Silk, Hiding Sword, Sting and Shadow

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

The Kunoichi…where brute strength is lacking, cunning and poisoned blades do the work. This is actually a close approximation of Kiricletica’s look. (Credit: CreativeCut.com)

Everything I know about Ninja Spies is being fully tested with Kiricletica, the lone ninja (kuniochi).

Combat skills. Stealth limits. Assassination tactics. DefensesNinjutsu.

Just when I think this character is reaching an impasse, something works out in my plans to conquer as many quests as I can without any hirelings or single party member–and with as few kills as required.

Because of this challenge, I have to make major course corrections. One of them is working on mastering the art of poison as a central takedown tactic, particularly with the debuffing power that Ninja Poison can do.

The Lady of Venom

I have not read, in the DDO Forums or elsewhere, of anyone else that’s mastering a poisoner build. Almost all posts involve questions/complaints on how Sting of the Ninja changed (shortly after the enhancement update) to only allow it to work with ninja weaponry (shortswords, kamas and shuriken) but not martial arts or non-ninja uncentered piercing/slashing weapons (bows, unarmed attack) thwarting its use as a min-max option for archers and others.

So, I’m trying to pioneer this attack skill of punishing waves of simultaneous negative energy and poison while perfecting the stealth tactics of the latest updates.

As noted in a past post, Ninja Poison not only injects stacks of poison (up to 20) to give nasty damage over time, but each stack gives 5% vulnerability to anything that isn’t outright immune to poison, to a maximum of 100%. Weapons with untyped poison also enjoy this magnification of damage.

Combine this level of DoT damage with the still-deadly negative energy attacks of Touch of Despair and Touch of Death, and the Ninja Spy becomes a solitary fighter one should not want to meet alone in a dark dungeon. Using the Poisoned Soul ability with Touch of Despair, I can inject poison simultaneously with a negative energy curse and damage from the finisher and a Touch of Death strike.

Poison is also a great offensive weapon when enemies are immune to negative energy. Thankfully, very few enemies are immune to both poison and negative energy attacks.

The downside? It can take a bit of time to pump in poison. You can blow an immediate 1 to 4 stacks into a tight group using Poisoned Darts with a little ki every 15 seconds. Every 10 seconds you can inject 5 stacks over 30 seconds using the Poisoned Soul Ninjutsu ability, through the Touch of Despair finisher. By 40 seconds an enemy is lungs-full of poison with 20 stacks.

A stack is injected on a critical hit with the Sting of the Ninja ability active and when using piercing/slashing weapons. And finally, you can undo all your work (and a chunk of the enemy’s HP) by forcibly ripping the poison out at 1d20 to 1d50 damage per stack, using Poison Exploit.

What’s probably obvious to some is, if the enemy is powerful enough to stand up to such a prolonged beating, can the player withstand the enemy counterattacks?

I think so. That’s why Kiri is training it. Eventually, she will hit a wall with an enemy that cannot be cut down by mere swordplay, and may have far more hit points and defenses. She needs a strong offense that also minimizes damage to herself. Speedy poisoning is the key.

I’m collecting all kinds of weapons that slap untyped poisons to accelerate an attack. The Envenomed Blade (which I’ll dual-wield) will the best of the Heroic-level blades I can use at level 16. Imagine an attack where purple DoTs of 20d4, or 80-100+ damage and greater (with the vulnerability and with poison weapons in use) appear over the head of an enemy per 3 seconds, not to mention the ki attacks, weapon damage and purple negative energy damage that ninjas also use that should quickly devour a foe.

It’s then a matter of good defense to avoid or absorb the damage while at close range.

For that, the Ninja Spy is generally favorable to miss-chance effects (Dodge, Incorporeality, Concealment). Kiri is nearing 20% Dodge and always has Blur (20% conceal) and Shadow Veil (25% incorporeality) for very strong miss-chance defenses at her level. She requires more WIS and DEX for better offensive/defensive/DC results. Slated at the approaching level 14 is a White Dragonscale Robe for much-needed improvements to AC for her later counter-assaults on Lordsmarch as well as Tempest’s Spine Elite.

Lady of War: A Brain over Brawn Offense

Keras, the Drow fighter end-boss in “The Lords of Dust“, is a good example of who Kiri has to poison swiftly. On Heroic Elite this CR26 boss is quite dangerous with his Whirlwind Attack and dual-wielded swords, getting in Sneak Attack damage even if you’re quite fortified. Most parties without a squishy ranged option will choose to go “stick-and-move” on him because of the tremendous damage he can do with only a hit or two. His HP isn’t tiny, so it takes time to kill him.

For Ninja Spies, the option can be to smack him one or two times while throwing Ninja Poison to damage him as he chases you or attacks others. This places powerful poison DoTs on him and makes him more vulnerable to poisons in general so that other party attacks can be more effective. Blowing Poisoned Darts at him every 15 seconds to put 1 to 4 stacks on him should help too.

I’m adding in ranged options, too. To contrast, Szyncletica’s stars are loaded with Ninja Poison and heavily DoTs anything quite well over time with her onslaught of thrown attacks. For her, taking down Keras was easy in the past with star damage, kiting and heavy Ninja Poisoning.

The downside to Szyn’s star-throwing is she cannot use any Ninjutsu with thrown weapons, relying only on Sting of the Ninja and Venomed Blades, so poisoning was a slower process. Kiri uses stars as well, and not badly, but her attacks are less damaging and slower than a Shiradi Shuricannon. Still, from long range, she does build up some poison on a charging enemy before entering melee and dosing it much faster. Getting a Quiver of Poison for more ranged poison damage isn’t a bad idea as well.

But Kiricletica should be a better overall poisoner with the full Ninjutsu abilities, while piling on weapon damage, negative energy and elemental damage with ki strikes.

Like many other finishing moves, poison mastery requires coordination. An Earth/Dark/Earth finisher might be good here for Pain Touch, which prevent enemy spellcasting and attacks until they save from the effect while you can wail on them and set up a Ninjutsu/Touch of Despair attack.

Poisoning works for Kiri as she’s not trying to chase any enemy around the dungeon and attract too much attention. If she can throw a few potent DoTs on an enemy and break off, letting them die slowly while she escapes and hides. This would be especially true against bosses that are a required target while their minion guards aren’t.

The end fight of “Frame Work” fits this bill. With other characters I have been able to lure up the chieftain boss, the only required kill,  to the upper platforms of the end-fight area, smacking him around while his minions hold back for a time, wondering what’s going on. Imagine getting enough poison stacks on him to where you just walk away after a bit as he eventually just succumbs to the poison. One Flash Bang to hold off your escape from his guards, perhaps also to loot, and you’re done for the day with some green tea awaiting you in the dojo.

Lady Of Blinding Darkness

I’ve been quickly adding more lesser-used ninja tactics to aid in the inevitable mob fights, or to prevent some.

You already know I enjoy pulling individuals with a well-thrown star. Provided it doesn’t create a zone bug (where the quest presumes you’ll fight a boss in a specific location) this works well.

I also use stars to break objects so their sound lures other enemies to that sound, while I sneak forward to do my business. When there aren’t crates or jars to break, I’ve resorted to using enemies themselves to generate noise. This is tricky, since a jar won’t come charging to kill you. But if it can be done at long range, the enemy reacts and others react to him without an immediate charge. But with that farther range, you have to traverse a greater distance to make it to your objective before enemy attention returns to your path.

I’m switching up a lot when the mobs become too huge. I completed “Slavers of the Shrieking Mines” and “Bring Me The Head of Ghola-Fan!” recently. Midway through “Ghola-Fan”, I reached the spiral staircase and floated down the center to a soundless entry where Taskmaster Tar-Lom breaks in his newly-trained troops, declaring you as the training dummy.

I hit the leader with a poison dose and ran away. I kept my attention on the boss as best I could, hitting him with more poison. He fell before his own students did.

But the mob numbered ten or more. A swing-by-swing fight, even with Vampiric Fury Shortswords, proved to become a losing battle with the angered students, even with Blur and Incorporeality going.

I started spitting Poisoned Darts at them, whirling away to heal up after stunning and blinding the mob with a Flash Bang. The poison weakened the mobs as well as the shortsword’s CON leaching from disease.

Two or three rounds of this and the fight was done. If I had to, I could have used that Flash Bang to escape outright since blindness is effectively an invisibility guard. I would just go into Sneak and use an Abundant Step to move away to a safe spot so they wouldn’t hear where I moved to and chase me.

Flash Bangs are awesome. They offer something I think other players don’t realize. Like Stunning Fist, this stuns an enemy for 6 seconds. Unlike Stunning Fist, it also blinds, is an area-of-effect attack and works with wielded weapons. It’s slower to use with a 30 second cooldown, yes, but it still offers a useful stun effect for weapon users, where Stunning Fist cannot be applied.

I’m going to max out Flash Bang to ensure for better tactical options when the going gets too tough. Again, that’s more need to pump up WIS for a better DC for it to succeed. I’ve found it’s a cool way to escape rooms where you’ve had to pull a lever or switch and enemies detect you. After I pull the lever, I get the room’s occupants to group up before throwing a Bang at them. It’s like a Batman-esque smoke bomb. Blinded and sometimes stunned, by the time they can see again and begin searching in vain to find me, I’m long gone. I used that trick in one room in “Faithfully Departed” very recently.

You might be asking what I’m ultimately sacrificing with the planned use of all the poison attacks and special ninja skills. The answer is Sneak Attack. I have 1 of the 4 tiers trained up, but that’s it (and I’ll likely reallocate those points). For Kiri, she’d only get one (weak) punch as a Sneak Attack, so these points are wasted while in solo play. Kiri could never generate the ultimate Sneak Attack power of a Rogue anyway. I’d rather add more DEX or WIS with those Action Points to ensure that later monastic training will be more effective, such as Quivering Palm, the assassinate-style attack at level 15.

Advertisements

Come to the Dark Side! (Or not)

After dusting off Ryncletica and exploring more of the nature of the “Dark” monk, I have this to say.

Ninja Spys are awesome.

I’ve played light monks all through my time on DDO. There were ups and downs, things I had to unlearn from my Neverwinter Nights days, and learning more about the exceptions to the game mechanics to which monks can bend, break or be liable.

Let’s go through my initial objections from long past and how they shape up now.

Myth: Dark monks can’t heal themselves as well as light monks.

Fact: Generally true, if you play style consists of terrible impulses to scream-and-leap at mobs. Otherwise, dark monks do fine in self-healing, with the right fighting style combined with enhancements, reaching level 11 and with a few offensive items.

  • Dark monks are natural ninjas. Light monks solo well because they can heal themselves of afflictions. Dark monks solo well because mobs don’t know they’re frickin’ there. To wit: I took Ryncletica (L14) into Haywire Foundry on Hard, alone (no hirelings). I sneaked past almost everything to get the two levers to the central golems. Pulled out my smiting handwraps and dispatched the golems (lots of Touch of Death on the red-named), then make a hasty exit. HP never dropped below 1/3, thanks to the information in the next point…
  • Dark monks heal wonderfully with vampiric weaponry and prudence. The Vampiric Stonedust Wraps were a no-brainer, but the Vampiric Fury Shortswords are a bonus win. The extra stat damage these do in combination with Improved Two Weapon Fighting and doublestrike will keep a monk’s HP/ki meter well-filled. If you find yourself a little peaked after a fight, use Wholeness of Body and fill yourself up from ki. Of course…
  • Ninjas don’t attack mobs. They attack targets. If you can hide and complete a quest without fighting a thing, you still get the XP. A Ninja Spy in One With Shadow/Sneak regenerates ki (Light monks have to wait to get Oremi’s Necklace for that trick) so there’s no reason to rush. In fact, once you can regenerate ki to 50 in your stable pool, you can Touch of Death targets routinely with an assassin’s precision.

If you don’t put points into Hide/Move Silently, you aren’t a ninja. You’re just a monk that likes to kill. Nothing wrong with that, but you lose the benefits of why the dark monk is deadlier than its light cousin.

Myth: Dark monks deal more DPS than their light cousin.

Fact: Depends on where they are, and what they must attack.

The dark monk’s available killing powers generally consist of elemental, force and negative energy. These come from the Earth/Air/Fire/Water strikes, Void Strike, and Touch of Death. (Both monk types get Quivering Palm for another instant-death strike.) The good news is that the dark monk is extremely effective on killing the living, non-aberration kind of foe. Drow. Ogres. Giants. Humans.

But stick a dark monk against these monsters and they will have a harder time because these foes offset a skill to kill or the ability to use a killing technique. These include:

  • Undead (dependent on Holy/Undead bane/disrupting weapons, while light monks are designed inherently to hurt the undead)
  • Aberrations (Enemies that live on negative energy are unlikely to be killed by it, so Touch of Death is a bad thing to try on them)
  • Anything with tremor sense (Dark monks can’t easily bypass spiders)
  • Anything that kills you faster than you can kill it. I know this sounds obvious, but one monk ability, to stun something, is less effective against the non-living and problematic with some planar creatures. That means that the light monks have it good with Tomb of Jade, which can encase any extraplanar, non-living and non-construct enemy and effectively stun it. Dark monks (even with vampiric ability) won’t have enough inherent positive energy attacking prowess against such foes. A prepared ninja (like Batman-prepared, with Holy burst weaponry)  is a live one at quest’s end.
  • Anything that loves to debuff or curse you early and often. (Dark monks must use clickys or potions to offset, which eventually run out, while light monks can remove such afflictions for as long as they can generate ki). Anyone that’s done the end fight with the hyper-cursing red-named bosses in A New Invasion and The Dreaming Dark final quest knows of what I speak.

To wrap up: Ryncletica is awesome to play. I’ve gained sizable appreciation for what dark monks can do. The most interesting challenge to come for her will be in fighting in the Shroud. Dark monks don’t get the damage reduction bypassing while unarmed, so she’s stuck with Metalline of Pure Good/Righteousness shortswords/kamas here until she can get a Tower of Despair ring, add Holy burst to one and wear metalline handwraps. (I do not hold out, ever, on getting Metalline/PG wraps in my lifetime).

Ryncletica has shown me clearly that a dark monk, rightly played, is a very soloable–and powerful–character.

A Deadly Shadow

I sat in mediation for some time that morning in a small garden of our dojo’s small pond, a few clicks from the dormitory, far enough into the meadow that I couldn’t hear the chatter of others.

I had been training my listening skills, hearing nothing but flies and bees buzzing for hours before I detected the particular footsteps of my abbot, the nearly-silent foot falls growing louder. Humans. They practically plod like giants when they walk, even my master.

“Greetings, master Syncletica,” I said, not turning about or bothering to open my eyes. The foot falls stopped.

“You have completed the stealth tests satisfactorily,” she said.

High praise from my master, especially considering the test she gave to me.

Syncletica’s final test was for me to enter the Firebrand Gnoll mines and retrieve several gemstones with as few kills as possible. But I was to go alone. She left a mercenary cleric nearby in case of grave danger but she was ordered not to accompany me through the mines itself, and would stay put at the quest entrance.

Most of the master’s acolytes have chosen the Path of Harmonious Balance, where ki is used to heal yourself and others, but can also be used to damage attackers. I am one of a few that chose the Path of Inevitable Dominion, where I use my ki for extra damage and to aid in cloaking my approach.

Many people seem to think this “dark” path is evil, or questionable. It is not. There is no evil in the training of mind and body, especially to use such skill against the true evils that trouble Stormreach and its neighbors.

My brethren think I am somehow weaker. Because of this, I accepted my final test with determination.

I accepted additional training in the art of the ninja. It gives me stronger stealth skills. Not only are my hiding and move silently training is enhanced, but I can use my ki to make myself invisible and a bit incorporeal for a brief time. I would need that inside the narrow corridors of the mines. I handle shortswords very well as ki weaponry for when my fists cannot overcome an enemy–a rarer event, thankfully.

But the most dangerous training I know is for when I must fight. I often strike and stun enemies while cloaked to quickly remove them without drawing attention from others. For when I must fight a group, I measure their strength. Spell casters and healers are felled first, if possible. I have crafted a pair of handwraps that aid in stunning and, with a fortunate strike, will encase an enemy in stone. These wraps are also vampiric, fortifying my healing ability. Otherwise, other than drinking healing potions, healing while in battle is not possible.

But my best skill involves the management of ki. Like any other monk, I need the ki force to empower my training. Others will fight to generate it, leaving them at risk of having to use more to heal themselves or others. My training allows me to regenerate ki while in stealth, up to my stable level of concentration. That’s not much ki energy, but it is enough to heal myself every few minutes without having to encounter one attacker, or mediate to generate energy.

Were I to be discovered and an outright fight was inevitable, I use my most punishing technique. I draw my ki into a ball of intense energy that punishes the lifeforce of any living being, often destroying them with that single attack. A few in the dojo were…concerned…with such a brutal attack. “We are not assassins,” they say. They believe there is something wrong in the sudden death of an enemy. Yet they, as I, will eventually learn a new sudden-death strike. Maybe my brothers and sisters confuse my training and attacks with my attitude. I’m not as social as others. Maybe they just see me as angry or mean. I do not know.

But I do what I must. And I completed my test. No cleric. Barely detected by most of the mine’s denizens. I left the required gems by the master’s doorstep late last night.

I could hear the master take a few steps towards me as I still faced the pond. A heard a slight rustle as some kind of package was placed beside me. “You have earned this,” the master said, as her footsteps receded from me.

A few minutes later, I opened my eyes. Next to me in a neat package was clothing that gave me stronger concentration and protection, two special shortswords of metalline, and headgear that no other in the dojo had been allowed to wear, until now.

As the sun began to set, I dressed in the new outfit and pulled the obsidian-black mask over my dull red hair. With a moment of concentration, I ran to the pond, running quickly over the water to the other side, hardly disturbing the liquid’s surface tension, then cloaked myself to disappear into the outlying forest and to my next mission.

I am the first ninja of my dojo. I will defend its honor, its members, and the citizens and friends of Stormreach.