A Cautionary Tale of L-Shroud Part 4

Mericletica5Our most excellent multi-guild raid team took on a Legendary Shroud on Hard recently.

We should be old hats at this. But L-Shroud has a deceptive quality. Most of us have played Heroic-level Shroud many, many times before. So the familiar surroundings of L-Shroud, I suspect, causes some of us to let our guard down.

That’s a very bad thing to do in any part, but especially in Part 1, where the troglodytes that appear are all very dangerous. The sorcerers disintegrate. The fighters critically hit you with one strike, and so do the assassins. In this part, we break off two or three people to guard the portal beater’s backs. That’s a difficult job since the trash spawns at the portal as well as behind the team. And most of our player defenses on Legendary are much weaker.

For some reason this night, our DPS on portal beating was OK but you could tell it wasn’t our best. We complete Parts 1, 2 and 3 without much fuss.

It’s Part 4 that I worry about most now in Legendary Shroud.

The fight is exactly the same as in the Heroic version. Devils show up with a few friends to off you. After a time, Arraetrikos appears for the first time.

And this is where sub-par DPS will end your raid–and also why a solo Legendary run is nearly impossible.

Optimally, you kill Harry in one pass, else he returns with gnolls that heal him. In Legendary, the eight gnolls will heal Harry back from 1/4 HP to full health in less than 30 seconds. And the gnolls are hardy bastards; only one or two adventurers cannot destroy them fast enough. You need to devote the whole party to remove them fast, then switch over to Harry and peel back more HP on him.

But Harry is also being Harry, throwing fireballs and slapping adventurers hither and yon, killing a few. After a consecutive Ten Thousand Stars and Manyshot volley to his face, Harry often turns his attention to me and spins meteors to my face, which will sting a bit, even with high Reflex saves, without some PRR.

That’s typically the point where your party is doomed, especially if your DPS was only adequate but not superior. One or two adventurers with only one or two death penalties may be OK, but once 5 or more in your party have suffered 3 or more deaths, their performance and HP are greatly reduced, increasing the chance for others to die and all but ensuring that Harry will triumph.

So, to those a little new to L-Shroud, here’s a tip or two for what its worth.

  1. Check your party DPS before entering. A full party is less important than a party that can rid the floor of portals and have the power to hurt Harry (or the gnolls) situationally. Not that I fault our raid party here (we love to have everyone play) but players under level 25 in the party probably hurt our chances that night.
  2. Ensure people have their portal-beaters and Harry beaters as well as any fortification bypassing. The simple portal-beater isn’t enough, in my opinion. You need to reduce the portal’s (and L-Harry’s) fortification to do similar damage to him as in Heroic. My Pynthetica the Zen Archer is designed to excel in both categories thanks to a strong weapon (a Complete Thunder-Forged Longbow that punches Force damage) but also because she can reach 85% fortification bypass thanks to Precision (25%), the bow’s armor-piercing (35%), the Grandmaster of Flowers ED Piercing Clarity (10%) and, by level 30, the Shadowdancer ED Grim Precision (15%). I swap in +5 Holy Arrows, kick on Ten Thousand Stars and go to town. It shouldn’t be a terrible option for most to switch to crafted Armor-Piercing gloves to help. And player abilities that also reduce fortification as a group (the Monk’s Jade Strike, or the Deepwood Stalker’s Mark of the Hunter) also help.
  3. Depending on your group, determine your Part 4 strategy. Normally the strategy is simple: Kill Harry, rapidly and in one go. But be ready with a Plan B: Slowing or killing the gnolls before turning your attention to Harry. Here, Paracleta’s superior Legendary-level paralysis helped a few times when Harry didn’t go down on the first try. She paralyzed two gnolls, leaving only six to destroy and buying time for the party. The trick here is that you MUST paralyze or otherwise freeze the gnolls before they emit their healing beam, as they materialize in the arena. That beam does not stop once started unless the gnoll is dead or the beam hasn’t started to begin with. Flesh-to-Stone, Otto’s Dancing or other effects could work if you get the save and if you’re very fast. If you have paralyzers in your party (and not Heroic level paralysis: You’re going to need to have a DC of 60+ to stand a chance), this can make the difference.
  4. Remind the party to go for maximum everything on the first attempt. Use boosts, the right weapon, throw spells carelessly. Definitely hit him with anything that lowers fortification for yourself or the party. Hold nothing back. It’s got to be “one and done” or the gnolls await you.

Got any other tips to share from your raid experience? Just drop them in the comments.

Szyncletica: Shroud Beater

It’s my first major accomplishment. Szyncletica, now a capped Epic Shiradi Shuricannon, defeated the Shroud on her own on a quiet Sunday morning.

Wasn’t easy.

Part 1

I had two attempts here. The first aborted at part 1 when I missed a second portal keeper that appeared.

I learned an important strategy: Portal Keepers are bound to appear if you’re slow at the portals, solo or not.

The key is to simply target and kill the keeper and then continue on with your work. Know the portal manifestation order and check all the portals.

If you hear a second warning after you’ve thought you’ve killed any keepers, you missed one and have less than a minute to rectify your mistake.

I took that knowledge into my second attempt and was able to beat part 1 without significant issue.

Part 2

I had a terrible group of lieutenants, about as annoying as a solo runner can get I had Kasquick, the troll, the lion and the fire elemental. The last two lieutenants are stupid fast in their ghosts returning to the center. I know from study that other solo runners have abandoned their run if they’d got such an over-speedy group. But I’m fast, too. I gave it a go.

After I killed off Kasquick near the southwestern tree and began working on the others, I noticed how much time had gone past before Kasquick had returned to life. On killing fire, I watched him get stuck within a corner, staying there for almost 3 minutes before the game AI forced him to the center to revive.

I tried to take advantage of that spawn slowness and the fact that this was a maze. The best place to slay them is near and just north of the southwestern recharge tree. The lieutenants have a tendency to get stuck or meander slower to the center and their respawn point. I needed that time; the lion was extremely fast in running back to the center, faster than the elemental.

With a series of timed beatdowns and some lucky procs from my Celestial sword’s passive explosions of fire and light, the lieutenants fell, the crystal eliminated and now, on to the dreaded part 3.

Part 3

This time, I thought of another idea to conquer this place, where the Prismatic Wall had taken me twice already.

I zoomed through the area, smashing as many crystals above the doors as fast as I could before I opened up the central fountain, retreated and waited.

I knew now that eliminating door crystals brought the Wall up faster. I wanted to wait to start any water runs until the Wall spawned so it wouldn’t spawn atop me.

Celebratory cannonballs in Part 3's regenerating pond.

Celebratory cannonballs in Part 3’s regenerating pond.

Finally it appeared. I began a careful series of runs out, always following far behind the Wall as I did my work, filling only one fountain and removing crystals as I retreated back to the center where the Wall does not travel.

I waited for the Wall to pass by my fountain door on its clockwise path, then sprinted out counter-clockwise to do what I could do.

It took about 30 minutes, but patience won, and I left part 2 with two chests and victory.

Now to go where few others have gone.

Part 4

I thought to myself that Part 1 and 2 were the most difficult because they had a time element. That was only partly correct. Part 1 is timed only once a portal keeper appeared. Part 2 isn’t timed at all except in the fine window you have while all lieutenants are down and the race to destroy their respawning crystal. It’s part 3 that requires the greatest timing.

One Ninja Drow, one battle.

One Ninja Drow, one battle.

Now, it was just a matter of combat. A matter of outlasting my enemies.

The Whirling Blades are a nuisance but not very dangerous on Normal. My thoughts in this first encounter with Arraetrikos involved one important factor: Beating his regenerative factor.

As Klorox the Barbarian showed, it was a matter of damaging Harry faster than he regenerated.

I kicked up my defenses, drank a DDO store elixir and a Yugoloth potion, and got to work.

Taking out the trash was easy enough, and then Harry arrived.

We meet at last, pit fiend.

We meet at last, pit fiend.

The Thunder-Forged Shuriken with its tier 1 upgrade did its work. I pulled 1/5th of his HP away on round 1.

Each time the pit fiend disappeared, I went into Sneak to boost my passive ki regeneration and used Wholeness of Body to recharge my HP to full.

Staying hidden also left me hidden from the devil spawns, allowing me to take my time in regenerating ki and waiting for my Eternal Potion of Death Ward to recharge.

The gnolls that arrived to recharge Harry fell very, very quickly each round to vorpalling stars and were never a factor.

Harry and I fought on. After 5 rounds or so, the beast fell.

Part 5

As ready for the final fight as I'd ever be.

As ready for the final fight as I’d ever be.

I waited at the part 4 altar to regenerate my ki to maximum and clear the cooldown on my Eternal potion.

The strategy here was similar to part 4, although I realized that I’d have a hell of a time separating the speedy revived lieutenants.

And just before I entered, I decided to buy some +20 Jump potions from the DDO Store.

It took a bit to slay the lieutenants.

Then Harry materialized once more.

Bet most of you have never seen this view of part 5 before, high above.

Bet most of you have never seen this view of part 5 before, high above.

I drank that Jump potion and leaped atop the center pedestal, running all the way up and was able to stand on the edge of the outside wall of the area. I pelted Harry senseless and with impunity.

After 15 minutes or so, the deed was done.

Another feather in the cap for Firewall’s Shuricannon design, even with a weaker design such as my own.

I give you a video of the last minutes of the battle.

 

And Sir Geoff: By request: the dance of victory.

ScreenShot01379ScreenShot01378

Maybe I found my final inspiration a couple of days ago, after discovering an old DDO thread of a much-earlier Shroud victory by the quintessential Sarlona guild, Caffeine.

Every one in the raid group used only Clubs of the Holy Flame.

Completed years ago, that’s still going to be more badass than anything I have done or can think of doing.

 

 

Solo Shroud Update

Family obligations keep me from trying to make more attempts to complete “The Shroud” on Normal with Szyncletica as often as I wish. It’s also a far longer task because I’m alone in there, so I need at least 2 hours, uninterrupted.

That said, I did make a second attempt a weekend ago. Completed part 1 without issue. Part 2 had a great pull of lieutenants that I removed in one round.

Part 3 ate me again. This time, while I spotted the prismatic wall while in the center, I began to carefully follow it as I removed more crystals.

Not so smart. The DDO Wiki page warns that the wall has a tendency to make a new copy of itself at corners as it moves down a side. Zapped again for being too close to said corner.

At least Szyn’s combat prowess is confirmed with parts 1 and 2, right?

Alone in the Shroud

A Drow has scheduled a date with you, big guy. Bring some flowers...for your funeral.

A Drow has scheduled a date with you, big guy. Bring some flowers…for your funeral.

From time to time I’ve had one of those crazy ideas.  First it was an Epic Elite solo run. One continual goal is to complete “The Shroud” alone.

Lynncletica tried it, long ago, failing part 1 rapidly as she simply couldn’t beat down the portals (officially, a planar gateway) fast enough. She’d have to gain more STR, speed and better portal beaters.

I wasn’t done yet. I have only one other character that excelled Lynncletica, not by endurance, but damage. That was Szyncletica.

On Szyn’s first life, I read up on what it takes to beat down a portal from an old but useful thread that offered to post results to a challenge. A portal identical to those in the Shroud, part 1, is in the snowy wastes of Aussircaex’s Valley.

As noted before, the shuriken has the lowest base damage (1d2) of any weapon. Now, with throwing builds all about, they are rarer to find on the Auction House, and expensive if you happen to find one.

Before, the fastest I could destroy a portal, using a crafted +5 Holy star of Greater Construct Bane, was 1 minute 14 seconds. It would not do. A throwing star damaged well enough, but just not fast enough. Trials using a Mineral II and Triple-Positive Green Steel stars yielded similar takedown speeds.

My options were greatly limited. While many weapons drop in the game that have the uncraftable Smiting suffix, the odds of discovering a returning Smiting shuriken seemed higher than my chance of winning the Powerball national lottery.

It took another life and a new update, 21, to introduce another chance at a chance.

Some tips from the Shuricannon thread and a recent trip through the Ruins of Thunderholme gained me a new crafted weapon: A Thunder-Forged Alloy Shuriken. I added a Ruby of Good to this metalline star, although it appears not to be working properly.

Nonetheless, the weapon has a very high base damage with its Tier 1 upgrade: 4(1d2)+10 with a 14-18 damage range…easily more than twice the damage of my usual beater. And it has the Touch of Shadows property for 8 to 48 negative energy damage. Remember that Szyn’s build is a Ninja Spy. All of her damage comes from her very high DEX, in addition to competence bonuses from being a Drow, a natural user of the thrown weapon.

So, freshly leveled to 26 and loaded up with ship buffs and stacking special potions, off I skipped to the snowy portal always present in Aussircaex’s Valley to test out that new Thunder-Forged star.

I cleared out the surrounding enemies, drank any stat-boosting potions and switched to Wind Stance for additional Dexterity. I had 60. I set my timer and began smacking the portal.

The Thunder-Forged star took down that portal in 41 seconds. That’s better than a good Barbarian L20 with a Mineral II Green Steel weapon shown on that old thread, and far better than my old crafted star.

Giddy with the stronger possibility of a Shroud solo, I assessed what, if any temporary weapon effects I can apply to that star. Craftable returning shurikens with a red augment slot seem to be completely imaginary, else I’d craft one and add a Ruby of the Vampire Slayer for some Light damage,  and apply some Oil of Incandescence portions for some more Light damage. Despite the lack of a slotted star, I plan to add the Oil for extra damage during part 4 and 5.

Update 22 (out on 6/11, the day I first penned this post) gave the shuriken criticals their true range of 15-20 with Ninja Spy capstone, which added in considerably more damage on critical hits.

Challenges in the Shroud

Of course, Szyn would be completely alone. No hirelings of any kind in a raid. In Epic, self-sufficiency wasn’t a problem. In addition to elemental and poison resist potions, she stocked up on Yugoloth potions and collectable ability-boosting potions as well as buying a few DDO elixirs to allow a +6 stat advantage when the going got tougher.

If Szyn could blow down the portals fast enough, then part 2 was the second greatest challenge, gathering and slaying the four lieutenants and then destroying the central crystal. Based on other’s successful runs, a player might have to abort a run if they get swift-moving lieutenants that cannot be outraced to blast the crystal or who add a party buff that makes the group too strong.

My feeling was that I’ll need to use a ninja tactic or two to keep them separated for a bit, hit them with burst damage and then hit another, minding that each of them regenerate. Or, kill each once so that they lose some HP to make slaying easier.

Part 3 is the puzzle challenge. That one should be easy. If I could blast down the portals, the crystals over the doors (normally a forbidden thing in a raid party but necessary in solo mode) will go down fast, and Monk speed will get the lunar water in the fountains quickly before the prismatic wall appears. Even if the wall approaches, Szyn can move fast and just has to stay behind the wall, going clockwise around the area, hiding in the fountain to let it go by if needed.

Then, the fun stuff comes with parts 4 and 5. How much DPS will Szyn be able to maintain against Arraetrikos? Getting the gnolls down wasn’t a worry but they must still drop fast to avoid rehealing the big guy.

I anticipated to go through quite a bit of spell points to stay healed from the occasional d1 I’ll roll against a meteor that Harry hurled at my head. On Normal, Harry shouldn’t be a major hassle if I can push my damage per hit to its ultimate. I didn’t forget the Whirling Blades. I planned to fight at near-melee range so I would be able to easily see where those things spawned as Harry entered, then leap away as they closed in. That would allow me a continuous pattern of striking.

Harry has only one ability I cannot avoid: Hold Monster. A faint chance to have a Freedom of Movement effect comes with the new epic Three Barrel Cove, by slaying rare encounter bosses in search of the Orcish Privateer Boots. Being a Monk, I should be able keep my saves high enough that Harry’s chances of landing that spell are lower. On Normal difficulty, the odds probably favor me. I do have a Lesser Harper Pin for an emergency break from a hold, but with a 10 minute cooldown, it’s a desperation move.

It’s going to be a long day stopping these guys. One player, a master of solo raiding, still took just shy of 2 hours to beat the game on Normal difficulty with a L25 character. I’m hoping my DPS will speed things up a little.

If Szyn can get past Part 4, then Part 5 is just more of the same.

Attempt #1

First thing on a Saturday morning, I geared up with scads of potions and set off.

Life was made a lot easier with the new U22 super-lasting airship buffs but there was still the matter of handling element resistance and protections. At the top of my worry list were my number of mana potions. I needed to improve my healing amplification to make things as efficient as I could, even with shrines and rechargers.

Part 1 began with my first screw-up. My phone died overnight, where I kept a copy of the portal takedown order. I had to go from memory and with extra guile.

ScreenShot01245The new Thunder-Forged star did its work well. Gulping Haste potions, I moved fast to blow the portals down.

A few Portal Keepers did appear but chasing them down and killing them bought me the time I needed. My heart was racing with triumph on clearing Part 1 alone for the first time.

Part 2 started off well enough, easily clearing the trash and scouting the center. I gulped. I had the swift fire lieutenant along with the manically teleporting devil, orc and troglodyte.

Past solo veterans often aborted right then and there as the fire elemental moves very fast to the respawn point after being killed. I decided to give it a try.

The Celestia’s light bombs helped as I whittled down and killed the lieutenants once to rid them of their regeneration once they revived. I had all four down but the trog’s stench slowed me down before I could remove it and race to the central crystal.

ScreenShot01248Taking another tack with the revived lieutenants, I lured and whittled down the elemental a bit before pulling and engaging the others in the southwest corner.

With a timely light bomb from Celestia, all four went down and I raced again to the center but the elemental’s shadow was ahead.

Thankfully I could target the crystal fast. I destroyed it just as the fire elemental revived. Part 2 complete!

But it was part 3 that ended me. I easily destroyed the upper crystals and began adding the lunar water to the fountains.

My time sense kept telling me all was well in this section, but a turn to the left after completing fountain #5 landed me smack into the prismatic wall, appearing far faster than I expected.

ScreenShot01249Now I know at least that destroying the crystals appears to bring the wall up much faster. I’ll be a bit more prepared next time–and always turn right from a puzzle room.

I was just happy that I could clear the first two parts.

Szyn just reached level 27 and has the epic feat of Blinding Speed, making her permanently Hasted.

Things might get interesting with her second attempt I’m planning this weekend. Stay tuned.

 

Solo Raiding

It’s rather a contradictory term: “solo raiding.”

Raid (n.) - a sudden attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft or other
armed forces in warfare.

Note the plural. To enter a raid (a high-difficulty adventure designed for up to 12 party members) as the only party member, makes the ultimate boast of being a one-man army.

Not that this contradiction or wild claims have stopped anyone from trying–and sometimes succeeding.

I’ve been reading quite a few posts in the Achievements subforum on soloing “The Shroud” and “Zawabi’s Revenge” (ADQ2) and it got me to try a few out myself.

Solo raiding at-level is almost unheard of. Raids often require many skills and resource-intensive fighting that no one character can typically meet the requirements. So higher-level solo raids are often done by characters that are significantly over the raid’s level, and on Normal difficulty.

I’ve completed only two solo raids prior to this bout of insanity: “Tempest’s Spine” and “The Chronoscope,” levels 10 and 6, respectively. Both adventurers were Shintao Monks for their durability and self-healing. Of these, only one has Epic levels, and I’ve sent in Lynncletica successfully on Epic Hard. I know that neither of these raids have remarkably tough challenges for solo players with good self-sufficiency.

Last week, I added a new character to the table: The star-thrower Szyncletica against the Demon Queen. After that, I tried a solo run in The Shroud with Lynncletica the tanker.

Advantages and Challenges for Szyncletica

Szyncletica rapidly leveled to 26 in her first life. Her sustained DPS is the best in my dojo with many random effects going off from Shiradi Champion, off-hand passive effects, as well as the spelltouched shurikens she uses.

I’ve tried Heroic ADQ2 on Lynncletica before, perhaps shortly after Update 14 and Epic Destinies. The gnolls perched atop the pillars ate her alive, despite her powerful defenses. I tried keeping a ranged option handy to remove them but it was too slow.

Szyn, on the other hand, uses only stars to attack.

I imagined that her DPS should knock most of the tower gnolls quickly away between their respawns, particularly using an Improved Paralyzing star she owns.  She can attack the marilith at any stage and, through strafing and Improved Precise Shot, attack any effreeti and the marilith at once. In one video from an old 2007 player, it looks like the Monk archer there just plain ignores the gnolls above. But the raid’s likely changed since this video.

Szyn’s greatest challenge was crisis healing. She had potions but that was it, aside from Shiradi’s Healing Spring. It was touch and go on how well this would work as Szyn stays well out of melee range and attempts to use many miss-chance abilities to slow down incoming damage. ADQ2 is all-fight: no rest, no respite. Using Wholeness of Body is not an option.

I bit my reluctance to switch Destinies, activated Primal Avatar and entered a Epic Hard “Jungles of Khyber” run recently. I completed that run with an immediate 4 Destiny Points and activated Rejuvenation Cocoon in full.

That’s a nice ability. It simply throws out a nice healing boost and some temporary HP with spell points. Combined with Devotion and healing amplification, the results would be sufficient to keep Szyn healed in battle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I got Cocoon trained after my attempts at the Demon Queen. More on that in a sec.

Thankfully, the loot gods have been good to me. I just received a level 24 Cold Iron spelltouched star with Wounding and the occasional Disintegrate. Kicking on the Stay Good stance should make that star effective enough to bust the Queen’s DR.

The DQ Solo Attempts

Szyn-LailatWith a load of Haste potions and after some study, I completed the pre-raid, rebuffed and tried a raid run.

I armed Szyn with her L20 Icy Burst of Improved Paralyzing and removed the effreti and elementals without issue.

After a few words with the Demon Queen, the fight was on. I removed the gnolls very quickly to the point where they were a non-factor.

I did what I could to concentrate all my attacks only on the marilith, no matter where she was, letting Improved Precise Shot weed out any effreti that got in the way.

But I was having a hard time keeping healed from the glancing damage that Lailat managed to get on me.

She was down to virtually no HP at all when I took one hit too many myself and expired. And then I saw something odd.

Szyn-vs-Lailat1-eNI realized I had mistakenly took Szyn in against the Queen on Epic Normal difficulty and nearly beat her. Note the Queen’s virtually out of HP. It was that close.

Beginner’s luck, it turned out. I tried another run on eN and got curbstomped faster, before Lailat had lost half of her HP.

Determined to get something done, I ran through once more, on Heroic Elite.

Funny: Lailat in eN is around Level 26. On Heroic Elite, she’s CR28 and felt a bit harder to hit.

Szyn-vs-Lailat-hEBut I held my own and the marilith fell. It was my first solo raid victory on a non-Light Monk, characters that have all the healing toys compared to their Dark brethren. No vampirism. No Healing Ki. No Cleric dilettante. Just a throwing star, a weak battle healing option and sheer sustained damage per second.

But perhaps, before I TR, I will try an eNormal once more, armed now with Cocoon since those first runs, and with a stronger resolve.

Going Solo in the Shroud

The barbarian that completed a Shroud run solo had to fiddle a few things and was incredibly overgeared to ensure some success. First off, he was level 28–that’s a capped character. Lynncletica sits at 25 now. Next, he multiclassed a couple of Fighter levels to go with his Barbarian. Looks like he used the Fury of the Wild Epic Destiny with some Primal Avatar things mixed in, perhaps some Legendary Dreadnought.

I decided to go in with Grandmaster of Flowers but with Twists from Legendary Dreadnought and Unyielding Sentinel that boosted fortification, PRR, and DCs.

The damage that the Barb could do was quite remarkable, sometimes making 3,0oo point critical hits. I was thinking too far ahead, on what to do in Part 4 against Harry and his recharging gnolls.

So, armed for bear, I took Lynn into a Normal run.

You might guess what happened. Lynn loses in part 1. Her DPS is sufficient to take down the portals but far too slowly. The portal keepers arrive and lock up the Shroud with Shavarath, sealing my fate.

A post-mortem made me recall an old contest that I had planned to write about: A DPS contest where players were asked to enter Aussircaex’s Valley and test how fast they could remove a planar gateway that resided there.

This is the same type of portal seen in the Shroud. It never changes and has a fixed set of stats, is always 12,000 HP, is immune from most elemental damage and has 100% fortification. So it’s a perfect way to test out any character’s DPS.

The original contest set some weapon limits, but going in a raid, you’ve got to remove that thing fast and by any means necessary.

I did take Szyn in there and took that portal down in about 1 minute and 16 seconds, but I can’t remember if that was with my newer and Shroud-designed Holy of Greater Construct Bane star or using an older Aligned of Construct Bane one.

If I can add some Armor-Piercing properties in my off-hand, I’m sure I can whittle that thing down in under a minute. Time to study again. Looks like I could trade out the Celestia blade with my Envenomed Blade’s 10% armor piercing, but then I’d also lose the light damage that the epic shortsword can do. I’d have to test it.

And it looks like armor-piercing effects stack. So, in a perfect, beautiful world, wearing a regular or Flawless Black Dragonscale Robe and its armor piercing would stack with off-hand effects. I could farm for Black scales. I took Szyn into a few Heroic Tor runs and beat two of the three dragons on Elite but it was the black dragon’s acid damage that threw me off. (This was, again, before I got Cocoon trained up.) Some Black Dragonscale would be a good tactical alternative.

Lynn should do better, but I’m not sure. I’ve become a bit dependent on Grandmaster of Flowers. I needed the speed and critical hit power of Legendary Dreadnought, if just for part 1 alone. My concern remained on getting to Part 4. Harry wouldn’t be the issue; it would be my ability to remove the gnolls in later rounds before they recharge him faster than I could damage him. I wouldn’t have the Rage effects of a Barbarian nor as many Action Boosts. Without GMoF, there’s no ability to use Everything is Nothing to remove the gnolls very quickly.

But then, without LD, getting through Part 1 is likely impossible.

So, back to the drawing board.

Death Seekers III: The Search for Soulstones

"I do not tolerate failure," Blofeld said. Too bad he's not leading the party. Shit would get DONE.

“I do not tolerate failure,” Blofeld said. Too bad he’s not leading the party. Shit would get DONE.

In my previous installment, I entertained the majestic problems of certain quests that are not only challenging for their level, but can also be train-wrecked by a blundering party member.

Let’s dive into the meaty level 12-18 level quests that are extraordinarily difficult to play with an at-level party and/or when your party is filled with..er..colorfully bad gameplay.

Now the game difficulty ramps up the damage significantly, as well as the consequences for a party’s lack of vision. The good news is that more players you encounter in a PUG have greater experience and are less likely to cause a party grave distress.

Usually.

Remember that the list is trying to note the quests where simple bludgeoning, stabbing, slicing and spellcasting just won’t do. There are many difficult quests that proper application of mana and sword will overcome. This list, while not even close to inclusive, hits the highlight reel in my experiences.

While I was going to discuss quests but not raids, I’m going to make one little exception and add the most popular raid in the game. You know why.

Let’s recap the rating system again:

  • Navigation: Does the quest require many switches and keys to use to progress? How hard are they to find? How linear is the adventure? Are there traps? Are there quest-required puzzles? How much resistance is encountered to find objectives? Is the quest just plain confusing due to its sheer size?
  • Enemies: How many? What’s the dominant race? Do they respawn? Do they attack with effects that are harder to resist or avoid? Are there one or more kill zones where they’d likely entrap you? Does their nature limit your fighting ability?
  • Bosses: How many mini-bosses? What damage resistance do they have? What special attacks do they do? How do you escape from it if you cannot kill it? How large is their entourage?

Invaders! (Level 12)

Navigation: 2, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 8

The Waterworks get an extraplanar makeover, thanks to a Xoriat invasion. Xoriat Flesh, Fire and Ice Renders, along with many Thaarak Hounds invade the area, sending kobolds running and screaming through the halls.

Your party likely ends up joining the kobolds in their panic if you weren’t prepared on entering this misty hellhole. The Renders are the last thing you’d worry about.

There are beholders. Note plural. As in approximately 10-12 anti-magic cone wielding neg-leveling beholders, ready to zap you and your party quickly into the afterlife.

This quest is extremely tough for PUGs in this free-to-play quest, whose members may not likely have some better gear found in the premium adventures that provides at least Deathblock to ward a glancing magic blow by a beholder that’s not quite trying to kill you yet.

The navigation is the easy part. It’s the same Waterworks format, although many hidden doors. rare encounters and passageways found in the original quest are not present here. The sole shrine you can use is near the end-boss’s room. Do visit there for a bit of a laugh.

Death Ward is surprisingly less important because beholders also love to strip your buffs before disintegrating you (which Deathblock cannot block). What’s really needed here is a strong, nurturing healer-type with a big pile of Restoration/Greater Restoration scrolls to keep parties from being energy drained down to toddlerhood.

Also needed is a strategy. There’s a right tool for any job, and that job is beholder slaying. Parties that scream and leap into a beach ball flotilla of these things are going to die so rapidly that party leaders may start petitioning Turbine to make Soulstone Collectable Bags.

Teacher Syncletica, in an earlier life, demonstrates how shit gets DONE.

Teacher Syncletica, in an earlier life, demonstrates how she got shit DONE.

Send in your Monks and Paladins, especially if they are Light Monks or Warforged. They are excellent candidates since they have great saving throws, spell resistances and are immune from level drain, leaving them more likely to have the prowess needed to quickly take down a beholder.

Monks and specific Paladins are designed to take down aberrations like these. Shintao Monks get Tomb of Jade far earlier than in their pre-Update 19 lives and should have a great stun attack to Jade one beholder while stunning and killing a second one.

The stealthy approach also works. I don’t mean trying to use Invisibility–beholders have a lot of eyes and see through that nonsense. But it takes them a bit longer to notice the hidden adventurer. Since Faster Sneaking is now standard equipment on Rogue Assassins and Ninja Spies, this would be a great time to hustle up there and use Assassinate or Quivering Palm to let the air quickly out of a Xoriat beach ball. Remember that the stealth AI is more vigilant. The beholder WILL see even a sneaking player–but if you time your speed right, the beholder will have less time to react.

Your party has to explore this truncated version of the Waterworks and find portals where (gasp!) Elder Beholders hold station. They simply have greater HP but are no less vulnerable to becoming monastic beach balls if you have Monks in your party. (Also remember that Bard and Monk buffs are special; they can NOT be removed by beholders.)

Humanoid minions are helping out the beholders. A few locations have chaos orbs floating about to make your adventure that much more stimulating.

As soon as your party stitches their flesh back to their faces, be sure to tally up your Outsider (Invasion) tokens. Get 25 of these bound-to-character gems and speak to an NPC nearby the quest entrance to exchange them for some decent gear. You can only get one item per life, but it’s a boon for the free-to-play character. Of particular note is the Ring of Balance. It comes with a Green Augment slot and a 100% Fortification gem that you can easily remove and place in other gear if the ring isn’t to your liking.

Frame Work (Level 12)

Navigation: 6, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 8

Ah, what fresh hell is this? Well, it’s not too fresh. Ever visited a cattle barn? It’s like this–only these cows aren’t going to let you tip ’em.

It all starts off well enough, with your party sauntering through the countryside surrounding the minotaur city, looking for ballista parts, taking down the periodic panther, wolf and spider.

And then one of your party members goes all Leeroy and storms into the minotaur city.

Frame Work requires a bit of subterfuge for most parties, by targeting the Minotaur Runts before they have a chance to ring the alarm bells.  It’s not that most parties don’t want the extra kills if you’re going for the slay-everything option. You just don’t want half of the whole city to wake up at once and cause a persistent Dungeon Alert from which there is no escape for your pitiful little band. Therefore, kill off a region of bull-men, lick your wounds, find and kill the next runt, and then ring the alarm yourself when the party is ready.

If you find that your party has a griefer that zooms about ringing bells like a Christmas caroler or unnecessarily alerting more and more minotaurs, don’t follow him/her. They will die, heinously. Leave their stone alone and do not resurrect them. Sic semper stultus.

There are two entrances. Entering either one is easy enough by using the stoning wand on one of the two guards (completing a required objective) and then pulling the second guard from afar to keep from alerting others inside.

A stealthy player can literally jump over the wall at the lake entrance to open the gate, or you might want to sasshay your group up to a gate and wait for several minotaurs to happily open the gate for you so they can kick your teeth in.

The key in the quest for a typical party is not to separate, pull and isolate kills, and kill the runts first.

When Cabal Seers show up, look out. They’re often the reason why your party Hulk Smasher turned into a soulstone rapidly since these red-names use lots of energy draining and death spells. As a reward for killing those guys, chests will materialize somewhere nearby. But please caution your party to clear out the area before wandering around. There are many dead-ends where minotaur bands love to surround and entrap careless players.

Another opportunity for the impatient in your party to die without dignity is to bum-rush the ramp to the Minotaur Chieftain, which is loaded with extremely deadly one-time blades. Going up the ramp also starts the end-fight mechanic, which isn’t a nice time to have it start if you’re still neck-deep in minotaurs.

There are three bosses, to make matters worse. A final Cabal Seer might be inside the fortress, too, and shamans are busily healing the enemies while you’re running for your lives from the gods-awful clusterfrak bull rush (often with yet one more alarm sounded to bring the rest of the city down on your heads).

Foundation of Discord (Level 13)

Navigation: 3, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 10

This quest is so batshit-crazy hard at any level and difficulty that I’ve already dedicated a whole article on it. Read it and weep.

In the Demon’s Den (Level 18)

Navigation: 7, Enemies: 9, Bosses: 9

This little orphaned free-to-play quest is available in the courtyard of the Inspired Quarter. Inside, you have respawning gnolls, fire and earth elementals, fiendish felines all about. In a central room is Aurora the maralith, who laments how hard it is to find good help these days as you slay the army she sends after you. You can probably feel for her, too, if you have a bad party.

On Normal difficulty, this one’s just a bash-fest, with the marilith attacking only after you slay three fiery d’jinn ritualists that are part of her ritual.

But on Hard and Elite, your party has to bring their A-game, and probably the A-game of three of their friends, to beat this one as a team. Here, the marilith attacks immediately. You know mariliths: Why use one sword when six will do? Here’s the kicker: She can’t be killed until all three ritualists are slain. She loves to generate dangerous and damaging fog while she tries to skewer you.

It’s nowhere close to easy. If you have a tanker, they and a healer have to take the angry marilith off on a stroll and away from the rest of the party. From there, you have three tunnels filled with all manner of nastiness that you must kill to get to the ritualists at the end of each tunnel. Your remaining party needs to separate and take on legions of enemies found in the tunnels. Do the math: If two are kiting the marilith and there are three tunnels, then two people are likely to go alone into one of those dark passageways.

And your party has to coordinate. On Normal, you can slay each ritualist one at a time and they don’t come back. But on Hard/Elite, what’s left of your team, all divided in three locations, have to kill the ritualists within 30 seconds of each other or they respawn.

Once that’s done, the marilith is vulnerable and the party has to yet again cut through respawning resistance to get to the marilith to gang up and slay her without getting tossed about or knocked down or cut into six tiny pieces.

Oh, and the levers you may need to progress through areas are often trapped. Some of them wind around and confuse you easily.

Wrath of the Flame (Level 19)

Navigation: 2, Enemies: 8, Bosses: 8

This quest (and “Running with the Devils”) makes even experienced players forget some basics about damage reduction.

The place is filled with Silver Flame humans: Paladins, Wizards, Fighters and Clerics. Because they are the Silver Flame (often Lawful Stupid), they are misled by their leader (who isn’t who she says she is). Despite being gullible and easily misled, the Silver Flame are really nasty fighters as they turn on you.

But then you’ll hear messages in chat: “My weapon’s not working.” “They’re immune to my attacks.” Cue the curb-stomping of the party by the Silver Flame–a group not known for its extraordinary fighting skills–if their tendency to constantly hire adventurers out to clear out their many many tombs and catacombs is any indication.

Many player weapons and attacks don’t work because the Silver Flame (and the Eladrin in “Running with the Devils”) are Good-aligned. Many of our player weapons are also Good-aligned, making them ineffective in damage.

Worse off, the Flame’s battlers aren’t stupid. They usually and immediately cast Death Ward, too, making it harder to swat them back with Life Draining or negative energy attacks. They’re often as well-buffed as your own party.

The best weapons against the Flame are those with the Aligned property. Such weapons will hit with the opposite damage reduction of an enemy. In the case of the Flame, they get Evil damage. You can also try Banishing weapons, since the Flame comes from the same plane as you and aren’t native to Shavarath.

Players can make things even harder on themselves by the time they encounter Lightbringer (just as you reach the imprisoned Yugoloths). A massive army of the Flame surround her. Don’t attack the army–attack Lightbringer! After a moment, you’ll see that she’s a succubus that had disguised herself as Lightbringer. Once the idiots in the Flame realize the deception, they become your allies immediately–and a very good thing as a mob of Shavarath enemies pounce on you. Keeping as many Silver Flame bodies alive helps this part of the battle.

The Shroud (Level 17)

Navigation: 8, Enemies: 10, Bosses: 10

The Shroud is DDO’s most popular raid. It’s also the raid most likely to fall apart because of the complexity of objectives and the coordination required from every party member. For that reason, I’m making this sole exception in not mentioning raids, which are naturally difficult. The Shroud is run so often that you’d think everybody can do it reliably, especially when many Epic players enter in.

If you believe that, I have some beachfront property on the shores of Argonnessen that I’m sure you’ll love.

The Thirteenth Eclipse (the Shroud’s official name) requires players to complete five flagging quests as well as use ingredients you gather from each completion to create a Signet Stone that is key to completing the flagging. Some players (the ones that don’t bother to read)  won’t follow instructions to complete the final flagging steps and often delay the raid’s start. Most party leaders aren’t patient and kick them out if they’re not flagged. The lesson? Read, read, read.

The Shroud has five parts. It’s amazing how much is going on and is still quite a lot of information to juggle for experienced players. The challenge is keeping the party focused on the task at hand at all times. It’s too much to go into detail, but let me summarize where parties often cause their own demise.

Part 1: Kill everything, destroy the portals quickly.

This part is typically the easiest, but it can get screwed up if a party leader doesn’t guide everyone to destroying portals in the general order that they spawn. The DDO Wiki article for the raid shows when and where the portals turn up. If parties break up, getting these portals down fast enough will be unlikely before too many portal keepers appear to ward the portals, causing the raid to fail.

Part 2: Kill off trash mobs in the maze, pull and separate 4 Shavarath lieutenants, kill them, destroy their respawning crystal over their spawn point before they return.

This part has “cluster” written all over it. You’ll see your Hulk Smashers go nuts in removing trash, and that’s good. The crazy begins if someone gets too close into the interior of the maze before all trash is destroyed that could affect the party’s bigger fight. The lieutenants have special area-of-effect buffs for each other that make them nigh-invulnerable. Having spare devils poking you makes things all the harder. If the lieutenants are out before the trash is gone, look out.

Pulling the lieutenants down the eastern side of the maze to the south side of the maze is a common tactic, but your Hulk Smashers can make things more difficult if they aren’t listening, forcing players to separate too widely within the maze and spreading healing and DPS resources too thinly.

The next part of this craziness is telling the brain-dead in your party to coordinate the kills of the lieutenants so that they all die at about the same time. If the deaths are staggered too widely, one monster might make it back to the respawn point and comes back to life to torment the party. The respawn crystal can only be destroyed while all lieutenants are ghosts and before any one of them reaches the respawn point. Destroying the crystal also requires the party leader to designate a crystal-destroyer–often a spellcaster–to loiter carefully around the maze’s center to be ready to quickly destroy the thing at the right time.

Part 3: Solve all puzzles, avoid the Whirling Blades, don’t step on the yellow wards, refresh the fountains before a prismatic wall appears and wipes the party.

This area is timed. It requires the brain-dead of the party to think as they may materialize, alone, inside a sealed room where an infamous Shroud puzzle awaits. The puzzle doesn’t have to be solved to add the purifying water to the fountain–but your party will lose 2 chests. An inexperienced player will not know where to find a Shroud puzzle solver or not care, stomping quietly and futilely on their puzzles while not alerting others that they can’t solve it themselves in time.

Again, the party leader is key here. They have to brief the party before entering on what not to do. Don’t destroy any crystals above the rooms, except the three that ward the wading pool where the water fountain resides for bottles of water.

If things are going too slow, the party leader could sacrifice the two chests, destroy the room crystals so the water can be added to all fountains. The party leader also has to keep the team on puzzle-solving status, and that everyone is running through the maze, avoiding the yellow glyphs that cast Horrid Wilting and Greater Dispel Magic to debuff you, and the invulnerable, unavoidable Whirling Blades that will kill the squishiest or careless of your group.

And heavens help you if you are running a raid with fewer than 12 players. It’s probable that one or more rooms will be unoccupied, their puzzles unsolved, its fountain dry. Happen to bring in someone with Knock or who can pick locks? Or will members in party even bother to report an empty room?

Part 4: Kill Arraetrikos.

Bad party leaders neglect warning the group only to enter this next area as a group and only once buffed. Once things start, this bash-o-thon gives parties very few opportunities to regroup. They’d also make sure that all weapons are properly readied to fight a pit fiend.

Like “The Reaver’s Bane” and “Tower of Despair,” player deaths are rewarded with a trip to a penalty box (in this case, a jump into Part 5) where you cannot be resurrected until Harry is killed.

Hulk Smashers that love to kill, kill, kill, might kill devils too quickly, sending many Whirling Blades that spawn from the deaths into your party to kill them, especially on Elite where the blades do maximum damage.

Harry appears in the room’s center and awaits the right weapon to hurt him effectively. This is where your party’s DPS makes all the difference. If melee fighters aren’t using weapons with Silver and Good properties, the fight will be slower.

Good parties on Normal and Hard difficulties might take Harry down in one or two rounds. On rounds two and later, more devils appear before Harry–and more Whirling Blades threaten to kill more party members. Then Gnoll Idolaters appear and cast healing beams at Harry. Well-prepared party leaders ask if there’s a Monk in party with an Everything is Nothing nuke ready to use at the room’s center to swat all the gnolls simultaneously so that all others in party can continue the beat-down on Harry. Otherwise the leader has casters ready to kill the gnolls.

Too many deaths and you’ll end up failing. Sometimes this part can fail even with an experienced party due to lag or misfortune.

Funny thing: My guild ran the Shroud, short-manned by two, on Elite, just last night. Many of us were Epic level; it was an ingredients run. Things went bad in part 4 but by that misfortune of many players being in the wrong place. One of our healers was killed almost immediately and our second had computer issues and disconnected twice. Harry was barely down to 75% by the end of round 3. By then, only the DC’d healer, myself (on Quintessica the Mystic in her first run in this 2nd life) and a Paladin were the last alive.

The guild party was resigned to fail but were in good spirits, rooting for me and the paladin to complete it. Quintessica  dived in, trying to recharge her EiN “Death Blossom” while fending off devils, as was the paladin. For the next round, my Death Blossom wasn’t ready, so I ran about to kill the gnolls while the Paladin stood his ground against Harry for a time alone. Another round and our DC’d healer was able to reconnect to recharge us once before he was killed. I blew away almost all the gnolls with the Death Blossom in the next round before battling Harry once more by round 4.

In a notable example of the Update 19 changes to how effective poison can slay you dead, Quintessica was prepping for round 5 when she suddenly found herself at room temperature.  The combat log said something to the effect of Harry’s pit fiend poison delivering a 1,000 point dose at me. Wow. So much for the old Monk immunity to poison thing (that takes care of natural stuff but not supernatural or magical now). But cheers to Quintessica, who was far more effective and durable as a Mystic. Going to look that pit fiend poison up, though.

The guild called the raid for another night. The paladin, still alive and alone in part 4, was so badass-durable that he actually had to let himself be killed to leave the instance.

Part 5: Kill Arretreikos (Again).

After your whole party dies on using the last altar (by design) and materializes in a new area, you’re revived to fight the four lieutenants from part 2 again. All buffs (including ship buffs) are lost on entry.

Separating them as before is easier with the large area but some zerging party members might kill all the lieutenants before the party can rebuff or recharge their spellpoints before Harry appears on the death of the last lieutenant. Typically, you keep one lieutenant alive while buffs and recharging goes on.

Harry is angrier here than ever, often and randomly changing his target, and moving about. Good party healing, appropriate buffs  and melee teams adjusting position to box Harry in place should make this an easy fight. I did say, “should.” Thankfully players can be revived here should they die–at the expense of the healer-types having to change focus from the lead fighters to the dead.

Taking Requests

That’s my take on some of the tougher quests to coordinate or run with an at-level group. There are plenty more but they don’t rank up to the pure evil seen in the ones I’ve listed. That’s a matter of opinion, so if you know of a quest that can really go the wrong way fast because of the quest’s sheer scope or ability to cause players to goof, then let me know about that quest so I can run it again (crap) and note the pitfalls we might find.

Th-th-that’s ALL, Folks! (Or, Ending a Shroud Run with a Bang)

So, Tyrs Paladium makes another successful run at The Shroud.

We punish the portals.

We terrorize the occupants of the maze and destroy its four denizens.

We solve the many puzzles and, despite the prismatic wall appearing and spinning about, conquer the third area.

When Arrietreikos shows up, it takes three rounds to slay him and his friends (don’t judge us!) but we prevailed.

We initiated a new guildmate by having him attempt to get our “bonus chest” as we entered the final fight.

After a time, Arrietreikos falls one last time, and the guild collects most of their loot shortly before we all exploded.

 

Wait…what? Explode?

 

Yeah.

As a few us waited about as they rolled for a Large Devil Scale I was donating, somebody drank a Potion of Wonder.

I nickname them “Potions of WTF” since you have no damn idea what the things will do. I give any I find to our guild leader and warn her to drink them far, far away from me.

Not long ago, somebody at Turbine thought it would be funny to add one effect to a Potion of Wonder: Detonation Pack.

You remember. You find them in the Lordsmarch quest “Undermine” and in the Cannith adventure, “Blown to Bits.”

The result?

Nuke the party while they loot. It’s the only way to be sure.

The Potion of Wonder detonated and vaporized the looting party.

I couldn’t help but laugh like crazy as we tried to revive ourselves and the person who drank the potion confessed and apologized much.

Talk about ending your raid with a bang.

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