Zen and the Art of Stunning a Giant Senseless

In Gianthold Tor, the giants can become overwhelming. Sometimes an old-school approach is better. (Stolen from GamerGeoff)

In Gianthold Tor, the giants can become overwhelming. Sometimes an old-school approach is better. (Stolen from GamerGeoff)

What is the sound of one fist punching?

The answer to this not-quite-zen riddle is: A ding, as in the confirmation sound of a Stunning Fist connecting to its target.

Stunning Fist is ever the keystone attack of most unarmed Monks. But for Pynthetica the Zen Archer, using Stunning Fist or any ki attacks outside of Ten Thousand Stars isn’t her usual knack.

At least, not until a Heroic Elite run on “Gianthold Tor.”

Why Evasion is So Needed

Over the weekend, a fellow guildmate and I had completed the three flagging runs for Heroic Gianthold, all on Elite. “A Cabal of One” showed we (a Warforged Artificer, a Half-Elf Monk, Tempys and Gorgal) had plenty of DPS. While my friend Shakalegg the Artificer had superior trapping ability, it was her ability to get to a few of the trap boxes safely that almost proved our party’s undoing. After the first conspirator was slain, we encountered a horrific closely meshed combination of poison and acid traps, with one super-nasty fire trap supporting it.

Shakalegg, lacking any Evasion, died on contact. So did our hirelings, who ignored commands to stay back or dutifully (and stupidly) met their end in assisting. I was the only one standing, with Improved Evasion saving me barely from immediate death as I cleaned up a few enemies before clearing the shrine, thankfully close by. (My guildmate, days later, revealed to me that she had neglected to wear any kind of fortification throughout those quests. Whoops.)

Pynthetica was at level 15 and had claimed Improved Precise Shot. Combined with a good paralyzing bow, she was able to use choke points, either doors or narrow hallways, to slow or stop anything that came along. I had to grab a soulstone of one hireling that sat direct in a trap’s jet, getting myself smacked with 110 Poison damage even with Improved Evasion on three tries before succeeding. One Abundant Step later, and our party was back in business, completing the quest.

Madstone Crater” is never nice to small parties. It’s a kill-fest where you also must guard the three sages as they destroy crystals that make the denizens there quite ax-crazy. I had just made a speed farming run alone with Szyncletica a day before, through the entire chain, so I had refreshed my memory on what our party needed to do.

The first two sages were easy to guard. But there were many ball-lightning-happy ogre mages that were lobbing electrical death at us, killing the non-evasive characters quickly, leaving all but me on attack before I rolled a 1 and died as well.

I released back to rebuff and return but not before adding in a bit more firepower in the form of a L16 hireling sorcerer named Mekwi Therzyl.

Thankfully the sages cannot die, but forced to reset their attempts to destroy the crystal after enemies interrupt them with too much damage (“Too much! I must start again.”).

I set Mekwi on aggressive mode and he went to work like no other hireling I had seen to-date. His primary spells where Otto’s Dancing Sphere and Horrid Wilting, which he immediately used to lock up every enemy above the sage, where my bow work slaughtered what he didn’t kill himself. My guildmate had just reentered when the sage managed to complete his work and we continued on to complete the quest.

Mekwi: Highly Recommended Hireling…Mostly

Mekwi wasn’t done showing off how badass he was for a non-player character. In “Prison of the Planes,” Mekwi continued to show his DJ skill, setting up more than a few dances. But once we hit the rooms where the djinns went into their unkillable ethereal state while regenerating, Mekwi became quite annoyed with them and gave both the Finger–the Finger of Death spell, to be precise, destroying them despite their state.

Tempys, ever the poster child for the stupid hireling AI, moved when he was commanded to stay still. He managed to get himself killed despite being on the outside of one prison room, directed only to pull the prison activation lever. I’ve learned that Tempys survives better when I tell him to fight rather than defend as he’s so idiotic that he will neither defend or heal himself when attacked while in Defend mode.

We completed the rest of “Prison” without incident, rebuffed and entered “Gianthold Tor” on Elite. I was hoping to score a Level 13 Ring of Shadows from the end-reward (the reason I had Szyn make a speed run to try to get on from the chain end-reward, only managing to scare up a Level 12 Dream Visor for Pyn to use).

The starting fight with the hordes of giants went badly, with everyone but myself succumbing to fireballs from Pyromancer Fire Giants. My evasive nature held up and I managed to slaughter the last half of the giant mob.

But things got too sticky when a Stormsworn Earthcaller came tearing down the path heading to Snitch, the unruly kobold. Earthcallers are, effectively, battle clerics that also throw boulders.

Still alone, with four ghosts helplessly witnessing, my bow damage, even in TTS burst mode, simply could not take down the Earthcaller while he continually healed himself.

With my Death Ward buff beginning to fade and the probability of other giants hearing the fight, I had to go at it old-school with what I had left.

Pyn put away the bow, equipped some simple +2 Holy icy-bursted handwraps and punched the guy, at least a CR17, into obliviousness with a perfect stun.

Despite my goal of using bows as the dominant weapon, I did train up Stunning Fist early on. I had my regrets on doing this early in Pyn’s second life since Zen Archers are feat-starved and I realized later that I needed additional feats to make her a better archer.

But Stunning Fist saved the day, killing the Earthcaller. This was a great example of how the Monk forms the weapon as an unarmed fighter. Her handwraps were not extraordinary, but her WIS (built up to support Ten Thousand Stars) was already at 35, high for level 15. Pyn’s old-school unarmed fighting helped to clear two more Earthcallers and Pyromancers before she returned to her bow to clear the jaralith lion-demons and then open the shrine.

Once revived, Mekwi seemed to learn from his last taste of death, giving the Finger to any mage he saw without hesitation and setting a dance hall on any other giant he found. We completed the rest of the quest without incident, skipping the dragon fights this time.

Sadly, the end rewards for completing the chain on all Elite only gave the level 12 named items. Dang it. I’ll have to speed run Szyn later for a L23 Ring of Shadows for an Epic Pyn another time.

Rock-hard Hireling Atheism

Later on, I took Mekwi in with Tempys to complete “Undermine” on Elite. Here, the sorcerer did his usual thing against any Droaam kobolds and fighters quite competently.

But when we encountered the Elder Earth Elementals (say that three times fast), Mekwi and Tempys became completely worthless. They stood there as if in passive mode, neither fighting nor responding to any attack commands, as if the elementals weren’t there at all. It was if Mekwi stood there chatting with Tempys calmly, “Say, do you feel something? It’s rather breezy in here.”

Thankfully the elementals weren’t immune from paralysis and weren’t very powerful enemies, so I managed to take them all down on my lonesome. After removing 75% of the hit points of mini-boss Rhyolite with a well-timed det pack (the one guarding the first shrine), the quest continued on without a lot of problems, save the hireling’s steadfast refusal to admit that rock elementals existed.

From Level 15 Onward

My slogan that a Zen Archer is a Monk with a bow played out well throughout the weekend. While not perhaps the most powerful archer, Pynthetica the Zen Archer showed her durability and versatility by using swords or going unarmed to meet a party need. The innate Monk traits of speed, saves and stuns are still present.

Now equipped with a pair of Stonedust Handwraps (not yet fused for Vampiric), Pyn had an emergency stunning option. She needed it in a repeat run of “Feast or Famine” where the nasty Wyrm Cult Heresiarchs were throwing Enervate and Disintegrate spells constantly. After one of them blew me to atoms, I equipped the Stonedusts and stunned him and the rest of the spawning hunting party with extreme prejudice.

Now the fun begins in getting her build to work harder. Pyn had trained enough in the Ninja Spy tree to train a point of WIS from it. On the Arcane Archer side, she’s added two more points. In a perfect world, I’d get the No Mercy ability trained for extra damage while helpless, or Poisoned Soul to inject Ninja Poison for damage-over-time using swords. We’ll see how this plays out.

With still about 22 AP to go before level 20, she can train her third core ability for Aligned arrows, the last core I can train until level 22, given the elven Archer Archer’s slower leveling.

But there will be much she may not train in the AA tree, allowing those abilities to work through a bow alone while also leveraging some useful Ninja Spy abilities or racial abilities. Options for smiting (1 AP) might be ignored in favor of increasing the Will DC on the paralyzer attack, with its three ranks. I want to compare its DC at maximum to Improved Paralyzing that I see on Szyncletica’s spelltouched stars.

If the DC is still too low, I may skip Paralyzing arrows, too. Same for the Force arrows, with 3 ranks and critical damage added, too. Banishing is a better thing to have available so that bow damage can help. I’m thinking that “Acid Wit” will be much harder without it (the elementals there are very, very tough). It’s only 1 AP and one rank, as is Smiting.

There’s the matter of what racial abilities to train up. So far, I’ve been able only to use healing wands for battle healing, which isn’t too bad considering that I tend to need them only when I’m very outmatched (confined space, high DR/level enemy, only target present) and unable to remove enemies at a distance or pull some individually. Complete training of the Ranger dilettante is essential as it maximizes the Lesser Bow Strength effect for more bow damage. That’s 4 AP I must spend (a prerequisite ability adds another DEX point), 6 AP if I count that Improved Recovery II effect. I can skip the last two core abilities there.

But this leaves me with precious few AP for any AA combat abilities.

What I am prioritizing are all the arrow imbues up to the Improved Elemental Arrows for special effects. Pyn isn’t flashy. It’s the consistency and reliability of her attacks that are important. While slower in attack speed than Szyncletica the star thrower, she’ll have greater attack options because of the use of WIS, whereas Szyn relies entirely on the Dexterity-to-Damage ability of a Ninja Spy.

The last Heroic feat will be Improved Critical: Ranged at L18 to make her critical hits a bit more frequent.

As long as I continue to add in the WIS for the reliable and often-used Ten Thousand Stars (and the occasional stun), things look promising for Pyn.

A bit of searching the bags of other characters for Black dragon scales allowed me to add a Black Dragonscale Robe to Pyn. She still has the White Dragonscale Robe handy, but the Black Robe’s armor-piercing, stat-boosting Fury mode and Haste Guard has been nice on the DPS.

Schooled by Shadowdancers

syniia

It was a nice evening for my guild, Tyrs Paladium, on the night before the St. Valentine’s Day Server Massacre. We were about to reach guild level 70 as we began a run in “The Portal Opens” in Epic Elite.

Our guild leader has been a little obsessed of late with generating enough Purple Dragon Knights favor to make her Spider-Spun Caparison outfit work as a Sun Soul item. (That’s what Syn is wearing in the image, above.) If you didn’t know, that takes 375 favor. You’ll need to run every Eveningstar, Underdark and Demonweb quest in Epic Elite difficulty, as well as all challenges.

Our guild’s party experiences with Epic Elites has been, frankly, painful. Toons that we’ve built as the end-all be-all of awesomeness are swatted away like drunken flies if we do the littlest thing wrong in EE quests.

But lately our guild’s reticence to accept these ultimate challenges has faded, which not only leads to a victory through persistence and (often) cunning, but definitely gives those in the quest a little more to talk about to others about the experience.

I have five Monks, two of which could handle EE quests at the moment: Syncletica, my main (above), and the dark Monk Ryncletica, who’s nearly completed her Shadowdancer training with great success. Thinking of survival as a Light Monk with self-healing and fast attack speed, I bring Syn, not Ryn, into this one.

I should’ve picked Ryncletica.

Our party was certainly light on the heavy DPS. Our guild leader was running her Light Monk as well. Two Rogues, both Shadowdancers around L23 or more, also joined in, as well as one of our guild’s most incredible players who perform miracles in keeping our parties healed with her Favored Souls and Clerics.

I figured that Syncletica and the guild leader’s Monk would be the front line, with the Rogues behind us and our Cleric behind them. In the very first fight, Syncletica is practically killed instantly, with the Rogues barely getting a scratch.

Time to switch tactics. The Rogues take point. Both are Assassins. Over the course of the quest, they begin to systematically lure and assassinate the tougher fighters and mages, while the rest of us surround “weaker” enemies.

After Syncletica was killed yet again, she switched from her Grandmaster of Wind stance (which wasn’t working at all for stunning with the venerable Grave Wrappings) to Ryncletica’s preference: Ocean Stance. I had only Greater rank at hand, but it improved my AC and Dodge and WIS just enough to allow my stunning to work so to become less of a piker in this run (you need 36 or greater with Stunning +10s in EE, folks). Syn began to emulate Ryn’s stealth tactics from here on.

Ah, Elminister, the level 54 PIKER! that stands about doing nothing to help us. Yeah. You’re TOTALLY NOT Gandolf–he’s USEFUL.

Anyway, in the rooms where the two key objects reside, our Shadowdancer Rogue Assassins do something I may have predictably done as Ryncletica if I were smarter in bringing her and not Syn into this quest.

After the orange-named leaders zerg outside of their room to attack (they always see you once opening the door), we lure them down, isolated, into the cleared hallways to eliminate them.

Then one of the Shadowdancers uses Shadow Manipulation on one of the driders. Every other enemy inside the room goes after that dominated drider, and the Rogues step up behind that mob and assassinate each of them, leaving us only to wait for the domination to lapse and for the drider to die from Shadow Manipulation’s killing effect.

The Monks earn a Legendary Victory and Impressive Trophy in the last room to bring the guild to level 70 right then and there. We were buoyed a bit at the world-announcement and “ding” that appeared over the server as we moved to the final leg.

We anticipated a hell of a time with the end fight and prepared a plan. First wave: the circle of Drow to kill. Beat up on the boss mage, then she spawns Wave 2: Animated statues of drider, drow and spider to kill us. Finally, the boss mage calls out Wave 3: Several Dretch and Dracolith demons to end us.

The guild leader and I had our Everything is Nothing “Death Blossom” charges ready. I use mine on the first wave of Drow, killing all but two. Easy-smeasy. The group has a harder time on wave 2 and the guild leader uses her Death Blossom early to dispatch the statues, fearing an imminent wipe with no shrine for us to run to for recovery and regrouping.

Then the dracolith come. The party nearly wipes, and Syncletica is the only one up with four angry and determined dracolith still about. Fortunately, I had my EiN charged up again, but I needed to kite all of those demons for a nail-biting 76 seconds before I could eliminate three of the four demons with that Death Blossom.

Some clever kiting of the last demon was needed before I had my health and ki high enough to raise our Cleric with my Rise of the Phoenix to get our party back up to finish off the last demon and complete the quest. (The next time somebody tells me that Rise of the Phoenix is a waste of points, I’m going to recall this story for them.)

But our Rogues were Absolute Masters of their Craft in this one. They were the true stars of the party who were absolutely essential in completing this quest. Nice work, Ghelli and Furhst.

I’m sure that Ryncletica would have survived far easier with her similar Shadowdancer abilities and Grandmaster of Oceans training. Self-healing, DPS or fortification didn’t matter one darned bit in this one. Evasion, Dodge, stealth, assassination and cunning did.

I was both affirmed in the Shadowdancer’s true worth while completely schooled in the grave limits of a Wind-Stancer Monk in EE all at once. I had added information on Shadowdancer training for Monks and stealth tactics in my Monk guide weeks before this run, learning and proving these very facts for myself with Ryncletica. It’s a pity and my fault that I didn’t take my own advice for this quest by using Ryn instead.

Monk AC and Update 14: Oh, Boy

So, I’m all excited and enjoying the changes of Update 14 and the Menace of the Underdark. As a Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2 player, old things were made new again.

What first amazed me was how Armor Class was revised–specifically, how Monks fared from it.

I’ve always said that a Monk’s defenses come primarily from their saves. With this update, I stand more justified by that notion.

While the traditional numbers for AC and its related kinds haven’t changed, how your AC benefits you as a direct consequence of specific attacks is made more clear. Dodge becomes a percentage of evading attack. Your AC calculates into a percentage of avoiding any attack. I’m still trying to make sense of all this, but my guildies and I experienced how incredibly significant these changes have become with one of the new quests in Eveningstar: “The Riddle.

I completed this level 19 quest on Hard with Lynncletica (the Little Mountain Monk) and Klin the hireling cleric without much difficulty (surely due to dungeon scaling in part) before I joined my Tyrs Paladium guildmates to a run there recently, and to an entirely different experience.

I volunteered as guide, having done it so recently that I still had the quest mapped out in my client. Our full party included a Favored Soul, a couple of Fighters, a Cleric, a Bard as well as Yours Truly. Two of us were level 16 or so, the rest were level 20s with no small experience in handling difficult quests. We lacked a spellcaster, which we’d regret later.

This quest began auspiciously. Will-o-Wisps and a nastier version of the Red Fens’s Vine trolls whittled nastily on the team throughout. While the Wisps through chain lightning and zapped most of the party, the Vine Terrors threw Spike Growth, eating away at the party’s health rapidly.

Everyone except me. The new calculations of Dodge and AC had increased my unbuffed AC from 53 or so to 63. With normal ship and party buffs, Lynncletica sat at 75 until our buffs began to fade. It took much time for me to whittle down the Vine monsters but my Thaarak Wraps delivered deadly Force damage to take down the Wisps. My Improved Evasion saved me from almost all of the damage from these attacks. Earth Stance got an adjustment in calculating damage reduction, which surely helped my survival.

Not that I was the savior of the party or anything. We had to think and move carefully, especially as we encountered hags that spawned Animated Armor minions endlessly until we killed the crones. The multitude of Shrines (awesome new look for Forgotten Realms!) barely kept us going. Things went from bad to worse for everyone after our buffs faded. The end-fight was nasty as destroying the last hag would cause us to nearly wipe twice. I finally took one hit too many and died a couple of times but our party gathered what little we had left to finish off the bad guys. We did complete, with very respectable XP, but the quest reward was incredibly bad–I think we experienced a nasty loot bug that today’s hotfix hopefully repaired.

But, wow, Lynncletica waded through lightning bolts and spikes like it weren’t no thang. I get the feeling that Dodge items will become a new ticket item. The Epic Destinies that add Evasion abilities may also be quite popular.

I’m generally very impressed with the new content, but I’m very interested in how Lynncletica has become that much more durable. More on this as the game mechanics become clear.

Samsara: Syncletica in the Cycle

sam·sa·ra

noun /səmˈsärə/ 

The cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound

Syncletica, my main girl, a Light Monk, entered through that circle through True Reincarnation and returned, again, as a Monk, with greater potential from lessons learned in her first, turbulent life. I had planned to TR her on Easter, but with a quieter household this week and trying to fight some personal blues, Palm Sunday was the day of Syncletica’s resurrection.

It’s my first time to use True Reincarnation, so I’m still learning the robes. I see that your character gains a free automatic feat for Past Life of your last class. For me, that’s Past Life: Monk, with +1 to damage rolls. It wasn’t what I was expecting when, after I leveled to 3 and chose my Philosophy (a Light Monk again), I saw a new feat: Past Life: Disciple of the Fist. This was what I was waiting to see. It sends your Monk’s unarmed damage rolls up by a step (so 2d4 is 2d6, 2d10 is 2d12, etc.), gives a boost to Concentration, and allows an Evasive trance.

That Evasion trance seems a little odd until I thought about it. Monks receive Evasion very early at level 2 (a reason why two levels of Monk is a popular option for some melee types). So, this trance may give characters with past Monk experience that TR as a non-Monk to get that Evasion back using this option and without multiclassing, albeit with the price that it is not a permanent feat but more like a clicky. It’s only active for 20 seconds and still requires the character to use light armor or less and not be encumbered.

Syn received a little makeover, giving her an appearance that’s more of a blend of the dark features of her desert monastic namesake as well as Asian features from the lovely kung-fu action girl that graces this blog as my avatar: Michelle Yeoh.

This time around, I didn’t suffer the problems in knowing what a Monk could do. Syn went through Korthos and made fish sticks out of the fish people, never entering a quest on anything but Hard difficulty or better. I missed my Healing Ki for some time, having the Level 1 cleric hireling Dryad (didn’t she have a helmet before Update 13?) help me out until I punched and kicked myself to Level 3.

To my shame, I hadn’t as many low-level gear from my guild’s Monk bank as available to me as I thought. I did have one nice item: the Fernian Wraps from the Threnal chain, with no minimum level.

So far, choices for Enhancements are in line, no APs wasted. Didn’t add Weapon Finesse again, yet, in study of what I may integrate from the classic Rockan’s build and his avoidance of it since STR and DEX are often so closely set for many Monks. Syncletica was built at first from my own Neverwinter Nights knowledge and had to be retweaked twice to fit DDO’s gameplay (including a Greater Reincarnation) to get her to what she was. Lynncletica is a better result of all that knowledge gained from Syn’s retwinking; STR-based, but far durable and happily sitting at 509 HP, unbuffed.

I’ll likely still choose Weapon Finesse since I get better AC over time and hits (Syn’s really missing punches at the moment). As for that second Past Life feat…yeah, I think resurrection and tighter XP rewards requires greater asskicking.

And, this time, Syncletica will ask her guildies to guide her through the entire Necropolis chain. As a Light Monk, you’d think this was a no-brainer.