The Little Mountain Rises

Lynncletica, my Earth Stancer in her second life, continues her makeover.

Thanks to many new voices that help add/correct information in The Book of Syncletica, I’m working in or experimenting with more skills and feats for a stronger Monk.

Lynn and the Devil

Quintessica, my “Avatar,” has also helped flesh out the power of Monk stance diversity. Syncletica knows gear and speed. For Lynncletica, I’ve tasked her to improve her tanking ability.

First on the list was a retooling of skills. In the past I’d just dump points in Hide, Move Silently, Balance, Jump and (of course) Concentration. Lynn is now gravitating to two additional skills: Diplomacy and Intimidate.

Diplomacy seemed a no-brainer. It’s a class skill and I find myself surprised in various guildie runs how very, very few of us have a decent level of it. For some quests, like “The Prisoner” (a.k.a. VoN 2), it can save you the need of a nasty fight.

Intimidate is a cross-class skill. I’m not a fan of these (and my guide emphasizes my distaste in it). However, a little Intim is better than none. While it cannot reach the levels of sword-and-board melee characters, I should be able to reach a good level, combined with an item to add a few more points. It’s enough to attract many enemies before they charge past me and stomp on my friends. Lynn is sacrificing a few points in Hide/Move Silently to make this happen, and I’m sure she won’t miss it.

With Shintao Monk II and Level 13 under her belt, Lynn is back with action with her stunning handwraps, Green Steel goggles, Greater Mountain Stance and soloing guile. She’s plowed out all Explorer points in Atraxia’s Haven and the Sands in 48 hours, just to show she means business. Next: the one area where I’ve never completed Explorers or significant kills: Gianthold. Just in time for her to be wearing some White Dragonscale Armor to make her a happier tanker.

Did I mention that Cleave and Great Cleave in Fire Stance is a ki-generating monster? I’m looking to make Lynn a Grandmaster of Earth and Fire for more power to attacks, allowing rotation from one to the other as needed since Earth isn’t too keen on ki regeneration unless you’re struck. I’ll be doing something new: I won’t move Lynn beyond Adept-level Wind and Ocean Stances and put those action points into something else that I don’t venture through as often until now: Animal Paths. While I like the Way of the Patient Tortoise (More Concentration and HP with no downside), I think Lynn may seriously consider the Way of the Tenacious Badger to add more points to Intimidate  (up to +4) and add ki regeneration when she’s low on HP. The slow Meditation downside is less problematic since Fire regenerates ki all too well.

The last bit involves pumping more WIS into Lynn. She wants Vorpal Strikes when she is back in Epicland. I’m sure this works with natural ability points and tomes, but nothing else, so 23 is the magic number. Since she’s not pursuing Void Strike in any strong level, she could use another insta-kill move.

Overshadowed

ninjaspyI

I’ve been quite successful in playing and developing my three Light Monks.

Syncletica was the first, a Wind Stancer. Lynncletica showed the power of Mountain Stance. Quintessica showed both of them off by becoming an Avatar, a master of all four heroic Grandmaster levels as well as epic Grandmaster of Flowers.

But, sitting in the shadows of gameplay, literally and figuratively, was Ryncletica, my only Dark Monk. Perhaps this has been because she is much harder to play. She cannot self-heal as readily as her sisters. She requires her shortswords and kamas for damage reduction bypassing. Her finishing moves are primarily attacks and require far greater coordination to use. But, as Quintessica showed me, Ryn isn’t a particularly great fighter. She just reached Level 18 after nearly 1.5 years of existence.

So, as with changes to Lynncletica and to Syncletica in their second lives, and adding the martial aspects of Quintessica’s incredible build design, I’m planning to Lesser (or, if she’s 28-pt, do a Greater) Reincarnate my little dark halfling to incorporate Cleave, Great Cleave, and even Whirlwind Attack to give her greater versatility. Further, Ryn’s WIS score was dreadfully low and requires greater numbers for more successes with Stunning Fist and many of her debuffs.

As far as ability scores, this was a tough decision. I built Ryn to follow Wind Stance (as Syn originally chose). I know now that a Dark Monk may be best played in Fire Stance (ki generation and heightened damage) Ocean Stance (greater WIS, passive ki regeneration and more effective DC checks) or even Mountain Stance (better defense but risk of greater Threat generation). So Ryn will go Fire Grandmaster and consider Ocean Stance as a second choice.

The final choice may be to change Ryn’s race once she’s eligible for True Reincarnation. A halfling has naturally improved abilities for throwing, luck, AC and DEX. But a human adds extra diversity and size, as well as an extra feat she’ll need to improve her martial arts.

Thanks to Update 14, I’ll have a greater opportunity to find DR-breaking metallic handwraps to help her fight unarmed more often. In all of this, I hope not to nerf Ryn’s excellent stealth ability, which matches my acrobat Rogue, Allysen (also a victim of being overshadowed by the Monks and in need of a similar refit).

More details as the retool is readied.

Fu, You, and the Bablith They Rode In On

fallinglynn1

Compiling that greatly-revised Monk guide, with all the thoughts and contributions from DDO forum members, has compelled me to rethink a bit on the diversity of Monk attacks.

The “Book of Syncletica” is for beginners that guides a player interested in a Monk through building a pure character. No multiclassing. That’s not because multiclassing is bad or anything, of course–it’s just that you won’t learn all you need to know about a Monk by leeching in cross-class skills and feats that might dilute a Monk’s innate abilities.

The forum conversations I’ve had to-date have made me realize how little I know of the effect of certain granted attacks and their selected, advanced versions. While I’ve toyed with Cleave and Great Cleave on one Monk, Improved Sunder has never been on my list. My argument has been that it takes up a feat slot I will need for anything to boost attacks (such as the Two-Weapon Fighting line), critical hits (Improved Critical), or hit points (Toughness).

But a Monk is more than their handwraps. More than any one attack or feat. Certainly a Monk should be more capable of multiple attacks on multiple enemies, despite game mechanic limitations.

In short, a martial arts fighter should be able to really deal attacks from as many directions as they have limbs, and then some.

quintessica

Part of this interest comes from Quintessica, the Grandmaster of all Elements (“Avatar”) Monk. She has Whirlwind Attack that adds to her normal and ki attacks, making her a whirling dervish of destruction.

The other interest appears anytime I’m reminded of “The Burly Brawl,” the fight between Neo and multiple spawning copies of Smith, rogue agent gone viral, in the film, The Matrix Reloaded. He knows kung-fu, indeed. (In the linked scene, Neo shows us how a quarterstaff should really be used.)

You can play this scenario yourself now in the recently modified “The Weapons Shipment,” where seemingly endless waves of devils come at you.

I just sent Lynncletica (the redhead, above), “The Little Mountain” that stood up alone against Garamol many times, into her second life. I am considering how much extra special attack types I can add to her build while still keeping her a Monk tanker, just to help better with removing mobs than punching each mob member one at a time.

So the attacks in consideration are:

  • Improved Sunder (requires Sunder, Power Attack): While Destruction/Improved Destruction do this on handwraps, why wait for the handwraps when you can crack armor at level 3?
  • Improved Trip (requires Combat Expertise): Start knocking down enemies yourself for a change.
  • Cleave (requires Power Attack): 90-degree arcing attack.
  • Great Cleave (requires Cleave): 180-degree arc attack and 2x damage than Cleave.
  • Whirlwind Attack (requires Spring Attack, which needs Dodge and Mobility, and Combat Expertise, which needs 13 INT): 360-degrees of badass and 4x weapon damage.

Of these, Cleave, Great Cleave, Improved Trip and Whirlwind Attack would have a Monk fighting in a far more useful mode, as their arms and legs virtually charge in 90, 180 and 360 arcs. They wouldn’t apply more damage per second to any one foe, but would apply more damage per second to many more foes per second. That would be more martial-artsy.

I’m still considering a name for this experiment. Chuck Norris (peace and roundhouse kicks be upon him) doesn’t just kick. Neither should a Monk have one single-mode attack.

I’m sure others have experimented on this idea, so if you have, let me know. Lynncletica will be wearing more dark robes and goggles as she fights off Agents–er, I mean, devils during her training. Stay tuned.

Rebuilding Lynncletica (Or, How to Almost Gimp Your Monk)

I’ve finally gotten a grip on what “Armor Class” really means in DDO. For a Monk, it should be something helpful to know, since we can’t use leather or plate armor or wield shields. Yet, few people I speak to (at least, within my guild) see AC as something they concern themselves about as Monks. I’m guilty of this and have likely perpetuated the poo-pooage of AC over resistances.

AC? Resistances? Why Not Both?

It turns out (says me, guest-starring as Captain Obvious) that AC and resistances do go together. AC helps to negate a melee or ranged attack outright. It represents the attack roll that an enemy must roll to hit you. If you have 50 AC and the attack rolls a 49, he misses. So why doesn’t it seem that AC isn’t that important for Monks?

The answer comes from three feats all Monks receive over time. The first two are Evasion and Improved Evasion. You gain no damage with a successful Reflex save on attacks and (with Improved Evasion) only half the damage if you fail your saving throw. The last is Diamond Soul. At level 13, a Monk gets Spell Resistance equal to his Monk level +10, up to 30 by capstone. These three feats work together to mitigate many, many melee and magic attacks all by themselves.

Resistances (Fortitude, Will, Reflex) add to this to greatly lower the probability of become helpless (a Monk is dead meat if stunned, encumbered or paralyzed). A Resistance +5 item (to go with the Monk’s inherent increases in saves as they level) work great here.

Yet, a Monk is still getting very bruised by attacks that pounce through his AC. So why not get both sets of numbers up to higher levels?

How AC Breaks Down and Boogies Over Your Presumptions

Lynncletica (my Ultimate Mountain Stance Light Monk for those new to the show) had an unbuffed AC of 52 before I decided to Lesser Reincarnate her yesterday for one goal: Raise her AC by at least 5. But AC is broken down into subdivisions called bonuses, and this is where we catch how unaware I was about AC.

First Rule of AC: The Numbers Do Not Always Add Up. Armor Class has 9 divisions that determine if, say the bracers you wear and the outfit you have on will protect you more, less or the same.

Where can you see how things break down. Open your character sheet and hover your mouse pointer over your AC number. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Now, without going into immense detail (you can check out the DDO Wiki article for more comprehensiveness), here’s the run-down of bonuses you see and how they relate to Monks.

  • Base AC: Every character has at least 10 AC.
  • Natural Armor bonus: Comes from a class’s natural hide or magical effect. Barkskin gives to Natural Armor, as well as a few other non-Monk armors. Mountain Stance gives a +3 Insight bonus to natural armor (more on this in a sec).
  • Armor bonus: Comes from things you wear, such as traditional armor, bracers and the like. A few robes/outfits have this but most do not.
  • Shield bonus: Comes from using a shield. Monks cannot wear shields, so what is a (virtual) gal to do here? (See the very last sentence of this entry on how to get it, albeit briefly.)
  • Dexterity bonus: Add your Dexterity modifier to your AC. Monks that pump DEX up get tremendous AC boosts here. Lynn pumped more into STR and CON, which formed the dilemma.
  • Deflection bonus: Comes often from cloaks and rings under the term “Protection.”
  • Dodge Bonus: Of all the bonuses, this is the only one that (typically) allows you to stack it using items with different numbers. For example, wearing the Icy Raiment, Chattering Ring and Thaarak Bracelet together will give you a Dodge bonus of 9 (+4+3+2). The Dodge feat itself falls under a another category: Feat Bonus.
  • Size bonus: Become a Halfling and you get +1 to your AC.
  • Insight bonus: This one’s tricky. An Insight bonus may apply in its own category or apply into another bonus. For example, Ultimate Mountain Stance gains +3 insight bonus to Natural Armor. So that number shows up under Natural Armor, not as Insight Bonus.
  • Miscellaneous bonus: A catch-all category for effects that come from effects or enhancements, such as a Paladin’s aura or Halfling’s Hero Companion.

Second Rule of AC: Adjust your gear, feats, ability score and enhancements to help maximize your number. So, Lynncletica’s problem didn’t involve her gear. She has several bracers, Dragontouched Vestments and the Icy Raiment outfit. Cool. But what was not cool was when I realized that hardly any of it stacked in the right way for more AC.  Without peacetime buffs (guild ship or House Phlarian), I had a standing AC of 49 or so with the Icys on. What was I missing?

On a Monk, there are three special ways to get more AC, with two in your direct control. The first comes from a Monk just being a Monk: the Monk AC bonus, a granted feat that gives you up to +5 stacking AC bonus under a special bonus category: “Centered bonus.” You’ll lose this if you are uncentered, so Monk splashes that use anything non-Monkly never see this bonus. The second we spoke of already: Dexterity bonus. The last is similar: A Monk gets more AC based on their Wisdom modifer as well. So, a Monk with great AC often has pumped DEX and WIS to 30 or more, gaining +10 AC from each ability. Lynn suffered here; I was so intent on damage and HP that more ability points were placed in STR and CON.

So, after careful consideration, I was off to our friendly neighborhood reincarnation NPC and mindflayer.

Just a little R.E.S.P.E.C! (Find out what it means to me!)

(with apologies to Aretha Franklin)

So I brought a Lesser Heart of Wood, thought about how really stupid it was to respec my toon within 2 hours of our guild’s very first Monk-dominant Shroud run (A very fun run: 7 Monks, 2 Healers, 1 Artificer, 1 Bard and 1 Sorcerer dragging a China-sized industrial-strength can of Whoopass into Meridia), then ignored the screams of warning in my head and began the process anyway.

My objective was to raise Lynn’s AC without wholly compromising her light tanking ability, HP or STR. To do this, I would have to retool the Monk’s four main stats: STR, DEX, CON and WIS, but also add points to something that few Monks should ever consider except for this case: INT.

So I stripped Lynn of all gear, committed to the LR, and got to work. Now, when someone says they’re a “STR-based Monk,” it means they didn’t take the Weapon Finesse feat. This means that a highly strong Monk’s attack modifier comes from their STR. Take Weapon Finesse, and your DEX modifier is used for attack, although your STR is still used to determine how hard you hit. I decided that Lynn was too strong and pulled a couple of points off, applying it to DEX. Next, I pulled a few points from WIS and moved them to DEX and INT. Why the hell did I put points into Intelligence? The answer: Combat Expertise (+5 stacking Feat AC, another bonus category).

I redid my enhancements (choosing 1 DEX from Human Adaptability and Monk Wisdom I)  and looked at the result. Lynn lost about 10 HP to one less Toughness feat. OK. Lynn gained 2 to her Dexterity AC bonus and lost 2 from a lower WIS bonus (but compensated by my ToD ring). After exchanging Improved Critical: Bludgeoning for Combat Expertise with Fred (you get an identical effect from Greater/Ultimate Mountain Stance), the results were in after adding my gear back. I improved AC quite a bit. I made a Google spreadsheet before all this to help in determining how things stack. I made two sheets, one for the Icys and gear and another for the Dragontouched Vestiments, to see how stacking gear would gain AC. You can view it here.

The Icy configuration gave the best maximum self-buffed AC. But I created a serious problem. Lynn’s lower STR had reduced her attack rolls! Her fists began to whiff by enemies while I was with a party on the following day. Luckily, the same place that showed Lynn’s reduced attacks was also the answer to restoring her attack bonus.

I was playing with guildies in the just-re-opened Smuggler’s Rest and Crystal Cove challenges!

Lynn owned a Level 16 Ring of the Buccaneer. The two stats that could help were the Protection bonus and Dexterity bonus, which sat at +4 and +5 respectively. I slammed down minotaurs for a few minutes and gained the doubloons to immediately upgrade to an Epic Ring of the Buccaneer. (DEX +6, Protection +5). Halfway there: I gained 1 more AC from the Protection Bonus, negating the Icy’s +4.

A couple of runs through Crystal Cove allowed me to get Tier 2 on the Ring: DEX +7. That did it, Lynn was able to hit her enemies again at CR21.

Epilogue

So I’m finally faced with one last dilemma. Lynn’s DEX is now higher than her STR. The idea of calling Lynn a STR-based Monk was silly now. But, more so, I really need better to-hit. Come Saturday evening, I’ll trade off Power Attack (which would work against attack rolls) for Weapon Finesse.

I was originally going to respect Power Attack for Combat Expertise at first, but Fred warned that removing PA would require me to respect other feats as PA was a prerequisite of some kind. For what? I think it’s a bug, since nothing I can think of for a Monk would require Power Attack. I’ll do a bit of research before I attempt to respec once the respec timer is done.

But now, unbuffed, Lynncletica sits at 57. Add ship buffs, a Barkskin +3 potion (did you know that this stacks to Ultimate Earth stance’s insight bonus to Natural Armor?), and a Shield clicky (only 1 damned minute of +4 Shield bonus AC) and Lynncletica sees an AC of 63. Lasting potions from the DDO store as well as party buffs will raise her to really good AC levels.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Postscript: One thing to note  in all of this is that I managed to improve Lynncletica’s AC despite my near-constant use of Mountain Stance, which adds +2 CON and discredits you 2 DEX.

The Power of the Ring

“He’s stunning me!” I hear behind me, over the clangs and shouts of others in the party, deep in the heart of the halls of command inside the Tower of Despair.

The tanking fighter, immobile from a glancing blow, was saved from death by the hands of the pit demon Horoth only because another fighter began striking the monster, drawing the thing’s attention away.

I leapt over to the fighter, now revived from his stun, while beginning the rhythmic motions that attuned my ki to energize the party briefly in Grasping the Earth Dragon to ward briefly against future stunning attempts.

The pit fiend’s eternal orthon guard reappeared again. You could kill them again and again yet they reappeared. I wiped a bead of sweat and blood from the corner of my mouth and ran toward the closest one.

By now the party had been taxed in luring a second pit fiend, Suulomades, away from the main fight against Horoth, quickly consuming time, elixirs and health. More than once has a cleric nearly exhausted their divine resources in keeping the fighters alive and restoring life to two others in the party. In a few minutes, if we did not send Horoth into the abyss, none of us would live to discuss our failure.

I positioned my hand in the correct orientation for the Tomb of Jade and struck the orthon solidly in his chest. The creature froze as a wave of jade stone encased him solidly in place, hopefully for a minute or so.

With my Vampiric Stonedust Wraps in place, I positioned myself in the Greater Mountain Stance as another orthon threatened a spell caster, his attempts to slow or stop the stampeding beast failing each time. I chased the orthon, throwing strike after strike until it finally petrified, encased in unyielding stone. I looked about; two other enterprising spell casters had stoned the two remaining orthons. We bought a little more time for the fighters before these unkillable guards would revive and charge us again.

Just as I was assuring that the bulk of the party would not get stunned again, the unearthly scream of the dying pit fiend filled the hall–the party had vanquished him. Suulomades saw Horoth fall and chose not to meet the same fate, disappearing into the ether. It was over.

After the party cared for the injured, we sorted through the bounty left by the pit fiends. Much of it was treasure they had gathered from other failed adventurers. In one ordinary pile, I found what I sought. It was a knife-like relic, probably as old as the halls from where it rested. I helped get the party to safety, back to the floating fortress of Amrath, and then asked the planescaller to send me back to the plane of Ebberon.

In my dojo, I studied the act of crafting a special ring left to me by a monk of long ago that once fought in the fields of Shavarath. It gave Shintao Monks extra strength and wisdom. From my treasure I removed a necklace from my recent victory in the Tower. The ornate dark metals and single green stone showed a kindred with my ring. The necklace offered greater mental clarity for ki and better health.

I equipped both ring and necklace and felt a surge of energy. I’ve felt it before but only when wearing Pure Good handwraps. Together the ring and necklace allowed me to channel Good-aligned energies without additional equipment. Combined with my training in bypassing Silver and other metals by fist alone, I should have felt satisfied in my prowess against the forces of Shavarath.

But I knew better. I have seen warriors, with three times the might and strength I have, fall to the power of Shavarath. My skills may have made me dangerous, but I greatly doubted I was worthy of bringing ultimate victory for Ebberon.

I gazed at Kyosho’s ring, found something I had never seen before–an inscription that told me to “Unleash” a hidden power inside it. This would take more study than my dojo could offer, so I took to the roads to visit the training halls in Stormreach. Many new students were training there, stumbling and fumbling as they tried to master the simplest finishing moves. I found the one I searched for.

“Master Ryone.”

“Abbotess Syncletica,” he said, as we bowed to another. “It pleases me to see you still in one piece.”

“Glad to see you as well, Master. I wanted to ask you about this,” I said, showing him the ring.

The master nodded. “Ah, yes. You own one of Kyosho’s rings, too.”

“‘As well?’ I thought these were unique.”

“They are, in as much as very few of them were forged by the old master. Have you something to ask about it?” the master asked, stepping away from the training floor and walking into a hallway, motioning me gently to follow.

“Is there more to these rings than wearing them with the Cord of the Shintao? An inspection of the ring suggests there is more than meets the eye.”

The master frowned. “It’s not like you at all to seem power-seeking at all, Abbotess.”

His comment took me off-balance before I recalled, “The foes of Ebberon are not concerned with my lawful adherence to peace while they attempt to remove my head with a vorpal blade and turn the world into cinder,” I said in as neutral a tone as my frustration would muster.

“True, true,” the master nodded, stopping in a small room filled with scrolls. From a hidden alcove, he pulled out one scroll and unrolled it.

“I can recite the procedure for unleashing the Incredible to you, Syncletica, but I cannot give you this scroll.”

Many of the great monasteries in Ebberon were lost to the Quori wars, and scribes to make copies were harder to find. “I understand,” I said, taking a seat to prepare my mind, channeling my ki for eidetic memorization of the master’s words.

– – – – –

Two hours later, I was alone on the fields of battle in Shavarath. I declined a guide or a mercenary healer. If I were to fail, I did not want others to die with me over what might have been folly.

The crafting ingredients rested in my pack. All that was needed was to make my way to the altar.

As expected, the altar of subjugation was well guarded. As hoped, the small regiment of tieflings guarding it put up an insufficient fight.

I knew I was of little skill with crafting most things, and artificers would not be of use here. After a moment of recitation, I placed the ingredients on the altar, followed by the ring of Kyosho.

A flare of light erupted from the ring for a moment as the ingredients ignited and turned to ash. The ring looked unchanged.

I took it from the altar and put it on my right hand. The sensation of light weighed on every finger, as if I was holding a Holy Kama. The master’s instruction successfully added Holy Burst to my ring, stacking with my natural abilities as well as any other handwraps or weapon I could wield.

“This is among the most ancient of fighting knowledge, Syncletica. There is little left for you to learn in this life,” the master had told me.

I had never considered, until now, what the master meant, days after receiving the crafted ring. My charges in the dojo were maturing well, Lynncletica most of all. It would not be long before I would be able to grant her the status of Grandmaster.

But even as a Grandmaster myself, my resources still seemed inadequate against the forces of darkness. There had to be more than this. More than my training. More than this ring.

Before I left Stormreach, I read through another scroll in the library. Before she left this world, it was said that the great monk Kyosho had found the secret of reincarnation, enabling her to return stronger and larger, at the price of relearning her training. The scrolls say that this, combined with her ring, was what enabled her to defeat the evil pit fiend Arryitrekos in a pitched battle, ages ago. Her fight gave the world quite some time to catch its breath, for the pit fiend had taken many years to return from his imprisonment in the abyss.

I stood up to look at the nighttime sky. Soon, if I were to fulfill my destiny to save Ebberon, I must return to the beginning as well. But there was much to be done, particularly in keeping Lynncletica from killing herself before she masters her stances and becomes ready to teach others in my stead. Dead monks make poor abbots.