Glass Cannons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be fun.

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

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

Triumph from the Shadows: Why Stealth Does Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assassin Speed: Fixed

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

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

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

The Stealth Engine as a Whole

Geoff takes note of one important comment by Sev:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Severlin’s Retort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff’s Return Volley and My Overhand Swing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Geoff Slams Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

You’re not doing it right, all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Spies in the House?” Did it.

“Claw of Vulkoor?” Yep.

“Bastion of Power?” Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stealth Ops: Blockade Buster

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Demonstration

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

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

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

Stealth Ops: Diplomatic Impunity

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

And that’s what Sukitetica the Assassin did.

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

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

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

Part 1: Get to Ulluvian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Warn Henritta

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

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

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

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

Part 3: Assassinate the Commander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ScreenShot01430Officially, only one kill to complete the quest.

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

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

Enter the Assassin

"Assassinate."

“Assassinate.”

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

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

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

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

The Art of Offensive Non-Aggression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suki2

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

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

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

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

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

Compensating for Lost Ki

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

Happily, I have some options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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