Where Angels Fear to Tread: The Insane Tourist’s Guide to The Subterrane

We all know of many great players in the game that do the seemingly impossible.

This post isn’t about them. It’s about us. The average player. We don’t spend ungodly days and weeks on one character to make them godly enough to go into an Epic Elite quest alone. We don’t necessarily tune our characters for maximum damage or defense with hard calculations, seeking out the finest gear and running and re-running quest after quest, raid after raid.

(I’m not disparaging these Godly gamers, by the way. If making virtual gods is their way to have fun, go for it! None of us play DDO for our health. )

That said, we average players aren’t inexperienced. We grind long enough to get good Challenges gear. We gather Green Steel ingredients and build very powerful weapons and items. We know our way around Epic quests and have learned through our personal networks (guilds, forums, the DDO Wiki) of good gear combinations. We use the DDO Character Planner and other fine tools. We maximize our Epic Destinies and tool about with enhancements to make solid, if not Godly, characters.

And once all that’s done, we “average players” go off to show our mettle.

But what places aren’t so often visited by many in the game? These areas might be spurned by the Godlys because they might hold no loot or challenge to them. The Godlys aren’t typically “flower sniffers” (players who enjoy the aesthetics of an adventure, complete some or all optionals, and/or collect ingredients).

And there are places that are outright tough. Perhaps the Godlys ignore them because, unlike adventures and raids, these areas have a certain unpredictability and diversity that their characters cannot withstand.

And if the Godlys don’t care to visit these places, why on earth would the Average care to go?

Be sure to catch that selfie before you die! That's SO awesome!

Be sure to catch that selfie before you die! That’s SO awesome! (Photo credit: Anton Zemlyansky.)

Maybe, just maybe, we Average go to such places Because It’s There. We want to see everything.

We become Tourists of the Damned, taking screenshots of the most dangerous and obscure locations, just to say that we managed to get there (if not return).

Often, the developers put small visual treats in these remote locations, just to see if crazy tourists like us would be so nuts to venture out to find and report our discoveries on the forums in appreciation (complete with a photo album).

The stern bumper stickers of your guild ships might say, “Let me show you pictures of my trip into the bowels of hell.”

And perhaps there is some loot that we might find while we make the trip.

Let’s begin this series of exploration, appreciation and interpretation of little-explored and dangerous areas in the game (from my perspective, anyway) with The Subterrane.

The Birth of the Subterrane

If you’ve played “The Chronoscope” raid or were around in early 2008 when the events of the Chronoscope occurred in real time, you know that a Shavarath invasion of Stormreach occurred some time ago that (among other things) destroyed the original Marketplace tent.

The devils invaded Stormreach through the use of massively expansive ancient giantish catacombs, deep under the Marketplace and spreading out under some Houses, known to us as the Subterrane.

The “Sub” is the game’s only raid-enabled wilderness area. (UPDATE: DDOMicki and FuzzyDuck81 reminded me that that portions of the Cannith Manufactury are also raid zones.)  That alone should ring bells. You cannot take hirelings there, limiting many of us Average to maximizing our self-healing options or avoid travel there altogether.

The place is filled with some of the nastiest foes in the game. The moment you jump off from the entry point (you did wear your feather-fall item, right?) you’re greeted by several Living Spells that try to snuff you immediately. Think of the names of the nastier spells and put the word “Living” in front of it. Living Meteor Swarms. Living Disintegrates. Living Fingers of Death. Living Delayed Blast Fireballs.

As I said, that’s just the entrance.

Most players or groups have four and only four reasons to enter the Sub for any regular purpose:

  1. Gather players to Greater Teleport them to Meridia for a “Shroud” run. These players are already in a raid party, and you cannot enter Meridia or any other non-raid instance while in a raid party.
  2. Gather to venture as a raid party to the raid, “A Vision of Destruction.”
  3. Gather to venture as a raid party to “The Hound of Xoriat.”
  4. Enter to reach Garamol’s Lair in hopes of finding the Icy Raiment outfit or other gear.

To enter the Sub for any other reason seems suicidal, right?

But where Godlys don’t go, we Averages go, even to say that we went just to say we did.

We make up for our Averageness through our versatility. We use anything and everything we know to survive in places like this. We don’t necessarily relish the idea of going in alone but we might take time to study to see if it is possible. In our studies, we might find a secondary reason (and rationalization) to go.

In my case, I do like to explore. Now, exploration requires you to either (1) be able to kill anything that sees you or (2) avoid being seen. I use the second option, as many Averages do. Godlys don’t care if they’re seen. In fact, they expect to since they aren’t the types to add points to Hide and Move Silently, I fear.

The Insane Tourist’s Guide to Spectacles of the Subterrane

Game tourism is a little like this. Only the woman should really be stabbing the armored guys with the sword as she gets her photo taken.

Game tourism is a little like this. Only the woman should really be stabbing the armored guys with the sword  and looting their bodies as she gets her photo taken.

So, aside from the bragging rights of going, what obscure things might you find in the Sub that can be useful later?

Here’s one: Planar Shards.

Sure, we’re encouraged to pick up these “t-bags” often as our raid groups kill things as we make our way to “Hound.” But what are they for?

The DDO Wiki points out that these shards can be exchanged for some very useful emergency items. With the change of Rise of the Phoenix in the Shintao class tree to a self-only Resurrection effect, my dojo has become very interested in gathering Planar Shards to make emergency Raise Dead trinkets. It takes only 10 to make 1 single-use trinket, and 25 for a 2-use trinket. (UPDATE: Be warned: These are Exclusive bound-to-character items, so you can make one, store one in your personal bank, and then carry one and one only. Better make it the 2-charge version.)

That’s worth the price of entry alone. Where else, outside of a hireling or divine player, or running all the way back to a shrine, are you going to find a way to help a fallen player? The Ring of the Ancestors isn’t exactly easy to get, and not all of us are Clerics or Favored Souls. These items are certainly easier to farm.

The Next Stop: Garamol’s Lair.

I make it a point to periodically take Lynncletica the Tanker out to chat with Garamol to farm for the Icy Raiment outfit, especially now that they are no longer bound at all and have improved Dodge numbers after recent Updates.

The path to Garamol, through the Central area of the Sub, follows the same path to “Hound of Xoriat.” It’s comparatively safer, as well. Your primary enemies are (after avoiding two Living Spells) ancient giant skeletons. There are three opportunities to enter using portals. There’s a special glowing stylized “G” that indicates which of three portals will take you to the cylindrical lair.

The first portal (noted on the DDO Wiki map as “Portal B,”) always goes to the path to the Hound, never to Garamol,  no matter what the “G” shows in the floating glyph there. The next three portals are “Portal C” opportunities where Garamol rests. You hope that the first portal C location, not far from B, shows the “G” for a quick entry. If not, your second opportunity is near the Halls of Lunacy. Standing guard there is a Elder Beholder that you cannot avoid easily. If there’s a G glyph, you can head to your right, off the bridge, down to the ground, defeat several Reavers and Mind Flayers to reach that portal.

If there is no G glyph at the second location of Portal C, you must continue forward, across the bridge, open the door to encounter very aggressive Tieflings and Bearded Devils.

A good stealth artist can open the door and sneak past most of the enemies here to the last portal. The good news is that Garamol’s Lair is always accessible. One of the Portal C locations must be active to reach Garamol. If your first two locations aren’t marked, this portal will send you to Garamol.

Note that Garamol’s portal is green in color. All other portals in the Sub are red in color. When in doubt, activate the portal using the nearby rune.

Fighting Garamol

A good tourist always packs for the trip.

Before you venture into the Sub, bring these items to freshen up, as well as stay alive.

  • Protection from Energy potions or spells, as well as your best healing potions and spells, resistance items, and anything else to avoid trap damage. Once you enter the portal to Garamol, you’ll fall from the top of the cylindrical lair to its bottom. In between are several layers of acid, electrical, fire and force traps. You need to survive these traps before you even hit the ground (alive, anyway). There is no shrine in Garamol’s Lair. (You can find a shrine near the 2nd and 3rd Portal Cs to recharge prior to entry.)
  • Your best undead giant beater. If you got this far, you likely have something that works well against them. Garamol himself is a 20,000 HP red-named giant that (like many other enemies in the Sub) resist banishing or disruption.
Garamol and Lynncletica in negotiations for his loot.

Garamol and Lynncletica. Hospitality isn’t his thing. Thank him by spanking him.

As you fall, look down and orient the throne of Garamol as the “12” on a clock face. You want to land you and your tourist friends on a rock outcropping at 3 o’clock. You do not want to land on the gold or venture much about the lair. To do so spawns additional giant skeletons and ghosts that will make your job harder. These guys don’t disappear when Garamol is slain. If your group of tourists have the moxy to end Garamol and his friends, you can loot the piles of gold there afterward.

You’ll find two chests after dispatching Garamol. One has the chance of giving you the Icys as well as several other unique named weapons.

You can leave the lair by recalling out, or use a rune nearby that activates a portal that will take you elsewhere in the Subterrane. Be sure to take a photo of the area, just to show you lived long enough to do so. Gather your friends around the throne and take a seat and some memorable photos of the halflings doing a jig. Always a hoot, that.

See the Lovely Altars and Fortresses in the Central area

The lesser-known areas require a bit more fortitude for you to reach. You’ll find several opportunities for rare bosses that might casually give you some history of their invasion of Xen’drik as they slay you.

After you thank them for the history lesson by slaying them back, some chests may appear with hopefully useful items. Remember to keep gathering the Planar Shard treasure bags throughout the area.

Again, photos of your trip, or it didn’t happen.

The Vistas of the East area

If you were to backtrack and take the first portal eastward, Portal B, you can see some Shavarath and Xoriat natives milling about, looking for tasty tourists like you. Be sure to greet them back with the ugliest, deadliest weapons you own. This area is generally one-way if you go so far as to unlock the final portal that leads you to a harmless zen beholder that chills near a shrine and the entrance to the “Hound of Xoriat” raid.

Next time on the Insane Tourist: The Underdark.

The Merciless Tempest and the Little Mountain

The moment arrived this week.

To fight the unbeatable foes.

Everything I have learned to-date in designing a Monk to withstand an Epic Elite quest was first tested recently as my guildmates and I entered “Trial by Fury.”

For those not in the know, Dungeons & Dragons Online has difficulty levels for every adventure. When you’re a character of level 20 or higher, you can enter “Epic” difficulty, which breaks down to four levels. Casual (enemies are far weaker than you), Normal (enemies are typically on-par with your level), Hard (enemies are somewhat higher than you) and Elite (enemies are dramatically powerful than you, sometimes twice as powerful). The highest character level you can get at the moment is 25. In Epic Elite, enemies show up often between Level 29 and 45, and boss enemies can be much stronger.

Despite your gear and power, a Level 25 can get swatted dead immediately in “EE” like a Level 1 character in a Level 20 raid without proper preparation.

Lynncletica, as you may know already, has the nickname of “The Little Mountain,” an Grandmaster of Mountain Stancer designed to withstand or avoid damage, to yield as much as a mountain would move against a storm.

While I’ve made some wrong calculations on a few defensive means such as PRR (augment gems are enhancement bonuses, so having more than one PRR gem will not stack with other effects), my other calculations have been spot-on, if not more so.

Thanks to many insightful forum threads on surviving Epic Elite difficulty (this one is among my favorite), Lynn entered her first EE with three most important statistics:

  • 150% fortification. This is the most serious protection that many don’t realize they require.

Back when you leveled up from 1 to 20, you were told by other experienced players to wear Light, Moderate and Heavy Fortification items as soon as you can. When you reached Level 9 and got that Heavy Fortification item, you didn’t think much about what it did for you as long as you had that item property equipped. Fortification protects you from critical hits and sneak attack damage. It’s based roughly on the enemy’s level. So, if you encounter a CR25 enemy and have Heavy Fortification plus a 25% Exceptional Fortification item, great. You’ll avoid 99% of critical hits and sneak attacks. But if you have only 125% versus a CR 40 enemy, you’re in for a very painful and probably fatal surprise. You’ll 140% fortification there.

The challenge for most is that you can’t get Exceptional Fortification items higher than 25% except on a few armors such as the Warforged’s Livewood Core or the light armor Leaves of the Forest. You can also look for the Fabricator’s Gauntlets and Fabricator’s Bracers in House Cannith Manufactury and “Blown to Bits,” and unlock them for a stacking 25% fortification that adds to Exceptional Fortification items. The downside there is having to unequip useful bracers and gloves such as the set item Bracers of the Sun Soul and the heal amplifying Purple Dragon Gauntlets. So, to best add more fortification for melee while keeping your better gear equipped, you’ll likely need to use Epic Destiny abilities to add more fortification.

That means you, the player, have to think outside of the box–that is, to train in more than only one Epic Destiny for needed protections. For Lynncletica and most melees, the easy way to do this is to train up in the Unyielding Sentinel destiny, pick the tier 1 ability “Brace for Impact” and take both ranks. This adds 40% stacking fortification as well as a tidy +2 to your Reflex saves.

But to use Brace for Impact, you need to either (1) keep Unyielding Sentinel as your active destiny or (2)  use the Twists of Fate slots, gain enough fate points to unlock a slot and put this ability inside the slot. In the case of Lynncletica, this allows her to use her completed Grandmaster of Flowers training while having that fortification equipped. (Lynn “cheated” by buying a Tome of Fate +2 to get two slots unlocked, a tier 1 and a tier 2, so that Improved Combat Expertise can also be twisted.)

She wears an Fortifying 10% of Natural Armor +6 necklace to give her at least 150% fortification at all times. If there’s a seriously nasty enemy that’s higher than CR 50, on go the Fabricator’s Set for 175% maximum fortification.

I can’t stress how important it is to get this fortification. It’s why most of us die far too quickly in there.

  • Higher Reflex saves. This helps my Dodge, Evasion, Concealment and Incorporeality effects work. You could have all of these effects maxed out but a low Reflex means that they’ll rarely protect you. I sat on a +40 to all saves, unbuffed. That number gave me enough protection, but 45 or higher would be better.
  • Dodge, Concealment and Incorporeality effects at all times. I lucked out on getting a high-end Ring of Shadows, which has 20% concealment and 10% incorporeality all on one item. As a Light Monk, I can blur myself for a minute at a time, and did so for party members without it. For crunch times, I had crafted a 2-charge Displacement throwing start clicky (50% concealment for 1 min 30 secs) and had the GMoF “Scattering of Petals” 25% emergency Dodge on hand as well to go with my standing 12% Dodge bonus.

In Epic Elite, the best tactic for many is to concentrate on damage avoidance rather than damage absorption, the common tactic for melees using Armor Class numbers and Physical Resistance Rating (PRR).

Lynncletica didn’t go in too shy on those numbers, either, in case any of her avoidance tricks failed. She owned a minimum 100 AC unbuffed and 62 PRR. That PRR was hard to get but, thanks to training up Legendary Dreadnought‘s Improved Combat Expertise for 20 PRR while in Combat Expertise stance, as well as 15 PRR from Ultimate Mountain Stance, 15 PRR from Standing with Stone (GMoF ability) and another 12 PRR from a gem, I absorb 30% damage.

Part of my damage absorption strategy is the Way of the Sun Soul effect in Mountain Stance where a Radiant Forcefield-like bubble protects me from 25% of most damage on a vorpal roll. Strangely, I didn’t see this appear at all during my fight. Either I was silly and didn’t have all my Sun Soul items equipped throughout the run, or there is a glitch in that quest where vorpal rolls didn’t activate that effect.

  • Stunning Fist DC of 50 to 52, using Yugoloth and DDO Store potions as required, especially after the first death that removed ship buffs.

Contrary to my earlier experiences with Syncletica, you really need 50 DC or more to reliably stun. The Grave Wrappings help a lot to increase the chances, provided you can level drain your enemy once or twice to make them more vulnerable to stunning. The level drains were what threw me off, thinking in error that a 36 (which was likely 46 with Stunning +10s on) was enough to pull that off more or less consistently. If I needed, I can twist in Legendary Tactics and not Improved Combat Expertise for +6 to the DC for a 56 to 62, at the expense of PRR absorption.

So how did it go?

I was as durable as I hoped to be. As many players will tell you, death was inevitable. However, not being the first to die, as well as the cause of death was what I was trying to achieve.

I was never slain by critical or sneak attack damage as others in my party. Rather, I was simply overwhelmed by mobs when most others in the party were incapacitated or dead, leaving me the sole target. That’s a good thing, and something I can plan more for later.

Tactics played out well here. On open territory against the hordes of spiders, it was a harder fight for the party. Against other mobs, we fared better. At one point I fell off a ledge and had to run back to the party, which had encountered two enemy Yugoloth mages that nearly wiped the party. Getting back, I had to remember something: Yugoloth are Outsiders. My guild leader, also a Light Monk, snuck in and Jaded each target for a very quick takedown. Problem solved.

The end fight was expectedly challenging, but our party’s veteran players settled into a rhythm and roles we’ve used before. Our bard, no stranger to healing, assisted our Cleric/Monk while myself, the guild leader’s Monk, and a Paladin took turns whomping on Grulemith the Goristro. While spamming Healing Ki as I fought, I had switched to some lightweight crafted +1 Icy Burst handwraps of Vampirism to supplement my HP when I should have used my +5 Vicious handwraps of Vampirism for more damage. Still, the party got the job done and the minotaur-on-steroids took a powder.

Lynncletica and the party survived in far less scruffy condition than in that terrible EE “The Portal Opens” slaughter. I think, on average, there was 4 deaths per party member total in our run.

I have one more EE run this week and hope to get more data to refine Lynncletica’s durability and pass on that information to others. If you haven’t taken a gander at my Monk guide’s chapters on Epic Elite preparation, as well as Armor and PRR and improving your Dodge and related avoidance buffs, you might find it helpful to consider for your toons, Monks or otherwise.