Ninja Versus Ninja: A Look Back at Diablo II

The Diablo II Assassin: Unarmed, uncatchable, nearly unstoppable.

The Diablo II Assassin: Unarmed, uncatchable, nearly unstoppable.

While I’m away from DDO during Lent, I had to find a game that I still enjoyed but

  • Could be instantly paused
  • Not be an internet game
  • Not cause rapid amounts of time wasted

Well, two out of three’s not bad.

I pulled out my old install disks of Diablo II. It took Neverwinter Nights to pull me from that 3-year long crack habit, only to upgrade my fix when I discovered Dungeons & Dragons Online.

At least I know I can only do one drug at a time. I’ve yet to purchase Diablo III. And if this blog ever, ever posts something about installing World of Warcraft, that’s the time that those of you that know where I live should arrange for a serious Intervention.

The first challenge wasn’t finding the activation codes (I’m good at keeping track of these) but in trying to get the game installed from CDs. I own an iMac model that’s quite a pleasant gaming computer while it’s in Boot Camp mode (running Windows 7 natively). But this latest model removed its built-in CD/DVD drive. I had to search around for my USB CD/DVD external drive.

Diablo II was one of the first major PC games that had a generally simultaneous release on both Mac and PC (back in the day when Steve Jobs had not only brought Apple from the brink but also started to make some very game-capable workstations). Sadly, the Mac version of D2 can no longer operate. The game was built for the old PowerPC processor. When Apple moved to Intel processors in 2006, the new Mac OS X Unix-based OS had a PowerPC emulation layer to support D2, but this disappeared over three years ago with OS 10.5 or so. Short of hyper-hacking a Mac PowerPC emulator into OS X Yosemite, using Windows was the easiest choice.

I smartly searched the Blizzard website for any compatibility issues. This is, after all, a game produced in 2000, with a late expansion in 2002. Surprisingly, Diablo II, introduced during the early Windows ME/XP days in 2000, runs excellently in Windows 7 once you tell it to run as Administrator and in Compatibility mode (with a couple of other settings for good measure). Back in the day, CDs (!) behaved as another game key to prevent copy theft. But Blizzard eventually told how to make a CD-less gameplay experience–something important when your computer is a disc-less iMac computer.

Sadly, I’ve lost my long-played saved characters used over the years, and had to start over with new characters.

Well, this blog isn’t the Sorcerer Blog, so I’m going to skip over my love affair with the Sorceress class, that hellion girl that puts the Her in “Sorcerher”. I generally played that class or the spear/bow wielding Amazon until the Lord of Destruction update introduced the Assassin.

The Assassin is an unarmed fighter, a member of an order of anti-mages that emulate magic through various finishing moves.

Sound familiar?

This is going to be a pleasantly long post. Grab some popcorn.

Now, I’ve played this class to death prior to my first entry as a Monk in the two Neverwinter Nights games. But with DDO experience under my belt, specifically Ninja Spy skills, I finding myself learning the benefits of skills I’ve ignored entirely over the years. As a result, I’ve found new joys in a age-old game, with lots of later DDO and NWN play experience to improve my game.

If It Runs Like a Monk and Fights Like a Monk…

The D2 Assassin, like a DDO Monk, is an anti-mage, with many attacks and speed designed to kill mages before they have a chance. Assassins use special hand blades or claws, rather than gauntlets or handwraps. Their skill trees (faintly similar to the DDO trees) are broken down into Martial Arts, Shadow Disciplines, and Traps.

Martial Arts are broken down into several finishing moves that magnify overall attack damage, deliver amplified area-of-effect elemental damage, or cause vampiric leaching of Life and Mana Points. Just like the DDO Monk, finishing moves are charged in sets of three.

Unlike the DDO Monk, you can and should charge up multiple finishers cumulatively. For instance, I can strike three times to fully charge a Tiger Strike (amplified general damage) then switch to charge up Fire, Lightning, Cobra (vampiric), and Ice charges before releasing them simultaneously.

How the D2 Assassin unleashes the strike is where it gets better. I can use a normal attack to do so, where all the charged effects strike at once, with fire, ice, cold and lightning go off like a bomb, while general damage and vampiric effects do so as well. But I also have special attacks to release finishers.

I can make a normal kick (which adds to the damage, depending on the boots I wear), or a Dragon Kick (greater damage with a charging attack) or a teleporting kick. This teleporting kick is designed to fight bosses who might be too powerful to fight one-on-one for long periods. So, you fight their minions, charging up and killing them, and then teleport-kick into the boss with all that charged goodness.

Now, that was my typical way to play back in the day. Then I decided on returning to put just one skill point in everything to unlock every skill to experiment. I’ve never bothered to do much in the Traps tree,  but I am loving it now.

Set Your Own Traps

The D2 Assassin can set up area-of-effect traps that throw elemental damage to anything in the area, aiding you as you fight with martial arts finishers.

To go with this, you have the ability to throw many, many throwing stars continually, per point of mana available. D2 has the Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy as ability scores. D2 generally has no true “dump stat” but Energy isn’t as required for the Assassin as STR and DEX are for attack rolls and damage, just like DDO. But you need some Energy to make a sufficient mana pool (just like ki) to perform your job.

I had never used the throwing stars before. Even with two skill points, I was reliving my love of the DDO Shuricannon with my old Assassin and mowing down enemies from afar that would sometimes overwhelm and tax my defenses and Life points. It saved me a lot of resources when fighting Mephisto, one of the game bosses, by gunning him down Szyncletica-style with multiple stars.

Finishing Moves

I wondered if the DDO developers took a page from Diablo II in the development of their Monk, because the concept of finishing moves and elemental attacks are so similar. Odds are, as the D&D Monk predates the Diablo series, Blizzard (yes, that Blizzard) did the copying.

D2 uses the Life/Mana player health/magic format, of course. Rather than ki, the Assassin uses her Mana to empower her emulated attacks. As you train her abilities, the Mana cost can increase dramatically when using the most powerful abilities.

Thankfully, there’s Cobra Strike, a vampiric leaching attack that damages while pulling Life and Mana from a target. There’s also gear you can find that has vampiric effects.

Diablo 2 has only four stats: STRength, DEXterity, VITality and ENERGY. STR and DEX are needed as you expect for the Assassin. Vitality is the equivalent of CON in D&D and ENERGY works as the Mana-increasing stat. A nice balance of STR and DEX for unarmed fighting is needed (like in DDO) but VIT is key to staying power for Life (HP). A few points in Energy is needed but not too much. Assassins can generate Energy themselves, in a similar fashion to some ki generating moves from the DDO Monk stances.

Shadow Techniques

One thing that the Assassin can do that’s also very ninja (but not “Ninja Spy,” as available directly from their enhancement trees), is to create a summoned assistant. The summoned comes in a lighter drone form that doesn’t take too much damage to a much more powerful and aggressive avatar that uses the whole can of Assassin offensive martial techniques. This means that the Assassin can have that Shadow Master summon to go with their hireling–yes, hireling!–be it a Rogue archer, a spear-wielder, a mage, or a Barbarian fighter, for two allies on the field.

You can even coat your weapons for Poison damage-over-time attacks. So very ninja. The Assassin was a popular character, introduced in the game’s sole expansion, because it could change up its attacks to meet any enemy immunity. I never used the Poison attacks back in the day, and I just added it to Syn’s repertoire. Green-tinged bliss.

Monastics of Another Realm

So, enough chatter. Enjoy my moves in this video that demonstrates most of the Assassin.

It’s sad that I’m not as far away from my computer as a gaming machine as I wanted to be. But if I have to be gaming and it’s not DDO, Diablo II still holds its own, even at 12 years old.

 

Advertisements

Secret Harper Agent Man

Harper Assassin: A perfect and deadly combination.

Harper Assassin: A perfect and deadly combination.

Update 23 brought a fascinating addition to the enhancement tree: Harper Agent.

For those of you that don’t bother to read the flavor text of various Harper favor quests in the Forgotten Realms to gain an idea of who they are, here’s some info from one wiki, and more information from Wikipedia. Of course, DDO Wiki has a short summary.

For DDO purposes, the Harper Agent is the first enhancement tree that any character can access. In fact, your character is granted this tree automatically as a VIP, but requires a DDO Store purchase for others. (Reports are coming in that some players don’t see the tree: This is a Known Issue.)

Harpers are the Forgotten Realm’s counterpart to MI-6 or CIA or House Phiarlan: they’re spies. A good-aligned group, they investigate and infiltrate suspicious groups throughout the land, seeking any information they can use to counteract and defeat those who try to subjugate or eliminate the good people of Faerun.

The Harpers we see in Eveningstar are quite busy in several theaters of operation. You’ll first encounter them as they deal with a caustic infection and a maddened druid in “The Druid’s Deep” quest chain. Shortly after, the Harpers are fending off the Netherese on three fronts: A race to collect pieces of a dangerous and ancient Netherese scroll in “The High Road” adventures, dismantling a Netherese outpost embedding itself in the Wheloon Prison, and rescuing Oriphaun Huntsilver while also stopping a powerful Netherese army in the Storm Horns.

Odds Are You Won’t Live to See Tomorrow

The Harper Agent tree appears more suited for Intelligence and magic users.Your precious Action Points will be strained to use much of what this tree offers while also keeping your class tree abilities strong–and that’s what the developers appear to want you to do. The Harper is a class to itself. Harpers are spies first with a strong Minor in Asskicking second.

Each Core Ability increases Universal Spellpower, your to-hit against Evil creatures, and/or your DEX, CHA or INT ability scores.Tier 1 abilities improve general Rogue/spymaster skills of Listen, Search and Spot, toughens you up with innate Energy resistance and HP, and adds the first of two Strategic Combat abilities. The first lets you use your INT modifier as your to-hit with melee and ranged weapons. You can improve this ability in Tier 3 to use your INT modifier for your attack damage rolls. This ability alone is going to be positively exploited by Rogue Assassins, whose INT is used for many of the skills, including Assassinate. Pumping up only INT is a godsend for damage and DCs as both Rogue and Assassin.

Spell power and spell point boosts come throughout, as well as Melee Power and Ranged Power boosts. New to the game, not all classes gain any of these new augmentations to attack damage except, perhaps later, as Epic characters. The Harper Agent can add more to the Heroic character.

As for Monks, there’s less there to consider except for, perhaps, the Arcane Archer or half-elves. Increases to melee power, spell and hit points and spell power might be great for my Pynthetica, the Zen Archer. The Ranged Power boosts alone might compensate for the lesser overall damage she deals, being neither a “monkcher” or Ranger. But my Action Points are spread all over already. It’s going to be hard to accommodate the new tree.

Given You Some Numbers, But Take Away Your Name

The Harper Agent is all about higher numbers. More ability points. More spell power, melee and ranged power. Ultimately, magic users gain more versatility as they can reduce their dependency on material spell components and add the Extend Spell feat as an enhancement through the tree, freeing up a feat slot. By level 12 training, your weapons can gain Deception effects or Righteousness (good-aligned) or you can add 10 stacking Harper bonus spell power.

But as I noted, the more you train as a Harper, the less potent you may become in your traditional class.

But for most DDO players, multiclassing is commonplace. The Harper Agent simply allows additional diversity but at a cost to some of your identity. I noted how Assassins will eat this up (I’m strongly considering how to add this to Sukitetica). Wizards can gain some serious powers, as well as Bards, the natural traditional class that might mate best with the tree.

If you find that your traditional class tree’s Tier 5 offerings are lackluster and your racial options even less appealing, then the Harper Agent might bring a refreshing and powerful change to your build.

Enter the Assassin

"Assassinate."

“Assassinate.”

I’m straying again from monastic enlightenment, but primarily because I’m fond of Rogues, their complementarity with Ninja Spies, as well as my total love of stealth operations, recently codified for others.

There’s also the matter of refining what I’ve learned from my aging first-life Acrobat, Allysen, combining my stealth teachings from Kiricletica and others.

Say hello to Sukitetica. She’s a halfling Assassin, inspired by Log Horizon’s cute but deadly character, Akatsuki.

With Suki, my goal is to destroy my own fallacies about any limitations in the class. But Update 22 won’t make that easy.

The Art of Offensive Non-Aggression

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It's lonely being an Assassin--and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It’s lonely being an Assassin–and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Unlike Ninja Spies, Rogues, in general, have high to-hits but not necessarily high damage per attack. By the basic design, Rogues gain a far greater attack when enemies aren’t paying attention to them: Sneak Attack.

The benefits of Sneak Attack damage in stealth ops returned quickly to my attentions after only a few minutes with Suki.

When running Kiricletica during her self-imposed solo challenge days, I had to refresh myself about Threat.

Also known as “Hate” or “aggro”, Threat is a calculation by an enemy AI on how much damage it suffered from your character, even if you’ve not actually caused any damage. The Intimidate skill exploits Threat to pull enemies to tanking characters.

For Kiri, I managed Threat simply by avoiding attacking except when required. Even if attacked, I used attacks and gear that caused a momentary Bluff effect, where a target briefly turns their attention away from you, reducing their number of attacks on you.

The goal of an Assassin is to keep their Threat as low as possible while still keeping an aggressive posture. If Threat goes too high, not only will the enemy choose you as a target but it eliminates your chance to deal catastrophic damage by Sneak Attacks, the hallmark trait of fighting Rogues.

To their credit, Ninja Spies also gain Sneak Attack enhancement training identical to Rogues. However, Rogues gain class bonuses to Sneak Attack as auto-granted feats as they level, substantially increasing damage over any other class Sneak Attack powers. Being a Halfling, like Suki, affords a chance to train additional Sneak Attack dice on top of Rogue levels and Assassin tree enhancements.

So, to best manage Threat, Suki’s learned to always hire a meat shield and set him or her to fight.

Often, she chooses Clerics as they also have restorative powers, self-healing, and a fair amount of defenses. Such hirelings (or summoned creatures they can add to a battle) needn’t endure being surrounded for long. Lurking in stealth, Suki sends her mercenaries ahead to attract as many enemies as they can withstand.

Then she strikes the grouped enemies from behind. Using Single Weapon Fighting and combined with Dexterity-to-hit and to-Damage bonuses, she gains improved weapon damage. Kukris are preferred over daggers but Suki uses what tool is best, depending on the enemy. She holds onto a Muckbane for the oozes.

Combined with a strong weapon, Suki carves through her foes with swift, lethal precision. Even at her current level 8, armed with a highly damaging Blood Machete with level 8 Frost and Fire augment gems, anything that isn’t undead or a construct meets a very sudden end.

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

Anyone who forgets why Assassins exist, and who refuse to assist them in gameplay, epically fail to comprehend the very clear role of this class tree. A ninja can assassinate, but requires greater training (level 16). The Monk’s Quivering Palm attack does instantly and quietly kill a target (with a sufficient WIS DC) but it pulls the attacker out of Sneak.

The Assassin’s quintessential attack leaves the Assassin in Sneak and undetected.

But Suki is several levels from training the Assassinate ability–not that it works too well with Update 22. An overbalancing problem with enemy AI causes them to sense the Assassin after a quick kill. Bluff is also bugged, attracting enemies that aren’t targeted.

Thankfully, according to a report from Master Assassin Nokowi, Update 23 appears to rectify the issue, restoring the one skill and related Roguish powers.

Until she reaches Level 12, Suki is content to leverage other special attacks in her arsenal. There are three “poison” attacks. In truth, these are debuffing attacks which aren’t enhanced by Poison vulnerability effects such as those from the Ninja Spy’s Ninja Poison. Despite this, these so-called “Poison Strikes” can debuff enemy saves, increase damage, decease spell resistance or even paralyze under the right conditions. By “right,” I should say rare. Most of these go off only on Vorpal attack rolls.

Still, spamming these three attacks, in addition with Bleed Them Out and Shiv, both with increased weapon damage, aren’t a bad combination at all to ensure that whatever you attack is deader than dead in only 1 or 2 attacks.

Suki2

Suki had to go with an “Assassin’s Creed” look. Nope, never played that game. But their avatars look stellar.

Suki is training her stealth master skills but is quite the opposite of the low-kill edict of Kiricletica. Suki is, effectively, blood-thirsty. She knows her objectives as well as vulnerabilities and would rather take them out and not butcher an entire dungeon needlessly at greater risk to herself and her party.

She’d ask you to define “needlessly,” however, since enemies are in her way to her central objectives, loot and the exit. Seems that there will be few times where Suki doesn’t feel threatened. An Assassin, it seems, may be one living, death-dealing definition of paranoia. They do believe everyone is out to get them, and thus prepare themselves to counterstrike before her enemies can make a single attack.

As opposed to some anti-social ninjas you know, Suki would love to join her guildmates or even PuGs. She’s also an excellent trapmaster and lockpicker, and appreciates the fine work that other party members do in attracting attention so she can eliminate the tougher enemies without interference.

The challenge is ensuring that party members allow Suki to do her job. Assassins require cooperation of others to thrive.

Compensating for Lost Ki

I’m already missing two characteristics of the Ninja Spy: the Wholeness of Body self-healing feat, and Shadow Veil, a level 6 ninja enhancement that grants one minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality at will (for 10 ki).

Happily, I have some options.

This time I’m listening to Sir Geoff of Hanna regarding dragonmarks. Suki’s got her Mark of Healing. While eventually having a reserve of Heal is a good thing, it’s Break Out the Leeches that makes me giddy.

It removes a negative level, disease and poison effect stack once every 3 seconds. Leeches work per your Heal skill: If you have 10 in Heal, the leeches go to work for 10 seconds. Clearly, I’d like to have at least 12 Heal, more if possible for this cross-class skill.

I’ll miss the ki-based self-healing of a Monk less with these dragonmarks. Maximizing the Jorasco Dragonmark Focus adds a bit more versatility with more dragonmark uses and bonuses to Heal, per The Geoff.

As far as invisibility goes, I tend to stockpile Potions of Invisibility as I find them in quests. Suki carries several dozen. I shouldn’t need them as often if I invest a few additional points in both Halfling and Rogue versions of the Stealthy enhancements to substantially increase Suki’s Hide and Move Silently abilities. She’s trained Faster Sneaking from the Mechanic tree. and wears the faster Speed or Striding gear.

Suki is training her Use Magic Device skill in hopes of using Invisibility scrolls (UMD: 24) and other spells later in life. Such items can be problematic in the wilds as some have verbal components–you make sounds as you use them. That’s bad for someone that doesn’t want to attract attention.

I’m new to UMD. I’ve generally been an opponent of this skill since I mostly play Monks, for which it is a cross-class skill. But I see the great advantages of a high UMD skill that will eventually add in emulating a few monastic powers I’m missing (such as Blur) but several others I can never attain as a mere Monk, such as Teleport, Raise Dead, Resurrection and Heal. The Mechanic line has 3 points I could grab, but that’s an expensive AP drain. I’d rather boost my CHA and take advantage of many other items to get my UMD to at least 40 by level 20.

Incorporeality of any serious degree beyond Ghostly will have to wait until she reaches Epic levels and enjoys Shadowdancer powers.

Suki is a simple girl. Provided she has a meat shield, no trap, no locked door, no enemy will interfere with her job.

I wish that the game could allow you to pair your character with a hireling avatar based from your character list. A hireling version of Kiricletica the ninja or Lynncletica the tanker paired with Suki would be formidable.

Magekiller

The Assassin from "Diablo II," trained to slay mages in style. (c) Blizzard Entertainment

The Assassin from “Diablo II,” trained to slay mages with style. (c) Blizzard Entertainment

After reading my own review of finishing moves in my last post, my right hand moved on its own and began to slap me across the face every so often for a few odd minutes.

“What is the sound of a stupid gamer crying?” the hand said.

I’ve always touted the Monk class as an anti-mage or “magekiller“; a class designed to resist or deflect magical attacks and to slay powerful spellcasters that could debilitate other classes who fail to evade or save from such attacks.

Old Diablo II fans may recall the Assassin class, a martial-arts melee class that used items and attacks that emulated magic to destroy corrupted mages.

I miss that game. It was the original Neverwinter Nights RPG that pulled me away from that one, and DDO then pulled me here. I haven’t touched Diablo III out of fear it will ruin my life.

DDO’s Monks aren’t much different from the Diablo Assassin, from their martial arts, using ki rather than magic for attacks and spell-like abilities, inheriting high spell resistances and armored with saves that thwart many a spell caster.

After some four years of play, I’ve still many things to learn. I’ve surprised myself by what I haven’t used.

I’ve documented how much I love the power of Freezing the Lifeblood, a long-lasting Dark paralysis finisher that allows me to hold almost any Orange-Named or lesser enemy for very long periods (from a battle perspective). Now, I’ve found a second joy: Pain Touch.

Pain Touch will nauseate an enemy. This finisher and the Stinking Cloud spell are the only abilities in the game that cause the Nauseated effect. When something is nauseated, they cannot cast spells or attack. The only thing they can do is walk around. My DC ensures they aren’t casting or fighting for a full minute.

My bet, however, is that Stinking Cloud’s fortitude save is low and easy for enemies to beat. Else, I’d see more allied spellcasters using it to stop enemy counterparts. Or, because the effect also generates a greenish cloud that also gives Concealment, perhaps it’s a spell that few add to their spell book as clouding spells are often frowned on by party members.

Pain Touch has the usual Monk DC formula to save from this Fortitude attack: 10 + Monk level + WIS modifier, which are boosted by many enhancements such as the Henshin Mystic’s Mystical Training ability.

The advantage of Pain Touch is that it works on many enemies that may resist paralysis or won’t qualify for the Freezing attack, such as aberrations such as driders, duergar, monstrous humanoids, giants, and vermin such as spiders.

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

You need a strong DC to pull this off.

At level 25 and buffed in Grandmaster of Flowers training at present (where I’ve taken all WIS upgrades to-date at tier 4 for a 46 WIS), Kiricletica’s DC is at least 12 + 25 + 18 = 55. Since mages aren’t normally packed with CON and therefore have a lower Fortitude, Pain Touch works quite well to shut them up. Like Freezing, the enemy rarely escapes the nausea before the one-minute timer expires.

I first tried this on a solo run into “Jungles of Khyber” on Epic Normal. The Drow mages sometimes saved against it, but a Freezing attack held them tight.

The real challenge presented itself with the beholders. I sneaked up to near point-blank range to launch a Pain Touch finisher. My results were inconclusive. They still threw out an antimagic cone and some Enervation, suggesting that they either saved against Pain Touch or are immune. They still died from my other attacks and removing a couple of negative levels left me none the worst for wear.

Silencing the Mages

To express my joy in this (belated) discovery, I ventured out into the wilds of the Underdark, where plenty of nasty spellcasters lurked about to test the finisher: Drow Priestesses, illithids, Yuan-Ti, Drow Necromancers. A successful Pain Touch attack left them mute. They were still moving about but they were out of the fighting picture while I tended to other business.

The only obstacle to using these finishers are in charging them up. Each ki attack used takes 3 seconds, which can overlap with another. I can charge either finisher up in about 6 seconds, applying one while attacking and charging it for another mage. But since I don’t move around while fighting, other enemies often aren’t aware I’m there, allowing time to charge finishers again and set up Freezes or Pain Touch strikes.

Of course, easier but more ki-expensive attacks to take the mage out of the picture immediately, such as Quivering Palm, aren’t off the table. I mixed these attacks up with finishers since Quivering Palm’s use won’t affect a finisher chain.

In the epic Gianthold wilderness, where even a high Sneak skill is good only if you’re about a quarter-mile away from the eyes of a giant, Pain Touch proved remarkably helpful in stopping some giants from doing anything. Stone and Storm Giants could be halted but Fire Giants and Hill Giants were often more resistant, likely since they are often spellcasters with some innate spell resistance and/or maybe a higher buffed Fortitude.

Spiders, as you know, are quite the pain for a stealth player since they’ll detect you with tremor-sense. But using Pain Touch stops their attacks. Their lower Fortitude guaranteed a successful finisher during one visit to epic-level “Trial by Fire” in Gianthold where the arachnids were quite numerous. Trolls, being what they are, are immune from muting or my type of paralysis. But that’s where the usual flame weapons work just fine.

The hallmark of Pain Touch’s power revealed itself on meeting a Devil Battlefield rare encounter, Lysson, an orange-named horned devil. I sneaked behind him and launched a Pain Touch finisher against him, leaving him unable to do anything while I cleaned up his minions and then redirected my attacks to him. This horned devil, one of the game’s more resistant/immune-laden enemies, couldn’t attack me once.

But it got better.

I suspended my solo play rules and teamed up with the guild leaders for an Epic Hard “Trial by Fury.” Without a dedicated healer, the Bard, Arcane Archer and I were doing pretty well. The spiders in one test of might are, if you pardon the pun, very bugged. One pack of yugoloths appeared and gave the team a challenge, but my spell resistance and saves kept the mutts from damaging me as I whittled them down. These guys are arguably some of the nastiest casters in the game as they were punching holes in my party member’s defenses.

The last yugoloth mages, two orange names, needed some care, seeing what ordinary ones almost did to the party. I asked to go down and apply a bit of Pain Touch to each–which I did, putting them both out of the spellcasting picture while we removed their guard spiders with ease.

Blizzard…eat your heart out.

This is War, Cassie

I’ll admit that my life affects how I play my characters. I am not a typically aggressive sort.

In fact, were not for a couple of details, I could have lived a more contemplative life as a deacon in the Catholic Church. I guess I could consider, in my latter years to come, a life as an oblate with a religious order.

Syncletica is a real name of a real abbess of a monastic order in the 3rd Century. As a Catholic myself, I don’t believe that aggression is the first step in resolving issues. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Monk class with its syncretic blending of contemplative pseudo-Eastern philosophies, some based on fiction and others fact, to give life to the class.

That said, the world of Ebberon, like our own, is not entirely peaceful. As such, my Syncletica is a warrior abbess and cannot promote training in her dojo that doesn’t ultimately aid in the defense of X’endrik, including the elimination of enemies.

ninja peekI made the decision, as of reaching level 10 last night on Cassietetica, to make her a Rogue Assassin, rather than a Mechanic as planned.

Comments from my posts on Cassie gave me most of my motivation. She needs to be able to fight as well as she can hide and remove traps. Further, a Mechanic gains proficiency with repeating crossbows but this also uncenters a Monk using one. Assassinate will work unarmed or with ki weapons (shortswords or kamas).

Despite some objectives in a few quests where you can talk yourself out of a fight, pacifism as a whole is not the way of DDO.

Been leveling up Cassie heavily over the last few days. Now is the time to add her last two Monk levels to reach level 6 and get the Ninja Spy skills for invisibility/incorporeality, a few numbers for stealth, and shortsword proficiency. Got a lot left to play in reaching level 12:  “Gwylan’s Stand,” “Tear of Dhakaan,” “Redwillow’s Ruins,” the House Deneith chain, Sorrowdusk chain and perhaps the Necropolis and Threnal adventures that should get me to this point. From there, she gets all Rogue levels.

To make Assassinate work best, Cassie’s INT is a priority since it uses that modifier and level 14 will be as high as she goes for the Rogue level modifier. I need a boost there to add Combat Expertise and Whirlwind Attack to help her overall fighting in crunch times.

In most cases, she’ll still avoid attacking. Her stealth numbers should be quite good. But when something gets in her way, she should be quite capable of removing it and keep herself in stealth–something Ryncletica cannot do.

Schooled by Shadowdancers

syniia

It was a nice evening for my guild, Tyrs Paladium, on the night before the St. Valentine’s Day Server Massacre. We were about to reach guild level 70 as we began a run in “The Portal Opens” in Epic Elite.

Our guild leader has been a little obsessed of late with generating enough Purple Dragon Knights favor to make her Spider-Spun Caparison outfit work as a Sun Soul item. (That’s what Syn is wearing in the image, above.) If you didn’t know, that takes 375 favor. You’ll need to run every Eveningstar, Underdark and Demonweb quest in Epic Elite difficulty, as well as all challenges.

Our guild’s party experiences with Epic Elites has been, frankly, painful. Toons that we’ve built as the end-all be-all of awesomeness are swatted away like drunken flies if we do the littlest thing wrong in EE quests.

But lately our guild’s reticence to accept these ultimate challenges has faded, which not only leads to a victory through persistence and (often) cunning, but definitely gives those in the quest a little more to talk about to others about the experience.

I have five Monks, two of which could handle EE quests at the moment: Syncletica, my main (above), and the dark Monk Ryncletica, who’s nearly completed her Shadowdancer training with great success. Thinking of survival as a Light Monk with self-healing and fast attack speed, I bring Syn, not Ryn, into this one.

I should’ve picked Ryncletica.

Our party was certainly light on the heavy DPS. Our guild leader was running her Light Monk as well. Two Rogues, both Shadowdancers around L23 or more, also joined in, as well as one of our guild’s most incredible players who perform miracles in keeping our parties healed with her Favored Souls and Clerics.

I figured that Syncletica and the guild leader’s Monk would be the front line, with the Rogues behind us and our Cleric behind them. In the very first fight, Syncletica is practically killed instantly, with the Rogues barely getting a scratch.

Time to switch tactics. The Rogues take point. Both are Assassins. Over the course of the quest, they begin to systematically lure and assassinate the tougher fighters and mages, while the rest of us surround “weaker” enemies.

After Syncletica was killed yet again, she switched from her Grandmaster of Wind stance (which wasn’t working at all for stunning with the venerable Grave Wrappings) to Ryncletica’s preference: Ocean Stance. I had only Greater rank at hand, but it improved my AC and Dodge and WIS just enough to allow my stunning to work so to become less of a piker in this run (you need 36 or greater with Stunning +10s in EE, folks). Syn began to emulate Ryn’s stealth tactics from here on.

Ah, Elminister, the level 54 PIKER! that stands about doing nothing to help us. Yeah. You’re TOTALLY NOT Gandolf–he’s USEFUL.

Anyway, in the rooms where the two key objects reside, our Shadowdancer Rogue Assassins do something I may have predictably done as Ryncletica if I were smarter in bringing her and not Syn into this quest.

After the orange-named leaders zerg outside of their room to attack (they always see you once opening the door), we lure them down, isolated, into the cleared hallways to eliminate them.

Then one of the Shadowdancers uses Shadow Manipulation on one of the driders. Every other enemy inside the room goes after that dominated drider, and the Rogues step up behind that mob and assassinate each of them, leaving us only to wait for the domination to lapse and for the drider to die from Shadow Manipulation’s killing effect.

The Monks earn a Legendary Victory and Impressive Trophy in the last room to bring the guild to level 70 right then and there. We were buoyed a bit at the world-announcement and “ding” that appeared over the server as we moved to the final leg.

We anticipated a hell of a time with the end fight and prepared a plan. First wave: the circle of Drow to kill. Beat up on the boss mage, then she spawns Wave 2: Animated statues of drider, drow and spider to kill us. Finally, the boss mage calls out Wave 3: Several Dretch and Dracolith demons to end us.

The guild leader and I had our Everything is Nothing “Death Blossom” charges ready. I use mine on the first wave of Drow, killing all but two. Easy-smeasy. The group has a harder time on wave 2 and the guild leader uses her Death Blossom early to dispatch the statues, fearing an imminent wipe with no shrine for us to run to for recovery and regrouping.

Then the dracolith come. The party nearly wipes, and Syncletica is the only one up with four angry and determined dracolith still about. Fortunately, I had my EiN charged up again, but I needed to kite all of those demons for a nail-biting 76 seconds before I could eliminate three of the four demons with that Death Blossom.

Some clever kiting of the last demon was needed before I had my health and ki high enough to raise our Cleric with my Rise of the Phoenix to get our party back up to finish off the last demon and complete the quest. (The next time somebody tells me that Rise of the Phoenix is a waste of points, I’m going to recall this story for them.)

But our Rogues were Absolute Masters of their Craft in this one. They were the true stars of the party who were absolutely essential in completing this quest. Nice work, Ghelli and Furhst.

I’m sure that Ryncletica would have survived far easier with her similar Shadowdancer abilities and Grandmaster of Oceans training. Self-healing, DPS or fortification didn’t matter one darned bit in this one. Evasion, Dodge, stealth, assassination and cunning did.

I was both affirmed in the Shadowdancer’s true worth while completely schooled in the grave limits of a Wind-Stancer Monk in EE all at once. I had added information on Shadowdancer training for Monks and stealth tactics in my Monk guide weeks before this run, learning and proving these very facts for myself with Ryncletica. It’s a pity and my fault that I didn’t take my own advice for this quest by using Ryn instead.