This guide gives a general overview of the goals and purposes of each character class in PvP. Information is valid for v1.10+. See the D2 Strategy category for detailed guides for every sort of build.
Characters and Builds
Before the guides I give a quick glossary on the character itself and a note on Faster Hit Recovery. FHR will be discussed later on under ‘useful items, item mods and builds’, but I’ll give a quick summary here. Normally if you get hit in real life you have to recover from that hit (I think.. I’ve never been hit.. shhh). In Diablo the same mechanism works. If you take a big hit based on a percentage of your life (1/12) you will go into hit recovery. During that time you cannot move, attack or do anything (but block I guess). The general idea is that this is bad, you want to move and kill other people. Luckily in D2 you can find items with FHR on them improving your recovery rate. You have to get to specific breakpoints which will be discussed per character, but the main point is to get a chunk of FHR to keep your character out of Stunlock. Stunlock means you’re stunned (you can see this by getting two white ‘swirleys’ over your character) and while you’re stunned you go into hit recovery every time someone or something hits you. Trap assassins are known for this ‘feature’, where they Mindblast you once to stun you and then let the traps fire away. Each time a trap hits you you’re sent into hit recovery.
An amazon has a few very powerful skills, however you’d have to be very carefully on choosing as some might not be what you’re going after. I found that playing amazons mostly meant a running duel. While she is strong, her attacks are ranged or caster and this means on a more budget level that you’ll be running a lot. Don’t get me wrong, one of my best duelers was an amazon and I ran like crazy.
About faster hit recovery. An amazon has a basic FHR breakpoint of 11 frames. This means that when someone hits you after stunning (or just hits you with big damage) you’ll go into hit recovery and it’ll be slow (11 frames means about half a second). Important breakpoints to keep in mind are 32 (7 frames), 52 (6 frames) and 86 (5 frames). I think 7 frames is still a bit slow, but you should be able to manage with it.
Builds. There are only two builds I recommend for a starting amazon. And one of those is quite hard. The choice is between bow and javelin.
Fast, dangerous and female. Do you need more? The assassins in the dueling scene today are as versatile as you can find them. They vary from top of the line duelers, to whacky builds that can still manage. Assassins are throughout the latest patch best known for their traps in PvP. They can be extremely fast, pack great damage and be safe at the same time. Building an Assassin will require some work to get ‘in to it’, but once you do you have a very nice dueler which even at budget can hold her own.
FHR for Assassins. Your assassin starts out with a FHR of 9 frames. Meaning that if you don’t pack any fhr each time you’re taking a big hit or a hit while being stunned you take 9 frames to recover from it. You don’t want that. Now how to improve, well the breakpoints are quite nice. What you should aim for is either 48 FHR giving 5 frame hit recovery, or 86 FHR giving 4 frame recovery. If you play ultra defensively you might get away with 27 FHR giving 6 frames, but basically you want to try to get 86.
Who isn’t attracted by the darker side of magic. Using bones, venoms and your opponents own forces to kill them. Necromancers are a lot of fun to play and they can compete in PvP at the highest levels. Indeed if you would have all the gear available to you the bonemancer (or sometimes lovingly called ‘the boner’) is among the top 5 PvP’ers available. Now there are actually not that many routes you can take with a Necromancer and given the rule restrictions and the (more notably) probably gear selections only one came to mind. The strongest.
FHR is very important for a Necromancer as he has the third worst frame recovery of all classes (right after the Sorceress and the Druid in human form). You start out at a 13 frame hit recovery. Get hit hard or get hit while stunned and you’ll take 13 frames to recover from it. Lucky for us you can improve it quite easily. Your aim would be to get 86% FHR to reach a 6 frame recovery. You can get by with 56% FHR for 7 frames, but please don’t go lower as you will definitely get stunlocked.
Everyone wants to wield a big weapon and smash someone’s brains in, preferably while shouting at the top of your lungs. Good news: You can. However you have to limit your shouting and consider different weapons then the big hurty sticks... but you’ll get by. Barbarians are famed in PvP, they have been very consistent at the top of the ladder throughout the years and in whatever circumstance you might find your Barbarian you can always find a way to slice some ears. There are quite a few good Barbarian builds out there to make a decent dueler, but the most reliable build is also the most dangerous one. It’s pretty much the most amusing skill a barbarian can use too. Go forth and dance your opponents to their deaths.
Hit recovery is of course important in duels. You don’t want to get stunlocked if you’re just running around a bit. However you’re in luck, WW is a non interruptable skill, meaning you can’t get stunlocked in the midst of a WW. Which beasically means you can’t get locked at any time, because every time you get close enough for someone to try to lock you up (trappers for instance) you should either be in the air using leap or in mid WW trying to kill them. You should still have some FHR. You start out at a 9 frame hit recovery rate, meaning if you take a huge hit (and it would have to be seriously huge for a barb) or take a hit while being stunned you take 9 frames to recover. The amount of FHR goes up from 7, 15, 27, 48, 86 to 200 to reach 8 trough 3 frames respectively. Of course 3 frame hitrecovery can’t be reached and should not be attempted. However, 86 is a very nice aim to set. You’ll be likely not to reach that aim but getting to 48 will probably do. You might be able to get by with 27, or even 15 but you have to learn how to play first. Note that you’ll probably wear an Arreat’s face which has a chunk of FHR, so don’t worry about it too much.
TAKE NOTE: Building a WW barb takes time and wealth. Sadly enough this is probably the most expensive of the ‘cheaper’ duelers out there. Especially the weapon selection is limited as you want to hit the desired breakpoints while still maintain high damage. The RWM is recommended to get a nice started weapon, but besides that it gets expensive extremely fast.
The paladin. Paladins are known for versatility, you see one but you’ll never know what the build is until you see it in action. The Paladin has a series of very powerful attacks; Zeal, Smite, Charge, Hammers or FoH. Wait, wait.. I hear you say ‘’what.. only five?’’, yes only five, but this is also the strong point as a paladin can make his choices and most often combine more then one attack into a build. Also the various uses of aura’s can often give the paladin an edge on the offence ánd defence. As for the starting duelers or those on budget, you’re probably best off with a build that is pure. If you want a build that immediately goes mixing up Smite, Charge and FoH you’ll not only need a bit of dueling experience, but also very nice gear (don’t get me started on a Hammer/FoH). Your best bet will be either a Smiter or a FoH. Paladins tend to have nice names, in this case a Vindicator and a Templar respectively.
On FHR. A paladin has a base FHR of 9 frames. That means that if you take enough damage to make you go in hit recovery or if someone attacks with a stun attack you’ll need 9 frames to recover of it rendering you helpless. The breakpoints on getting better FHR are 15% fhr - 7 frames, 27% fhr - 6 frames 48% fhr - 5 frames 86% fhr - 4 frames. 7 frames is still a bit slow but you can get away with it, the best is to aim for 86% FHR.
There she is, the character that can probably produce the highest amount of damage available. The sorceress in PvP generally comes in three shapes, a Cold, a Fire and a Lightning based girl. You have the odd hybrids, but normally you’re a pure breed. All the sorceresses have a couple of things in common. They are heavy hitters, can drain someone’s life orb within a second and even one hit kill someone easily if he comes unprepared. She’s also very fast in Bad Manner PvP as she has the natural teleport ability. However also the down sides are noted. Of the duelers the has fairly low life and is generally a bit fragile. You have to prepare yourself well if you want to build a sorceress, keep in mind all the types of duelers you will come across and protect yourself for all of them. Making a glass cannon will work on occasion, but mostly you’re toast, even if you do 50k damage. This deserves a separate note: If someone is playing bad manner and over absorbs, stacks resists and get +max items he can negate your damage completely. This won’t happen in SP PvP, we set rules that made sure it won’t happen, but a little warning still has to be given.
About the FHR. FHR on a sorceress is very important, you’re a heavy hitter but if you’re standing around recovering from hit after hit you won’t have any use for your nice damage. The sorceress has the worst base hit recovery of every character in the game (well, besides an act 3 mercenary) however the amount of FHR needed to get better frames can be attained well enough. You start out with a 15 frame base hit recovery, meaning you’ll stand around for 15 frames after a big hit or after a hit while being stunned. Your aim is to get to 8 frames (60 FHR) or 7 frames (86 FHR), where 7 is of course better. I recommend against going with slower frames (42 FHR for 9 frames or even 30 FHR for 10 frames) as you have to stay mobile during your entire duel and are likely to have to run away from time to time.
A master of disguise. A druid nowadays can take many powerful forms in PvP, summoning sturdy pets, throwing tornadoes or just going after your foes with fangs and claws. The druid is a very versatile class that will give you chances to explore the character yourself, work on preferences and doing quite well in PvP along the road. You’ll have trouble against some classes, but you’ll have a fun time in most cases. Shape shifters generally are the preferred class if you’re after a solid but not too expensive build. A fully decked out wind druid would probably be the best druid, but try making one without enigma and you’ll see why we recommend against it.
Well, the FHR on the druid is of course different from other classes. While being a wolf gives you great FHR, being a bear gives less. A wolf starts out at 7 frames (which is very nice in it self) and goes from there to 3 frames by getting 86% FHR. Getting 86 FHR is often recommended, but you can get by with less, 42 FHR will give you a 4 frames recovery and 20 FHR (this is a bit slow for a wolf though) will give 5 frames. A bear on the other hand starts out with 13 frames so he does need quite a bit FHR. The aim is to get 86% FHR to get to 6 frames. After that you can maybe get by with 7 frames (54 FHR), but try to get that 86 breakpoint.