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? 🙂

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Redefining Roles in My Dojo

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

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

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

As you might guess, I have several Monks.

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

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

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

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

When Everybody’s A Super…

Syndrome…No one will be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Choose One of Your 505 Options

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

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

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

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

Arcane Archer Monk (Half-Elf)

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

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

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

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

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

Light Kensei Swordfighter (Warforged)

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

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

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

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

Dark Kensei Weapon Master (Half-Elf)

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

Rogue Henshin (Human or Halfling)

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

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

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

Wind Stancer (Human)

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

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

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

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

Weekend Kung-Fu Classes for my other Characters

Sing it..you know you want to. "Everybody was kung-fu fighting...HA!"

Sing it..you know you want to.
“Everybody was kung-fu fighting…HA!”

Something to read while the DDO gets another update this morning.

With my entry into a multiclassed Rogue with Monk training, I’ve been thinking a bit on doing the same for many of my other non-Monk characters since, if you haven’t caught on, I like the Monk class.

This can be tricky stuff, especially since I’ve only made a few WIS-based casters (Rangers and Clerics). I’ve never gotten the hang of arcane casters in DDO, and have only one sword-and-board melee, a lonely Paladin that rarely gets any air time.

My Monk guide is designed to help people build and play an non-multiclassed Monk, and I enforce this training preference in not discussing blends in great detail in the guide. But the gloves are off in this article as I seriously reconsider not only multiclassing one or two more of my characters, but ALL of them.

I imagine each of my non-Monks journeying one day to the dojo, being helped out of their armor and weapons, handed a pair of monkly pajamas and a straw mat to sit on during their weekend kung-fu seminar, beefing up their unarmed fighting skills with Teachers Syncletica, Lynncletica and Ryncletica before returning back to their dominant occupations of their primary class.

I expect many of them to get a fine schooling and a lot of bruising. For a couple of them, the trip might be worth it.

Arcane Archer Monk

Pynthetica is my human Arcane Archer that I loved to play before Monk fever took me completely.

The first idea in returning Pyn to the game in her 2nd life is to create a Zen Archer, or “Monkcher” as it’s known on the forums. Uses a bow and Zen Archery (use WIS rather than DEX for attack rolls) but be ready to punch it up if things become too close. I envision a Ranger 14/Monk 6, adding in some Arcane Archer power combined with Ninja Spy I for some negative energy attacks and natural invisibility.

I’d lose some ranged alacrity this way with the loss of the Ranger capstone but I’d try to compensate by adding a lot more STR than in her first life for greater damage. One advantage is getting the Two-Handed Fighting line for free with Ranger levels, saving several feat slots if she went all-Monk in her training.

Rogue Monk II

Allysen is my weary Thief-Acrobat II halfling Rogue. Being my first Rogue, she has some issues that make her not as adequate at trapping or fighting as I’d want her to be. Cassie is my first Rogue with Monk levels, so Allysen would be my second effort.

After playing this Acrobat for a bit now, I suspect that I’m missing overall attack power: STR. Quarterstaff fighting is also a bit slower. Rather than pitch the staffs, I could keep the Acrobat and add just two Monk levels. Normally people just do this for the Evasion, but Rogues get that, too. What I’m adding is the unarmed fighting option for more attack variety with elemental ki attacks, which also work with the staff. From there, add far more STR.

It’s AC that becomes a problem in the build since Allysen would have to wear robes or outfits to stay centered. That means that Allysen will need to subscribe to the Dodge/Mobility/Spring Attack/Combat Expertise/Whirlwind Attack blend that Cassietetica will have, and that Ryncletica and Quintessica the Avatar have for superior Dodge, AC and a special attack option. Still can’t neglect DEX for the AC and Reflex but STR will be the damage dealer here. With only 2 Monk levels Allysen should be able to disarm and spot as a good Rogue should.

Cleric Monk

A fitting and common multiclass for many players since WIS powers both classes. I’ve tried this before with unfavorable results, likely because I couldn’t make that toon “fit in” with parties as well as run solo as well as I wanted.

For me, Cleric dilettantes for Half-Elves were far easier to utilize with Cassie and Ryn while keeping their roles straight–and thus not losing any offense or defense in the build. I do so want to make a better party aide with improved fighting prowess than a typical Cleric. Perhaps a look at wielding kamas is worth it, as they do well against zombies, leaving Turn Undead uses to weaker skeletons. I have a halfling cleric I could use for this but the joy of doing this is not there for me. For now, I’m leaving this blend on the back-burner.

Paladin Monk

I must admit that I haven’t studied enough for this one. This blend would have the strongest saves in the game (Pallys and Monks rank #1 and #2 here). Attack power, a few spells to help buff others and self isn’t a bad thing. The information I lack involves what Prestige Enhancement to use. I’d imagine a Paladin Monk as an advanced beholder slayer, so going Light Monk would be the direction if I took up to 6 levels.

Perhaps that’s redundant since Paladins also have a distaste for undead and may have more resources than Shintao Monk I. It can’t be Ninja Spy as that specializes in negative energy and complicates things.

There’s also the matter of CHA, which will sap points for other abilities needed for unarmed fighting. AC is the big loser here since many Paladin defenses/abilities are done through shields–something an unarmed blend like this can never do. If the shield is on, I still have Evasion in place to help but that disables most other monastic effects. Don’t know if I’ll get to trying out this idea. I’ve just not been inspired by the Paladin class.

Druid Monk

Not much time devoted to studying this one, either, but on the surface there is much potential. Druid spell points come from high WIS–perfect for a build whose animal forms effectively fight unarmed, which synergize with a monastic fighting style. The piercing and slashing damage additions are worthy, too. I wasn’t initially sure which way this should go: Minor as a Monk or as a Druid?

Looks like (based on the limited DDO Wiki class article that’s still being fleshed out) that minoring as a Monk gives the best benefit. Two levels for Evasion, and Stunning Fist with additional elemental damage at early levels, and the rest of the attack power is supplemented by the druid forms. STR again defines the damage.

With a few fresh new character slots from buying the new expansion pre-release, this just might be my new experiment in the coming days. Might ask a couple of the hosts on DDOCast: Seems they’re a little bit country, a little bit rock-and-roll when it comes to some Monk/Druids or Druid/Monks they play.

Classes That Don’t Synergize

There are several classes that can’t work as a unarmed fighter with two or more Monk levels.

You can’t make Bard or Barbarian Monks: These classes must always be non-Lawful while Monks must be Lawful. Doesn’t mean you can’t use Epic Destinies to add a little something extra that reflects these classes, but that’s much later in the game.

Sorcerers and Wizards could benefit from the two-level splash of Evasion but otherwise should never be on the front lines where their low hit points mean certain death, Monk Evasion or no. Their reliance on CHA or INT also lessens what monastic prowess they’d have, and thus their odds at survival. Not saying it’s impossible–there are certainly a few crazy players that have surely rolled one up. I’m just not going to be one of them, for now.

As with the Sorcerer, the Favored Soul isn’t a good fit for a Monk blend since CHA is used by that class–almost entirely a dump stat on a Monk.

A definite no-no would be the Artificer. Half of their fun and abilities literally extend from the rune arm, and, as a dev said, rune arms damage one’s calm. It requires INT for spell points. A two-level Monk splash for Evasion would certainly help a traditional Artificer, but I’m not sure how an unarmed Artificer would be practical. (UPDATE: See the comments for a reconsideration: One poster enlightened me to my class bias that would make an Artificer Monk a very enticing option, rune arms be damned.)

This is War, Cassie

I’ll admit that my life affects how I play my characters. I am not a typically aggressive sort.

In fact, were not for a couple of details, I could have lived a more contemplative life as a deacon in the Catholic Church. I guess I could consider, in my latter years to come, a life as an oblate with a religious order.

Syncletica is a real name of a real abbess of a monastic order in the 3rd Century. As a Catholic myself, I don’t believe that aggression is the first step in resolving issues. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Monk class with its syncretic blending of contemplative pseudo-Eastern philosophies, some based on fiction and others fact, to give life to the class.

That said, the world of Ebberon, like our own, is not entirely peaceful. As such, my Syncletica is a warrior abbess and cannot promote training in her dojo that doesn’t ultimately aid in the defense of X’endrik, including the elimination of enemies.

ninja peekI made the decision, as of reaching level 10 last night on Cassietetica, to make her a Rogue Assassin, rather than a Mechanic as planned.

Comments from my posts on Cassie gave me most of my motivation. She needs to be able to fight as well as she can hide and remove traps. Further, a Mechanic gains proficiency with repeating crossbows but this also uncenters a Monk using one. Assassinate will work unarmed or with ki weapons (shortswords or kamas).

Despite some objectives in a few quests where you can talk yourself out of a fight, pacifism as a whole is not the way of DDO.

Been leveling up Cassie heavily over the last few days. Now is the time to add her last two Monk levels to reach level 6 and get the Ninja Spy skills for invisibility/incorporeality, a few numbers for stealth, and shortsword proficiency. Got a lot left to play in reaching level 12:  “Gwylan’s Stand,” “Tear of Dhakaan,” “Redwillow’s Ruins,” the House Deneith chain, Sorrowdusk chain and perhaps the Necropolis and Threnal adventures that should get me to this point. From there, she gets all Rogue levels.

To make Assassinate work best, Cassie’s INT is a priority since it uses that modifier and level 14 will be as high as she goes for the Rogue level modifier. I need a boost there to add Combat Expertise and Whirlwind Attack to help her overall fighting in crunch times.

In most cases, she’ll still avoid attacking. Her stealth numbers should be quite good. But when something gets in her way, she should be quite capable of removing it and keep herself in stealth–something Ryncletica cannot do.

Cassietetica, the Trapmaster Ninja?

I introduced my new Monkish Rogue, Cassietetica, in an imaginary conversation with my pure Acrobat Rogue, Allysen.

Without a Rogue, you'll need an lake filled with Bactine. (Credit: www.TenTonHammer.com)

Without a Rogue, your post-quest recovery area is a lake filled with Bactine and aloe. (Credit: http://www.TenTonHammer.com)

Shortly after writing that post, I recalled my desire to be better at stealth with Ryncletica in terms of diversion. For Ryn, that’s mostly finding a cave wall near what she wants to distract, throwing a shuriken at that point, and waiting for the enemies to go investigate that noise while she sneaks past.

For Rogues with Trapmaking ability, the options grow, although it seems that very few players use these options. The reason is simple: DDO is more slanted to party-style, obliterate-everything twitchy gameplay where stealth and related tactics just aren’t done. I play solo often when not enjoying time my guildmates, so this isn’t an issue for me.

I realized that I had a special opportunity for Cassie to show how useful she can be as a mine-laying specialist.

It’s a fascinating proposal. After playing DDO for a few years now, I’m pretty familiar with what mobs will appear at specific locations of an adventure. Therefore, if I can lay traps for them (while also disabling traps that may exist), I might be able to dish out some incredible area-of-effect damage, clear mobs by the dungeon-load, and effectively loot whole adventures.

  1. Lay down traps.
  2. Lure enemies to traps
  3. Blow up enemies.
  4. Repeat.

Now, this also means that a single adventure could turn into a slower return on investment. But I’m not considering this for the speed or even the experience points, but just to see how conniving, how devious a Rogue can be in destroying enemies by hardly raising her weapon.

Trap Types

DDO Wiki has a good article on trapmaking that’s the basis for my interest.

To make certain traps, you need enough trap parts you scavenge as you disable traps throughout the game. Fair enough. You recycle trap materials to make your own traps.

The trap I expect to use most often isn’t quite a trap. It’s a noisemaker. I can set it and, in a few seconds, it makes a sound that should attract enemies to it while I shuffle away in the opposite direction. This is what Ryn would love to have in soloing “The Claw of Vulkoor” to lure scorpions away in the process of completing ting the quest without being detected. However, making traps requires the Trapmaking feat auto-granted to Rogues at level 4, so Monks can’t build or use noisemakers without multiclassing some Rogue levels.

While Rogues can farm for many trap part types (such as mechanical parts from blade traps and the like), they’re limited to creating elemental and magical traps. (Sad that we can’t set up our own spinning blade traps o’ death.)

The promising news is that such traps come in various degrees of damage, commensurate with the number of parts and other ingredients you have on hand and the Rogue level necessary to set that trap.

Better: Rogues can set traps with damage that can’t always be saved against by most mobs, such as Force and Sonic.

By level 11, a Rogue should be able to make Force and Sonic mines that have a huge area-of-effect with 50d6 damage. Oh, let me just fill a room with these. Mines auto-deactivate after 2 minutes 30 seconds, so there’s time to lay a nice field of these babies in front of a door or hallway and let the bastards stumble through.

But you can see the challenge here, however. You need parts to make traps. Lots and lots and lots of parts. That’s going to take a lot of quest grinding where traps are abundant. Thankfully, DDO provides me with many places to farm for the Force and Sonic parts I’d like, as well as mechanical parts.

A Ninja Trapmaster

Ninja_crouchTo help in parts farming, I can make Cassie a Rogue Mechanic.

She’ll has a better shot of gathering more parts per disabled trap. They also get better DCs to use them, increasing the likelihood that enemies will suffer greatly for her skills.

But I also wanted to add Ninja Spy I to Cassie, too. I didn’t realize that you can select more than one Prestige Enhancement on a multiclassed character: 1 Prestige per class, not character.

So, it should be possible to add Rogue Mechanic I and Mechanic II to Cassie to improve her trapmaking and trap-laying skills.

Additionally, I can add a little Ninja training for shortsword ability and Shadow Fade (ki-powered invisibility/incorporeality) to have a Rogue 14/Monk 6. Shadowdancer Epic Destiny will be perfect for her later, and she’ll have enough Monk levels for Grandmaster of Flowers training, too.

But can I swing all the Mechanic enhancement prerequisites (I’ll need them anyway to compensate for lost Rogue skill points from the Monk levels) as well as the Ninja Spy I prerequisites? It’s a lot to do.

I reset my enhancements a day or so ago to try out the possibilities and started picking. The enhancements work out just fine for both Prestiges with a few points to spare.

Some might ask, “Why not Assassin training?”

It’s a good question. I’d still gain some parts, but going full Mechanic doubles the chance for more trap parts versus an ordinary Rogue. She’ll also set traps (and detonation packs) faster than others. Setting traps for this build is just as important as disabling them. Going Mechanic also leaves me an emergency ranged option as well, using repeating crossbows.

An Assassin build does sound tempting, yes. But somehow I see Cassie as less…temperamental than other Rogues. Must be that monastic training. She kills because she has to do so, not because she wants to do so. Still, if I wanted to go down that grim, woefully powerful road, it’s just a matter of resetting enhancements.

Honestly–there is plenty of slaying in DDO. Somehow, I’ve never been that bloodthirsty. I’m more of a fan of counting coup. It”s something that Ryncletica does a lot. She gains personal favor in defeating her enemies by circumventing every defense they have to complete an objective. Rather than obliterating an enemy’s army, Ryncletica obliterates their honor. Ryn and Cassie rarely start fights, but they will always finish them.

Cassie’s stats are going to be difficult. Normally, WIS is a dump stat for a Rogue. But she’ll need a bit to make her Monk DCs work and her ki to be sufficient for attacks. She’ll certainly have high concentration on her DEX for AC and reflex saves but needs good Fortitude and Will saves, too. She can’t rely on her stuns. She won’t gain Abundant Step, so somersaulting to get to trap control boxes will require awesome saves. Thus, Dodge/Incorporeality/Concealment numbers will be essential. STR is also vital; that’s why Allysen has weak DPS. Cassie, by hook or crook, needs a minimum 24 STR by level 20, I think.

So, there you have it. A Rogue with dark Monk fighting skills, who is also a Ninja and trapmaster.

Stay tuned. This is going to be a fun build to generate.

I need to think of a good build name, however. “Ninja Trapmaster” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

In related fun, TenTonHammer has an older but well-written article on why DDO Rogues are true Rogues in comparison to other MMO games.

The Halfling’s Lament

Note: Early in my blogging, I wrote imaginary tales using my toons to greater illustrate issues or techniques. Not only does it give me some writing practice, it’s hopefully less boring to read than a stodgy, dry post about how the game is played from the real-life mechanics we see as the player. So, indulge me while I introduce a new build of mine, Cassietetica, who has trained a few levels of Monk but has a calling to the rogueish arts. Cassie is my first serious attempt at multiclassing using 2 or more Monk levels. Either she will end up 18 Rogue/3 Monk (I moved to three Monk levels to gain negative energy attacks/debuffs using Fists of Darkness) or the more likely move to 14/6, where Cassie trains to Ninja Spy I for its invisibility, stealth, and shortsword prowess benefits. In any case, trapfinding and lockpicking will be Cassie’s speciality.

– ~ ~ ~ –

tavernSounds of smashing chairs, loud music and conversations assailed my ears just on cracking open the door to the Wayward Lobster tavern.

Adventurers and city-folk from all walks of life sat or stood about in conversation. A few people looked at me for a moment. I had the feeling I was being assessed to see if I could be helpful in some way.

A halfling girl looked up from her tankard but didn’t drop her gaze at me. With a barely perceptible movement, she motioned me over to sit. I recalled my notes from the abbotess Syncletica: the halfling matched the description that the sensei gave me.

“You one of Syncletica’s?” the halfling asked, not taking her eyes off me as she took a draw from her tankard.

“I am. My chosen name is Cassietetica.”

The halfling slammed down her mug a little loudly and wiped the foam off her mouth with her forearm. “Someday, somebody’s going to explain to me why all of you make such complicated names for yourselves. Can’t just have a simple name like the rest of us.”

“Cassie’s my birth name. My new name just illustrates my allegiance to my vocation,” I said, taking a seat at the table and regretting it immediately. Apparently I sat in a small puddle of something that began to soak through the bottom of my robe.

Allysen drank the last of her ale and put the mug aside. “”Vocation”, huh? Most people that Syn recruits just do their monk thing. It’s pretty cool to see them at work, sure. I don’t get along with most of them, though. Too goody-two-shoes. They aren’t into the adventure for the money, you might say. I sniff out a chest but they’re somewhere else, fighting.”

The rogue motioned at the barkeeps for another round. She pointed at me to ask if I cared for a half-pint. I raised my hand, shaking my head.

The new tankard arrived and Allysen took a long swig before saying, “I do like one of them–Ryncletica. She can’t bust a lock open worth a damn but she can avoid getting frozen and fried by a trap better than I can. Good fighter, too. I thought I was invisible. She can go invisible anytime she wants.

The rogue stretched her small figure across to the adjoining table on my left to steal a bowl of nuts to chew on. “But you. I can see something’s different about you. In fact…” The rogue squinted at me, reached over to my right arm and tapped my sleeve, slowly and emphatically with her index finger.

“I knew it. You’ve got thieves tools in there. Don’t know of any Monks that can pick locks–or think it’s right to do so.”

“That’s why the sensei asked you to meet me. I have some basic training in the martial arts. I know my basic elemental forms. However–the dojo cannot teach me all that I want to know.”

“You want to go rogue,” Allysen said, her voice muffled a bit by a mouthful of peanuts.

“For most of my training, yes.”

“Why not go all the way?”

I crossed my arms. “Because you die too easily.

Bits of peanut stung my face as Allysen coughed. “You take that back!” she yelled. Her right hand left the table surreptitiously while her left rose to point an angry finger at me.

“Calm down…and keep your blade sheathed. It wasn’t meant to be an insult. We can’t all be everything. I wouldn’t ask you to lead a charge against a pit fiend, and I can’t either. But the sensei said that you were a good rogue and could give me some advice.”

“Advice, huh?” the rogue said, the flickering anger fading from her eyes. A trace of a smile darted on and off the corners of Allysen’s mouth before she said, “Sure. But talk ain’t cheap. You’ll have to make it worth my while.”

I pulled out a small bag and placed it atop the table. “This is the pre-arranged fee for your time. I’d ask you not to haggle for anything else.”

Allysen looked a bit disappointed as she took the bag. “Was hoping that somebody else was going to pay me so I could cash in a little more.”

“You were actually going to con me out of more money in addition to what the sensei planned to pay you?”

“It’s our way. You shouldn’t be surprised. Boy, you got a long way to go before you’re going to be a good rogue,” she said, pouring the platinum coins into her hand, eyes darting about in a silent count before returning them to the bag, her head bobbing a couple of times in satisfaction.

“That’s just it, Allysen. Our dojo could use more money for our charitable work. You’d be surprised how many places get damaged from invasions, the wars, people displaced and out on the streets. We do alright in trading what we find to the shopkeepers–”

“And I bet they rip you off. That’s why I haggled you. If you don’t know the better part of negotiating, things get expensive real fast. Might want to spend time learning to haggle.”

I nodded. “I don’t think I can afford to. In any case, our costs in repairing our own equipment, combined with selling equipment and tending to our clinic for injuries, is barely helping to make ends meet for the dojo and those we care for.”

The rogue sighed. “And you want to cash in a bit more.”

“If I can find and retrieve more gear in an adventure without great expenditures to repair items or my injuries  in that adventure, it would help a lot. Of course, that would include accessing locked doors and the chests behind them.

“So you’re here to test out.”

“Someone in the Free Agents told me that you’d put in a good word to start me off with better rogue tools if you tested me.”

“Bunch of damned liars. As if I had any influence with them. Still, I’m curious myself.” Allysen pulled out a small wooden box, flat like a book, from side pocket of her armor. “Okay, let’s test you out. Open this up.”

At first I reached for the box but stopped myself. One of Allysen’s eyebrows rose as well as a corner of her mouth.

“Good. I thought you were going to get a faceful of water. Rogues always look before they touch anything. Examine the floor, the walls. The walls next to those walls and floors ahead and behind. Traps can be anywhere.” She motioned at the box. “It’s still not open, though.”

I pulled a lock pick from my sleeve and a pair of goggles to examine the box. Something about one top corner didn’t look right. I plunged the pick’s tip into a small hole and heard a snapping sound.

“Very good. That was the water trap disarming,” Allysen said. “You heard that snap?”

“Yes.”

“Must be your half-elven blood,” she said. I apparently gasped when she revealed her observation. “Yeah, I could see the traces of your ear points,” she admitted. “Most of you look a bit prettier than ordinary humans, too. Keep going on that box.”

I examined the rest of the box and noticed an almost imperceptible crease on the left side. Carefully holding one side, I scooted a finger over the crease and pushed.

I heard a snap–but was thankful it wasn’t the sound of my finger getting crunched.

“That was the second trap. Nice. A rogue can’t assume that one chest has only one trap or one control box. There could be several traps and control boxes. Let’s see what else you find.”

I picked up the box. On its underside was a tiny keyhole. I took out my lock pick set and carefully worked. After a few moments, the box clicked. I twisted the box and out dropped a small copper coin.

The rogue smiled as she took the box and coin, fiddling with it to reset it back. “I’m impressed. That’s a pretty high-difficulty lock I made on that Rogue’s Toy. So you got some good instincts and skills. If you keep up on your training, buy or find some better gear, I bet you’ll be fine.”

She leaned across the table. “So–why are you really here?”

“My problem–is how to keep better defenses as I train. If I am to fight in the monastic way, I can’t wear that light leather armor that you do. It’s too heavy and cumbersome. It…disturbs my calm.”

Allysen realized the problem. “But wearing that dress of yours is liable to get you cut up and pounded silly. Not a lot of protection on robes.”

“No. One discipline will help as I train–but only to a point if I train more on rogue skills than monastic ones.”

“So outside of your robes, there’s always better bracers, rings, necklaces.”

“I was hoping that you would know more sources.”

“That’s more of a question for Ryncletica, I think.”

We sat in silence for a bit before Allysen said, “I’ll admit something. I’ve been at this trapper thing for a while now. Lately it’s been quite a grind, very challenging. I can sneak into places just fine, usually find the nastier traps and pay the bills for my party. But when a fight shows up nowadays…” she stopped talking, shaking her head.

My monastic training, limited as it was, could detect a pale aura about Allysen. A trace of it stays around everyone that’s been killed but resurrected before their soul becomes too long detached from their body. The more deaths you experience, the brighter or more substantial that aura becomes to those trained to see it. Allysen’s aura practically formed a grayish silhouette about her body, as if her body smoldered after being scorched often.

“The game, the hunt…it isn’t what it’s used to be. I may have to–go back to get some better training.” The rogue had been twirling her testing box in her hands absentmindedly before she realized what she was doing and put the box back in her satchel.

excerpt_rogue1“I hear this from Ryncletica so much that I want to punch her in the face, but I want to hear it from you, Cassie…somebody that gets the rogueish way of doing things. How are you planning to survive in places where enemies are far tougher? I’m good with my quarterstaffs but…I guess I’m just not fast enough.”

I took a breath before I answered. “Rogue skills are often just straight training.  I’ve been taught that, if you have only one way to fight, there will be many more ways that an enemy has to kill you. The monastic arts allow me to be fast and nimble, like you. But I can also change my fighting stances. Be a little stronger, wiser, flexible, faster or durable.  Learning to stun things helps. Elemental attacks to my fighting help a lot. Keeping out of sight–well, I don’t have to tell you how handy that can be.”

“I don’t get into that book-learning. I think learning on the job and using what you see is better.”

“For Monks, what you call ‘book-learning’ is wisdom that improves our mystical powers. Without it, it would be like a wizard that didn’t study and so can’t use magic spells or have much in the way of spell energy to wield them.”

Allysen’s attention didn’t waver. “Go on,” she said.

“I’m not sure how much you fight..but maybe fighting is the problem. I’ve learned from Teacher Ryncletica that fighting is not the first option of the ninja. Maybe it shouldn’t be the first option of a rogue, either. Which means, we need to be able to stay out of sight but also to maximize our prowess should we get cornered.”

“I should learn to stun things, then,” smashing one fist into the palm of her other hand. “Gods know that my paralyzing quarterstaff isn’t as good against the nastiest hordes.”

“Maybe. You might need to get stronger first to make stunning work with a staff. The monastic way is different there, emphasizing attention to finding vulnerable points on the body using ki and wisdom, not strength. Might help your damage quite a bit, too.”

Allysen shifted in her chair uncomfortably, grabbing  her head suddenly as if she thought it would fall off her neck. “Ugh. Too much ale. Okay, okay…maybe I need more sword training, too, as  as a backup.”

“Perhaps. A staff is like my fists–it bludgeons an attacker but isn’t as good against things that are more resilient. It’s zombies that I dislike. I cannot use my negative energy attacks on them and they don’t drop as well from martial attacks. I carry around a kama for those occasions.”

“That hooked thing? I would think a shortsword would do better.”

“It isn’t. You need to slash zombies apart, not ventilate them like a leather punch on hide. Shortswords just pierce.”

Allysen looked off to the side in thought before suddenly turning her head to me, chin lifted in challenge. “What’s the three most important abilities to you, in doing what you’re trying to do? So you can still open locks and find traps but still use your bar-brawling fisticuff stuff?”

I scratched my head and said. “First, keeping dexterous. That helps my reflexes and perhaps how much armor protection I gain from monastic training. Next, staying wise, which also helps my mystical armor but also helps determine my overall ki.” When Allysen’s eyes squinted, I said, “Ki is like the spell energies of a wizard or sorcerer but for Monks.”

The bar noises overtook us again as we sat without talking before Allysen opened up the bag I gave her and put down three platinum coins. “Here,” she said.

“What’s this for?”

“For your advice. Can’t earn a living for free, you know.”

“Thanks,” I said, gathering up the coin and standing up.

“Good luck out there. Shoot me a Orienmail if you need something,” Allysen said with two fingers from her forehead in salute.

I bowed and left the bar. I wondered if the sensei wanted me to teach more to Allysen than the rogue would be able to teach me. There are times I don’t understand our ways.

But then, as Allysen hinted, a rogue does things her way, and it’s not the same for every rogue. Perhaps I may have to do things differently. Use swords sometime, like Teacher Ryncletica. Or consider a quarterstaff. I can still show charity, but I would do so through subterfuge, rather than brute force. I can tell that Ryncletica’s Dark School may be more useful to me, at least to training level 6.

If I can find that path that joins the monastic and rogueish craft, I might find my answers.

The Art of Shadow: It Pays Well!

When I got to Stormreach, I had no idea how much fun I’d have–and how much work I have waiting for me!

Rogues are always in demand. I keep my training as pure as the ale I drink, so I can earn my keep and get my parties in and out of dungeons with their skin not frozen or fried or blasted (much).

I love the life of acrobatics, so I make sure that, if anything’s trying to kill me, it WON’T be something that tries to knock me off my feet. That’s all but impossible now…although I’ve heard of some snake-like demon in an outlying desert that’s not to be trusted.

It helps to be with a guild that’s filled with a few other kinfolk that know the ways of getting the most out of  your dungeon crawling. Tyrs Paladium likes to enjoy the quests, get the most experience out of it and find that little bit of loot that a young, upcoming woman needs for superior ass-kicking later on.

For now, it’s back to keeping the party alive…although I’ve been thinking lately on how I might be able to go at some less-risky jobs all by my lonesome. Have staff and tools, will travel!