply to melee fighters work well. First is the second innate ability, Glitter of Fame, that adds +1 to all abilities except CHA. Also, Intoxicating Presence adds a stun-guard. The aggressive Reign adds Lightning damage to attacks, and Echoes of the Ancestors: Martial adds +1 to STR and DCs if you take the Legendary Dreadnought mode.

In the course of writing this I had a small inspiration for a ninja variant. More on that once I test out some things if it pans out.