Are Monks Really Broken?

QuinAndGholaFan

Monks are far from “broken,” but some trees could use a lot of love.

There are several threads on the DDO forums that discuss the state of the Monk class and how some feel is “broken.”

Here’s some initial advice for those in the threads, and I’m paraphrasing a dev here. Merely calling something “broken” without specific examples and reasons does not aid your case with the developers. As programmers and producers who also have a world to keep in balance so that neither enemies or players are particularly overpowered, developers need real data, not just your mood.

There’s also the matter of remembering that the Monk class is based on many D&D fundamentals that likely won’t change. This especially includes the fact that, both in DDO and D&D, Monks always have less HP than a Fighter. This is a game mechanic that you must overcome as a player, and plenty of us have done so.

That said, over a few threads and even on a DDOCast episode that Shamgar was kind to invite me, I’ve spoken my take on what in the Monk class enhancements could be improved or left alone.

In this post, I’m going to try make my thoughts at their most cohesive for my “official” opinion that the devs can consider with all the other player’s thoughts.

Unarmed Combat

This is the most-discussed topic, and the suggestions disturb me as much as what Update 19 did to the Monk elemental stance formats.

Many want handwraps to become true weapons. This would mean that the Monk’s body is not (necessarily) counted as the weapon in terms of coding. That’s what the Unarmed feat generates and why other classes who fight unarmed do not generate the same damage as Monks.

But we all know too well how handwraps can get buggy. Perhaps a change to handwraps as weapons would de-bug the situation. I think not, since much of the game, especially crafting in quests and in House Cannith, have dependencies in that coding.

I say, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Rather, change the simple weapon damage output for Unarmed. It should scale higher for every Monk level, and really be more effective in Epic play. That’s just adjusting a feat.

You can’t expect Monks to work like Fighters and Barbarians. Even if handwraps get changed, you shouldn’t see Monks necessarily matching or even outperforming the best melee classes. They have other talents to offset this. Getting a “bigger, better weapon” doesn’t offset other intrinsic issues for other melee classes, so why would this work here?

As for difficulty class saves, this requires more attention. An unarmed Monk must use STR to determine damage, DEX for Reflex and to-hit and AC, CON for survivability, and WIS for their DCs. I fear that, often, players treat their Monks more as Fighters. boosting (logically) their STR and/or DEX but neglecting their WIS, and thus things just don’t land.

I don’t usually experience this problem; I often boost WIS higher, especially with Ninja Spies, because I use finishing moves that stick on Epic Hard easily, even some Epic Elites. Once I paralyze, blind, or mute enemies, I gain a lot of damage from their Helplessness. But then, Ninja Spies gain DEX-to-Damage with shortswords, and I use these as their primary weapons, reducing my dependency on STR.

So having four critical abilities to keep high is tough on an unarmed Monk. Balance is one thing, as a class trait, but there has to be a way to improve overall at least the tactical DCs, of which Stunning Fist, our hallmark unarmed attack, is involved. Perhaps an Epic feat that allows you to use STR as your DC modifier for Stunning Fist would be welcome.

I’m not going down the route of other DCs for Monk abilities like Quivering Palm. That should remain a WIS DC, and yes, you can get it high enough. Quivering Palm isn’t meant to be used as a spamming Assassinate, but the devs at least added bonuses to your attempts if you’re trying to do so.

Armed Combat

I love quarterstaves, shortswords, shuriken and kamas. But let’s consider that daggers are smaller than shortswords and shouldn’t cause Monks to be uncentered. And kamas are just a type of sickle.

Let’s add daggers and sickles into the mix for any Monk.

Henshin Mystic Combat and Defense

I love the Mystic’s weaponizing of ki. But it’s combat speed with staves should approach, if not match, the level of Thief-Acrobats. Hell, the Acrobat is more like a Mystic than a Mystic.

Mystics also have terrible overall defenses, needed since they are really a melee class, not a caster. Rather than a massive revision of the tree, I’d suggest:

  • Adding Dodge bonuses and bonus AC for each core ability. 2% Dodge and 3 AC per core would do nicely. The last core would also give a 5% increase to Dodge cap (not stackable with Ninja Spy’s Agility).
  • Adding a Mystic effect for 25% Incorporeality for 30 seconds to self and to party, a finishing move buff. Void/Void/Void would work, especially if a lesser Void Strike would return to the feats.
  • Increased attack speed with quarterstaves. Make it identical and anti-prerequisite to the Acrobat.

Elemental Stance Enhancements

As noted, the Shintao Monk tree all but exclusively requires the use of Earth Stance.

Why not create a new tree that, similar to effects that favor elemental acuity in the Season’s Herald Druid or the many Sorcerer trees, give specialized training to the other three stances? The effects would only work most effectively in a particular stance except Earth Stance, and provide either an offensive or defensive advantage that can be increased by training. AP would limit the player from becoming too crazed and encourage fostering one path. In short, let’s think “Avatar: The Last Airbender” here.

Here are some samples that pop in my head:

Water Stance: You are mastering Cold attacks and the nature of ice to slip and slide, powerful enough to push even a mountain away. Your ultimate attack can freeze an enemy for up to 12 seconds (cooldown of 1 minute) and reduce the enemy fortification by 10%. Lesser attacks also increase your Cold damage, armed or unarmed, except for ranged weapons (but not thrown). Your Dodge cap is increased by 1% for every Cold enhancement trained while Water Stance is active. Because Cold does not favor the swift, you also lose 2% of your movement speed.

The restriction to ranged, but not thrown weapons is to support the star-throwers but not bows because they already have the Arcane Archer option.

Fire Stance: You master the art of flame and its tendency to burn. Your ultimate attack sears enemies with immolating flames for a time, briefly blinding them and reducing their offensive prowess, especially enemy Fire resistance. Other lesser enhancements will increase your Fire damage with ki attacks. Your healing amplification is boosted by 1% for each Fire enhancement you train while Fire Stance is active. Because Fire is indiscriminate to what it burns, you lose 2% of your HP.

Ice elementals, beware.

Wind Stance: You master the power of that which is not seen yet can knockdown a whole forest with great speed. Your ultimate attack causes a thunderous area-of-effect knockdown with enemies, causing them substantial Lightning damage as they fall with a failed Reflex save. Lesser enhancements will increase your Electric ki attack damage. You gain 2% Doublestrike for each Wind enhancement trained while Wind Stance is active. Because Wind is a free spirit that can be stopped by solids, you lose 1 AC for each Wind enhancement.

The tier 5 path would give the “ultimate” reward from an offensive mode. Wind could have a chance to activate a chain-lightning effect on knockdown. Ocean could have a chance to cause a Freezing Ice area-of-effect or a Tomb-of-Jade freeze effect with a 1 minute cooldown. Fire stance could cause an immolation effect that logically creates a Fear effect as the monster runs away, burning alive. You can only choose one, but of course can always respec your enhancements. Imagination can run wild here.

Again, since the Shintao tree is already favored to Earth, there’s no need to give that stance any advantages.

The Least Broken Enhancement Tree

The Ninja Spy remains a near-perfect enhancement tree. Every enhancement found there reflects abilities that make any Monk, trained with even a portion of these skills, quite the certified badass.

With Update 19, my gameplay focus turned to 80% Ninja Spy, nearly forsaking my venerable Shintao Monks, for reasons already noted. In fact, I claim there is nothing broken in the Ninja Spy enhancements.

That said, I make a couple of suggestions:

  • Let’s make the ninja look more like a ninja. Other classes have special ways to hold their weapons, such as the orbs for spellcasters, and rune arms for Artificers. Give ninjas a reverse-grip hold on swords held in their main hand. For SWF ninjas, it’ll look awesome. For two-weapon ninjas, they’re REALLY looking masterful with the off-hand in the forward grip and the reverse grip in the main. If possible, when a ninja holds a shuriken in their main hand, the off-hand weapon, if any, should go reverse-grip, too.
  • Allow Sting of the Ninja to work on Centered bows. I don’t want to make Ninja Poison too prevalent, but it’s illogical for shurikens to be poisonous but not arrows from a bow. I can understand if this is rejected. Since when do you envision a ninja with a bow? But then, Ninja Poison also has a Poisoned Darts core ability, so there’s a precedent.

 

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The Avatar is Dead, Long Live the Avatar!

Henshin Mystic: The new path of the "avatar."

Henshin Mystic: The new path of the “avatar.”

You may remember my pride in Quintessica, my one Monk who had mastered all Grandmaster elemental forms, like Aang in the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series.

With Update 19, everyone gets all elemental stances, right up to Grandmaster, as feats, automatically. It leaves Quintessica’s original design as a bit useless. I still thought possessing all elemental forms overpowers the class right up to yesterday’s debut.

That said, I mourned the death of Quintessica’s build, then decided for something different.

If Quintessica already has elemental form mastery, perhaps she can attain a new level of mastery. Something that blends both sides of the Monk philosophy–weapons or no weapons. Light and Dark.

Logging into Quin recently, I retrained her in the ways of the Henshin Mystic.

Spell-Like Abilities

The good news is that Henshins are effectively spellcasters that use ki. The devs specialized them to wield a quarterstaff to great effect in damage while also throwing incredible Fire and Force damage with a few area of effect attacks. They don’t have many spell-like abilities, but they also gain improvements in weapon damage.

That means that spell power is as big a thing for Henshins as for Wizards and Sorcerers. Spell power increases the damage of a particular element or power, be it Light or Negative Energy.

I don’t play any spellcasters except a Cleric and an Artificer, and their job doesn’t emphasize damage as much (or I just suck at playing them). That said, I needed to learn more on spell power.

For casters, they often get metamagic feats that can greatly boost their spell power for more damage. That’s nice and all, but for the Henshin, this is a pickle. Ki is mystical but not magic. Therefore, they haven’t any metamagic abilities to boost damage. They appear entirely dependent on the Henshin tree’s various abilities for spell power boosts to Fire and Force, throughout their lives as inherent abilities. Whether these numbers are offset by the class’s melee damage to form a character that works as well as some spell casters is the big question I have as yet to play out with Quintessica’s new form.

After inherent abilities, implement, equipment  and alchemical bonuses from items have to do. Quarterstaves often have these as part of their nature. So the crazy amount of Thamaturgy staffs out there might be useful.

I wonder if taking a level or two of a Sorcerer or Wizard (I’d lean to the Wiz) to get basic metamagic feats would help here, and if that spell power boost would work with the Henshin’s ki attacks. Given the overhead of such a thing, I’m not sure if I’ll ever try this.

Melee Combat

Quarterstaves aren’t bad for damage, but they wear out very quickly. If I’m going to love any quarterstaff, I’d better attune them so they don’t take permanent damage. Quarterstaves are also bludgeoning weapons so they’re no more useful against zombies than your fists.  Best to keep a pair of kamas handy.

The stance “Lighting the Candle” is great to add Fire damage to any wielded weapon or unarmed combat.

Remember the elemental debuffing moves needed by the old Dark Monks to get Touch of Death? These are now part of the Henshin class tree. Activate any of these attacks to give an enemy a 10% vulnerability to an element. Fire is a Henshin’s prime damage dealer, so spamming the All-Consuming Flame debuffer will be nice to do.

Quin had amassed many handwraps that helped in unarmed damage reduction, so she needn’t take any Shintao stuff. She already knows how to get the most of any elemental stance. She just needed some quarterstaves, some points in the Henshin tree and continue her schooling.

Disadvantages

Henshins aren’t dependent on a staff but they help with spell power if they have any properties. Should you choose to go as an unarmed Henshin, your spell-like abilities that boost Fire and Force damage will be less than when wielding a staff.

As with any weapon, a staff is ultimately slower than fighting unarmed and, as noted, suffer greater damage. The Henshin tree boosts damage using the Quick Strikes ability for improving doublestrike for a brief time. Since you’ll get the full Air Stance training, a Henshin in Air Stance should be a DPS monster. They also improve their Critical Threat Range and Multiplier, thankfully.

Many players questioned the emphasis on Fire during the beta because, well, some of the nastiest enemies are Fire-frickin’-immune, such as the devils of Shavarath. That means that Henshins need greater Force damage with their area-of-effect skills or go toe-to-toe with more melee damage. Of the two spell powers, Force is what I’ll be looking to find more to add. There are a handful of powerful quarterstaves, such as an unlocked Dreamspitter, that have great Force Burst damage.

You can’t just go to a vendor to buy “ki potions.” This energy is generated only by fighting early on. The Henshin gains several abilities with ki generation in mind as they train. First, they gain extra Meditations. Other Monks get only 2 per rest. The Henshin may have as many as 5, if I count right. It’s going to be rough going for Henshins in that using shrines to restore Meditations used in high-level abilities means that you also destroy your accumulated ki.

Thankfully, Henshins do improve on their passive ki regeneration. Think of it like the spellcaster’s “Stir of Echoes”, but allows a larger regeneration to the character’s stable pool, where ki generated and lost achieve a balance. At level 20, a Henshin should have a vast supply and should be able to regenerate faster than other Monks. That said, Quin has been mostly in Fire Stance to build ki, and she’s slower to do so than when unarmed (more damage per second). Hopefully this means that standing about in Ocean Stance with these effects will passively regenerate 3 or 4 ki per 6 seconds at high level.

Lastly, the Henshin’s defenses are somewhat weak in that there’s little in the class tree to improve AC, saves or miss-chance. You’ll need good gear as a melee-happy Henshin. STR determines a Stunning Blow success, but lower DEX means less Reflex and AC bonus. You’ll need WIS for a large ki pool.

Is this what GamerGeoff meant by the “Return of the DEX build?”

The Master of All Finishers

While revamping the Monk guide for Update 19, I realized I hadn’t a page that listed every available finishing move. So I made a new chapter.

There are 17 finishers in all. Shintao Monks and Ninja Spies can perform 11 of the 17  (theoretically, adding in the currently-broken level 10 finishers). Five finishers are philosophy-restricted. You can’t use Dance of Clouds as a Dark Monk because you have Fists of Darkness. Likewise, a Light Monk can’t use Freezing the Lifeblood without Fists of Darkness.

But the Henshin, thanks to two Tier 5 abilities, has the ability to perform all 17 finishers.

The first of the two tier 5 abilities, Balance in Dawn allows you to select a ki strike with a powerful effect but one that’s opposite of your chosen philosophy. Effectively, if you are a Light adherent, you gain a Fists of Darkness with a slower cooldown. For Dark Monks, a slower Fists of Light.

Unlike their normal counterparts, using Balance in Dawn strikes has a massive effect on allies (for Light) or enemies (for Dark).

  • Every Light Casts a Shadow: Cost: 15 Ki, Cooldown: 12 seconds. Dark ki melee attack: Perform an attack with +2[W] damage. On Damage: Target suffers 1d4 negative levels. If the target dies within 10 seconds, all nearby enemies suffer 1d2 negative levels.
  • Shadows Cannot Exist Without Light: Cost: 15 Ki, Cooldown: 6 seconds. Light ki melee attack: Perform an attack with +2[W] damage. On Damage: Target suffers 1d6 Light damage every 2 seconds for 10 seconds. This can stack up to 10 times. If the target dies within 10 seconds, all allies around the target receive 100 Positive Energy healing. (This healing effect is unaffected by Spell Power.)

This move does allows a Henshin to use the Healing Ki finisher, or the Touch of Despair finisher, and unlocks any moves that require them. In party battle, a Henshin can really upset a mob’s advantage in numbers or give decent party support.

Finally, there’s the matter of Void attacks and the second of two attacks to unlock the Master state. Update 19 removed all original Void Strike attacks (all enhancements) and gave one and only one to the Henshin–the counterpart to “Void Strike IV,” now just Void Strike, a tier 5 ability.

Void Strike does the same as in the past: massive Force damage with a vorpal confirmation sending the enemy to nothingness.

For other Monks to attain this attack this means not only a substantial use of AP that gimps their other trees, but will also lock them into the Henshin tier 5 and out of other trees. That means that the level 10 finishers can’t really be used by other Monks except a Henshin that takes Void Strike. (Hopefully the devs will add a low-level Void Strike as a trainable feat to rectify this someday.)

Hm. That “avatar” style looks to be back on the menu.

The key here is to do what few Monks do: Take advantage of all of the finishers in daily life.

I’m talking more of the core finishers that all Monks can do, which are typical spamming one element three times to form the finisher. Then there’s the matter of the level 10 finishers, of which the Henshin (at present) is the only one capable of using.

So, a Master of All Finishers? How does that play out in practice?

Stay tuned and see. A Henshin that can burn and break, debuff, neg-level, burst healing effects, and charm enemies has got to have some joy to it.

(Note: I know that the Dark portion of Balance in Dawn is as bugged as the Ninja Spy’s Wave of Despair in that it gives negative levels to allies. I learned as well that you can neg-level yourself with it! Whoops. A workaround is to hand out Death Ward to everyone to easily fix this until the devs resolve the problem, if it’s not working as intended.)