Glass Cannons

Suki2Spent a bit of time this weekend giving some love to my freshly-Epic Rogue Assassin, Sukitetica.

I’ve spoken a bit on my take on their general performance in comparison to Ninja Spies. I should sum up these points.

  • Assassin Sneak Attack damage is incredible.
  • Single Weapon Fighting’s speed with Sneak Attack damage is insanely powerful.
  • UMD turns any Rogue into Batman–or, at least, Batman’s utility belt. From Raising Dead, to Heals, to defeating traps and opening doors, emergency buffs–they can do it all.
  • Assassinate is still damned fun.

That said, the epic Sukitetica got herself killed a few times, which leads me to add one point.

  • Assassins can’t take damage worth a damn. Or, at least, mine doesn’t.

That’s not really news. However,  I feel that you have to be able to absorb some level of damage during crunch times. I ran with a great party on the Sschindylryn quests; always a personal favorite. We nailed “House of Rusted Blades,” clearing out everything while one person tanked the Blademaster boss perfectly for several minutes alone. Paladin.

In “House of Broken Chains,” the results were similar. I used my UMD to disable enough of the slave collars, although I learned fast that UMD’s roll is far less reliable than Concentration with a Monk. A few slaves died. But we got the rescue bonus and even took down a horde of spiders, clearing out the place.

But “House of Death Undone” took a little more party finesse since the place is full of enemies and enemies-turned-zombies. This House has a great medical plan: Life and Unlife Insurance. I wondered about their dental plan.

We took out the matron mothers in each House. House Avithoul was kind enough to present me with a Seal of House Avithoul for my trouble, a perfect ring that just made my DPS shoot up substantially.

I’m still stuck on what the Epic Rogue should be wearing, aside from that welcome ring. There’s no Commendations path I’m aware of that supports the Rogue. So, I guess the Rogue has to mish-mash items from various patrons based on the character’s need.

Looks like the Druids of the Kings Forest commendation rewards have the greatest general appeal. It provides great Hide/Move Silently bonuses, and offers Sneak Attack damage bonuses with all three set items.

Experience with Artemistika also reminds me that getting enough of these particular commendations are a pain in the butt. I’ll spend more time trading three commendations from more readily dropping patronages to generate what I need for the druids.

As for weapons, I’m still in great shape. The Sacrificial Dagger is simply a murder weapon in the hands of an Assassin against anything not a zombie. I used that weapon from the moment I could wield it, only swapping it out with a disruptor when I had a need. It’s got negative-leveling on a critical hit, and I do that a lot.

But back to Suki’s defenses. They suck. Her AC is laughable. Her miss-chance skills (20% Concealment, 0% Incorporeal, 18% Dodge) isn’t great. Without the Insightful Reflexes feat to use the INT modifier for Reflex saves and not DEX, Suki’s average DEX isn’t enough to ward off a high-level trap. Shadowdancer’s Dodge powers will work only if I’ve trained more Dodge and raise her maximum dexterity bonus (which I hadn’t). If she’s detected, she has few backups she can kick on to escape, like the Ninja Spy’s Flash Bang.

Her fortification must go to 150% to survive EE attempts. I watched her 56 DC to Assassinate work 90% of the time, but that 10% worries me. And she needs more to her rogueish skills to find and disable traps and open doors. I couldn’t pull off opening the locked door to the boss of “Death Undone.” It took a wizard in the party to beat it.

So Suki has a lot to fix. Lots of gear. Lots of Epic Destinies to train.

It’s going to be fun.

On Cannith, Suki’s counterpart, Gadgetetica, has been pretty vigilant until I realized that I didn’t train her Single Weapon Fighting on her. Big whoops. I ended up using my free Lesser Heart of Wood to Lesser Reincarnate her. Wasn’t a bad idea since this allowed me to reassign more AP into the Assassin tree to get that much closer to being ready to assassinate on schedule at level 12.

I haven’t spoken much about Shintao Monks lately. I’ll need to do so soon.

Emissaries from Ghallanda

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Change is often stressful, but often brings great beauty as well as strength.

I created a new character, not on my home server of Ghallanda, but on Cannith.

This was the first server I think that the game pointed me to use on first logging in nearly five years ago. Two other characters rested there, unused for years.

My freshly rolled Zen Archer, Mericletica, got to work. I wanted to start off with a Poison Master, but for best results that needed a Drow, which took me a while to unlock on that server.

I’ll explain my larger reasons why I’m on Cannith, far from my stores of loot and a friendly, large and respected guild on another server, in a moment. For now, let me relate some fun that comes from this change.

The New World

Playing the game feels wholly different when you start over on a new server. Unlike joining the game for the first time and being wholly confused as to mechanics, location, and interaction, an experienced player on a new server has many advantages. I know what I’ll need to start a new home and where to find it–at least at first.

With no platinum to speak of, with no stores of loot, I began again. The earliest quests often provide commonly found and useful tools.

Since the Zen Archer is one of two genuine builds I’ve designed, I knew precisely how to start. To speed things up, Mericletica began as  a Veteran II character at level 7. This offered a bunch of suitable starter gear. But rather than handwraps, Meri chose a longbow. I pushed her AP immediately into the Elf racial tree to give her Dexterity-to-Damage, Dodge and Doubleshot bonuses like her parallel sister, Pynthetica.

A bargain offer on the Auction House: A Lumric’s Longbow, perfect for the hordes of undead in her future. (Turned out that this thing was effective against the Ghostly Skeletons in Delera’s Tomb that normally needed Good alignment to even hurt.)

My only first goal for the new Zen Archer was to get a Greatbow of the Scrag, a power bow for a low level archer with its blunted ammunition and higher damage, also great against skeletons. Several runs into the wilds of Three Barrel Cove came up with little. But I knew it dropped: Pynthetica got that bow after only a couple of runs on Ghallanda. Eventually I found one, again on the Auction House, at just the right time and cost.

If you’ve never started completely new on a different server, all access and resources are separate from your original home except for your Turbine Points. While I could spend about US$25 to transfer any of my characters from Ghallanda, I’m finding more and more that this is unnecessary.

Homesteading

DDO is a wonderful world. Your best game resource really isn’t your gear or build, but your brain. There are so many tools in the game that you might tend to ignore because of the benefits of a guild. Even then, you find yourself learning about more resources than ever before.

Mericletica is homeless within a city’s walls. Yet she is a Monk. Through my experience, she knows where to find resources to complete her mission, and her class offers innate support that makes survival easier.

The first tactic I’m using is the benefit of owning many character slots. Farming without a guild’s help requires you to use multiple characters to avoid quickly ransacking boss chests, among other needs such as multiple collectibles, platinum and gear sources, establishing a crafting character, and more.

I reactivated my Ranger, Cynthetica, picked up a bow for a bit and farmed the Cove, having little luck so far in getting that bow for her Zen sister. Cyn here has not been played since I joined over 5 years ago and created her, so she had lots of freebies sitting in her inventory, including a Raider’s box for a “Caught in the Web” raid weapon gift! She is taking her Pinion bow, that’s for sure.

More characters appeared. There’s now Gadgetetica, a young enterprising Halfling Rogue Assassin. Realizing the sad state of financial and material affairs with the small troupe, she’s spearheading acquiring the massive financing and crafting services, training herself in Cannith Crafting.

I’m now appreciating the benefit of a higher Haggle skill to improve my platinum stores. I’ve come to nickname her “Gidget.”

Also settling in to help is a Half-Elf Shintao Monk named Gwynncletica.

At 400 favor, a Drow Poison Master arrived on Cannith: Vipercletica. She’s going at things with a single blade, so it’s back to the Cove to find her a Tiefling Assassin’s Blade. Soon, I’m sure a Drow Bard might come to town. And a banking character is storing essential gear for myself and others for later adventures.

Mericletica herself is a bit gear-dependent and needs specific training different from her companions. She’s got Deflect Arrows trained, has emergency Displacement, Shadow Walk and Invisibility through her Dragonmark, but Meri lacked a Blurry item–critical for the zen-defense.

She now has Shadow Veil from her ninja training., with barely enough ki regenerating to add that important Incorporeality, or to use Ten Thousand Stars occasionally. She’s generating the 8 AP needed for Henshin Mystic’s Contemplation for another passive ki regeneration point and a bit more Concentration.

Back to getting Blurry. I fixated on the options. The prudent direction was to build a set of Bracers of Wind. In fact, getting the level 3 version only takes two ingredients and two challenges–the same ones needed for a level 7 version.

So late one evening, I grabbed Flower the Cleric and set off farming. Readers know that I don’t like the Cannith challenges. They are overly complex and often throw me out of the game’s immersion, like a McDonald’s restaurant within a mountain view to the background.

But the “Lava Caves: Circles of Power” and “Kobold Chaos” dragonshard runs went very well. It’s far easier to farm on a ranged character since you can cover a greater area of defense.

So Meri has her Bracers. Now it’s back to quest running for her, Gwynn and Gidget, with Cynthetica picking up slack later.

Worried that Meri wouldn’t have enough damage punch against undead as I entered into the Catacombs, I researched what Good-aligned arrows I could acquire. On Ghallanda, I’d just use my crafter to make some, but that’s not happening yet on Cannith. And surviving the fight at the start of “The Chronoscope” to reach the war-torn Rusty Nail tavern and their supplies of Flametouched arrows seemed a bit daunting at the time.

Turns out, 2 Marks of the Keeper given to a Marketplace collectible vendor yield 100 +1 Arrows of Undead Bane.

Now I’m all anxious because I’ve rediscovered how useful the collectible vendors can be now, especially in getting some ruby augments for some of my weapons as well as other augments for needed protections. And lots of specialty arrows.

The big hassle, outside of using a banking character, is getting a quiver that holds a substantial number of specialty arrows. The best are the Large Thin Quiver from the House Deneith vendor, at 1000 arrows, and the Very Large Thin Quiver from the DDO Store only, at 1500 arrows. I’ve been working hard on Favor rewards from Deneith for ammo, Phlarian for buffs and clickies, Delera’s Tomb for weapons and other gear, and so on.

I learned that the Hammer and Chain store, near the Harbor banker, sells inexpensive quivers that I could load and pack with as many arrows as I can hold and put into a bank.

Mericletica1Meri took her Greatbow of the Scrag and punched holes in the legions of undead in the Catacombs, gathering more Marks of the Keeper for later.

I might–just might–start running Necropolis now, especially if I can acquire more options to hurt undead with that bow or something better down the road, like a Bow of the Silver Flame.

Things feel all fresh again. I was even excited over a Cannith Challenge. Starting new really pushes you to consider more game resources in a different manner than what you’d normally do when affiliated with a guild or have an insane loot store.

I even used a Mirror of Glamering for the first time, copying an outfit that Meri had that looked perfect for her archery ways.

That outfit looked terrible to me when used on melee fighters, but the neck fan and extended bracers looked very appropriate for a Zen Archer.

The Mission on Cannith

So, why am I on Cannith? I guess it’s for the same reasons that EvenNote and BonnieBew and many others do what they do to help other players. My motivation is themed as well.

What role-play I do in DDO tends to reflect my actual faith as a player. In real life, I greatly respect the monastic traditions in the Catholic Church, particularly their historic role in the early monastic communities in aiding and preserving civilization after the fall of the ancient Roman Empire.

Monasteries were much like our guilds. They gathered men and women under a common theme. Often these people had training as farmers and scribes, weavers and craftsmen. They pooled their knowledge and aided their neighbors.

From the ruins of the Empire, the monastic traditions preserved and copied ancient texts, not only intricate Bibles (called illuminated manuscripts because of their detailed and ornate art) but literary works and histories. From these, they formed the first public schools and are the creators of the first universities. They refined food preparation, including things like cheese and beer. They codified the first hospitals and hospices and even hotels.

Did you know that, today, it’s estimated that the Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care in the world, running 26% of the world’s facilities?

Through their faith and love of others, these men and women were dedicated and disciplined peoples that blew on the embers of hope to bring the flame of the Light back to a darkened populace.

This is why it’s inappropriate to call the Middle Ages as “The Dark Ages.” There was nothing dark about that time except for a sudden interruption of knowledge and unity that people such as the monks and nuns tried–and succeeded–in reassembling for many who had less than nothing.

And when a monastery was large enough, often missionaries are sent to spread their knowledge and aid to other communities, repeating the process of establishing a monastery and training and aiding those in need.

Mericletica and friends are my missionaries from Ghallanda in spirit. I want to aid others on different servers to be the best Monks their can be, through training and gear, but also to enjoy the spirit of new friends. I’m not leaving my old friends on Ghallanda, but the mission of the blog and the Monk and stealth guides is to help others best enjoy their playtime as a Monk.

A new server home strengthens my resolve to complete this mission, and is surprisingly fun in application. I’m learning to be more resourceful and hope to share this information here and on Cannith and any other servers I may be able to visit.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” God said. If I’m serious about making better Monks for DDO and to grow our worlds, I must take my mission more abroad.

While I initially planned on creating a new guild on Cannith, a friend of the blog has pretty much convinced me to join an existing community. Stay tuned.

Triumph from the Shadows: Why Stealth Does Work

I missed quite a few insightful posts during my sabbatical, but one caught my eye as I scanned the list of post posts.

It was from Sir Geoff of Hanna. Gnome-Fearer. Halfling Commando. One-half of a 5000 Favor Dynamic Duo. The MMOtivator (“Pike with me if you want to live!”).

The post was entitled: “Sneaking In Plain Sight – Why Stealth is Broken as a DDO Play Style.”

Given my love of the sneaky arts, I had to read. And, as is my tendency, to generate my own discussion and debate.

Now, obviously my goal isn’t to go all “You’re wrong!” throughout my whole post that will obviously favor the use of stealth in many (albeit not all) quests. I want to take any and all objections and make a deeper study of how others see it before I apply my own take on it. From such fair objective analysis can results be attained.

And such analysis can be helpful in improving and revising Stormreach Shadows, a web guide I co-edit that provides extended information for many classes into using stealth more often in many quests.

Assassin Speed: Fixed

Geoff starts by noting a comment from producer Severlin regarding some suggestions in the Rogue Assassin Changes thread. Sev notes that the Assassin’s general sneak speed does put them behind other classes with the Faster Sneaking ability.

This was recently and easily fixed in Update 25, thankfully, as those speed traits are now included in Stealthy. I like it, as it also encourages more use of the stealth skills.

I logged in Tuesday evening to reset Sukitetica’s AP just to see this happy speed boost.

The Stealth Engine as a Whole

Geoff takes note of one important comment by Sev:

“Changes to stealth require tech work and affect lots of game systems and are prone to side effects so we have to be careful there. Anything that involves significant changes to monster AI is out of scope for this update and this hampers any global revamp to Stealth.”

Makes sense, since Update 19 was already a “global rewrite” that introduced many of the critical changes to stealth that make it more reliable in gameplay now. Before Update 19, stealth was, more or less, an alternative way to avoid detection. But heaven help you if you were detected, for there was no real way for you to escape.

Pre-Update 19 stealth also had a long list of peculiar problems, such as:

  • Monsters “sliding” to you, stop-motion style, when they saw you.
  • Monsters that always detected you, even when you broke line-of-sight and were out of their Listen range.
  • The inability for a player to jump while in Sneak. (Naughty, bannable “stealth humping” ensues.)
  • No reliable cues to the player if they were in imminent danger of detection by sight or sound.

Since Update 19 and that massive rewrite, monsters generally behaved more logically to curious sights and sounds. The nature of Invisibility (which too many players think should be a complete solution for “hiding” but has never been such) was clearly defined as resistance from Spot checks unless you are very close to a monster. Monsters also listen and investigate sounds of breaking things more often as well, but only those that pick up the sounds go to move, not a whole mob.

And players can also jump and tumble while in Sneak, albeit at a substantial penalty to those skills, which encourages more training to counteract those penalties. Having greater mobility now also allows players to take to higher ground so that enemy Spot checks can be avoided by simple elevation.

Generally, the Update 19 changes persist and work well, except I’ve noticed that, since around Update 22 or so, enemies are no longer attracted properly by the sound of breakables or other sounds. This makes drawing and distracting enemies a broken mechanic right now. Rogues can get past this with Noisemaker traps, but Monks and other classes haven’t a viable non-combat distraction option.

Geoff noted that, in his opinion, that stealth wasn’t helpful–but clarified this in the context of using Rogues, especially Assassins. He avoids going deeper on this at first so as not to go too far off-topic.

I believe I comprehend Geoff’s reasoning, although I disagree. It all has to do with the Assassin’s primary ability: Assassinate. When you use that ability while other enemies are within Listen or Spot range, monsters do react to the death cries of an assassinated ally. As a result, if you are in Listen or Spot range, the enemy Spot and Listen check bonuses spike–and you’re likely detected immediately.

The real problem, from my point of view, is a matter of realism. When John Wilkes Booth approached President Lincoln’s booth, no one paid notice. When he shot the President at point-blank range, it wasn’t as if his wife and others in the booth just randomly glanced around everywhere except at the President, wondering casually where that noise originated, or even ignoring the commotion. Clearly their senses heightened and they turned instinctively to the stimulus. Why wouldn’t a monster do the same?

Assassinations aren’t a public affair. That means that superior Assassin tactics requires isolation of targets so as not to be detected by others. Rogues have plenty of skills to make this happen. Bluff is the best one when a loose group of enemies stands about, allowing you to pull one away to dispatch while others are none the wary. A precise use of a noisemaker also can pull one or more enemies. This requires a player to do something sometimes anathema to DDO: Using patience and cunning. Don’t carry a big stick but a big Bluff DC.

And, for the Assassin to make an escape, their Hide and Move Silently scores must be as high as they can be. Your skill at skulking away must be as high or higher than your Assassinate DC, or you’re missing the point of being an Assassin. You’re not meant to be caught–and it is possible to escape.

Higher level Monks have an Assassinate-like feat: Quivering Palm. Unlike Assassinate, however, using this ability pulls a Monk out of stealth. So Monks learn isolation skills. Many people were upset as recent updates kept nerfing the DCs of this skill, and for good reason. Sure, you can spam it during attack, but it was never meant as a “live” assassinate.

Now some might say, “But I don’t want to isolate things.” Then you can’t expect a instant-kill mechanic to work properly when its conditions aren’t met. You don’t get something for nothing, and so you can’t assassinate without some chance at reprisal. My argument is that, with the right choice and isolated target, there is little chance at reprisals. But if you’re going to spam Assassinate or Quivering Palm in a crowded hall, expect someone to notice.

Let me get back to another facet of Geoff’s comments.

Severlin’s Retort

When Geoff commented on how he thought that a Rogue revamp also required a revamp of the stealth engine, Sev made a curt and definitive reply:

“We get concerned when players make blanket statements about stealth being “broken” without really outlining what they mean. While we love player feedback and welcome specific suggestions about stealth, I just don’t want to set up false expectations about things stealth should allow. We wouldn’t want players, as an example, to have the expectation that characters should be opening doors and pulling levers while remaining in stealth. This type of behavior would threaten too many types of content. Without specifics we can do nothing to address people’s concerns.”

Sev, I feel, is right on the money, and for the reasons I noted earlier about how stealth is not a panacea to avoid being obvious to others.

Take the notion of opening levers and doors while in stealth. Now, a handful of quests purposefully allow the use of doors or portals without leaving Sneak (“The Portal Opens” and “Blockade Buster” come to mind) but the one more XP-lucrative quest does not allow this (“The Claw of Vulkoor”).

Sev is right, and I can encountered many examples where too much stealth (with the current rules) break a scant few of the DDO quest mechanics that activate bosses, open or complete quest objectives, or just simply allow one to proceed. Remember that I have one character, Kiricletica, which completed as many adventures in the game in stealth that would allow it (pretty much everything but raids and quests that absolutely required a party) and without any other players or hirelings, and also purposefully avoided combat except where required. These included all the Devil Battlefield quests, on Elite, to get her Yugoloth favor potions (A hireling helped with levers in “Genesis Point”).

If stealth were really broken, there is no way I’d have survived such an attempt. I must have done something contrary to what others note about stealth.

In “Claw of Vulkoor,” if a stealthy player could open doors and levers without detection, it would be far too easy. I have to time my movements to avoid patrolling scorpions there, and waiting for some to turn around to face a direction opposite of me to flip a lever is part of the mission. Further–and this is a very important point–you do NOT move, ever, while not in Sneak. You can perform actions while stationary, but the second you succeed in getting that lever or switch flipped, you must immediately return to stealth. Just one step while out of stealth and your Move Silently skill is zero, your footfall is heard and you are detected.

Now, Epic players such as Shadowdancers do have an option to open levers and switches without detection but without stealth per se. That’s Improved Invisibility. It’s great to have when you can manage to get to a well-guarded door that, while enemies are just scattered enough to not find you while Sneaking, they will see you on flipping the lever. But this is a special skill, maximum 30 seconds, with a 4 minute cooldown.

Now many quests have a “pressure zone,” if you will, which activates a quest action when a player steps on it, stealthy or not. This is a good thing as a boss or objective that requires to know if you’ve entered a place must work the first time as quest mechanics sometimes are programmed to work just once, leaving a quest bugged if it can’t see “the obvious.”

Only one of these pressure zones goes too far, and that’s at the end of “Monastery of the Scorpion,” where the Scorrow boss on steroids will immediately charge and attack anyone, stealthed or not. This act not only screws up the puzzle you can use to kill him, but Sannyasi is one of a handful of bosses that completely ignores stealth when they shouldn’t. You can’t escape from him, ever, with any tactic.

That’s wrong. While Red Names have True Seeing, stealth is immune from such effects. This is why Monks and Rogues make great beholder-slayers because we can sneak up to the eye-balls before they Spot can lock on fast enough. The devs could wave their hands and say that Sannyasi has tremor-sense or other abilities that make stealth powerless (such as what oozes have) but scorrow and scorpion aren’t spiders and don’t normally have these traits.

Sev is intentionally calling out Geoff and others who want their special abilities to work without a trade-off they must train or prepare to counteract. Someone is going to notice a body fall. Someone is going to notice you in stealth if your Move Silently skill is insufficient.

Geoff’s Return Volley and My Overhand Swing

To Geoff’s credit, he did have many specific arguments that I’ll address one by one.

  1. Many encounters contain unsneakable monsters. Sometimes it seems like most of them do
  2. No one will wait for the sneaky guy to catch up
  3. No one will wait for the sneaky guy to power up anything that requires being in sneak
  4. So many places where a quest will not advance until you have killed all the monsters
  5. The fear of “threatening too many types of content” hobbles stealth play. The pendulum is swung too far. Swing it back a little.

Point 1: Generally true but only early in your life. An adventurer’s very first quests often contain spiders and oozes. These cannot be avoided through stealth. However, as quests advance in difficulty, there are many quests where you can enter and exit with few to no detections. The Lordsmarch quest “Diplomatic Impunity” is a perfect example. There are only three primary objectives: Find Ullivian the scout, report back to Henritta, and kill the Droaam commander. All of these can be completed without killing or being detected by anything in between. I’ve done this a few times, using my Rogue Assassin and ninjas. One kill is all that’s needed to complete (although clean up to get the chests require slaying that don’t count to the kill bonus or any other metric since the quest is over).

You can sneak to most every NPC in the game except bosses where your presence is detected because you walk into a zone where you must be seen. Approaching the bound Spinner in “Spinner of Shadows” does this if you come close enough to the dais where she hangs. I mentioned Sannyasi from “Monastery” as a rare exception where a boss NPC goes off the rails to see you. Driders are spider-kind but, as I know from stealth work in the Underdark and many Eveningstar quests, they don’t have tremor-sense and can be assassinated.

A few higher-end quests (like “The Coalescence Chamber”) will add in The Goshdammed Bats. Bats don’t detect you by sight, but have basically a Listen check of 999. Once you move, even when sneaking, you are found, period. You need a Move Silently skill that’s impossible to attain–and my Ranger, Artemistika, has the highest of all my characters with every buff and ability (around 114).

I have far too many videos that illustrate that Point 1 is erroneous once you pass the earliest quests.

Point 2: Generally true, but fallacious. Offset by the reason why guilds exist and why good party members never leave a man behind. This point isn’t a problem with stealth. It’s a problem with the player’s attitude and skill. Lack of cooperation and an overuse of autonomy has lead to Rogues that don’t trap and healers that don’t heal and tankers that don’t tank. You can do what you want to do, but you can’t knock stealth because it cannot overcome the self-centered interests of other players.

Besides, stealth works just fine completely alone or with like-minded and prepared parties of any size. As with any other quest, it’s a matter of parties communicating, planning out strategies and roles before entering.

One ninja and one Assassin should be enough for just about anything. Trust me.

Point 3: Same answer as Point 1. This is a player attitude problem. Sneak is a one-button instantaneous action for a character. Invisibility is a potion, scroll, spell or spell-like ability that’s also quick to apply to a single character. What Geoff might be alluding here is that the rest of the party doesn’t care to get any of these buffs and just surge ahead and aggro the whole place. If they really screw up, you’ll get to collect all their soulstones in quiet and peace.

Point 4: Sometimes yes. Kill all the monsters is often a required objective. There are very, very few quests that allow a no-kill completion. But stealth should not be incorrectly equated to pacifism. What stealth allows characters to do, as does Invisibility, Hold spells, Paralyzing, Otto’s spells, or Intimidate, is a way to manage crowds and control aggro. In the case of stealth, you manage a crowd by avoiding their detection. But when a quest says, “Kill ’em all,” then you do so.

But, as a Ninja Spy or Assassin, you can use “pick-off” moves that isolate and slay the targets, one at a time. Your skill is revealing yourself only as you choose, confusing and shrouding your enemies, buying you time to eliminate the horde before they can effectively organize against you. You can also use spells that cause Fear. Theatricality and deception is what the Batman does. We can do this, too. (In Batman Begins, the first battle against Falcone’s minions happens this very way…Batman sneaks about, thinning out the herd, scaring most them shitless before removing what few are left as a group.)

My Assassin uses Bluff, pulls an enemy into the shadow and away from others, kills it, then repeats. My ninjas target isolated enemies, use paralysis, spell/melee muting, and blinding finishing moves to slow an enemy attack. They can also take advantage of isolated enemies and remove them.

Point 5: Generally not applicable. Most quests do exactly as they should and activate as they should, whether you are in stealth or not. Else, why would the devs support D&D skills that would inherently bug most of the game? Further, I can testify that my experiences with Kiricletica revealed very very few quests where the stealth mechanic caused quest completion issues to a point where I couldn’t finish. What few quests I encountered that experienced minor issues involved some of the game’s oldest quests. But in many cases, quests you didn’t think were possible in stealth were quite doable.

But Geoff Slams Back

After these first sub-points, Geoff notes several more. This post is going long, but I think it’s necessary to keep chipping away at some of these for clarification, correction and illumination.

  1. There are style problems with sneak that are the result of game changes:
    • a) More stop points added to previously sneakable quests prevent most sneak-only completions
    • b) Dungeon alert
  2. There are issues with the implementation of Assassinate
    • a) A successful Assassinate should not break one out of sneaking
    • b) Assassination requires sneak but you cannot sneak while already in melee
  3. And there are some specific technical issues with sneak
    • a) The bad guys inerrantly hit you with ranged at the first sign of finding you
    • b) It is supposed to be possible to shake off pursuit if one is able to retain sneak but that does not work *
    • c) Monsters that hear you inerrantly follow your path when sneaking
    • d) Monsters that do not show indicators of being able to see you are still able to hit you with single-target spells. Which breaks sneak and now everyone sees you.

Item 1(a): DDO quests have always been filled with stop points. I don’t know which quests he’s noting here, but I’d like to know which ones so I can video my attempt to show where stealth still works or where it does, indeed, break.

Item 1(b): Dungeon Alert never happens to the stealthy character because DA requires your enemies to detect you. I’ve entered and exited many a quest, leaving the same enemies standing and patrolling where they did, without a single alert. The only time I will generate DA as a stealthy character are against enough enemies that sense me and I cannot shake them because of their nature. That’s generally against bats. Lots of bats, as in “Coalescence Chamber.” They will cause a DA if I head up the shafts where they spawn, prompting me to use ranged attacks or return to where they fell (yeah, the bats, the things with wings, fall to the base of the shaft) to kill them off. But the rest of the dungeon remains oblivious to me.

Item 2(a): Assassination, sadly, isn’t a bug but a feature. Some enemies will be aware of you in principle or by game mechanic. Take the gnoll mages in each of the stoned Coin Lord’s rooms in “Eyes of Stone.” Sure, I had the same problem with Sukitetica the Assassin but also with Kiricletica on Easter Sunday. The gnoll won’t activate and attack unless you enter its room and activate him (which, since I don’t activate him while Sneaking and as he doesn’t activate even when blundering in until a certain distance, is a hidden Listen check). Jerry Snook (a.k.a. Cordovan) alluded to this in a rare and appreciative reply to Geoff’s article. It’s a good thing the gnoll mages aren’t active because they’d blast through their own door the second you walked up to the second floor. They’re purposefully inactive to avoid DA, especially if your party splits up. So the gnoll mages really behave as if they know you are coming, mechanic-wise. You can’t easily assassinate someone who knows you are coming.

Item 2(b): You can Assassinate while in melee, provided you’re not the only one that’s attacking. That’s aggro management, pure and simple. Let your hirelings or party members go in first, then come up from behind and kek-kek all you want. I find that some enemy AoE spells or attacks will throw me out of Sneak and blow Assassinate attempts sometimes, but this is an exception rather than a rule. Besides, why worry about Assassinate when your Sneak Attack damage should quickly pound anything not aggroed on you into bite-size bits? A solo Assassin has the odds stacked against them. You’re one character. There are many ahead and some are prepared to greet you. Your skill in getting past their defenses so as to command the field to kill is more paramount than your mere ability to assassinate.

Item 3(a): Enemies that use bows or other ranged weapons, like a player character’s Ranger, have a naturally higher Spot bonus than other enemies. Your Hide skill might get past non-ranged attackers but you better bring a superior Hide skill against those designed to see you from afar.

This same mechanic is demonstrated in brutal clarity in the Epic Gianthold wilderness. First off, all giants there have See Invisibility, so don’t even bother with that potion or spell. The giants have a very high Spot bonus that’s proportional to their size. In short, they’ll see a non-sneaking character from about 10-15 giant-lengths away, easily. If you can sneak through Epic Gianthold without giants noticing you, you have effectively perfected your skill, in my opinion.

Item 3(b, c and d): I updated the Sneak article on DDO Wiki based on the Update 19 release notes and from my experience on what is required to shake off a pursuing enemy(s) using Sneak.

  1. Break the line-of-sight with your enemy first. Run away and turn a corner is a best practice, but cowering behind a box is not. Nor will Invisibility work; once they see you, they see you.
  2. Next, go into Sneak and then apply Invisibility, if time and ability allow. Sneak is essential now because turning the corner or entering another room breaks the enemy’s sight-lock on you. They still know where you went but lost precisely where you are. But the key here is that they are still hunting you. If you aren’t sneaking, they’re targeting you by sound.
  3. Finally, keep moving as you do (1) and (2). The enemy will still pursue but can only use their Listen check to hunt you down. Move Silently counters this if you have enough skill points applied. Most enemies search the last place you stopped, swatting away at the air until they hit you or find nothing, sometimes spreading out. Depending on the mechanic of the enemy, they may stop and go back, stop swatting and go back to normal alert, or swat indefinitely. In any case, don’t be where they are. In fact, just sneak past them and continue on your merry way. As to single-target spells, the effect is the same as a wide arc from a halberd, and the resolution is the same. The enemy is targeting you only if they know exactly where you are. But some spells can be directed to a position even if a target isn’t there.

So, yeah, Geoff. You’re doing it wrong. 🙂 You must avoid both enemy sight and hearing for this to work. And once you break enemy sight and sound-lock, get off the path where they expect you to be.

Ninja Spies have advantage here with their Flash Bangs. These daze and blind enemies for 6 seconds, allowing a ninja to use an Abundant Step in Sneak to easily disappear. But Assassins are Rogues, so enough UMD means a Blindness spell can work on a single foe. Solid Fog could also help, as can many many other items as noted on the Blinded wiki page. There’s also the old-school option of leaving a sacrificial lamb such as a hireling to pull aggro while you skedaddle. And level 18 Ninja Spies can create a Diversion, a hate-magnet training dummy (dressed like a pirate, of course) that will easily pull pursuers to itself.

DDO quests don’t differentiate much between a single player and full party. That said, the only reason why stealth would not work in party is because there is a party member with inadequate Hide and Move Silently skill or is using or doing something that causes noise, aggro or light. A Ranger in party has Hide/Move Silently party buffs that stack with items (Camouflage and Pass Without Trace). Invisibility is a simple anti-Spot that works against anything but True Seeing/See Invisibility, so even if a player that isn’t a natural stealth class (Bard, Ranger, Rogue, Monk) but wants to play a stealthier game, add cross-class points to Move Silently over Hide, and befriend a Ranger.

There’s a reason why the nickname of the stealth guide was “Stealth Team Six.”

Conclusion

You’re not doing it right, all.

Stealth is a defensive posture. DDO doesn’t allow you, on purpose and with one sole exception (Assassinate) to be simultaneously offensive and defensive with this mode. And even Assassinate has its limits, but it does work.

There were several comments to Geoff’s post. One said, “Even if you “stand” still while in stealth mobs tend to sweep towards you and eventually spot you. This even if you’re out of side behind a door/wall. Closed doors give even more agro.”

Standing still really means “Do not move.” Stealth, specifically Hide, reduces but never eliminates the chance for something to see you. If you are standing still in stealth about 3 body lengths from some enemy, their Spot check is not only up but magnifying upward by design. (Those are the multiplying “eyes” above an enemy that change as their Spot increases.) Once they detect something, their Spot bonus grows to the point where you will eventually be found. Hide was never designed to make you permanently cloaked. You need to get out of the enemy’s line-of-sight, and Hide provides you the time to do it before their Spot bonus changes to “detected.”

And an enemy’s Listen check goes through doors. We know that DDO doors often seem like they aren’t there. So stealth masters treat them as already open, never approaching them without being in Sneak. Else, things do tend to aggro through them. Keep in mind that enemies that can defeat Sneak (spiders, oozes) will detect you automatically and likely cause minions nearby to do the same.

Kiricletica’s Advice on Stealth: “Your Hide or Move Silently training may fail against an enemy if either score, divided by 2, is equal or less than the enemy’s Challenge Rating number.”

I don’t “sometimes” get some use out of stealth.

I enjoy it virtually all the time. I have pictures. I have a whole YouTube channel filled with video. It works. And I co-wrote an entire guide on it.

“Spies in the House?” Did it.

“Claw of Vulkoor?” Yep.

“Bastion of Power?” Sure.

The eighth Splinterskull quest, “Doom of the Witch-doctor: Zulkash, Herald of Woe?” Yep. And in only 4 kills out of a possible 75–and I sneaked by all the mobs that guarded the puzzle wheels. The totem counted a a kill. I added the Devious bonus on that DDO Wiki article.

Did you know you can can activate puzzle wheels while in stealth?

I don’t want to think I have some “lock” on stealth skills. I started with some ideas from player Ghoste long ago and worked from there.

I know Geoff’s been playing the game far longer than I have, so please take any criticisms here about Geoff’s post with respect–he’s  one of the coolest people I know in-game (and had the honor to meet in person). But there’s several important things missing to his comments and those who commented back.

Be it Assassin or ninja, the process of stealth is alive and well, but it does require training and a different mindset to bring it to fruition.

Seems that the only thing wrong with stealth, as I see it, is that, for many, the techniques to make stealth work just sneak right by them all.

I’m still open to join a new server and help teach the art of stealth.

UPDATE: In the limited time he had at that moment, Sir Geoff has posted a rebuttal that, at the least, calls me out on just being too damn wordy, while noting how we agree more than disagree. Didn’t I just say that here? 🙂

Update 25: Smiles in the Dojo

"Your gaming time is very important to us. The current wait time is 12 hours."

“Your gaming time is very important to us. The current wait time is 12 hours.”

Welcome to Update 25: Update of Evil!

It’s a rougher day for Cordovan and Co. as they try to get Update 25 installed and updated properly on their servers since 8:00 AM EDT. As I write this, twelve hours later, it’s still not quite up, but I’m up.

Things happen. I wish Turbine’s ragged team much bacon and coffee and hope they’ll get everything all running very soon.

Any dissenting comments or criticisms of Turbine on my blog will be spiked and banned. I live in Indiana and I have had it up to here with the self-privileged minority that feels entitled to everything of late, even if they’re not being actually targeted.

So, rather than slugging out monsters to pass the time on a character in Diablo II, here’s a quick summary of some highlights I’ve found in the Release Notes that satisfies far more than a few of my character’s interests.

The Great:

  • Bleed damage now scales 200% with Melee Power.

That’s a happy thing for some weapons I carry but Saekee should be very happy since his build that uses the Forester’s Brush Hook kama will mop the floors up with greater damage.

  • Ranged Power has been added to Epic Levels and Epic Destiny cores:
    • Each Epic level from 21 to 28 now increases Ranged Power by three.
    • Fatesinger, Shadowdancer, Primal Avatar and Shiradi Champion gain +4 Ranged Power per innate ability.
    • Grandmaster of Flowers and Unyielding Sentinel gain +3 Ranged Power per innate ability.
    • Divine Crusader and Legendary Dreadnaught gain +2 Ranged Power per innate ability.
    • Fury of the Wild gains +1 Ranged Power per innate ability.

Very good news for Artemistika and my revamping of Pynthetica, my Zen Archer, but also, I hope, this translates to Szyncletica’s throwing stars.

  • The Ninja Spy’s Sting of the Ninja should now work properly with all named weapons (that meet the requirements.)

All the ninjas in the house have celebrated this news by adding an extra spoon of honey in their green tea. This bug, longstanding since around Update 22, means that Szycletica’s shuriken of all kinds will again add punishing Ninja Poison DoTs in addition to other damage. Dragons beware: Her Thunder-Forged Shuriken awaits to send you to the abyss.

  • The Monk Mountain Stance now gives 50% Hate Generation, and its upgrades now give 100/150/200% Hate Generation.

I think I heard Lynncletica smile.

Shintao Monks, in their current incarnation, have a harder time generating aggro, even in Mountain Stance. This is a substantial boost to Hate generation. It means Lynn’s going to be bloodier than ever before Level 18 but the results should be worth it by Epic levels.

  • The Rogue Assassin has been improved:
  • Core Abilities
    • Assassin’s Trick now works on all enemies, and no longer has a saving throw. The attack now has a shorter animation. Cooldown is now 6 seconds, and duration is now 15 seconds.
    • Nimbleness no longer requires sneak attacks, and works on any hit. +5 Melee Power.
    • Lethality: +5 Melee Power.
    • Deadly Shadow: You gain +2 Dexterity and +2 Intelligence. You gain 10 Melee Power and +4 Sneak Attack dice. You gain +4 to Reflex Saving Throws. You gain +2 to the DC of your Assassinate.
  • Tier One
    • Poison Strikes now applies an “Assassin’s Mark” to an opponent for 10 seconds.
    • Shiv no longer reduces threat when you attack, and instead offers an additional passive bonus that reduces the threat of all your attacks by 5/10/15%. The attack also makes a Bluff check, using your Bluff skill, when you strike an opponent, for one second + .25 seconds per Rogue level.)
    • Stealthy now also gains +20/35/50% movement speed while sneaking.
  • Tier Two
    • Venomed Blades costs 1/1/1 AP, and now scales with 200% Melee Power.
    • Bleed Them Out’s bleed damage scales with 200% Melee Power.
    • Damage Boost’s cost has been reduced to 1 AP per level. The boost to Melee Power is now 10/20/30.
  • Tier Three
    • Critical Accuracy has been removed.
    • Critical Mastery: (1/1/1 AP) + 1/2/3 bonus to critical damage and to confirm critical hits.
  • Tier Four
    • Critical Damage has been removed.
    • Weakening Strikes reduces the Melee and Ranged Power of opponents by 10 + Rogue Level/2 for 10 seconds if you attack an enemy with an “Assassin’s Mark.”
    • Execute: If a target is below 30% health, deal 500 damage. This damage scales with 200% Melee Power, and has a cooldown of 15 seconds. This enhancement no longer has a sneak attack requirement.
  • Tier Five
    • Assassinate now has a 12 second cooldown.
    • Measure the Foe: Gain +4 Melee Power, +2 Dodge, +2 Maximum Dodge, +1 to hit and +1 to the DC’s of your Assassinate ability for every 4/2/1 seconds you remain stealthed. This effect stacks up to five times, and lasts 10 seconds after you come out of stealth.
    • Deadly Strikes: Your attacks against enemies with an “Assassin’s Mark” to +5 damage.
    • Light Armor Mastery: (1/1/1 AP) You gain 1/2/3 to Maximum Dodge. While wearing light armor, gain 2/4/6 to the Maximum Dexterity Bonus of your armor and armor check penalty, and gain 2/4/6 Physical Resistance Rating.

All of this is happiness for The Littlest Assassin–who wasn’t having any problems before. Now with some refinements, Sukitetica is really going to have a blast.

  • Ammunition found in chests will now appear in stacks of 100.
  • Thieves Tools now stack up to one thousand in a stack.

Yes. Useful amounts of ammo for Artemistika, and no more stupid inventory slots wasted on needed tools for Suki.

And now the Good and the Weird:

  • Each Swashbuckler Core enhancement had been erroneously granting an extra +1 Doublestrike. This extra Doublestrike has been removed to match the text.

Whoops. I guess Flynncletica’s been a bit overpowered. Oh, well. She’s still fun to play, even with an earlier Update 24 adjustment to Single Weapon Fighting. I’m all for balance, however.

  • The Crucible
    • The optional objectives at the start of the quest no longer give XP.
    • XP for completing the quest has been boosted to be equivalent to the XP removed from optionals.

Not that I play this quest alone, and not as often before it was demoted as a Gianthold flagging quest–but removing the XP from the little manipulations you can do with the NPCs need to still present an advantage to the adventurers. I can’t remember if these added an extra chest or made the end-fights easier, but I guess I understand the balancing.

  • Marketplace
    • A new teleporter has been located in the Marketplace.
    • There is a new NPC near the Airship Tower that tells players how to get to the Temple of Elemental Evil.
      Vertigo, the Crafting tutorial NPC, has moved next to the big pillar between the Airship Tower and the new Teleporter.
    • Kipling Vranch, a Collectibles Trader, has been moved to Vertigo’s old spot.
    • Zerchi Spire-Keeper, who takes players to the Restless Isles, has moved south of his old location, and is now near the Auctioneer Churchwarden.
    • Kupper-Nickel, who takes players to Zawabi’s Refuge, has moved west of the Airship Tower along with some of his friends.
    • Loghan d’Deneith, who gives the quest Gladewatch Outpost Defense, has moved west of his old spot to the entrance of House Deneith.
    • Jasper Cruikshank, who gives the quest Archer Point Defense, has moved west of his old spot to the entrance of House Deneith.

Finally, a teleporter in the Marketplace!

  • Trapmaking
    • Traps that deal damage now show floaty-text damage numbers, and report in the Combat Log like most damage.
    • The time to place traps has been reduced to 1 second.
    • The time for traps to “arm” after being placed has been reduced to 1 second.
    • The general cooldown on placing traps has been reduced from fifteen seconds to eight seconds.
    • Small and Weak elemental traps now have a larger damage area, matching Average traps.
    • Device Workstations now have recipes for elemental traps from minimum levels 13-27.

Rogues that can be realistic Trapmasters! This is awesome news as we also get Epic Traps! The reduction of deployment time means a great deal, too. I might make that Mechanic soon after all.

So, when The Update of Existential Evil is finally over for Turbine tonight, we’ll all get some new things to play with, especially Rogues.

And when I heard that Wil Wheaton has lent his voice talents to the new quest, I smiled. DDO is old but still has some street cred for those who care.

See you in game.

Stealth Ops: Blockade Buster

Continuing my series on using stealth tactics, we’ll talk about one of my personal favorites: “Blockade Buster.” The Dungeonmaster’s voice sets up your mission quite nicely.

"The Droaam fleet has gathered here during this dark night --
probably for mutual protection.
Such measures might help against a naval attack--
but not against you."

 

“Blockade” is designed to be a stealth-capable quest. Using any doors or hatches do not break Sneak or Invisibility effects. You can engage all the ships at once with a full stealth party or take on the whole blockade by yourself.

As with a few other stealth quests, “Blockade” offers more XP for those who use stealth. You’re going to work in very close quarters with lots of sleeping Droaam and a few roaming guards, so only the strongest Hide/Move Silently scores will avail here. Invisibility is a help but Move Silently is the key to success. The Camouflage spell, used by a Ranger or someone with high UMD and a scroll, adds stacking Hide skill. Party members with weaker Move Silently skill need an item to add Competence bonuses, or may simply need to bring some popcorn and sit on the raft during the adventure while others complete it. Piking here is a benefit for more experience.

The quest is inherently a simple one: Destroy the three blockading Droaam ships. It’s how you accomplish this that determines your reward.

All ships are similar in design. Your mission objectives are:

  • Get aboard undetected.
    • On all three ships are roaming archers with higher Spot, patrolling the deck. Some ships have two archers. Ladders are located on both port and starboard (left and right side) of each ship.
    • You need to study each archer and time your approach and ladder climb or you will be spotted. Sneak speed is critical (you don’t want to be above deck for long), so use Haste, have Speed/Striding items or train Faster Sneaking enhancements if possible.
    • It’s important to have Sneak active, with Invisibility if possible, from the moment you leave Mist’s raft, your start point. The only shrine is located here.
  • Find the mine bay crest. The crest is randomly placed on each ship in one of four locations.
    • The galley, filled with sleeping Droaam, is located near the center of the ship, closer to the stern (forward).
    • The bridge, above the captain’s quarters aft (rear of the ship). A captain may be here. If he is not, he is in his quarters.
    • The captain’s quarters, aft and below the bridge on a side door to port (ship’s left side). Depending on the ship, the captain is either in his quarters or on the bridge.
    • The lower deck. The mine bay hatch is always here, sternward. More sleeping Droaam. Strong Move Silently skill is required in these very tight quarters, especially in grabbing the crest. One step out of Sneak and you’re in big trouble.
    • Every door in the quest can be used without breaking your Sneak and Invisibility. It’s strongly recommended that you use your item targeting and use-item keys to avoid accidentally making an action that pulls you out of Sneak, causes noise or otherwise blows your cover.
  • Get inside the mine bay and eliminate the engineers before they can raise an alarm.
    • Once inside, three kobold engineers may be sleeping, or awake and on patrol. Near them is an alarm bell that you don’t want them to ring to get your no-alarms XP bonus. One of the engineers will be an orange-named kobold. One has a very high Spot score.
    • Any instant ways to halt or kill these kobolds before they can reach the bell is key to bonuses and your safety. Should they ring the bell, everyone on board that ship (but not others) will awaken, making your exit tougher if you cannot open the mine hatches to leave the ship from this point. Rogue Assassins with Assassinate training are the prime leaders in this area. They can kill silently while staying in Sneak, and have sufficient INT for the next step.
  • Set the timer on the mines or make detonators to destroy the ship.
    • Once the orange-named engineer is dead, the loot chests by the mine controls will unlock.
    • Again, a Rogue is your key main to get the best bonuses here. An Assassin takes down the kobolds quickly and silently to avoid alarms. Any Rogue with four levels has the Trapmaking feat, which allows them to make a remote detonator to blow up the ship immediately on their command. If the detonators can be traded, you can give them to others in party to activate all three at once to avoid other ships from sounding the fleet-wide general alarm that wakes everyone.
    • Detonators are preferable to the timer option, which does work well if you coordinate with others in your party that have neutralized mine bays on the other two ships. Each party sets their timer at the same time so that the ship’s destruction occurs instantaneously. If you’re solo, you’ll need to activate your timer to match that of an active timer so that the ships blow up as simultaneously as possible. So if you’ve already completed a ship and activated a timer for 10 minutes, you need to clear the next ship and activate its time in sync with the first at 5 minutes, and hustle to get the last ship’s timer in sync with the other two at 2 minutes.
    • You need someone with high INT to unlock the mine doors to escape underwater. If alarms have gone off, leaving through the lower deck will be very hazardous.
  • Return to the raft and destroy the ships or wait for them to explode.
    • On timer, the ships will blow once the countdown is done. Otherwise, use your detonators to complete your mission.

You have the option to assassinate the ship’s captains, but this typically requires them to be in their quarters, where no other crew will hear your fighting. Captains are red-named ogre bosses and often spam death spells and have nasty melee attacks.

A party in Stealth Team Six deployment can assault all three ships simultaneously, and then set a two-minute timer with the mine controls on party cue, and leave. This makes for a very quick XP run that can be done over and over.

Never, ever break any breakables in this quest or you’ll awake everyone.

“Blockade”‘ is biased against non-hiding characters. You can complete it through massive bloodshed if your party lacks training, but you also lose 160% more XP than the stealth path. Leaving the non-stealthy party members to pike this quest on the raft, watching patrols and buffing, is a very legitimate option.

Video Demonstration

I’ve completed this quest many times on my ninjas, but lacked the ability to keep the general alarm from sounding.

So here’s a video of a perfect run using Sukitetica, my new assassin. The only thing I was missing is the Mission: Impossible TV theme playing throughout (and no, not that Tom Cruise abomination).

The video has Closed Captioning. To see the captions, click on the CC button on the video toolbar. I’m still new at the use of my tool for this and some captions might appear faster than they should. Apologies for that.

Stealth Ops: Diplomatic Impunity

There’s only one thing you must do in “Diplomatic Impunity“: Kill the Droaam commander.

And that’s what Sukitetica the Assassin did.

This is first in a series of summarized walkthroughs that will highlight stealth tactics for selected quests. Selection criteria include whether stealth gains advantages in resources (fighting and healing versus avoidance), completion speed, and experience earned.

Most importantly, quest selections are based on how freaking fun it is to beat a quest against seemingly insurmountable odds and without slaying hordes of things.

Normally, my Ninja Spies like Kiricletica do such fun stuff. She managed to kill the commander but had to dispatch three others–and died once on her solo attempt. Still impressive numbers, but Suki thought she could do better.

Part 1: Get to Ulluvian

Since Assassins aren’t the greatest in protracted fighting, relying on their Sneak Attack damage for greater DPS, it was prudent to have a meat-shield backup. Natasha, the level 16 Cleric, was selected for her Death Ward. She was left parked throughout most of the quest, only summoned at the wildmen village for a rebuff of Death Ward and for one other use at the adventure’s end.

Suki’s been very busy in completing any and all quests at level 11 and below, banking her level 15 while earning 1,750 total favor for a +2 INT tome and then a +3 Upgrade INT tome. Suki preferred to get her Assassinate DC as high as possible without depreciating her XP rewards too much while entering this quest on Elite difficulty. Eventually her training as a Harper Agent will try switching her DEX-to-hit/damage to INT-to-hit/damage so I can pour INT into every level-up.

The extra INT added a couple more skill points to her level ups to 16. For this mission, Suki took advantage of the Ranger spell Camouflage and its stacking +10 Circumstance bonus to Hide. On top of that, scrolls of Invisibility helped for close-quarters cloaking.

After speaking to Henritta, simply go into Sneak and follow the northern (player’s left) edge of the jungle, never walking over the large plant flumes and their gray dirt, which may summon scorpions.

Carefully destroy root walls to proceed. You’ll avoid the gathering of irate wildmen (logically pissed off at more invaders but probably helpless to do much about it) to reach the next root wall and an area where panthers live. Suki was detected by one but used a paralyzing runestone on it to escape, avoiding a need to slay the kitty.

Once past the kitty-cats, you’re in the jungle clearing. Head down the beach path to find Ullevian and speak with him. Recent updates don’t count hirelings as party members for the purposes of activating objectives, so I was able to leave my meat-shield behind for the next step: bypassing the Droaam scout forces.

Part 2: Warn Henritta

Strong Hide/Move Silently isn’t enough at close-quarters going back up the narrow gorge where Droaam patrols now spawned. I also needed Invisibility and Faster Sneaking to get past things fast. Even when one or two scouts sensed me, their Spot check doesn’t last and they flail about blindly while I’m already far away.

Back at the jungle clearing, I stay to the player’s right, on the outer edge of the clearing, evading one pacing Droaam mage to make it to the root wall I’ll return to later, that leads towards the end-fight. For speed and safety, going through the Vinethrasher camp is faster.

I evaded detection from the wildmen guards and used Diplomacy to enter the camp and used the skill again to move peacefully through the village and back to base camp. I’m an Assassin, not a murderer, nor am I greedy for random low-value loot. You don’t need a high Diplomacy skill to complete either check.

Out through the village’s northern path, you’re soon reunited with Henritta to deliver the bad news. She gives you a new order: kill Ilos Hrolk.

Part 3: Assassinate the Commander

In the past, I enjoyed the fun of simply going through the entire jungle, past Droaam, wildmen and panthers to get to the last root wall leading to the fortress. Suki chose the more efficient path of returning up a path through the Vinethrasher village and then sneaking by the hostile wildmen guards to the root wall, completing avoiding the bulk of the Droaam jungle scouts.

With the root wall destroyed, Suki had to deal with yet another narrow rocky pathway and many more Droaam. Passing by these guys, even with Invisibility and greater Hide would be risky, so Suki used a noisemaker in one spot to pull enemies together, making it easier to slip by.

After bypassing a couple more patrols, Suki hears the Droaam commander ordering everyone to stand down to parley with me. At this point, all patrol spawns in the jungle and final path disappear, and all Droaam are temporarily non-aggressive.

ScreenShot01423I stood by the fortress gate. Suki had no kills at all to this point. There are at least 104 hostiles possible to kill in the entire quest.

Killing Hrolk and only Hrolk wasn’t a simple matter.

He is inside his fortress with a door I cannot open once I’m inside. I could go toe-to-toe with the commander easily enough, but I had to find a way to keep his reinforcements out of the battle.

ScreenShot01424I could call in the hireling to distract others. But the longer that the hireling remained present, the greater the chance that she’d kill someone else, as well as pull unwanted company.

So I took advantage of two tactics we’ve noted in the Stormreach Shadows guide.

One: I summoned a Flaming Sphere. If it worked, this little blob of annoying and nearly indestructible flame would make an excellent hate-magnet that would keep the commander’s initial guards too busy to find me.

Two: Once I initially spoke to the NPC commander, I was pulled from Sneak, but I re-engaged Sneak once the dialogue appeared, completed the remaining dialogue that way, leaping away from the commander as the fight began.

It all worked. The Flaming Sphere pulled everyone to itself, including the red-named commander. Now, how to get the commander away to fight me alone?

Here’s where I momentarily forgot that I was a Rogue, not a Monk. I used Bluff to pull the commander down to the fortress door and began my attack. His initial guards up top stayed put. So far, so good.

As expected, Hrolk goes dirty and calls in his outside reinforcements. In hindsight, if I were smarter, I’d would’ve placed Web traps at this door to slow down the extra fighters.

With more Droaam than I could handle, it was time for my one distraction. I summoned the Cleric hireling and threw her into aggressive mode. It worked. She gave me a brief series of emergency healing while I continued my final blows against the commander. A few moments later and the commander was dead and the quest completed.

ScreenShot01430Officially, only one kill to complete the quest.

The hireling and I together did mop up the remaining Droaam outside and inside the fortress to reach the three reward chests.

ScreenShot01431Next time: “Frame Work.” Let’s hope that the aggro rebalancing in Update 23 works as it should for that adventure.

In Defense of Assassins

Nope. No one noticed. He should be able to get clean away.

Nope. No one noticed. He should be able to get clean away.

I’ve not been playing my Rogue Assassin very long. But I love what she can do.

I’m also enjoying Update 23’s changes to over overbalancing of enemies noticing your assassinations that effectively challenged how you used this skill.

Yet I noticed this thread and some older ones that complain about how the class still seems borked.

Again, I haven’t been playing it long. But I have been playing their spirit-twin class, the Ninja Spy, for much longer. In fact, much of my success with Suki comes from my solo experience with Kiricletica.

So, in defense of the current Assassin (and knowing that today’s update patch might fix things that I’ve not found a problem with though others might have), let me ask some critical points.

Do You Expect Not to Be Noticed?

Update 22 tried to make enemies much smarter against ranged enemies and aggro in general. In short, if you’re an archer that shot one someone inside a mob at long range, others inside that mob may get annoyed and chase you. While this didn’t change the effectiveness of ranged damage, it made for more realistic gameplay in that you shouldn’t be able to snipe at things without some consequence.

The same mechanic was used at the melee level. There is no such thing as a “silent takedown.” Some noise is made. Update 22’s problem was that the enemies seemed to not only notice but home in on the silent attacker as if they were fully revealed, making Assassinate nearly useless.

But Update 23 reduced this overbalance. I’ve been able to assassinate enemies that are not very close to others. But once I do, they notice the death-rattle of their fallen–but they appear to be attracted to the sound, not the sight. As a result, I “stick-and-move”. I hit my target and then sneak away rapidly from that spot, leaving the enemies flustered but unable to find me.

This balance seems logical to me in that I shouldn’t get a free pass on killing someone within a thick, angry mob. It would be like no one sitting left and right of Abraham Lincoln not noticing the sound of the assassin’s bullet injected into his head at point-blank range.

How High Are Your Stealth Skills, Anyway?

Like Ninja Spies, an Assassin’s Hide and Move Silently skills must be high to avoid being noticed. The Assassinate ability allows you to kill without breaking stealth, yes. But you can’t just sit there in place after your kill. You must move away unless you killed a rather isolated enemy and no others heard their death cry.

When enemies charge a location, I don’t believe their Spot check is getting bonuses but their Listen check is still going. If your Move Silently skill is lacking, especially at close range to them, your pursuers will find you by your elephantine foot plodding. If your Hide skill isn’t as strong as it should, their Spot bonus will reveal you.

In addition to good H/MS, a strong Assassin moves fast in Sneak. That means to train all three ranks of Faster Sneaking from the Thief-Acrobat’s tree for a 50% boost to speed, while also wearing your best Speed/Striding item.

Are You Alone?

The mechanics of aggro are still present for Assassins. In fact, we’re supposed to take full advantage of this.

Unlike my ninjas that often take the forefront in attack, Suki sits back. In solo play, I set a Cleric in front and let her go aggressive, attracting a mob around her. I wait in Sneak, until the moment is just right.

And then I move in. I’m learning fast how to make multiple Assassinate hits if I strike just as I swivel my character. I’ve taken two guys down pretty easily when they’re grouped together and sometimes three if I’m lucky.

But if you’re trying for that solo Assassin bit, you’re going to get in trouble because of the aggro counterbalance of Update 22.

Now, twelve seconds to recharge Assassinate isn’t a long time at all given the benefit of removing your enemy immediately. If you’re not patient, you’re going to get what you deserve: Aggro. A good meat shield takes a few moments to gain aggro. But once they do, you go in, make a hit, and then pull back.

In the case where there the mob is too large and the meat shield can’t keep up their own healing, that’s where you make a hit but then take advantage of a Rogue’s Sneak Attack. With Suki’s Single Weapon Fighting speed, she can mow down mobs from behind. But like assassinations, I don’t continually do this or I’ll get the mob to turn against me and not staying fixed on my meat shield. I make a few strikes to remove one or two and then back off again.

By then, I’m also ready to assassinate again.

In a live party, the Assassin really shines. I was in a run in “The Coalescence Chamber” with some guildmates–and at Level 14, to boot. Staying in stealth keeps the scorpions down (bats just show up, sadly). But when in the spiraling shafts, my non-stealthed party got the maddened attention of everything in there. Still in stealth, I made a beeline to the next destination, assassinating everything as I went because the trog’s attention stayed on the rest of my party.

Yes, Some Things May Still Need Work

I don’t use Bluff as often as I should. But reports indicate that it tends not to attract a single target but multiples, as if you made a single ranged attack That’s not good.

But then, I also tend to use noisemakers and break objects, or use meat shields. For now, I use Bluff when I want to pull a very isolated enemy, but I don’t expect it to allow me to assassinate them because of the broken mechanic.

And today’s Update patch is said to fix Venomed Blades from preventing Sneak Attacks: good news for Ryncletica as well as Suki.

Suki herself also needs more work. She’s been plowing through any unfinished lower level quests to build up favor for her +2 tome of her choice–an INT tome in this case. Then she can use a +3 Upgrade tome to reach 29 INT. She’s still looking at the Harper’s INT to-hit and to damage options but I’m favoring Master Assassin Nokowi’s build ideas. I just looted a +3 Lesser Heart of Wood. Perhaps I should give Suki a quick rebuild to reallocate an INT point or two.

I guess my point is made. I’m still a novice in the art of the perfect Rogue kill, but my Ninja instincts tell me that issues with other Assassins is less of a bug than in failing to recognize that the environment behaves more proactively. I don’t blame others for griping per se because the change may seem more sudden for this class than others. But you can adapt; it’s all a matter of noting your behaviors and adjusting accordingly.

Ninjas and Assassins Revisited: Tainted Love

Ninja and assassin squad on approach. Trust me, they're here.

Ninja and assassin squad on approach. Trust me, they’re here.

I drew some consternation from readers when making my favorable comparison of Ninja Spies to Rogue Assassins some time ago.

With a Rogue Assassin of my own that’s working very well as well as several ninja variations, I thought I’d make a fresher comparison and contrast of the class trees, especially with the introduction of a new class tree.

A fun fact: the two classes come from a common real-life archetype. The word “assassin” comes from the Middle Eastern name hashshashin. The name implies that these early killers were sometimes fortified for their duties by hashish, a narcotic I hear goes great with baked goods.

Ninjas, likely originating in China before Japan, and known more formally as shinobi, are merely the hashshashin’s Eastern counterpart. In DDO, of course, the connections of their assassination skills are divided between two D&D classes: Monk and Rogue. Female ninja are known as kunoichi, which I use for my clan.

Two sides of the same coin, really. Saying “ninja assassin” is as redundant as saying “wet water.”

Advantage: Suki – Spycraft

I know I’m very late to the game on this subject, but I’m really enjoying the Use Magic Device skill. As much as I’m able to bring some gear and train in some martial techniques for my kunoichi, the advantages gained in using wands and scrolls or equipping items outside of their normal requirements brings extra diversity to both the role-play flavor and the overall functionality of my Assassin, Sukitetica.

I note time and again that adding UMD cross-class skill points to a Monk is a waste. I still hold to that. A UMD of 24 is arguably the best that a Heroic single-classed Monk can do without bankruptcy (11 cross-class maximum plus CHA modifier of +5 with CHA 8 base, a +5 tome and a +6 enhancement item to get CHA 20, with a Voice of the Master +1 Luck bonus and an alchemical +3 from a House Deneith CHA skills potion).

That allows no-fail Blur and Invisibility and a few other minor protections, maybe Nightshield. I know there are other things to add here, but they aren’t going anywhere close to useful if you can’t reach the next best number, 40, without compromising stealth and jump and Concentration skills or equipped items to do it. Going Half-Elven with a Cleric dilettante is still more prudent.

But now, with a more open mind and greater study of the UMD article on DDO Wiki, at least I have a greater appreciation of the skill and what it could bring to any Monk that really, really wants it.

But I digress. UMD ability with an Assassin is completely Batman-esque in its utility.

Sukitetica, pushing Level 14, can get a solid UMD 24 with items alone. She has only a +1 CHA tome consumed, and awaits her 1750 favor to get a +2 tome that she’ll read and then use a +3 Upgrade tome in the bank for more modifier-based points. With some House Deneith skill potions and a couple more items, she should have UMD 27 temporarily for some more immediate needs.

She can now use Invisibility scrolls. They last for 2 minutes 30 seconds or so,  longer than Ryncletica’s 1-minute Shadow Veil ki-activated invisibility, but have one disadvantage: It’s a verbal spell. I cannot use it willy-nilly in some stealth moments while I’m too close to enemies that may hear my chanting. For close quarters, I better keep some Invisibility potions at the ready.

Case in point: I took Suki into a near-perfect Heroic Elite “The Claw of Vulkoor” run recently. I had noisemaker traps to move some stubborn, camping scorpions away to pacify the guardians very easily. But doing work on the dreaded sixth guardian, with many other roaming scorpions afoot, I neglected to renew my Invisibility before proceeding. I pacified the guardian after getting all to move with a noisemaker, but not before a roaming scorpion saw me and blew that XP objective.

In contrast, Ryncletica made a Hard run of the same quest. She had to brute-force the pressure-plate on the camping sixth scorpion but got it pacified without detection. It was the seventh and final guardian that would not cooperate. I couldn’t make enough noise with throwing stars or breaking stuff in the nearby tomb to lure the thing off its nesting atop the last pressure plate. I could only reveal myself to force the guardian to fight me, losing that XP bonus.

Blur and Nightshield are on the table for Suki, as are Flaming Sphere scrolls. As Teacher Saekee noted, these are big ol’ rolling hate magnets that are hard to kill. If I can deploy one of these against a mob, I can sneak-attack and assassinate to my heart’s content without the use of a meat-shield hireling to attract attention in some locales.

Advantage: Ryn – Poison and Stat-Damage

Level 10 Ryncletica’s go-to weaponry are either two Tiefling Assassin’s Blades (still level 4 items) or a Tiefling blade with Sting, which delivers a poison-stat damaging effect like the Assassin’s so-called poison attacks. It’s actually Poison damage that attracts me as Ninja Poison stacks magnify any Poison enhancement damage from the Tiefling blades, and weapons with the Poison prefix, as well as poison damage from the Envenomed Blades, not so far away.

Both blades have a Ruby of the Endless Night added to them for negative levels on Vorpal, which cushions the blow of not training in the Ninjutsu effect Wave of Despair for spamming mass neg-levels.

I’m not disparaging stat-damage at all. In fact, I rely on it as it increases my ability to take out an enemy in a hurry. The beauty of the Tiefling blade is it’s Keen property for improved critical hits (it will be a bit longer before I can add the feat) as well as its Wounding property that knocks off CON points, weakening foes faster. I spam Suki’s three poison stat-damaging attacks while sneak-attacking u the same keys I use on Ryn and other Monks to spam ki elemental attacks.

In a direct fight, Ryn’s blades simply mow through anyone she encounters as her Touch of Despair and Precision stance attacks also grind through any fortification while the poison quickly sets in.

In a couple of levels, Ryn can use her Vengeful and Vampiric Fury Shortswords for more stat-damaging happiness.

When I wasn’t reading up on UMD, I’ve been studying what other Poison damage effects I can stack into Ryncletica’s build. There’s not much left.

  • She’s got Venomed Blades now as part of her poison-master build, with two more ranks to train there. I already noted the Harper Agent melee power training to magnify this ability’s damage.
  • She’d like to complete her Red Fens Vulkoor’s Cunning set for 10% Threat reduction and the Vulkoorim poison stat-damaging effect from the Ring of Venom and Necklace of Venom.
  • Ryn still wears her Jidz-Tet’ka, which doses a paralyzing poison on occasion while in Ocean Stance.
  • The “Foundation of Discord” and “A Cry for Help” quests in Gianthold might drop a Quiver of Poison that will add ranged Poison damage to my shuriken (provided that I use a Cannith-crafted one that will bypass the Sting of the Ninja bug and deliver Ninja Poison properly again).
  • Greater Poison weapons on loot-generated weapons are quite welcome, but rare to find.

All-in-all, getting the Envenomed Blades back in my hands (and, if very very lucky, finding the pieces to make Epic blades) is the best I can do in the Heroic equipment category, aside from improving her Ninja Poison techniques during combat.

But let me know if I’ve missed an item, enhancement or even Epic Destiny that delivers poison.

Deuce: Stealth Tactics and Attack

While Suki is more dependent on something else gaining attention for her attacks to work best, Ryncletica still has to behave like a sneaky cat to ambush something. Neither character works best in the open for too long at their level without a supporting character since they cannot battle-heal very well.

Thus, Ryn and Suki take to the shadows.

Suki has stronger Hide/Move Silently powers, thanks to a being a Halfling Rogue. Ryn’s not far behind but can also go invisible at-will and more quietly than Suki, as noted. But Ryn’s invisibility requires ki, which is still a precious commodity to generate.

Ryn is a better sustained attack than Suki while in the open, increasing damage in one way or another the longer she fights. But when Suki can gain the advantage of surprise, her Assassinate powers can sometimes take out 2 people at once and then retreat to do that again. I’m just learning how that effect works, turning your character to another target just after using the attack.

Ryn is fine-tuning her Dark finishers. What she cannot paralyze, she can mute. What she cannot mute, she blinds. Blindness really helps avoid direct attacks since few enemies can remove it; it’s effectively 50% Concealment. She now has Flash Bang for mass-blinding and dazing escapes.

Suki likes daggers. After completing a run through the “Cult of the Six” chain, she had a few choices for the chain reward. While another Quicksilver Cassok for the Monks would have been fine, she gravitated to a little dagger named Sheridan’s Wrack. It didn’t seem all that special at first with Keen and one Red augment slot.

And then she equipped it. In Suki’s hands, the crit-range dived to 17-20 and, with Blade Specialization trained, went to 15-20 with a x3 crit modifier. The Wrack also has a 1.50(2d3) damage profile, making it my new death-blade for high damage, no-frills assassinations.

Ryn can boost her DEX for more and more damage, and Assassins share the DEX to-hit and to damage ability. But Suki has a new option: Train the Versatile Adept abilities in the Harper Agent tree to use her INT for to-hit and damage.

I was worried that, somehow, the DEX to-hit feature would countermand that Harper training, but this option should work like the old Weapon Finesse effect. As long as Suki’s INT is the higher ability score, then INT to-damage would be used. This means I can pump her INT for both attack and to ensure her Assassinate DCs are as strong as they can be. I’ll still need DEX for reflex. If I’m wrong, I’ll just reset the Harper tree but the extra INT is still a very good thing to do.

It’s too bad that I can’t have either as an NPC to the other while in gameplay. Ryn and Suki would be an unstoppable death-dealing duo.

Enter the Assassin

"Assassinate."

“Assassinate.”

I’m straying again from monastic enlightenment, but primarily because I’m fond of Rogues, their complementarity with Ninja Spies, as well as my total love of stealth operations, recently codified for others.

There’s also the matter of refining what I’ve learned from my aging first-life Acrobat, Allysen, combining my stealth teachings from Kiricletica and others.

Say hello to Sukitetica. She’s a halfling Assassin, inspired by Log Horizon’s cute but deadly character, Akatsuki.

With Suki, my goal is to destroy my own fallacies about any limitations in the class. But Update 22 won’t make that easy.

The Art of Offensive Non-Aggression

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It's lonely being an Assassin--and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Enjoying the Splinterskull throne. It’s lonely being an Assassin–and Sukitetica likes it that way, mostly.

Unlike Ninja Spies, Rogues, in general, have high to-hits but not necessarily high damage per attack. By the basic design, Rogues gain a far greater attack when enemies aren’t paying attention to them: Sneak Attack.

The benefits of Sneak Attack damage in stealth ops returned quickly to my attentions after only a few minutes with Suki.

When running Kiricletica during her self-imposed solo challenge days, I had to refresh myself about Threat.

Also known as “Hate” or “aggro”, Threat is a calculation by an enemy AI on how much damage it suffered from your character, even if you’ve not actually caused any damage. The Intimidate skill exploits Threat to pull enemies to tanking characters.

For Kiri, I managed Threat simply by avoiding attacking except when required. Even if attacked, I used attacks and gear that caused a momentary Bluff effect, where a target briefly turns their attention away from you, reducing their number of attacks on you.

The goal of an Assassin is to keep their Threat as low as possible while still keeping an aggressive posture. If Threat goes too high, not only will the enemy choose you as a target but it eliminates your chance to deal catastrophic damage by Sneak Attacks, the hallmark trait of fighting Rogues.

To their credit, Ninja Spies also gain Sneak Attack enhancement training identical to Rogues. However, Rogues gain class bonuses to Sneak Attack as auto-granted feats as they level, substantially increasing damage over any other class Sneak Attack powers. Being a Halfling, like Suki, affords a chance to train additional Sneak Attack dice on top of Rogue levels and Assassin tree enhancements.

So, to best manage Threat, Suki’s learned to always hire a meat shield and set him or her to fight.

Often, she chooses Clerics as they also have restorative powers, self-healing, and a fair amount of defenses. Such hirelings (or summoned creatures they can add to a battle) needn’t endure being surrounded for long. Lurking in stealth, Suki sends her mercenaries ahead to attract as many enemies as they can withstand.

Then she strikes the grouped enemies from behind. Using Single Weapon Fighting and combined with Dexterity-to-hit and to-Damage bonuses, she gains improved weapon damage. Kukris are preferred over daggers but Suki uses what tool is best, depending on the enemy. She holds onto a Muckbane for the oozes.

Combined with a strong weapon, Suki carves through her foes with swift, lethal precision. Even at her current level 8, armed with a highly damaging Blood Machete with level 8 Frost and Fire augment gems, anything that isn’t undead or a construct meets a very sudden end.

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

Anyone who forgets why Assassins exist, and who refuse to assist them in gameplay, epically fail to comprehend the very clear role of this class tree. A ninja can assassinate, but requires greater training (level 16). The Monk’s Quivering Palm attack does instantly and quietly kill a target (with a sufficient WIS DC) but it pulls the attacker out of Sneak.

The Assassin’s quintessential attack leaves the Assassin in Sneak and undetected.

But Suki is several levels from training the Assassinate ability–not that it works too well with Update 22. An overbalancing problem with enemy AI causes them to sense the Assassin after a quick kill. Bluff is also bugged, attracting enemies that aren’t targeted.

Thankfully, according to a report from Master Assassin Nokowi, Update 23 appears to rectify the issue, restoring the one skill and related Roguish powers.

Until she reaches Level 12, Suki is content to leverage other special attacks in her arsenal. There are three “poison” attacks. In truth, these are debuffing attacks which aren’t enhanced by Poison vulnerability effects such as those from the Ninja Spy’s Ninja Poison. Despite this, these so-called “Poison Strikes” can debuff enemy saves, increase damage, decease spell resistance or even paralyze under the right conditions. By “right,” I should say rare. Most of these go off only on Vorpal attack rolls.

Still, spamming these three attacks, in addition with Bleed Them Out and Shiv, both with increased weapon damage, aren’t a bad combination at all to ensure that whatever you attack is deader than dead in only 1 or 2 attacks.

Suki2

Suki had to go with an “Assassin’s Creed” look. Nope, never played that game. But their avatars look stellar.

Suki is training her stealth master skills but is quite the opposite of the low-kill edict of Kiricletica. Suki is, effectively, blood-thirsty. She knows her objectives as well as vulnerabilities and would rather take them out and not butcher an entire dungeon needlessly at greater risk to herself and her party.

She’d ask you to define “needlessly,” however, since enemies are in her way to her central objectives, loot and the exit. Seems that there will be few times where Suki doesn’t feel threatened. An Assassin, it seems, may be one living, death-dealing definition of paranoia. They do believe everyone is out to get them, and thus prepare themselves to counterstrike before her enemies can make a single attack.

As opposed to some anti-social ninjas you know, Suki would love to join her guildmates or even PuGs. She’s also an excellent trapmaster and lockpicker, and appreciates the fine work that other party members do in attracting attention so she can eliminate the tougher enemies without interference.

The challenge is ensuring that party members allow Suki to do her job. Assassins require cooperation of others to thrive.

Compensating for Lost Ki

I’m already missing two characteristics of the Ninja Spy: the Wholeness of Body self-healing feat, and Shadow Veil, a level 6 ninja enhancement that grants one minute of invisibility and 25% incorporeality at will (for 10 ki).

Happily, I have some options.

This time I’m listening to Sir Geoff of Hanna regarding dragonmarks. Suki’s got her Mark of Healing. While eventually having a reserve of Heal is a good thing, it’s Break Out the Leeches that makes me giddy.

It removes a negative level, disease and poison effect stack once every 3 seconds. Leeches work per your Heal skill: If you have 10 in Heal, the leeches go to work for 10 seconds. Clearly, I’d like to have at least 12 Heal, more if possible for this cross-class skill.

I’ll miss the ki-based self-healing of a Monk less with these dragonmarks. Maximizing the Jorasco Dragonmark Focus adds a bit more versatility with more dragonmark uses and bonuses to Heal, per The Geoff.

As far as invisibility goes, I tend to stockpile Potions of Invisibility as I find them in quests. Suki carries several dozen. I shouldn’t need them as often if I invest a few additional points in both Halfling and Rogue versions of the Stealthy enhancements to substantially increase Suki’s Hide and Move Silently abilities. She’s trained Faster Sneaking from the Mechanic tree. and wears the faster Speed or Striding gear.

Suki is training her Use Magic Device skill in hopes of using Invisibility scrolls (UMD: 24) and other spells later in life. Such items can be problematic in the wilds as some have verbal components–you make sounds as you use them. That’s bad for someone that doesn’t want to attract attention.

I’m new to UMD. I’ve generally been an opponent of this skill since I mostly play Monks, for which it is a cross-class skill. But I see the great advantages of a high UMD skill that will eventually add in emulating a few monastic powers I’m missing (such as Blur) but several others I can never attain as a mere Monk, such as Teleport, Raise Dead, Resurrection and Heal. The Mechanic line has 3 points I could grab, but that’s an expensive AP drain. I’d rather boost my CHA and take advantage of many other items to get my UMD to at least 40 by level 20.

Incorporeality of any serious degree beyond Ghostly will have to wait until she reaches Epic levels and enjoys Shadowdancer powers.

Suki is a simple girl. Provided she has a meat shield, no trap, no locked door, no enemy will interfere with her job.

I wish that the game could allow you to pair your character with a hireling avatar based from your character list. A hireling version of Kiricletica the ninja or Lynncletica the tanker paired with Suki would be formidable.

Assassins and Ninja Spies: A Comparison

Assassin: A knife for any occasion.

Assassin: A knife for any occasion.

(4/18/2014: A few comrades on the forums noted several glaring errors to my comparison here during a discussion on XP related to stealthing. I’ll update my comparison in the near future but, to keep my mea culpa here as a reference, I’ll revisit it in a new post.)

I have written and published several posts related to Kiricletica the solo ninja and originally had more posts on the way. But life events and Kiri’s fast leveling have antiquated those posts rather swiftly, making updates impractical.

So, I wanted to take a break from that to look at the Ninja Spy class in general, from the perspective of a similar class.

Most of you know (probably ad nauseam) what the Ninja Spy can do. They have many abilities to quickly harm and kill an enemy, both as enhancements or as part of the Monk class.

But how similar are the Ninja Spies to the Rogue Assassin?

Both classes are good scouts. Each handles traps in their own way. The Rogue would disarm them. The Monk would ignore them, thanks to Evasion, Abundant Step and high saves.

The ninja has many ways to kill. Everyone knows about the Assassin’s ultimate move, logically named Assassinate. But what else does this class do? Is there synergy between it and a ninja?

Note what I’m asking. I’m not pitting an Assassin and ninja in a player-versus-player fight. I’m trying to quantify what the Assassin’s innate skills can do in comparison to the Ninja Spy.

Conditions for Comparison

Since I can’t quite define a simulation of either class in a fight, it’s a matter of looking at each class’s raw abilities.

Both classes will have cooldowns on certain attacks. The Monk’s ki will also determine how often certain attacks can be done. Both situations increase the length of time.

There’s also the damage per second and types of attacks that may or may not cause noise or otherwise attract others.

So, as best I can do, I’ll compare and contrast weapon options, attack options, defense options, and how each class fares if they enter a quest completely alone as a hard soloist.

I will have a natural bias in this comparison since I haven’t a high level Assassin as yet. But I treat the DDO Wiki’s information as the gospel and will give favor to that class if my interpretation sees fit.

On Weapon Types

The Assassin is proficient with kukris (1d4 slashing) and daggers (1d4 piercing) and gain competence bonuses for these in their tree. Ninja Spies can use shortswords (1d6 piercing), kamas (1d6 slashing), shuriken (1d2 slashing, thrown) as well as fight unarmed (1d6 bludgeoning) as part of their monastic training. The Ninja Spy gains competence bonuses for shortswords and shuriken from their class tree but also unarmed bonuses as the central class.

An Assassin may gain other weapon proficiencies from racial qualities, but a Monk, no matter their race, is limited to weapons that allow them to stay centered. That said, in a class-to-class comparison, the Monk has the advantage since what few weapons they can use will deal a bit more damage. Further, a fully-trained Level 20 Monk has potent unarmed damage. A Ninja Spy’s weaponry, as a result, covers all the DR conditions, leaving only metallic DR to be bypassed with the right training or weapon. Complete Monk training allows Magic, Lawful and Adamantine bypass when fighting unarmed.

The Assassin may be capable of using thrown weapons but won’t gain greater proficiencies or training for them without racial enhancements or feats (such as being a Drow or Halfling).  Ninja Spies can use shuriken extremely well, gain some modest competencies for them over time but cannot use any ki attacks with thrown weapons.

On efficiency, the Ninja Spy looks like it has the upper hand here with greater weapon type options as well as stronger weapon damage. On damage per second, neither holds an advantage unless the Ninja Spy goes unarmed, which is always a faster attack speed than any class using armed combat.

On Attacks

Monks as a whole can greatly augment armed or unarmed damage using ki to add elemental damage with every attack, starting at 1d6 elemental damage to 2d20 damage by level 20. These elemental ki attacks have quick cooldowns of 3 seconds and from 5 to 8 ki to use, which isn’t very expensive given that a Monk generates some ki as they fight (excepting thrown weapons). Handwraps also augment damage and provide some weapon effects, despite not being weapons in themselves.

When using shortswords, kama or shuriken, Ninja Spies can inject Ninja Poison as an attack. Shuriken can only dose an enemy on a critical hit, but shortsword or kama use can also dose an enemy using the Ninjutsu ability, Poisoned Soul. The ability of Poisoned Darts is a special short-range attack that can be done while in any attack posture. The incredible damage-over-time effect of Ninja Poison has been discussed at length in previous posts.

Monks have a level 15 ki attack, Quivering Palm, that assassinates an enemy on a failed Fortitude save. The significant disadvantage over the Assassinate skill of the Rogue is that the Palm pulls you out of Sneak. Quivering Palm training also requires a higher character level prerequisite (15) than Assassinate (12). Quivering Palm has a 6 second cooldown but is rather ki expensive at 30 points.

The Ninja Spy’s penultimate attack, Touch of Death, requires the training of Ninjutsu: four toggled states that activate on a Touch of Despair finisher. Of these, Poisoned Soul and Poison Exploit weaponize Ninja Poison going in and going out. I’ve seen a Poison Exploit pull over 900 points of damage from an enemy–and that wasn’t from the ability fully trained (2 of 3 tiers). Touch of Death itself, even magnified by the Touch of Despair curse, can generate maybe 625 damage (twice if somehow it registers as a doublestrike).

While Assassinate is the Assassin’s penultimate attack, one that can be performed while sneaking and without pulling the Rogue out of Sneak, the class must train three other melee attacks as a tree prerequisite, called Poison Strikes. I had to go to my own Level 4 Assassin to determine if the training name was a misnomer or if Assassins actually deliver Poison damage with these attacks. A forum thread I opened had been trying to gain an answer.

As it turns out from some tests with my own Assassin, the Poison Strikes are treated as debuffing and stat-damage attacks that do not register in the combat log or overhead damage display as Poison damage, typed or untyped.

Each attack delivers a -1 stacking penalty (up to 5 times) against Fortitude, Will or Reflex saves. On critical hits, the attack also delivers 1d6 WIS, CON or DEX damage. On what would be a vorpal attack, each Poison Strike delivers a special effect. Heartseeker removes 5% of enemy HP, Ice Chill will paralyze, and Soulshatter will give a -100 spell resistance penalty. Any Poison Strike has a 6 second cooldown.

Also available to the Assassin are many other special attacks from their class tree. The core ability Assassin’s Trick will drop 25% enemy fortification and sneak attack immunity on a failed save, comparable to the Touch of Despair finisher for a Ninja Spy (-25% enemy fortification and +25% negative energy vulnerability).

Also in the Assassin’s arsenal are Shiv (higher weapon damage with less Threat, 12 second cooldown), Venomed Blades (weapon stance to add true Poison damage to all weapons), Bleed Them Out (increased weapon damage and on successful damage causes your opponent to bleed, stacking 5 times, 1d6 damage every 2 seconds for 14 seconds per stack) and Execute (3[W], 500 damage if enemy health below 20%).

Lastly, Damage Boosts are available to greatly increase weapon damage for up to 30 seconds, and there’s the core ability Lethality, which will kill enemies on a sneak attack if the hit would’ve been calculated as a vorpal strike.

Both classes gain special attack modifiers for their damage. For Ninja Spies, the first two core abilities give them Dexterity to Damage, where both attack rolls and damage are directly from this ability for any piercing and slashing weapon they can use while centered. Assassins gain a similar option with their two core abilities for daggers and kukris only but require Weapon Finesse to use other melee weapons in this way. At least the Assassin can consider other options; Ninja Spies will become uncentered weapons such as a rapier or dart.

By level 20, both Ninja Spies and Assassins gain Competence bonuses to their weapon critical multipliers and damage. Ninja Spies also gain vorpal properties on any shortsword, kama and shuriken attack.

The Ninja Spy, being a Monk, has far greater diversity in adding the right elemental damage to customize any attack, including negative energy and poison. The Ninja Spy’s Touch of Death and Poison attacks add great diversity–and this is on top of any weapon damage effects.

The Assassin may have fewer overall attacks but they aren’t poor. It’s a matter of how they are applied in a circumstance. But if a player uses the wrong attack, they may have to wait longer for its cooldown and a chance to attack again–and losing any attack advantages in the process. The Assassin, true to its name, is clearly the better assassinating class since their death strike won’t reveal them to others nearby. However, if they are found, it’s a question of whether the Assassin can get away or fight to live another day.

Defense

As I haven’t an Assassin at level 20 yet, I’m dependent on the DDO Wiki information and experience with my level 18 Acrobat Rogue to note their approximate defense capabilities. Again, my assessment is going to add some bias to the Monk’s known defenses but I will strive to be fair.

Both classes have excellent Sneak abilities with proper Hide/Move Silently training but the Monk comes up (very) slightly ahead since they were no armor that could cause a sound. Since most Rogues wear light armor, they avoid any Maximum Dexterity Bonus penalties.

The Ninja Spy has two clear enhancement advantages to stealth. One is having Faster Sneaking available for direct training in their class tree. Assassins would need to train the first core ability in the Acrobat tree to gain this tier 1 ability. The second advantage is Shadow Veil, the third core ability. For 10 ki, the ninja may go invisible and gain 25% incorporeality for 1 minute. In Sneak, invisibility reduces the Spot bonuses, allows closer approach to enemies. If the ninja attacks, the incorporeality persists until it expires. Only Pale Masters, the Shadar-Kai race and a handful of other abilities or items can yield more than Ghostly (10% incorporeality), making Ninja Spies strong in this hard-to-attain miss-chance effect.

Assassins that train their Use Magic Device skills can use invisibility and Blur wands to help with improved stealth and miss-chance. Their use of any invisible effects persist with Assassinate, making this ability clearly superior to the ninja’s Quivering Palm. Ninja Spies must add Concealment effects with items, a risky use of UMD, clickys or (if a Half Elf with a Cleric or other spellcasting dilettante) wands or scrolls.

Monks wear clothing and gain special AC bonuses from WIS as well as from DEX. The Ninja Spy may need to augment their AC with more DEX and WIS (which is also essential for attacks and finishing moves). Assassins may have better AC options using light armor and have several abilities to add more Dodge to their defenses, although not as naturally as a Ninja Spy (who has Dodge 6% from the granted class training and additional Dodge bonuses when using Ocean Stance). Assassins may gain the advantage in AC since they can wear light armor with no penalties and boost their DEX for improved defenses, while Ninja Spies must search to find a lesser amount of robes or outfits with stacking AC bonuses.

Assassins gain the core ability Nimbleness, a cumulative Dodge bonus on a Sneak Attack every 6 seconds, stacking 10 times. However, since Assassins receive lesser and Improved Uncanny Dodge for a Dodge 6% inherent bonus, and the ability to use the same ability for a temporary overcharge of Dodge (50%), Nimbleness has a questionable advantage. Ninja Spies gain a natural 6% inherent Dodge as well but gain no other advantages to the class except the use of Ocean Stance for up to 4% Dodge. Any level 18 Monk will have no less than 10% Dodge while in Ocean Stance, and gear and enhancements can improve this.

Both classes also enjoy Evasion and Improved Evasion as granted feats, although the Monk gains the latter ability at level 9 versus the Rogue’s level 10. Saving throws favor the Monk thanks to granted updates to saves through their monastic training with +12 to all saves, the best base bonus of any class. Rogues in general aren’t bad in Reflex saves, the roll that counts should a trap be sprung.

Overall, the Ninja Spy has superior innate miss-chance, saves and stealth defenses, but the Assassin’s diverse skill set can offset this advantage a little with the right gear and training. Assassins are also better armored.

Movement, Special Abilities and Soloing

From my observation, scouts and spies work differently.

Scouts gather enemy information with little chance of detection but avoid fights unless a clear advantage is present (think Ullevian). Spies can do what scouts do but can also infiltrate into an enemy lair, removing almost any resistance as needed to get to an objective, often to retrieve or eliminate it.

To be a good scout, you need strong stealth skills. But for infiltration and espionage, you must be able to outgun what you cannot outrun (think James Bond). Most importantly, both types require a solo approach (unless tagging along with another stealth player) or their party members will reveal their presence. Thus, you can rely only on what you carry with you and, perhaps, the rest shrines in the area.

Empowering most Monk abilities is ki. While ki can be generated by fighting, it’s not a good idea if the ninja plans to survive. The Ninja Spy can train to regenerate ki passively (without fighting) using several skills, although one (Contemplation) must be trained from the Henshin Mystic tree. Ki can be used not only for attack, but also to fully heal every 2 minutes. Ki, as noted, also powers the invisibility/incorporeality power of Shadow Veil.

An Assassin, by comparison, has a theoretically finite supply of shrines, scrolls, wands and potions. While the Ninja Spy can regenerate ki for attack and defense indefinitely, the Assassin’s resources are limited.

On attack, ki empowers Quivering Palm and Touch of Death for quick-kill opportunities, as well as all other ki attacks. By level 18, the Ninja Spy has a special escape trick: Diversion, where the ninja uses 1 turn of Meditation to create a hate-magnet dummy (like an airship Training Dummy, only dressed like a pirate) while turning themselves invisible briefly to allow quick escape from an overwhelming mob.

The Monk’s Abundant Step ability, allowing very quick horizontal traverses, can avoid tight-knit patrols and leap over chasms that even a high-jumping Halfling cannot do without special gear such as the Cannith Boots of Propulsion.

The Ninja Spy also has Flash Bang, a non-damaging grenade that blinds and dazes enemies. After using a Flash Bang, a ninja that goes into Sneak, Shadow Veil and uses Abundant Step almost assures a complete escape from anything other than perhaps a red-named monster. The Assassin has no comparable crowd controlling escape options I could note from their enhancement training or base class training. However, there is a blinding attack against a single enemy, Shadow Dagger, which also causes damage.

While the Ninja Spy gains some Sneak Attack training, the Assassin gains dramatically more SA training (in addition to the class’s central SA training) for devastating attacks. Even alone, with a Diversion item such as a Golden Guile, a solo Assassin can deliver punishing damage as long as the enemy is bluffed–and the enemy’s friends don’t show up.

Conclusion

So does the Ninja Spy make for a better infiltrator class? In general, yes, due to the many diverse attacks and defense options. However, Ninja Spies aren’t able to self-heal or buff in battle (without using racial options) as any Assassin that trains UMD to compensate. Due to the high action point requirements for a cross-class skill, a Ninja Spy that attempts to add in UMD will seriously compromise the overall stealth of the character. In this, an Assassin can be more resourceful, at least in the short-term.

Assassins have a superior one-hit-kill ability, but as with any other ability, this requires proper training to ensure the DC is high enough to overcome almost any target. Likewise, high stealth skills must ensure that they are not detected in using assassination abilities. Assassins aren’t DPS-rich, however, as Monks tend to be, nor have they emergency escape options, so a mob fight isn’t in the cards except for a Rogue with more fortified gear and several tricks up their sleeves. (And what Rogue doesn’t have a few extra tricks?)

In short, a lone Assassin that knows how to use Bluff skills to draw and pick off enemies can be very impressive character.

I see a Half-Elven team of Assassin and Ninja Spy as a powerful party of two. With the right dilettantes, the duo would be very self-sufficient on buffs and healing. Either class can set up kills for the other. Should one enemy manage to survive a hit from one of the pair, they will not likely survive attacks from the second.

Tell me of your experiences with the Assassin class and if I missed anything critical.