Zen Master: The Untouchable Archer


Pynthetica-Zen12-4

The delicate balance, as I explained to the Teacher before her sabbatical, in the use of the longbow through ki, required me to shed my thuggish notions of strength I once learned as a Ranger.

The balance comes not from the release of the arrow, I explained, but in releasing myself from the material plane while guiding the arrow to its target. Thus, zen, or complete focus of mind and body, enables a flow of power from grace, not strength, which also moves the body away from danger in concert with the hand guiding the arrow to its destination.

Should an enemy arrow, or many attacks for that matter, seek out my body, my disciplines train my body to ignore that arrow and to let it pass by. I don’t use monastic principles so much as to repel the arrow but to push myself into another plane of existence where the attack cannot reach me.

This discipline requires only your training, ki, and no arcane or divine philosophies.

– Pynthetica, in her teachings to young acolytes on her inaugural instruction in the art of zen archery


(UPDATE: Since this post, I’ve refined the build to the point where I actually posted a build on the DDO forums. Its basic protections are same as here but with some tweaks. Find it here.)

I had drafted an entire update article on Pynthetica, my Zen Archer build. 

DDO doesn’t have a true “Zen Archer” as found in D&D tabletop or similar games, but provided one feat that supported the notion. I’ve been trying to develop one.

As you may recall, she was a decent Monk with a bow but not a high-damaging one because of her Bow Strength limitations.

Basically, a bow’s damage modifier is non-existent unless your STR is less than 9 or if you have a form of the Bow Strength feat (granted to all Rangers but very expensive for others). Or you can do what Pyn did in life #2 and use the Half-Elf Ranger dilettante to gain a Lesser version–but I don’t recommend it. She ended up reaching level 20 but having insufficient damage per hit to make a survivable difference in Epic.

I discovered an alternative to Bow Strength and decided to forego Pyn’s epic training as a Half-Elf, moving her onto life #3 immediately. Pynthetica is my only character that has three lives without ever training past level 21.

As I was reviewing some of Pyn’s recent gameplay successes in my head while writing the old draft, a post-caffeination revelation occurred in me,  causing me to scrap that draft in favor of this one. It seemed neater.

Simple but Effective Damage


When asked how a Monk would channel ki through their archery, I was only able to say, “Through persistence.” As the Drow teacher Szyncletica might say, there is less to be said by a single projectile yet quite more to be said by several projectiles sent at once.

–Pynthetica


As described here and here, Pynthetica is simply a Monk with a bow. She uses no additional classes as the “monkcher” nor trains any Arcane Archer powers. She’s more comparable in her build to Szyncletica, who’s based on the version 1 Shiradi Shuricannon.

As an Elf, Pyn saves many resources and gives her some powerful advantages. Let’s stick with the usual attack stuff first in a quick summary.

  1. Going Elf gives Pyn natural longbow proficiency, saving several feats ordinarily required for non-Rangers.
  2. The Zen Archery feat makes a bow a Centered ki weapon, but doesn’t give weapon proficiency, thus the need to use a race that provides this. Zen Archery normally applies the WIS modifier, rather than DEX, as the to-hit roll if WIS is higher than DEX.
  3. Elven (Aerenal) Weapon Training gives increased damage and attack bonuses to her bows.
  4. Choosing Aerenal Grace adds Dexterity-to-Damage for her bows.
  5. Choosing the Skill enhancement adds 3% Doubleshot, 3% Dodge and bypasses 3% enemy Dodge.

Pynthetica-Zen12-2Clearly, the DEX-to-Damage for bows solves the bow damage problem nicely. A little Doubleshot aids in damage.

Ranged Feats by level 12 are Point Blank Shot, Quick Draw, Precise Shot, Improved Critical: Ranged, and Ten Thousand Stars.

Like Szyncletica the star-thrower, there are limits to what monastic arts can be applied to non-melee combat. For Pyn, there’s far less she can apply because there are fewer skills in the Ninja Spy tree that augment damage to any weapon aside from shortswords and shuriken. More on what she did train in this tree in a moment.

Pynthetica decided to pour much of her remaining AP into the Harper Agent tree to gain as much Ranged Power and passive enhancements to her bow as possible. By level 20, she’ll have up to +15 Ranged Power with all Harper skills trained. She may also have sufficient AP to make her weapon Good-aligned and add a modest damage increase with the tier 5 enhancements found there.

Pyn’s weapon damage should be comparable to Rangers (without any damage imbues) since one stat controls damage and to-hit. But monkchers and some Arcane Archers would probably do much better.

That’s all well and good. But what really makes Pyn a useful character build, much less a viable one?

That answer came to me after reviewing how Pyn fought in several quests.

Missed Me by That Much


I invited the ten acolytes to take their positions along the range. Each were given two blunted arrows. I stood as their target at the other end of the range. I had only ten blunted arrows, one per student.

I concentrated, moving myself to the Between, then instructed each of them to shoot me while I targeted each of them.

Not one of their arrows struck me, yet I was able to strike each student. One student remarked, “It was as if you weren’t there as I shot my arrow.”

-Pynthetica


So I have Pyn out in the field. A bunch of trolls and ogres do their mixing up of ranged attack and melee strikes. I direct Pyn to remove the threats as arrows and other attacks rain down. I recall seeing a lot of text fly over Pyn’s head while she’s fighting.

Miss Miss Miss Dodge Blurry Deflected Miss Incorporeal Miss Dodge Blurry Evade Evade Miss Dodge Incorporeal Dodge Deflected Dodge

While all that text is flying by, the enemies are dropping, but Pyn’s health remains stable. It’s not dropping much, certainly not so dramatically that an occasional heal from a tanking Cleric hireling or a potion won’t fix.

Pynthetica-Zen12-3Without realizing it, Pyn was showing me her art of “Zen Mastery.” This is Pyn’s self-ascribed DDO art of archery while not fully in existence on the material plane.

To understand this, let’s review Pyn’s passive training skills.

As with other ninjas, Pynthetica gains strong miss-chance abilities as a Monk. She gains a base 6% Dodge just training up to level 20. As a ninja, she gains more bonuses, and using certain Monk stances improve this further, not counting any gear.

The higher each miss-chance defense of Dodge, Concealment and Incorporeality, the less damage taken. When an enemy attacks, their attack is rolled against each miss-chance. Fail any one of them and the attack misses.

While ninjas such as Szyncletica and the solo-master Kiricletica can have the up to usual 25% Dodge, 20% Concealment and 25% Incorporeality for a very respectable miss-chance of about 55%, Pynthetica discerned something more.

Pyn is an Elf. She trained her Shadow Dragonmark. In addition to emergency Invisibility she can tap if she has insufficient ki to use Shadow Veil, she also has 3 uses of Displacement per rest for heavy battles. That’s 50% Concealment. She’ll try to have at least a form of Blur (20% Concealment) equipped at all times.

Pyn is also a ninja at heart. She trained in Shadow Veil, of course, for silent Invisibility and 25% Incorporeality, the highest Ghostliness you can achieve without being a high-level Pale Master. But she can increase her own Dodge cap with the Agility enhancement to boost her Dodge cap from the standard 25% cap to 28%. Combined with her guild ship’s Fencing Master ship buff that adds a 2% bonus to Dodge cap, Pynthetica can achieve a 30% Dodge.

Unfortunately, unlike Shuricannons, Ninja Poison cannot be applied with bows. Training in any of the Nujutsu or Sting of the Ninja elements would be fruitless. I might apply a precious 1 AP to the first rank of Flash Bang to give Pyn an emergency escape–more points if need be, but I would also sacrifice Ranged Power AP to do this. Pyn also loses the vorpalling weapons and other weapon upgrades in the latter Ninja Spy core abilities.

Unlike Artemistika the Ranger, Pynthetica’s natural Monk training also gives her greater movement speed, better AC, better saves, Improved Evasion and better Jump if required, like Szyncletica. Wearing no armor still has its advantages.

Pyn hates enemy archers. She trained in the Deflect Arrows feat. This will deflect an enemy missile attack once every six seconds–but note the fine print, yea saith the Wiki:

  • Monks do not need to be centered to benefit from this feat and can deflect arrows that strike from behind.
  • Only arrows and bolts that hit are deflected. Those that miss do not count towards the 1 deflected projectile per 6 seconds quota.

So Pyn’s miss-chances have a fourth layer. Should the enemy’s missile make successful saves against Pyn’s Dodge, Concealment and Incorporeality (remember, all must be saved against by an enemy attack), the missile will get swatted away with Deflect Arrows. Further, since the combined miss-chances are higher than the average ninja, odds are that Deflect Arrows will always ward off an missile attack that beats the odds against Pyn’s miss-chance.

It also doesn’t hurt that the high DEX and WIS also boost Pyn’s general AC (through DEX AC bonus and the Monk AC bonus) to survive a direct melee hit. Thus, there is no concern about improving CON scores beyond using items or changing Monk stances in crunch times.

 Normal battle miss-chance defenses (level 12)

  • Dodge: 22, Concealment: 0, Incorporeality: 0 = 22%
  • Dodge: 22, Concealment: 0, Incorporeality: 25 = 41.5%
  • Dodge: 22, Concealment: 20, Incorporeality: 25 = 53.2%

Advanced battle miss-chance defenses (level 12)

  • Dodge: 20, Concealment; 50, Incorporeality: 25 = 70.75%

Epic battle miss-chance defenses (level 20+)

  • Dodge: 30, Concealment; 20, Incorporeality: 25 = 58%
  • Dodge: 30, Concealment; 50, Incorporeality: 25 = 73.75%

And remember, if something is able to get past any of these numbers slower than once per six seconds, and it’s a missile attack, it will be deflected by Deflect Arrows.

Pyn’s AC at level 12 at the time of this writing is a strong 51 to 55, adjustable a little through an item or Monk stances as a physical defense, a Natural Armor item, and hopefully will gain some modest PRR and a little MRR as further mitigation. Pyn’s saves, however, are the links that form her strongest armor created by miss-chance.

Pyn’s zen mastery, in short, is a superior miss-change strategy combined with Deflect Arrows and Improved Evasion. That much defense, even for a time, is enough to ward off the nastiest attacks, including magic assault, where Improved Evasion adds an effective fifth layer.

While Pyn is far from any kind of tank, she should be able to deliver more uninterrupted attacks and lose health slower while under fire than many other archer classes when they are under direct attack.

Zen Master’s Gear


The zen master must not only choose the appropriate bow and arrows for the target, but also the correct application of enchanted gear which fortifies and magnifies their skill in standing in the balance of material and ethereal, the Between.

In a perfect world the zen master will not move, but should they require escape from a charging enemy, they must also be swift, sometimes silent, returning to their place of Between to target their enemy once more.

–Pynthetica


To make her Ten Thousand Stars training most effective, a higher WIS is needed. This also helps with the ki pool but also with total AC. But DEX is the damage and to-hit stat that will be improved most, especially into Epic play. TTS is preferable over Manyshot because of its shorter cooldown of 1 minute and its 30 second use versus Manyshot’s 2 minute cooldown and 20 second use.

Pyn’s general weaponry isn’t special. Most of the named bows are there, including the howitzer Thornlord, the undead-hating high-performance Silver Longbow, troll-hunters such as Serpentbranch and the Tortured Livewood Bow (of which I’m happy to see improved versions, snagging an Epic one for later), and perhaps an Elemental Longbow of Earth if Misty would care to part with hers. And long ago Pyn was constructing a Lightning II longbow but got only to tier 2 before losing the formula. Still, it’s still a superior weapon.

She’s enjoying a Frozen Tunic that stops some enemies cold quite conveniently. A Black Dragonscale Robe awaits her at level 14 to help with fortification bypass, with a White robe for improved defense. While I’m using a Greater Nimble Trinket to add Blur, I’m studying how badly I want some Bracers of Wind. The tier 2 level 15 version with Blurry, Dodge 6% and Air Guard would be sufficient–and only bound to account.

Some pre-augment slot Bracers of Deftness add Mobility for 2% more Dodge for now.

Some switching of gear added a Resistance +6 helm and some Striding 30% boots are now equipped, as well. Looks like I can trade collectables for some Greater Heroism potions with a House Jorasco trader for crunch times but use my Eternal Potion of Heroism during less stressful battles.

Zen Mastery to Level 20


 I do not have answers as yet to teach these acolytes on the ways of fighting against the most superior enemies rumored to exist on another world, and even other planes. This I have yet to encounter, myself. I do know that becoming a shadow may only achieve so much if your enemy is a shadow as well.

–Pynthetica


There are two feat slots left. Precision would make a very logical one to take for blowing by 25% fortification and boosting damage by 5%–it’s too good to pass up. The second slot depends on Pyn’s overall defense. She has enough INT to train Combat Expertise to gain a 10% AC boost, which can go to 30% if she moves to Ultimate Earth Stance. Of course, adding the Dodge feat itself would help its defense bonus by 3%.

But there’s also the kill-everything Manyshot that cannot be fully ignored since any archer may need to clear a room faster than TTS can do in a crisis. Given that Pyn’s defenses are designed to be superior than merely having higher AC, I’m clearly leaning to Manyshot, especially with the introduction of stupidly durable Champions. At the same time, Pyn is no slouch in stealth, and prefers to set up her kills, either sniping them away from long range or by forcing them into kill zones.

I don’t want to get into Epic talk just yet, except to say that Shadowdancer offers the best Ranged Power boost at +4 per core ability with more persistent miss-chance and ranged damage, yet Grandmaster of Flowers provides greater ki regeneration and monastic protections. Of course, Shiradi Champion has to be completed first since that was her initial active destiny in her first life as a Ranger.

And I’ve jinxed myself before. Let’s see what see happens.

Enough Talk, Show Us a Video!

I wanted to find a place where there are many archers that form a kill zone against anything that enters their domain to demonstrate Pyn’s zen mastery.

I found two such places. However, while the fortress of archers in “Chains of Flame” would make a more fitting example, time and allergies prohibited that demo. Instead, I went for the simplier quest. Watch Pyn take on the Firebrand gnolls in “Maraud the Mines.”

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