Redefining Roles in My Dojo

Light...Dark. Matters not, it does. Colonel Sanders is no longer our master.

Light…Dark. Matters, it does not. Our master, Colonel Sanders, no longer is.

The remarkable changes of Update 19 is forcing my altitis to get a grip on reality.

As you might guess, I have several Monks.

What you might not guess is that I have a few non-Monk characters, too. More on those unwashed heathen later. Right now, I’m compelled to differentiate how my Monks serve my guild and me.

Since creating the Monk guide, I’ve realized that play time with each major variation was key to keeping some level of competence in documenting what feat, skill, item or enhancement can do. I generally defined my Monk’s roles as did many other players, as if they were buckets of fried chicken that you ordered up. “Light” or “Dark?” Do you serve it primarily cold, hot, nuked or poached?

As I gained better understanding of the elemental Monk stances, the differentiations also broke down to the old Prestige classes (Shintao or Ninja Spy) and what Monk stance they favored, and why.

Now, the class trees offer so much variation but with substantial changes that my original attempts to have a Monk that specialized in any one Monk stance or philosophy is useful as so many crumbs at the bottom of the Colonel’s box of biscuits. Let’s break down what’s happened.

When Everybody’s A Super…

Syndrome…No one will be.

Remember Quintessica? My “Avatar” Monk that mastered all the elemental stances by refusing to master a PrE? Yeah, she’s just one of the gang now. Update 19 automatically grants all elemental stances to you as your Monk levels, as feats. The good news is that all that AP spent in the past can go to other enhancements. The bad news is that the Avatar is a stock feature for all fully-trained Monks. She’s since moved on to finishing move and quarterstaff mastery.

I’ve also heard in casual conversation (to my horror) that the higher stances (known also now as “Forms”) can be chosen by low-level Monks. That is, if you have a feat space, you can choose it with 1 Monk level at any time, rather than letting level progression auto-grant it to you. Makes for an interesting but strange option for Kensei fighters.

The news did caught me off-guard. It left me in both an existential and ontological crisis for a bit. pondering things like “Why be a Monk anymore if any otherwise-unskilled Tom, Dick or Arretreikos can buy up a feat and punch about, too?”

Of course, a Monk is still more than just an unarmed bludgeon, thankfully. We still matter. There is still a delineation of why Monks are still relevant in DDO. What we can do that others cannot.

But we can no longer use elemental stances as a benchmark. Every Monk is an “Avatar,” a master of all elements.

As the poster child for a lost role with Update 19, I retooled Quintessica quickly as my first Henshin Mystic to gather a feel for the new enhancements, as noted recently.

But now there’s still the matter of repurposing the rest of my posse.

Please Choose One of Your 505 Options

I kid you not. The variations of the class trees allow you (with at least one multiclass or Arcane Archer option if from an elven race) that you have five hundred and five individual core and tier abilities from which to define yourself as a Monk in this new age.

This purposefully excludes non-divine spell caster class trees just to keep my sanity (you’d likely add another 200 variations), does not include Barbarian and Bard trees (impossible to multiclass with a Monk), and only counts Human, Half-Elf and Elf races.

My Monk guide (now mostly revised) is concentrating on 125-or-so options for now: The three Monk class trees, the Kensei class tree, and (coming soon to the guide) the Arcane Archer tree if an elven-type race that can add this tree with a few AP, racially.

If I try to keep to practicing what I preach, then my dojo (and friends who drop in) need some retooling. Here’s what I have in mind for characters who haven’t received or self-defined their roles already in this Brave New Game World, such as Lynncletica the Tanker, Quintessica the versatile Mystic, and Ryncletica the Ninja.

Arcane Archer Monk (Half-Elf)

Pynthetica is my next to oldest character (Syncletica being the oldest). She’s a human Ranger Arcane Archer, a past favorite from my Neverwinter Nights days. She’s never experienced a True Resurrection, so she’s due.

My goal is to have train all of my characters (unless a dedicated non-Divine spellcaster or dedicated healer) with significant (6 or more) Monk levels. Likely, most will have much more. Each character is going to get a weapon specialization (lowercase) that melds with their monastic training. I have a Rogue that’s competent at traps but uses Ninja skills and is training up as an Assassin.

In the case of Pynthetica, she’ll become a Half-Elf, train the basics in unarmed combat and then add in the Arcane Archer tree. She’ll need the Zen Archery feat for Centeredness with the bow and may be lighter in overall punch than either fully-trained Monk or a Ranger AA. But with that Cleric dilletante, she’ll be quite versatile.

I like the idea of going Light in philosophy here for some healing regeneration, but going Half-Elf with a Cleric dilettante will shore that up, so Dark is a better damage option although much of its work can’t work in ranged mode.

Pyn should be quite competent going pure Monk or adding in 6 Ranger levels to gain Manyshot and a few granted feats. Since you needn’t take a second class for AA as an elven-type, it’s a matter of putting the Action Points where they matter. I think this will be my first priority on this next Fall weekend (after taking Lynncletica in “Devil Assault” to farm a bunch of Tokens of the Twelve).

Light Kensei Swordfighter (Warforged)

I have a Warforged Monk named Synthetica. Yes, the name begged to be used.

To complete my original quartet of elemental users in the past, I had planned to make the robot into a Fire-Stancer since healing her (“it?”) would be complicated given the racial healing problems.

Now that only Humans and Half Elves get anything on the racial side from healing amplification (with the Warforged’s options just trying to keep them from being a burden), I plan to make Synthetica into something far more unusual. Using the very interesting Kensei enhancements that sync well with Monk abilities, I’m going to work on giving the robot a much longer arm than any of my Monks. Specifically, Synthetica will eventually use a greatsword.

Starting out, it will be a mostly unarmed affair, and a minimum of 8 Fighter levels may be required to get the best power. Since you can’t add ki proficiency with greatswords from any Monk class tree, Synthetica will need the entire Kensei line to make a greatsword a Centered tool, adding perhaps a few points into Shintao for some self healing. This one should be fun if I keep it a secret to my guildies. Imagine that we’re in a quest and things are looking bleak, when suddenly an unarmed Synthetica pulls out a huge sword and begins a school in how to carve and filet. It wouldn’t be my usual style and I look forward to it.

Dark Kensei Weapon Master (Half-Elf)

This is Theacletica,  mentioned recently, who is going Dark for damage and training in light blades. Since shortswords are easily added to any Monk with one point in the Ninja Spy core abilities, she’s likely to stay with these until she takes the full Kensei line and adds kukris, daggers and a few other sundries. She won’t throw the kitchen sink at you, but will throw every bit of the kitchen’s pointy, edged silverware.

Rogue Henshin (Human or Halfling)

Allysen is my first Rogue and has had growing pains. Mostly this not her fault. I love to play many characters in solo mode. You can get only so far with a Rogue since they specialize in damage that works effectively and only when someone else has the attention of the guy you’re attacking. She’s been at level 17 for a dreadfully long time.

I’ll need to force her to level 20 and then TR her. I may keep her as a Halfling (hear the murmuring praise by GamerGeoff) for the Dragonmarks and some gear she already possesses from her Thief Acrobat days. For greater damage and versatility, she could train as a Light Henshin with some Ninja Spy. She’ll forsake her life as an Acrobat, since many of the abilities there are also found in Henshin (with little benefit or compatibility with each other).

The problem is that being a Rogue is a very skill intensive path. You’re good at it, or you suck, and there’s no middle ground. Frankly, fighting is secondary for Rogues. I could use Cassietetica as a model (a Rogue Assassin Ninja) and steer Allysen towards the Mechanic path a bit. Still, AP is AP. I make Allysen a decent fighter or a decent Rogue. Of all the characters, Allysen is the greatest challenge for Heroic living.

Wind Stancer (Human)

This is what Syncletica, a Shintao, is now. Epic levels have not been friendly to her at all. She takes tremendous damage there from which she can’t heal fast enough, even with an impressive healing amplification.

I’m not giving up on Syn as a Wind Stancer, but she really needs more beef to counteract damage. In Heroic, she’s fine, In Epic, not so much. That likely means, as she reaches Epic levels, to pile on Legendary Dreadnought training, Unyielding Sentinel and Shadowdancer epic destinies for more protections.

I put her through a Lesser Resurrection recently, adding a few points in the Ninja Spy tree for faster sneaking, more Dodge and Shadow Veil (easy 25% incorporeality), while remaining points go to Shintao. Got her more Dodge, too. I took her into one fight in Eveningstar and recalled her back bloody and in pieces, despite having miss-chance skills like her old student, Ryncletica. Sigh.

The Dreadnought mode gets many Action Boosts that a Wind Stancer could use to throw out more damage than they take in. Some Shadowdancer abilities can improve her DCs to go with LD as well. I’ve just got to find the right balance for my primary toon and namesake to these enterprises.

Ninja Assassin: DDO Stealth 2.0

RynRestsAtShrine

I’ve been dying to put Update 19’s new stealth features to a harsh test.

School was in session recently with your favorite ninja, Ryncletica, in “Return to Cabal for One,” Epic Hard, solo, no hirelings (until boss fight, with the Onyx Panther).

For those not in the know, here’s a quick summary of what’s changed for the player.

  • Players can jump and tumble in stealth, at a -20 penalty to those skills. I have been officially vindicated in adding more points in Jump. You still shouldn’t add more than 40, but if you do, you’ll jump better while in stealth.
  • This now-standard feature required that the Shadowdancer ability to give you jumping for 30 seconds was nerfed and revised to faster speed, sneak attacks and whatnot.
  • Several class trees offer abilities to greatly improve your sneaking speed, such as Agility in the Ninja Spy tree.
  • Strong Hide and Move Silently scores makes escaping a fight quite practical, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Enemies will behave less strangely and much more consistently.

  • EnemyHeardEnemies are much more vigilant and attentive. If they hear or see anything, they move realistically to investigate it (a red “?” appears over their head) .
  • Enemies have swift and increasing Spot bonuses in their field of vision in an arc in front of them. This is represented by flashing eye symbols over their heads that grow in number and change color to indicate they’re getting a better fix on you while in stealth or if invisible (which is still essentially Hide +20). This Spot change takes only a second or two–they’re very fast to find you if you loiter.EnemySpot2
  • If an enemy sees you, a red eye appears over them. They will chase you until you kill them or if you can break their line-of-sight of you and hide again, being still and quiet, forcing them to find you again.EnemySees
  • After a few moments of fruitless searching, enemies will give up, sometimes walking back to where you found them.
  • As before, some enemies will find you without eyes (Thaarak Hounds), through vibrations (spiders) or because you still breathe (some undead).
  • While you can still sneak up on a beholder, their 360 degree arc means that they will spot a sneaking player faster than before. Never try to use invisibility on a beholder or you’ll get laughed at moments before it blasts you into atoms.

I picked “Cabal” because it’s hardly a stealth-friendly quest. Entering on Epic Hard and dead-solo ensured that I would get a workout and any Epic character advantages were generally evenly matched. No healer hirelings is standard for Ryncletica, who can heal herself well enough and knows that most hirelings attract a stupid amount of attention.

Entering

On entering, my first tactic was to divide and conquer the first guards surrounding Gardak, the scheming false turncoat, pulling them towards the entrance for easy kills. Next, pounce like a cat on the enemy mages, the most challenging guys who love to throw disco-balls up to dance you to death or use Glitterdust to obscure their allies.

I told the scheming hobgoblin to disable all the traps as part of the deal, knowing that I’d see him again at the end fight. I could’ve let the traps stay as a betting man since Ryncletica’s Reflex save of 56 (52 and a boost)  was strong enough to pull the super-trapped lever in EH “Haywire Foundry” without getting punctured. If I was certain that the enemies were damaged by their own traps, I would’ve left them in place. Yet I knew life would be stimulating enough with the fights to avoid traps in the mix.

After cleaning up a small group by the second door, it was officially game time.

Targeting

After opening any door, I tumbled back and went stealth, to minimize whole mobs on the other side from attacking at once.

“Cabal” is nasty as most locations are narrow corridors filled with hobgoblins on patrol. My targets, the conspirators, awaited in rooms off of these corridors, often with more guards inside.

I could sneak by the hordes in several hallways but I always needed to leave an “out,” or escape. So, for the first hallway, I used Shadow Manipulation to dominate an enemy mage, which compelled most enemies to group up and kill him, while I slew all of them to make my escape path.

I opened up the room of the first target and tried to pull a guard or two. Whoops. The whole room reacted and tried to chase me down. I ran, turned a corner and went stealthy and invisible–the first test of the new AI. The hobgoblins followed…and ran right by me, swinging and yelling in vain as they searched for me. (My Hide/Move Silently scores are in the low 70s in Shadowdancer mode and a Drow Piwafwi equipped.)

Letting them zerg by, I skulked off back to my target, still in his room.

Killing the first conspirator took a bit, being a red-named guy with a couple of stray guards. One down, three to go.

Another Dominate made a mage my ally, who took out a few hallway guards before succumbing. The second door was more in the open, so it was time for my next trick for a few stray guards. I snuck up behind one and used Quivering Palm, the Monk’s weaker counterpart to Assassinate. Works similarly but pulls you from stealth. I re-hid and repeated the measure often, making quick and quiet eliminations going up the hallway.

Conspirator #2 slept through my pulling of their guards out of his hiding hole. This time, I escaped upward, atop a high platform. Enemies just knew I was near as I looked down at them. Their Spot searches were busily pinging, but they couldn’t quite fish me out. Eventually they gave up. Too bad. Another Dominate kept the searchers busy while I removed Conspirator #2.

Conspirator #3 was in the shrine room and his guards were treated to the same plan as his predecessor.

Funny thing about the last two, in rooms on an upper level. Their guards, most below, just stood there as I sneaked up the ladder. I guess I was pretty quiet in opening the door, much less sneaking inside. Here, I Dominated one mage and used him to keep most of Conspirator #4’s minions running about as I ended their boss.  Conspirator #5 was easy after I Dominated a guard, which kept his attention while he and I had our tussle on the center platform of the room, free from being interrupted by any of his guards.

The End Fight

One thing I didn’t calculate well in this run was elapsed time. My ship buffs had disappeared by the time I made my way to the boss given the methodical use of stealth as a killing tactic. Rather than fighting the zerging masses within the last two hallways to the boss’s door, a bit of Abundant Stepping and stealth put me in the boss room, leaving the last dozen minions unaware and out of the game.

Buffless and alone, I knew there was no way in hell that I could take on the boss while he was surrounded by three mages, two Winter Wolves and two fighters. I sneaked about behind the oversized pillar in the room’s center and made the second boss appear from the rear exit, near his now-unavailable chest.

I had a couple of useful options: First, thin out the herd. Over a few minutes, I hit Dominate spells on the two mages to rid myself of them. The attacks provided me with needed intel as I targeted them. Each boss had over 21,000 HP, while their minions had about 2100. (It pays to complete your Monster Manual accomplishments to see enemy stats, folks.)

The second option was to add a bigger, durable distraction and then pummel enemies while their backs are turned for sneak attack damage as well as damage impunity. As I said, generally hirelings are useless. But not all. I summoned my reliable Onyx Panther. But apparently, the big cat made some noise on materializing and the bosses and their entourage suddenly arrived to investigate. I found myself looking at the kill party dead-on.

I bailed, tossing a Flash Bang (stuns and blinds a mob) and going stealthy in hopes they wouldn’t chase me. It worked. They slew the mighty panther quickly, giving me an ominous insight about their damage; the Level 20 Panther is not easily killed. Fortuitously, the party stayed in that back room to guard the hireling’s soulstone. That worked out well to move the mob, although not as I planned.

That gave me time to recharge my Shadowdancer charges with two  to three minions near the boss door. Ha. I had a shot again.

I used a throwing star, pulled the lesser boss Gardak away  to near the room entrance to fight him (mostly) alone (a Wolf wanted to play, too). It took more than a few Heal scrolls, even with my miss-chance effects working, to put that guy down.

Finally, the big boss, who had cleric skills and Blade Barriers galore. Whatever. I’m a damned ninja that can practically evade a machine gun burst in my sleep. I learned my lesson from his comrade, however, and kicked on some Displacement for added help in the second fight. A few more Heal scrolls later, the hobgoblin’s lesson was over.

Stealth can’t directly help you in a boss fight except, perhaps, to escape one, but it makes getting to it quite easier. Just watch your ship buffs if you’re dependent on their benefits–or just carry some scrolls if you’re able to use them.

DDO Theatricality and Deception: Lessons from The Batman and Bond

I know, I know–yet another ninja article.

But I’m fascinated about pushing the DDO engine and gameplay system to the maximum to make my ninjas work as closely in function to the ultimate Western “ninja”: The Batman.

From ninja training...

From ninja training…

I’m not trying to emulate the crimefighting, appearance and angst of that character (obviously: I could play Arkham Asylum for that).

I do want to utilize the subterfuge and theatricality that the Batman uses (from elements of the comics and the “Nolanverse” movie trilogy) in gameplay for the same reasons: offensive and defensive improvements. The Batman uses many, many gadgets. DDO offers many gadgets. Surprisingly, few people use them, such as traps.

...To become a fighter of ninjas (and criminals)

…To become a fighter of ninjas (and criminals)

I’ve got the stealth part worked out. But part of the Batman’s style also involves using ways to disable or deceive enemies without necessarily fighting everything he sees in order to reach his objective.

I made Ryncletica a half-elf in her second life to allow her use of healing scrolls and wands. Of course, there is much more to a cleric than healing. They have (through the Cleric dilettante) the ability to use many more defensive spells through scrolls.

So, with gameplay mechanics in mind, what spells or items could Ryncletica or Cassietetica use more as a half-elf that gives her that Bat-Ninja/I-Spy vibe that also would aid them in adventures?

Shuriken

The Batman uses a form of these in modern animation and the Nolanverse films, which are sometimes improperly named “Batarangs.” They can hurt an enemy from afar. In DDO, it’s a good way to lure single enemies to you for easy pick-offs from a larger mob.

Ryncletica the Ninja Spy has an improved Snowstar (+4 returning Icy Burst) but isn’t satisfied here. When she needs to kill something hard and fast but at a distance, DDO shurikens are notorious for their lack of power.

Ah, Q...you always had something to give the spy who has everything.

Ah, Q…you always had something to give the spy who has everything.

So, my Artificer crafter, Arcammedes, has become my ninja’s Lucius Fox (or Q, if you care to take the James Bond spy motif) in designing a higher-powered throwing star of death. Ryn’s patient, but does want to complete a mission before her buffs expire. (For those not in the know, a Monk becomes uncentered if they use any other throwing or ranged instrument without ki training such as Zen Archery.)

A greensteel shuriken would likely be the better bet. After crunching some numbers on the most-awesome Crafting Planner, a Mineral II metalline star with an elemental burst should do the trick.

Outfits and Other Apparel

From level 14 to level 20, I’m convinced that two sets of clothing work best: The Icy Raiment and the White Dragonscale Robe. They provide great defense you cannot find until Epic levels–if at all. Ryncletica just got a pair of  the new Icys, thanks to Lynncletica, the Maid of Diamond Monk that visits the Subterrane often, without a care in the freakin’ world.

For theatricality’s sake, each ninja works a Ninja Mask. The +5 competence bonus to Hide/Move Silently is negated by all the other things they wear, but it sets the mood. Would the Batman look cool or menacing wearing only a ski mask? Um…not really, no. (Please don’t mention the Bunny Hat; I considered this for a few hot seconds before I laughed myself silly. Only by working in a Monty Python & The Holy Grail theme can I imagine the Bunny-Lass, with sharp, pointy teeth, terrorizing anyone.)

RyncleticaTalismanArmorTo complete the ninja look, I broke down and bought a new armor cosmetic: a Cannith robe with talismans or something like that. You can see the results aren’t bad at all.

No capes are visible in DDO. Edna Mode would be pleased. Ninjas don’t do them, anyway. As far as what to wear in the cloak slot will vary as leveling goes. Several unique cloaks with yellow and green augment slots make it easy to wear Deathblock, Blindness Immunity or Heavy Fortification on a single item.

The new Hellfire Cloak is a new favorite which has those slots. I have a Level 16 Cloak of Night with Deathblock but require the fortification on something other than a ring or belt. As a Ninja, it’s not as useful as it once was.

The better answer might be in the new Nightforge Gorget, which goes in the neck slot and has a yellow slot for a Deathblock gem with Heavy Fortification built-in. As Ryn returns to Epicness, I’d want her Drow Piwafi back in place in the cloak slot.

For rings, I often use DEX, WIS and feather falling there, but you needn’t have FF always running. A Mummified Bat works as I require. I’ve used Hide rings to boost that skill and Goggles for Move Silently as well. Ryn hasn’t done any Tower of Despair runs to have a chance at building a Holy Burst ring, and needs to do so on this life. For special occasions where I talk my way out of, or into, a fight, I use an Eloquence ring. Ryn can’t intimidate or bluff, so diplomacy is all she’s got.

Currently the Lenses of Opportunity add some Seeker that’s missing and Sneak Attack while fighting. When not in battle, it’s a pair of high Spot goggles to see who’s ahead and trying to hide from me (or I keep on the Mummified Bat).

As for boots, I keep some Striding +30 ones on most of the time at this level. I have some Tumbling +13 boots on hand for emergency maneuvers. You’d be surprised how useful a backflip to escape being surrounded works when fighting. Since Ryn has Spring Attack, she suffers no attack penalty in fighting in a quick stick-and-move manner.

All this slotting also freed up my head slot for something else. The helm leaned to a Minos Legens for the Vitality and Heavy Fortification if I switched off the current cloak, or a Sacred Helm for its Deathblock if I haven’t a yellow slotted item for its gem effect. Now I need to think better as to what can go there since heavy fortification or deathblock aren’t required there at all times. For now, my Teraza’s Perfect Sight works to give me persistent True Seeing for the pesky mages with Displacement. Then again, Ryn just received Improved Cleric Dilettante III, so she may be able to reliably use True Seeing scrolls, leaving me again to ponder the head slot.

I keep some Spectral Gloves about for ghost fights but often leave a Level 12 pair of Brawling Gloves for some piercing damage advantage. Interesting: The glass-jaw stunning/Sap effect is finally working on these things. I often see a Hypnosis and stun effect around many enemies when I’m wearing these. I need to upgrade these when Crystal Cove returns again.

Defensive Clickies, Wands or Spells

The Batman is crazy-prepared for just about anything. With that in mind, I’ve kept some odds and ends that I thought might be useful for certain occasions.

Blindness: Could make sneaking by many a lot easier to do since all they could do is listen for the ninja.

Sleep or Deep Slumber: Put a small group or individual to sleep and pass them by. Cassie’s trapmaking skills might do better. Ryn collected a Vial of Slumber from the Seal of Shan-To-Kar that she’s been aching to apply to a situation. I’m betting, however, that many foes won’t fall for it, so to speak.

Fog: While Solid Fog would work, its effect might turn a mob towards me, rather than concealing me. A simpler Fog Cloud might be better. If it truly conceals sight as Hide does, I should be able to open doors in close proximity without enemies becoming aware, save a Listen check. History shows this as a hit-or-miss matter. Still, the idea of emulating the Batman’s flash smoke bomb and then disappearing from others unexpectedly would make for a fun escape trick. Abundant Step would make this work; I use that to move very quickly past standing close-grouped mobs to avoid triggering their Spot checks. Lay down fog, skidaddle. Cue dramatic music.

Any Shield clicky or Nightshield: Shield adds +4 AC and protects against magic missiles. Nightshield just protects against the missiles but boosts saves as well. No Monk should be without a Shield clicky as an army of enemy mages can kill you fast with their magic version of a Macross Missile Massacre.

Scrolls of Restoration: One of the best things that Ryncletica and Cassie get to use. No longer need I fear level drains outright. I took Ryncletica into “Invaders” recently and laid waste to the beholder-ridden place with stealth, stuns and lots of scrolls. Normally, beholder hunting was just a Light Monk thing to me. Not anymore.

Scrolls of Heal: This would be a faster option to aid the party when a Cleric is overloaded, and to remove other effects from a fight.

Scrolls of True Seeing: With a high Dilletante level, I should have a shot of using these, freeing up a slot space.

Scrolls of Word of Recall: Awesome. While not a perfect Teleport, it gets me out of a dungeon and back to the city faster.

I’m still pondering the applications of many scroll-based tools. Those who play Clerics often probably are shouting at your computer to “take this spell” or “take that one!”

Offensive Spells and Clickies and Spell-Like Abilities

I’d hate to think of when I’ll have to use these and doubt their full effectiveness. However, a few attacking spells might be handy in the right circumstance. Most spells I can use won’t work as a half-elf, but there are sure to be a few others that I’m not yet familiar with to help.

Curse of the Void: A personal favorite of Ryncletica. Use a Void-Dark-Void finisher to charm something for a minute or two. The cool thing is that I can do this to as many enemies as I want, turning an army against me into an army against themselves. A high WIS assures that this effect will take.

Sound Burst: Useful early on, but less so on higher level enemies.

Cometfall: Available in scrolls.  Against undead mobs, this can thin out the herd.

Flame Strike: Also in scrolls. Mass damage, especially when enemies can see me but can’t reach me.

Wand of Searing Light: Might be a better weapon than a throwing star to hit light-sensitive foes who are in a recessed level where the ninjas cannot jump.

Stats, Feats, Skills and Enhancements

Don't ask how Ryncletica got up there--or she'll have to kill you.

Don’t ask how Ryncletica got up there–or she’ll have to kill you.

No gadgets in the world will substitute for the ability to move quiet and quickly, while killing just as efficiently if one needs to do so. In the case of Ryncletica, she’s more durable than Cassie, who will suffer AC problems later on since robes are likely her main outerwear.

Invisibility: Covered by Ninja’s Shadow Fade.

Stealth: Also covered by Hide and Move Silently.

Evasion: Covered, as also with Improved Evasion.

Reflex saves: Required for Evasion, Dodge or any concealment or miss chance effects to work. A high DEX is needed.

Whirlwind Attack: When a fight is inevitable, out comes the paralysing handwraps and a spin kick to slow down the mob and whittle them down.

Stunning Fist: Hallmark of a Monk that Ryn uses to stop and destroy isolated enemies before they can damage her.

Touch of Despair: Weaken them with this curse and make them more vulnerable against negative energy, especially…

Touch of Death: The 500 point (or more) quick take-down attack. Even if they save, it’s still half-damage.

Quivering Palm: An assassinate-like level 15 ability using ki, only it pulls me out of stealth. Best used on isolated enemies or taking out that one energy-draining mage from a pack to start off a fight.

Improved Critical: Bludgeoning: For better crits, this is key as the characters move to level 16.

Metalline of Pure Good/Righteousness handwraps: I’m scouring the Auction House for red-augment slotted generic wraps that I can recraft and add a potent elemental augment gem. Both ninjas need these for unarmed fighting since they can’t bypass many damage reductions without them.

Assassinate: The Rogue type. For Cassie, important since she isn’t a pure Monk. Unlike Ryn, she’ll kill without leaving stealth.

Jump: Get it to 20 and leave it alone to leap up and over things. Don’t stay two-dimensional in fighting. Make them come to you, even if going up. Can’t reach me? Too bad.

HP: A problem for both ninjas, but with high evasive and concealing effects, they often reduce the amount of damage because these effects make it much harder for spells and weapons to land in the first place. More CON is needed for Fortitude saves.

Tumble: Surprisingly nice to have for very quick retreats once you can somersault. I know its a bit of points but it comes more in handy with Shadowdancer abilities.

Wisdom: Very high on Ryncletica for stunning and other Monk DCs, but moderate on Cassie since DEX and STR might be needed more to attack and deflect attacks better.

The Conservation of Ninjitsu

He never knew what hit him.

He never knew what hit him.

Look this one on TV Tropes and you’ll understand. Ryncletica invoked this in her trip to Gwylan’s Stand. Basically, a single ninja against more than one ninja (or anyone else) means that the single ninja wins. The Bride from Kill Bill. John McClane from the Die Hard movies. Neo in The Matrix. The Batman.

And Ryncletica. But I boast. It’s the results that determine success, not my dreams of the build.

It’s a lot to live up to. Be a ninja. Be a spy. My mind wanders as I ponder the synergies to imagine James Bond as being Batman. No, I’m not cleaning up the mess your head just made. Worse: Think who would win if the two had to fight.

My bet goes to the Batman by a close margin. Gadgets aside, they both have similar tactics to compel enemies to do what they think they should do, and thus allow a victory through predictable behavior. But they call it the Batman Gambit on TV Tropes, not the “James Bond Gambit.”

Ninja Versus Pirates, DDO Style

Now that I have two Ninjas (one a pure Monk, the second a Rogue/Monk), I have some more flexibility in running some favorite mid-level quests where stealth works well.

I often revisit these quests in the Lordsmarch Plaza to complete them on harder difficulties once my toons are more powerful as they remain a challenge to complete the objectives even if you’ll suffer little damage. The Droaam are good enemies to test out your offensive and defensive powers at mid level, particularly solo.

Lordsmarch Plaza

Diplomatic Impunity: In theory, a Ninja Spy should be able to dissolve into the jungle to reach the scout, return to Henrietta, reach the final fight and kill only those inside that area.

Mission complete. Ryncletica entered on Elite recently, summoning one Cleric hireling that was parked for 98% of the adventure. Avoiding cats, wildmen and scorpions, she met the scout, evaded all but two or three Droaam fighters, negotiated a passage through the wildman village rather than fight, informed Henrietta of the invasion, and reversed the route through the wildmen village. Parking the hireling just at the final root wall, she evaded all fighters to reach the enemy fort. Some glitch prevented the hireling and I from slaying the last henchmen before removing the boss. Devious bonus: 16 kills.

Ryncletica is pretty beefy in terms of defense now at level 14. Now with the Icy Raiment, she has persistent 21% Dodge, 25% incorporeality with Shadow Fade and 20% concealed with her Greater Nimble Trinket. Reflex saves are about 24-26. At her level, she’s hard to hit once more.

Frame Work: After recovering enough ballista parts to use on a ballista that launches into the boss’s complex, you use the stone wand on one minotaur, go invisible,  leap over a wall, activate the ballista, kill the chieftain and bail using the ballista inside the complex. If you are very insidious, you kill the minotaur runt inside there who could activate the alarm so that you also get the no-alarm bonus. I used MrCow’s notes and video to come close to doing this with Ryncletica in her first life.

Mission Complete. It was less suicidal to do this on Normal difficulty. The stoning wand is a vital tool. You need stone only one to complete the objective, but you’ll likely need to stone a shaman that’s close to your injector ballista into the fortress, as well as the only runt to the right of the inner fortress who could activate the alarm inside. Once that’s done, I threw down some solid fog around the throne, pulled out some Night’s Grasp handwraps to kill the chieftain, looted and used the inner ballista. Dorris the warforged scout praises you differently for your subtlety if you complete your mission without the alarms activating.

Eyes of Stone: Easy to avoid some fights, but you must kill the four mages that guard the stoned Coin Lords. Of course, the end-fight requires you to attack respawning mobs until Hesstess is dead. Un-stoning the various guards as distractions might be useful, as well as summoning a chaotic monster helper that pulls enemies out of their entrenched locations through the Coin Lord’s halls while I sneak by them.

Mission Complete. Again completed on Normal. I avoided most fights, killing about 83 but still getting the Devious bonus. Hesstess goes down well with Night’s Grasp wraps and good Touch of Despair curses to further the damage. Ryncletica’s damage avoidance miss chance worked well in there.

Assault on Summerfield: You’ll need to kill lots here, but you can use stealth/invisibility as well as a Monk’s agility to sneak up on many individual attackers without drawing mobs. A little solid fog might also obscure others nearby from seeing the slays.  Ryn would do better than Cassie here since Ryn is a fully-trained Monk with Abundant Step to reach the more remote attackers on the higher roofs.

Blockade Buster: The true ninja-versus-pirate encounter. Your stealth and invisibility is tested nicely here. It’s the kobolds in the lower deck that guard the magazines that you must avoid or kill before they activate the alarm. With sufficient INT, you can open the minebay doors and leave there without further provoking any crew that might be awoken from an alarm. It’s very hard to stop the kobolds from setting that alarm, sadly. In her last life, Ryncletica has blown up all three ships, leaving most of the crew asleep, and killed only kobolds to do it. This time, she’ll leave the detonation timer on the first ship at a higher setting and wait for all three to go down. As far as the kobolds–maybe a Hold Person spell or a well-placed stun will stop the alarm attempts.

Undermine: The narrow tunnels make it hard to  avoid fighting, but you can stealth through quite a bit of it. I would recommend infiltration (strategic kills through tactics) since there’s lots of XP gained from the optionals, but stealth could avoid a lot of really nasty fighting–or you can use the det packs offensively. I’ve learned that Night’s Grasp handwraps work better on elementals than elemental bane. Perhaps it’s the maladroit property as well as negative energy damage.

Siegebreaker: Nothing but fighting here, and required to keep your end-fight from becoming a monster-rich disaster. Cassie’s trap disabling skills might make her more useful at the end-fight’s puzzle but Ryn will be a better overall fighter.

The Red Fens

Similarly, the ninjas can have a good time infiltrating two of the three flagging quests there.

Fathom the Depths: Find the Drow hostages and levers to progress requires some systematic killing but you can bypass a number of mobs. Evasion will prevent damage from what few traps exist there. You may get to the last fight with only a few kills but watch out for the red-name mudman and fish-man mage there. The mage is easier to slay. Don’t fight around the platform with all the silly grease traps–move the fight into the last hallway.

Mission complete. On Elite, Ryncletica was able to save the Drow before flooding the area, and used stealth to bypass a few key places, such as the water elementals that will not spawn unless they see you. As far as the boss fight, she dragged the mage into the hallway and then kept her distance from the lesser enemy mages while taking down the huge mudman.

The Claw of Vulkoor: Another perfect Ninja stealth-designed quest, this time with Giants. They see invisibility, which means your stealth is key to making things happen. Avoid being seen by scorpions, pacify the guardian scorpions and a massive XP bonus awaits you. Ryn has completed this on Epic Hard but lacked noisemakers to make it easiest. Where Ryn came up short, I hope Cassie can do better.

Turns out that Cassie joined some fellow guildies on a run here recently and guided them to a victory by pacifying most of the guardians. She successfully used a noisemaker on one of the guardians. It’s Ryncletica’s turn next time.

The Last Stand: Nothing but fighting here.

Into the Deep: In the main wilderness area, you can sneak about a little but fighting to clear out enemies for XP is a better idea (and faster). You must slay quite a bit in this series so infiltration skills to set up better kills are what’s needed.

Gwylan Himself Would Be Proud

One of the cooler, immersive quests below level 12 (Stormcleave Outpost, Tear of Dhakkan and Jungles of Khyber are others) is “Gwylan’s Stand.” It’s a level 7 adventure that will knock your ego down several pegs if you don’t come in prepared for the traps, the heavy load of cargo you must carry and unload at each objective, and the army of enemies that await to kill you from the moment they spot you.

The Thuranni incursion obviously haven’t met a determined kunoichi ninja like Ryncletica, that doesn’t like to be seen unless she really wants to be.

One ninja. Two hundred Thuranni. Who's REALLY outnumbered here?

One ninja. Two hundred Thuranni. Who’s REALLY outnumbered here?

I tried soloing Gwylan’s Stand a few days before, with a hireling in tow. The hireling ensured that everyone saw us and, on Elite difficulty, promptly killed us. Worse, I wasn’t “in the zone.” There’s a specific mindset I have to use when playing as an infiltrator.

Infiltration mode differs from pure stealth in that it requres some fighting and more patience. Infiltration is pure aggro management: For enemies I cannot sneak past or reside too close to an objective (I must kill several lieutenants as well as taint the supplies), I pull enemies in your path using one strike with a throwing star from as far as I can spot them, drawing them far from their friends. I eliminate that enemy and repeat as necessary until I clear a path to that objective.

This time, Ryncletica entered alone on Elite difficulty.

“…The Chinaman leapt up and said, ‘Supplies!'”

Getting the supplies in the cave wasn’t too difficult. You beat down a few trolls and rust monsters there for some ki, and there weren’t enough trolls around the last of the supplies to cause much of a fuss. Ryn’s way to limit damage comes from being 20% Concealed, 25% Incorporeal and with a 14-16% Dodge when she has to fight. A little healing wand whips to bring her back to health, and she was ready for the big game.

After pulling and dispatching two lieutenants and their patrols, it was time to round the corner to the first trap and single Elf Fighter/Wizard. I really, really wanted to kill that SOB so he wouldn’t ever activate the spike trap there. Sure, I could just sneak past him, but I was in a pissy mood. He was too fast for my attack and managed to activate the spikes, but it was a minor nuisance than a threat.

The Plaza and West Complex: What Traps?

The first real challenge was getting to the West complex ahead. Another Fighter/Wizard patrolled the stairs. I swallowed my assassin tendencies since there were two traps to watch: a force trap all along the stairs, and sonic traps along the path forward to a lieutenant and the first complex. The traps will never activate if I wasn’t detected…and I wasn’t seen.

After ending the next lieutenant, I looted quickly and went back to stealth mode as a patrol spawns to reinforce that lieutenant. They run back to some nearby stairs and stop, leaving me open to individually lure some trolls and minotaurs from the area below with a throwing star to the head to clear the way to my first supply crates. I was able to hide in a nook between these crates while activating them. Then it’s back to stealth mode, sneaking by yet another Elf and his stair traps, never to see him again. Past the patrol and on into the West complex.

This one had no traps but lots of enemies to pull. I took the left path and lured quite a lot, including the boss, before running down to dispatch the two remaining. Two more supply crates completed.

Petering North

Back outside, a few squatters by the West entrance met their demise, then it was on to the North complex, but not before luring and dispatching another lieutenant and his patrols. I slipped by the spawning minotaurs here and entered to avoid a fight.

Inside the North complex, you can only go one way; the other is barred. I was forced to fight three enemies on top but luckily no others were alerted. The path down has cold traps on each pillar. But–the traps don’t activate if you walk to the opposite pillar of each trap and hug it as you go around.

After pulling more enemies, I eliminated yet another boss and ruined more crates. I returned the way I came: I wasn’t here to slay, but to complete a mission.

Go South, Young Ninja

The path to the South complex is guarded by a standing patrol and a nasty fire trap along the stairs in front of them. After taking some precautions (Ocean Stance for better Dodge and saves, and a Heroism potion), I went invisible and jumped, switching back to stealth just before landing so the guards wouldn’t hear me vaulting over the fire traps. Up the ramp and into the last complex.

This one always seems too easy for parties I’ve been with. Some always forget the blade trap at the top of the ramp. More invisibility and a vault, then it was time to pull enemies one-by-one once more.

The boss was too lightly guarded. I pulled a couple and pounced on the rest like a hungry, rabid cat. After smashing the last of the breakables and slipping on my Voice, it was time to contemplate the mysteries of ninja domination. About 11,000 XP for my trouble. And no, I left alone the deadly acid-trap chest outside. It’s the joy of the challenge that’s the true prize here…

…And there’s not any gear in that quest that would suit a Monk, anyway.

House Phiarlan’s spy ring should be sending me my Double-O number and ID card any time now. And I want my green tea stirred, not shaken.

A Light in the Dark

ninja-n-piratesI had been hoping to vent about what I’ve seen regarding the alpha of the Monk enhancements shown on the Lammania server last week but haven’t the stomach to chew through it as detailed as I wanted to as yet. As there were many, many things to discuss, I may need to make one large post that summarizes the good, bad and ugly I saw in the alpha.

I felt more compelled to throw myself into the game and enjoy one of my Monks before the enhancements reappear later on Lammania under beta tests. I guess I can take solace that the enhancement changes won’t be coming anytime soon.

My only Dark Monk, Ryncletica, has been on her first life for over two years. I leveled her slowly because I played her improperly, to be frank. While all of my Light Monks can heal themselves and have greater defensive and offensive ability, Ryncletica had a harder time because I tried to make a Dark Monk work as a Light Monk with expectedly bad results.

It wasn’t until I partied more with Ryn and reviewed how stealth really works in the game that Ryn got more face time and began to shine for her own merits.

After I used a Lesser Reincarnation on her some time ago, I retooled her stealth skills. I learned how Dodge, Incorporeality and Concealment can work with Evasion and good Reflex saves to form a nearly-invisible character that can complete some quests without any enemies inside knowing that Ryn was ever there.

Now that I’ve farmed enough Tokens of the Twelve using Lynncletica to get a true reincarnation token for Ryn, I decided to finally restart her life and take what I’ve learned to her new life as a far more experienced njnja.

Ryncletica v2.0

The most important change to Ryn was her race. She’s moved from a Halfling to a Half-Elf. That adds the second key to her improvements: a Dilettante feat and enhancements.

The Dilettante choice was obvious: Cleric. Now Ryncletica can use scrolls and wands. I’ve been pretty myopic in the significance of this ability while researching and reading up from others that chose this path. I was happy to know I could use more healing options. But there’s far more, of course. I can use offensive wands and scrolls as well (such as Soundburst) and have better mending options than even my Light Monks over time (such as using full Restoration and Raise Dead scrolls) as I improve her Cleric Dilettante levels.

I’ve been on a tear re-leveling Ryn since last Saturday, going from level 1 to 7 in just 4 days. I put as many points into Hide and Move Silently as I could per level, and then took advantage of my Artificer crafter to make +10 Hide and +10 Move Silently items for her to use at level 7. I stealth-zerged the entire Splinterskull chain on Elite, fighting only when necessary. To help in self-healing, I crafted some Flametouched Iron wraps into +1 Acid Flametouched Iron of Lesser Vampirism handwraps.

Stealth is really underrated but it has a few drawbacks.

  1. Patience is not only a virtue, but a requirement. I entered “The Troglodyte’s Get” on Elite completely solo to test out Ryn’s new self-sufficiency and stealth. The mages there were the most deadly with their magic missiles and especially Hold Person spells. The objective wasn’t to kill any of them but to destroy their nests of eggs. Several well-placed throwing stars removed the eggs from a safe distance but also allowed me to snipe out of range of the mages. Shurikens also work well to hit-and-pull single enemies for a quick takedown.
  2. Did I mention I’m stealthy? I can complete quests much faster since I don’t spend time fighting, but until Ryn gets Ninja Spy II, more Monk Fast Movement levels and faster Striding boots, I’m not as fast on my feet as I’d like to be as I move through the quests.
  3. Ninjas don’t do breakables. With the recent update changes that give you a great chance to find great loot, even tomes, from breaking barrels, I am a little forlorn that I can’t always break every box I see. Barrel-slaying also makes noise and attracts the very enemies I don’t want to fight if I don’t have to. I also miss getting Ransack bonuses, although getting Devious and Insidious Cunning bonuses compensate a little.
  4. Ninjas also often skip optionals. For me, the goal is the goal, especially if its simply a matter of finding something or slaying one enemy. I don’t like skipping optionals but Ryncletica is more shadow and less fighter. Over time, she’ll gain more experience in completing quests than spending time exploring every nook and corner. This goes against my normal play mode (especially when enjoying time with guildmates) but since I’m also in solo play with Ryn, this is not an issue.

Just as in her higher-levels in her first life, Ryncletica is discovering that many low-level quests can be easily stealthed out to completion. I drummed her through the four Deneith sewer quests easily in Ninja mode, and am about to set my sights on Delera’s Tomb (undead sometimes sense your life, so stealth options there will vary), The Carnival quests in House P, and the Sentinels of Stormreach.

So far, this upgraded Ryncletica is enjoyable, but she’s a bit fragile with lower HP than I’d like, which leaves to some nail-biting moments when she fails an Evasion save.

Otherwise, it’s a good time to be a ninja–especially against my natural enemy: Pirates. Yaaryar and his crew on Irestone Inlet just got a serious schooling on the art of shadow.

Kunoichi: Shadowmaster Ninja Spy

Can you find the ninja in the screenshot? There’s always a ninja near you. You just can’t see them–just like these poor guys.

Of all of my Monks, Ryncletica, my halfling Dark Monk, has leveled the slowest. In fact, she’s been around for nearly as long as Syncletica, since I joined the game in mid-2010.

But this has turned out to be a good thing. I know a few other Dark Monks, but many of these play them with little to none of the shadowy benefits and abilities found in their one Prestige Enhancement, the Ninja Spy. While DDO gameplay doesn’t fully promote a role-play aspect, I’ve found it easy to always think *NINJA* while running Ryn through her paces.

With most of her Grandmaster of Flowers abilities learned, Ryncletica has greater offensive abilities. Yet she rarely uses them nowandays. She’s a better spy. She can kill effectively enough, but for many quests, most enemies don’t even know she’s been in their lair, looting their things, killing their bosses. You can’t believe how much time this saves in completing any quest.

The Epic Ninja

One problem I had with Ryn on occasion involves DDO’s tendency to make quests that seem as if they cannot be completed as well by the use of infiltration: Avoid enemies, eliminate only required enemies to complete. Frankly speaking, Ryn couldn’t enter many quests early in her life without a lot of life support: healbots, specifically. Combined with her weaker ability to heal herself in combat than Light Monks, Ryn (and I, while learning Dark Monk mechanics) had to take her time a bit more as she moved through her latter Heroic levels. No longer.

Level 23 Ryncletica has been going at it completely solo through several Epic Normal and Heroic Elite adventures, completing adventures such as:

  • Epic Normal “The Claw of Vulkoor”: Not a single scorpion except one guardian (dang it!) ever knew I was there. Massive XP from this.
  • “Blockade Buster”: Since door entry doesn’t break stealth or invisibility in this quest, I was able to complete the entire quest without killing any orcs or gnolls. Many kobolds died to bring you this information, however.
  • Epic Normal “Spies in the House”: This lone counter-spy waltzed past almost all of the spies, killed off a boss, and has raided the Epic chest over three times now.
  • Epic Normal “The Tide Turns”: No, this isn’t a stealth mission. I did it, anyway. I moved through mobs without detected, killed only what I had to kill, and could have cared less about the epic-level hallway traps that annihilate other parties in this quest.

You might be asking how I’m managing this. Well, let’s review Ryn’s training.

rynvulkoor1

  • Her base Hide/Move Silently numbers are around 48. Buffed and using other abilities and gear such as the Drow Piwafwi, she sits around 60. Even in bright light, Ryn is rarely detected.
  • Shadow Fade, a Ninja Spy enhancement, uses 10 ki for 1 minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality (better than Ghostly). If I have to fight, the invisibility stops but the incorporeality stays for a better defense.
  • A Level 16 Cloak of Night from the Mabar Festival gives Ryn a 10% concealment and needed Deathblock for the occasional surprise.
  • Grandmaster of Oceans training, plus Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, other Ninja Spy and class additions, along with Dodge bonuses from Grandmaster of Flowers give Ryn a permanent, unbuffed 24% Dodge. I can max it by wearing a pair of Tharaak Bracelets. Combined with Improved Evasion and the higher saves of Ocean Stance and ED bonuses, Ryncletica’s overall saves sit between 40 and 48.
  • Ninja Spy training allows faster movement while stealthed. With good Striding boots on (Cannith Boots of Propulsion are used), she moves very fast.
  • The magic comes from using Abundant Step while stealthed at ground level. Technically, she’s not walking. She floats at high speed past traps and mobs, attracting no attention and moving faster than the traps can activate, if they do at all.

Blacker than Black:

The Kunoichi, the Shadowdancer Ninja Spy

It’s not often that I use GMoF abilities during infiltration. Most are offensive skills. So, given that it’s taken long enough for Ryn to come this far–why not continue to improve her infiltration skills?

Just because I’ve enjoyed the heck out of the role-play I can do with Ryn here, I did a little walking of my virtual fingers through the Wikipedia to find information on what Westerners call the “Ninja.” Like many things from China, we non-Oriental folks tend to use Anglicized pronunciations of things. The word origin/modern Chinese pronunciation for “ninja” is really shinobi or shinobi-no-mono, meaning “to steal away” or “to forebear.” Mono means “to hide,” so the name has a rich meaning.

I’m training Ryncletica into a kunoichi–a master female ninja. I’ll begin training her in Shadowdancer skills that will allow many more abilities that keep her safe, more undetectable and elusive.

There’s some overlap with Ninja-Monk abilities and Shadowdancer, but quite a few will be highly useful.

  • Shadow Training II: Innate active ability that allows full movement and jump while stealthed for 30 seconds. Hells, yeah.
  • Shadow Training IV: Innate active ability for Dimension Door 5 times per rest. Talk about a disappearing ninja…! I considered going Drow for the dragonmarked version. When Ryn reincarnates, I can go Half-Elf instead (for Cleric dilettante healing).
  • Stealthy: Tier 1. MOAR stealthy-points.
  • Escape Notice: Tier 2. Use Hide skill points as Diplomacy. “You don’t need to look over at me. (hand wave)”
  • Lithe: Tier 2. More to reflex saves and perhaps AC.
  • Meld into Darkness: Tier 3. Emergency 100% Dodge bonus for up to 15 seconds.
  • Grim Precision: Tier 3. Bypass up to 15% enemy fortification and up to 3% of their Dodge.
  • Improved Invisibility: Tier 4. It’s like “Super Shadow Fade.” Invisibility for up to 30 seconds. Stays active if you attack, and you gain Displacement (50% concealment) for up to 90 seconds. WANT.
  • Sealed Soul. Tier 5. Immunity from energy drain. (Eat me, beholders and mages.)
  • Consume: Tier 6. A 10 second aura around you will cause anything within it to be eaten by its own shadow and  die or take lots of damage unless they save. You’re free to go about your business while behaving as a living black-hole during this time.
  • Dark Imbuement: Epic Moment. Not as impressive as the Grandmaster of Flowers’s “Death Blossom” but still a good fit for a Dark Monk. Gain enough Shrouding Charges and you can activate attacks with powerful Unholy energies for 30 seconds, increased range with melee attacks, and any ranged attacks have a chance to be explosive.

So, Ryncletica has the potential of becoming so deep in shadow, it’s almost silly. But I like the potential. And I can Twist a few of the simple GMoF abilities over that come in handy, like Lily Petal or even the mighty Orchid Blossom. I might lose my better Dodge abilities and a few other niceties, so in a later update, I’ll show the tradeoffs.

Dark is not evil, after all.

Come to the Dark Side! (Or not)

After dusting off Ryncletica and exploring more of the nature of the “Dark” monk, I have this to say.

Ninja Spys are awesome.

I’ve played light monks all through my time on DDO. There were ups and downs, things I had to unlearn from my Neverwinter Nights days, and learning more about the exceptions to the game mechanics to which monks can bend, break or be liable.

Let’s go through my initial objections from long past and how they shape up now.

Myth: Dark monks can’t heal themselves as well as light monks.

Fact: Generally true, if you play style consists of terrible impulses to scream-and-leap at mobs. Otherwise, dark monks do fine in self-healing, with the right fighting style combined with enhancements, reaching level 11 and with a few offensive items.

  • Dark monks are natural ninjas. Light monks solo well because they can heal themselves of afflictions. Dark monks solo well because mobs don’t know they’re frickin’ there. To wit: I took Ryncletica (L14) into Haywire Foundry on Hard, alone (no hirelings). I sneaked past almost everything to get the two levers to the central golems. Pulled out my smiting handwraps and dispatched the golems (lots of Touch of Death on the red-named), then make a hasty exit. HP never dropped below 1/3, thanks to the information in the next point…
  • Dark monks heal wonderfully with vampiric weaponry and prudence. The Vampiric Stonedust Wraps were a no-brainer, but the Vampiric Fury Shortswords are a bonus win. The extra stat damage these do in combination with Improved Two Weapon Fighting and doublestrike will keep a monk’s HP/ki meter well-filled. If you find yourself a little peaked after a fight, use Wholeness of Body and fill yourself up from ki. Of course…
  • Ninjas don’t attack mobs. They attack targets. If you can hide and complete a quest without fighting a thing, you still get the XP. A Ninja Spy in One With Shadow/Sneak regenerates ki (Light monks have to wait to get Oremi’s Necklace for that trick) so there’s no reason to rush. In fact, once you can regenerate ki to 50 in your stable pool, you can Touch of Death targets routinely with an assassin’s precision.

If you don’t put points into Hide/Move Silently, you aren’t a ninja. You’re just a monk that likes to kill. Nothing wrong with that, but you lose the benefits of why the dark monk is deadlier than its light cousin.

Myth: Dark monks deal more DPS than their light cousin.

Fact: Depends on where they are, and what they must attack.

The dark monk’s available killing powers generally consist of elemental, force and negative energy. These come from the Earth/Air/Fire/Water strikes, Void Strike, and Touch of Death. (Both monk types get Quivering Palm for another instant-death strike.) The good news is that the dark monk is extremely effective on killing the living, non-aberration kind of foe. Drow. Ogres. Giants. Humans.

But stick a dark monk against these monsters and they will have a harder time because these foes offset a skill to kill or the ability to use a killing technique. These include:

  • Undead (dependent on Holy/Undead bane/disrupting weapons, while light monks are designed inherently to hurt the undead)
  • Aberrations (Enemies that live on negative energy are unlikely to be killed by it, so Touch of Death is a bad thing to try on them)
  • Anything with tremor sense (Dark monks can’t easily bypass spiders)
  • Anything that kills you faster than you can kill it. I know this sounds obvious, but one monk ability, to stun something, is less effective against the non-living and problematic with some planar creatures. That means that the light monks have it good with Tomb of Jade, which can encase any extraplanar, non-living and non-construct enemy and effectively stun it. Dark monks (even with vampiric ability) won’t have enough inherent positive energy attacking prowess against such foes. A prepared ninja (like Batman-prepared, with Holy burst weaponry)  is a live one at quest’s end.
  • Anything that loves to debuff or curse you early and often. (Dark monks must use clickys or potions to offset, which eventually run out, while light monks can remove such afflictions for as long as they can generate ki). Anyone that’s done the end fight with the hyper-cursing red-named bosses in A New Invasion and The Dreaming Dark final quest knows of what I speak.

To wrap up: Ryncletica is awesome to play. I’ve gained sizable appreciation for what dark monks can do. The most interesting challenge to come for her will be in fighting in the Shroud. Dark monks don’t get the damage reduction bypassing while unarmed, so she’s stuck with Metalline of Pure Good/Righteousness shortswords/kamas here until she can get a Tower of Despair ring, add Holy burst to one and wear metalline handwraps. (I do not hold out, ever, on getting Metalline/PG wraps in my lifetime).

Ryncletica has shown me clearly that a dark monk, rightly played, is a very soloable–and powerful–character.

A Deadly Shadow

I sat in mediation for some time that morning in a small garden of our dojo’s small pond, a few clicks from the dormitory, far enough into the meadow that I couldn’t hear the chatter of others.

I had been training my listening skills, hearing nothing but flies and bees buzzing for hours before I detected the particular footsteps of my abbot, the nearly-silent foot falls growing louder. Humans. They practically plod like giants when they walk, even my master.

“Greetings, master Syncletica,” I said, not turning about or bothering to open my eyes. The foot falls stopped.

“You have completed the stealth tests satisfactorily,” she said.

High praise from my master, especially considering the test she gave to me.

Syncletica’s final test was for me to enter the Firebrand Gnoll mines and retrieve several gemstones with as few kills as possible. But I was to go alone. She left a mercenary cleric nearby in case of grave danger but she was ordered not to accompany me through the mines itself, and would stay put at the quest entrance.

Most of the master’s acolytes have chosen the Path of Harmonious Balance, where ki is used to heal yourself and others, but can also be used to damage attackers. I am one of a few that chose the Path of Inevitable Dominion, where I use my ki for extra damage and to aid in cloaking my approach.

Many people seem to think this “dark” path is evil, or questionable. It is not. There is no evil in the training of mind and body, especially to use such skill against the true evils that trouble Stormreach and its neighbors.

My brethren think I am somehow weaker. Because of this, I accepted my final test with determination.

I accepted additional training in the art of the ninja. It gives me stronger stealth skills. Not only are my hiding and move silently training is enhanced, but I can use my ki to make myself invisible and a bit incorporeal for a brief time. I would need that inside the narrow corridors of the mines. I handle shortswords very well as ki weaponry for when my fists cannot overcome an enemy–a rarer event, thankfully.

But the most dangerous training I know is for when I must fight. I often strike and stun enemies while cloaked to quickly remove them without drawing attention from others. For when I must fight a group, I measure their strength. Spell casters and healers are felled first, if possible. I have crafted a pair of handwraps that aid in stunning and, with a fortunate strike, will encase an enemy in stone. These wraps are also vampiric, fortifying my healing ability. Otherwise, other than drinking healing potions, healing while in battle is not possible.

But my best skill involves the management of ki. Like any other monk, I need the ki force to empower my training. Others will fight to generate it, leaving them at risk of having to use more to heal themselves or others. My training allows me to regenerate ki while in stealth, up to my stable level of concentration. That’s not much ki energy, but it is enough to heal myself every few minutes without having to encounter one attacker, or mediate to generate energy.

Were I to be discovered and an outright fight was inevitable, I use my most punishing technique. I draw my ki into a ball of intense energy that punishes the lifeforce of any living being, often destroying them with that single attack. A few in the dojo were…concerned…with such a brutal attack. “We are not assassins,” they say. They believe there is something wrong in the sudden death of an enemy. Yet they, as I, will eventually learn a new sudden-death strike. Maybe my brothers and sisters confuse my training and attacks with my attitude. I’m not as social as others. Maybe they just see me as angry or mean. I do not know.

But I do what I must. And I completed my test. No cleric. Barely detected by most of the mine’s denizens. I left the required gems by the master’s doorstep late last night.

I could hear the master take a few steps towards me as I still faced the pond. A heard a slight rustle as some kind of package was placed beside me. “You have earned this,” the master said, as her footsteps receded from me.

A few minutes later, I opened my eyes. Next to me in a neat package was clothing that gave me stronger concentration and protection, two special shortswords of metalline, and headgear that no other in the dojo had been allowed to wear, until now.

As the sun began to set, I dressed in the new outfit and pulled the obsidian-black mask over my dull red hair. With a moment of concentration, I ran to the pond, running quickly over the water to the other side, hardly disturbing the liquid’s surface tension, then cloaked myself to disappear into the outlying forest and to my next mission.

I am the first ninja of my dojo. I will defend its honor, its members, and the citizens and friends of Stormreach.