Kyudo: My Dreams All Aquiver

Not all martial arts training requires a blade or empty hand.

Not all martial arts training requires a blade or empty hand.

Quintessica’s sitting form faded more as the hours passed. She maintained a barrier around the dojo, keeping it in a phased state, neither here or there, holding off an overwhelming Shavarath army that had injured many, forcing the school to retreat.

The Drow star-thrower Szyncletica watched the Henshin Mystic’s state. It was only a matter of time before Quintessica would be too exhausted to continue her meditation and her barrier would fall.

The school had one option left–and Szyn was the only one that knew it. Before she came to the dojo, Szyncletica was Szyn Dun’Robar, a daughter of House Dun’Robar in the depths of the Faerun world of the Underdark.

A potential matron mother, she was nearly assassinated but saved from harm and sent to the foreign realm of Eberron.

Since then, she’d joined Syncletica’s school and mastered her craft. In her travels she also met a few new friends of a familiar sort in this world of machines sometimes melded to magic. She taught them a few of her ways and gained knowledge of a few of theirs as well.

Just as the battle began, she had enough time to concentrate, sending a very short telepathic message to one of them, a half-elf that also befriended the same groups.

But inside the dojo, and with Quintessica’s effect in place, Szyn never had a chance to confirm if her message had been received.

She was about to find out.

The dojo shook suddenly, tilting and swaying as a cat clinging to a thin tree branch in a strong wind. “Can’t…maintain,” Quintessica hissed. “Be ready.” Szyn’s hand instinctively moved to her robe, grasping a shuriken inside. On touching it, the throwing star pulsated with ki energy.

The eerie blue-green hue within their school faded as the dojo fitfully settled back into its normal plane. The students all stood, each braced for battle as the colors and smells returned to normal. Quintessica dropped to the floor from her seated position, unconscious.

But there came no teleporting sounds of orthons or devils to ambush the weary school.

All seemed quiet, except to Szyncletica’s elven hearing. She heard a familiar outside commotion–the feather-sharp hiss of arrows in flight, followed by grunts and sighs from the targets they struck.

Teachers Syncletica and Lynncletica, their human hearing unable to discern what occurred, seemed confused. Szyn caught more than a few expressions of surprise and amusement from the few elven and half-elven students who also heard the noises. Then all went quiet, even to the elven ear.

The silence was abruptly shattered by a gentle series of knocks on the door, startling everyone.

“Hey! Everyone okay?” a voice called from outside.

Teacher Syncletica looked back at her senior teachers in puzzlement before she slowly opened the door.

“Sorry we’re late. Stopped for coffee,” said the tall red-haired woman, a single pointed ear standing out on one side of her head. She held a bow at rest in one hand, and twirled an arrow causally in the fingers of her second. She wore a practical blue robe with a few runes and adornments that marked her as a ki archer–a Monk trained in the bow.

“Pynthetica!” the Teacher shouted.

Szyncletica allowed herself a small grin as she watched the Teacher smile and clasp her old friend at the door by the shoulders. Moving forward, Szyn could see behind the arcane archer to the former battlefield.

Pyn stood in front of a small but heavily armed group of Vulkoorim and Raveneye Drow. Pyn heard Szyn’s call for help, and mustered a small but potent counter-strike force.

And quite an impressive one, at that. The portals outside were gone. A handful of Drow looted the bodies of the slain demon horde.

One tanned Drow archer standing closest to the half-elf walked towards Szyn. He did not bow. Once accustomed long ago to Drow males that showed subserviency at all times on approaching or addressing a female, Szyn had to remember that this world was not Faerun.

She relaxed her grip on her shuriken.

“Does your kind always get yourselves in trouble such as this?” the archer asked.

“No. Often it is much worse, Reki,” she said. She found herself making a small bow of greeting and thanks.

Reki looked about, his eyes narrowing. “You are the only Drow here?”

“One battle, one Drow,” she declared. “There were several battles, however, so I am pleased to see you brought others to partake.”

Reki nodded with a solemn acknowledgement of pride and control that only a true Drow would understand. Szyn chose her new allies well, she thought.

“Come, I will introduce you,” she said.

~~~

I bought a new computer for the home, ending my week-long sabbatical. The 21-inch screen of an iMac makes for stellar game play. While there is now a Mac client for DDO, I’m more fond of the abilities of the Windows client. A few hours of installing Windows 7 and the dojo has returned to the land of the living in epic, widescreen, maximum-settings color.

It’s been a bit since I’ve played with my archer, Pynthetica. Once a great human Ranger Arcane Archer, I decided to TR her into a Half-Elf Arcane Archer with Monk training.

Yes, I know. The forums are aflame (are they ever calm?) with “Monkchers are overpowered” rants. However, my character’s not multiclassing and isn’t trying for ULTIMATE UBER L33T DESTRUCTION. I’m just enjoying the game. Besides, I think my Shuricannon can be nastier than some bowcasters.

The side benefit is that I can use Pyn to define the Arcane Archer Monk chapter of the guide to help others in their builds of a single-class Monk with a bow. Her design fits more to the concept of the kyudo, the martial art of archery in Japan. It’s not necessarily “zen archery,” but you can adapt it to such, thanks to mastering ki with arcane energies.

A recent question on the DDO forums from a new player ready to make an Elven AA of their own made me realize I Have Goofed in my own build. Thankfully it wasn’t too late for me to correct Pyn’s feats as she nears level 8.

Dilettantes

The new enhancement trees allow any Elf or Half-Elf (not Drow, but seriously, they don’t need it) to add the Arcane Archer tree as part of their training. I made Pyn into a Monk but decided to take the Half-Elf: Cleric dilettante I’ve become quite fond of using for my other ninjas, Ryncletica, Kiricletica and Szyncletica.

That was a mistake.

I should’ve chosen Half-Elf: Ranger. This would give me martial proficiency for all ranged weapons right off (rather than adding in Weapon Proficiency for bows) as well as a little of what I like from the Cleric dilettante: the ability to use wands and scrolls. This limits me to Ranger spells and their smaller spell tree, but Pyn’s already used to that. Also, the Ranger dilly adds a Lesser Bow Strength, which adds damage from STR but at a lower number than the full feat of the same name.

A visit Fred fixed that one, freeing up a feat slot, deleting the longbow proficiency to add Quick Draw. That’s the one thing I miss here: Rangers gained so many granted ranged and melee feats automatically as they level.

Feats, Skills and Spells

With a more appropriate dilly comes more spells. I liked Pyn’s independence with Ranger spells, few but useful. Now, hopefully, I can keep some of that versatility.

Healing won’t be as convenient by using scrolls, but at least it’ll work. Some Ranger spells are going to be lost, like Freedom of Movement.

In place of Manyshot will be Ten Thousand Stars, which has a longer effect and takes advantage of a high WIS score.

Points to Hide and Move Silently are necessary, but Spot was Pyn’s happy skill stat in the past and will be again–now improved now as an elven character. Concentration is still absolutely required for any Monk. A little Jump and a point to Tumble completes the mix.

Archer Training

I’m careful to what additional abilities I pick from the Monk enhancement trees. If I’m going to be a serious archer as the dominant weapon, action points in AA are a priority. But so are other Monk enhancements, as I note in a moment.

Unlike Szyn, Pyn’s attack diversity will make her formidable in many locations. I should be able to use various arrow imbues to good effect. She needs burst attacks, and that’s where Ten Thousand Stars will add, later.

I cannot remember how attack speed improves on archers who aren’t Rangers. I’m hoping it’s a matter of Base Attack Bonus or DEX or leveling. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d appreciate it.

Monk Training

Monk training adds the defenses and special close-fighting training Pyn might need.

Being a dark Monk, Ninja Training and Advanced Ninja Training allow any piercing/slashing melee weapon to use DEX for both damage and to-hit. Bows don’t count here. But Zen Archery (needed for keeping the bow as a centered weapon) allows me to pump WIS up for more ki, gain damage from the WIS modifier and have a chance to shoot more arrows with Ten Thousand Stars in use. A little ninja training gives Pyn the option to apply poison and have a simple two-shortsword weapon option. If I can get one Two-Weapon Fighting feat trained, I will add it.

Pyn will also have the WIS DCs to pull off superior paralyzing attacks should the need arise.

I hope to add the Ninja Spy’s Faster Sneaking into the mix but also fully-trained Stealthy and Contemplation from the Mystic tree for +2 passive ki regeneration since ranged attacks don’t generate ki. As she gets stronger, Pyn will also sit in Ocean Stance at all times for it’s +1 passive regeneration, saves, Dodge and WIS bonus. That high WIS should really help Pyn have enough ki for anything she desires. Meditation and Wholeness of Body will help a lot in self-sufficiency, too.

I’m prioritizing feats to the ranged side of Pyn so I’m relying on the stock granted Monk feats to help when she needs to fight hand-to-hand. This will make Pyn a bit stronger than her previous self in melee, I think, especially with monastic skills such as Abundant Step.

She should be able to use shuriken well, not as superior as Szyn but perhaps better than Kiricletica since Pyn will train ranged feats, some which work with thrown weapons. So, when slashing options and Ninja Poisoning is a better tactic, Pyn will carry a few named stars.

Hopefully there’s enough points to get Shadow Veil somewhere in this build for incorporeality.

Equipment

Pyn’s collection of light armor in her Resurrection Cache is going to stay there if not eventually be sold before her next TR since Monks don’t do armor. A Quicksilver Cassok is her current attire on reaching level 8.

She still possesses some of the nicest bows in the game and should wield them well.

Playstyle

Long before Szyncletica came along, I learned my ranged tactics with Pyn. But now Szyn and the enhancement changes might help Pyn be a stronger archer, although she’ll level her skills slower than other AAs (she won’t get her last two core abilities until levels 22 and 22 if I recall).

As Szyn pumped DEX, WIS will be Pyn’s magic. Ten Thousand Stars has a shorter cooldown than Manyshot. DEX is quite important for qualifying for Improved Precise Shot, reflex saves and, I think, to-hit.

I’ve taken Pyn through quite a few of the lower quests and she’s doing quite well. But she’s looking much better now, thanks to one new player who may not realize that he helped me far more than I helped him.

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Redefining Roles in My Dojo

Light...Dark. Matters not, it does. Colonel Sanders is no longer our master.

Light…Dark. Matters, it does not. Our master, Colonel Sanders, no longer is.

The remarkable changes of Update 19 is forcing my altitis to get a grip on reality.

As you might guess, I have several Monks.

What you might not guess is that I have a few non-Monk characters, too. More on those unwashed heathen later. Right now, I’m compelled to differentiate how my Monks serve my guild and me.

Since creating the Monk guide, I’ve realized that play time with each major variation was key to keeping some level of competence in documenting what feat, skill, item or enhancement can do. I generally defined my Monk’s roles as did many other players, as if they were buckets of fried chicken that you ordered up. “Light” or “Dark?” Do you serve it primarily cold, hot, nuked or poached?

As I gained better understanding of the elemental Monk stances, the differentiations also broke down to the old Prestige classes (Shintao or Ninja Spy) and what Monk stance they favored, and why.

Now, the class trees offer so much variation but with substantial changes that my original attempts to have a Monk that specialized in any one Monk stance or philosophy is useful as so many crumbs at the bottom of the Colonel’s box of biscuits. Let’s break down what’s happened.

When Everybody’s A Super…

Syndrome…No one will be.

Remember Quintessica? My “Avatar” Monk that mastered all the elemental stances by refusing to master a PrE? Yeah, she’s just one of the gang now. Update 19 automatically grants all elemental stances to you as your Monk levels, as feats. The good news is that all that AP spent in the past can go to other enhancements. The bad news is that the Avatar is a stock feature for all fully-trained Monks. She’s since moved on to finishing move and quarterstaff mastery.

I’ve also heard in casual conversation (to my horror) that the higher stances (known also now as “Forms”) can be chosen by low-level Monks. That is, if you have a feat space, you can choose it with 1 Monk level at any time, rather than letting level progression auto-grant it to you. Makes for an interesting but strange option for Kensei fighters.

The news did caught me off-guard. It left me in both an existential and ontological crisis for a bit. pondering things like “Why be a Monk anymore if any otherwise-unskilled Tom, Dick or Arretreikos can buy up a feat and punch about, too?”

Of course, a Monk is still more than just an unarmed bludgeon, thankfully. We still matter. There is still a delineation of why Monks are still relevant in DDO. What we can do that others cannot.

But we can no longer use elemental stances as a benchmark. Every Monk is an “Avatar,” a master of all elements.

As the poster child for a lost role with Update 19, I retooled Quintessica quickly as my first Henshin Mystic to gather a feel for the new enhancements, as noted recently.

But now there’s still the matter of repurposing the rest of my posse.

Please Choose One of Your 505 Options

I kid you not. The variations of the class trees allow you (with at least one multiclass or Arcane Archer option if from an elven race) that you have five hundred and five individual core and tier abilities from which to define yourself as a Monk in this new age.

This purposefully excludes non-divine spell caster class trees just to keep my sanity (you’d likely add another 200 variations), does not include Barbarian and Bard trees (impossible to multiclass with a Monk), and only counts Human, Half-Elf and Elf races.

My Monk guide (now mostly revised) is concentrating on 125-or-so options for now: The three Monk class trees, the Kensei class tree, and (coming soon to the guide) the Arcane Archer tree if an elven-type race that can add this tree with a few AP, racially.

If I try to keep to practicing what I preach, then my dojo (and friends who drop in) need some retooling. Here’s what I have in mind for characters who haven’t received or self-defined their roles already in this Brave New Game World, such as Lynncletica the Tanker, Quintessica the versatile Mystic, and Ryncletica the Ninja.

Arcane Archer Monk (Half-Elf)

Pynthetica is my next to oldest character (Syncletica being the oldest). She’s a human Ranger Arcane Archer, a past favorite from my Neverwinter Nights days. She’s never experienced a True Resurrection, so she’s due.

My goal is to have train all of my characters (unless a dedicated non-Divine spellcaster or dedicated healer) with significant (6 or more) Monk levels. Likely, most will have much more. Each character is going to get a weapon specialization (lowercase) that melds with their monastic training. I have a Rogue that’s competent at traps but uses Ninja skills and is training up as an Assassin.

In the case of Pynthetica, she’ll become a Half-Elf, train the basics in unarmed combat and then add in the Arcane Archer tree. She’ll need the Zen Archery feat for Centeredness with the bow and may be lighter in overall punch than either fully-trained Monk or a Ranger AA. But with that Cleric dilletante, she’ll be quite versatile.

I like the idea of going Light in philosophy here for some healing regeneration, but going Half-Elf with a Cleric dilettante will shore that up, so Dark is a better damage option although much of its work can’t work in ranged mode.

Pyn should be quite competent going pure Monk or adding in 6 Ranger levels to gain Manyshot and a few granted feats. Since you needn’t take a second class for AA as an elven-type, it’s a matter of putting the Action Points where they matter. I think this will be my first priority on this next Fall weekend (after taking Lynncletica in “Devil Assault” to farm a bunch of Tokens of the Twelve).

Light Kensei Swordfighter (Warforged)

I have a Warforged Monk named Synthetica. Yes, the name begged to be used.

To complete my original quartet of elemental users in the past, I had planned to make the robot into a Fire-Stancer since healing her (“it?”) would be complicated given the racial healing problems.

Now that only Humans and Half Elves get anything on the racial side from healing amplification (with the Warforged’s options just trying to keep them from being a burden), I plan to make Synthetica into something far more unusual. Using the very interesting Kensei enhancements that sync well with Monk abilities, I’m going to work on giving the robot a much longer arm than any of my Monks. Specifically, Synthetica will eventually use a greatsword.

Starting out, it will be a mostly unarmed affair, and a minimum of 8 Fighter levels may be required to get the best power. Since you can’t add ki proficiency with greatswords from any Monk class tree, Synthetica will need the entire Kensei line to make a greatsword a Centered tool, adding perhaps a few points into Shintao for some self healing. This one should be fun if I keep it a secret to my guildies. Imagine that we’re in a quest and things are looking bleak, when suddenly an unarmed Synthetica pulls out a huge sword and begins a school in how to carve and filet. It wouldn’t be my usual style and I look forward to it.

Dark Kensei Weapon Master (Half-Elf)

This is Theacletica,  mentioned recently, who is going Dark for damage and training in light blades. Since shortswords are easily added to any Monk with one point in the Ninja Spy core abilities, she’s likely to stay with these until she takes the full Kensei line and adds kukris, daggers and a few other sundries. She won’t throw the kitchen sink at you, but will throw every bit of the kitchen’s pointy, edged silverware.

Rogue Henshin (Human or Halfling)

Allysen is my first Rogue and has had growing pains. Mostly this not her fault. I love to play many characters in solo mode. You can get only so far with a Rogue since they specialize in damage that works effectively and only when someone else has the attention of the guy you’re attacking. She’s been at level 17 for a dreadfully long time.

I’ll need to force her to level 20 and then TR her. I may keep her as a Halfling (hear the murmuring praise by GamerGeoff) for the Dragonmarks and some gear she already possesses from her Thief Acrobat days. For greater damage and versatility, she could train as a Light Henshin with some Ninja Spy. She’ll forsake her life as an Acrobat, since many of the abilities there are also found in Henshin (with little benefit or compatibility with each other).

The problem is that being a Rogue is a very skill intensive path. You’re good at it, or you suck, and there’s no middle ground. Frankly, fighting is secondary for Rogues. I could use Cassietetica as a model (a Rogue Assassin Ninja) and steer Allysen towards the Mechanic path a bit. Still, AP is AP. I make Allysen a decent fighter or a decent Rogue. Of all the characters, Allysen is the greatest challenge for Heroic living.

Wind Stancer (Human)

This is what Syncletica, a Shintao, is now. Epic levels have not been friendly to her at all. She takes tremendous damage there from which she can’t heal fast enough, even with an impressive healing amplification.

I’m not giving up on Syn as a Wind Stancer, but she really needs more beef to counteract damage. In Heroic, she’s fine, In Epic, not so much. That likely means, as she reaches Epic levels, to pile on Legendary Dreadnought training, Unyielding Sentinel and Shadowdancer epic destinies for more protections.

I put her through a Lesser Resurrection recently, adding a few points in the Ninja Spy tree for faster sneaking, more Dodge and Shadow Veil (easy 25% incorporeality), while remaining points go to Shintao. Got her more Dodge, too. I took her into one fight in Eveningstar and recalled her back bloody and in pieces, despite having miss-chance skills like her old student, Ryncletica. Sigh.

The Dreadnought mode gets many Action Boosts that a Wind Stancer could use to throw out more damage than they take in. Some Shadowdancer abilities can improve her DCs to go with LD as well. I’ve just got to find the right balance for my primary toon and namesake to these enterprises.

Strike harder, strike swiftly, strike far away

My friendship with the folks in the monastery down the way sometimes makes my skin itch. But I’ve gleaned a few tidbits from my friends there despite their abhorrence to a good bow, blade or armor.

The abbot there, Syncletica, and I had talked about the power of healing during battle. I rightly told her that I have spells and potions to do this, and that my distance while fighting keeps most of the enemies at bay anyway.

“But it is the quality of your healing that matters, Pyn,” she replied. “If you gain more from each healing you receive, you will be able to hunt longer.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I reviewed my healing balms and herbs, and improved on them a bit, completing the strongest training I could do there.

I told Syn that I hadn’t done as much adventuring until recently. Something lacked badly in my fighting, having to bring in more mercenaries to take point for me than I would care to have. I made a mistake in confiding in a few fighters about this in a pub last week.

“That’s because you use a stupid bow!” one said. “You can’t hit fast or hard with that thing!”

“And yet, you have an iron plate where a part of your skull should be, and have three teeth to your name,” I said.

“I’ll have you know that the Nail makes some really great soup!” was all he could say.

One archer there did make a note about something that I pondered after leaving that night: “Items you equip that can stack with ranged damage might be of help.”

I already imbue my arrows, of course, and switch out bows…but is there more? I would love to seek out more arrows per strike but many tell me that items that may aid in this is folly…the ingredients are just too rare, or the adventure is not suited for the solo ranger in the field to find the items.

I brought this point up to Syncletica over a few cups of rather potent sake. She excused herself for a moment and then brought over a wrapped box.

“This I found during a fight against the Taken. It’s–it’s rather hideous, really. But perhaps you will find use of it.”

She was right…this Bow, made of sinew and gutstrings from the unspeakably nasty creatures in the plane of Xoriat…it’s really horrific to see. On holding it, I thought I was going to puke…the thing still felt a bit wet and slimy.

But when I conjured up an arrow and fired it at a distant tree in Syn’s dojo…the arrow hit the hardwood…and sailed through it.

“That’s…that’s some bow,” I said.

Syn naturally gave it to me without further discussion. She also suggested that items that improve my likelihood to strike as critically as I did against that tree might be of aid.

She lent me something to help there when I’m not using the Bow of Sinew: A Blood Stone.

So I’m a little wiser and doing more adventuring. I can strike from very far away–that’s always been a benefit. But now, I critically strike more often and with far greater damage than before. Two or three critical arrow strikes against a denizen of Shavarath lurking about in the Vale of Twilight has been all too common with my improvements to seeker techniques, as well as combined use of the Wind Howler Bracers, the Sora Kell items, and the Vulkoor’s Cunning set that adds death to fatally-damaging strikes. Imbuing with slaying arrows yields devastating results more often, as well.

So yeah–I don’t make as much damage per second as others…but over distance, I make sufficient damage that fells more enemies more often before I can see their eyes.

Now to remember when NOT to shoot…I’ve been improving my tendency to swiftly pick and fire immediately at targets, but doing that in raids against swarms of evil will likely get me killed (again). I hate resurrection. I can’t eat for days after getting one.