Enhancement Alpha: Ninja Spy

After taking apart the proposed Henshin Mystic class tree, I conclude my look at the alpha enhancements for Monks with this last installment of my admittedly biased review of the last of the three prestige class enhancements, the Ninja Spy.

In comparison to the live Shintao Monk enhancements, there wasn’t a lot going for the original Ninja Spy that had a serious “wow” factor for many players as it had only two levels versus Shintao’s three levels to upgrade.

Over time, however, I’ve discovered that playing what enhancements we did get to their fullest made ninjas a powerfully versatile scout and infiltrator that later synergized very well with the Shadowdancer Epic Destiny.

After the rather disappointing changes proposed in the other trees, I expected to have to nickname this tree as “Ninja Spy III: Electric Bugaloo“.  As it turned out I’m actually quite pleased with the changes–with a few caveats.

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Ninja Spy

Core abilities: Ninja Training, Ninja Training, Shadow Veil, Poisoned Darts, Diversion, Ninja Master

  • PRO: Ninja Training (Level 1) gives you shortsword proficiency as ki weapons immediately at Monk level 1. An excellent way to start off the class.
  • Ninja Training (Level 3) lets you use your Dexterity modifier for damage using piercing (shortsword) and slashing (kama) weapons. You also might throw an additional shuriken during an attack. This seems to add the features of  Ten Thousand Stars (which is now missing from any of the other trees) and the now more-disused Weapon Finesse feat.
  • Shadow Veil (Level 6) is the renamed Shadow Fade, one of the most versatile and popular abilities on live, which give you 1 minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality, leaving you incorporeal if you must attack. It’s missing it’s ki regeneration mode, but this re-appears as a separate feature, later.
  • Poisoned Darts: You spit a cone of poisoned darts and hit your targets with Ninja Poison. What “Ninja Poison” is and how it differs from other poison effects I haven’t figured out as yet.
  • PRO: Diversion: You expend a turn of Meditation to go invisible and create a dummy that attracts monsters. Yes. I like this one a lot, provided that Monks get an extra Meditation turn from somewhere (we get only 2 per rest).
  • Ninja Master: You gain +2 Dexterity. While you are centered, you gain a +1 competence bonus to the critical threat range with shortswords and a +2 competence bonus to the critical threat range with kamas and shuriken. Any piercing or slashing weapon you wield gains the Vorpal ability. If I have to fight, I don’t mind this, although it sounds a little wimpy, save Vorpal. Everyone likes Vorpal.

The core abilities aren’t bad at all, but let’s go into the tiers and hope for more tidbits.

Tier 1: Nujitsu, Stealthy, Sneak Attack Training, Faster Sneaking, Acrobatic

  • PRO PRO PRO: Nujitsu gives new attacks in place of the elemental vulnerability attacks that now belong to the Henshin Mystic. These are all toggled effects and only one can be active at a time, I’m sure. These augment your Touch of Despair finishing move. You’ll gain a new attack on each tier.
  • Impending Doom gives you +25 ki and +25 HP if an enemy cursed with the Touch of Despair dies within 30 seconds.
  • Poison Exploit  purges an enemy of Ninja Poison, dealing 1d20 poison damage per stack of Ninja Poison removed. In short, Ninja Poison is just as bad coming out as going in.
  • Poison Soul adds a stack of Ninja Poison to an enemy every 6 seconds for up to 30 seconds.
  • Wave of Despair causes all nearby enemies to take a negative level. Wow.
  • PRO: Stealthy gives you more Hide and Move Silently points. At its highest rank, you gain +1 ki while sneaking (the counterpart to the “One with Shadow” effect on the live servers).
  • Sneak Attack Training gives you some points to your sneak attack damage as did its live predecessors.
  • PRO: Faster Sneaking adds more speed to your sneaking, up to 50% faster (which likely stacks with your Striding ability). Currently, with both Ninja I and II selected, your speed increase was only 20%, so this is a great upgrade, potentially allowing a Ninja to always run silent.
  • Acrobatic: More points to Balance, Jump and Tumble, plus up to 3% more to your Dodge Bonus. More Dodge is welcome.

Tier 2: Ninjitsu, Subtlety, Sneak Attack Training, Elemental Ki Strikes, Agility

  • Subtlety reduces your Threat to as low as 40%.
  • CON: Elemental Ki Strikes here are the same ones found in the Shintao class tree and are quite redundant. Can’t something else work here, devs? Ninjas fight, but they can specialize in much more.
  • Agility adds up to 3 to your Concentration, Reflex saves, and your Dodge Bonus cap.

Tier 3: Ninjitsu, Flash Bang, Sneak Attack Training, Sting of the Ninja, Wisdom/Dexterity

  • Flash Bang is a ball you throw that has a chance of blinding on a failed Reflex save and stunning them with a failed Fortitude save. Would be nice if this could be used as a diversion or noise maker, although Diversion is available now, as well.
  • Sting of the Ninja: You poison your weapon with a secret mixture. While you are centered, piercing and slashing attacks you make deliver a stack of Ninja Poison on critical hits. Shuriken apply this effect on damage instead of on critical hits. Unarmed combat requires a set of handwraps for this to apply (as well as a way to deal piercing or slashing damage). Oh, this one was going so well until that last caveat. For this attack to work unarmed, you need to have the Brawling Gloves crafted for yourself (piercing attack) or be at epic levels to use Vorpal Strikes (slashing damage). Perhaps there are other ways to use this while unarmed.
  • CON: Wisdom/Dexterity: The devs threw this one in, as with other class enhancements.

Tier 4: Ninjitsu, Deadly Exploits, Sneak Attack Training, No Mercy, Wisdom/Dexterity

  • PRO: Deadly Exploits augments your Poison Exploits special ability by increasing your Ninja Poison damage.
  • PRO: No Mercy: You deal up to 30% more damage to helpless opponents. Do get your Stunning Fist DCs maxed for this one.

Tier 5: Touch of Death, Crippling Strike, Shadow Double

  • Touch of Death hasn’t changed, except that its cooldown appears to have  increased from 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Crippling Strike is the same as the Rogue ability of the same name: A strength-sapping effect of -2 STR that accumulates. Not bad, but I expected more at this tier level. Perhaps combined with Maladroit effects (while using some Night’s Grasp handwraps that also add negative energy damage) this could be quite fun to have.
  • Shadow Double: You perform a melee attack with +2[W] and gain 100% melee doublestrike for 6 seconds. In a crowd, perhaps, with the right Cleave effect and good Two Weapon Fighting, it might be a nice addition.

What’s Missing?

The occasionally useful but always cool Dance of the Water Strider, where you can run on liquids, is gone from the Ninja Spy tree. It’s not that hard to add, but for some reason the devs removed this. This ability does have several applications in quests, specifically in the “Accursed Abbot” quest where a Ninja can run over deadly-to-touch water to complete an objective.

From Alpha to Omega: Epilogue

Quite a few players on the Lammania forums seemed understandably disappointed or confused by the changes seen in the alpha. I’m one of them.

Of these, the Ninja Spy tree is now more fortified and has suffered the least detrimental changes and the best overall gains of all the Prestige trees. It favors the subtle approach and has potentially devastating attacks using Touch of Despair alone. I like it.

Shintao Monks have greater protections but is the only class tree that has built-in healing amplification. If you’re a Ninja or Henshin and are not Human or Half-Elf, you have no healing amplification in your build, anywhere, without items.

My favorite spell-like ability, Rise of the Phoenix, is transformed into a self-serving ability that  no longer raises dead, leaving players to grind for more limited ways to do this. Monks already have a restore-all panic button available in the Grandmaster of Flowers epic destiny: Wholeness of Spirit. Why add a second that doesn’t help others? Shintao alpha also shares a redundant set of elemental ki attack enhancements with the Ninja Spy that should be removed or incorporated elsewhere.

Henshin Mystics aren’t nearly as cool as they could be. They hoard the only Void Strike attack and at high level, breaking the Void finishers for all other class trees. Their use of Fire as a dominant ki attack as well as bludgeoning attacks with staffs (with no changes to DR bypassing, such as adding slashing damage) as well as no changes in attack speed make the new class a questionable choice.

I’m looking forward to the Ninja Spy update. For all else, not so much. But this is an alpha look. Let’s hope that the devs have listened to the feedback and make a few useful changes that don’t gimp one class or overly favor another.

  • Monk healing amplification. For all class trees.
  • A lesser Void attack, or better, Void Strike for all without using the Henshin tree.
  • Return “Dance of the Water Strider.” We do use that in the Abbot quests as well as stealthy, fast approaches in some places, and for quick farming during the Risia Ice Festival.
  • Boost the quarterstaff speed in increments and add some DR bypassing for the Henshin.
  • Add something other than Fire damage in Henshin that won’t be worthless against devils, demons and other high-level enemies.
  • Make the Monk stances selectable as feats but don’t overpower the class and give them every stance. Void Strike or an elemental stance to add at 6, 12 and 18.

Enhancements Alpha: Henshin Mystic

After going over the Human racial enhancement and Shintao Monk class enhancement tree from the recent alpha exposure on Lammania, it’s time to look at the long-awaited new, third Prestige class to be introduced when this new enhancement tree format goes live: The Henshin Mystic.

There are serious problems with this new class set that take away not only from its own potential greatness but from abilities originally found in the live Shintao and Ninja Spy enhancements.

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Henshin Mystic

Core Abilities: Riddle of Fire, Ki Bolt, Sounding Staff, Incinerating Wave, Cauldron of Flame, Serenity

  • *Riddle of Fire improves your Fire and Force spell power, improves your Fire resistance and detracts from enemies. This improves for each Henshin core ability you choose.
  • PRO: *Ki Bolt lets you shoot off a bolt of ki that deals fire and Force damage. A low-level counterpart to the Grandmaster of Flowers’s Epic Destiny ability, Lily Petal.
  • *Sounding Staff gives improvements to Universal Spell Power as you level the class tree. As a player that doesn’t delve much in the spell casting classes, I’m sure this is a good thing but can’t easily quantify how this improves overall damage.
  • *Incinerating Wave throws a moving firewall, dealing Fire and Force damage that grows as you level. Interesting again, with a caveat for later.
  • *Cauldron of Flame burns any enemies around you with massive Fire damage while you stand in your effect. If you move, the effect ends. Sounds good, but…
  • Serenity is effectively the original Monk heroic Capstone.

Now, why the asterisks above?

As you”ll see in the other tiers, the Henshin primarily deals Fire damage. That’s not going to help against Fire Elementals or those immune to fire–which happen to be the most deadliest foes on Heroic levels: the devils and demons. Nor does the Henshin gain any speed or DR bypassing advantages.

Let’s continue into the tiers.

Tier 1: Elemental Words, Staff Training, Mystic Training, Negotiator, Animal Forms

  • Elemental Words are the same spell-like elemental debuffing abilities from the live Ninja Spy enhancements, which give 10% more acid, cold, fire or electric damage. Like similar abilities in other trees, you can pick one per tier but only one you haven’t chosen in a prior tier. These debuffers might be more handy here than in the Ninja Spy camp, which has its own new negative energy debuffing attacks that I’m excited to use.
  • CON: Staff Training adds +1 to hit and to damage from quarterstaves over several tiers. Really? That’s all? Why should a Monk train in using a staff if the damage is (1) not different from the bludgeoning of unarmed fighting, and (2) is slower than unarmed fighting? A Henshin, in my imagination, should generate superior damage as a master of this weapon. Better than an Acrobat, or even a Fighter. This underwhelming enhancement foreshadows how unimpressive the Henshin tree ultimately becomes as we explore higher tiers.
  • CON: Mystic Training adds up to +3 to your tactical DCs. That’s nice–but since the unarmed class feat Stunning Fist cannot be used with a quarterstaff (requiring one to take the non-class feat Stunning Blow), this is a nearly useless ability for a quarterstaff user.
  • CON: Negotiator gives bonuses to Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate (or Haggle–the DDO Wiki page is contradictory). This is a thrown-in ability that wasted on most Monks.
  • If you wondered where the Animal Forms such as the Way of the Patient Tortoise went, you’ll find it in this tier. Once chosen, the forms improve automatically as your Monk levels, and so do penalties from the form, if any.

Tier 2: Elemental Words, Staff Training, Quick Strike, Elemental Ki Strikes, Contemplation

  • Staff Training is the same limited improvement as the first tier, and still lame.
  • Quick Strike adds insult to injury in a staff-wielding Monk that is serious on generating more damage for a brief time, as does an Action Boost. It does not add speed.
  • Contemplation adds ki regeneration, more Concentration and better Will saves. Neither impressive nor bad.

Tier 3: Elemental Words, Staff Training, Lighting the Candle, Embrace the Void, Ability Score

  • Lighting the Candle has some promise by adding deadly Fire and (on critical hits only) Force damage. More damage does come from a staff but some is possible when unarmed. The attack reduces your ki generation on-hit, however.
  • Embrace the Void is a poorly-named enhancement that, like a similarly ill-named Shintao ability, has nothing to do with Void attacks. It adds more Meditation turns, and your ki regenerates faster. More so, you generate a shield that protects you for up to 100 damage and it regenerates every 3 seconds. Battle Meditation, anyone? It reminds me of the gargoyle’s force shield that negates damage while they stop fighting to reheal.
  • Ability Score: The devs couldn’t think of anything else better for this slot, so you can add a point to a stat.

Tier 4: Elemental Words, Staff Training, Focus, Ability Score

  • The three other abilities here are no different from previous tiers, merely improving on what you chose from a prior tier.
  • Focus is a new enhancement that sounds like someone’s been watching a marathon run of “The Matrix” movie series (or played a few of the games). As you meditate, your Universal Spell Power gets a temporary boost, insight bonuses to weapon damage and to-hit, as do your allies nearby.

Tier 5: Void Strike, Staff Training, Balance in Dawn

  • CON CON CON: This is the only place where Void Strike resides as far as I can tell. There doesn’t appear to be any other lesser forms of Void Strike in any other class tree, which means that only the Henshin–and a high-level one at that–has access to this ability. This breaks the Curse of the Void and Moment of Clarity finishers since there’s no low-level Void Strike attack to choose to use these finishers. This is Void Strike IV, effectively, and at a lower level (12 rather than 18). But its placement screws over all other Monks.
  • Staff Training is more of the same wimpy staff upgrades.
  • PRO: Balance in Dawn is something I read about on the forums as the devs told us of the initial Henshin rough-in design. This gives a Henshin the ability to use a Light attack or a Dark attack. So if you chose to be a Dark Monk and train up to get this enhancement, you can add a Light attack with a damaging effect not unlike Divine Punishment. If you kill that enemy fast enough, a 100 point healing burst appears around you. Likewise, a Light Monk can add a Dark attack, which gives negative levels to a target and +2[W] damage. Kill the enemy fast enough and every nearby enemy gets negative levels, too. Further, this gives either philosophy the capacity to activate almost all finishers of a Monk. It’s a fascinating addition–were it not for the fact that you have to find AP to train the Henshin side, sacrificing something more important in the Shintao or Ninja Spy sides to get this or Void Strike back.

Frankly, I am quite disappointed at this new class but reserve a little hope. Henshin Mystics, sadly, aren’t that mystical. There’s little in this class alpha that will pull me away from unarmed fighting since you gain little advantages to doing so–except regain attacks that all Monks should have access to use. If greater speed and elemental damage other than fire is added, then a Henshin can take those Rahl’s Might and Dreamspitter staffs to a whole new level of ass-kickery. Better: Add a mass-knockback spin attack (Neo vs. Smith in The Matrix Reloaded‘s “Burly Brawl” is all the inspiration that the devs need on that idea).

Last but not least, a look at the new Ninja Spy alpha enhancements.

Enhancements Alpha: Shintao Monk

In the first part, we looked at how Humans fare in the new enhancements tree alpha recently shown on Lammania.

Next, let’s look at how the Shintao Monk fares as a tree-based prestige.

The interesting and potentially useful advantage to the class tree system, overall, is that it provides a cafeteria-style selection. You aren’t limited to only abilities from one class tree. A Monk can pick enhancements from any three to form many diverse characters with interesting gameplay results.

However, there is something gravely off in the class trees. This doesn’t affect just Shintao but the class itself.

Monk Stances Changed to Auto-granted Feats

This is, to me, a terrible change. As I looked through the class trees, I realized that the various elemental stances (Adept, Master, Grandmaster) weren’t in any of the class trees, as they are in the live version. I found them, eventually, sitting in the Feats tab.

In the current framework, you had to carefully select your elemental stance enhancements with the limited 80 AP. It was possible to have all four Grandmaster styles at a sacrifice to other enhancements such as Void Strike or a fully completed Prestige track. No more. In the alpha, every single elemental form is granted to you as feats, not enhancements, at specific levels.

This overpowers the Monk. One of my most powerful characters is an “Avatar,” which has mastered every Grandmaster style. Building Quintessica put limits on some Prestige advancements but gear and gameplay offset this quite well.

By giving all Monk elemental styles, it overpowers the class since these abilities augment ability scores, skills, and defenses greatly. It also throws out what little (but enjoyable) role-playing philosophy that was present in choosing a style. Effectively, everyone’s an “Avatar,” and that’s frankly not realistic.

Monk stance effects are special, stacking with all other buff, item and spell effects for skills, feats and abilities. That means that all the new enhancements make a Monk far more powerful than it probably should.

Sure, you could only play one style. Yet how does this limit your character’s power?

I understand why these were moved as developers would have had to add the advancement tree in all the class trees, which would be impractical.

So why not give Monk stances as selectable special feat slots given at specific levels and with the same ability score requirements? Elemental Feats, it could say. A player could add a new school or improve something else in the Feat tree, but still have a limitation. Perhaps moving the Void Strike enhancements here would help since there’s a serious design problem with that as well.

Taking more Void Strikes or elemental stances would give balance as you can take all of one or the other, not both, as it is on the live server. While you must take the feat, you can always use the feat trainer to swap it out (which is more expensive than retraining enhancements but keeps a bit of a limit in place while allowing some flexibility).

Of all the changes under consideration, let’s hope that Monk stances don’t stay as shown in the alpha.

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Shintao Monk

The Shintao Monk currently is still one of the most resilient character builds, able to outlast, outgun and, if necessary, outrun their enemies, and using fewer resources than any other class, thanks to ki. The alpha has boosted the Shintao’s defensive and offensive abilities–at the price of the Prestige class’s theme, it’s flavor, it’s role-play feel.

Core Abilities: Bastion of Purity, Protection from Tainted Creatures, Iron Hand, Argent Fist, Touch the Void Dragon, To Seek Perfection

  • CON: Bastion of Purity replaces Monk Improved Recovery and is only found in the Shintao tree. That means that if you’re a non-human, non-Half-Elf, Ninja or Henshin, you’re completely SOL for any kind of enhancement or class-based healing amplification, period. A Human or Half-Elf non-Shintao can get the similar Human and Monk Improved Recovery, but no others.
  • Protection from Tainted Creatures gives a general buff against some effects, but this core item is more useful for the first level of unarmed DR metal bypassing for Byeshk defenses.
  • Iron Hand just provides Cold Iron unarmed DR bypassing as did its predecessor in Shintao II live.
  • Argent Fist improves the Tainted saves but adds the popular Silver DR unarmed bypass of Shintao III live, where the Shintao’s body is effectively a living, unarmed metalline weapon.
  • CON: Touch the Void Dragon is an ill-named new effect that expends a Meditation turn for a nastily uber boost to all ability scores for one minute. This is a panic button that works like the Madstone or Rage effects, but it seems really overpowered, especially in combination with the auto-granted stances. (I say “ill-named” because this ability has nothing to do with any Void elemental attacks.)
  • CON: To Seek Perfection seems thrown-in. You gain +2 to WIS and lose any penalties to a tier 5 enhancement called Meditation of War. I think this and similar high-level core abilities replace the heroic Capstones. If this is the case, we lose the enhanced ki effect and bonuses to Concentration here for Shintao students (it appears in the Henshin Mystic tree, to be discussed soon).

Tier 1:  Elemental Curatives, Reed in the Wind, Defensive Strikes, Ki Shout, Exemplar

  • PRO (mostly): Elemental Curatives are the same spell-like abilities that are available to Harmonious Balance students: Difficulty at the Beginning, Lifting the Veil, Restoring the Balance, and The Receptive Earth. This is a select-one item where you can select others in higher tiers. What’s changed isn’t a bad idea: Your Healing Ki finishing move (in addition to its mass Heal effect) also activates any and all of these curatives as you get them. In battle, this can be awesome to heal, remove curses, blindness, disease and apply a lesser restoration all at once with a single finisher. There are two problems, however: Are the curatives now a mass effect or do you have to select a target? Also, using the curative now is FAR more expensive in terms of ki, since you need maybe 30-40 ki available just for a low-level use as you grind out your finisher.
  • Reed in the Weed sounds thrown-in, especially since Monks had naturally received a good Dodge bonus as part of their class. It’s not a bad idea to have an improved chance to miss physical attacks. It’s just not spectacularly inspiring here and should be available to all Monks.
  • PRO and CON: Defensive Strikes a toggled Monk stance that trades offense for defense. It looks to be a great option for tanking Monks. It does seem to be steep in prerequisites, however. As well, this seems to support a theme in these trees that Monks are unarmed bludgeons that need to be less swishy, versus a lightweight fighter that has superior evasive and Dodge. In other words, how does this differ a Monk from a Fighter?
  • PRO: Ki Shout shows that the devs are looking to improve a Monk’s melee effectiveness by using Concentration as an ersatz skill to help intimidate. I’m all for this as tanker Monks have had to sink double-points into the Intimidate skill and use Earth Stance to gain some traction here.
  • CON: Exemplar (up to +3 in Heal and Intimidate, and up to 10% additional Threat generation) is a complete waste of an enhancement slot. This isn’t worth the points at all.

Tier 2: Elemental Curatives, Smite Tainted Creature, Iron Skin, Elemental Ki Strikes, Conditioning

  • Smite Tainted Creature is identical to its live counterpart in Shintao II.
  • PRO: Iron Skin adds what seems to be stacking PRR to a Monk. Great promise for tanking. Hopefully the PRR bonuses in Mountain Stance remain to add to these damage reduction effects.
  • PRO and CON: Elemental Ki Strikes are the optional ki attacks available through each elemental stance but with some new styles and changes. Eagle Claw Attack (Improved Destruction effect x2 and +2[W] damage, Fists of Iron (+3 [W] damage now!), Knock on the Sky (deflects damage and +1[W]) and Unbalancing Strike (same as the original). While very attractive, the problem I have with these is that they are found in two trees: Shintao and Ninja Spy. That’s a waste of good enhancement slots that ninjas or Shintao could opt for something else. One or the other need the same tree; not both.
  • PRO: Conditioning isn’t anything bad as it gives more Concentration and HP. It’s more like the Animal Paths (now living on the Henshin Mystic tree), specifically, the Way of the Patient Tortoise.

Tier 3: Elemental Curatives, Jade Strike, Dismissing Strike, Wisdom/Constitution

  • Jade Strike is identical to its live version.
  • CON: Dismissing Strike, which banishes on a failed save, recharges slowly and thus hardly useful or  rarely relied on by anyone I’ve partnered. Banishing handwraps aren’t that rare. A better ability could be added here, or a better effect.
  • CON: Wisdom/Constitution is thrown-in. It’s clear that the devs didn’t have anything better to add to this slot.

Tier 4: Elemental Curatives, Tomb of Jade, Instinctive Defense, Wisdom/Constitution

  • Tomb of Jade remains the same awesome punch as the live version.
  • PRO: Instinctive Defense is interesting. Should you fail your save, you take less damage while helpless. Can’t argue with that.
  • CON: Wisdom/Constitution: Again, as with tier 3, this seems thrown-in.

Tier 5: Rise of the Phoenix, Kukan-Do, Violence Begets Violence, Meditation of War, Empty Hand Mastery

  • CON CON CON: The change to Rise of the Phoenix actually made me angry. Light Monks offered Cleric-like abilities to supplement the real ones in addition to their fighting prowess. This change makes RotF into a self-centered invulnerability-meets-Diehard enhancement that  returns you to battle. Since when did this class become so selfish and not a  party-support class? Further, not everyone is going to go Half-Elf for a Cleric Dilettante,  make clickies or grind for special items, spend points in Use Magic Device or have huge bags of platinum, Turbine Points, or Astral Shards just to get a Raise Dead ability! This is the one enhancement change that could make my cancel my account outright–it’s just that ridiculous. I don’t always run with parties, but do often have to raise my own hireling cleric because they are coded for Stupid +10 sometimes. I know that many don’t use this ability, but in this alpha change, you get your Monk Improved Recovery III equivalent anyway for this class tree, which was what players often chose instead of Rise of the Phoenix. Have the devs watched any martial arts movies lately? Or even read the 4th edition D&D rulebook? Monks, as a class design, do not serve themselves. Don’t change this ability, devs.
  • Kukan-Do is generally the same as it’s live version.
  • PRO and CON: Violence Begets Violence is a new fascinating ability that increases your critical threat range (when Defensive Strikes is active) to help deliver punishing damage up to 20x your threat range. It resets when you’re critically hit. Again, however, this ability doesn’t seem very monastic. Fighters fight. Monks fight when required, and with skill, not as a fancy bludgeon. Again, this seem to taint the class philosophy/design.
  • CON: Meditation of War gives special insight damage or effects based on your Monk stance. It’s not a bad idea. However, the feature for Fire stance, where you get +2 to your Stunning DCs, seems offset by the fact that Fire Stance removes points from WIS, which generates tactical DCs for Monks in the first place. In short, the features offset each other ridiculously. Maybe this should be the Ocean Stance’s ability?
  • Empty Hand Mastery moves a Monk’s hit die from 1d6 to 1d8. That’s nice but nothing new in that all Monks gained this at level 20 prior to a recent update. Damage is good except that, again, this seems like a dev’s wish to make the Monks greater fighters when we didn’t suck to begin with.

So, the Shintao line seems three steps forward and two steps backward. The quasi-philosophical feel of the Monk, peaceful and contemplative until provoked into mystical kicking of ass, seems like it’s being pointed to kill-kill-kill more than kill-help-kill. That’s not how the D&D class envisioned it to be. I know DDO is less role-play than action, but it’s the little details that matter in keeping a class differentiated from others. I can learn to bludgeon just fine, unarmed, as a Fighter. That doesn’t make him a Monk.

Coming soon: The Henshin Mystic alpha enhancements.

Enhancements Alpha: Racial Trees

So, let’s begin a breakdown on the recent alpha release of the new enhancements for Monks on Lammania.

I was slowed in getting this done because it was hard to practically record anything, not to mention the doom-filled reaction I had to changes that aren’t part of the enhancements tree, but to granted Monk feats. Thankfully, other contributors on the DDO Wiki have resolved the compilation of the proposed trees to make it much easier for me to link them for you to view and point out the ramifications. Thank you, thank you, DDO Wiki!

I’ll begin first by reviewing a racial tree sample. I was hoping to find time to look at Humans, Halflings, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs, but right now, all the time I have for is to review the Human tree.

You can view the summaries of other racial trees (and class trees) on DDO Wiki. Again, my apologies that I can’t cover every one.

Please note: My review is based on my gameplay style as well as how the proposed changes affect Monks in the way I’ve played them. I acknowledge a wholesale bias as I don’t play all the classes or races. Therefore, my opinions may not match your own. Your mileage may vary.

alpha-humanHumans

Core Abilities: for Humans, these are filled with the Versatility, Adaptability and Greater Adaptability enhancements.

  • While I find the extra boosts handy in some instances, they are too short and give too little benefit except at low levels. That’s how I play; I know others enjoy these, but often Monk stances provide similar benefits. These do stack with Monk stances, so I don’t discount them completely.
  • In the current system, not everyone cares to use these, certainly not to spend the AP necessary to bring each to their maximum. Why make these mandatory when you wanted to spend the AP on something else. It would be more prudent to add Skill Focus in the Core Abilities since we’re discussing Humans, who are quite adaptable and should have a “knack” in which they all excel.

Tier 1:  Dragonmark Focus, Skill Focus, Action Surge, Improved Recovery, Don’t Count Me Out

  • Pro: No change is a good change. Human Improved Recovery remains available and has ranks to improve this in later tiers. Essential for Monks, who get fewer hit points per level than other melees. However,this may be the only healing amplification option available for Monks who don’t take Shintao enhancements (see the Shintao alpha review).
  • The Dragonmark Focus is in a logical place and improved versions appear in later tiers.
  • Action Surge is new, and it has some benefit to giving you a bit more ability points to tweak your build. So long as these can count for other prerequisites that need a certain ability score (such as Two Weapon Fighting), I’m good with it.
  • Same for the new Don’t Count Me Out, although I question why humans are more hard-headed than other more hardy races in terms of going incapacitated.

Tier 2:  Lesser Dragonmarks, Skill Focus, Action Surge, Fighting Style

  • Pro: Another Action Surge gives you a chance to boost another ability score, but it cannot be the same one you selected in Tier 1.
  • Fighting Style could add a little to-hit for unarmed and two-weapon fighting, but I’m unsure of how this stacks or works with the Two Weapon Fighting feat or Monk stances.

Tier 3:  Greater Dragonmarks, Skill Mastery, Action Surge, Improved Recovery, Heroism

  • Logical progression. Skill Mastery is okay, but seems a bit wimpy to add it at this tier level.
  • More Improved Recovery healing amplification is welcome.
  • Con: Heroism is also interesting to see, but not in a good way, since this is easily found in potions. It saves you from carrying more potions, but it seems thrown-in.

Tier 4: Action Surge, Improved Recovery, Greater Heroism

  • Pro: Greater Heroism is something I can root for here; it’s always welcome if you haven’t a Bard with you.
  • Cons: That’s it? Are we losing something here? Yes, we are. Gone from human racial abilities are the Toughness enhancements to gain more HP. For Monks, we needed these badly since we have fewer hit points of all the melee classes. There doesn’t seem to be a reason why. Hopefully I’ll find out whether the class enhancements make up for them somewhere.

Next: Shintao Monk alpha enhancements.

Monk Enhancements Alpha: A Prologue

EnAlphaSummary

In the mystical server of Lammania this week exists a place where I smile, nod and cry.

This is the realm where, for a few days longer, I can browse at the upcoming changes to the format and function of Enhancements. I’m looking only at the Monk changes for the time being since time is limited before Lammania switches out the enhancements to show other sets for other classes.

With little desire to play them for now, I downloaded and installed the Lammania code, spent over a week trying to figure out why it wouldn’t launch before a couple of enterprising forum members figured out a workaround to get me going.

My objectives during this alpha (which isn’t scheduled to launch in any live update in the very near future) is thus:

  1. See how the format has changed
  2. See how Monk feats and enhancements have changed
  3. See how the Henshin Mystic format was added
  4. Note serious changes and report them in a survey to the developers immediately
  5. Spend several posts in this blog reviewing the trees and how they impact how you play today

The Format

If you’ve made an Epic character and used Epic Destinies, you won’t be surprised that the enhancement trees look and work similarly to Epic Destiny trees.

What differs from the ED trees confused me. First: There is a panel for your racial enhancements. At the base of this tree (where ED innate abilities are automatically activated as you level) are items you can click on to activate.

What irritated me greatly are the requirements for these base items. The format compels you to spend in things that are currently optional, such as Adaptability and Human Versatility, in order to spend enough AP to make other points in the racial panel active and unlocked. A waste. The base abilities waste much of your AP since they often take 2 AP to activate–in fact, most of the abilities take 2 AP to use.

Like ED skills, some enhancements have ranks where you can upgrade one enhancement up to 3 ranks.

In addition to the racial panel are what are marked as Class Enhancements. The former name of Prestige Enhancements reside on three panels, which means that the Monk has a new Prestige option. Here, you’ll find the Shintao Monk, Ninja Spy and the new, long-awaited implementation of the Henshin Mystic.

This rearrangement of the Prestige Enhancements have some promise but, in my initial look and experimentation, I found a few things that distressed me greatly.

The Review

In the coming days, I’ll take one panel at a time, break down what’s there, how it differs from the current format, and how much its contents are great/sucks/interesting/terrifyingly silly.

I’ve spotted several Monk staples that are missing, moved or augmented to benefit only one PrE that I will be ranting about to the alpha developers immediately, as I feel that the changes dangerously affect the fundamental skills that all Monks should be able to attain in any Prestige Enhancement.

A few key skills in the Shintao and Ninja panels are so distressingly off that I can’t tell you how awful it is right now to me.

As for the Henshin Mystic, it has the greatest promise if we can encourage the devs to make a few tweaks.

Stay tuned.