The Shadowbow Ninja

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.

Pynthetica-Shadowbow.jpgAll-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.

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Ranger Hunter Soldier Spy

artemistika1I have a Bard, a Rogue Assassin and many many Ninja Spies.

I haven’t played a Ranger since Pynthetica’s first life, before the new stealth AI retool and enhancement trees.

And I’ve never tried out one particular flavor of Ranger that deserves some attention with the stealth revisions. This way I can learn more about this class path and shore up information in the Stormreach Shadows stealth guide.

So, say hello to young Artemistika, my first Deepwood Stalker. She just might be the best overall stealth fighter because of her very specific skill set.

The Shadow

What stoked me about the Stalker is the incorporation of stealth with powerful ranged attack. At first it struck me as a support build, like the Rogue. The Stalker seemed lacking, at first, the sustained DPS and imbue versatility seen in the Arcane Archer or the melee complexity of the Tempest two-hander or Ninja Spy.

But, reading between the lines as I try to do, I began to see more of the sniper and the rogueish stealth master inside this Ranger that I had to try, with a touch of an old idea I once tried in a lost Artificer.

The Stalker’s makes for the missing imbued arrows of the Arcane Archer kindred with the benefit of ranged Sneak Attack damage, allowing a powerful burst hit of damage provided that you strike fast and first, or preferably have an aggro-magnet keep the attention of everyone. Combined with high stealth skills, the Stalker can pick their targets and kill with only a few quick volleys before cloaking into the shadows to hunt again.

artemistika3

Stealth masters in-training always go to see Ulluvian, patron saint of stealth masters, for chats and tips. If he can sneak home through a Droaam horde, so can you.

This Ranger is naturally stealth-able. Camouflage is especially potent to allow me to sneak past a mob at closer range than any other characters, Rogues and Monks included.

The Faster Sneaking skill is important as Rangers don’t quite move as fast as other classes and need that speed edge. The Ranger’s ability to improve Hide and Move Silently skills for supporting players looks very handy as well.

I’m looking forward to joining more parties with this build. While slower than the ninjas, Mistika makes up for stealth speed with better Hide scores. Eventual training gives Hide in Plain Sight, making Mistika likely the best stealth master because of her ability to weave through enemies at closer range than anyone else I have.

The Sidekicks

I’ve loved the ability to summon other creatures. I experimented with this summoner role with my second, late Artificer named Ayvanna. She trained her normal Iron Defender but also added in a second and, I think, even a third Defender to have a pack of dogs that grabbed aggro while she attacked with her crossbow and runearm.

When Pynthetica was an Arcane Ranger, she also had a simple Summoned Ally as befitted her spell abilities, occasionally using her Wild Empathy to add a second charmed creature.

With Mistika’s Stalker enhancements and a few others, I’m weaponizing my NPC helpers.

It’s one thing to charm an animal. But what if the animal I charmed with Empathy was also a Monster Champion (extra buffs, tougher to kill)?

What if I added the Augment Summoning feat (+4 to all ability scores, increased health and fortification) to this? And how about some Harper Leadership training (Your hirelings, summoned, and charmed creatures gain up to +4 to all ability scores)?

A quick check on the forums (with the answer given by the FuzzyDuck himself) confirmed that Harper Leadership and Augment Summoning’s boosts stack on your direct hirelings and summons, although not your hireling’s summons.

And finally, let me use my Empathy powers as a Fascination-like power against Vermin, Elementals and Magical Beasts if I feel like it.

So level 7 ‘Mistika (readied as a Veteran Status II character) tried this out on an Elite “Where There’s Smoke.” (Level 5). With Flower the hireling in tow, we popped off orc after orc. But the fun came when I remembered the wolves in the area.

A better use of Monster Champions: Turn them to your side and buff them up further.

A better use of Monster Champions: Turn them to your side and buff them up further.

In both packs there was a Champion among them. One use of Improved Wild Empathy later and that Champion was my dominated bitch (pun intended). A use of Charm Animal and a second doggie turned to my side, wreaking havoc with the neighboring orc parties.

This Christmas weekend, I was so enamored with ‘Mistika that I played her all weekend. It will be a bit before her best summoned creature is available, but I summon it in a pinch when I need more aggro-magnets. I can charm or dominate as many animals as they are available and as fast as my cooldowns, spell points and Empathy turns allow.

Improved Wild Empathy is really a Domination spell, so for five minutes, I have an extra helper unless I have to climb or drop off somewhere; sadly, such creatures cannot follow. Adding a charmed animal adds to the confusion. The benefit to Empathy powers is that they aren’t dispellable or breakable. My charmed animals stay that way, even if damaged. And these special charms can’t be removed even if you had Bard levels and used a Disarm Charm ability.

With Stalker training, your Empathy powers give you the ability to halt elementals, vermin, and magical beasts in their tracks. I knew just the quests where I wanted to test this ability. In “Haywire’s Foundry,” I smacked Empathy on the two fire and sole earth elementals that appear at the start, locking them in place for 5 minutes to kill them without retaliation.

That’s an awesome stopping power I also used in “Spies in the House” (the fire elementals with a possible and deadly air elemental) and against air elementals in general–I hate their knockdown powers.

This special Fascinate isn’t broken by anything, including damage. I’m limited by the number of Empathy turns I have, but then, using rest shrines isn’t as problematic for Rangers as it is for young Monks.

The Style

Artemistika is an Elf to gain greater weapon damage training for longbows or her rapiers with racial training. Her Mark of Shadow dragonmark adds Invisibility and, eventually, Shadow Walk, Displacement and eventually a nasty neg-level attack for crunch fights.

While Bow Strength improves the STR modifier to give longbow damage for Rangers, the Elf can train the racial tier 5 ability, Aerenal Grace, which lets DEX become the damage modifier, overriding Bow Strength. So, all ability points go to DEX and nothing but DEX  for maximum to-hit, damage with a little AC and improved Reflex as a bonus. at least as much as maximum dexterity bonus allows.

I’ll add what I can to CON (HP) and WIS (Will save for Empathy and charming) with items, available enhancements and tomes.

Another racial ability, Skill, adds 3% untyped Doubleshot and much-needed Dodge while bypassing 3% of enemy Dodge.

The Stalker build emphasizes quick, powerful strikes with ranged Sneak Attack damage. The old prestige enhancements name was “Deepwood Sniper,” which still holds true in flavor in the succeeding tree.

Like Suki, Mistika shares the Killer enhancement, which adds a 5% Morale Bonus to “Extra Shots” (that’s the text; strange that it doesn’t say “Doubleshot”) for a few seconds after a successful sneak attack kill, stacking up to 4 times. That’s a 20% Morale Bonus doubleshot bonus I sorely desire, which will stack with any Enhancement bonus items I can find. Makes the “Mark of Death” raid more attractive, where the Epic Quiver of Alacrity rests.

artemistika4

The Stalker gains serious attack boosts when using Precise Shot’s Archer’s Focus, a stance which magnifies her attack the longer she stands still, especially with the final core ability that adds more stacks to this ability. Farther potency to very distant ranged attacks improves as well over other archers, where by level 20 I’ll always be considered in Point Blank Shot and Sneak Attack range.

But to keep the Archer Focus bonus, Artemistika has to keep control of the field. That’s why she’ll use her charm and summoning powers to keep her NPC charges up and attracting nasties.

To keep her animal army hardy, she can eventually apply elemental resists, Freedom of Movement, energy protection, and more. While Mistika’s hireling’s summons don’t gain the ability score boosts, the additional bodies in the crowd make for a formidable attack option.

Stalkers gain sizable positive energy spell power boosts as they grow. Combined with points in Heal as a class skill, her otherwise-weaker Cure Light and Moderate Wounds spells are very effective. I need it. My miss-chance effects are poor, with Dodge getting capped by the use of light armor, and no Blur or Incorporeality yet. Blur is my priority to ward off some melee and ranged damage. I’ll need to add in a Dusk (10% Incorporeality) item/augment somewhere, and do what I can in Dodge. Of all the things that worry me is generating enough AC and defenses. Having the light armor gives a small PRR bonus to ward off some damage.

Mistika does have a Shadow dragonmark, so she’s got a few but long-lasting Invisibility turns, and can train Shadow Walk, Displacement and even a special negative-leveling power if AP allows it.

Hide and Move Silently are naturally trained up, and she’s got great Spot bonuses. I’m going to boost that Search power up a bit more for finding those hidden doors, or look to Elven skills that might work if I have the AP to train them.

The Strategy

Artemistika first worked on her House Deneith favor for sturdy arrows. These have greater enhancements to them and drain far slower than standard arrows, so its a matter of having a couple of wide quivers of a 1000 each. I also carry Adamantine and Cold Iron ones for special needs. Sure, getting Conjured Arrows from the Ranger AA tree is possible but that’s AP I can use for something else.

I also zoomed her through some Cannith challenges for a Frozen Tunic, the first time I’ve ever spent time in such challenges outright with a new character. Not using it as much right now but I will before it’s freezing DCs start to be less effective.

At first glance, the special ranged attacks don’t look like much. And then I discovered the joy of Sniper Shot. This, like the Monk’s Unbalancing Strike, is a Bluffing/Deception shot. It’s got a relatively fast 6-second cooldown, making it great for me to spin about enemies and add in some extra Sneak Attack damage while they are bluffed.

Manyshot stays reserved for times where my aggro-partners are becoming overwhelmed and I need to clear out a powerful mob. I also use it against HP-heavy red-named enemies, of course. I miss the faster cooldown of Ten Thousand Stars on Pyn, but I’m getting by nicely.

As a first-life, Mistika is leveling crazy-fast, already at level 13 with a banked level as you read this. I’m prioritizing quests with high XP, specific favor rewards or gear and will shortly rev down the XP to complete favor and gain gear on low level quests I’ve skipped. Quests like “The Pit”, “Stormcleave Outpost” and “Spies in the House” were easily done. Had more problems with “Tear of Dhakaan” and couldn’t complete when I hit the respawning town room and I left my hireling active with fatal results.

The Serpentbranch bow I had on Pynthetica (bound to account) is still her go-to bow for most attacks, although I just crafted up a nice Aligned of Greater Construct Bane bow with an empty red slot for Maruts and other robots. Any bow that I can augment helps a lot with general DPS.

Same goes for finding items that add bonuses to Sneak Attack damage. A Halfling’s racial bonuses, in hindsight, would make an improved sniper, but the elven DEX-to-damage power might be offsetting this. A kindly guildmate (you know who you are) donated the Bracers of the Hunter to me that help with a bit more Sneak Attack damage.

I think a Ring of the Stalker is also in my immediate future, especially one for level 20. That Manslayer effect would be awesome and the exceptional Sneak Attack bonus damage welcome, not to mention some miss-chance effects.

Black Dragonscale Armor seems also in the future. I’ll have to farm for scales in Tor with the nearly implacable Szyncletica.

I’m wearing Deadly/Accuracy gear and a Seeker VI item with Improved Critical: Piercing trained. It’s making the critical hits quite potent.

So, to sum up, Mistika plays a little more like an Assassin. She brings her melee/aggro team in to lure a mob. This requires stealth; you get your summoned team close enough to auto-attack while keeping yourself from being seen.

This team is buffed up to stay alive, generating aggro just as I reveal myself and begin picking off the enemies that my team damages, minimizing the risk of hitting something that turns away from the pack and towards me. The sneak attack damage is key here. I’ll have special shots that outright kill weaker enemies, and if I can add points to Killer and other critical threat/hit effects, the damage stacks.

You just don’t go all pew-pew with a Stalker. This is a hunter. You have to deliberately arrange and pick a target for best effect.

Again, all of this ties to the stillness of the archer. Unlike my other ranged attackers like Szyncletica the thrower and Pynthetica the Zen Archer, Artemistika avoids movement while shooting. She’s gained Improved Precise Shot as a Ranger, but she’ll rarely use it since Stalkers can gain bonuses to Archer’s Focus with Precise Shot. The longer she stands still, the greater the damage.

The Sights

artemistika2The coolest thing about Mistika is her appearance. She looks angry and all Action-Girly powerful.

I invested in a new cosmetic armor to seal in the look. I don’t normally go for blondes, but for Mistika, I’ll make a happy exception.

I’ll talk more on her Epic future as she quickly comes to it. Shiradi Champion and Fury of the Wild are natural fits, but so is Primal Avatar, especially with the summoned/hireling buffs there that might be sorely needed if soloing an Epic quest. Shadowdancer looks great, too, for better defenses and more Sneak Attack die.