Reimagining the Monk

fallinglynnWhile I don’t think the Monk class as a whole are underpowered (far from it), there are some serious arguments on the Shintao Monk’s future being raised on several threads in the past. The Henshin Mystic is also a peeve to me.

The Shintao represents the traditional form of the Monk: Unarmed combat.

Shintaos keep to a strict use of STR to determine damage from unarmed combat and DEX for the attack rolls. In theory, the higher your STR, the more damage you deal.

The problem for me is, unlike the Ninja Spy tree, there isn’t much versatility in the Shintao or Mystic trees, and that needs fixing.

It’s Not About More Damage

It’s been a bit since Lynncletica was an Epic character, a hardy Shintao Monk that has soloed the Subterrane, and braved the haunted deeps of Thunderholme. She’s on her way now to Epicland and dedicating her training to be a raid tanker.

With the recent healing amplification adjustments, Lynncletica’s already-potent HP recovery with Healing Ki (which would bring back 1/3 of her health at the least) will likely bring back 2/3, not to mention the vampiric boosts to Fists of Light.

But that’s not what a central thread or two on the state of Monks is concentrating on.

To most of the posters, it’s all about damage.

Now, I’ve never had a problem landing powerful hits with Lynn. I clear things just fine. So I pose this argument: Perhaps some people are just too damned impatient and want to clear monsters with a Shintao Monk in the same way that a Barbarian does. That’s not the role of the class.

Monks are the lesser damaging of the melee classes by design. What? You expect to hit as hard with a fist as you would with a sword and very high STR? That’s incredulous. But that doesn’t mean that there may be some…some…lack of damage present on Monks in Epic levels.

This presumes one thing: You’re running a pure Monk. You can’t expect all the damage benefits of a pure Monk to be present in a splashed one. The better core abilities and enhancements appear at these higher levels.

I would tweak the Unarmed Strike feat to boost damage more for every Monk level, including Epic. That’s it. It doesn’t require scary recoding of handwraps as weapons, which could cause far greater game-breaking issues since handwraps have been notoriously unstable to be begin with. Such coding would affect crafted wraps, wraps already looted, and problematic wraps such as metal-laced ones or those with special features such as piercing.

Further, Epic Monks should gain perhaps an additional +5 Melee Power per level. This would require 20 Monk levels to receive. Otherwise you gain the usual Melee Power as all characters do.

I’m deliberately ignoring any points on the Shintao enhancements overall here. So where can the tree stand some re-tweaking to help with general unarmed damage?

What’s a Better Shintao Monk?

An improved Shintao Monk tree shouldn’t overly favor Earth Stance. In fact, it should have toggles to benefit the Shintao while in certain stances. Similar effects come from a specific item revered by Monks: the Jidz-Tet’ka bracers. You also see Monk stance effects augmented by the Grandmaster of Flowers Epic Destiny.

Now, adding stance-based augmentations shouldn’t change the focus of the Shintao’s role. She’s not a berserker like the Barbarian or a pure tanker or front-line fighter as the Paladin. I’d want to see greater adaptation of the tree against all manner of extraplanar, aberration and undead creatures. Moving over the old Tainted ki strikes and improving the levels of unarmed DR bypassing was not enough.

Some might point to the changes we got from the Tier 5 Meditation of War enhancement. From what I’ve read, this enhancement is often the most reviled, and I agree. To me, it’s a double-penalty. You already have less defense in Wind Stance, for instance. Why should Meditation of War magnify this for a poor boost to attack off-hand chance and damage? The DC boosts to tactical feats are laughable in Fire Stance as it lowers defense.

Water Stance is a natural defensive stance but Meditation of War drops damage by 10%. No wonder we never use this enhancement unless in Earth Stance, where you gain more PRR at the price of lower Dodge. It’s the lesser of many evils.

The Empty Hand Mastery enhancement should go from 1d6 to 1d10, instead of 1d8.

I would improve Touch the Void Dragon to add more STR boosts in addition to general ability scores.

The To Seek Perfection  core ability should give +4 WIS and +4 STR.

And, as there’s no Monk that has mastery of kamas, the Shintao should add an option to perfect damage with kamas.

See a pattern?

Shintao Monks determine damage by STR. WIS is needed for the Stunning DCs, sure, but because of the Monk’s need to have many ability scores somewhat balanced, we’ve never been able as players to give STR as great an emphasis as Fighters and Barbarians can do. This (and other adjustments) should reflect greater STR or Melee Power boosts to a revised Shintao tree in Heroic and Epic levels.

So, that’s it. I’d rather tweak enhancements and feats to significantly improve the Shintao’s overall damage rather than have recoding break not only the handwraps but the role of Shintaos themselves. The mechanics of the Monk are fine. To avoid breaking the game, simply tweak up the Monk granted Unarmed Strike feats and enhancements noted.

Defensively, the tree is fine. Epic Shintaos should be entering Epic Elite with no less than 150% Fortification; 200% would be optimal. Their unarmed strikes should be at 80-120 base damage per hit. Since they strike faster, this adds up quick and should offset the slower kill rate a bit over other melee classes that strike far harder.

Updating the Mystic

I loved the Henshin Mystic when it first arrived. The damage it can do with quarterstaves is extremely nasty, especially with criticals–more than the Shintao but a bit less than my Zen Archer build.

However, the Mystic lacks two critical points that must be addressed: Attack speed and defense.

I would suggest +3 untyped PRR per core enhancement, with a +10 PRR bonus by the last core. Perhaps as well, a +2 AC bonus per core. I wouldn’t also be against a new finishing move or enhancement for the tree that gives temporary Dodge or Ghostly.

Most importantly, the Mystic tree needs the same attack speed as the Thief-Acrobat, although they might reach that speed more slowly than the Acrobat. Most players tend to multiclass in Rogue just to get the Mystic’s speed up. That shouldn’t be necessary. The speed types should be anti-prerequisites as well, naturally.

One More Thing

Put back a simple Void Strike feat attack back in the game, already, for the love of God.

Ever since the initial enhancement tree introduction, no other Monk except the Mystic can use the Void Strike–and that required a ridiculous tier 5 enhancement. This completely broke the Moment of Clarity and Curse of the Void finishers, which require a Void attack.

Just make it a feat so that any class can add in a 1 to 6 damage attack that also reactivates those finishers when they are eligible in the normal leveling.

I hope the developers do not consider changing handwraps to weapons. This can be a disastrous decision because the coding for all types, including crafted ones, will kill the class until functionality is restored. I’m normally not particularly one to go “d00m!!1” about things, but I’ve been around the game long enough to see how even the slightest change in handwraps often screw up things in a very bad way.

Handwrap code is stable. Just boost the features of feats and update a few key enhancements in the Shintao and Mystic trees for versatility, speed, and defense.

Touch the Ninja Spy tree and I will be unhappy. It’s perfect as it is.

No Mercy to the Helpless

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As mentioned last post, I’ve turned my attention from Pynthetica, capped at 30 and participating in many a Legendary or Epic Elite raid for the best gear, and started work on my second unique build, Ryncletica, the poison-master.

While I’m so totally enjoying the power of poison damage that Ryn magnifies, especially with the new Venomous prefixes, I’m appreciating now why some people have steered away from shortsword builds, weapons with only 1d6 base damage compared to other swords. That attitude might have changed with weapons such as Thunder-Forged swords.

But ultimately they aren’t ninjas. We Ninja Spies also get sizeable critical threat, damage and Vorpal bonuses to these weapons as the character grows in power at level 20.

Like Pynthetica, I held Ryn’s level at 25 while I completed a destiny to get a useful Epic Destiny feat at level 26, other than Toughness. That was Perfect Two Weapon Fighting, to get 5% untyped Doublestrike with some offhand Doublestrike, too.

To get that feat, I needed one trained Primal epic destiny. I’ve been training Shiradi Champion off and on, but that got familiar too quickly. Ryn is a Drow, so she’s able to train as a “light” Shuricannon like her sister Szyncletica. Ryn gains all the vorpal and critical threat range or threat bonuses for using stars, missing only the available Ranged and throwing-related feats but has Shuriken Expertise as a granted feat and Ten Thousand Stars. Most importantly, Ryn is a melee fighter and I’ve played enough ranged characters of late.

So I picked the Fury of the Wild destiny. This was the first time I’ve tried it on any character, but I’ve heard quite a lot about it. It’s commonly the central destiny used by the typical “monkcher” hyper-DPS builds, leveraging Adrenaline to dramatically generate high burst DPS when Manyshot and  Ten Thousand Stars are leveraged.

But Ryn is using the destiny as it was designed, as a melee-based destiny. I’ve not had a lot of use of Adrenaline, mostly because its Rage effects intended for the destiny’s audience, the Barbarian, aren’t as nice to Monks because it lowers some stats that benefit the unarmored Monk.

But one ability caught my eye, one I’ve heard others mention. That’s Sense Weakness. This tier 4 ability can give, with all 3 ranks, 30% additional damage to Helpless enemies with cumulative weapon damage bonuses based on the enemy’s current HP.

But the discerning ninja in the audience knows that the Ninja Spy has a similar enhancement: No Mercy. It also gives up to 30% more damage to the Helpless.

So, your question is: Does No Mercy and Sense Weakness stack in damage?

My preliminary tests suggest, yes. Yes, it does. While my math is certainly off because of extra benefits of the destiny, that’s at least a 60% boost in damage any time something is made Helpless.

Ninja Spy has one way to easily make many enemies, even Orange names, quite Helpless. I’ve mentioned it before: Freezing the Lifeblood, which gives a special minute-long paralysis that gives me plenty of time to chop something to tiny bits. Far more effective than Stunning Fist at Epic play, Freezing only requires me to get a high WIS to improve the modifier. Hardly a problem. It’s most effective against trash but occasionally I’ll get an Orange-named with low Fortitude, like Maribeth, a human cultist mini-boss in “The Lords of Dust.”

I’ll post a video that shows how terribly powerful this merciless combo can be on another day. It’s so potent that I’ll be focusing training more destinies so I can add this as a Tier 4 Twisted option. I’ll likely prefer Grandmaster of Flowers as her raid destiny once at level 30 as there are more options in that destiny alone to weaponize all the ki that Ryn builds up, saving a lot of Twist slots of abilities found there.

For now, she’s moved on to train Primal Avatar to gain more fate points and versatility. I’m familiar enough with this destiny with Zen Archers but this the first time I’ve used it as a melee character. It’s showing some promise as it supports bonuses to Two Weapon Fighting. One tier 3 ability that was really helpful in my first “Caught in the Web” run was the fully-ranked Balanced Attacks, which knocks down enemies on a vorpal and causes Helpless. That’s certainly another Twist candidate.

Now comes the annual Risia Winter Games. When I was fresh to the game, it was a fun event and was where I began to appreciate more how Monks are a special class. In short, I could farm the hell out of the place for purple coins faster than anything.

And those coins offer chances to make many “Icy Burst kits”–three recipes with enough Motes of Winter to add Icy Burst damage to the Venomous shortswords and kamas I find. This is logical enough because most things I can poison will also suffer from Cold damage. If I can find Venomous shortswords with Red Augment slots–so much the better.

Ryn farmed about 48 Purple coins in an hour and frosted up several of the her speciality poison weapons nicely.

Now to work on her hit points: Now at level 27 with Blinding Speed and Perfect Two Weapon Fighting, Ryn’s DPS is excellent but she needs to be able to survive more than one catastrophic hit despite 241% fortification. A rust monster in my first run of Legendary Tempest’s Spine one-shotted me–but we were in on Hard difficulty and I was 5 levels lower.

Despite owning similar miss-chance effects found on other ninjas in my dojo, Ryn’s melee fighting status makes her far more vulnerable to damage than I’d like. I can adapt by watching my enemies and situations far more carefully, use stick-and-move tactics, and of course, letting others in party charge ahead first. I specialize in trash removal, as do many melee Monks.

With that first Legendary TS raid complete, a very kind guildmate passed to me what seems to be the best cloth armor in the game for use at level 29: Outfit of the Celestial Guardian. That armor has so much in it that I’m having the pleasant problem of what gear to swap out because of that armor’s many benefits. Until then, I’m wearing a Shadowscale Outfit that fits like a catsuit and isn’t bad at all for protection. Perhaps a +5 Charisma tome is in order. I’ve been revisiting an old friend: the finisher Shining Star, which doesn’t cause Helplessness but its dance-off to the death certainly is beneficial.

I have to play her more and more in melee combat-intensive quests like the Batman or 007, at least in terms of preparedness, creativity and resources. I’ve been best so far in ranged-type combat with Szyncletica and Pynthetica. It’s Ryn that is my first melee character to confront the greatest nastiness of the Legendary realm.

Zen Eternal

ScreenShot01776I’ve played little else than Pynthetica lately. She’s my second oldest character, a human Ranger AA gone all Elven Monk, now aiding me in perfecting my Zen Archer build beyond what Mericletica began on the Cannith server.

I’ve purposefully halted any level ups at 25 for a time to get Pyn more abilities she never received in your first two lives. As a human Ranger she sat at level 20 for months before Update 17 and the Menace of the Underdark expansion. I tinkered with her a little bit but then left her alone again for months. When the enhancement pass came around, I finally had an idea for her and TR’ed her into the first concept of the Zen Archer. It didn’t go very well as her ranged damage bit and I TR’d her again by level 22.

In neither first or second life did I give Pyn enough playtime to build up any Epic Destiny. So, now, I don’t want her to slack again in her third life. I want to give her all the things.

That starts with level 26, the first Epic Destiny feat. Often on all characters I just take Toughness, which requires no completed sphere. Nay, nay! to that, this time, not for the neglected Pynthetica. I’m simply building all the destinies, not just for choosing something other than Toughness, but to gain more Fate points to improve her lot as she moves forward. I finally wised up and did this with Mericletica and then began destiny build-ups to many others. It’s clear I had a fear with that.

But I wanted to take things a step or ten farther, especially with level 30 now available.

  • Train one Divine sphere destiny before taking level 26. That was building up Unyielding Sentinel after completing Shiradi Champion, Grandmaster of Flowers, and Primal Avatar. That unlocked the level 26 Epic Destiny feats Guardian Angel and Holy Strike. Guardian Angel gives PRR equal to your WIS for 30 seconds if your HP<=50%. Holy Strike adds Ghost Touch and 10d6 untyped damage to Evil. I picked Holy Strike.
  • Take Blinding Speed at level 27 for permanent Haste. It requires no prerequisites. Now my Ranged attack speed is 22%. It could still be improved with Gilvaenor’s Ring and Gilvaenor’s Necklace, which, combined, add a stacking 10% Competence bonus to ranged alacrity for a grand total of 32% ranged alacrity. I’ll have to convince a lot of people to run “Tower of Despair” in order to get that ring, and several runs through “Genesis Point” to find that necklace.
  • Complete 2 Primal destinies before level 28. That’s for the 10% additional Doubleshot feat, of course. That’s completed.
  • Complete Shadowdancer, Legendary Dreadnought and all remaining Divine destinies before level 29. These three capped Martial destinies and three Divine destinies (with several more Fate points as a side benefit) open the level 29 Epic Destiny feat Embodiment of Law for 10 Bane damage to all enemies and 20 Law damage against Chaotic enemies. It’s a lot of grinding, but where am I going?
  • Choose a level 30 Legendary Feat.
  • Complete Fury of the Wild to have maximum karma in the Primal Sphere.
    • That’s right–as a reward for being neglected for so long, Pynthetica gets to be my first Epic True Reincarnation. I want the Primal Sphere’s Epic Past Life feat 3% bonus to Doubleshot, and will return as a Zen Archer again and again.

Since the initial announcement, some things have changed about Legendary Feats. So Scion of the Ethereal Plane is less attractive as a result, so now I’m looking to others.

Not sure of the simple buffs of Scion of Arborea are as good: +20 Ranged Power, +2 to Enhancement Bonus of the bow. I leaned then to Scion of Limbo. There are eight buffs that pop on for 1 minute and cycle randomly, but most of them very useful. 40 Ranged Power, or 16% Doubleshot, 30 PRR, 20% Dodge and 40 to Healing Amplification, 1d20 Chaos damage, and so on.

But it’s Scion of the Astral Plane that won my internal debate. It adds 4% Doubleshot plus another 4% while Centered (woot!) as well as 4% Dodge and 4 to the Dodge cap. That brings the dodge cap benefits from being a Ninja Spy (the Zen Archer’s secondary enhancements) up from a 30% cap to a 34% Dodge.

So my miss-chance numbers go up: 34% Dodge, 25% Incorporeality, 20% Concealment. I’d love to invite the crazies in our meta-guild into an Epic Elite “Prison of the Planes” to get a shot at a level 25 Ring of Shadows with Lesser Displacement at 25% Concealment. And I’ve still got 3 Displacement dragonmarks, each lasting about 5 minutes thanks to a Harper Agent enhancement. A Pendant of Quiet Movements or certainly the Token of the Proven might require less deaths to obtain. I’d prefer the trinket as I have little else to add there now, rather than sacrifice my Epic Golden Guile. These stacking Improved Deception effects really slow down charging enemies.

With 20% Doubleshot (3% Elf, 2% Guild Buff, 5% from the Dynamistic Quiver, and 10% Doubleshot Epic Destiny Feat), this final feat would give me 28% Doubleshot. I just scored the 8% Epic Dynamistic Quiver to give me 23% Doubleshot at level 28. With that last destiny this goes to the highest I can make without Epic Past Life feats or special temporary buffs: 31% standing Doubleshot. That’s not bad at all for a pure elven Monk with mixed enhancements. Szyncletica the Shroud-soloing Shuricannon hasn’t any appreciable Doubleshot.

Also, level 29 and 30 give additional Fate points and a fourth slot, making it easy to add things like Otto’s Whistler or Grim Precision to a build that needs every advantage to survive Legendary Tempest’s Spine and Shroud. Our guild is stoked on trying these very soon.

Shadowdancer or Grandmaster of Flowers will be my raid destiny for maximum defense or offense, respectively. Both give decent damage. It’s Grandmaster’s font of high passive ki regeneration, offensive ki attacks, Everything is Nothing, and boosts to weapon base damage that will allow me to use Ten Thousand Stars almost continually every 30 seconds and ward off the largest mobs. It’s Shadowdancer’s higher Ranged Power, extra fortification bypass with Grim Precision, boosts to fill in my Dodge cap to maximum and continuous 25% incorporeality in Shadow Form that helps in raids where there are proportionally fewer but tougher enemies (such as the devils and portals in the Shroud).

Extra Credit: Upgrade my Thunder-Forged Longbow, and build a Legendary Bow worthy of a Zen Archer.

I have no idea what kind of bow to build for Legendary Shroud.

Update 29: The New Hotness

Level 30: Our powers are over 10,000!!!1!

Level 30: Our powers are over 10,000!!!1!

So the devs dropped by the forums to note their plans to bring level 30 to our worlds.

If you haven’t caught it, start with this thread from Vargouille.

They “flattened” the XP curve to not make it horrifically hard to get there. But at levels 29 and 30, you get bonuses such as extra Fate points (that stack with everything you’ve earned, including Epic Completionist and Fate tomes) and that 4th Fate slot you can only get with Epic Completionist (not sure if that means E-Cers get 5 slots total)

Then there are new feats. At level 29 you get a new Epic Destiny Feat slot, which require 3 capped destinies but also give you a series of new feat types. These can be found here.

Of these, a few caught my eye:

  • Dreamscape (2 Primal+ 1 Arcane)
    Activate to pop off to the land of dreams. You are invulnerable and invisible for five seconds, then return with a random 30-second buff. 1 minute cooldown.
  • Harbinger of Chaos (1 Primal+2 Martial)
    With weapon and unarmed attacks, deal 1d20 Bane damage against all targets and an additional 2d20 Chaos damage against Lawful targets. This scales with Melee or Ranged power depending on your weapons.

These aren’t bad at all for Monks and adaptable to my Zen bow builds, too.

By level 30, you get a Heroic feat slot–a welcome bonus as often builds have to sacrifice that one feat at level 18 you can attain now. And there’s a new set of feats called Legendary Feats, listed here.

Legendary Feats require you to have 3 Epic Destinies of the same or a combination of two destinies plus one from another. These are far more exciting. Of interest to me are:

  • Scion of the Ethereal Plane
    Permanent Blur, and while sneaking, permanent Displacement.
    +1 point of Sneak Attack damage for every 2 points of Hide you have
    +2 to all Skills
    Permanent Invisibility Guard, as per the item effect
  • Scion of the Astral Plane
    +4 to Tactical Feat DCs
    +4% Doublestrike & Doubleshot. An additional +4 if you are centered.
    +4% Dodge.
    +4 to Reflex Saves.
  • Scion of Limbo
    +2 Determination Bonus to all Saves
    eight buffs, each one minute long. Cycles randomly.
    +40 Melee and Ranged power, +80 Spell Power
    +16% Doublestrike & Doubleshot, +20% Spell Crit Damage
    +30 PRR and MRR
    +20% Dodge and +40 Healing Amp
    +20 DR /Law
    Your weapon/unarmed strikes and spells deal 1d20 Chaos Damage
    Each time you would be damaged, you have a +5% chance to completely ignore the damage. Does not affect any incoming Positive, Negative, or Repair effects.
    Confetti explodes around your shoulders. Festive!

I’m so interested in the Scion of the Ethereal Plane feat. The devs like stealth! They really, really do!

There are updated feats for lower level Epic characters, too. I’m still unsure what, if any, of these are directly applicable to any kind of Monk at the moment.

And cheers to the PRR and MRR bonuses for Epic hirelings. Combined with Harper Agent and Primal Avatar builds, you could make a strong tanker out of some hirelings–provided they don’t wander off or lose focus on the fight.

Knowing how swiftly we got the Doubleshot changes from Update 28, I suspect these ideas will be our Christmas present under the update tree, all before the end of the year.

What’cha think about them? I’m interested mostly on monastic applications, as is the focus of this blog, so fire away.

The Case for Fortification…and More

The shield: A symbol of fortification. Your type is different, or not.

The shield: A symbol of fortification. Your type is different, or not.

Was watching the latest video tutorial from Axel, where he’s discussing how to increase your character’s survivability. As his character plows through Epic Elite “Lords of Dust,” starting with Merideth, he notes, with emphasis, that he’s not going to discuss several topics: saves (which are “class-dependent”), AC (believing that super-high AC isn’t possible) and Evasion (which, he says, is outmoded by heavy armor, which seems contradictory to having AC).

I smile at his informative talk as he lets his Ranger/Monk/Cleric loose. I know he’s this specific multiclass because he has a yellow bar (ki: Two Monk levels for Evasion), a Ranger class symbol, and is able to purify the altars in that quest, which requires Divine levels.

Axel has great information for melee characters and it’s definitely recommended. But that video wasn’t for me. My Epic Elite experience with evasive classes (Monk, Rogue) is different. And, in the time I had available to watch what I could of the video, Axel didn’t mention one key protection needed for everyone.

I learned, not long after a trip into “The Portal Opens” with Syncletica with the then-new Menace of the Underdark expansion, that Death will come on swift heels to those who lack in Epic protection.

That specific protection is fortification.

In Heroic levels, experienced adventurers often help discouraged neophytes among us after they’re killed with only one or two hits by a monster. Our first question to help is, “What’s your fortification?”

The reply from that adventurer is often, “What?” or “I don’t know.”

For Monks, fortification is critical since we are often front-line or solo fighting.

I suspect that a few of us get confused as to when and what we need in fortification, where we can get it, and why it’s so dang important.

Don’t Die on the First Hit

Fortification, saith the wiki, reduces the chance for your character to suffer additional damage calculated as a critical hit or a sneak attack. Fortification doesn’t stop normal physical damage and is worthless against spell casters.

It’s generally easier now than prior to Update 19 to find fortification resources for any level. Before then, you had to look for items with suffixes of “Light,” “Moderate” and ‘Heavy” fortification. Let’s break down the minimum you should have by character level first.

  • Fortification 25%: The current name of what was once “Light” fortification. Almost all named items for this have no minimum level to use it. There are 10 named items that have this property. However, since Update 19, many loot-generated items (boots, belts and gloves) have the Fortified prefix with fortification levels between 20% to 40% that are still usable by adventurers between level 1 and 5.
  • Fortification 75%: The current name to what was “Moderate” fortification. There are 18 named items with this property. Again, there will be more loot-gen items with the Fortified prefix that should service characters between levels 6-11 with percentages between 40 to 80%.
  • Fortification 100%: Also called “Heavy” fortification. Every character should be wearing this amount by level 12, if not as soon as level 9. By this time, monsters will have a much easier time heavily damaging characters, especially foes that can make Sneak Attacks. Many, many named items exist, including the venerable Minos Legens. My personal favorite, the Nightforge Gorget, since that’s an easily-crafted level 9 item from “A Relic of a Sovereign Past”, with a Yellow augment slot suitable for a Deathblock gem (a topic of protection for another post).

Now, you can also find Heroic items with greater than 100% fortification now, too, which are very helpful in the highest-level Heroic Elite difficulties where monsters will have Epic levels (Challenge Rating 20 and above) while you’re still at character level 18.

But I might not have impressed on you sufficiently as to the importance of fortification, so let me back up some more.

How Critical Hits Work

While critical hits determine extra damage by player characters to enemies when your weapon attack roll is around 19 or 20 and a confirmation roll is also made, the same goes for enemy attacks at your character.

Fortification, again, reduces the chance that you’ll take additional damage as a critical hit or sneak attack despite the enemy’s attack roll.

The easy way to calculate what chances your character will take it to the face is to look at the Challenge Rating (CR) of your enemy by selecting it and using your Examine selection in your focus window. I’ll use the wiki’s examples.

Say you have 50% fortification against a kobold with a CR of 1. That monster has a 51% chance to hit you with a critical hit.

A CR 20 monster hitting a 100% fortified character has a 20% chance at a critical hit. So having the standard maximum fortification in Heroic levels isn’t enough to avoid a nasty slash in higher-difficulty content. Any quests over level 18 will sting on Elite for sure. This doesn’t take into consideration how boss enemies work, or Monster Champions, which now keep even experienced adventurers on their toes because these randomly-found enemies often possess higher CRs and have special buffs that may increase their chances of wailing on you without mercy.

A CR 54 enemy striking a character with 150% fortification has only a 4% chance of scoring that critical hit.

See the pattern?

Epic Fortification

I once joined a guild run into Epic Elite “Devil Assault.” All of us were level 22 or better. We died with ease as CR 44 trash decided it was time to take us out to the curb, rapidly.

The common factor in that total-party-kill was that few of us, if any, had more than 125% fortification. As the last example showed, that’s not enough against any monster of CR 25 or better, especially ones that often flanked us and got sneak attacks. We needed at least 140% fortification to have a 4% chance not to carry home our own entrails back in our arms.

Anyone that’s gone toe-to-toe with the Epic Elite end-boss of “The Lords of Dust,” Karas, will get a harsh lesson in why epic fortification is so critical. His Sneak Attack damage will end you immediately.

So, I make a habit to get any Epic character of mine ready to handle the worst of the worst as best as possible. I recommend at least 150% fortification if you’re going toe-to-toe in any Epic Elite–more if you’ve got it.

Thankfully, getting this isn’t hard at all, keeping in mind some rules.

  1. Standard fortification, an Enhancement bonus, does not stack with other Enhancement bonuses. Only the highest percentage applies. Epic Fortified loot-generated items go up to 125%.
  2. Special fortification types can stack, depending on the bonus descriptions.

So, an item with the Fortified prefix, as with any item that says a percentage of “fortification” are standard levels. None of these stack.

I know Axel’s character has to have at least 150% fortification to survive. Even with very high HP, you take just a couple of critical hits in EE and you’re done.

Special Fortification

But there are items and effects with Exceptional and untyped Fortification levels. Unless the percentages found on these items are the same number, they will stack with each other and standard fortification.

  • Fabricator’s Bracers and Fabricator’s Gauntlets: Once their Nearly Finished property is unlocked, these together provide 25% untyped stacking fortification to any character. The downside is that you must equip both items at the same time, screwing with your Epic equipment feng shui.
  • Exceptional Fortification items and properties: Some loot-generated items will give stacking fortification, up to 25% more, often having the Fortifying prefix (that’s different than Fortified). These fortification bonus is an Insight bonus and stacks with the Enhancement bonus of standard fortification. However, only the highest Insight bonus item applies. Named items such as the Leaves of the Forest medium armor and the Greater Stalwart Trinket share this property.
  • Some enhancement trees and one Epic Destiny provide untyped fortification that stacks with everything.
    • The Sacred Defender tree for Paladins give 2% fortification for each trained core ability.
    • The Paladin-typed Unyielding Sentinel epic destiny has the ability Brace for Impact, a tier 1 ability that any character can train and Twist for 4 destiny points to give a 40% stacking fortification bonus. Alone with a 100% fortification item or effect, many players may have sufficient protection for anything, including a few lighter Epic Elite fights.
  • High level guild airships with the Armory amenity can get up to 15% additional stacking fortification, improved by the Proving Ground state room amenity.

In Practice

My Zen Archer build is meant to stay put, like a turret, firing on anything. Without fortification, that’s certain death when melees are able to close in on me.

Someone left a very low priced Fortifying Helm (note the word difference) on the Auction House in Cannith one day, with 25% stacking Insight bonus to fortification. Yay, me!

I’ve wrapped up training Unyielding Sentinel with my archer to get that tier 1 Twistable ability. I have 190% fortification available, with no less than 125% at any time in her first Epic life. Once I let go of the Nightforge Gorget and wear a 115 to 125% item as I move into level 27-28 gear, I’ll  have over 200%, more than enough fortification for Epic Elite.

Sauce for the Goose

Thankfully, most monsters lack any fortification, making our player character’s critical hits that more damaging.

But a few enemies are fortified against us, reducing our weapon effectiveness. That’s why you can’t sneak attack a skeleton and some constructs and bosses.

But you can train abilities or find items that offer fortification bypassing or reduction. In the case of bypassing, your weapon or attack ignores a certain level of enemy fortification for yourself only. In the case of reduction, it universally lowers the fortification, allowing others in your party to cash in.

Most of these effects stack unless they’re classified as a similar type of bypass or reduction.

  • Precision is a combat feat that allows you to ignore 25% fortification and gain 5% to your to-hit with no penalties.
  • Armor-piercing bypass properties come on items such as the Black Dragonscale Robe, as well as some weapons.
  • Rogues get Opportunist, a feat that also bypasses 10% fortification.
  • The Trapsmith’s Workshop guild ship amenity gives a 5% bypass.
  • Rogue Assassins have Assassin’s Trick for 25% reduction.
  • The Destruction and Improved Destruction property found on weapons is a stacking reduction effect.
  • Improved Sunder, a melee strike, reduces fortification.
  • The Dark Monk’s finishing move, Touch of Despair (Dark/Dark/Dark) reduces fortification by 25%.
  • The Favored Soul’s Shield of Condemnation core ability in Angel of Vengeance can reduce fortification by up to 50%.
  • Weapons with Weaken Construct or Weaken Undead reduce fortification.
  • The Artificer’s and Rogue Mechanic’s Wrack Construct can reduce fortification by as much as 50%.
  • Insult, a Fury of the Wild ability, reduces by 10%. (Be careful of the tier 1 ability, Tunnel Vision, which, while you’re raged, reduces the player’s fortification by 10%.)
  • Piercing Clarity, a Grandmaster of Flowers ability, bypasses up to 10%.

Teacher Firewall’s Shuricannon 2.0 build, from which I draw much inspiration in solidifying the Zen Archer, shows that he can generate a 95% armor-piercing rating with a lot of gear and upgrades that I’ll likely not see. I’ll be happy to have 50%.

For Mericletica the now-Epic Zen Archer, I have Precision with Piercing Clarity for 35% fortification bypass. If she can get a Flawless Black Dragonscale Robe, that can increase by 15% or 20% to get 50 to 55%. In the highly unlikely event I can upgrade to a Tier 2 Thunder-Forged Longbow, the “Dragon’s Edge” upgrade offers 35% Armor-piercing, which is what Firewall crafts in his Thunder-Forged Shuriken.

Note that armor-piercing is a typed effect and usually doesn’t stack with itself, only the highest bonus applies.

The Other Protections

Axel’s information deals with the player type that (1) is generally a melee fighter, which will take a walloping in EE, (2) has time to get the best gear, and (3) multiclasses to get the best of everything. I’m betting, too, that his playstyle is totally different than my own, as the video shows (his style is scream-and-leap melee). Based on the video, he clearly knows his stuff for armored fighting.

My focus is generally on Monks, so what he ignores in this video are actually key to the defense of the EE Monk.

Axel is very right on never focusing on only one area of defense. You need to dabble in as much as possible. But what you can or should dabble depends on your class, and not everyone is going to dabble in several classes to start.

I’ve discussed these Monk defenses in different posts and in the Monk guide at length, but let me summarize what protections are important for the EE Monk aside from fortification.

  • Saves: Saves are the ultimate armor for a Monk. While saves may not be relevant to Axel or other classes save a Paladin, saves determine how likely Monks are going to be hurt or overcome by some types of damage or spells. It’s hard to build a Monk with poor saves: they won’t live through Heroic if you do manage to build a poor one.
  • Spell Resistance: This high passive defense blocks so many spell attacks but few talk about it because the Monk gains this benefit automatically. Few others get this ability, even in Epic play. Monks generally get 30 spell resistance at level 20. If you are Drow, you get this defense earlier, and Grandmaster of Flowers allows a stacking bonus. You can’t get Spell Resistance any other way except from a Cleric/Favored Soul spell.
  • Improved Evasion: It was paradoxical to me that Axel said that Evasion wasn’t necessary for EE play when his character in that video showed a yellow bar, suggesting 2 Monk levels, a common way to get Evasion. Evasion avoids damaging spells and certain trap damage. Since spell casters abound in EE play, Evasion is the old-school way to avoid that problem. Today, heavy armor folks can reduce this damage with Magical Resistance Rating (MRR), which can’t apply with no-armor types. Firewall notes that Improved Evasion is equivalent to 100 MRR, and my gameplay confirms this. Spell Resistance, combined, make Monks very magic-resistant. We can stand in a sea of fire elementals and never get hit by a fireball.
  • Miss-chance: High Dodge, Incorporeality and Concealment are key in many a Monk’s survival, and we can boost these numbers unlike any other class. My Zen Archer relies on maximizing these effects and sustaining them longer than many other classes. Axel discounts them in this one video because of their problems in activating them or their general effectiveness. Since I can get 25% Incorporeal, 20% Concealment and 30% Dodge, I’m far more effective than 10% Ghostly and Blur alone.
  • AC: While AC is less effective at higher difficulties, it’s not ignored. It’s simply one helpful passive defense. Mericletica sits around 84 in Earth Stance, which isn’t bad at all for a non-melee character, which helps a little in mitigation against trash at least.
  • PRR: Physical Resistance Rating’s recent tinkering by the devs makes a little PRR go a longer way. Getting 25 PRR means 20% of any damage is absorbed. PPR helps my Monks when all other defenses are compromised. Combine that with other defenses and life is that more survivable should a hit get through. I’ll want to add a PRR augment gem to get this a little higher.
  • Special gear: I love the Way of the Sun Soul set and how it provides a Radiant Forcefield type effect on you (in Earth Stance) with a critical hit confirmation, reducing damage by 25%. Combined with other damage avoidance and mitigation, this helps the Zen Archer hold her position to boost her damage.

Definitely take the great work that Axel provides and use it, but note that Monks are special and some information there might not apply. Don’t know if Axel does Monks, but based on his smooth video series, I’m sure he has a clue about them.

Glass Cannons

Suki2Spent a bit of time this weekend giving some love to my freshly-Epic Rogue Assassin, Sukitetica.

I’ve spoken a bit on my take on their general performance in comparison to Ninja Spies. I should sum up these points.

  • Assassin Sneak Attack damage is incredible.
  • Single Weapon Fighting’s speed with Sneak Attack damage is insanely powerful.
  • UMD turns any Rogue into Batman–or, at least, Batman’s utility belt. From Raising Dead, to Heals, to defeating traps and opening doors, emergency buffs–they can do it all.
  • Assassinate is still damned fun.

That said, the epic Sukitetica got herself killed a few times, which leads me to add one point.

  • Assassins can’t take damage worth a damn. Or, at least, mine doesn’t.

That’s not really news. However,  I feel that you have to be able to absorb some level of damage during crunch times. I ran with a great party on the Sschindylryn quests; always a personal favorite. We nailed “House of Rusted Blades,” clearing out everything while one person tanked the Blademaster boss perfectly for several minutes alone. Paladin.

In “House of Broken Chains,” the results were similar. I used my UMD to disable enough of the slave collars, although I learned fast that UMD’s roll is far less reliable than Concentration with a Monk. A few slaves died. But we got the rescue bonus and even took down a horde of spiders, clearing out the place.

But “House of Death Undone” took a little more party finesse since the place is full of enemies and enemies-turned-zombies. This House has a great medical plan: Life and Unlife Insurance. I wondered about their dental plan.

We took out the matron mothers in each House. House Avithoul was kind enough to present me with a Seal of House Avithoul for my trouble, a perfect ring that just made my DPS shoot up substantially.

I’m still stuck on what the Epic Rogue should be wearing, aside from that welcome ring. There’s no Commendations path I’m aware of that supports the Rogue. So, I guess the Rogue has to mish-mash items from various patrons based on the character’s need.

Looks like the Druids of the Kings Forest commendation rewards have the greatest general appeal. It provides great Hide/Move Silently bonuses, and offers Sneak Attack damage bonuses with all three set items.

Experience with Artemistika also reminds me that getting enough of these particular commendations are a pain in the butt. I’ll spend more time trading three commendations from more readily dropping patronages to generate what I need for the druids.

As for weapons, I’m still in great shape. The Sacrificial Dagger is simply a murder weapon in the hands of an Assassin against anything not a zombie. I used that weapon from the moment I could wield it, only swapping it out with a disruptor when I had a need. It’s got negative-leveling on a critical hit, and I do that a lot.

But back to Suki’s defenses. They suck. Her AC is laughable. Her miss-chance skills (20% Concealment, 0% Incorporeal, 18% Dodge) isn’t great. Without the Insightful Reflexes feat to use the INT modifier for Reflex saves and not DEX, Suki’s average DEX isn’t enough to ward off a high-level trap. Shadowdancer’s Dodge powers will work only if I’ve trained more Dodge and raise her maximum dexterity bonus (which I hadn’t). If she’s detected, she has few backups she can kick on to escape, like the Ninja Spy’s Flash Bang.

Her fortification must go to 150% to survive EE attempts. I watched her 56 DC to Assassinate work 90% of the time, but that 10% worries me. And she needs more to her rogueish skills to find and disable traps and open doors. I couldn’t pull off opening the locked door to the boss of “Death Undone.” It took a wizard in the party to beat it.

So Suki has a lot to fix. Lots of gear. Lots of Epic Destinies to train.

It’s going to be fun.

On Cannith, Suki’s counterpart, Gadgetetica, has been pretty vigilant until I realized that I didn’t train her Single Weapon Fighting on her. Big whoops. I ended up using my free Lesser Heart of Wood to Lesser Reincarnate her. Wasn’t a bad idea since this allowed me to reassign more AP into the Assassin tree to get that much closer to being ready to assassinate on schedule at level 12.

I haven’t spoken much about Shintao Monks lately. I’ll need to do so soon.