The recent changes to the Monk enhancement trees enhanced the already-great Ninja Spy tree. Of note:
- Advanced Ninja Training: Any non-handwrap, non-quarterstaff weapon you can wield while Centered gains bonuses.
- Diversion: For 50 ki, you create a hate-magnet training dummy (Cooldown: 3 minutes)
- Ninja Master: +2 DEX and +2 WIS, Vorpal gained on any non-handwrap, non-quarterstaff weapon you can wield, +1 Competence bonus to critical hit multiplier.
I saw one immediate benefit to my Zen Archer and Bowmaster: I could save some AP by removing Aerenal Grace from the Elf tree since Advanced Ninja Training provided DEX-to-Damage for longbows. That’s done.
Then I kept looking at the new Ninja tree as a whole. Next to the Rogue and its trees, it is the strongest class for Sneak Attack damage (The Deepwood Stalker has better general ranged Sneak Attack but you have to power it first). I’ve leveraged this with the Zen Archer, adding a bit of Sneak Attack damage that procs when the many Deception effects and items she carries Bluffs the enemy and adds in that damage.
But the Sneak Attack bonuses were a bonus, not the focus of the Zen Archer.
So what would happen if you could maximize the power of Sneak Attack from a ranged perspective while also providing better Ranged Power to magnify all that, all while not compromising the basic miss-chance defenses of the ninja?
So I started drawing out a new build. I call it the Shadowbow Ninja.
All-Monk, all-ninja, a little Harper, and Elf. Unlike the other Zen bow-wielders, the Shadowbow uses the full Ninja Spy tree, gaining the full Sneak Attack bonuses as well as all the core enhancements. In particular, the last core, Ninja Master, adds more DEX and WIS, Vorpal on any equipped bow (and other weapons) and bonus to the crit multiplier.
The Shadowbow is a sniper, as does the Zen Archer, but it isn’t as dependent on the bow. With a pair of shortswords, it can do the standard deadly ninja stuff: Finishing moves to debilitate and eliminate targets, and Ninja Poison in melee fighting.
In this respect, the Shadowbow shares more traits with the traditional Ranger, alternating between ranged and melee attack. But the Shadowbow Ninja is all-Monk, gaining the benefits of stronger defenses than many Rangers, particularly the miss-chance effects and high Reflex saves, perhaps higher than the Zen Archer itself.
Like the Zen Archer, the Shadowbow adds in additional Ranged Power points through a few points in Harper Agent. She also takes advantage of a new ninja enhancement: Action Boost: Melee/Ranged Power, to get a +20 boost no matter the attack style.
The new Deadly Striker tier 5 adds a +1 Competence bonus to the bow’s critical threat range.
The Shadowbow sacrifices the improved defenses of the Zen Archer for that extra damage, so Pyn says goodbye to Deflect Arrows and her Elven Shadow Dragonmark for gaining Displacement. But Paracleta is similar limited so thankfully the loss of these two defenses can be worked around.
The Shadowbow is very stealthy, as are most ninjas. Because of the bonuses from Ninja Spy, she can also wield shurikens quite well, although not with as much prowess as the Poison Master (a Drow that gains natural proficiency bonuses) while similar to the Shuricannon, at least with Vorpal thrown weapons.
In any attack where the enemy is bluffed, aggroed or helpless, the Shadowbow takes full advantage. With vorpal, Sneak Attack and No Mercy in play, there’s 30% more damage to helpless–and ninjas can make enemies helpless in three separate ways by melee. In Heroic play, effects such as Freezing Ice can make enemies helpless through ranged attacks, but in Epic, the gloves are off with Shiradi Champion’s Nerve Venom freezing enemies, as well as using a Twist of Fate to stack more helpless damage from Fury of the Wild’s Sense Weakness, which stacks with No Mercy. The Vorpal will help a lot against weaker trash.
It should be noted that Sneak Attack has a range limit. Deepwood Stalkers can extend their range, but all others are stuck with a maximum 49-foot distance for applying Sneak Attack with ranged or thrown weapons. This makes the Shadowbow a closer-range attacker for best damage. Pyn still uses a lot of Deception items to cause Bluff effects to slow the enemy down, even if Sneak Attacks cannot occur.
One feat I’ve been dying to add to the Zen bow-wielders with little success was Shot on the Run, recently updated to add +3 Ranged Power in addition to cancelling out any penalties to attack rolls while moving. The Shadowbow can be stationary and build up its Archer’s Focus bonuses to Ranged Power, or haul ass across the battlefield with a barrage of arrows like the Zen Bowmaster but have more superiority in a running attack with a bit more Ranged Power. If this feat doesn’t seem that effective, I can trade it out and reapply AP in the Elf tree for her Shadow Dragonmark and gain Displacement again.
If the going gets rough, the Shadowbow owns the full ninja utility belt: Flash Bang to blind and daze a group, or Diversion to throw a hate-magnet on the field while gaining Invisibility for a few seconds. The Update 33 change only requires 50 ki for this with a cooldown of 3 minutes, so it’s no longer tied to your 2 Meditation turns. That lends the ability be used more often as a tactical tool, such as luring a large mob from your path forward or aiding your rescue attempts in a pitched battle where most or all of your party is dead and you must grab soulstones.
In Epic play, Shadowdancer is a wonderful complement to the build. She’s even adopted a new hooded dark archer look, thanks to glamered clothing derived on the Night Revels gear. With that stuff on, he’s certainly more haunting with Shadow Form (see the image above).
Other melee destinies that worked with the Zen Archer should be useful as well. I love using all the Shadowdancer abilities, especially Executioner’s Shot and causing chaos in enemy packs with Shadow Manipulation. Very fun when dominating a Shadar-kai into chain-whipping the mobs for you while you sneak by to your real targets.
I was eager to try out this build, which I’ve mapped out successfully using Character Builder Lite. I decided to send Pynthetica, the veteran Zen Archer, down this route, and she’s become my first Epic Reincarnation, working her way back up from level 20. I chose the Primal karma to take the Epic Past Life feat Doubleshot for 3% more.
She’s now fully geared as I can make her with a completed Thunder-Forged Longbow with Mortal Fear (which I can’t use until level 28), heroic and Legendary Green Steel Longbows, and many other early bound-to-character bows, so she won’t be lacking for weaponry as she grows, although early levels leave me using my Unwavering Ardency much of the time. Would be great to get Blazing Embers with the upgrade with a Seal of the Black Abbot, which means some time in the rather-boring Orchard of the Macabre. But blinded is helpless and that would help.
Pyn did craft a new rare item: An Epic Bow of the Silver Flame, which works well with its blunt damage against skeletal and mummy undead (with a level 20 Fire gem) when I’m not using my triple-positive Greater Disrupting Heroic Green Steel bow.
I’ve also done something I’ve not done before on a Monk before: A greater effort to experiment with Use Magic Device on this build to add a few extra tricks. I added a little more INT to get the needed skill points without compromising her stealth or Spot skills and adding in CHA and UMD/Insightful UMD items with Heroism potions to raise the UMD DC as best I can.
At level 21 I can use scrolls like Knock and Shield (but although I meet the chance to use Knock, some things, like the locked chest in Spies in the House, just don’t open with my Knock and I don’t know why). I will need higher levels to equip items to raise my skill to use Raise Dead. I want Pyn to be able to perform rescues–gods know there have been some raids where party wipes have been rather tough to recover without a good rescuer amidst alert, temporarily victorious enemies.
Guess that also means I should work on fishing for the popular but oh-so-rare Cursed Blade of Jack Jibbers.
I need to play with her a little bit more before I post the CBL build data. And I still have a lot of rewrites due for the Monk guide, among other real-life challenges.