The Case for Fortification…and More

The shield: A symbol of fortification. Your type is different, or not.

The shield: A symbol of fortification. Your type is different, or not.

Was watching the latest video tutorial from Axel, where he’s discussing how to increase your character’s survivability. As his character plows through Epic Elite “Lords of Dust,” starting with Merideth, he notes, with emphasis, that he’s not going to discuss several topics: saves (which are “class-dependent”), AC (believing that super-high AC isn’t possible) and Evasion (which, he says, is outmoded by heavy armor, which seems contradictory to having AC).

I smile at his informative talk as he lets his Ranger/Monk/Cleric loose. I know he’s this specific multiclass because he has a yellow bar (ki: Two Monk levels for Evasion), a Ranger class symbol, and is able to purify the altars in that quest, which requires Divine levels.

Axel has great information for melee characters and it’s definitely recommended. But that video wasn’t for me. My Epic Elite experience with evasive classes (Monk, Rogue) is different. And, in the time I had available to watch what I could of the video, Axel didn’t mention one key protection needed for everyone.

I learned, not long after a trip into “The Portal Opens” with Syncletica with the then-new Menace of the Underdark expansion, that Death will come on swift heels to those who lack in Epic protection.

That specific protection is fortification.

In Heroic levels, experienced adventurers often help discouraged neophytes among us after they’re killed with only one or two hits by a monster. Our first question to help is, “What’s your fortification?”

The reply from that adventurer is often, “What?” or “I don’t know.”

For Monks, fortification is critical since we are often front-line or solo fighting.

I suspect that a few of us get confused as to when and what we need in fortification, where we can get it, and why it’s so dang important.

Don’t Die on the First Hit

Fortification, saith the wiki, reduces the chance for your character to suffer additional damage calculated as a critical hit or a sneak attack. Fortification doesn’t stop normal physical damage and is worthless against spell casters.

It’s generally easier now than prior to Update 19 to find fortification resources for any level. Before then, you had to look for items with suffixes of “Light,” “Moderate” and ‘Heavy” fortification. Let’s break down the minimum you should have by character level first.

  • Fortification 25%: The current name of what was once “Light” fortification. Almost all named items for this have no minimum level to use it. There are 10 named items that have this property. However, since Update 19, many loot-generated items (boots, belts and gloves) have the Fortified prefix with fortification levels between 20% to 40% that are still usable by adventurers between level 1 and 5.
  • Fortification 75%: The current name to what was “Moderate” fortification. There are 18 named items with this property. Again, there will be more loot-gen items with the Fortified prefix that should service characters between levels 6-11 with percentages between 40 to 80%.
  • Fortification 100%: Also called “Heavy” fortification. Every character should be wearing this amount by level 12, if not as soon as level 9. By this time, monsters will have a much easier time heavily damaging characters, especially foes that can make Sneak Attacks. Many, many named items exist, including the venerable Minos Legens. My personal favorite, the Nightforge Gorget, since that’s an easily-crafted level 9 item from “A Relic of a Sovereign Past”, with a Yellow augment slot suitable for a Deathblock gem (a topic of protection for another post).

Now, you can also find Heroic items with greater than 100% fortification now, too, which are very helpful in the highest-level Heroic Elite difficulties where monsters will have Epic levels (Challenge Rating 20 and above) while you’re still at character level 18.

But I might not have impressed on you sufficiently as to the importance of fortification, so let me back up some more.

How Critical Hits Work

While critical hits determine extra damage by player characters to enemies when your weapon attack roll is around 19 or 20 and a confirmation roll is also made, the same goes for enemy attacks at your character.

Fortification, again, reduces the chance that you’ll take additional damage as a critical hit or sneak attack despite the enemy’s attack roll.

The easy way to calculate what chances your character will take it to the face is to look at the Challenge Rating (CR) of your enemy by selecting it and using your Examine selection in your focus window. I’ll use the wiki’s examples.

Say you have 50% fortification against a kobold with a CR of 1. That monster has a 51% chance to hit you with a critical hit.

A CR 20 monster hitting a 100% fortified character has a 20% chance at a critical hit. So having the standard maximum fortification in Heroic levels isn’t enough to avoid a nasty slash in higher-difficulty content. Any quests over level 18 will sting on Elite for sure. This doesn’t take into consideration how boss enemies work, or Monster Champions, which now keep even experienced adventurers on their toes because these randomly-found enemies often possess higher CRs and have special buffs that may increase their chances of wailing on you without mercy.

A CR 54 enemy striking a character with 150% fortification has only a 4% chance of scoring that critical hit.

See the pattern?

Epic Fortification

I once joined a guild run into Epic Elite “Devil Assault.” All of us were level 22 or better. We died with ease as CR 44 trash decided it was time to take us out to the curb, rapidly.

The common factor in that total-party-kill was that few of us, if any, had more than 125% fortification. As the last example showed, that’s not enough against any monster of CR 25 or better, especially ones that often flanked us and got sneak attacks. We needed at least 140% fortification to have a 4% chance not to carry home our own entrails back in our arms.

Anyone that’s gone toe-to-toe with the Epic Elite end-boss of “The Lords of Dust,” Karas, will get a harsh lesson in why epic fortification is so critical. His Sneak Attack damage will end you immediately.

So, I make a habit to get any Epic character of mine ready to handle the worst of the worst as best as possible. I recommend at least 150% fortification if you’re going toe-to-toe in any Epic Elite–more if you’ve got it.

Thankfully, getting this isn’t hard at all, keeping in mind some rules.

  1. Standard fortification, an Enhancement bonus, does not stack with other Enhancement bonuses. Only the highest percentage applies. Epic Fortified loot-generated items go up to 125%.
  2. Special fortification types can stack, depending on the bonus descriptions.

So, an item with the Fortified prefix, as with any item that says a percentage of “fortification” are standard levels. None of these stack.

I know Axel’s character has to have at least 150% fortification to survive. Even with very high HP, you take just a couple of critical hits in EE and you’re done.

Special Fortification

But there are items and effects with Exceptional and untyped Fortification levels. Unless the percentages found on these items are the same number, they will stack with each other and standard fortification.

  • Fabricator’s Bracers and Fabricator’s Gauntlets: Once their Nearly Finished property is unlocked, these together provide 25% untyped stacking fortification to any character. The downside is that you must equip both items at the same time, screwing with your Epic equipment feng shui.
  • Exceptional Fortification items and properties: Some loot-generated items will give stacking fortification, up to 25% more, often having the Fortifying prefix (that’s different than Fortified). These fortification bonus is an Insight bonus and stacks with the Enhancement bonus of standard fortification. However, only the highest Insight bonus item applies. Named items such as the Leaves of the Forest medium armor and the Greater Stalwart Trinket share this property.
  • Some enhancement trees and one Epic Destiny provide untyped fortification that stacks with everything.
    • The Sacred Defender tree for Paladins give 2% fortification for each trained core ability.
    • The Paladin-typed Unyielding Sentinel epic destiny has the ability Brace for Impact, a tier 1 ability that any character can train and Twist for 4 destiny points to give a 40% stacking fortification bonus. Alone with a 100% fortification item or effect, many players may have sufficient protection for anything, including a few lighter Epic Elite fights.
  • High level guild airships with the Armory amenity can get up to 15% additional stacking fortification, improved by the Proving Ground state room amenity.

In Practice

My Zen Archer build is meant to stay put, like a turret, firing on anything. Without fortification, that’s certain death when melees are able to close in on me.

Someone left a very low priced Fortifying Helm (note the word difference) on the Auction House in Cannith one day, with 25% stacking Insight bonus to fortification. Yay, me!

I’ve wrapped up training Unyielding Sentinel with my archer to get that tier 1 Twistable ability. I have 190% fortification available, with no less than 125% at any time in her first Epic life. Once I let go of the Nightforge Gorget and wear a 115 to 125% item as I move into level 27-28 gear, I’ll  have over 200%, more than enough fortification for Epic Elite.

Sauce for the Goose

Thankfully, most monsters lack any fortification, making our player character’s critical hits that more damaging.

But a few enemies are fortified against us, reducing our weapon effectiveness. That’s why you can’t sneak attack a skeleton and some constructs and bosses.

But you can train abilities or find items that offer fortification bypassing or reduction. In the case of bypassing, your weapon or attack ignores a certain level of enemy fortification for yourself only. In the case of reduction, it universally lowers the fortification, allowing others in your party to cash in.

Most of these effects stack unless they’re classified as a similar type of bypass or reduction.

  • Precision is a combat feat that allows you to ignore 25% fortification and gain 5% to your to-hit with no penalties.
  • Armor-piercing bypass properties come on items such as the Black Dragonscale Robe, as well as some weapons.
  • Rogues get Opportunist, a feat that also bypasses 10% fortification.
  • The Trapsmith’s Workshop guild ship amenity gives a 5% bypass.
  • Rogue Assassins have Assassin’s Trick for 25% reduction.
  • The Destruction and Improved Destruction property found on weapons is a stacking reduction effect.
  • Improved Sunder, a melee strike, reduces fortification.
  • The Dark Monk’s finishing move, Touch of Despair (Dark/Dark/Dark) reduces fortification by 25%.
  • The Favored Soul’s Shield of Condemnation core ability in Angel of Vengeance can reduce fortification by up to 50%.
  • Weapons with Weaken Construct or Weaken Undead reduce fortification.
  • The Artificer’s and Rogue Mechanic’s Wrack Construct can reduce fortification by as much as 50%.
  • Insult, a Fury of the Wild ability, reduces by 10%. (Be careful of the tier 1 ability, Tunnel Vision, which, while you’re raged, reduces the player’s fortification by 10%.)
  • Piercing Clarity, a Grandmaster of Flowers ability, bypasses up to 10%.

Teacher Firewall’s Shuricannon 2.0 build, from which I draw much inspiration in solidifying the Zen Archer, shows that he can generate a 95% armor-piercing rating with a lot of gear and upgrades that I’ll likely not see. I’ll be happy to have 50%.

For Mericletica the now-Epic Zen Archer, I have Precision with Piercing Clarity for 35% fortification bypass. If she can get a Flawless Black Dragonscale Robe, that can increase by 15% or 20% to get 50 to 55%. In the highly unlikely event I can upgrade to a Tier 2 Thunder-Forged Longbow, the “Dragon’s Edge” upgrade offers 35% Armor-piercing, which is what Firewall crafts in his Thunder-Forged Shuriken.

Note that armor-piercing is a typed effect and usually doesn’t stack with itself, only the highest bonus applies.

The Other Protections

Axel’s information deals with the player type that (1) is generally a melee fighter, which will take a walloping in EE, (2) has time to get the best gear, and (3) multiclasses to get the best of everything. I’m betting, too, that his playstyle is totally different than my own, as the video shows (his style is scream-and-leap melee). Based on the video, he clearly knows his stuff for armored fighting.

My focus is generally on Monks, so what he ignores in this video are actually key to the defense of the EE Monk.

Axel is very right on never focusing on only one area of defense. You need to dabble in as much as possible. But what you can or should dabble depends on your class, and not everyone is going to dabble in several classes to start.

I’ve discussed these Monk defenses in different posts and in the Monk guide at length, but let me summarize what protections are important for the EE Monk aside from fortification.

  • Saves: Saves are the ultimate armor for a Monk. While saves may not be relevant to Axel or other classes save a Paladin, saves determine how likely Monks are going to be hurt or overcome by some types of damage or spells. It’s hard to build a Monk with poor saves: they won’t live through Heroic if you do manage to build a poor one.
  • Spell Resistance: This high passive defense blocks so many spell attacks but few talk about it because the Monk gains this benefit automatically. Few others get this ability, even in Epic play. Monks generally get 30 spell resistance at level 20. If you are Drow, you get this defense earlier, and Grandmaster of Flowers allows a stacking bonus. You can’t get Spell Resistance any other way except from a Cleric/Favored Soul spell.
  • Improved Evasion: It was paradoxical to me that Axel said that Evasion wasn’t necessary for EE play when his character in that video showed a yellow bar, suggesting 2 Monk levels, a common way to get Evasion. Evasion avoids damaging spells and certain trap damage. Since spell casters abound in EE play, Evasion is the old-school way to avoid that problem. Today, heavy armor folks can reduce this damage with Magical Resistance Rating (MRR), which can’t apply with no-armor types. Firewall notes that Improved Evasion is equivalent to 100 MRR, and my gameplay confirms this. Spell Resistance, combined, make Monks very magic-resistant. We can stand in a sea of fire elementals and never get hit by a fireball.
  • Miss-chance: High Dodge, Incorporeality and Concealment are key in many a Monk’s survival, and we can boost these numbers unlike any other class. My Zen Archer relies on maximizing these effects and sustaining them longer than many other classes. Axel discounts them in this one video because of their problems in activating them or their general effectiveness. Since I can get 25% Incorporeal, 20% Concealment and 30% Dodge, I’m far more effective than 10% Ghostly and Blur alone.
  • AC: While AC is less effective at higher difficulties, it’s not ignored. It’s simply one helpful passive defense. Mericletica sits around 84 in Earth Stance, which isn’t bad at all for a non-melee character, which helps a little in mitigation against trash at least.
  • PRR: Physical Resistance Rating’s recent tinkering by the devs makes a little PRR go a longer way. Getting 25 PRR means 20% of any damage is absorbed. PPR helps my Monks when all other defenses are compromised. Combine that with other defenses and life is that more survivable should a hit get through. I’ll want to add a PRR augment gem to get this a little higher.
  • Special gear: I love the Way of the Sun Soul set and how it provides a Radiant Forcefield type effect on you (in Earth Stance) with a critical hit confirmation, reducing damage by 25%. Combined with other damage avoidance and mitigation, this helps the Zen Archer hold her position to boost her damage.

Definitely take the great work that Axel provides and use it, but note that Monks are special and some information there might not apply. Don’t know if Axel does Monks, but based on his smooth video series, I’m sure he has a clue about them.

The Perfection of Destruction

“Thank you for this honor, Teacher,” Lynncletica said, bowing briefly before looking at the small green pin I gave her. It marked her not only as a teacher, but as my second-in-command in the dojo.

“Don’t thank me. Your training is complete, and you are ready to teach others as I taught you,” I said. “Just remember that the process of learning new things never stops. Your best skill to students may be in instructing skillfully of things you have not yet mastered.”

I could see my old student study me, from my expressions to my silence, before asking, “Syncletica, there have been…rumors…that you will leave us in a short time.”

I stayed silent before I nodded.

“It is true? You are considering the discipline called the Circle of the Phoenix?” Lynncletica seemed less shaken by the idea of the loss of her teacher and more fascinated by the concept of True Reincarnation. I knew that expression on her face; I’ve seen it in the mirror a few times myself.

“Why does reincarnation attract you?” she asked, following my lead in taking a seat.

“Growth. Despite the many techniques I have learned, there is more than this life. Through the powers of reincarnation, I can channel all my ki into becoming somewhat taller and stronger. As a result, I may be able to withstand more damage but also create more damage than ever before.”

“But where does that leave you in terms of ability? Or skills or equipment?”

I realized I was chewing my bottom lip in absent-minded contemplation and expectation of that question. “Here is where the master becomes the student. I must rediscover my experiences again, my adventures. Completing my experiences will teach a little less in a new life than when I first attempted them. As far as ability, many of my abilities will increase naturally, perhaps even carry over to a point.”

Lynncletica tried to parse this information before I changed the subject. “There is a lesson I have for you today, one that I have almost solved.” My former student’s expression returned from its sorrow over my imminent departure to her usual puppy-like enthusiasm.

“As you reach your training pinnacle, the most difficult part of preparing for battle involves what little gear you require for maximum effect.

“Here is the riddle. How do you achieve the highest amount of health while still keeping your fundamental damage ability maximized, while ensuring that you have blindness protection, death spell protection, the heaviest critical hit fortification, high resistances, higher armor protection and critical strike seeking of factor 4 or better simultaneously?”

Lynncletica thought a bit about this for nearly 20 seconds (a testament to her greatly improved skill in concentration that has allowed her to return less bloodied for adventures than not lately) before answering, “The Green Steel may be useful here, to start.”

“Yes,” I said, although you know that we cannot obtain handwraps made of this material.”

“Yes, I am aware. So we use Green Steel to stack multiple defensive effects on an item, or better, two items. I’m betting that health, blindness protection, death blocking, poison inmmunity and more could be handled by two Green Steel items.”

“Wearing two Green Steel items, I should warn you, will drain the life out of you without a special cleansing agent of the Shavarath tainting, Student, but I have this covered.” I poured us some tea. “Go on,” I said.

“And…while you could wear an outfit with fortification, like the Garments of Equilibrium, perhaps stronger saves against damage and better armor could be better handled by another garment. I know you have found the Icy Raiment…I think that would do here.”

“True,” I said after a sip.

“For fortification, I know of a crafter that may have a helmet that adds more personal durability as well as the best fortification. So that leaves only the Seeker ability…something I’m always carrying in my adventures for best damage.”

Lynncletica seemed lost in thought as she began to sip her tea. “I know that the Blood Stone is easy to use here but I suspect you have something else in mind, Teacher.”

“Yes, I do. I’ve worn two items to help with the Seeker effect. One was a headdress with the sixth level of Seeker, combined with a special trinket that increased the effect by an additional two levels, as well as adding a powerful electrical burst on critical strikes.”

Lynncletica nodded. “So the helmet I suggested would change your Seeker. If you wore a Blood Stone, you would have the sixth level but could not increase it further because you cannot wear that Bold Trinket, yes?”

“Correct. And, as you have taught me, the Seeker effect increases the opportunity for damage.”

My student finished her tea. “I will need to study this more, Teacher. I’m sure I can determine a solution.”

But Lynncletica’s eyes began to smile. In challenging training sessions, I’ve seen her face do this while her mouth remained grim and impassive. I knew she had a fresh idea, for when her eyes smiled, understanding, and thus, victory was near. It was not an expression that her opponents often survived long enough to understand.

“It seems like you have an idea already.”

Lynncletica seemed momentarily taken aback by my reading of her before she answered, “I do. I unearthed high Seeker handwraps but they lack additional innate damage. But if I were to add bursting effects to them, they would allow you to use the Bold trinket at the expense of less elemental damage, but keep all other benefits of your accessories.”

I pondered this a moment. She was right except that, at my power level, my ability to use the most powerful ki attacks, particularly Force and Electrical damage, would easily negate any deficits to such a simple set of handwraps with only Seeker level applied.

I stood up and bowed. “You have answered that question very well. I trust that your disciplines will steer toward this problem for yourself in the course of time?”

Lynncletica stood and bowed again.”It will, indeed. Good day to you, Teacher.”

I bowed again as she left. After I removed my china, I began to search our dojo’s equipment logs for any of these Seeker handwraps.

Licking our wounds too often

It was late afternoon when a few of my acolytes carried in Lynncletica from the field. She was pretty ravaged, with bruises and sores and more than a few punctures. And yet, the only thing I saw on her that was really off-putting was Lynn’s smile.

“It was…stimulating,” she said to me, several bandages and a cup of tea later. “I could attack very powerfully in the stance of the Mountain. There is much potential there, teacher.”

“I can hear that ‘But’ in your voice, student,” I said.

“Yes. But my defenses seem lower than I wish.”

We talked a little more before I sent her away, limping to bed.

I know of what Lynn speaks through understanding her school of training. As a monk that chooses to fight with strength rather than finesse (as I do), she loses on the protections that the extra dexterity provides to her apparent armor. If she is to be more successful, not just to self-protection but to gain more off-hand attacks as she grows, she must increase her dexterity skill for both armor and more ability to fight two-handed.

Meanwhile, I contemplate a change of my own after several battles where I could not heal myself fast enough. I have long studied the mysteries of amplifying healing power. I’ve normally worn a devotional item, and use the Bracers of Jidz-Tek’ra while in Fire stance. Yet, is this enough?

I no longer believe so. A fellow monk noted to me that Human and Monk healing improvements do stack as they are separate sources. I have generally not trained my human enhancements. I may take a day to realign myself to this, dismiss the teachings of transport if required so that my primary abilities are geared more to healing energy results than the speed of generating healing bursts.

Keeping potions of ardor may be handy as well. There are whispers of other tokens that may yet expand ki’s healing potential.

I do not question my ability to teach new acolytes, but perhaps I should always consider that a master has never truly mastered everything.