Triumph from the Shadows: Why Stealth Does Work

I missed quite a few insightful posts during my sabbatical, but one caught my eye as I scanned the list of post posts.

It was from Sir Geoff of Hanna. Gnome-Fearer. Halfling Commando. One-half of a 5000 Favor Dynamic Duo. The MMOtivator (“Pike with me if you want to live!”).

The post was entitled: “Sneaking In Plain Sight – Why Stealth is Broken as a DDO Play Style.”

Given my love of the sneaky arts, I had to read. And, as is my tendency, to generate my own discussion and debate.

Now, obviously my goal isn’t to go all “You’re wrong!” throughout my whole post that will obviously favor the use of stealth in many (albeit not all) quests. I want to take any and all objections and make a deeper study of how others see it before I apply my own take on it. From such fair objective analysis can results be attained.

And such analysis can be helpful in improving and revising Stormreach Shadows, a web guide I co-edit that provides extended information for many classes into using stealth more often in many quests.

Assassin Speed: Fixed

Geoff starts by noting a comment from producer Severlin regarding some suggestions in the Rogue Assassin Changes thread. Sev notes that the Assassin’s general sneak speed does put them behind other classes with the Faster Sneaking ability.

This was recently and easily fixed in Update 25, thankfully, as those speed traits are now included in Stealthy. I like it, as it also encourages more use of the stealth skills.

I logged in Tuesday evening to reset Sukitetica’s AP just to see this happy speed boost.

The Stealth Engine as a Whole

Geoff takes note of one important comment by Sev:

“Changes to stealth require tech work and affect lots of game systems and are prone to side effects so we have to be careful there. Anything that involves significant changes to monster AI is out of scope for this update and this hampers any global revamp to Stealth.”

Makes sense, since Update 19 was already a “global rewrite” that introduced many of the critical changes to stealth that make it more reliable in gameplay now. Before Update 19, stealth was, more or less, an alternative way to avoid detection. But heaven help you if you were detected, for there was no real way for you to escape.

Pre-Update 19 stealth also had a long list of peculiar problems, such as:

  • Monsters “sliding” to you, stop-motion style, when they saw you.
  • Monsters that always detected you, even when you broke line-of-sight and were out of their Listen range.
  • The inability for a player to jump while in Sneak. (Naughty, bannable “stealth humping” ensues.)
  • No reliable cues to the player if they were in imminent danger of detection by sight or sound.

Since Update 19 and that massive rewrite, monsters generally behaved more logically to curious sights and sounds. The nature of Invisibility (which too many players think should be a complete solution for “hiding” but has never been such) was clearly defined as resistance from Spot checks unless you are very close to a monster. Monsters also listen and investigate sounds of breaking things more often as well, but only those that pick up the sounds go to move, not a whole mob.

And players can also jump and tumble while in Sneak, albeit at a substantial penalty to those skills, which encourages more training to counteract those penalties. Having greater mobility now also allows players to take to higher ground so that enemy Spot checks can be avoided by simple elevation.

Generally, the Update 19 changes persist and work well, except I’ve noticed that, since around Update 22 or so, enemies are no longer attracted properly by the sound of breakables or other sounds. This makes drawing and distracting enemies a broken mechanic right now. Rogues can get past this with Noisemaker traps, but Monks and other classes haven’t a viable non-combat distraction option.

Geoff noted that, in his opinion, that stealth wasn’t helpful–but clarified this in the context of using Rogues, especially Assassins. He avoids going deeper on this at first so as not to go too far off-topic.

I believe I comprehend Geoff’s reasoning, although I disagree. It all has to do with the Assassin’s primary ability: Assassinate. When you use that ability while other enemies are within Listen or Spot range, monsters do react to the death cries of an assassinated ally. As a result, if you are in Listen or Spot range, the enemy Spot and Listen check bonuses spike–and you’re likely detected immediately.

The real problem, from my point of view, is a matter of realism. When John Wilkes Booth approached President Lincoln’s booth, no one paid notice. When he shot the President at point-blank range, it wasn’t as if his wife and others in the booth just randomly glanced around everywhere except at the President, wondering casually where that noise originated, or even ignoring the commotion. Clearly their senses heightened and they turned instinctively to the stimulus. Why wouldn’t a monster do the same?

Assassinations aren’t a public affair. That means that superior Assassin tactics requires isolation of targets so as not to be detected by others. Rogues have plenty of skills to make this happen. Bluff is the best one when a loose group of enemies stands about, allowing you to pull one away to dispatch while others are none the wary. A precise use of a noisemaker also can pull one or more enemies. This requires a player to do something sometimes anathema to DDO: Using patience and cunning. Don’t carry a big stick but a big Bluff DC.

And, for the Assassin to make an escape, their Hide and Move Silently scores must be as high as they can be. Your skill at skulking away must be as high or higher than your Assassinate DC, or you’re missing the point of being an Assassin. You’re not meant to be caught–and it is possible to escape.

Higher level Monks have an Assassinate-like feat: Quivering Palm. Unlike Assassinate, however, using this ability pulls a Monk out of stealth. So Monks learn isolation skills. Many people were upset as recent updates kept nerfing the DCs of this skill, and for good reason. Sure, you can spam it during attack, but it was never meant as a “live” assassinate.

Now some might say, “But I don’t want to isolate things.” Then you can’t expect a instant-kill mechanic to work properly when its conditions aren’t met. You don’t get something for nothing, and so you can’t assassinate without some chance at reprisal. My argument is that, with the right choice and isolated target, there is little chance at reprisals. But if you’re going to spam Assassinate or Quivering Palm in a crowded hall, expect someone to notice.

Let me get back to another facet of Geoff’s comments.

Severlin’s Retort

When Geoff commented on how he thought that a Rogue revamp also required a revamp of the stealth engine, Sev made a curt and definitive reply:

“We get concerned when players make blanket statements about stealth being “broken” without really outlining what they mean. While we love player feedback and welcome specific suggestions about stealth, I just don’t want to set up false expectations about things stealth should allow. We wouldn’t want players, as an example, to have the expectation that characters should be opening doors and pulling levers while remaining in stealth. This type of behavior would threaten too many types of content. Without specifics we can do nothing to address people’s concerns.”

Sev, I feel, is right on the money, and for the reasons I noted earlier about how stealth is not a panacea to avoid being obvious to others.

Take the notion of opening levers and doors while in stealth. Now, a handful of quests purposefully allow the use of doors or portals without leaving Sneak (“The Portal Opens” and “Blockade Buster” come to mind) but the one more XP-lucrative quest does not allow this (“The Claw of Vulkoor”).

Sev is right, and I can encountered many examples where too much stealth (with the current rules) break a scant few of the DDO quest mechanics that activate bosses, open or complete quest objectives, or just simply allow one to proceed. Remember that I have one character, Kiricletica, which completed as many adventures in the game in stealth that would allow it (pretty much everything but raids and quests that absolutely required a party) and without any other players or hirelings, and also purposefully avoided combat except where required. These included all the Devil Battlefield quests, on Elite, to get her Yugoloth favor potions (A hireling helped with levers in “Genesis Point”).

If stealth were really broken, there is no way I’d have survived such an attempt. I must have done something contrary to what others note about stealth.

In “Claw of Vulkoor,” if a stealthy player could open doors and levers without detection, it would be far too easy. I have to time my movements to avoid patrolling scorpions there, and waiting for some to turn around to face a direction opposite of me to flip a lever is part of the mission. Further–and this is a very important point–you do NOT move, ever, while not in Sneak. You can perform actions while stationary, but the second you succeed in getting that lever or switch flipped, you must immediately return to stealth. Just one step while out of stealth and your Move Silently skill is zero, your footfall is heard and you are detected.

Now, Epic players such as Shadowdancers do have an option to open levers and switches without detection but without stealth per se. That’s Improved Invisibility. It’s great to have when you can manage to get to a well-guarded door that, while enemies are just scattered enough to not find you while Sneaking, they will see you on flipping the lever. But this is a special skill, maximum 30 seconds, with a 4 minute cooldown.

Now many quests have a “pressure zone,” if you will, which activates a quest action when a player steps on it, stealthy or not. This is a good thing as a boss or objective that requires to know if you’ve entered a place must work the first time as quest mechanics sometimes are programmed to work just once, leaving a quest bugged if it can’t see “the obvious.”

Only one of these pressure zones goes too far, and that’s at the end of “Monastery of the Scorpion,” where the Scorrow boss on steroids will immediately charge and attack anyone, stealthed or not. This act not only screws up the puzzle you can use to kill him, but Sannyasi is one of a handful of bosses that completely ignores stealth when they shouldn’t. You can’t escape from him, ever, with any tactic.

That’s wrong. While Red Names have True Seeing, stealth is immune from such effects. This is why Monks and Rogues make great beholder-slayers because we can sneak up to the eye-balls before they Spot can lock on fast enough. The devs could wave their hands and say that Sannyasi has tremor-sense or other abilities that make stealth powerless (such as what oozes have) but scorrow and scorpion aren’t spiders and don’t normally have these traits.

Sev is intentionally calling out Geoff and others who want their special abilities to work without a trade-off they must train or prepare to counteract. Someone is going to notice a body fall. Someone is going to notice you in stealth if your Move Silently skill is insufficient.

Geoff’s Return Volley and My Overhand Swing

To Geoff’s credit, he did have many specific arguments that I’ll address one by one.

  1. Many encounters contain unsneakable monsters. Sometimes it seems like most of them do
  2. No one will wait for the sneaky guy to catch up
  3. No one will wait for the sneaky guy to power up anything that requires being in sneak
  4. So many places where a quest will not advance until you have killed all the monsters
  5. The fear of “threatening too many types of content” hobbles stealth play. The pendulum is swung too far. Swing it back a little.

Point 1: Generally true but only early in your life. An adventurer’s very first quests often contain spiders and oozes. These cannot be avoided through stealth. However, as quests advance in difficulty, there are many quests where you can enter and exit with few to no detections. The Lordsmarch quest “Diplomatic Impunity” is a perfect example. There are only three primary objectives: Find Ullivian the scout, report back to Henritta, and kill the Droaam commander. All of these can be completed without killing or being detected by anything in between. I’ve done this a few times, using my Rogue Assassin and ninjas. One kill is all that’s needed to complete (although clean up to get the chests require slaying that don’t count to the kill bonus or any other metric since the quest is over).

You can sneak to most every NPC in the game except bosses where your presence is detected because you walk into a zone where you must be seen. Approaching the bound Spinner in “Spinner of Shadows” does this if you come close enough to the dais where she hangs. I mentioned Sannyasi from “Monastery” as a rare exception where a boss NPC goes off the rails to see you. Driders are spider-kind but, as I know from stealth work in the Underdark and many Eveningstar quests, they don’t have tremor-sense and can be assassinated.

A few higher-end quests (like “The Coalescence Chamber”) will add in The Goshdammed Bats. Bats don’t detect you by sight, but have basically a Listen check of 999. Once you move, even when sneaking, you are found, period. You need a Move Silently skill that’s impossible to attain–and my Ranger, Artemistika, has the highest of all my characters with every buff and ability (around 114).

I have far too many videos that illustrate that Point 1 is erroneous once you pass the earliest quests.

Point 2: Generally true, but fallacious. Offset by the reason why guilds exist and why good party members never leave a man behind. This point isn’t a problem with stealth. It’s a problem with the player’s attitude and skill. Lack of cooperation and an overuse of autonomy has lead to Rogues that don’t trap and healers that don’t heal and tankers that don’t tank. You can do what you want to do, but you can’t knock stealth because it cannot overcome the self-centered interests of other players.

Besides, stealth works just fine completely alone or with like-minded and prepared parties of any size. As with any other quest, it’s a matter of parties communicating, planning out strategies and roles before entering.

One ninja and one Assassin should be enough for just about anything. Trust me.

Point 3: Same answer as Point 1. This is a player attitude problem. Sneak is a one-button instantaneous action for a character. Invisibility is a potion, scroll, spell or spell-like ability that’s also quick to apply to a single character. What Geoff might be alluding here is that the rest of the party doesn’t care to get any of these buffs and just surge ahead and aggro the whole place. If they really screw up, you’ll get to collect all their soulstones in quiet and peace.

Point 4: Sometimes yes. Kill all the monsters is often a required objective. There are very, very few quests that allow a no-kill completion. But stealth should not be incorrectly equated to pacifism. What stealth allows characters to do, as does Invisibility, Hold spells, Paralyzing, Otto’s spells, or Intimidate, is a way to manage crowds and control aggro. In the case of stealth, you manage a crowd by avoiding their detection. But when a quest says, “Kill ’em all,” then you do so.

But, as a Ninja Spy or Assassin, you can use “pick-off” moves that isolate and slay the targets, one at a time. Your skill is revealing yourself only as you choose, confusing and shrouding your enemies, buying you time to eliminate the horde before they can effectively organize against you. You can also use spells that cause Fear. Theatricality and deception is what the Batman does. We can do this, too. (In Batman Begins, the first battle against Falcone’s minions happens this very way…Batman sneaks about, thinning out the herd, scaring most them shitless before removing what few are left as a group.)

My Assassin uses Bluff, pulls an enemy into the shadow and away from others, kills it, then repeats. My ninjas target isolated enemies, use paralysis, spell/melee muting, and blinding finishing moves to slow an enemy attack. They can also take advantage of isolated enemies and remove them.

Point 5: Generally not applicable. Most quests do exactly as they should and activate as they should, whether you are in stealth or not. Else, why would the devs support D&D skills that would inherently bug most of the game? Further, I can testify that my experiences with Kiricletica revealed very very few quests where the stealth mechanic caused quest completion issues to a point where I couldn’t finish. What few quests I encountered that experienced minor issues involved some of the game’s oldest quests. But in many cases, quests you didn’t think were possible in stealth were quite doable.

But Geoff Slams Back

After these first sub-points, Geoff notes several more. This post is going long, but I think it’s necessary to keep chipping away at some of these for clarification, correction and illumination.

  1. There are style problems with sneak that are the result of game changes:
    • a) More stop points added to previously sneakable quests prevent most sneak-only completions
    • b) Dungeon alert
  2. There are issues with the implementation of Assassinate
    • a) A successful Assassinate should not break one out of sneaking
    • b) Assassination requires sneak but you cannot sneak while already in melee
  3. And there are some specific technical issues with sneak
    • a) The bad guys inerrantly hit you with ranged at the first sign of finding you
    • b) It is supposed to be possible to shake off pursuit if one is able to retain sneak but that does not work *
    • c) Monsters that hear you inerrantly follow your path when sneaking
    • d) Monsters that do not show indicators of being able to see you are still able to hit you with single-target spells. Which breaks sneak and now everyone sees you.

Item 1(a): DDO quests have always been filled with stop points. I don’t know which quests he’s noting here, but I’d like to know which ones so I can video my attempt to show where stealth still works or where it does, indeed, break.

Item 1(b): Dungeon Alert never happens to the stealthy character because DA requires your enemies to detect you. I’ve entered and exited many a quest, leaving the same enemies standing and patrolling where they did, without a single alert. The only time I will generate DA as a stealthy character are against enough enemies that sense me and I cannot shake them because of their nature. That’s generally against bats. Lots of bats, as in “Coalescence Chamber.” They will cause a DA if I head up the shafts where they spawn, prompting me to use ranged attacks or return to where they fell (yeah, the bats, the things with wings, fall to the base of the shaft) to kill them off. But the rest of the dungeon remains oblivious to me.

Item 2(a): Assassination, sadly, isn’t a bug but a feature. Some enemies will be aware of you in principle or by game mechanic. Take the gnoll mages in each of the stoned Coin Lord’s rooms in “Eyes of Stone.” Sure, I had the same problem with Sukitetica the Assassin but also with Kiricletica on Easter Sunday. The gnoll won’t activate and attack unless you enter its room and activate him (which, since I don’t activate him while Sneaking and as he doesn’t activate even when blundering in until a certain distance, is a hidden Listen check). Jerry Snook (a.k.a. Cordovan) alluded to this in a rare and appreciative reply to Geoff’s article. It’s a good thing the gnoll mages aren’t active because they’d blast through their own door the second you walked up to the second floor. They’re purposefully inactive to avoid DA, especially if your party splits up. So the gnoll mages really behave as if they know you are coming, mechanic-wise. You can’t easily assassinate someone who knows you are coming.

Item 2(b): You can Assassinate while in melee, provided you’re not the only one that’s attacking. That’s aggro management, pure and simple. Let your hirelings or party members go in first, then come up from behind and kek-kek all you want. I find that some enemy AoE spells or attacks will throw me out of Sneak and blow Assassinate attempts sometimes, but this is an exception rather than a rule. Besides, why worry about Assassinate when your Sneak Attack damage should quickly pound anything not aggroed on you into bite-size bits? A solo Assassin has the odds stacked against them. You’re one character. There are many ahead and some are prepared to greet you. Your skill in getting past their defenses so as to command the field to kill is more paramount than your mere ability to assassinate.

Item 3(a): Enemies that use bows or other ranged weapons, like a player character’s Ranger, have a naturally higher Spot bonus than other enemies. Your Hide skill might get past non-ranged attackers but you better bring a superior Hide skill against those designed to see you from afar.

This same mechanic is demonstrated in brutal clarity in the Epic Gianthold wilderness. First off, all giants there have See Invisibility, so don’t even bother with that potion or spell. The giants have a very high Spot bonus that’s proportional to their size. In short, they’ll see a non-sneaking character from about 10-15 giant-lengths away, easily. If you can sneak through Epic Gianthold without giants noticing you, you have effectively perfected your skill, in my opinion.

Item 3(b, c and d): I updated the Sneak article on DDO Wiki based on the Update 19 release notes and from my experience on what is required to shake off a pursuing enemy(s) using Sneak.

  1. Break the line-of-sight with your enemy first. Run away and turn a corner is a best practice, but cowering behind a box is not. Nor will Invisibility work; once they see you, they see you.
  2. Next, go into Sneak and then apply Invisibility, if time and ability allow. Sneak is essential now because turning the corner or entering another room breaks the enemy’s sight-lock on you. They still know where you went but lost precisely where you are. But the key here is that they are still hunting you. If you aren’t sneaking, they’re targeting you by sound.
  3. Finally, keep moving as you do (1) and (2). The enemy will still pursue but can only use their Listen check to hunt you down. Move Silently counters this if you have enough skill points applied. Most enemies search the last place you stopped, swatting away at the air until they hit you or find nothing, sometimes spreading out. Depending on the mechanic of the enemy, they may stop and go back, stop swatting and go back to normal alert, or swat indefinitely. In any case, don’t be where they are. In fact, just sneak past them and continue on your merry way. As to single-target spells, the effect is the same as a wide arc from a halberd, and the resolution is the same. The enemy is targeting you only if they know exactly where you are. But some spells can be directed to a position even if a target isn’t there.

So, yeah, Geoff. You’re doing it wrong. 🙂 You must avoid both enemy sight and hearing for this to work. And once you break enemy sight and sound-lock, get off the path where they expect you to be.

Ninja Spies have advantage here with their Flash Bangs. These daze and blind enemies for 6 seconds, allowing a ninja to use an Abundant Step in Sneak to easily disappear. But Assassins are Rogues, so enough UMD means a Blindness spell can work on a single foe. Solid Fog could also help, as can many many other items as noted on the Blinded wiki page. There’s also the old-school option of leaving a sacrificial lamb such as a hireling to pull aggro while you skedaddle. And level 18 Ninja Spies can create a Diversion, a hate-magnet training dummy (dressed like a pirate, of course) that will easily pull pursuers to itself.

DDO quests don’t differentiate much between a single player and full party. That said, the only reason why stealth would not work in party is because there is a party member with inadequate Hide and Move Silently skill or is using or doing something that causes noise, aggro or light. A Ranger in party has Hide/Move Silently party buffs that stack with items (Camouflage and Pass Without Trace). Invisibility is a simple anti-Spot that works against anything but True Seeing/See Invisibility, so even if a player that isn’t a natural stealth class (Bard, Ranger, Rogue, Monk) but wants to play a stealthier game, add cross-class points to Move Silently over Hide, and befriend a Ranger.

There’s a reason why the nickname of the stealth guide was “Stealth Team Six.”

Conclusion

You’re not doing it right, all.

Stealth is a defensive posture. DDO doesn’t allow you, on purpose and with one sole exception (Assassinate) to be simultaneously offensive and defensive with this mode. And even Assassinate has its limits, but it does work.

There were several comments to Geoff’s post. One said, “Even if you “stand” still while in stealth mobs tend to sweep towards you and eventually spot you. This even if you’re out of side behind a door/wall. Closed doors give even more agro.”

Standing still really means “Do not move.” Stealth, specifically Hide, reduces but never eliminates the chance for something to see you. If you are standing still in stealth about 3 body lengths from some enemy, their Spot check is not only up but magnifying upward by design. (Those are the multiplying “eyes” above an enemy that change as their Spot increases.) Once they detect something, their Spot bonus grows to the point where you will eventually be found. Hide was never designed to make you permanently cloaked. You need to get out of the enemy’s line-of-sight, and Hide provides you the time to do it before their Spot bonus changes to “detected.”

And an enemy’s Listen check goes through doors. We know that DDO doors often seem like they aren’t there. So stealth masters treat them as already open, never approaching them without being in Sneak. Else, things do tend to aggro through them. Keep in mind that enemies that can defeat Sneak (spiders, oozes) will detect you automatically and likely cause minions nearby to do the same.

Kiricletica’s Advice on Stealth: “Your Hide or Move Silently training may fail against an enemy if either score, divided by 2, is equal or less than the enemy’s Challenge Rating number.”

I don’t “sometimes” get some use out of stealth.

I enjoy it virtually all the time. I have pictures. I have a whole YouTube channel filled with video. It works. And I co-wrote an entire guide on it.

“Spies in the House?” Did it.

“Claw of Vulkoor?” Yep.

“Bastion of Power?” Sure.

The eighth Splinterskull quest, “Doom of the Witch-doctor: Zulkash, Herald of Woe?” Yep. And in only 4 kills out of a possible 75–and I sneaked by all the mobs that guarded the puzzle wheels. The totem counted a a kill. I added the Devious bonus on that DDO Wiki article.

Did you know you can can activate puzzle wheels while in stealth?

I don’t want to think I have some “lock” on stealth skills. I started with some ideas from player Ghoste long ago and worked from there.

I know Geoff’s been playing the game far longer than I have, so please take any criticisms here about Geoff’s post with respect–he’s  one of the coolest people I know in-game (and had the honor to meet in person). But there’s several important things missing to his comments and those who commented back.

Be it Assassin or ninja, the process of stealth is alive and well, but it does require training and a different mindset to bring it to fruition.

Seems that the only thing wrong with stealth, as I see it, is that, for many, the techniques to make stealth work just sneak right by them all.

I’m still open to join a new server and help teach the art of stealth.

UPDATE: In the limited time he had at that moment, Sir Geoff has posted a rebuttal that, at the least, calls me out on just being too damn wordy, while noting how we agree more than disagree. Didn’t I just say that here? 🙂

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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.

Must Be My Charming Personality

Everybody got their party hat? Yes?

Everybody got their party hat? Yes? Great!

On first building Flynncletica, I was attracted to the use of Dexterity to Damage for her Swashbuckling fighting style. I knew how well that worked based on my experience with the Ninja Spy’s identical ability on Kiricletica and others.

I’ve considered recanting DEX-to-damage to try a different tack with a Different Tack (the ability), which determines which stat (other than STR) defines your damage.

My DEX is a bit higher after a few points in it. I chose Halfling to improve her Dexterity. I can get my CHA about as high as DEX when I want to convert the masses through a Fascinate song and then a Mass Suggestion.

But as I learned the hard way in a Heroic Elite run of “Friends in Low Places,” I wasn’t quite the charmer as I hoped by the end fight. I thought I needed more CHA and/or needed to concentrate on CHA for Damage.

I’m Feeling Fascination

Still a bit wet behind the ears as a Bard, I’ve only started to use Fascinate to halt enemies. Now at level 18, she’s trained Mass Suggestion to effect a mass charm on enemies.

I have no problems in training non-damaging spells and songs. It’s my monastic upbringing. Playing Shintao Monks, I’m often buffing and supporting allies as well with Healing Ki, finishing moves and elemental curatives like the Lesser Restoration SLA, Restoring the Balance.

At lower difficulties or with enemies with lower Will, Suggestion sticks well, answering the enemy challenge to “You and whose army?!” But I’d like to ensure that Mass Suggestion sticks rather well in Elite difficulties.

Since the ability Different Tack allows CHA to work as damage, pumping my character’s CHA to improve its modifier, not DEX, would be the prudent thing if I want Flynn to dominate fights by redirecting them as allied attackers with CHA as the sole modifier for all things important.

Thankfully I had some foresight on this on reaching 1,750 favor.  I chose a +2 CHA tome and then used two upgrades for an inherent +4.

I had strongly considering using a Lesser Heart of Wood to redo my stats, adding back the DEX points to CHA–but not too many. I still need higher DEX for good Reflex saves.

I’m looking more at CThruTheEgo’s “Monte Cristo” build for bardic advice, after getting my build inspiration from another DEX based thread for a soloing Bard.

As more of you know than me, Fascinate’s DC is the Perform skill +d20. With Perform maxed out now and using a Perform +13 ring, using the effect works quite well.

With some Spellsinger training, I could Fascinate specific monsters that otherwise can never be Fascinated. But I’m heavy in Warchanter training now, enjoying the attacks that freeze enemies and abilities that add PRR and doublestrike bonuses. At level 19, Flynn had 32 PRR (with only a PRR +2 gem) and 29% standing doublestrike.

I’ll gain Evasion, another 1% Doublestrike, +2 DEX and +2 CHA with level 20 and the Swashbuckler capstone enhancement. So, perhaps, I’ll stay where I am, but use Epic Destinies and items to add more CHA to get my Will saves higher. The DEX will help Reflex to make my miss-chance effects work better.

I have a lot of destiny grinding ahead of me.

But I had look at the Charms as they stood now and commit to a direction.

Not Magically Delicious

Back to that end-fight in “Friends in Low Places.” Knowing the enemy zerg-rush of that last fight, I began dropping down Mind Fog and Otto’s dancing balls to slow things down, then readied myself to Fascinate and use Mass Suggestion to boot. My goal wasn’t to kill the mobs but to keep them off immobile and off of me while I concentrated on killing the last boss to prevent more enemies from spawning.

It didn’t work. I think these enemies had a higher Will save, for one, as I could pick off and charm the straggling bands of invaders but had a harder time slowing the camp attackers. I became overwhelmed too quickly to mount a counter-offensive.

I needed to improve my charming personality.

Charms break down into several sub-abilities. You can charm most humanoids and some monsters except oozes, constructs and undead (although you can Fascinate them with a bit more training).

Suggestion has a different DC calculation: 10 + (Bard level/2) + CHA modifier. I’m all Bard; that’s good. But at CHA 22 at the lowest, I need to keep up my girly poise if I’m to redirect my enemies.

My best DC is 28. I’d rather have 35 or better in Heroic.

CHA seems the go-to stat, but does that all but guarantee that Charms and Suggestion will do as I want?

There’s also a second charming effect, Dominate, that I enjoy. I’d rather convince a Orthon follow me around to go with the rest of my summoned posse.

I did some reading on builds and realized that the Shard of Xoriat would be more useful than for the great meat shielding beholders, renders, mind flayers and Taken you can wield from it. It’s also a bardic treasure with Exceptional CHA +1 and Greater Enchantment Bonus.

If I read that right, Greater Enchantment Bonus adds a stacking 2 to my overall Charm-related DCs, right? Please let me know if I’m reading that wrong. I think it’s comparable to  boosts like Combat Mastery, which help tactical feat DCs for things like Stunning Fist for Monks.

So, I’ve got CHA +4 in tomes. I can also wear a +6 CHA enhancement item, having plans to slot a colorless gem in either of my level 20 armor or shield.

The next items I can imagine would help are collectible-generated Potions of Influence (stacking +1 to +3 CHA bonus) that I can use any time, as well as the +2 Yugoloth favor potions from Amrath and the quests of the Devil Battlefield. Toss some Turbine Points to the DDO Store and I can add in the stacking +2 Elixirs. So I can add up to another +5 to +7 now for brief periods.

I planed to go into the Devil Battlefield as soon once I hit level 20, wanting to have a better-than-average level when heading into these quests on Elite. Last night I impulsively tackled “Sins of Attrition” on Elite, coming out of that CR 21 fight by the skin of my teeth. Haystack the hireling over-healed throughout the quest, straining our spell point reserves. Eventually I left the sumbitch behind until the last battle. I just needed the Death Ward from the guy, anyway.

But…do you see my mistake in all of this thinking?

I mistakenly believed that Will saves are improved by CHA, when it’s WIS that affects a Will save, right? I need the Force of Personality feat to make my CHA modifier work for Will saves, as there’s no way I’ll add anything to WIS on Flynncletica unless a +5 tome comes dropping from the sky on her head. At least…that’s my understanding of it. Please tell if I’m wrong before I gimp another character!

The next feat slot for that comes at level 21. I was going to slum it out with potions until that time. But…I chose to make a feat swap. I can live without Improved Shield Mastery (with a small loss of doublestrike and PRR) to be a better charmer into Epic.

Epic Bling

One thing that’s a little disorienting involves what the comely young Halfling Bard chicks are wearing this year on Level 20 and beyond.

I have only three items in my cavalier’s wardrobe on reaching 20: a tier-3 Epic Swashbuckler shield, some tier-3 Epic Duelist’s Leathers, and an Epic Elyd Edge. I thought of adding a Heavy Fortification gem in the shield’s blue slot and a +6 CHA colorless gem in the armor so I can dispense with my Minos Legens, perhaps moving its Vitality +20 colorless gem to something else in the future and freeing my head for something more interesting later.

Looking about Eveningstar, I realized that there doesn’t appear to be any bard-inclined epic gear as we can get for Monks (the Sun Soul set) or Fighters (the Purple Dragon Knight set) or Wizards (the Battle Arcanist set).

There are a few options through the Druid trader, such as the Lenses of the Woodsman and Boots of the Woodsman. The Leathers light armor isn’t bad either although not attractive enough to swap out for the Epic Duelist’s Leathers, even with the equipped set bonus.

The Purple Dragon Gauntlets with their greater STR, CON bonus and 30% healing amplification would be welcome, I’m sure, as perhaps the Iron Mitts, and the Kobold Admiral’s Tiller from Epic Three-Barrel Cove.

But you can see where this is going. An epic Bard Swashbuckler seems to be more of a motley of items that don’t have much set complementarity with each other as opposed to items from the Eveningstar sets.

The popular Bard SB threads again offer some suggestions. Two of them caught my eye.

  • Sage’s Mantle cloak (from “The Tracker’s Trap”) for equipment Enchantment Focus bonus
  • Intricate Field Optics goggles (from “Return to Gianthold Tor”) for Insightful CHA or CHA +8

Flynncletica, having a desire for a Corymrian weapon, recently completed the challenge “Ring of Fire” with all optionals completed (bye, dragon!), my first character to complete a full challenge. She obtained a serviceable level 16 rapier with ingredients gathered but does plan to run challenges to make level 20 and 24 weapons.

Additional suggestions from the adventurer’s peanut gallery are welcomed.

Epic Destinies

"Wait! I have one more buff before you blow up that car!"

“Wait! I have one more buff before you blow up that car!”

I did mention I will find myself grinding my ass off to gain not only specific abilities but the many Twist of Fate slots required to hold them?

For once, I may not mind this. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to take the easy way out if I can do so.

One Key of Destiny (I hope) as a first-life character and I’m unlocking Unyielding Sentinel out of the gate. I want its Shield Prowess, Brace for Impact and Legendary Shield Mastery immediately for defenses. Once that tree is trained, it’s off to Grandmaster of Flowers to slum it out a bit as a monastic fighter as I unlock the Martial tree. I might actually put away my swashbuckling gear for a bit as I train this, wielding only a shortsword for a bit of flavor and to impress the other Monks.

Then, on to Shadowdancer for its extra doublestrike and Shadow Form for better incorporeality. I see this destiny as my default once I train enough Fate points to unlock what I desire to Twist from other places.

The Shadowdancer greatly improves Flynn’s scouting and ambush abilities and will help her survive it better. Her miss-chance effects will be stronger with up to 50% concealment, 25%+Dodge and 25% Incorporeality of Shadow Form to go with higher AC and PRR.

Next, Legendary Dreadnought for more fighting prowess and fate points before training Fatesinger and Divine Crusader. And yes, I could even talk myself into Draconic Incarnation and Magister.

If I cannot use a Key of Destiny to start, I’ll begin as a Fatesinger and earn my prerequisites the old-fashioned way by unlocking the spheres, one by one.

In short, sure. I want them all. All the Destinies.

I’ve never trained more than three destinies on any one character before, and even then, one of those destinies wasn’t fully trained. But with a Swashbuckler and its hybrid lifestyle as fighter and bard, I won’t feel as stripped-down while moving between or training destinies.

While as a first-life, where there’s no XP penalty, this is the best opportunity to make the most of Flynn’s abilities. I’ve never had a reason to be a destiny completionist–until now.

The Singing Sword of Destruction

The HELLS is this, Syn? This doesn't look like a Monk! Have you been enjoying too much incense or something?

The HELLS is this, Syn? This doesn’t look like a Monk! Have you been meditating over too much incense or something?

My blog’s primary goal is a reflection on all things about the Monk class in Dungeons & Dragons Online. Often the posts I share are meant as extensive discussion and analysis of general abilities, prestige tracks and builds that the Monk can utilize. Such discussion would clog up the Book of Syncletica guide itself and would also be too subjective.

There have been a few new things that’s entered into our virtual world of Eberron to pull my attention away from the monastic for a time.

It might surprise some people to know that not all of my characters are Monks. I have an Artificer, still in her first life and used primarily for Cannith Crafting. I have two Rogues, one an Acrobat in her first life and a very young Assassin. There’s also a halfling Cleric.

But many of the other non-monks have been re-rolled as I needed a new slot for a character idea. A paladin, bard, Cleric-Monk, Rogue-Monk and sorcerer have met an early demise out of lack of interest or poor, irreparable building.

I’ve really, really wanted to enjoy more of the magical classes but Artificer has been the closest I’ve come to doing so.

And then came something new with Update 22 that I just had to try.

The Swashbuckler

DDO’s concept of this single-bladed scoundrel did not take much inspiration from the SRD versions or official tabletop concepts. Because of DDO’s live-combat format. low role-play and Epic quests and raids, the DDO Swashbuckler needed a lot more attack power and versatility. In short, the D&D Swashbuckler is more role-play oriented with simple but highly effective fighting rules. The DDO Swashbuckler must be a master with the single blade almost to Jedi Knight caliber.

I enjoyed a Swashbuckler version long ago in Neverwinter Nights 2. This version (and all of the D&D rules and designs I’ve found online) used a Rogue as the base class. Makes sense, given that a Rogue is…well, roguish, with that swagger and bravado and versatility you’d expect to see in such a character.

But DDO moved in a different direction. Rather than Rogue, their version is geared primarily for Bards.

It’s not a bad idea. In DDO as with D&D, Bards truly are a support class. They are weak in attack but can greatly augment a party’s attacks, buffs and strong in crowd control. But that was about it.

When Epic levels came along, the Bard gained the Fatesinger epic destiny, yet it, too, seemed more of the same: A series of abilities that supported its arcane songs and buffs but with lower attack than other destinies.

And so, perhaps to help this class with greater overall attack power, this new class tree came into being…although not without a lot of player criticism and advice after the developers announced it and asked for comments during its development.

But kudos to the developers; they listened very intently to all players and tweaked the class tree for a solid balance and an enticing reason to choose Single Weapon Fighting over Two Weapon Fighting. You cannot have both; the new feat is mutually exclusive to the TWF feats.

Now, a disclaimer: I know Monks. I know very little about Bards except in gameplay with others. That said, my guild leaders and a few officers have Bards I watch often in play, so I know their abilities. I’m sure that many of you may have multiclassed in the past to generate a better fighter out of a Bard than the stock L20 Bard.

But, as I tend to do with Monks, I’m going to explore how strong the single-class Bard can become with the new Swashbuckler tree.

In Like Flynn

My character naming convention is clear. My Monks have the -(c)letica style nomenclature exclusively (Pynthetica was an early exception as my 2nd character rolled; she was first a Ranger before her current life as a Zen Archer Monk). All my other characters had names often starting with an “A” (a tribute to my mother, who named all her children with “K” names).

But I thought that this character had enough potential to stay to be worthy of my monastic convention. So the name I chose was an in-joke to an existing name (Lynncletica) but also as a reference to Errol Flynn, the late actor renowned for many swashbuckling films in the pre-WWII era.

FlynncleticaMeet Flynncletica.

She’s fresh off the boat and taken only to level 4 with Veteran I status so I could appreciate most of the low-level quests and understand more of the Bard class in a crash-course of early levels.

That said, Flynn is already a terrifyingly powerful melee fighter. With her Starter Rapier and about 10 action points used, she can Blur and heal herself, throw out a few useful bard songs while ripping quick, deadly holes into everything she’s encountered so far.

The keys to Flynn’s power comes from two components. The Single Weapon Fighting ability, among other effects, adds a 10% Combat Style melee and ranged alacrity bonus as well as Doublestrike and Doubleshot from the Swashbuckling stance (should I care to use a repeating crossbow or bow).

Note the distinction of that alacrity bonus. I immediately crafted a reusable trinket with the 10% melee alacrity as an Enhancement bonus.

These effects stacked. I had a level 4 character with 4% Doublestrike and 20% melee alacrity.

Later feats in the Single Weapon Fighting line raise the melee alacrity to 30% Combat Style bonus with greater damages to boot. Does that mean that Flynn could have a 40% total increase in melee alacrity? Yes. Yes, it does.

Equipment

Sadly, there are very, very few named bucklers, the smallest of the shields, in the game. The best ones are Epic versions (and are quite cool looking). The only Heroic version is from the Crystal Cove event, called (not surprisingly) the “Swashbuckler.”

Aside from the general protection that a shield provides, I’d like to see more with Riposte effects. In the NWN2 version, any missed attack gave my character an immediate counter-attack. Riposte (as well as other tree effects) can add more of this. There are a couple of similar effects that generate damage on missed attacks.

My current buckler has 1% Doublestrike, which stacks with the Swashbuckler’s innate bonuses.

I may need to craft a bit.

I love the look and feel of the rapier and I’m going to stick with this weapon type throughout Flynn’s life, occasionally swapping out a recently-looted Everbright rapier for oozes and rust monsters. Plenty of good weapons for Bards exist, including the Spider Spike, the Elyd Edge (my Bard-savvy guild leader advised me to get this one to regenerate my bard songs using its Anthem effect), the Turbulent Epee, the heavy Dueling Schlager, Sheridan’s RuinNuushmaar’s Adamantine Tooth, and Tyrzza’s Bane, to name a few.

Light armor should be sufficient for Flynn, and there’s more of that good stuff in-game than I need to mention here.

As for other essentials that Bards should have, I’ll need lots of advice and experimentation.

Training

I took some pointers from two threads on the general build. As much as I’d love to add in the halfling dragonmark (good tip, Geoff), I can see that I’ll be pretty feat starved and would be better off adding healing or defensive spells as I went along.

Based on one poster’s very helpful answer, I focused on combat (DEX) but will be adding as much CHA as I can to whip out anything that slows down at least smaller crowds.

Flynn, like most Bards, is not meant to solo, I think. I have to keep a meat shield handy. I’ve had a blast running this character with guildmates and might–just might–even join in a PUG or two. I’ve also looked more at the Monte Cristo build ideas for better Bardesque crowd controls in whatever I can apply to Flynn.

I’m studying what Warchanter tree abilities can improve Flynn’s attack and CC powers. Advice is appreciated.

Gameplay

One thing that DDO players don’t do nearly as often as they should is block. We have shields, true, but often they’re there for off-hand effects and general passive protections.

I plan to block and often. I plan to start off defensively, letting the enemy’s first attack go into my shield (with miss effects activating as they might) before I pummel him with several Swashbuckler attacks while also letting any Riposte or guard effects hurt him more. I find shield bashing quite handy as well. I suspect you really can’t just hold down your Attack button as often as a swashbuckler if you want to triumph.

As Flynn gains in power, I’ll enjoy some Bard crowd controls, choking attacks in doorways and narrow passages while picking off any comers to my blade. I’m particularly interested in using taunts that reduce Will saves, making paralysis and charms more effective to make an enemy’s army my own. I’ll need some study to ensure I can pull off powerful Otto’s Spheres in higher levels: That’s CHA, and I’m pumping DEX over all else, so tomes and equipment will be needed along with action points to some enhancements.

Bards aren’t known to be stealthy. But Flynn can cast Invisibility (immunity from Spot). Combined with some Move Silently points (and a few Hide points given as part of being a halfling), she can use some situational tactics to help decide where and when she will fight. The tree also adds Fast Movement, a lighter but appreciated speed-up.

In higher levels, Flynn may be able to kill anything that is Fascinated or prone as she trains her magic skills.

Three-Barrel Cove and Tangleroot are next–but Flynn is leveling hyper-fast as a first-life character.

Flynn may not be a Monk, but she’s going to have speed and versatility that matches many of them. And, she’ll be wise enough to buff any Monks in party to make the most of their powers.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of

“The Madcap Adventures of Flynncletica”

in color!