A Final Review of My Builds

So, all three of the builds I created are sufficiently leveled and geared. I can now update the Monk guide with guidelines on what to expect as you start and level them.

Thanks so much for your suggestions, criticisms and patience as I’ve played through each one. I hope you will find them (or variants you design from them) useful and fun.

I don’t think I’ve made a post where I’ve spoken of them all in-depth. To avoid cluttering up the guide with such subjective drivel, I’ll post it here.

The Zen Archer

build1a

Purpose: High miss-chance, high Ranged Power Elven defensive sniper. 20 Monk (Harper Agent/Ninja Spy)

Best environments:

  • Attacking enemies using missiles or magic, as they have a very hard time making a successful hit against the build due to its high Concealment, Incorporeality, Dodge, Improved Evasion, PRR, AC and Spell Resistance
  • Quests where stealth can be used to allow sniping from a distance. Enemies often never reach this build before she kills them with Deception, Epic Destiny abilities, and Tendon Slice effects.

Worst environment:

  • Legendary raids, where the enemy CR is sufficient to bypass most of the build’s layered defenses
  • Raids with mostly Red-named enemies (such as “Defiler of the Just”), where the build’s DPS and single-target enemy controls to slow or stop enemies is neutralized

Strengths and Weaknesses:

  • High sustained ranged DPS, second only to Zen Bowmaster, thanks to higher Ranged Power from Harper Agent
  • Fast takedown with higher innate Ranged Power and Deception effects that add Sneak Attack damage
  • Useful 33% standing Doubleshot with EDs and gear
  • Strongest stealth skills, but slower movement speed in stealth
  • Miss-chance effects, spell resistance and PRR allow sustained DPS even when attacked by several enemies at once
  • Using Harper Agent and Elf Dragonmark enhancements, can gain 6-minute Displacement
  • Can use Ten Thousand Stars and Manyshot, works well with “Furyshot.”
  • High Diplomacy, useful in several instances
  • Damage dependent on DEX, bow quality and arrows
  • Has best fortification-bypass options; can land 100+ hits against Legendary Shroud planar gateways with 55% fortification bypass thanks to Epic Destiny abilities and Thunder-Forged longbow
  • Easy build to train other EDs, once Pin and Otto’s Whistler are available in Twist of Fate slots
  • Uses Precise Shot only to build up damage bonuses and limit Threat generation
  • As a stationary fighter, generates the best sustained damage against toughest enemies

The Zen Archer was discussed on the forums, and you can find more build information in the Monk guide.

The Zen Bowmaster

build2b.jpg

Purpose: High-DPS offensive ranged attacker. 20 Monk (Arcane Archer)

Best environment: Enemies with low Will saves.

Worst environment:

  • Quests or raids against some special Red-named enemies or enemies with higher Will saves (enemy Clerics, Paladin/Blackguards, shamans) that resist attack DCs
  • Quest or raids where the build generates too much aggro; the build has the lowest overall defenses

Strengths and Weaknesses:

  • Very high DPS. Bow damage combines with Ranged Power and arrow imbues augmented by spell power from the AA tree.
  • Uses both Ten Thousand Stars and Manyshot for highest burst Doubleshot while in Divine Crusader ED – up to 240%
  • Highest standing Doubleshot on first life (75% with feats, ED, AA and gear)
  • Versatile attack options from the AA tree (blunt/piercing/slash/Doubleshot) and elemental, force, paralyzing, banishing and smiting effects
  • AA imbues are based on WIS modifier. As a Monk, build can greatly boost WIS to use as to-hit modifier (Zen Archery feat), generating extra AC, and creating DCs for arrow effects that operate even in Legendary Elite raids, especially paralyzing
  • Fair fortification bypass
  • Useful, but not superior miss-chance effects
  • Sustained damage lower than Zen Archer but imbued spell power attacks compensate often for increased damage per attack for some enemies over Zen Archer
  • Not as weapon-dependent as Zen Archer unless enemy resists AA attacks due to higher fortification
  • Uses Improved Precise Shot, which often causes great Threat generation

You’ll find the fundamental build information in the Monk guide.

The Poison Master Ninja

build3a

Purpose: High-DPS offensive melee Drow. 20 Monk (Ninja Spy)

Best environment: Enemies with low Fortitude saves.

Worst environment:

  • Quests or raids where enemies can resist special attacks that cause Helplessness, Nausea, or Blindness
  • Quest or raids where enemies are immune from Negative Energy or Poison

DPS and Weaknesses:

  • Medium High to Very High DPS, depending on whether Helplessness can be used
  • Second-best stealth skills (second to Zen Archer), fastest movement speed while Sneaking
  • Best instant-kill power against isolated enemies, using finishing moves or Quivering Palm attack
  • Ninja Spy training augments stealth, defense, movement speed, Dexterity to-hit and to-Damage with shortswords and shuriken, Sneak Attack damage and Ninja Poison, a powerful DoT effect that cannot be resisted except by Poison-immune enemies
  • Drow racial feats and enhancements add Shuriken and Shortsword prowess as well as additional Poison damage
  • Optional Epic Destiny Feat choices can add greater Doublestrike, Doubleshot and bonuses to Dodge and Dodge cap (to 34%)
  • Some Ninja Spy Monk finishing moves cause Helplessness, allowing No Mercy enhancement (and, in Epic, stacking with Fury of the Wild’s Sense Weakness) to generate 30 to 60% additional damage on Helpless enemies
  • As a melee fighter without a shield, defenses are limited to WIS (AC bonus), Combat Expertise, high miss-chance effects, and movement speed

Detailed information can be found in the Monk guide.

Theatricality and Deception, Part 3: Iron Ninja

Her small elven form, the tips of her pointed ears barely visible through her order’s traditional black mask, quietly, swiftly dropped through a hole above the holding cell of several slaves-to-be, a mix of human, elven and even Drow.

She ignored the stench within the hole; apparently it was a dumping hole for a latrine once. Apparently, dumping fecal waste falling from above into a slave’s cell was a mere matter of efficiency for the Drow who commanded here.

But these were not the Drow of Ryncletica’s kind. They were an otherworldly sort. Rather than meeting the challenges of Vulkoor, these Drow worshipped Lolth, the Spider Queen goddess.

Ordinarily, Ryncletica would respect Drow as Drow: Let the best man win, as Vulkoor would demand. But these were Drow of a different bent. They wanted domination. They ignored Vulkoor. And they chose to enslave even their own kind.

Ryncletica’s vows of law and order, combined with her personal distaste of spiders and the fact that one overgrown spider goddess was threatening to rip her home world into rocks for the Demonweb, gave her renewed assurance that these things that call themselves Drow were not worthy.

In the cell, the slaves inside gave little reaction to her falling from above, save to move away, closer to the rocks and bars of the cell’s interior. Ryncletica’s eyes were only visible to them, but she could see a few of them relax slightly as she lifted a single index finger to her covered mouth as a caution to stay quiet. The two Drow slaves in the cell narrowed their eyes in examination. She knew what they were thinking. Familiar form, yet not the same.

She pulled out her shortswords and slammed them into the cell door, letting her weapon’s many enchantments easily destroy the simple wards that kept the door magically sealed to hold the captives inside.

The hushed but tangible sounds of rushed footfalls came from ahead. “The door is open! Search for the slave that did this!” one of the Drow guards said. The others of the party scattered, searching the darkness and dank with their enhanced night-vision for the intruder, confident that they would find their prey.

From above, something disguised as just another stalactite fell towards a lone guard, green, icy Ninja Poison dropping from her outstretched swords…


 

Ryncletica may be level 30 but her power continues to grow amazingly well. So much so that she’s doing something only Szyncletica the star-thrower has done often: Soloing Epic Elite adventures.

That news might be a “meh” moment to a few of you that eat Epic Elite quests as snacks. But consider that I don’t use multiclassed characters. I’m using everything a single class offers, while synergizing Epic Destinies, feats, skills and gear as anyone else would do. Ryncletica has reached a personal pinnacle where the use of theatrical and deceptive tools as well as some of the better gear and training now raise her to a level none of my melee Monks have achieved.

For me, in the past, Epic Elite meant a very bloody fight, even with a full party. But now I know that the first and foremost requirement in entering EE is fortification beyond 150 and at least 500 HP. At 200+ fortification and 800ish HP,  I can withstand several 100 point critical hits without worry and need to pay attention only to Red Named and champions, who break those rules and most of my defenses.

The key to Ryncletica’s challenge (and successes, so far) is using the basics inherent in the class. Stealth. Quick strikes. Doublestrike. Techniques to disable and slay.

That is, most of her Heroic enhancements remain her fundamentals of attack, defense, and especially escape. Epic feats, destinies only improve the enhancement’s effectiveness.

Technique remains the prime skill. I don’t engage everything at once. I pick off the weakest and leave me plenty of time to pummel the toughest without any enemy reinforcements helping out. I’ll scatter the enemies, cause them to search for me. And when the moment is right. I strike.

So let’s break down the Epic Poison Master.

Offenses

Ryncletica is primarily a two-weapon melee fighter with the complete Two-Weapon Fighting line and the Epic Destiny feats Blinding Speed for permanent Haste and Perfect Two-Weapon Fighting for more doublestrike. She’s got 32% Doublestrike with current options. Every ki weapon she wields is a Vorpal weapon courtesy of Ninja Spy training.

Being Drow, like Szyncletica the Shuricannon, Ryn holds a powerful alternative to melee fighting when it is unsafe to engage an enemy at close range. As a melee fighter, her weaponry slices and dices rapidly, with large levels of ki generated by that. But she is also quite capable of taking out anything using her shuriken almost as rapidly as her swords, missing only some of the ranged/thrown feats to optimize that skill.

Ninja Poison is the central damage dealer. No matter what the weapon, Ninja Poison is delivered to any enemy except Poison-immunes (most demons, devils, constructs and undead). This damage-over-time effect accelerates her killing power, debuffs any Poison resistance by 100% and lasts longer than other DoTs.

Secondary damage comes from Sneak Attacks and any destiny training effects, which comes frequently as I bluff them with the Unyielding Strike attack. Unloading Ninja Poison via the Touch of Despair finisher also debuffs an enemy against the quintessential negative-energy attack, the Touch of Death.

As for weaponry, I’ve noted it before in a recent post. I’m using the strongest Venomous shortswords I have, both given Festival Icy Burst, used against most enemies. I change up weapons as necessary: two Elemental Fury swords for most elementals, two Thunder-Forged shortswords for DR-busting, or Epic Forester Brush Hooks for metalline/aligned bypassing against Maruts and pit fiends.

Defenses

Ryncletica now shows the most impressive defensive stats of any Monk I’ve made, more so than even my “Little Mountain” Shintao Monk, Lynncletica.

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Currently training the Unyielding Sentinel destiny, Ryncletica boasts the best defenses I’ve had on a Monk. She has a 97 PRR with 34% Dodge, 20% Concealment, 25% Incorporeality with 152 AC and 215 Fortification. All these numbers have saved her from devastating damage against Epic Elite Champions and some bosses, but that’s half the story.

Earth Stance gives +15 stacking PRR, and she wears the Outfit of the Celestial Guardian for +38 PRR by enhancement. Unyielding Sentinel’s Heed No Pain gives +30 PRR and some Insightful PRR bracers add another 15. By twisting the tier 2 ability Improved Combat Expertise from Legendary Dreadnought for +20 PRR, Ryn can reach 117 PRR in her current destiny. While in Grandmaster of Flowers to use ki for maximum offensive options (such as the crowd-destroying Everything is Nothing during trash-ridden raids such as “Fire on Thunder Peak”), the Standing with Stone ability and its +15 PRR will be combined with Improved Combat Expertise to reach 38 (Outfit) + 15 (Earth Stance) + 15 (Insightful bonus bracers) 15 (Standing with Stone)+ 20 = 103 PRR.

I did consider the Shintao Monk enhancement Iron Skin to give additional PRR, but it would take away from Ninja Spy’s Sneak Attack bonuses and Crippling Strike at tier 5 of its enhancements. The miss-chance defenses help more than additional PRR, anyway.

The Legendary Feat Scion of the Astral Plane raised her Dodge cap to 34%. With a Lesser Displacement item (three are available from high-end content), she can reach Dodge/Incorporeality/Concealment defenses of 34/25/25%. Using blinding techniques such as Flash Bangs give a brief 50% Concealment.

Tactics

Superheroes like the Batman or Black Widow are more than their weapons. They use their cunning to help fight enemies, even when outnumbered–provided they focus on keeping every else they fight busy, confused, off-balance, or ineffective.

A ninja is about deception and subtle attack, using stealth and non-damaging resources to move the enemy to where she wants them to be, or leveraging the enemy’s expected behavior to her advantage.

One game-changing Epic Destiny feat changed my fighting dynamic significantly: Dire Charge. This is a stunning ability that uses your highest ability score modifier +20 and any Stunning modifiers from gear (I use a Seal of House Dun’Robar).  The stun created by ramming into an enemy leaves nearby enemies helpless for 6 seconds, much like Stunning Fist,  but a mass effect. I eliminate them quickly as the combined Sense Weakness and No Mercy generate over 60% more damage with additional modifiers.

Often I’ll use distance to lure solitary enemies, using shuriken, and then use Dire Charge or the paralyzing Freezing the Lifeblood finisher to pick them off. Isolating enemies fits the ninja skill set but is also a safer option than charging into a heavily-armed group of CR 42+ enemies.

In the event I have to dive into a large fight where crowd control isn’t practical, such as the end-battle in “The Battle of Eveningstar,” I use my shuriken with a Celestia as the off-hand weapon that delivers area-of-effect fireballs and flame while I ran about, keeping the spawns down while concentrating on the boss. I often soften up champions, which frequently have attacks that bypass my strongest defenses, with ranged attacks.

More techniques include fighting when pulling isn’t an option. When a mob gathers up to surround me, I let them–and then throw a Flash Bang to stun and blind them. I can use Dire Charge then to stun a few longer and then kill them, or fade into stealth and regroup.

When the mob is too large for grinding them down, it’s the hate-magnet dummy created by the Diversion ability that can not only save me but a party as well. Often Orange and Red Named enemies aren’t pulled to the dummy, but their support will be, which will at least limit my fight, hopefully at some distance from the dummy, to a fewer number.

The essential objectives are the only items on the Iron Ninja’s playbook on Epic Elite. Most combat-oriented optionals are skipped for speed or avoided for safety. Likewise, it’s against the ninja way to slaughter boxes and barrels; breakable bonuses are skipped. These leave you vulnerable since enemies will hear your footfalls as you run around barrel-slaying.

But why talk about it? Let me show you how Ryncletica uses every trick she has to take on the hordes in the combat-heavy EE “House of Broken Chains.” House Avithoul’s guards are no slouches with many critical-hitting blademasters (often champions) to handle, and spiders about to throw me off my stealth game if I’m not prepared.

But playing Epic Elite requires you to be prepared. Perhaps not as crazy-prepared as the Batman, but similarly able to adjust to any scenario. In this quest, I learn quickly how to match muscle against muscle by creating an army of my own from House Avithoul’s resources.

The video will be closed-captioned in YouTube: Click on the CC button to view them.

Since this video, Ryn has completed two of the three Demonweb quests alone as well on EE. Whether she’ll try the enemy-zerging “Reclaiming the Rift,” I don’t know.

And now I’m considering if Ryncletica has the chops to pull off a melee-based solo Heroic Shroud like her star-throwing cousin. If I do so, I’ll let you know.

Kiri and Through a Mirror Darkly

My final stealth walkthrough within the murk of Wheloon Prison concludes with “Through a Mirror Darkly.”

More so than “Army of Shadow,” “Mirror” highly favors a stealth approach. I was able to retrieve most of the eight Orbs, needed to open the path to the boss, with no fighting. In fact, many enemies never knew I was there.

“Mirror” requires you to move through the Netherese headquarters using a mirror clickie that shunts you between the normal and Shadowfell dimensions. One advantage you gain in the use of the mirror is that, while it pulls you out of stealth, the mirror does not affect your Invisibility.

For a Ninja Spy with Shadow Veil (1 minute Invisibility and 25% Incorporeality) and high passive ki regeneration, this is ideal for moving into corner rooms, often filled with enemies, going invisible, using the mirror and sneaking to recover an orb and leaving a room without detection. You still need strong Hide and Move Silently skills to pull this off, otherwise, enemies close by may not see you but will certainly hear your footfalls, even in Sneak.

Moving about this way saved me once after materializing into a roomful of Howlers and their tender, bailing out before I became dog chow.

The boss fight works almost the same as “Army of Shadow,” in that the boss now moves between dimensions and sends minions at you as he leaves.

I changed the fight conditions by delivering heavy doses of Ninja Poison to DoT him while in the normal dimension. But when he switches to the other realm, I never follow him and let the Ninja Poison take points off of him. His Shadar-Kai minions on the Shadowfell side are more formidable than the normal humans I use to rebuild ki and charge up to poison the boss again once he returns.

The video is captioned as the others; click the CC if you don’t see them.

Kiri and Wheloon Prison, Part 4

Wuss.

Wuss.

Continuing our stealth walkthrough of the Wheloon Prison quests, “Army of Shadow” works similarly to “The Thrill of the Hunt.” Thankfully, no hordes of Howlers.

You have but one job: Kill the Shade General there, organizing the Netherese recruiting effort.

On entering, the NPCs are neutral, giving you plenty of time to note the reinforcements that will turn on you en masse after you tell the recruiter to suck ducks.

Kiricletica chose a third option, and it might be something only a Monk can do. After starting the NPC dialogue and returning to Sneak,  I complete the dialogue and use Abundant Step to dive out of range of the enemies. They stand there without an immediate target, allowing you to begin your infiltration plan.

You have a couple of tasks to open the way forward and up the Shade’s Tower where the boss awaits.

First, crash the amorous Netherese “auditions” being conducted by Darobad the bard-stud. Killing him allows you to open the tower key. The second task is to pull the gate lever, lowering a bridge to the tower. Rantha is an optional guard you can kill to gain a chest.

There are several optionals throughout, but I skip them to sneak up the tower. Shadows are generally my only foes as I make my way up.

General Marthir is a wuss. As I do with most other red-named bosses, I use generous amounts of Ninja Poison to DoT him to death. I poisoned him so thoroughly that he died a few seconds after going inactive to let me whack at his pet Nightcrawler.

As before, captions are included; simply click the CC button if they don’t show.

Kiri and Wheloon Prison, Part 3

Howlers look as horrible as they are dangerous, especially in groups.

Howlers look as horrible as they are dangerous, especially in groups.

This third installment in using stealth in the Wheloon Prison series makes many a player cry. It’s “The Thrill of the Hunt.

One word: Howlers. This otherworldly dog-like creatures gang up on you, stick you with stacking howler quills that damage your HP, and create a strange yelp that causes a stacking debuff against your WIS–a particular danger to Monks and other WIS-based classes. Characters with a normally low WIS could quickly find themselves left Helpless and unable to defend themselves.

This time, unlike the first and second quests, Kiricletica goes in alone; no hirelings. Her only central objectives are to get a key to access the boss, and then kill him. A prime quest for a Ninja Spy or a resourceful Rogue Assassin.

Getting to this quest is the second worst challenge for many players in exploring the backstabbing denizens in the town-turned-prison. When you enter the zone, the quest entrance is actually immediately to your right, but it’s behind a gate that can only be opened from the other side. If you are part of a party and have one or more people who can sneak there to reduce fighting time and resources, let them make their way around to open the gate for those less-adventurous in your party. Often there are red-named beholders, night hags or even an encounter boss near the entrance. I’d advise you to just get inside the quest.

Sneaking works for infiltration through most of the quest, but there are Shadows that sense your presence. While you’re in Sneak, you may see the “Eye” appear over you, indicating you are in line-of-sight of something. The problem is that the Shadows, typed as undead creatures, are invisible until you make yourself known. Be mindful in many places where swarms of Shadows will jump you.

The quest begins with a Shadar-Kai and Netherese mage bickering over how their Shadar-Kai leader (Karleth) is totally bat-guano crazy, even for a Netherese agent. Once you move past them, you find yourself in a narrow hallway with four rooms, all doors closed. Ahead is a locked door going deeper. A stealth master can easily enter each room and rummage through a table in each room for a key to use, leaving any Shadar-Kai inside each room unawares. A Rogue Assassin should be able to simply pick the door lock. If not, that Jeweled Key is required.

You’ll find the sadistic Karleth mewing with faux lamenting on how he regrets using his howlers to gnaw his Cormyr magistrate prisoners to bits. The first to stop is a single howler, Kryll (above). Howlers are best killed with ranged attacks but with care you can just hack them up before their quills or WIS debuff becomes a serious problem against a single dog. You’ll gain a chest and some XP by saving the first magistrate.

Moving on, there are Shadar-Kai patrolling through the halls, often in stealth, along with some Shadows. They’re often too bunched up to distract away, but you should be able to take them out provided you change up your attack if one or more pull out their spinning chain attack, which damages and debuffs.

A second larger room has Karleth changing his terror target to you, but this time there are more howlers. This time, their combined WIS debuff is highly dangerous to low-WIS characters, and not a walk in the park for higher-WIS characters. Howlers have no particular immunities, so blinding them, using Solid Fog, or other control techniques may help a larger party. In Kiri’s case, she sliced and diced, using a Ninjutsu skill to mass negative-level the mob.

A few places offer a chance to use a Flaming Sphere to lure enemies away from tight spots to move forward without fighting. But if you reveal yourself at nearly any location, Shadows will take advantage. By the time you reach the second and last shrine, there are several rooms you can search to find Kuttar or Yzthmeth , red-named Shadar-Kai that drop a gold key when dead. You’ll only find one or the other, and the rooms either might inhabit are random.

With the gold key, it’s the boss fight. As you enter, a stealth master should go into Sneak immediately without moving and invisible if possible. Approach Karleth, start the NPC dialogue but return to Sneak as you click-through the selections. When Karleth goes hostile, head to the back of the hapless prisoner’s cage in Sneak, to keep the howlers from being lured to you, and fight Karleth there. Kiri can’t save the prisoner (this requires a Rogue or Artificer) and wouldn’t try if she could: The howlers will be overwhelming even for a full party.

When Karleth dies, the quest is complete. Your end chest spawns right by the howler cages. Kiri uses a trick to loot the chest and escape out the door you entered to fight the boss.

Kiri gets to use more ninja and stealth tricks as she’s tasked to kill another Netherese leader in “Army of Shadow,’ next time.

Captions are included; click the CC button on the YouTube toolbar if you don’t see them.

 

Kiri and Wheloon Prison, Part 2

In this second installment, Kiricletica enters “A Lesson in Deception,” the second of the five-quest Wheloon Prison series.

Like the first, “Friends in Low Places,” this quest requires some fighting to proceed. But that doesn’t mean your characters have to fight on the enemy’s terms. Here, I’m able to use stealth with more tactical effect.

You start with greeting several NPCs whose sole purpose is to get captured so you can save them from a snarky Netherese mage. Then again, have we yet met a non-snarky Netherese mage?

After the building collapses near the entrance, a mob chases you down. Using stealth, you can maneuver away and use a single footstep to lure and dispatch enemies one at a time.

In the alleys are several squads you must dispatch to open a couple of gates that lead you to the sewers. I sneak behind some camping enemies and, without moving, kill each one of them as they stare away or sit. They simply won’t move or react to your presence unless you cause a glancing blow, make a footfall, or get in their line-of-sight.

In the sewers, I use a combination of quick movement and ninja invisibility to use the two levers that clear the way out of the sewer–without having to fight the many guards that suddenly appear at each one. You know how the Batman seems to vanish when you glance away for just a second? I managed to do that. Twice.

Once out of the sewers, no kills are required except at the last gate. Your only shrine is behind a guarded door. As with all alternate paths that could save another poor innocent, using this shrine puts you at risk at losing an ally–and the extra chest you get for saving all your allies.

I use a hireling, parked entirely through the quest until the end-fight, to create a hate-magnet to allow me to kill off the orange-named mage, kick away the ladders that bring reinforcements, and then finish off the red-named boss.

Captions are included–be sure to click the CC button to read them.

The last three quests will not require a hireling. Next installment: “The Thrill of the Hunt.”

Kiri and the Wheloon Prison, Part 1

ninjaWork is murderously long and my game time is proportionally less, among other personal challenges with the family. I wish I could go back to my halcyon days of youth when I posted more frequently.

Still, posting something once every two weeks at the latest is better than nothing at all. And, I’ve been saving up.

Update 28 and the Night Revels event brought a few but intriguing new items for players to enjoy. In the next posts, I’m going to show you how one new item makes a difference in stealth gaming. It’s the Long Broom of Mystery.

Teacher Saekee is familiar with it as he’s the progenitor of “The Flaming Sphere scroll Fan Club” on the DDO forums. He learned that Flaming Sphere is an incredible hate-magnet that lures enemies from a wide distance and gathers them around it. It’s a great tool to move mobs away from switches or tight passageways. Like Charm or Sap, however, any aggression to anything near the Sphere and enemies will ignore the Sphere and attack you. Now any non-arcane or low-UMD character can make a distraction. The twist is that you still need good Hide/Move Silently skills to walk past the curious enemies.

I wanted as well to enjoy the soloing adventures of Kiricletica, still in her second life at level 17. She takes on the entire Wheloon Prison chain on Heroic Hard difficulty as a demonstration, starting with “Friends in Low Places.”

Now “Friends” isn’t a stealth-dominant quest. You must fight through this to clear out enemies that attack the camps. I decided to add Isadora the Cleric, as her Blade Barrier will add some crowd control that lures enemies to her while inflicting damage where I can mop up, especially at the nasty end-fight where a red-named enemy keeps a series of respawning mobs coming until she dies. I generally don’t use hirelings with Kiricletica, respecting my own self-imposed solo parameters. But the end-fight of “Friends” is relentless, exceeding Kiri’s Single Weapon Fighting. She’s very good in escaping a horde as large as that, perhaps even luring the red-named away to fight her alone. But for brevity in the video, I opted to use a hireling. I’m hireling-less in the latter 3 videos.

Each of the videos highlights the central objectives. I tended to avoid the optionals for brevity.

Captions are included. Be sure to click the “CC” button on the toolbar to see them.

Here’s part 1. Next time: “A Lesson in Deception.”

Kiri and the Lesser of Two Evils

Completed the first part of “Temple of Elemental Evil” with Kiricletica in her usual solo mode.

I’m keeping things spoiler-free so you can enjoy it’s content.

I wanted to complete it without any hints from the DDO Wiki or anywhere else. Thankfully, it wasn’t very hard to figure out.

I began to understand the mechanics quickly on stumbling over the guards of the first key. After that short fight, I found another Temple key, covered in a force field. Two other Temple keys weren’t too hard to locate, but I realized I had to find a specific place to remove a ward off one Temple key.

Dozens of enemies packed corridors in most inconvenient locations. Most doors would lead you to unoccupied areas, but there was always that one door where you pretty much greeted a mob of 10 or more startled and enraged cultists. Often I threw a Flash Bang and left the scene fast. Flash Bangs saved me several times, including one Red Dungeon Alert where I tumbled into three rooms and a hallway of angered cultists. To remove that DA, I had to go back and hunt those guys down until the DA stopped.

Finding the boss’s lair was straightforward and the boss fight itself wasn’t too hard, after I performed the same trick I used in one temple on one of the four minions. When the wizard decided to come down from his perch, he screwed himself as I pounced on him, applying enough Ninja Poison in him to drop an elephant.

I did use stealth through most of it to avoid a lot of fighting. That was a good thing, because I would be still fighting by the time you read this. Got it done in a bit over 2 hours.

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Did I mention I got a Discreet bonus in completing the first temple?

That’s now added to the DDO Wiki as you read this. Still, if killing “only” 133 enemies earns “Discreet,” then how many damned cultists are in this place?

Kiricletica didn’t want to find out.

Next time: Finding out what the “Devious” bonus might be on Part 1, and starting an exploration of Part 2.

Or, taking Szyncletica the star-master inside Part 1 on Epic Normal (it’s also a CR 30 quest).

Oh, when you can find the audio commentaries throughout the quest, do listen in as they quite enjoyable. The reason that Wil Wheaton was happy to be the DM voice was that he’d apparently played ToEE in its original tabletop version, but also speaks, among other subjects, why he enjoyed playing a squishy wizard over some hulking barbarian or fighter as a 98-pound weakling of a kid.

Kiri and Lots of Elemental Evil

My hands were full throughout this week with a major project and reorienting myself to DDO again. I spent a lot of time working on the rebuilt Pynthetica the Zen Master with very promising results (more on her very soon).

But after the kerfuffle on stealth I made recently, I decided to have some fun with Kiricletica recently to get at least a taste of the newest quest, “The Temple of Elemental Evil.”

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Kiricletica is my strongest stealth-master at level 14, so she’s over-level as she entered on Elite, but rumors told me that such advantages in level weren’t going to matter much.

They were right.

On first glance, the place felt massive, even more so than “Haunted Halls of Eveningstar” and “Thunderholme,” two places I love to explore with stealth characters. After saying hi to the NPC in the center hall, I took the southwest door to the tunnels below.

Every interception and most rooms are just packed–packed!–with orcs and human cultists and more orcs and undead. One wrong move and it’s Dungeon Alert party time, and I would be the hors d’oeuvre.

Being a ninja, Kiri was able to herself invisible, strolling or leaping past the mobs without detection, most of the time.

About a dozen orcs made the fatal mistake to find me, so I moved them to a less obvious section of hallway to dispatch them without making a scene.

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toee2bI managed to get pretty far inside, eventually finding the Earth Barrier but not yet finding the key or whatever I was looking for. Did find a lockbox with some gilly mushrooms, though.

Deeper in, there are more things out to kill you. Before the server crashed (it’s been having a very hard time these past two weeks, at least the fourth time) and we were all kicked out, I found a spiked trap pit near a gated area.

And lots and lots and lots of lots of orcs.

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I know this place is very, very huge, so I plan to break up any exploration notes into this Temple, writing tips as I go, into bite-size pieces, or video, or something that doesn’t turn posts into chapters from Pilgrim’s Progress or other doorstops.

I hope that I can find each of the elemental keys without a lot of fighting, just to say I could.

And Wil Wheaton did a fine job with the dungeonmaster work.

Stand and Deliver

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I’ve enjoyed my new Deepwood Stalker to the point where I’ve “hyper-leveled” her with all the holiday bonus XP, VIP and play-through bonuses over the last few weeks.

Artemistika (or Misty, as one guildie calls her) has everything trained for best tactics and damage with her bows.

Once I corrected a bad feat choice, choosing Improved Critical: Piercing and not IC: Ranged, and once Aerenal Grace (DEX to damage) was added in, Misty’s DPS began to rise. With Improved Archer’s Focus in the mix and one special ability, the damage is absolutely astounding.

Others disagree on using Aerenal Grace, as noted in this recent thread. They recommend certain gear but also a multiclass format. The only thing they all agree on is getting a Silver Longbow–the one bow that Misty didn’t have at hand in her Heroic life, having acquired one just recently.

I disagree with the thread’s conclusions. I suspect they aren’t taking advantage of the class role and playing it as DPS build, ignoring that managing aggro is the key to the Deepwood Stalker build. This Ranger is as challenged to deliver powerful attacks as an Assassin if they cannot position themselves without attention from the enemy.

That thread on an Elven build also noted the addition of Ten Thousand Stars as a secondary DPS option to go with Manyshot. In short, the posters essentially recommend a monkcher build. I don’t think that’s necessary.

The Deepwood Stalker is meant to stand still and create cumulatively powerful sustained damage with plenty of skills. I had no problems with this build in Heroic once I understood this point, especially after aggro-management training I gained through another Sneak Attack-enabled character, my Assassin, Sukitetica.

I’m having great success with my Elven Ranger because I train hirelings to help me master the art of ranged aggro control.

A Quick Heroic Life

Around level 16, I decided to whip up a Black Dragonscale Robe, rather than it’s light armor counterpart, on the suggestion of a commenter to help balance Misty’s AC with her ever-growing DEX in Heroic. It also allows me to consider a Zen Archer or Shuricannon 2.0 track for her later, using that robe.

Black Dragonscale armors are known for their Haste Guard and armor-piercing qualities that reduce enemy fortification. My understanding is that, generally, this effect stacks with other fortification-reducing effects. I wore this through level 22, noted below.

I trained in much of the good stuff from the Stalker tree, including Heavy Draw, Improved Archer’s Focus, Killer, and Leg Shot. I might tweak these a bit to get the last special shot, Head Shot, but it seemed a bit random to be successful based on the description.

At Level 20 and Above

Misty’s now at level 23. She’s trained two-thirds of Shiradi Champion, a bit of Primal Avatar for Rejuvenation Cocoon, reached enough training to open the martial ED trees and used a Key of Destiny to immediately open up my second preferred ED, Shadowdancer. I want to have this trained by the time I hit my first Epic raid for greater defenses and Sneak Attack damage, with dominating a high-CR enemy for a powerful aggro management option.

At 45 DEX in Shiradi, Misty is not to be underestimated but still has room to grow that ability. If I could afford a +5 DEX tome, I’d add that in, too, but that will have to come some other time. A tome with only +3 is the best I can do right now. Getting Yugo potions to boost this up will have to wait. Attempts to start this are challenging due to aggro management overload (see below).

I still need Unyielding Sentinel’s Brace for Impact trained in to survive an EE strike with higher fortification, and have a small collection of Fortifying items for adding in Exceptional Fortification. With more training, I want 180% or higher fortification to survive while not moving. Since my AC is practically meaningless at 53, fortification and miss-chance effects are priority, next to tweaking my hirelings for the best aggro solution.

The nicest gift came through a visit to the Magma Forge by Szyncletica: A tier-0 Thunder-Forged Longbow. It’s my standard weapon now. After a run through a few Storm Horns quests on Heroic Elite, I was blessed by the guild master with a +5 Anarchic Longbow of Disruption. Being of the Neutral persuasion (after being so used to being Lawful as a Monk), I can equip it without any neg-level issues. It’ll have to do while I work on getting a Green Steel triple-positive bow.

Some very, very hard grinding, through three tours of the “Druid’s Deep” chain and hunts through the King’s Forest and the High Road netted enough Commendations of various types to buy the three items that form the Woodsman’s Guile set from the Druid trader.

But there’s something more to Misty’s success than mere ED training and new gear.

Badass Hirelings

Yes, I said “badass” and “hireling” in the same phrase.

Since level 20, when not with other guildmates, I’m accompanied by two specific hirelings: Albus Gladwin, a level 20 Favored Soul with Death Ward, and my level 20 Onyx Panther.

Now, that doesn’t sound like much until you add in two important bits of training I’ve added in, and mentioned before.

  • Augment Summoning feat: Your summoned creatures, charmed minions, and hirelings have +4 to all ability scores, increased health (amount equal to what the toughness feat would grant: Total hit dice +2), and increased fortification (+50%).
  • Harper Leadership: Your hirelings, summoned, and charmed creatures gain [+2/+3/+4] to all ability scores.

So my hirelings have +8 to all abilities, more fortification and HP. Combined with Ranger buffs to protect them against the usual elemental damage, Albus and the Panther make for an excellent, resilient and controllable aggro team. I can boost both up a bit more for crunch times using:

  • Heroic Companion (Harper tree): Action Boost: Grants an ally +0.25/+0.5/+1[W], +2/+4/+6 to hit and saving throws, 0/+2%/+4% Dodge and 0/0/+10 Physical Resistance Rating. (Cooldown: 30 seconds).
  • Animal Growth (Ranger spell): Grants an Animal, Magical Beast, or Vermin a +4 size Bonus to Strength, a +4 Size Bonus to Constitution, and a -2 penalty to Dexterity.

Albus gets the Heroic Companion buff while the Panther enjoys the Animal Growth buff, boosting STR and CON stats it can change for a +12 ability score buff for the cat.

And when I need a wild-weasel aggro magnet that always protects me (at the cost of attracting some aggro), I have a Shard of Xoriat to summon a squishy Taken, illitid, Evil Eye or beholder. These summons also gain the benefits of my Augment Summoning/Harper Leadership powers and any buffs I give them, making them far stronger and durable.

The result? A very durable team for me to stand and deliver punishing damage as Archer’s Focus increases and critical damage of 200, 400, 600 and even some 1200 hits fly from my bow.

Sure, DPS is important. But DPS in combination with keeping enemies at bay while you deliver the damage means sustained DPS. That is, the ability to continually shoot and shoot without any retaliation from enemies because of strong aggro management and being interrupted. For a Stalker, the Archer’s Focus magnifies my competence bonuses to attack, up to 25 times.

Aggro management beats high DPS. Even if you’re using a masterwork bow, a strong aggro solution keeps the enemies off you, no matter how terrible your DPS may be. That’s not only a resource saver but a life saver.

On the contrary, when (not if) your high DPS isn’t high enough without aggro management, something will turn on you fast for generating damage on them. And that something obviously had higher HP than your bow could remove. That also means that the monster likely has higher attack potential than you can withstand, and you’re a dead adventurer.

Attack so hard that the enemy can’t turn on you until it’s too late, and stay far away, and you got the gist of Misty’s fight strategy.

Misty manages crowd control so well that I use Manyshot only on occasion. I’ll kick it on with a solitary boss that my team has locked down (more on that team in a moment) or in a crisis where a lot of trash appears and it’s important they are dispatched before the aggro team and I are overwhelmed.

Without Manyshot, I can take down a training dummy with 150+ normal damage per shot once I debuff it with a Deepwood Stalker core enhancement:

  • Mark of the Hunted: Expend a use of Animal Empathy. Your currently selected enemy receive -10% Fortification, -10 Armor Class, -10 Spell Resistance, and suffers a -4 penalty to all ability scores for 3 minutes.

As noted before, a Deepwoodsman generates more and more damage as their Archer’s Focus builds up. Add in the debuffing effects of being Marked and the damage becomes very severe. When I activate this ability against anything, my damage skyrockets, especially if I’m got my posse in the right place to keep aggro on the targets.

The Mark lasts for three minutes, more than long enough to destroy just about anything I target, even a boss, although I’m sure some red-names won’t be as damaged by getting Marked.

Aggro Management, Woodsman Style

This process isn’t very different from how I’ve applied hirelings with Sukitetica, except that Misty is trying to stay still and continually fire on enemies kept under aggro by the hirelings.

Here’s my usual attack plan:

  • I’m sneaking at all times when scouting. Hireling party is buffed, including Freedom of Movement.
  • I send in the hireling attack team against a mob.
  • For larger and stronger mobs, I tell the Panther to Intimidate them, which works very well in keeping the mob’s attention. The hireling’s buffed nature makes them durable even when surrounded against small to medium mobs of CR 25-30.
  • I begin to pick off the weakest enemies, letting my Archer’s Focus build to 25, where my damage becomes powerful, with 75-100 damage per normal strike and more with critical hits and special attacks. If all is going well, I never move. I move the hirelings so I keep my damage primed while standing still, the hallmark of the Stalker build.
  • I back off attack until the hirelings start attacking on an enemy and then join in so that I limit the enemy’s chance to turn aggro on me before it’s too late for them. The farther I’m away, the better.
  • Should any enemies come at me, they get hit by a Sniper Shot to bluff them about, a Leg Shot to cripple them, or I move briefly into the mob and tell the Panther to Intimidate my attackers to pull them back into the attack fold.
  • I’ll refocus the hireling’s attack to Champions last, or next to last if there is an orange- or red-named boss in the mix.
  • Champions and named monsters get Marked to debuff them, increasing my damage to them by about 20-30%. I’ll also use the Pin ability to hold enemies in place briefly.

The results in many fights are impressive on Heroic Elite to most Epic Hard fights. The hirelings last a terribly long time, even when surrounded, while I pick off enemies with near-impunity. The key is to wait for the right moment: an important quality as a good hunter. Once the hirelings have aggro, I’m open to shooting.

The hirelings are beginning to strain now against the Drow in Epic Hard, however, as these guys hit hard with fortification-reducing attacks, Drow poison and more.

Aggro management is also difficult against fast-moving or teleporting enemies, such as devils and demons, some of which also are harder for any ally to Intimidate. I can’t easily keep aggro in the many quests in the Devil Battlefield as yet, so I’ll have to go in over-level and with a larger party to make those happen on Elite difficulty to get my Yugo favor.

I like Albus for his Death Ward, but on level 24 I may look to another Epic hireling that can heal himself and a fellow aggro-magnet while still dishing out damage.

When in a live party, Misty is more formidable because I’m often exploiting the fact that most players just go HULK SMASH on everything, generating aggro so strongly that I just sit back and shoot.

To improve my hireling’s survival as I reach into Epic Hard, a bit more Primal Avatar training is in order. There’s the following abilities I’ll want to Twist into Misty while in Shiradi mode. The second of the three is most appealing.

  • Friends of Nature (Tier 1): You call forth a small nature animal, providing a bonus to nearby allies. Duration: 3 minutes. Cooldown: 3 minutes. (I choose the Frog for +2 PRR to my NPC minions)
  • Natural Shielding (Tier 2): Your summoned and charmed pets, hirelings, and monsters gain +[30/60/100] maximum HP and +[10/20/30] PRR. Rank 3: Natural Creatures also gain evasion: When they make a successful Reflex save to avoid damage, they suffer no damage instead of half damage. (Natural Creatures include: Animals, Elementals, Magical Beasts, Plants, & Vermin)
  • Summer Smoke (Tier 3): Toggle: Nearby allies have a small chance to deal [5/10/15]d20 extra fire damage with their attacks.

The last two require a crapload of Twist of Fate unlocking that may not be likely, so I would have to have Primal Avatar as the active destiny and Twist any other abilities over. I might buy a Twist of Fate tome to get that second slot unlocked as soon as possible for a tier 1 while using two earned points for upgrade the tier 1 slot to use Shiradi as dominant–preferred since I have a lot of extra DEX from it.

Extra credit if using Primal Avatar could come from:

  • Autumn Harvest (Tier 4): You and nearby allies have a 5% chance to heal [10/15/20]d10 when nearby enemies die. Not affected by spell power.
  • Summon Dryad Elder (Tier 4): Summon a Dryad Elder. She uses her magic for damage spells as well as support and healing (Regenerate on self, Death Ward on group, Mass Cure Critical Wounds on others – heals enemies as well.)

Fury of the Wild has one ability I could Twist as well:

  • Primal Scream (Tier 1): Nearby allies are raged gaining +[3/4/5] morale bonus to Strength and Constitution, and suffer a -2 penalty to armor class. Nearby enemies take up to [10/20/30]d20 sonic damage. [3/4/5] uses per rest. Duration 3 minutes per use.

So, with that Fury ability, the hirelings get a +13 minimum boost to STR and CON. The Panther sees a +17 to STR and CON. That’s a tough little kitty.

There might even be an Epic Bard hireling that could pump up the numbers further. Doesn’t seem practical for me to look into Fatesinger abilities. I’d lose on the DEX abilities as I would with hanging around in Primal Avatar.

I’m not optimistic, but if these abilities can help an Epic hireling or summoned creature stay healthy and fighting long enough at Epic Hard or harder in combination with my Heroic stuff, I might have something. I still need to research any other EDs or feats that might add to allies. Suggestions welcome.

In any case, I need to fully train both Shiradi and Primal Avatar to qualify for the Epic Destiny feat, Doubleshot, by level 28.

More Invisible than Invisibility

What’s also notable are Misty’s stealth skills. I’ve added skill points to Hide and Move Silently throughout Heroic training, and she gained a few more points to this through her enhancement trees and some Shiradi training.

The result is astounding. With ship buffs and the Woodsman’s Guile set equipped, Misty sits at about 75 Hide/Move Silently. about 10 points better than any of my ninjas. She can boost both to 85 or so with the spells Camouflage and Pass Without Trace.

And as a Ranger, Misty has the Hide in Plain Sight feat that adds more H/MS and reduces slows Spot bonus, so she can move much closer to enemies before their Spot bonus can lock on. That’s helpful since Misty’s sneaking speed is only two-thirds that of any of my ninjas, despite training in Faster Sneaking and wearing Striding gear.

Generally, once you get any skill to 75 or more, I think you’re good for Epic Elite stuff that involves that skill.

But I don’t know if Misty or the hirelings will cut it at that level just yet. Hide/Move Silently are tactical, not defensive skills. Short of the Panther’s Intimidate, Misty has very few ways to shake off or escape enemies that come at her before she can kill them.

The skill of my little hunting party has made for the fastest explorer completion of the Underdark. It took perhaps under 2 hours to complete my map with these two hirelings at my side. The downside to Misty is that she has no way to save any collared slaves. None of her skills allow a safe removal of collars in wilderness and quest areas.

Misty also tends to take spell wards completely in the face without a Rogue in party. The ordinary Evasion feat with only a 30 or so Reflex save won’t do it against saving from harsh damage from any spell ward.

Pushing the Limits in “What Goes Up”

Trying to keep a streak, I sent Misty and friends into the Heroic Elite “What Goes Up.”

Mind you, I wasn’t very optimistic on this attempt. I took the highly formidable Szyncletica in there at level 25 and got hammered despite her skill. In this quest, you’re besieged by an army. Even with a full party, it hurts. But I love this adventure: the music, the setting, the stakes, the challenges–everything.

At the start, aggro management became a bother. When there are more than ten or so enemies, keeping aggro with a small team becomes very challenging because some enemies tend to split off, especially in tight places. I had to time my exit from stealth very, very carefully or aggro control was lost. Thankfully, the hirelings were durable and, with some close calls, we made it out of the orc and frost giant zones.

The damned Shadar-kai are my team’s worst problem to-date. You can easily guess why. When some start spinning with that Spiked Chain Attack, the low-DEX hirelings get debilitated quickly. Misty can avoid that damage thanks to her high DEX modifier, but needs to relocate the hirelings fast if chains get zipped about. Only when I can cripple one do I have a chance to put many holes in them while my aggro team is forced into disarray.

Because of the Shadar-kai reinforcements, completing the second level where Orphaun was held took more care. With an adjustment to strategy, we did clear away much of the control rooms, found Orphaun and eliminated the mage and his minions that were activating the mythallar.

ScreenShot01511Our party met its Waterloo at the top of the glacier. It was a valiant fight, but the zerg rush of orcs with supporting battle healers were far too many to keep in an aggro check.

Perhaps if I could max out the party with a high-DPS Rogue and Paladin, we might have stood a chance. But Albus had quickly drained his mana after the 2nd wave from the battlements near the glacier entrance.

I began battle healing both hirelings myself while picking off what I could before we lost aggro control completely. I’ll have my hands full by creating two aggro teams that way. With several Gold Seals (if I can’t convince guildmates to join me) it’s also a bit of an expensive challenge.

I am not finished yet. Short of a live party, Misty is going to dial in those Netherese and meet this challenge. Just as with Szyn, playing “What Goes Up” feels like an epic adventure and dares you to challenge it. The Netherese must fall.

A Little Update: My level 98 guild also possesses two other ship buffs that give a total additional +5 to summoned/hireling abilities. Misty’s now training Primal Avatar to add in more protections and a Dryad summon I look forward to seeing in action.

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.

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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.

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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.

Stealth Ops: Chains of Flame

M_walkthrough_chains_of_flame

Use this map from the DDO Wiki.

Continuing my series on quests that favor a stealthy approach, we explore tactics to use against a very formidable Gnoll stronghold in “Chains of Flame, ” one of the three flagging quests in the Sands of Menechtarun series.

“Chains” can suck on so many levels, literally. Like “Spies in the House,” “Chains” is a multi-level adventure where your quest map is mostly worthless. Being pelted by gnoll archers, fried by elementals or sliced into bits, pelted and fried by numerous traps is the name of the game here. And you’ll need to free at least 15 slaves by speaking with them.

But a stealthy approach will help you infiltrate the fortress where you can better control when and how you attack, and especially control if you’re attacked. Beefing up your ranged attack options isn’t a bad idea for careful use in a few locations.

“Chains” comes in a Heroic and Epic version. The pathing is identical.

With a recent update, “Chains” offers a boatload of XP, making the trip very worthwhile.

Soloing this adventure bites with all the inevitable fighting. Stealth Team Six mode is recommended.

Preparation

Even with an experienced party hacking everything to bits, “Chains” is a very long quest; set aside at least 1 hour. With an experienced guide, it takes about 15 minutes from the Sands desert entrance to make your way to the quest entrance alone.

As with most stealth adventures, hirelings and summoned creatures draw unnecessary attention and may get you killed more than helping you. Be as self-sufficient as you can with self-healing options. Keep any hirelings on passive mode and stationary at all times, and take advantage of their new instant-teleport ability to skip them over deadly places if you’re using them as a healerbot or Divine Vitality fountain.

There are only two distant and hard to access shrines, so resource management is critical. Most importantly, carry Feather Fall, always wear Deathblock for frequent encounters with gnoll mages, and Death Ward when facing superior mages and for the end-fight.

Also carry plenty of Remove Curse and Disease solutions, have at least some Lesser Restoration options, but most importantly carry Fire Resistance and Protection from Fire solutions at hand by the end-fight, as original guild ship amenity fire protections wane after 1 hour if you haven’t a Ranger or other mage in the party.

An optimal stealth party has a Rogue Assassin (assassinations/trapping) or Rogue Mechanic (superior trapping), Ninja Spy (tactical kills, ranged thrown attacks), Ranger (Resists and Camouflage, ranged missile attack) and Bard (buffs, especially Invisibility, Blur, and Haste, charms or Domination, and in the worst case, crowd control). Fewer party members can be more beneficial in some places, but more members naturally help in the expected firefights.

Don’t enter this quest with a weak ranged solution. To lower your resource consumption, you may find that eliminating some attacks from above will make your mission easier before you reach that level. Or, if your party is a mix of agile and non-agile characters, ranged support is essential to save non-agiles from excessive damage.

It’s All About Keys, Slaves and One Lever

Take advantage of the quest article on the DDO Wiki. It will save you time and grief. Maps will detail the proper path that avoids unnecessary backtracking or fighting.

To avoid being redundant, I’m only noting special tactics you can use at certain locations, rather than discussing the pathing. I like to use the wiki’s block diagram map, shown here.

Your primary mode in stealth ops here is infiltration. You will be seen. But you want to minimize your exposure to snipers and mages at all times while transitioning outside of the fortress, along bridges, catwalks and outer paths.

Before opening that first door at quest start, buff up. There aren’t very many “safe” areas (at least, until you clear them), and spells can make noise that attract attention. Park and make passive any hirelings here; most of them cannot sneak and will draw fire that will reveal you. Using uncontrollable summoned creatures is a very bad idea that might increase your aggro and waste resources.

On every door, always stand to its side to avoid being seen by others ahead of the door.

Your mission begins over a long bridge over a big pool of lava. All above you are gnoll snipers with high Spot, ready to pincushion you. In harder difficulties and certainly Epic play, the bridge may be trapped and may have mephits. Stay in Sneak as you move across this first bridge. Halfway across, gnolls will burst through the door ahead. Sneak back to the start’s interior as they’ll stop at that halfway point. Then launch a ranged attack to pull and slay the gnolls inside the start area while keeping the archers outside unawares.

The first section requires you to go to the left doors several times to gain three keys before you can enter the locked door at the right of the first intersection. From there, the path is generally hard to mess up. If you can’t open a door, you’re missing a key.

Treat every exterior path as a sniper kill-zone. There will almost always be snipers above you. As you rise up the fortress, mages and snipers will appear on your level. Never exit without being in Sneak.

If you have one in party, keep your Rogue out in front, not your kill team. There are several deadly fire, spike, spinning blade and swiping blade traps in a few locations.

Cul-de-Sacs

Many intersections will have cul-de-sac doors where other Overseers (holders of keys) reside with guards and some prisoners. Often these levels will have archers and fighters and mages, but also more backup above you, raining down death.

After eliminating Overseers, freeing prisoners and gathering keys, be sure to search out any levels that open paths ahead in the cave. Chests may also be found in these cul-de-sacs, but one will be locked and require a Rogue’s handiwork or a Wizard’s Knock spell.

Shrines, Slaves and Optionals

There are only two shrines. The first you’ll find on your path after opening locked door #1 at intersection #1 on the wiki map. The second requires you to lower a drawbridge and clear enemies guarding it around intersection #9 on the wiki map. Because of this, casters must be careful not to power-cast and have mana reserves if you choose a higher aggressive posture.

Saving Gaspar the Dwarf near intersection #2 requires a high Bluff to cause a fight. If you haven’t a Bluff option in your dialogue with the ogre mage, you can’t save Gaspar. Provoking the mage gives you two keys; one to the Stolen Treasury Key and another door key. Don’t save the dwarf and you’ll still get the pass key but lose the XP and the Stolen Treasury Key. Paradoxically, a Rogue with a high Bluff also likely has a high Open Lock and doesn’t need the Treasury Key.

By intersection 6, you can rescue a minotaur from his fire elemental guards for XP and a chest.

You will certainly find 15 slaves on your path, a required objective, but it’s the 16th slave (whomever your party finds next) that gives you the required Royal Firebrand Key, which opens the chamber of the boss at the very top. So always free the slaves, but remind your party that the 16th slave will give that Firebrand Key to one member of your party, and they have to live long enough to open the boss door. If that party member gets separated or, worse, dies in the lava pool, that key may be irretrievable and the quest must be restarted.

Observant stealth teams might take it as challenge to find every slave. This requires patience, stealth insertion, jumps to areas off the path, even a quick swim through lava if Dimension Door isn’t handy. Without D-Door, I’d strongly recommend that only a Monk at character level 12 perform this, as they will have Abundant Step. An agile Human with the Dragonmark of Passage can whip up a D-Door, too. Otherwise, don’t try to complete this or rescue is impossible.

Getting access to the second shrine near intersection #9 isn’t required, but there are slaves nearby it.

The last locked door has Erath the Blinded. Any party member with Blindness Immunity equipped can take the halfling’s curse, where it will have no effect. If you have a cleric hireling in your party, they’ll likely to remove the curse permanently. Remove Blindness potions, however, do not work against this special curse.

The End-Fight

There are two red-named bosses to slay. One is an efreet that enjoys frying anyone he sees. Kill him first if you have non-Evasion members in your party. The gnoll boss is mostly a fighter with Displacement ability, a Stunning Blow attack and a few other divine attack tricks, but is mostly a bag of HP. He’s often guarded by two Firebrand mages.

Unload all the damage you have throughout this fight. A chest or two awaits you. Picking up the Orb of the Efreet from the left side of the throne ends the quest.

On returning to town, you must speak with the quest giver to gain the Orb of the Djinn (not the “Orb of the Efreet” as noted incorrectly in the video–that’s what you pick up), which is your flagging item for Zawabi.

Video

Many ninja spies died…getting you this video (not).

Grab some popcorn; it’s going to be long. Click on the CC to show the captions. I switched to a less-restrictive caption tool, so these should be easier to read.

Ryncletica had the advantage of Poison damage to dispatch the bosses with relative ease.

 

 

Stealth Ops: The Claw of Vulkoor

Next in this series of posts detailing stealth options in high-difficulty quests, I’ll analyze what’s likely the most profitable quest for using stealth in the whole game in terms of XP.

The Claw of Vulkoor” is designed for Heroic or Epic characters to demonstrate their stealth and tactical mettle as no other.

Starting Out: The Giants

You need to kill one and only one enemy in this entire quest: the fire giant warlock Sobrien, that turns your Drow entourage into scorpions before attacking you. He uses various death and fire spells. While not a terrible bother with a full party, solo players should try weapons that wound him, draining his fortitude a bit to cause a dazed effect where you’ll get the upper hand very quickly.

Once Sobrien is dead, let your stealth leader (the person who will be first on the path at all times) gather the scorpions and Ioanna’s Ancestral Staff. Don’t worry about using Invisibility spells at the moment: You’ll need to avoid some giants who have See Invisibility. Only your stronger Hide/Move Silently scores will work here.

From Sobrien’s last stand, after Ioanna dispels a barrier for you, you’ll find three doors. To your right, guarded by two giants, is a door that leads directly down a path to the first pressure plate that opens the way into the scorpion-filled lair. Directly ahead is a door to a sleeping giant and a lever that opens the door by the giants. As you’ll note in their brief conversation, the lever is trapped. To your left and opposite the doors is a hidden door to another lever and a horizontal door that can drop you down to the pressure plate on an opposite path.

Taking the right door requires a high-Evasion character, preferably a Rogue, to enter that trapped room, disarm the trap and activate the switch, staying in Sneak to avoid waking up the sleeping giant inside. The path ahead has a patrolling giant who, if he spots you, will run back down the path to activate a very nasty fire trap that fills the whole corridor with flame.

Stay in Sneak, be you Monk or Rogue, as you disarm and/or pull that lever. The room will fill with fire if the trap is still armed but a Monk can leap to safety. Move fast: the sleeping giant gets tickled by the fire inside and wakes up to investigate.

Experienced stealth teams might try noisemaker traps to lure the giants at the door, as sneaking between them is impossible. Or, just kill them–but be warned that you might trip off the patrolling giant in the hallway below, who will activate the fire trap.

High-stealth teams can do the trapped lever and sneak behind the giant (not ahead of him, as giants have high Spot and bonuses) down the path, staying left of the giant as he turns about to make his rounds back up the path. You’ll find two sleeping giants and the first pressure plate.

Taking the hidden door is better for parties with a mix of high and low-stealth characters. This way gives you a chance to find a rare that occasionally appears from a unopenable mirrored door. This path also has a regular giant guard patrolling the path and one idle giant standing guard at the end of the path by yet another hidden door, but no fire traps. It’s better to lure the giant at the lower path up, or you’ll also attract the ire of two more giants that were asleep at the first pressure plate. It is possible–but very difficult–for a small team to bypass both giants here, and open the hidden door without the giant’s notice.

Rogues being what they are, teams can pursue both options, taking the party down the trap-less path but letting the Rogue quickly disable the traps in the other path for XP bonuses.

Whichever path you complete, the leader should walk over the plate to place the Staff and open the way to the scorpions. Never forget to pick up the Staff off a pressure plate before continuing.

Pacify the Scorpion Guardians

Apply your best buffing spells, long-term Invisibility (you will, hopefully, do no fighting from here to the quest’s end), Fire Resistances and Protection, and any Ranger’s Camouflage spells.

I say this while you’re likely surrounded by a couple of sleeping giants. A wiser group did this at the start as you need to go permanently silent from that point.

This is where the test begins.

Your primary task is to avoid being noticed by the roaming scorpions to gain a XP bonus. Getting noticed also causes scorpions to erupt from the ground in an ambush, ruining your chances at higher XP (20% of total). Depending on difficulty, healing scorpions will also appear, often standing idle but turning about occasionally. As the name implies, should you find yourself fighting, these healing scorpions heal the ambushers, making your job harder. Avoid getting close to any scorpion.

Stay in Sneak throughout the entire quest from this point forward. Never make one step without being in Sneak except where indicated.

And forsake any and all rest shrines. Your team shouldn’t have a high resource cost, anyhow, save Invisibility and Camouflage spells and perhaps a Haste spell if you’re not in earshot of scorpions. All the shrines are guarded. Use them and give up on your maximum XP. Any fight from this point reveals you.

The guardian scorpions are near or patrolling by a pressure plate. To get the pacify bonus, your team needs to go straight ahead from the first pressure plate and (with Feather Fall on), drop down to the bottom-most area. Immediately ahead is a guardian.

Often there are roaming scorpions about. In fact, watch out from pressure plate #1: a scorpion will appear to your right before the drop. You can trade the Staff to your best stealth team member–somebody with high agility and invisibility. Using the pressure plates and retrieving the Staff from a plate does not remove invisibility.

The best general tactic for touching the plate, especially when a guardian is close, is to touch the plate with invisibility active and immediately retreat. You must also have good Move Silently or the guardian detects you. After a moment, the passageway clears and the guardian is neutralized. During this, you’ll still need to ensure that you’re not in the path of a roaming scorpion.

Each of the seven guardians has a different challenge. The first is generally easy as there is perhaps one roaming scorpion. The second one is a bit tough as the guardian and entourage are closer to the pressure plate by a shrine. Another has a roaming scorpion on a long patrol. The fourth has the guardian himself making a very quick patrol. The worst ones have guardians practically camped on the pressure plate.

Midway up, you’ll find a door leading to a shrine, camped by giants. Avoid it, and the roaming scorpions and continue the path. You’ll cross over to the sixth guardian that camps his pressure plate.

You have two climbs that need a little Jump. You can leave Sneak here but be sure to go back into Sneak once you’re near the end of the traverse.

Don’t Be Greedy

On your way after completing the last jumps are a bunch of nesting or healing scorpions with a door and its switch. A strong and attentive stealth party member has to time opening the door while the scorpions aren’t looking their way. The door stays open long enough for the rest of your party to enter, but don’t hit that switch inside before your party makes its way to stand atop the switch or you have your Rogue team member disable the control box of the lever on Elite difficulty. Else, that room’s door closes and fills with soulstone-generating flames.

In the door that opens is the tomb of Prince Gornard. Stealth teams out to complete this quest will not try to rob this tomb. The giant’s chest has no special treasure of value,, Gornard is a nasty hit point-bag of a giant skeletal mage, and the fight’s noise may cause the last guardian to notice you.

You must have someone with high Spot or True Seeing to find the hidden door to the last guardian, but don’t open it until all party members are far away from it and when the opener is ready to go quick-Sneak after opening it.

On Heroic difficulty, the last guardian is often alone, and is hard to lure. He’s also sitting atop that last pressure plate. In Epic difficulty, as soon as you pop the hidden, the sound lures the guardian and one or two scorpions down the path.

Heroic players may need a Rogue with noisemakers to pull the guardian off of the pressure plate. I’ve had problems in generating noises that would attract the scorpion without detection. Teacher Saekee suggests the use of Flaming Sphere. It’s not a summoned creature that might cause the detect bonus to be violated, and its high Threat tends to pull anything towards it.

In Epic, where the scorpion bolts to your location, if you are lucky, the guardian will stand at an angle where your best stealth team member can pass by him and use the Staff one last time to pacify the guardian. From there, its a matter of avoiding the sight of any last scorpions by the pressure plate to find the Claw of Vulkoor. Have your Voices of the Master equipped as you touch the last plate by the Claw to end the quest.

You can ignore spurious warning messages about roaming scorpions from Ioanna after you’ve completed.

Getting all optionals gives you 89% more XP with 7% Devious bonus for less than 12 monsters killed.

Video

Here’s a perfect solo run of the place, done a bit ago by Kiricletica the Ninja Spy on Heroic Elite.

Stealth Ops: Blockade Buster

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Demonstration

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

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

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

Kiricletica’s Bane

Kiricletica, anti-mage of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms.

Kiricletica looks nice here, but she’s just posing. She should look less aggressive. It doesn’t pay to be a highly-visible ninja.

It’s been a bit since I last spoke about Kiricletica. Inspired by the character of “Kirito” in the light novel/anime about a VRMMORPG called Sword Art Online, Kiricletica emulated the anime character in generally completing her adventures completely alone. No hirelings (save a few quests where switches needed more than a single person) or summoned creatures as active fighters. And there’s the self-imposed limit to kills.

The Shuricannon Szyncletica stole my attention away for a time. Bugs in the game that stopped Ninja Poison from applying with Updates 21 and 22 also dampened my spirits to complete Kiri’s first life and reincarnate her for a second go.

With Ninja Poison working again, I logged in recently to find problems in playing Kiri.

There’s nothing wrong with her, but me. I’ve become a bane to Kiri’s success. (Any pun you detected is intentional.)

It’s because of a speed differential I’ve put in my head.

Of late, I’ve been primarily enjoying two characters with insane attack speeds: Szyncletica and the swashbuckling Flynncletica. So Kiri’s attack speed, as a shortsword wielding ninja, seems very very slow. I have a Melee Alacrity item but I don’t often drink Haste potions to boost things.

There’s also Kiri’s built-in attack methodology. While Szyn and Flynn can scream-and-leap into most any fight, Kiri’s designed to avoid fighting, picking off or eluding isolated enemies as required, then isolating the boss and eliminating them. Her primary DPS comes from Ninja Poison.

Finally, there’s a matter of scope. Kiri was not built as the ultimate fighter, but the ultimate victor. Completing the mission, not attaining the highest slayer count, or even all optionals, is Kiri’s design.

Difficulty is also not supposed to be a factor. The Epic Elite barrier that so many complain about on the forums when it comes to melee fighting is one that Kiri shouldn’t be trying to breech except in rare fights (perhaps “House of Rusted Blades”). Frankly, EE melee fighters hit very hard–harder than Kiri can withstand. She can complete most things on Epic Hard as the combat challenges are a bit less. More on EE issues in a moment.

Lastly, there’s the matter of raids. Raids are all about fighting in a group. Kiri cannot keep up by herself. With “Tempest’s Spine” as an exception, she doesn’t do raids under her solo rules.

So where does that leave the Most Loneliest Ninja?

Still happy, I think.

There’s Much Left to Do

My challenge at Kiri’s current level, 26, is three-fold. First, to push through some experience to add Legendary Dreadnought’s Improved Combat Expertise for a little PRR. Second is to complete her leveling to 28, just to say she can.

The last goal (and I don’t know if I have patience to do this) is to complete every quest available in the game that does not absolutely require multiple characters to complete. Raids are also off the table.

I’m not attempting to complete any remaining quests at Elite difficulty. I’m just trying to complete things, period. If there’s a Favor incentive I can see that can gain me something useful (such as those that gained me Yugoloth favor potions), then that’s a secondary goal.

Building a second Thunder-Forged Shortsword isn’t a bad idea. There may be a few more low-level items to farm before a reincarnation.

Some adventures may exceed Kiri’s powers, even if I were playing her optimally as before. For instance, completing the Wheloon quests, especially the Storm Horns series, seem damned impossible with this build in terms of thoroughness. The zerg-rush attacks in “Breaking the Ranks” and “What Goes Up” is going to hurt. It’s an arena fight like “Tharaask Arena.” Conservation of Ninjutsu be damned. Kiricletica would get slaughtered.

It’s Not Her, It’s Me

But let me get back to my mental handicap with Kiri’s fighting prowess. I’ve obviously shown her able under my gameplay to complete 3 of the 4 Devil Battlefield quests on Elite, by herself, to gain sufficient Yugo favor. I couldn’t just go stealth through all that. Further: Many devils and demons are poison-immune, so Kiri really had to fight it out to complete things.

So am I gimping my own playstyle with Kiri by playing high-attack speed characters?

I think so, although it’s not irreparable. Kiri’s design required the utmost patience, the most serious mind. I would leave Kiri in stealth for several minutes in a quest, contemplating my next moves, building up ki and studying the AI of a target I had to kill or could not bypass.

With Batman-esque determination, I executed the plan. Such meta-roleplay did work. But I’ve gotten out of true. Kiricletica isn’t very special in terms of character design or gear as a Ninja Spy. But she has a very specialized skill set, and thus, manner of play.

I took Kiri back into “Impossible Demands” on Epic Elite. While damaging Priestess Vicala to begin the hostage rescue wasn’t a problem, I immediately became overwhelmed in taking on the fighters of the hostages in room 1.

A post-mortem review revealed the one thing I pushed Kiri into doing; Offensive attacks. She normally lures single enemies out, before killing them as a viper would. Else, a horde of spiders can kill a sole viper.

It’s funny but Kiri is going to have to train me to play properly again, rather than me, the player, retooling her and reallocating this and that. Kiri is fine. I’m the one that sucks.

Broken Tools of the “Ninja Assassin” Trade?

Kiri is, in part, a perfection of ninja skills I first learned from her teacher, Ryncletica.

The Kunoichi...where brute strength is lacking, cunning through poisoned blades do the work. (Credit: CreativeCut.com)

Kiri’s perfected a few of her own, such as high-dosage poisoning, paralyzing and enemy pulling.

With Update 22, how many new things will she had to add to her Ninja Utility Belt? And can she meet a new game mechanic change?

A foreboding example of Update 22’s aggro/AI changes came in a DDO forum thread where a player noted that the fun challenge of assassinating only the Minotaur Chieftain in “Frame Work” not only didn’t work but became a clusterfrak when mobs surged in from all throughout the city. What caught my eye (in screen shots) and the poster were all three Cabal Seers, high-level mages, suddenly spawning  from their perches, hundreds of meters away, to guard the chieftain.

That’s too much of an aggro change. While local enemies should be attracted when you slap the boss, the “local” definition has changed to say, “Somewhere in the quest.” The Seers shouldn’t have a hot-line to call themselves in from halfway across the city and materialize atop you.

The only way I can think of working around this is to partially violate the limited kill rule by assassinating the Cabal Seers first. But then, if the AI is still wacky, that might bring more terror on my head if I don’t remove any Runts that ring the bells. And now, how far can those Runts detect you?

I do have an idea to improve on Kiri’s attack speed in her next life. More on that another time.

For now, I have to remember how to be a ninja. After all I’ve completed with Kiricletica, isn’t that weird?

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