Zen Balance

ScreenShot01734

I’ve been amiss in getting updates to the Zen Archer build as I finalized its Epic settings. As I might have mentioned before, it turned out to be an easy build to level up destinies while in off-destiny, once I was able to get three Fate slots opened to have Pin, A Dance of Flowers (GMoF weapon damage) and the ever-popular Rejuvenation Cocoon available no matter what destiny was in use.

I took a bit more time to train through Legendary Dreadnought, Unyielding Sentinel and Divine Crusader to get the necessary points for a tier 2 slot 2 upgrade and a tier 3 slot 1 upgrade. This allows the use of Grim Precision for extra fortification bypassing against portal gateways.

You might see where I’m going with this.

ScreenShot01738

I hope to take Mericletica, the first complete Epic Zen Archer (save a few pieces of gear in the new Update 27 quests and “Haunted Halls”) into a solo Shroud run, emulating her sister, Szyncletica.

With Meri’s slower shot speed, despite her higher weapon damage and critical hits, I needed the best fortification bypass I could generate. Here’s what she’ll have going into such a run, with Grandmaster of Flowers as the active destiny.

  • Precision: 25%
  • Grim Precision: 15%
  • Piercing Clarity: 10%
  • Trapsmith’s Workshop ship buff: 5%
  • Black Dragonscale Robe’s Armor-Piercing: 10%

That’s 65% fortification bypass, which should help take down those portal gateways well enough, once I make a few tests. Aside from getting a Deconstructor augment slot to add Improved Destruction for fortification damage, I don’t have anything else to add here through training.

I’ll use my tier 1 Thunder-Forged Longbow as usual for maximum damage. If I could run the Thunderholme raids regularly, I could struggle for ingredients to get tier 2 and gain 35% Armor-Piercing on that bow for a terrific 85% bypassing.

I’m able to take down a portal in about 35 seconds without Manyshot in earlier tests, but I need to work on increasing my consistent power and attack before trying a Shroud. Raids are different, of course, so I’d have to ensure that Meri’s defenses are strongest to survive alone there.

I’ve finally updated the details finalized for using the build in my forum thread, since it wasn’t quite clear-cut as I ask you to configure the character one way for Heroic and then adjust behavior based on Epic play. It is worth it, but I can’t help you see that without more information. Thanks for your patience.

Alright, Enough with the IPS

By the way, the forum thread has had several responses, one generously kind but critical, another not so much, about the addition of Improved Precise Shot into the build.

I refuse. In fact, that the build’s gotten very very far without it, even surviving more EE attempts than Szyn has done is  proof that IPS isn’t what this build’s best at doing.

I think IPS will do nothing more than get the Zen shit-kicked out of it because of excessive aggro, and game mechanics prove this. One notes how I rely on hirelings as aggro-magnets, but this is no different than Rogues and mages hanging around with players. The Zen Archer does not lead the charge, but it certainly concludes it. I don’t build characters to be Avatars of Untold Slaughter of Millions By Themselves. That’s the monkcher. Go read about that one.

So the only conclusion I can make is that people really don’t understand that I don’t play my characters with absolute power or completion speed in mind. Like many of my characters, the Zen Archer takes its time, destroys with near-impunity depending on the quest, and walks home without a death and some loot. The Zen Archer is a ninja archer and relies on powerful surprise attacks to end enemies fast. Just as my melee ninjas don’t try to aggro the whole dungeon, I don’t do so with this archer.

Of course I’m enjoying the reversal of the game mechanics that don’t easily alert other enemies to when one of their allies is being punctured. Isn’t everyone?

So, if you think that not having IPS is crippling, add it in and see what happens. I won’t be.

This will likely be the last post on the Zen Archer for a while unless I pull off a Shroud victory with one (one chance in 3, as opposed to even-money with the Shuricannon). I need to concentrate on greater documentation for it in the Monk guide, and then set off for different things.

Zen Grandmaster

Sure, it was from the Training Dummy. But there it is.

Sure, it was from the Training Dummy. But there it is.

The race of the Zen Archers and the testing of the build was never a fair contest. Mericletica on Cannith was a first-lifer with XP nearly oozing out of every pore just for showing up somewhere, while three-lifer Pynthetica has to scrap for play time.

Pyn wins in the gear department hands down, however, having accumulated much in her lifetimes, including a Shimmering Arrowhead and all the big bows, including a Raider’s Box-bestowed Pinion bow that’s dying to be used.

But Mericletica, now level 23, is first to test the viability of the Epic Zen Archer first. As a first-life Monk, she began in the Grandmaster of Flowers destiny.

As part of the build testing, I’m writing a series of posts on Epic Destinies as they relate to the Zen Archer, with GMoF first.

Weaponized Ki, Improved Damage

While GMoF helps unarmed Monks best, it also offers general bonuses that apply to armed Monks. Mericletica’s ki is boosted. Her weapon damage is improved. A few Destiny Points to DEX aids in damage and to-hit. She bypasses more fortification.

Update 25 grants +3 Ranged/Melee power per each innate ability. That’s a great start to a build that will already had  15 Ranged Power on entering Epic play with her Harper Agent training. And every Epic character gains +3 Epic Power per level. At present, Mericletica has around 27 Ranged Power.

  • Inner Focus (innate ability 1): Additional ki and stacking spell resistance to avoid attacks. Of course, this is also a rechargeable non-Meditation emergency ki surge button, helpful in prolonged attacks where I’m spamming Ten Thousand Stars and other ki attacks as often as I’m able.
  • Perfect Balance: More to Dodge to maximize it to 30%.
  • Lily Petal: The first of the magical ki attack balls. I plan to heavily leverage these and related attacks because of the Zen Archer’s maximized regenerative ki effects. As they give Magic type damage, most enemies can’t resist it and take hundreds of points of damage. It’ll be especially helpful against Champions, the bane of the Zen Archer, as their special buffs often compromise at least one of the build’s circles of defense.
  • Enlightenment: More passive ki regeneration and ki as a whole to empower attacks. I’m using this ability to make adjustments to enhancement AP, as I’ll note in a moment.
  • A Dance of Flowers: Increases the weapon damage modifier for her bows.
  • Centered Mind (innate ability 2): The Slippery Mind feat to ward off enchantment attacks such as Otto’s dancing spells, buying the character time to escape and attack.
  • Serenity: More stacking spell resistance needed against things such as the Drow spellcasters.
  • Wholeness of Spirit (innate ability 3): Periodic cleansing button of bad status effects and debuffs.
  • Orchid Blossom: Lily Petal’s mass strike upgrade. Helpful against mobs.
  • Walking with Waves: While in Ocean Stance, an additional 3% Dodge if I require it by this time.
  • Perfection of Body: Boosts to Fortitude saves, where this build is weakest.
  • The Abiding Path (innate ability 4): Immunity to Slippery Surfaces. I do not fear and will not move away from the spellcasters with Sleet Storm.
  • Standing with Stone: Up to +15 PRR and 15 HP when in Earth Stance. I’m often in this Monk stance for improvements to the critical threat range of my bows and damage mitigation, now that other abilities of the destiny can compensate for the loss of saving throws and Dodge when otherwise using Ocean Stance. Critical hit damage goes up 30% easily when I’m running in this mode.
  • Piercing Clarity: Effective True Seeing against concealment effects. Most importantly, additional fortification bypass of 10% to go with Precision (25%) and other bypass training I can utilize.
  • Ubiquity (innate ability 5): Tumbling through enemies as if they were incorporeal. Helpful to shift position while not interrupting Archer’s Focus, if it works.
  • Drifting Lotus: My answer to avoiding Improved Precise Shot. Combined with the other ki attacks, I’ll be able to quickly knockdown and damage enemies, often using this feature to escape with stealth if a fight becomes overwhelming.
  • Dancing with Flames: Like A Dance of Flowers, I hoped this additional ability would also boost the weapon dice modifier. However, it fails to work with bows, only unarmed and perhaps melee weapons. It’s skipped.
  • Perfection of Soul: Additional Reflex saves when in the heat of battle. Right now, I’m less in need of it.
  • Balance in All Things (innate ability 6): Immunity to most knockdowns and an additional +1 to passive ki regeneration. For the Zen Archer, that means up to a total of +5 possible passive ki regeneration (Stealthy from Ninja Spy, Contemplation from Henshin Mystic (now disabled), Ultimate Ocean Stance, Enlightenment and this innate ability). If HP drops to less than 50%, then Way of the Tenacious Badger adds +1 for a rapid +5/+6 passive regeneration, perfect for spamming Lily Petal and other alternative attacks.
  • A Scattering of Petals: A Blinding debuff for escapes. A convenient alternative to the Ninja Spy’s Flash Bang (which isn’t trained). I’d rather add another DEX point.
  • Everything is Nothing: One of the best Epic Moments out there that instantly kills almost everything in a wide range. Since this Epic character will be spamming ki attacks often, it should be easy to have this charged for tactical use in wide areas where many enemies are anticipated, sniping and luring as many enemies into “Death Blossom” range. The Zen Archer will never lack in sufficient ki for this or any other ki strike.

Adjustments to Enhancements

With more passive ki regeneration from this destiny, it’s wasn’t a bad idea to retool my Monk enhancements for more weapon damage in Epic play. Here’s the summary.

  1. I reset the Henshin Mystic tree, removing training for Contemplation. This reduces passive ki regeneration by 1 but this is made up with the Enlightenment ability in GMoF, even as a Twisted ability, as well as the last innate ability while in GMoF. This freed up 8 AP and leaves the tree dormant.
  2. Completed 34 points of Harper Agent training. The last two cores weren’t helpful to damage, and those 10 AP used to qualify for it don’t help outside of DEX training. So any training at level 30 stopped after Harper Enchantment of Deception. I did consider Saekee’s great idea to extend my Elven Displacement duration with Magic of Patience, adding 2 points there. My Elven Displacement from my Shadow Dragonmark now lasts a hardy 4 minutes instead of 1 minute 30 seconds, thanks to that Extend Magic effect.
  3. Trained Ninja Spy’s Sneak Attack and No Mercy enhancements using the 12 to 14 freed AP. This additional damage will come in handy when Shiradi Champion training offers Nerve Venom, which makes enemies helpless. Significant damage from Sneak Attacks now apply as Improved Deception effects kick in.

Epic Gear

Mericletica5

Mericletica is a first-life character on a server with a lower player population. I’ll have to make due from the charity of others for gear when raids are run less often.

Grabbed a low-hanging fruit: A Spider-Spun Caparison for a paltry amount of Astral Shards for +3 Insightful DEX later. I gathered plenty of Eveningstar Commendations for the Way of the Sun Soul set and its stance-based buffs.

The Radiant Forcefield-like buff that reduces damage by 25% for 10 seconds when a vorpal-calculated hit is confirmed in Earth Stance adds to the Zen damage reduction scheme, as does the PRR and AC boosts of Earth Stance. Ocean Stance kicks on a Fire Shield/Cold buff. I don’t know if the Wind Stance’s buff of 6% Doublestrike includes Doubleshot as well (I’m sure I tested this on Szyncletica and it does not).

With level 23 done, I decided to downshift to farm some items.

To use the Sun Soul set, my trusty level 3 Bracers of Wind must go, which meant a new Blurry item to replace it. I found a reasonably-priced epic Ring of Shadows on the Shard Exchange and put it on immediately at level 23. This ring has it all for the stealthy, defensive ninja. Great Hide/Move Silently and at least 10% Incorporeal protection with its Ghostly at all times to go with the Blurry, saving me a little ki in light skirmishes where I needn’t kick on Shadow Veil.

On the other hand is a gift from Saekee: A Seal of House Avithoul, perfect for the Epic adjustments for additional Sneak Attack damage, DEX +7 and with Improved Deception that stacks with my Harper based version for frequent Bluff-spins against charging attackers, slowing them down.

STR was a serious problem for me. My collection of bows are heavy, and even as I pared them down, I had to wear some Ogre Power boots and not something more useful. Completing most of the Heroic Elite runs possible in Gianthold gained me sufficient ancient relics to trade for a Diamond of Strength +5 that I added to the slot on the Ring of Shadows.

Scored a non-epic Roadwatch Bow in the latter days of leveling to 20, which was surprisingly effectively against the plant and fey in the “Druid’s Deep” series. I will be buying an Epic version of this thing, as well as completing more Eveningstar challenges to get different Cormyrian bows and their often harsh Improved Paralyzing, Wounding and other detrimental effects.

Saekee was happy to venture out to make me a Tier 0 Thunder-Forged Longbow. I wasn’t doing badly at all beforehand with my non-epic Thornlord for horrific 300 to 400 crits while in Earth Stance with sustained damage of 100 per hit, elevating by 20-45 with a bluffing Improved Diversion spin and the Sneak Attack bonus.

On breaking out of the Sun Soul set at higher levels for a raid configuration, the Flawless Black Dragonscale Robe would add more fortification bypass. I’ll be farming Heroic Tor to gather their lesser version for a robe usable for life #2 or for Epic play when I need to really punch through something.

So here’s the gear summary, thus far, for the TL;DR crowd.

  • Helm: Deadly Helm of Accuracy (both +6 bonuses). This is a very useful placeholder until I find something better. The Epic choices are weird here. A Flawless Helm of the Black Dragon would pair well enough with its counterpart robe. The Epic Wheloon chain reward helms aren’t bad, but I think, for now, that level 27 Guardian’s Helmet with 120% fortification and Hammerblock isn’t looking too bad.
  • Necklace: Nightforge Gorget with Deathblock gem. This is always a hard thing to part with until I can stabilize my Epic gear so I have Deathblock and higher Fortification elsewhere. Some Fortified 125% Gloves with a yellow and green slot would be ideal as I could stick a PRR gem in with the Deathblock gem. It’s too easy in places to get a Death Ward buff dispelled, so I never leave the airship without this. I’d rather have a Dodge 8% or better item here, if not elsewhere.
  • Trinket: Mummified Bat. Of all the gear I have, trinkets are in the worst shape. Ideally, a Planar Focus item with Insightful DEX +3 would be fine, but a Shimmering Arrowhead might be the better thing for slowing anything with Crippling. Combined with Improved Deception, this could be a great thing.
  • Cloak: A Drow Piwafwi. The basic Hide/Move Silently allows easy stealth movement but also has that funny Invisibility Guard (like the Drow Slavers, it gives you effective Improved Invisibility for a bit and so slows down aggro) but also Improved Sneak Attack +5 to boost weapon damage. I need to add something better since only the SA effect is working here…
  • Belt: Belt of the Sun Soul. The Concentration +15, Insightful WIS +2 and CON +7 is very welcome.
  • Ring #2: A Seal of House Avithoul. DEX +7. Excellent for boosting Sneak Attack damage and increases the Improved Deception effect since I also have this working on Harper Enchantment. Enemies, even red-names, spin quite a bit, allowing for a lot of extra damage.
  • Gloves: Fortified 105% of Speed VI. This is likely the place to add in greater Epic fortification or DEX or Dodge later. I’d love to find Speed as well until I reach level 27 and get the Blinding Speed feat to be permanently Hasted and get 15% ranged speed. I’m not sure what named item, aside from the Purple Dragon Gauntlets for healing amplification) would fit here. DEX +10 with Dodge 10%/Protection/Natural Armor 1+0 are possible to find by level 28.
  • Boots: Boots of the Woodsman. After many trades of other commendations, these provide Insightful DEX +2 for more damage and some more movement speed. There are many, many better Epic boots to find later.
  • Ring #1: Ring of Shadows, level 23. Blurry, Ghostly, a STR +5 gem, and Hide/Move Silently +17. I shouldn’t need the Drow Piwafwi with this ring, further emphasizing my need to dump that cloak.
  • Bracers: Bracers of the Sun Soul. Boosts not only WIS but adds Insight bonuses to saves, AC and CON.
  • Armor: Vestments of the Sun Soul. This completes the Way of the Sun Soul effects that reduce damage or provide emergency effects such as Restoration. Once I’m cocky enough for chasing 375 PDK favor, I’ll unlock the Spider-Spun Caparison.
  • Goggles: Lenses of the Woodsman. Gives me Seeker +6, an attack bonus and True Seeing, allowing me (in combination with the Sun Soul set) to retire my Teraza’s Perfect Sight, which is why my Helm slot has just a loot-gen item. I was trying originally for some Drow Smoke Goggles but, after three runs through the first Darkening quests and besting “The Battle of Eveningstar” thrice, the drop just wasn’t there. I did score two pairs of Grave Wrappings, one to keep and another to hand over to Gwynncletica, my young Shintao for her later glory. Perhaps Shadowsight would be good here as an alternative later.

Gameplay

Currently, Mericletica blasts things at sustained 100-120 damage with around 20-40 Sneak Attack damage, with 400-500 critical hits once her Archer’s Focus is full.

At DEX 44 or so, Mericletica is a surprisingly hard-hitting powerhouse. I’m starting my Elite run into the Devil Battlefield to complete the Shavarath quests there for Yugoloth Favor Potions. Combined with DDO Elixirs and the special House Deneith potions, I’ll get +6 more to DEX on-hand for crunch fights. It looks like, with items and destinies, Meri should ultimately have around 48-52 DEX base by end-game with +6 in reserve. I need to visit Szyncletica the star-thrower to check how she reached a 60 after two lives and emulate that.

Right now, Dodge bonus isn’t where I want it to be. It’s 21% if I’m in Ocean Stance, but it can reach 30%. I need to retool what I have, starting with that cloak slot. An Adamantine Cloak of the Wolf, with Dodge 8% and Improved Seeker +5 might do the trick. If I can add points to Walking with Waves for 3% more while in Ocean Stance without messing up my Epic Moment, that’s one help.

While I prefer the strong, generally aggressive hireling duo of Albus, the level 20 Favored Soul and my Onyx Panther to take aggro-point, Mericletica wasn’t doing too badly on her own in the wilds of the Devil Battlefield. She took out her first pit fiend with some clever jumping atop the Tower of Despair’s outer gate, pelting the thing from above as it received punches from the Warforged Titan below.

The Grandmaster of Flowers destiny, overall, boosts weapon damage, Dodge and Dexterity, while adding in the ranged ki magic balls as a “finish him!” move with a low HP enemy. It’s actually turning out as a great ranged destiny because it reinforces the zen of this build, leveraging ki and the natural monastic abilities for strong defense and damage. Only Shiradi Champion will be better in general damage and versatility with the bow, but at a defense disadvantage if I read it right.

I’m going to race through Legendary Dreadnought to get another Twist slot unlocked and upgraded, to reach Shiradi Champion and Primal Avatar as soon as possible.

There’s still a lot of items I can farm as well. I see many runs into “The Weapons Shipment” for that Shimmering Arrowhead Hopefully I can bring Saekee or others along to increase my farming odds. I owe him a lot.

I foresee an Epic XP leveling freeze at level 27 to avoid wasting my last Epic Destiny feat slot. While training two Primal destinies to qualify, I’ll take Overwhelming Critical as an Epic Feat at 24, changing the bow critical multiplier from x3 to x4, I think. I’ll take Toughness as the first Epic Destiny feat at level 26, Blinding Speed at level 27, continuing destiny training until I can take Doubleshot (10% added, 15% total) as the last Epic Destiny feat.

I hope to have a video of this build in fully-trained GMoF, as well as Shiradi and Shadowdancer in the coming weeks.

Epic Shuricannon: Nothing Comes Close

SzynTR1-L22I posted a demo run of the Shiradi Shuricannon at high Heroic levels to demonstrate the build’s basics.

As an Epic character, the ‘Cannon’s training in Shiradi, along with some ninja happiness, can be summed up in one phrase: Nothing comes close.

You can take that in both senses of the meaning.

The Shiradi effects, for those unfamiliar, add interesting elemental effects around 7% of the time that add area-of-effect and direct damage to targets using ranged attacks. It doesn’t matter what kind of ranged attack you use; even magic works (thus the popularity of the Shiradi Sorcerers).

Now, a 7% chance for an effect to go off (“proc”) doesn’t sound like much.

Well, then, you have to look at the Shuricannon’s basic design. Here’s a screenshot of Szyncletica’s character sheet (above).

Here you see that DEX is very, very heavy. That’s because DEX determines both damage and to-hit for a Ninja Spy. Also, the DEX is also the percentage of a second shuriken through from both Shuriken Expertise (granted as a Drow) and Advanced Ninja Training. As an Epic character, Szyn and her kind normally throw 2-3 stars per attack at the minimum with this ability.

The typical ranged feats (Rapid Shot, Quick Draw) also help thrown stars per second.

Ultimate Wind Stance adds 15% to that throwing speed.

And then, we add Shiradi’s Whirling Wrists: up to 60% increase to that throwing speed.

But wait, there’s more.

Use Spelltouched Shuriken for greater raw damage and additional crazy-random damage effects to go with Shiradi’s, and Green Steel for these special cases such as high-level demons and undead.

The result? Attack speed and damage so incredible that few things get close enough to hurt the Shuricannon before it mows them down.

Bonus training in Primal Avatar adds in Rejuvenation Cocoon for good self-healing and Shiradi’s Healing Spring for backup.

For burst damage, Ten Thousand Stars adds extra stars based on the WIS modifier.

I’ve soloed the Devil Battlefield quests except for Genesis Point (where I needed a hireling) to gain enough favor for Yugoloth (“Yugo”) potions. They give a +2 stacking stat bonus but with a tradeoff. Also available are DDO stat elixirs that do the same but without a tradeoff. That’s another +4 to essential stats if required for damage and defense (DEX/WIS).

The summation: The Epic Shuricannon, while perhaps having fewer types of versatility that a “Monkcher” might have, is perhaps the best thrown-weapon build anywhere. As Firewall, creator of the build, has argued time and again in his thread, while multiclassed builds using Halflings might get some benefits, they are offset by one thing or other that’s part of the Shuricannon’s success. You have to train in Shuriken proficiency and Expertise for non-Monk halflings. You lose the DEX to Damage effects, as well as the Drow’s shuriken competency training bonuses. The Drow/Monk spell resistance and Dodge is superior. Ninja Spy’s Shadow Veil adds high incorporeality and invisibility.

Multiclassing also means you lose a level 20 capstone. The Shuricannon’s capstone, as a pure Ninja Spy, is gaining Vorpal to any shuriken and other piercing and slashing ki weapons, as well as +2 DEX and (although still a nagging bug) increased critical threat range that should bring the crit range to as wide as 15-20.

To demonstrate, I’ve recorded two videos.

This first one is of Szyncletica managing the undead giant skeletons on the way to Garamol’s lair in the raid wilderness of the Subterrane. Fans of the blog know that Lynncletica, a Shintao tanker, is strong enough to farm this area, where no hirelings are allowed. But could a Ninja Spy, a class tree not designed with self-healing or undead attack proficiency do the same–and with only a throwing star? The answer comes from Szyn’s high DPS and one triple-positive Greater Disrupting shuriken that ends the CR 25 Garamol far faster than Lynncletica and with fewer resources expended.

The second video shows how Szyn handles a mob. A perfect place for this is the Underdark Arena challenge, “Fight to the Finish.” One ninja: one mob for 10 minutes or more–seems like a fair fight.

She owns a Level 20 Icy Bursting Improved Paralyzing star that halts most everything. Occasional hits of the Nerve Poison from Shiradi training and freezing from her Level 14 Frozen Tunic (still equipped on Epic) make for quite a dominating show. Improved Precise Shot ensures very heavy mob damage and crowd control. She uses a Onyx Panther to aid with aggro management a bit, healing it with Rejuvenation Cocoon as needed, but doesn’t rely on it.

I’ve directly uploaded these videos (trying once more to get the overall brightness correct with better success) for far better clarity, and am using Amara to add captioning, rather than using Windows Movie Mangler. Just click the CC button if you don’t see the captions on the Garamol run. The second video has no commentary: 1 movie = 1,000,000 words.

 

The Viper meets the Spider

FaerunDrowPriestess

Spiders have been known to kill snakes. But the Drow aren’t expecting a Ninja.

Kiricletica just reached level 20 and is gearing up for Epic mode. She kept to her solo-only limits except for a couple of times where I joined some guildmates on quests I’d already completed alone, like “Jungles of Khyber.”

Some folks might say that Epic solo play is easier since your character gains some rather, well, epic gear. I think the only edge you get is from using the right Epic Destiny as well as strong numbers in your class’s “magic” stat.

After a little study, Kiri’s first pick is Shadowdancer. Improved stealth, some sneak attack, immunity to energy drain, permanent incorporeality, improved invisibility, bonuses to Dodge, a Dominate power–what’s not to like?

Sure, the epic set gear can really help. Kiri’s first priority this weekend was in assembling the Sun Soul set for better defenses and stats, finally retiring my venerable White Dragonscale Robe. That meant a long sojourn in the King’s Forest to find encounters to obtain any commendations to trade for the items.

“The Druid’s Deep” chain I completed earlier helped here since you can run that series and gain 3 commendations of your choice as a chain end-reward, if you’re desperate for more commendations in a relative hurry.

I’ve had a small taste of Underdark Drow from “The Druid’s Curse,” the end-quest of that chain, with a few Drow that appear in an optional cave. It stung a little but Kiri held her own.

But now, it’s finally time to see what Kiri can do against one of the game’s most challenging enemies: the Priestesses of Lolth.

Come Into My Lair, the Spider Says

Drow Priestesses are effectively Clerics with serious backup from their goddess, Lolth. Imagine having your god on speed-dial.

From Divine Punishment, Inflict Wounds, Cometfall, Hold Monster–the Priestess alone can hurt you fast and badly if left alone.

What’s worse about the Priestess is her special regenerative ability. Priestesses are rarely solitary with many lesser Drow at her beck and call. Should her health fall to a critical level and provided she is not Helpless, she’ll leech on the nearest humanoid and then go all Super Saiyan on you with her infamous 30-second Favored of the Goddess power-up: “Having performed a sacrifice to the Goddess, you have increased spell damage, greatly improved resistances to incoming damage, and an incredible boost to spell resistance.”

Typically, to kill a Priestess, you must kill her minions. Should she happen to have hostages or slaves, she’ll eat them, too, if they’re close by.

But I have not had the honor, the privilege of introducing those nasty spider-worshippers to the power of Ninja Poison at full strength as opposed to the slower- or no-dosing that the ninjas Szyncletica the star-thrower or the unarmed Ryncletica could do.

I didn’t know if the Priestess’s spider-style could shrug off all the damage-over-time stacks I can deliver from Kiri’s Viper Style (Freezing the Lifeblood to paralyze with three+ hits of Poisoned Soul Ninjutsu using Envenomed Blades to magnify damage) with her regenerative ability. So far, nothing I’ve killed has the capacity to remove poison from itself that I could note in the heat of battle. That’s likely a game mechanic as NPCs don’t seem to care about using Panacea or related remove-poison effects. And will her Favored of the Goddess status help against the unrelenting power of poisoning?

There was also the matter of trying to make the Priestess quite helpless so she cannot regenerate. A common solution for unarmed Monks is to stun Priestesses silly and load up the damage, stunning again before she can recover if possible.

Kiri had a better idea, using Freezing the Lifeblood to hold down the Priestess much longer than stuns or normal paralysis since it requires a Fortitude save to escape, not Will (which a Priestess, a high WIS enemy, should shake off). Provided Kiri’s not fighting a Red-Named Priestess, taking down the lesser varieties should work well.

But even for the Red-Named kind that cannot be paralyzed, like Priestess Vicala Szind in “Impossible Demands,” Kiri should be able to use Viper Style for 200+ dots and then switch to Poison Exploit for a quick rip of the poison sac before she might regenerate. At what point she regenerates is the question I can’t remember. At 25%, maybe?

And Kiri’s blades, as a Ninja Master, now are Vorpal weapons with greater critical hit and damage modifiers. She’s the first character that uses shortswords almost exclusively (save oozes and maybe a wisp or two), so higher damage is important.

Legendary Damage

While Shadowdancer will be Kiri’s first destiny, Legendary Dreadnought may be her second school, skipping over Grandmaster of Flowers until after LD is trained. Epic play will have epic fighting so Kiri’s stealth will only go so far before a CR30 trash mob will end her without a good counterattack. The defenses, weapon attacks and action boosts will be critical to Kiri’s survival as she grows.

Impossible Demands

After much adventuring in the King’s Forest, finding all the journals and slaying 750 enemies (plus a side quest or two in Eveningstar), I reached level 21, had my full Sun Soul attire, added a Drow Piawfi, pulled out a Drow Shortsword of the Weapon Master just to see what it could do. My WIS was 38 in Ocean Stance, not bad at all to ensure that a Freezing finisher works on EH.

A few close fights in the Forest made me realize that I shouldn’t stay in Ocean Stance all the time. I’d gotten used to it since passive ki regeneration works best from being in Sneak while in that stance. Earth Stance, however, offers maximum AC with Combat Expertise up (bringing her AC to 90 with 15 PRR) and Wind Stance offers 10% Doublestrike and 15% melee speed increase (going to 110% Doublestrike for 6 seconds using one ninja ability, Shadow Double). With the Vestments of the Sun Soul equipped, its Enhanced Ki now provided more than enough ki during any fight to not require continual use of Ocean Stance.

My leveling prior to the quest allowed me to test Viper Style against Orange-Named Drow Priestesses in the Underdark. One always appears en route to the path to the Sschindylryn portal via the King’s Forest entrance.

First rule of Priestess Fight Club: Kill/disable the slavemasters and mages first. I targeted them with Freezing strikes to keep their spells at bay, removed the slavemaster first to turn the slaves over to my side, and then targeted the Priestess with a Freezing attack that held her tight and unable to regenerate despite having many slaves to feed from. All slaves were saved and the priestess could never zap anyone.

I entered “Impossible Demands” on Epic Hard, one level above me.

Reading up on Vicala, I didn’t know she had permanent See Invisibility, not that it matters for the purposes of that quest since you never let yourself get in line-of-sight of her from any distance. On EN, it’s silly-easy to watch the priestess make her rounds since she appears on your map. I’ve done in on EH just fine without that aid.

I did bring in a Gold Seal Rogue to disable all the spell wards along the way but did not involve it in any fighting. Those of you in the know realize that the spell ward proximity make it very hard to navigate or fight, and I didn’t want to discover at that time if the wards affected the hostages in any way. My goal was not to be seen, eliminate all Drow (required or Vicala will regenerate on anyone left during the final fight) and save all the hostages. Since I wasn’t getting the help from the map with Epic Hard, this was a small concession to the difficulty.

Vicala makes a transit from top of inner stairs closest to the entrance to the basement and back in 2:30 seconds. (I time it.) My beat-down of Vicala at the quest’s start was promising; her only counter to my Ninja Poison was Divine Punishment, which hurt, but not nearly as badly as the damage she endured.

I had the hireling remove the four spell wards along the upper level, parked it in passive-mode at the entrance, then went to work with Freezing strikes at the mages first before removing the fighters. An optional fight with Warleader Speitar, a nasty Blademaster, took longer than I liked since I had to fight in a small area and had problems keeping his support team out of the picture. But he did fall after a lot of poisoning.

The hostages have to be released at the right time and place or Vicala or others will kill them on sight. Never a problem for me but you do have to pay attention.

In the end, all hostages were freed, all kidnappers vanquished, and the final fight of viper versus spider ended with Vicala simply unable to withstand 150+ point dots of Ninja Poison for very long.

Any search on Google on spiders versus snakes show the spider winning. Obviously, it cheats. So, fortune goes to the prepared–and the more poisonous.

The Unquiet Graves

Kiri’s Viper Style was challenged by the Dark Incantors, the arch-necromancers occupying the graveyard in “The Unquiet Graves.” Back in on Epic Hard, one level up from me. No trap-monkey hirelings (or any hirelings) used here.

My first challenge was ensuring I had Death Ward active at all times. The Incanters will zap you in a microsecond using all kinds of death spells, even on EN. I had two Visors of the Flesh Render Guards handy for 7 minutes each, with two 20-minute Death Ward potions on reserve. I could use the only rest shrine later to recharge the clickies with no concerns about ki drainage since I regenerate very well during a fight.

Incanter #1 was easy to slay with Viper Style leaving him 3/4 dead by the time he ran off to his reinforcements in the graveyard proper. I had to switch from my Envenomed Blades to disrupting kamas to help remove the zombies.

Incanter #2 fell to the same tactics as #1 but his spell attacks left me challenged to keep my HP up. Viper Style allows my poison to attack him (with enough doses) while I healed and regrouped. I decided to use the shrine after this fight to recharge the death ward clickies.

On Incanter #3, I nailed the two closest fighters with Freezing finishers and removed the one zombie that reinforced the Incanter’s damage protections. I pulled the fight away from the small graveyard or else the hidden Drow roaming there would also get involved in the fight.

I backtracked to the large graveyard and pulled the Incanter behind the large mausoleum and was somewhat lucky to attract only one necromancer and archer, rather than the whole swarm of his support. Kiri had a hard time getting her pattern going with all the minions chasing her.

That’s the Viper’s weakness: If Kiri has too much to fight, using Viper Style can’t work as I’m trying to survive more than I’m able to attack.

I concentrated a bit and remembered that the Incanter was my only target. I swiped at others for ki and kept aligning my Touch of Despair attacks at the last Incanter to lay on as much Ninja Poison as I could before being forced to retreat.

The last Incanter fell but looting the chest required a Flash Bang to blind everything long enough for me to sneak to the chest, loot and use a Word of Recall for a teleport-escape. Got a pair of Grave Wrappings for my trouble.

Quests You Think You Can’t Sneak Through

Been having a ball with my ninja Ryncletica (as noted recently) by using her crazy-awesome stealth abilities to complete some of the harder quests that encourage stealth, like “Spies in the House,” “Claw of Vulkoor” and “Blockade Buster.”

I touched on my desire to use stealth through as many quests as I can in the entire game. With my desire to get her Shadowdancer powers working quickly, I’m doing more of the Epic versions of some quests for experience.

Three quests caught my eye, and I found time to complete two of them.

Epic Normal “Haywire Foundry” (L21).

This place is loaded with Warforged mobs who are more than ready to slay you. If the mobs don’t find you, the many trapped areas will target you.

For some quests, I’ll summon Luna, an epic Favored Soul hireling, and park her at the quest start, using her only in the most extreme emergencies (which, thankfully, I haven’t had to do). For Epic “Haywire,” however, I knew that one specific trap would be the biggest obstacle. Rather than the healbot, I summoned an epic Rogue for later use.

Entering, I kicked on Water Walking and Abundant Step over the lava to bypass the annoying elementals that greet you as you enter the cave. Inside the complex, RC2 went down easily to smiters. Now came the real test with mobs I had to eliminate since I had to use the Speaking Stone there to open the paths ahead. Turned out that they weren’t too harsh with my usual Concealment, Incorporeality and Dodge going.

Removing two more guards opened the way to the trapped spiral ramp to switch #1. I brought in the Rogue. He was able to evade the traps as he walked up to disable the boxes, so I’m sure I would have done the same–I just liked the Ingenious Debilitation bonus since I still had the super-trap on switch #2 for later. I parked him at the top of the ramp, then ordered him to quietly unlock the door to more mobs and switch #1. Dutifully, the Rogue did so and ran back to his parking spot without attracting attention. My turn.

Mobs were grouped up enough initially to easily bypass. I didn’t open the gate to the shrine; I wouldn’t need it if I did things right, and I would attract the mob’s attention if I did. The only challenge in this room were 3 guards in front of the stairs up to the walkway to the switch. Taking a cue from “Claw of Vulkoor,” I threw a shuriken at a nearby wall. The guards sprinted at the sound to investigate, moving out of the stair path. I had to Step fast past a mage that was too close to sneak by without him spotting me, even stealthed and invisible.

With Switch #1 done, boxes began to explode around me, with more berserk Warforged. Didn’t matter to me. I left the area, just as undetected as before. One down, two switches to go.

After the Rogue removed the newly activated trap at the ramp top, I headed back downstairs, summoned the Rogue again to remove the trap from the first of two trap pits. The Rogue got the attention of two guards, which wasn’t a problem.

The path to switch #2 was more challenging. Two sets of mobs, filled with high-Spot archers and dangerous Wizards that will fill you full of magic-missile-sized holes. I was able to evade the first mob, passed over the second trap pit and over its pipes, but the second patrol was a bit too dense.

On my first run through this quest, I eventually had to fight this group since opening the door would make me visible. But I’ve been taking more cues from all the martial arts movies, other classes, and even Batman, always-prepared, master of theatricality and subterfuge. For run 2, I used a Solid Fog clicky while stealthed, right next to the door in the switch #2 room. The Fog hid me! I opened the door, leaving that patrol unaware.

Switch #2 was like the first in terms of ignoring the mob, bu there was one challenge. To get to the upper level where switch #2 resides, you need to jump up to a set of crates, avoid the attention of a mage guarding the ramp up to him, and then jump up and over to pipes that lead to the second switch.

Well, I’m a level 2 Shadowdancer now. Time to try out a new ability. Shadow Training II allows full movement and jump for 30 seconds while you are stealthed. This was an awesome ability! Still in Sneak mode, I’m up on the crates. I assassinate the guard with Quivering Palm, go back to stealth and jump up, hauling it over the pipes to the upper walkway. I took a moment to try to find the Bloodrage Symbiont in the little container before dispatching the three guards on the final steps to switch #2.

Anyone that’s done “Haywire” before, on any difficulty, knows that this trap is a killer, even for evasives. I called in the Rogue to disable the two boxes there, pulled the switch, re-parked the Rogue, and left the area. Two down, one to go.

In the final circular hallway to the puzzle room and the golems sit a formidable group of iron defenders. This was probably the toughest part because they hit hard as a group and smiting them seemed harder. After letting the dogs out, I got greedy and brought in the Rogue for the two traps inside the hidden shrine room, but after a Wholeness of Body recharge of HP, had no need to shrine.

I left the Rogue to keep the ooze’s attention while completing the puzzle to get the key. The golems are rarely too problematic if you can attract and dispatch the three adamantine defenders first. Makes me consider making Metalline Handwraps of full Vampirism for stubborn constructs that can’t be smited, someday.

Switch #3 awaited me, after a chest to loot. I perma-parked the Rogue (“Dude! You’re on your own!”), hit the switch and took off. It took me only 2 minutes to make it to Haywire as I switched on Stealth Training II again, moving at full speed, invisible and stealthy, leaving the mobs of iron defender packs alone along the way.

Haywire opens the door and welcomes me. Total time: About 25 minutes. About 32,000 XP for my trouble, along with an Epic and regular chest.

Now it was time for something more challenging.

Epic Normal “Jungles of Khyber”  (Level 22)

Yes, I know I’m insane.

Ignored the trolls via stealth in the mini-quest leading to the entrance, save the soothsayers that had to die to open the quest up.

This time, I had Luna the epic FvS hireling ready and parked. Epic beholders in this area are nothing to sneeze at. I had no self-delusions on having to fight a bit more on this quest.

Sneaking success varied. One or two doors activated patrols and forced a fight, but most did not. The few traps were little to worry about with my evasion and saves. Most of the Drow were simply unable to see me.

The only thing I worried about, first, were the beholders in the large cave. The normal ones took their shots at me with negative levels. I returned these in kind with my Grave Wrappings and stunned them back to Xoriat. The boss beholder took a bit more convincing. After a soothing Greater Restoration from Luna, I found the three runes to open the path forward.

I took a moment to kill off the optional mage and his golem pal on the hard-to-jump-to upper cavern for a quick chest before the Fight that Everyone Remembers Here, ahead and below. Three mobs come to greet you over the waterfall. I had to bring in Luna to aid me here, with my Grandmaster of Flowers abilities disabled that would give more offensive abilities.

With the main mobs gone, it was time for the three red-names. I tried to get only the fighter’s attention, but in waltzed the beholder. Fine. I b*slapped him with everything I had with only a few negative levels to show for it. The two others dropped just as fast.

It was time for the Marut. Out came my pair of Anarchic handwraps. (I should have used my Unstable Handwraps but I wasn’t thinking.)

Just in case, I added a distracting Xoriat plaything using my Shard of Xoriat and my Onyx Panther. Surprisingly, that Marut was too easy to kill. He stunned me once but my saves were too high for his usual beatdowns to be as effective.

“You gained 44,000 XP.” Devious Bonus as well.

Yeah, I’m crazy.

I say “HA!” to Neg Levels

I take my Monks through two “trials” for self-sufficiency, attack and defense. Quin took on “Devil Assault” completely solo on Epic Normal and won (almost lost to bugged Silver/Holy crafted wraps) and “Invaders”–aka, “Beholders R Us.” Typically I bring in a Fergus and his Restoration in case of negative levels, but this time, armed with the Sun Soul epic gear, Quintessica entered completely alone on Elite.

She went in Grandmaster of Flames stance most of the way. I stunned and spun and blew up things, naturally. But after a Beholder or eight managed to neg-level me, I worked them off. Any time I made a natural 20 critical, the set threw a Cure Moderate Wounds and Restoration on me. In short, I removed my own neg-levels as I fought. When the neg-levels came too rapidly, out came the epic destiny ability Wholeness of Body to remove them all (as well as anything else that bothered me).

The Sun Soul set is the “epic Jidz-Tet’ka” must-have items for any Monk!

And lo, a Holy Artifact was Crafted

After hundreds of adventurers in Smuggler’s Rest (wish they) were struck blind by a very public…coupling by a minotaur and hobgoblin, I needed to make a holy artifact to apply to MY EYES. That, and send any of my characters over to the Twelve’s Psychologists for a Forget-That-Happened balm.

Well, the artifact came just in time in the form of Lynncletica’s first Holy Bursted Radiant Ring. It took the sting off that sighting.

To aid in my therapy, I joined a few Tyrs Paladium guildies for a Epic run through “Bargain of Blood.” We had a few deaths (a little too much aggro in places) but we made it through. Lynn’s new ring (combined with a Greater Bold Trinket and Thaarak Wraps) made at least 12 numbers appear over the pitiful heads of our enemies on critical hits. Didn’t hurt to have a Seeker +8 effect between my Crystal Cove pirate hat and the Bold Trinket, either.

Now to get the guildies to run Epic “The Tide Turns” for a chance at Jidz-Tet’ka epic crafting items.