Stand and Deliver

ScreenShot01509

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quick Heroic Life

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

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

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

At Level 20 and Above

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badass Hirelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aggro Management, Woodsman Style

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

Here’s my usual attack plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra credit if using Primal Avatar could come from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Invisible than Invisibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing the Limits in “What Goes Up”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranger Hunter Soldier Spy

artemistika1I have a Bard, a Rogue Assassin and many many Ninja Spies.

I haven’t played a Ranger since Pynthetica’s first life, before the new stealth AI retool and enhancement trees.

And I’ve never tried out one particular flavor of Ranger that deserves some attention with the stealth revisions. This way I can learn more about this class path and shore up information in the Stormreach Shadows stealth guide.

So, say hello to young Artemistika, my first Deepwood Stalker. She just might be the best overall stealth fighter because of her very specific skill set.

The Shadow

What stoked me about the Stalker is the incorporation of stealth with powerful ranged attack. At first it struck me as a support build, like the Rogue. The Stalker seemed lacking, at first, the sustained DPS and imbue versatility seen in the Arcane Archer or the melee complexity of the Tempest two-hander or Ninja Spy.

But, reading between the lines as I try to do, I began to see more of the sniper and the rogueish stealth master inside this Ranger that I had to try, with a touch of an old idea I once tried in a lost Artificer.

The Stalker’s makes for the missing imbued arrows of the Arcane Archer kindred with the benefit of ranged Sneak Attack damage, allowing a powerful burst hit of damage provided that you strike fast and first, or preferably have an aggro-magnet keep the attention of everyone. Combined with high stealth skills, the Stalker can pick their targets and kill with only a few quick volleys before cloaking into the shadows to hunt again.

artemistika3

Stealth masters in-training always go to see Ulluvian, patron saint of stealth masters, for chats and tips. If he can sneak home through a Droaam horde, so can you.

This Ranger is naturally stealth-able. Camouflage is especially potent to allow me to sneak past a mob at closer range than any other characters, Rogues and Monks included.

The Faster Sneaking skill is important as Rangers don’t quite move as fast as other classes and need that speed edge. The Ranger’s ability to improve Hide and Move Silently skills for supporting players looks very handy as well.

I’m looking forward to joining more parties with this build. While slower than the ninjas, Mistika makes up for stealth speed with better Hide scores. Eventual training gives Hide in Plain Sight, making Mistika likely the best stealth master because of her ability to weave through enemies at closer range than anyone else I have.

The Sidekicks

I’ve loved the ability to summon other creatures. I experimented with this summoner role with my second, late Artificer named Ayvanna. She trained her normal Iron Defender but also added in a second and, I think, even a third Defender to have a pack of dogs that grabbed aggro while she attacked with her crossbow and runearm.

When Pynthetica was an Arcane Ranger, she also had a simple Summoned Ally as befitted her spell abilities, occasionally using her Wild Empathy to add a second charmed creature.

With Mistika’s Stalker enhancements and a few others, I’m weaponizing my NPC helpers.

It’s one thing to charm an animal. But what if the animal I charmed with Empathy was also a Monster Champion (extra buffs, tougher to kill)?

What if I added the Augment Summoning feat (+4 to all ability scores, increased health and fortification) to this? And how about some Harper Leadership training (Your hirelings, summoned, and charmed creatures gain up to +4 to all ability scores)?

A quick check on the forums (with the answer given by the FuzzyDuck himself) confirmed that Harper Leadership and Augment Summoning’s boosts stack on your direct hirelings and summons, although not your hireling’s summons.

And finally, let me use my Empathy powers as a Fascination-like power against Vermin, Elementals and Magical Beasts if I feel like it.

So level 7 ‘Mistika (readied as a Veteran Status II character) tried this out on an Elite “Where There’s Smoke.” (Level 5). With Flower the hireling in tow, we popped off orc after orc. But the fun came when I remembered the wolves in the area.

A better use of Monster Champions: Turn them to your side and buff them up further.

A better use of Monster Champions: Turn them to your side and buff them up further.

In both packs there was a Champion among them. One use of Improved Wild Empathy later and that Champion was my dominated bitch (pun intended). A use of Charm Animal and a second doggie turned to my side, wreaking havoc with the neighboring orc parties.

This Christmas weekend, I was so enamored with ‘Mistika that I played her all weekend. It will be a bit before her best summoned creature is available, but I summon it in a pinch when I need more aggro-magnets. I can charm or dominate as many animals as they are available and as fast as my cooldowns, spell points and Empathy turns allow.

Improved Wild Empathy is really a Domination spell, so for five minutes, I have an extra helper unless I have to climb or drop off somewhere; sadly, such creatures cannot follow. Adding a charmed animal adds to the confusion. The benefit to Empathy powers is that they aren’t dispellable or breakable. My charmed animals stay that way, even if damaged. And these special charms can’t be removed even if you had Bard levels and used a Disarm Charm ability.

With Stalker training, your Empathy powers give you the ability to halt elementals, vermin, and magical beasts in their tracks. I knew just the quests where I wanted to test this ability. In “Haywire’s Foundry,” I smacked Empathy on the two fire and sole earth elementals that appear at the start, locking them in place for 5 minutes to kill them without retaliation.

That’s an awesome stopping power I also used in “Spies in the House” (the fire elementals with a possible and deadly air elemental) and against air elementals in general–I hate their knockdown powers.

This special Fascinate isn’t broken by anything, including damage. I’m limited by the number of Empathy turns I have, but then, using rest shrines isn’t as problematic for Rangers as it is for young Monks.

The Style

Artemistika is an Elf to gain greater weapon damage training for longbows or her rapiers with racial training. Her Mark of Shadow dragonmark adds Invisibility and, eventually, Shadow Walk, Displacement and eventually a nasty neg-level attack for crunch fights.

While Bow Strength improves the STR modifier to give longbow damage for Rangers, the Elf can train the racial tier 5 ability, Aerenal Grace, which lets DEX become the damage modifier, overriding Bow Strength. So, all ability points go to DEX and nothing but DEX  for maximum to-hit, damage with a little AC and improved Reflex as a bonus. at least as much as maximum dexterity bonus allows.

I’ll add what I can to CON (HP) and WIS (Will save for Empathy and charming) with items, available enhancements and tomes.

Another racial ability, Skill, adds 3% untyped Doubleshot and much-needed Dodge while bypassing 3% of enemy Dodge.

The Stalker build emphasizes quick, powerful strikes with ranged Sneak Attack damage. The old prestige enhancements name was “Deepwood Sniper,” which still holds true in flavor in the succeeding tree.

Like Suki, Mistika shares the Killer enhancement, which adds a 5% Morale Bonus to “Extra Shots” (that’s the text; strange that it doesn’t say “Doubleshot”) for a few seconds after a successful sneak attack kill, stacking up to 4 times. That’s a 20% Morale Bonus doubleshot bonus I sorely desire, which will stack with any Enhancement bonus items I can find. Makes the “Mark of Death” raid more attractive, where the Epic Quiver of Alacrity rests.

artemistika4

The Stalker gains serious attack boosts when using Precise Shot’s Archer’s Focus, a stance which magnifies her attack the longer she stands still, especially with the final core ability that adds more stacks to this ability. Farther potency to very distant ranged attacks improves as well over other archers, where by level 20 I’ll always be considered in Point Blank Shot and Sneak Attack range.

But to keep the Archer Focus bonus, Artemistika has to keep control of the field. That’s why she’ll use her charm and summoning powers to keep her NPC charges up and attracting nasties.

To keep her animal army hardy, she can eventually apply elemental resists, Freedom of Movement, energy protection, and more. While Mistika’s hireling’s summons don’t gain the ability score boosts, the additional bodies in the crowd make for a formidable attack option.

Stalkers gain sizable positive energy spell power boosts as they grow. Combined with points in Heal as a class skill, her otherwise-weaker Cure Light and Moderate Wounds spells are very effective. I need it. My miss-chance effects are poor, with Dodge getting capped by the use of light armor, and no Blur or Incorporeality yet. Blur is my priority to ward off some melee and ranged damage. I’ll need to add in a Dusk (10% Incorporeality) item/augment somewhere, and do what I can in Dodge. Of all the things that worry me is generating enough AC and defenses. Having the light armor gives a small PRR bonus to ward off some damage.

Mistika does have a Shadow dragonmark, so she’s got a few but long-lasting Invisibility turns, and can train Shadow Walk, Displacement and even a special negative-leveling power if AP allows it.

Hide and Move Silently are naturally trained up, and she’s got great Spot bonuses. I’m going to boost that Search power up a bit more for finding those hidden doors, or look to Elven skills that might work if I have the AP to train them.

The Strategy

Artemistika first worked on her House Deneith favor for sturdy arrows. These have greater enhancements to them and drain far slower than standard arrows, so its a matter of having a couple of wide quivers of a 1000 each. I also carry Adamantine and Cold Iron ones for special needs. Sure, getting Conjured Arrows from the Ranger AA tree is possible but that’s AP I can use for something else.

I also zoomed her through some Cannith challenges for a Frozen Tunic, the first time I’ve ever spent time in such challenges outright with a new character. Not using it as much right now but I will before it’s freezing DCs start to be less effective.

At first glance, the special ranged attacks don’t look like much. And then I discovered the joy of Sniper Shot. This, like the Monk’s Unbalancing Strike, is a Bluffing/Deception shot. It’s got a relatively fast 6-second cooldown, making it great for me to spin about enemies and add in some extra Sneak Attack damage while they are bluffed.

Manyshot stays reserved for times where my aggro-partners are becoming overwhelmed and I need to clear out a powerful mob. I also use it against HP-heavy red-named enemies, of course. I miss the faster cooldown of Ten Thousand Stars on Pyn, but I’m getting by nicely.

As a first-life, Mistika is leveling crazy-fast, already at level 13 with a banked level as you read this. I’m prioritizing quests with high XP, specific favor rewards or gear and will shortly rev down the XP to complete favor and gain gear on low level quests I’ve skipped. Quests like “The Pit”, “Stormcleave Outpost” and “Spies in the House” were easily done. Had more problems with “Tear of Dhakaan” and couldn’t complete when I hit the respawning town room and I left my hireling active with fatal results.

The Serpentbranch bow I had on Pynthetica (bound to account) is still her go-to bow for most attacks, although I just crafted up a nice Aligned of Greater Construct Bane bow with an empty red slot for Maruts and other robots. Any bow that I can augment helps a lot with general DPS.

Same goes for finding items that add bonuses to Sneak Attack damage. A Halfling’s racial bonuses, in hindsight, would make an improved sniper, but the elven DEX-to-damage power might be offsetting this. A kindly guildmate (you know who you are) donated the Bracers of the Hunter to me that help with a bit more Sneak Attack damage.

I think a Ring of the Stalker is also in my immediate future, especially one for level 20. That Manslayer effect would be awesome and the exceptional Sneak Attack bonus damage welcome, not to mention some miss-chance effects.

Black Dragonscale Armor seems also in the future. I’ll have to farm for scales in Tor with the nearly implacable Szyncletica.

I’m wearing Deadly/Accuracy gear and a Seeker VI item with Improved Critical: Piercing trained. It’s making the critical hits quite potent.

So, to sum up, Mistika plays a little more like an Assassin. She brings her melee/aggro team in to lure a mob. This requires stealth; you get your summoned team close enough to auto-attack while keeping yourself from being seen.

This team is buffed up to stay alive, generating aggro just as I reveal myself and begin picking off the enemies that my team damages, minimizing the risk of hitting something that turns away from the pack and towards me. The sneak attack damage is key here. I’ll have special shots that outright kill weaker enemies, and if I can add points to Killer and other critical threat/hit effects, the damage stacks.

You just don’t go all pew-pew with a Stalker. This is a hunter. You have to deliberately arrange and pick a target for best effect.

Again, all of this ties to the stillness of the archer. Unlike my other ranged attackers like Szyncletica the thrower and Pynthetica the Zen Archer, Artemistika avoids movement while shooting. She’s gained Improved Precise Shot as a Ranger, but she’ll rarely use it since Stalkers can gain bonuses to Archer’s Focus with Precise Shot. The longer she stands still, the greater the damage.

The Sights

artemistika2The coolest thing about Mistika is her appearance. She looks angry and all Action-Girly powerful.

I invested in a new cosmetic armor to seal in the look. I don’t normally go for blondes, but for Mistika, I’ll make a happy exception.

I’ll talk more on her Epic future as she quickly comes to it. Shiradi Champion and Fury of the Wild are natural fits, but so is Primal Avatar, especially with the summoned/hireling buffs there that might be sorely needed if soloing an Epic quest. Shadowdancer looks great, too, for better defenses and more Sneak Attack die.

Summoned and Called

As I tinkered on the stability linkage on my iron defender, Byron, I heard the hrrumph of my father behind me. I didn’t turn around. If I didn’t get that damned assembly to engage on my pet, Byron would literally run in circles.

“Ayvanna, why can’t you just find work with the Cannith guilds? Stay here and build pets for the city?” my father said slowly. I could hear him settling into the leather armchair behind me. The poot sounds that erupted from that chair made me cheer in laughter as a kid, as if my father was some Warforged with steam leaks blowing out of his butt. Today, I could only roll my eyes.

“You’ve heard the rumors, father. The Coin Lords. The Stormreach Chronicle. War is coming to Xendrik. We need to prepare.”

“Prepare?!” My father hrrumphed again. “House Cannith has some of the finest soldiers we can build. Our constructs can easily stand against any aggressors.”

But House Cannith is too busy infighting with its own creations, father. The Warforged are afraid, too. They fear a new war will cause the rescinding of the Warforged’s freedoms, return them to slavery and be fodder to our enemies. By law, we can’t make any new living constructs. As much as I love Byron here,” I continued, patting the little shiny dog on his head, “We’ll need more than just robots to fight a new war.”

The stability assembly finally settled into Byron’s backplate with a satisfying clink. I bolted it in place, reattached and checked the harmonic conduits before switching Byron on once more. The dog’s thin red eyes illuminated as it said, “Online and ready, mistress Ada.”

“That’s ‘Ayvanna’, Byron. Begin diagnostics, please.” The little dog always remembers me but never gets my name right when he starts up. I turned my back to my pet to wait for father’s reply.

“The Warforged will come around,” my father answered, and not quite convincingly. “We just need to get that miscreant Toven out of the magistrate before anything can be done.”

“And if we can’t, father, we may still have a war to fight.”

“So what do you plan to offer to Stormreach, hmm? There’s plenty of Artificers out there. You’ll just get lost in the pack.”

I picked up a small bracer with a handful of controls on it. It may had been the ugliest thing my father had seen, from his expression on sight of it, but aesthetics will have to come later. I held out the bracer and said, “I believe I can bring more than one construct to the fight.”

“More? What? By splintering your attention through some arcane art? We’re engineers of Cannith, Vanna, not some spell-wielder that tries to charm his way to victory.”

“No, father. I plan to use my devices to control two iron defenders at once.” I touched a button. Byron immediate ceased his muttering of diagnostic checks–

–While simultaneously, a covered bundle right next to Father sat straight up, the leather blanket sliding off a 2nd iron defender as it showed “DEFENDER 2 READY AND ONLINE.”

Father sat straight up, too, practically flying out of his seat in surprise at the sudden appearance of Defender 2. “What? How are you doing that? The concentration it would take! There’s no way you can manage two defenders unless…no, you didn’t…”

I nodded and took down my ball of hair and rolled up the sleeve on the arm where the bracer sat. I could see the tears in my father’s eyes at the sight of the small adamantine plating covering tiny patches on the side of my head and arm, where skin and bone  should be.

“You–you’re self-forging?! Why?” my father stammered.

Despite the obvious emotional bewilderment on his face, I chose to answer scientifically. “It was necessary. Soon, not only can I repair myself faster from damage, but the new circuitry should also help me reinforce any of my summons’s abilities, making them stronger and more durable, too. All of this may work on special summons from other devices, too…I don’t know yet.”

“But why would you…why chop yourself up like a construct like this?” Father’s eyes began to water but I kept my gaze back. I felt my knees wobble.

“Because, Father, if we are going to set an example to the Warforged to fight, not only do the humans of Cannith need to fight, but show that we, too, will enslave ourselves to metal and magic if necessary so that all can be free. The demons of Shavarath, the monsters of Drooam–they don’t care if they see humans or ‘Forged. They just want to see everything we have, everyone we know, destroyed, dead and buried. So…I may be only one human, but I may be able to fight against two, three or even four times the number of foes than an ordinary Artificer.”

The tears flowed heavily from father’s face, his hands shaking visibly. I stepped forward to try to wipe his tears with one gloved hand while taking his hand with my other, but he pulled back, his back straightening.

“I won’t have it,” my father said, a defiant foot stomping in protest. “I will not let you leave. I will call the constable to have you arrested.”

“You can’t. The Cannith Apprentice Council has already approved my credentials and the Coin Lords expect me on patrol in the city center by noon tomorrow. You know what that means.”

Father did know. He stepped backward again and fell back into the seat. Cannith rules of apprenticeship are clear. While a parent’s responsibility is to a child’s welfare as they grow to adulthood, so a child must be responsible as an apprentice and be all but servile to their master until the Cannith apprentice authorities approve their skills through a battery of tests. I passed all of my tests with flying colors days ago. I was 19 now and didn’t need my father to care for me. Now, I was an official Cannith citizen, and my father, my master, had officially completed my training. He could not stop me from leaving.

“Ayvanna…please promise me that you will stay safe,” was all my father could say between his sobs.

“Father…what I’m trying to do is to make sure that you stay safe, too. But if I stay here, we may both be swept away from the approaching war. Cannith’s already lost the city of Cyre. We can’t lose Stormreach. There’s nowhere else for us to go. You’ve taught me what I need to know. I need to use it, for the good of Stormreach.”

Father wiped his face on his shirt sleeve and held out his arms, just as he has for years to entice me to jump to him for a hug.

The trick worked again as I closed my eyes to feel my father’s hug once more. I could tell he didn’t really want to let go, this time.

For a few seconds, I didn’t want to let him go, either.