The Merciless Tempest and the Little Mountain

The moment arrived this week.

To fight the unbeatable foes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how did it go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Who Will Kite the Judge?”

I’ve been busy in preparing my Strength-based light Monk, Lynncletica, to take over the reins as my level 20 melee fighter with Syncletica’s TR scheduled for Easter (an appropriate time than any, don’t you think?). Lynn received her Void Strike IV and capped in the last week, a fully capable Grandmaster of Mountains, but not tested in any Epic as yet.

Lynn was still short two of her flagging quests for the Tower of Despair. Fellow guildies that I would love to invite were scarce that day (blame NCAA March Madness, I think) so, desperate to Get ‘Er Done, I studied the two quests left to do: “Bastion of Power” and “A New Invasion.” I brought in Heystack the Cleric hireling for emergencies and parked him in passive mode at the start of “Invasion” and got to work, carefully at first.

I’ve generated quite an affinity for Syncletica, my main toon, a Dexterity-based light Monk and a Grandmaster of Wind. She’s now well-geared and very dangerous, so I’m hardly hesitant in sending her solo through all but a very few non-Epic places in the game . But Lynncletica has a history of venturing where archons fear to tread, and taking more damage to boot. But, now a Grandmaster with her capstone of DR 10/Epic, enought had changed in Lynn’s durability to put her Grandmaster training to a full test–but not insanely. I entered both quests on Casual just to get them flagged.

Alone in the Bowels of Amrath

In both quests, Lynn alternated between Fire Stance to generate ki and held in Mountain Stance for damage and defense. The swarms of orthons, devils and tieflings were quite manageable; only the air elementals posed a challenge if they joined up with mobs. They’d either push Lynn away or, worse, knock her down. Fortunately, elementals are Outsiders, so, once I noted their fight pattern, a quick Tomb of Jade strike froze the blowhards solid, whereby I pummeled the things into nothingness.

Came the time for the end-fight. As vets of this quest know, you fall into a circular room. Everything is trapped, specifically a series of platforms that surround the deadly interior. In addition to a small mob of devils is Barnzidu, one really honked-off pit fiend. Your challenge in killing him involves the healing curses that the fiend throws in combination with the platforms that release a deadly explosion if anything (players, hirelings, soulstones) stand on the platform longer than a few seconds.

But Lynn was durable enough (thanks to playing Casual). Her Evasion, combined with her ability to remove her own curses, made the fight generally easy. It’s like what Dory said, in a fashion. “Just keep running…just keep running…”

The “Bastion” run was more challenging because of the recurring spawns and the confusing layout. By the time I found myself to the end-boss, my ship buffs were completely gone. Taking out the fiend there wasn’t too hard (sadly, I couldn’t use his reverse gravity to get the switches to the third chest). The maralith arrived and I began to pummel it, focusing too hard on its hit points and not on my own. Ding.

Luckily, the maralith had only a handful of hit points, and I had a Spirit Cake from the 6th DDO Birthday. Exactly two punches later, it was over. Sadly, no special loot from either of these quests, but at least Lynn was flagged for Tower of Despair.

The Little Mountain Must Stand

A day or so later, I found a PuG for Tower that was filling fast. The leader was nice and cordial but often his verbal requests were often ignored; maybe only he, myself and one other cared to use voice chat. One good sport teleported me to the ToD entrance (thanks!) else you have to run there (a NPC at the entrance will allow you direct teleport to the entrance in the future once you speak to him).

The party leader asks for someone to kite the Judge, a massive orthon, in part 1 of our fight. No one responds. He asks a second time before I do the unthinkable. I normally do not see Monks as decent kiters as they do not generate enough aggro to keep the monster focused on them. Kiting also has its risks in getting the full wrath and damage when fighting a boss alone.

“I’ll kite the Judge,” I say, with no small amount of trepidation. This time, I wouldn’t be running on Casual. It was a raid, on Normal. It was Lynn’s most definitive build test to date: Would she be able to keep the Judge busy and live?

The party falls inside the lair. Death at this stage is similar to Part 4 of The Shroud. Should you die here, the Jailer will teleport you and your soulstone into a jail where resurrection is impossible until after both he and the Judge are dead. If too many people die here, the raid will wipe. The area is filled with undisarmable traps amidst narrow platforms, all surrounded by Shararath lava (far more damaging per second than regular lava). A few fire elementals and hellhounds stir up the works as well.

The bulk of the party charges the Jailer. I kick into Fire stance, make a beeline to the Judge and strike him a few times to build up ki before changing to Mountain Stance. In this Ultimate stance, I generate 70% more threat but also gain more damage resistance.

It worked. The orthon becomes very ticked at me and doggedly chased my butt all over the area, ignoring everyone else.

Both Jailer and Judge also perform a maneuver that flings the party away en masse, where you have to re-engage and pray you aren’t tossed into a trap or lava. Monks don’t fly but we glide very, very well, so I am able to re-engage the Judge quickly. One Cleric was kind and wise enough to stick close to me and throw me a few heals when my own Healing Ki was insufficient to the damage received.

Lynn was tenacious and as durable as I hoped her build would be. She pounded the orthon mercilessly, taking relatively little damage when confronting the Judge head-on (his pea-shooter is nasty if he targets you from a distance). Even with criticals, Lynn wasn’t going to lower the orthon’s hit points; they were far too numerous for her to make a sizable dent against him.

But Mountain Stance IV training (combined with Epic DR) had paid off. Lynncletica stood as solidly as a little mountain, holding the orthon’s attention long enough for the Jailer to meet his end before the party turned to end the Judge together.

In hindsight, I should’ve switched to my Vampiric Stonedust Wraps for extra healing and possible stoneskins on myself for more protection, but it all worked well enough.

The remaining raid went off without a hitch. For loot, Lynncletica received the best item she could get that wasn’t a ring: Oremi’s Necklace. Now she needn’t switch to Fire Stance for ki as often.

So now, Lynncletica needs to continue beefing up her WIS and DEX for a bit more AC (Syncletica holds at 51 unbuffed). Her next target: the Icy Raiment. She’s been running solo attempts at Garamol for those, but perhaps I’ll get a few guildies’ attention to help.

Looks like Lynn will be a fine successor to Syn as time passes.

And the Rock Said, “No Hiding Place”

Seems that my adventures have caused a few–questions in our dojo.

Long ago, against the advice and teachings of my abbot, Syncletica, a Grandmaster of Wind, I chose the ancient and disused philosophy of the Mountain. In my first adventures, I came back bloodied and beaten from tasks of justice asked me, but survived.

Today, my abbot has requested a private session. She has asked me, an acolyte, to begin teaching on the Way of Stone. While it may be an honor, I am terrified. The terrors of Xoriat and Shavarath are on our doorstep, some say. Why in the name of the Host would any of my lessons be superior to that of our abbot’s plans (who has met with several generals who have dared to take on Stormreach).

Syncletica corrected me. “It is not that your technique is superior. No one monk stance is completely superior over others. However, were we all to fight as I fight, I fear our victories would begin to fade.”

She explained.

“When I was an acolyte myself, I felt drawn to stay in the Fire stance more, believing that my increases in Strength and ki generation would allow me to dominate. But the stance reduced my wisdom, preventing me from making more critical strikes to stun or disable enemies before they could even put up a fight.”

“Later, I chose the Way of Wind but learned to move between it and Fire stance. While in Wind stance, I’m physically weaker but much faster. Since I can strike far faster and more often, I can readily take down mobs very quickly.”

“I watched many good monks become more rigid than I once was. They mastered one stance and almost never left it. As a result, when it came to certain brutes, their lack of training in multiple techniques left them more likely to be resurrected than victorious.”

“But you have…you have rediscovered that the best offense may be a good defense. Tell me again about your adventures in the Vale of Twilight.”

So I did. While in the third level of Mountain Stance, I recalled how I was able to quickly overpower enemies, even those of which I had not yet learned how to bypass their stronger defenses–all through sheer brawn inherent in the stance. The result was obvious: I was not faster, but simply more powerful, able to dispatch stronger enemies faster, through massively critically strikes, than the multiple hits in Wind stance.

Syncletica began to change into a light outfit. “And that is what we need to learn, Lynncletica. While speed has its usefulness, the toughest enemies are just that: Tough. We need to ensure we don’t get, well, set in our ways. Each path is a gift, even I didn’t understand it at first when you began your training.”

“All of Xendrik will fall if any of us–archers and fighters, thieves and holy warriors–if any of us become too predictable, or even expect an adventure to always go by the book, based on other’s recollections. Who is “right” doesn’t matter. All monks in my tutelage must understand what you understand–and that training starts with me,” the abbot said as she began to wrap her hands in training cloth. “We begin. Tonight.”

It was…weird, last night, as a light breeze moved through the orange blossoms of the trees surrounding our home. I stood there, teaching my teacher the way of Stone.