This guide was written by Charles Warren, AKA the Muscle Mage, in 1997. It's archived in this wiki with some grammatical fixes and formatting changes, and an added section on fighting Diablo, but no other changes to the content.
I wrote this guide to hopefully help out somewhat with the problems that anyone who decides to melee with enemies will face, whether these problems occur for Warriors, Muscle Mages, Sword/Shield Rogues, Monks, Bards, and Barbarians.
So, you are new to the art of hand-to-hand fighting, and the enemies seem to be having their way with you. How do you survive? Well, first, a few tactics and strategies are needed, as well as equipment. With a good combination of both, the enemies will not stand a chance.
Of course, always use the highest quality equipment available. For weapons, look for prefixes which add to your to-hit% and damage, since you need to make sure that you hit your enemy. The only exception to this rule is the Rogue, since she has an extremely high dexterity, and therefore a high to-hit%. With a Rogue, some damage prefixes (such as Merciless, Ruthless, etc..) can become preferable after Dexterity is very high (above 200, IMHO). For suffixes, look for items of haste/speed (if the error is ever fixed, haste will become preferable), damage suffixes, or, in the early levels, "of the Bear" weapons (especially for King Leoric with blunt weapons, he becomes much easier to defeat when using a Bear weapon).
Look for the strongest armor that you can wear at any given time. Try to get prefixes such as Glorious, Saintly, Blessed, and so on that add to the over all AC of the armor. For suffixes, I prefer "of Precision", because of the increase in blocking percentage. Other good suffixes are ones that add to HP, Vitality, Strength, or "of the Ages" (as I have mentioned in previous posts, I like items "of the Ages" because I hate seeing Griswold for repairs). With classes whose strength can not reach 90, try to get jewelry with +all suffixes to increase your strength to wear full plate.
I prefer shields "of the Ages" because my shields usually tend to take a beating due to keeping my dexterity high enough to block most, if not all, melee attacks, and I like to avoid paying for expensive repairs at Griswold. Good prefixes are ones that are +all resists (such as Jade, Obsidian, Emerald) and +AC (such as Blessed, Glorious, etc.). Suffixes that are beneficial are the following: 1.) HP adders (of the Wolf, of the Tiger, etc.), and 2.) "of the Ages". Always use the highest quality shield available to you and, if you are not a Warrior or Barbarian, try to obtain a Storm Shield or Holy Defender, for the fast-block capability (and the Storm Shield is also indestructible).
This area is really dominated by Unique helms. My favorite Unique helm is an unidentified Gotterdamerung, due to 60 AC. In single-player games, however, I usually use a Veil of Steel, because of the +50% resist all. The Royal Circlet is a nice helm to have, since it has many beneficial attributes. Finally, any Godly helm with a useful suffix for your class and playing style is a great item to have if you can't seem to find a RC or Gotterdamerung. Essentially, use the best helm that you can find for your given situation, with these suggestions for better helms as a guide for items to watch for. Also, a Helm of Sprits is great for high-level Warriors, if they can afford the AC loss (this item is not of much use to any other melee types though).
For jewelry, I try to use +all suffixes (such as Zodiac, Heavens, Stars). The reason for this is that I gain Dexterity (for AC, blocking, and to-hit%), Strength (for more damage and being able to use better equipment), Vitality (more HP is always a plus), and Magic (although I do not tend to use spells, many in this forum are very adept with them, and I am working on getting better with spells). For prefixes, I try to get resist all (Obsidian, Jade) or +mana (Dragon's, Snake's, Serpent's, etc.). If you have a Constricting Ring, and no other means of resistances, by all means use it, just keep an eye on your current HP and also only use it on levels where you must, otherwise use another beneficial jewel in its place.
All of these items above have been rehashed in the forum multiple times, and these preferences will not suit every style of play. Instead, change these as needed to get the most effective setup for your character class and level, depending on what you find and current items that you can purchase from Wirt, Griswold, and Adria.
Now that you have the equipment, how do you use it to survive against the monsters?
1. Use the terrain to your advantage. Doors make excellent choke points, just position yourself so that Archers can not hit you with arrows. When exploring new areas, follow the walls, and do not be afraid to make strategic withdrawals (or, in other words, retreat) to force the enemy to fight you through a choke point, or while in a corner to minimize the number of effective attackers. When exploring, keep a specific kill zone in mind that you can lead your enemies back to for easier kills.
When facing Archers, use the doors again to your advantage. If a Goat Archer can not shoot you through a door, he will move to a better position. You can use this to force him to get close to the door where you can kill him. For Skeleton-type Archers, rush up to them with a blunt weapon (or use an edged weapon if your damage is high enough), and destroy them quickly, unless you wish to gain many arrow dents in your shield and armor.
Zombies are only truly dangerous in swarms, but they are slow enough that you should not get swarmed, unless you become careless and try to advance through the room too quickly. Watch out for Black Deaths, since they will permanently remove 1 HP if they manage to hit you. I recommend avoiding these creatures at all costs, or using Holy Bolt or a bow to eliminate them. Melee with Black Deaths is not a good option, since the HP loss may prove extremely detrimental later in the game (again, Muscle Mages are especially cautioned, due to lack of HP to begin with, they can not afford to lose any HP to Black Deaths). One may want to consider creating a new game if faced with Black Deaths.
Acid Spitters are very dangerous to any melee attacker, and especially Muscle Mages (due to low hit points, and the fact that Mana Shield is not allowed in Normal Difficulty, and I do not use it in any difficulty other than Hell). In order to defeat most spitters, you only need to go around a corner to avoid the spitting attacks and force them to melee with you. The bosses, OTOH, are much more dangerous. First, fast spit capabilities can decimate your HP while you are trying to corner just one of the spitters. The bosses tend to be able to take a decent beating as well. Using a door in the Catacombs will help, because you can assault them as they come through the door by standing on one side of the door, but not directly in front of the door. Again, this technique takes a little practice, but can get most of the spitters except the boss. The best way to kill the boss is to corner him, and keep swinging. The spitter bosses in the Catacombs are Chaoscrawler and Deathspit. Telekill is also effective against these creatures. In the Caves, you may meet Plaguewrath. Since he has plenty of room to run around in, and his group is hard to corner, melee with him can be difficult. To maximize your chances, herd his group toward an impassable island or corner, and take plenty of full healing potions. You will need them.
The Hidden are yet another interesting group. For the most part, they are not challenging; just use choke points to keep from being overwhelmed. Also, walk in a zig-zag pattern, and you will be able to separate the packs a little more than you could walking a straight line (if you do not have any usable choke points). Crank up the AC and Dexterity for better blocking, because, if you are not prepared, the Hidden could be troublesome. The toughest variation, the Illusion Weaver, is best defeated by use of any and all possible choke points, and corners to reduce effective attacking numbers. AC and blocking are especially necessary against this variation and, if they occur in the Caves in your game, use the zig-zag technique mentioned above to activate as few of these creatures at a time as possible by walking along the wall and one square away from the wall, forcing the Illusion Weaver to appear (it will only appear when it is in an adjacent square to your position).
Skeletons and Fallen Ones
Some of the lower level enemies are only dangerous in packs, such as Skeletons and Fallen Ones. With Skeletons, use choke points, and they will not overwhelm you. For Fallen Ones, the job is even easier. Each time you kill a Fallen One, all of the ones approaching you will turn and run a short distance away. One of the Fallen One bosses, IIRC, does not run, and the same is true of his henchmen. Use a choke point for this boss (I do not remember his name).
Horned Demons are actually not all that dangerous, if you deal with them correctly. Sidestep their charges, by listening for the grunt that they make before charging. After the charge, hit the Horned Demon, since he will be stunned for a short time. Then, just stand toe-to-toe until he is dead (if he survived the first hit). Use choke points to keep them from overwhelming you, but do not stand in a position where the Horned Demon can charge through the choke point.
Magma Demons require some attention. To take the edge off of the ranged attack, increase your fire resistance as much as possible, while still allowing for the other enemies on the level. For melee with them, keep as high an AC as you can, with Dexterity for blocking kept as high as possible. Use similar tactics to my recommendation for Goat Demons in the Catacombs. In the Caves, force them to melee with you by retreating around a corner, and standing one square from the edge of the corner, so that the Magma Demon can not see you and lob magma globules at you. When the Magma Demon appears in melee range, start swinging. Try to stunlock whenever possible, as this enemy uses both fists for his attacks and, similar to Lightning Demons and Balrogs, seems to have a short recovery time.
For Lightning Demons, increase your Lightning resistance, and keep AC and Dexterity high once again. Treat these enemies just like the Magma Demons, and you will find that they die fairly quickly. BTW, their recovery time is faster than the Magma Demons, so keep the Dexterity high to block as many of their attacks as possible.
Vipers can be a real pain, with their short charge attack. Remain stationary, and watch for the attack trajectory. If you swing right as they charge, the charge will be aborted, and the viper will be damaged. The bosses just need the same tactics as the rest, bosses only have more HP.
Balrogs are among the most dangerous creatures in the melee group of attackers. To defeat them, approach one of them as it gets close to you in its circling of you, while avoiding the Inferno attack. This takes practice but, if properly executed, will give you an extra shot or two on the Balrog that you are facing. Also, the Balrog has, IIRC, the fastest recovery time in Diablo, so make sure that you can block very effectively (high dex and, if you are not a Warrior or Barbarian, a fast-block shield such as the Holy Defender or Storm Shield). Have plenty of potions on hand, as this creature's melee attack is worse than the Inferno attack, IMHO. Also, you could try hitting one a couple of times, then moving out a short distance, pick another Balrog, then repeat. Avoid corners with Balrogs, as they can kill you very quickly, and the Inferno can hit from a few squares away. This tactic varies from the normal method of attacking one monster until he falls, but works quite well, and keeps the damage inflicted to workable amounts.
For Succubi and other witches, let them come to you. Force them to go around doorways, into corners, or around obstacles so that they must get near to you, and you can then take your shots as needed. Also, read Bolty's High Level Warrior Guide, and learn how to telekill when you are higher in level.
Knights are only a problem if you have low AC, low Dexterity, or both. If you have high AC and low Dexterity, you won't run into much trouble until Nightmare or Hell Difficulties. This is the reason that all of my setups stress Dexterity, so that I can block the Knight's attacks. Try to isolate the Knights, so that you only face one or two at a time. For instance, if you activate three of them, retreat to thin out their numbers, then melee with the first one to reach you. When the other two catch up, retreat another two or three steps, and repeat. Also, use walls to use your advantage. If you retreat to the other side of a wall, the Knights will tend to line up, and get in each other's way. This slows most of them down, and only 1-3 Knights will make it to you at a time usually with this method.
The Counselor type is the biggest problem for those who melee. Out of these, the best method is to get close as they are casting, so that you can definitely connect with your first swing. After that, just make sure they are stunlocked. Try to separate their numbers by walking back and forth across the line of fire, and every so often one of the Counselors will teleport to another location. Use this to draw the enemy closer to you, for easier attacks. Of course, telekill works great on these guys, if you let them start to cast before teleporting (to avoid having the Counselor teleport right as you arrive). In higher difficulties, this group is the toughest problem for all melee attackers, so telekill or practice separating the enemy. For the Advocate, make sure to practice avoiding projectile attacks, or else use telekill. Getting in close to an Advocate can be dangerous, and especially so if you are not avoiding the Fireballs very well. Keep plenty of Full Healing Potions handy, or Full Mana potions and use Healing (in which case, you should hotkey Healing). I personally prefer to carry all Full Rejuvenation Potions whenever practical (otherwise, I carry Full Rejuvenation and Full Mana Potions, and use Heal). Also, in all difficulties, a speed/haste weapon is recommended for stunlocking Counselors, and is necessary in Nightmare and Hell Difficulties.
This section added by Flux when posting this guide: February 2009.
Diablo is found in a closed square on the lower left quarter of level 16. In the box with Diablo are at least 8 mages and 10 knights, though others (randomly spawned) are usually found in there as well. More so than any other monster, Diablo should be fought solo; he's hard enough without knights joining in, or Advocates launching fireballs. The easiest way to lure out Diablo is with a trick; use Holy Bolt. Diablo is a Demon, but he's also vulnerable to Holy Bolt; the only Demon in the game who is. This isn't a tactic to kill him; it's just a trick to "wake up" Diablo without disturbing any of the knights or mages. If your aim is true (watch the map, aim right down the center of the room, and shoot in a straight line), Diablo will grunt in pain and come charging out to fight.
A more aggressive way to bring him out is to simply run up and let him see you. This isn't especially advised through, since the knights will all pour forth as well. It's possible to visually nibble your way in, moving just close enough for the knights (and mages) on one side to see you, then backing off around the corner to kill them. It can also be fun to cast fire spells into the room; guardian or fire wall are amusing, but Flame Wave is the best, since it will sweep through the entire square and hit everything not behind one of the corner walls. Note that Advocates are fire immune on Hell, and will not react to flame attacks.
Diablo has by far the highest hit points, AC, and damage in the game (and they're raised still further on Hellfire), so prepare for a long fight. (His full stats are listed on his monster page.) As with any tough fight, it's wise to stock up on potions in advance, and to make sure your equipment is fully-repaired. Drop extra potions on the ground if you think you'll need them, since it's faster to pick them up than try to click and drag them from your inventory to your belt mid-fight. The key to beating Diablo is the same as with most tough melee bosses; make sure you've got plenty of to/hit and a fast swing. Hitting him with your swings is more important than doing a bit more damage, so if you must choose damage vs. to/hit, take the to/hit. Being able to block his attacks (both his melee and his Apocalypse spell can be blocked) helps, as does doing sufficient damage to rock him.
Apocalypse is auto-targeting, but it takes a fraction of a second to appear after it's cast. This makes it possible to dodge the spell, if you change direction constantly. Walk in a zig zag while leading Diablo to the spot you wish to fight him in; walking in a straight line will let his every Apocalypse hit.
Diablo uses the same AI as the Magma Demons. His spell is Apocalypse, not throwing a molten rock, but he moves around the same way, dancing side to side and circling the target. This AI is very evident if you use a weapon with knock back, since every time you push Diablo more than a step away he'll run back and start circling again, while periodically pausing to cast Apocalypse.
Positioning is important against Diablo, since he has a knock back hit. If you want to go toe to toe, put yourself against a wall or in a corner, and make sure he's hitting you back against the wall. Your character will not be knocked back and can keep whacking away non-stop. You can use his knockback to your advantage if you're lower on AC, hit points, or lack good blocking. In that case make sure there is not a wall behind you. This way Diablo will never hit you twice in a row, since his hits will knock you backwards. Keep swinging, you'll be able to get in a free hit or two every time you are pushed back, when he has to move forward to get back into melee range.
An oddity of this style of fight is that your character will be steadily pushed back out of their light radius. There's a bug in Diablo in which a character's or monsters's light radius only readjusts if the character actually moves. If you stand still and get knocked back by attacks, your light radius will remain where you last moved, until you move again when it will jump back to display properly. This can be observed when using a bow with knock back against a boss, or (more painfully) when Diablo beats your character halfway across a level.
Since the game ends when you kill Diablo, it's wise to prepare in advance. Be sure you've picked up everything you left in town and done your final shopping and repairs. If you want to do a full clear of 16, you'll need to lure Diablo away and then return to clear out his box. In multiplayer, this is easily done by exploiting the fact that characters do not drop their equipment when they die on level 16. Simply cast a town portal somewhere out of sight near Diablo's box, wake Diablo up, and lead him to the other side of the level. Let him kill you there, restart in town, and take your portal back down. If your character has teleport ditching Diablo is even easier; just lead him around to the right side of the level and teleport over a wall. Be sure you're far enough from the opening in the center of the level that he can't pathfind his way around after you.
Dealing with Combinations of Enemies
Now that you can defeat each enemy individually, how do you deal with mixed mobs? That is the entire point of this next section, so that ranged and melee attackers will not tear you apart.
Melee Attackers of more than one type
If you get a level of all melee attackers, you will have a fairly easy time if you have had some good luck with collecting equipment and are well used to melee tactics for each monster. Just take out the enemies through choke points whenever possible, or, in Hell, retreat around a corner so that the monsters will line up as they try to reach you, and only one to three will make it to you at a time. If you start to become overwhelmed, retreat a few steps, and repeat.
Melee and Ranged Attackers
You will need to separate the two types, so that you can deal with the melee attackers first. If the ranged attackers are Archers, try to find out if they are Skeletons or Goat Men. If they are Skeletons, run in, attract the attention of the melee attackers, then retreat to a choke point out of sight of the Archers. Eliminate your opposition, then return to deal with the Archers. If the ranged attackers are Goat Men, you will have a more interesting time. For these combinations, retreat to the aforementioned choke point, but stand to the side that the Archers are unable to hit you from. Essentially, use the method mentioned above for dealing with Goat Men Archers, so that you can eliminate the Archers as you eliminate your other opposition.
All Ranged Attackers
First of all, I hate this combination. Nothing, IMHO, is worse than a level containing three types of witches (For instance, Soul Burners, Hellspawn, and Snow Witches). To deal effectively with these creatures, try to separate each of the types, and corner them, use choke points, or use corners to kill them before they can use their ranged attacks. If it is a combination of witches, I would recommend the above method or Telekill. If you are facing a combination of witches and Counselors, it is easier. The witches will follow you if you get their attention, but the Counselors will not. Draw off and eliminate the witches, using methods detailed above, then return and deal with the Counselors, again using methods detailed above.
Most importantly, be flexible in your melee attacks. If one method is not working, quickly switch to another method, since failure to kill your opponents in close quarters will certainly kill you. Also, be selective in which creatures you attack first. For instance, if you have Azure Drakes and Doom Guards, kill the Azure Drakes first, since they attack more quickly than the Doom Guards, and hence are more of a threat. Also, keep your dexterity high, so that blocking will be quite effective against other melee attackers and physical missiles.
For those who are not familiar with Telekilling, Bolty has a great definition of the tactic in his High Level Warrior's Guide. Essentially, Telekilling involves having the Teleport spell readied, then highlighting the opponent, right-clicking to Teleport, and begin left-clicking to swing your weapon. If your damage and to-hit% is high enough, you should be able to keep the opponent stunlocked, and then be able to finish your opponent, and continue to the next.
For those who are magically inclined, I recommend reading Armin's Sorcerer 101 and Spellcraft 101. Since I am not magically inclined, the only attack that involves magic that I have included in this post is Telekill, which is found in Bolty's High Level Warrior Guide. Also, thank you to Pete and SweeneyTodd for some suggestions on additional tactics which I had not tried or forgot to include, as well as everyone else who responded to the previous posting of this guide.
Charles Warren, The Muscle Mage
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