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Mercenary Guide


Jun 22, 2003
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Mercenary Guide

The Mercenaries Guide

Written by Darkness on the DiabloII.Net Single Player Forums
(and - in his own words - 'pretty much everyone else on earth I've been able to pump for information').

(Note: This was written for 1.09, so there may be a few details that are dated. - AE)


For three of the character classes, the Barb, Sorc and Pally, the only support they're going to see throughout an SP game is that of a merc. Mercs are useful little things and since the release of the expansion they have gone from being the most unused feature of my D2 games, to a key part of my gaming strategy.

They can also be slightly annoying. Mercs will run off and attack monsters that your character cannot currently see on screen which can bring a whole load of trouble down on your head as well. Playing with a merc changes the tempo of the game and is something worth bearing in mind.

Merc Names

First thing you'll notice is that when you go to hire your merc there are a number of mercs available with different names. Their various stats and levels will be covered later in the faq, but at this moment you may well be blindsided by a merc with a cool name such as Azrael or amused to find mercs called Elly, Gaile and Flux. A complete list of merc names - according to Spirea of The Lurker Lounge - can be found here.

The merc names are randomly assigned each time you visit the merc leader on each trip to town. If you want a particular name for your merc, say you want an Act 2 offensive merc on Nightmare diff called Azrael, just keep revisiting town until the merc with the name you are after appears.

Merc Stats and Levelling Mercs

When you are being shown mercs to buy, the game lists the mercs name and type, along with cost, defense & life.

The defense shown is the base defense WITHOUT the dex bonus. Once you've purchased the merc you will immediately see that the listed defense is higher than that which was shown. Thanks to Badf00d for this info.

In the section dealing with each Merc group I have listed the bonuses to stats they obtain as they level up. I'd like to thank Jude for this idea.

At each difficulty level the mercs you can hire will be of a higher experience level than those of the previous difficulty setting, however their stats will be lower when compared to a merc from the previous difficulty who has reached the same level of experience. In short, levelling up your normal diff merc is better than buying a new one at a higher difficulty level.

Note: The actual difference in the physical stats of a normal diff merc and nightmare diff merc isn't tremendous and there are only a few levels of difference in their skills. In short, in won't make a tremendous difference to your PvM game if you hire a merc in hell diff. Only ActII nightmare diff mercs are really affected by this. If you wish to have those particular auras then you are going to have to settle for slightly lower stats.

The merc levels per group and difficulty setting are as follows:

Rogue Scout: (N) 3-6 (NM) 25-29 (H) 49-53
Desert Warrior: (N) 9-13 (NM) 31-34 (H) 55-58
Eastern Sorceror: (N) 15-19 (NM) 37-41 (H) 61-65
Barbarian: (N) 28-32 (NM) 42-46 (H) 76-79
The levels seem to follow a trend as you progress through the acts and the difficulty settings. The only anomally to this is the levels of the Barb mercs in normal diff. They are noticeably much higher than the rest of the merc groups in that act and also much higher than the Rogues in Act 1 nightmare.

Mercs get the most xp when you are fighting monsters of a similar level to that of the merc. If you've just hired a new merc and want to level them to the same level as your character, compare their level to that of monsters in different parts of the game and fight in that area. With players 8 active, the merc will level up pretty quickly.

Mercs also get more experience for monsters they kill themselves, rather than the XP they get when your character kills monsters. Assist your merc by lower monster HP for and backing off, or using spells/skills that effect whole groups of monsters to weaken them and allow your merc to finish them off. Try to pick monsters than are unlikely to hit your merc hard and often. The re-animated hordes in the Halls of Pain (Nilathaks dungeon) are good for this, rather than Frenzytaurs in the ancients way. The latter are likely to take your merc apart quite quickly.

However the area in question might not have the best xp for your character and may also have pretty lame item drops. Taking your merc to act 5 of normal or nightmare diff (depending where you character is in the game) works almost just as well.

In v.1.09 Mercs do not lose experience when they are killed in Nightmare and Hell diff. Under 1.08 they did.

Mercs cannot be a higher level than your character and when a merc reaches the same level as the player character they cease to gain any xp until the player character levels up again. So when your character reaches level 99, your merc will remain at level 98 forever as they cannot gain anymore XP.

The required experience for each level is given by the equation:

experience_function(level) = (Exp/Lvl) * (level+1) * level ^ 2

The base experience/level by mercenary type and recruitment difficulty:

Normal Nightmare Hell
Rogue Scout, Fire 100 110 120
Rogue Scout, Ice 105 115 125
Desert Warrior 110 120 130
Eastern Sorceror, Fire 110 120 130
Eastern Sorceror, Lightning 110 120 130
Eastern Sorceror, Cold 120 130 140
Barbarian 120 130 140

In essence, Barbarians are the hardest to level as they have the highest EXP required to level, also, the mercs you pick up from later difficulties have larger level requirements. So, not only do the normal difficulty mercs have higher skills than their counterparts at high levels, but they have lower experience requirements to level too. Again thanks to Badf00d for this information.

Mercenary Equipment

The most important mod to have on your merc equipmment is Life Steal. While other mods (extra resists, faster attack, enhanced damage, damage reduction) are important, life steal and (to a lesser extent) life replenish will stop you merc needing a rejuv every 5 minutes. As they cannot heal themselves using potions (and their life regen isn't fast enough to survive heavy combat), the life steal will help a melee merc keep tanking for far longer. As a merc grows in experience and does more damage, the life steal will keep a merc near max health during most fights.

Mana leach is useless to mercs, even the magic using ones. Don't bother with mana leach when choosing equipment for your merc.

Because mercs naturally get quite high resistances, resist gear is not as useful to a very high level merc and it can be worthwhile equiping them with damage reducing gear instead.

Naturally any spare uniques you have lying around that could be used by your merc are probably best placed on your merc. If you've got it, use it!!! There is no point in equipping a merc with magical gear from Larzuk when you have spare Shaftstops and Vampire Gazes on a mule somewhere. Stick them on your merc and you'll instantly notice an improvement in their longevity.

The same applies to runewords and any cruel weapons that might be appropriate. If the Cruel Colossus Blade you just made doesn't have the 40% IAS and 300% ED that you were hoping for , socket it with an Amn rune and give it your barb merc.

Life Leach is useless for Act III mercs though, as they hardly ever use their swords to hit anything. As a result life leach is not a pratical mod to have on their equipment. Give them a faster cast weapon instead.

Outside of life steal on weapons, try to give your mercs the fastest attack weapons you can that won't sacrifice their damage too much. As there are few equipment slots on a merc to store IAS items (and no inventory for charms), you need to focus on the speed of the weapon. A slow attacking merc is really, really slow and very vulnerable to monster attacks. They will not get the most benefit from their life steal as the monsters will get more hits in on them, than they will on the monsters. If you have spare IAS jewels, Shael runes and a socketing quest, it can be just as worthwhile increasing the speed of your mercs weapon via socketing as it would your own.

Slow target items for mercs are excelent, nearly as good as dmg reduction items. A slowed creature can hit the merc less frequently and is therefore easier for the merc to fight. This mod can be very useful against the Frenzytaurs of Act 5. Mercs can also make use of faster run/walk items which can provide your merc with much greater mobility, allowing them to get into and out of trouble faster.

Mercs also make a good home for any Ethereal unique items that you have, as ethereal items do not lose durability when equipped on a merc.

Merc also get the benefits of the partial bonuses of Set Items as well. Sadly, most set items consist of too many parts un-equippable by the merc for them to get the full set bonuses.

In short, treat equipping a merc like you would your character. Try and give them the best gear you can spare.

I won't run off a list of great unique and set items to use on your merc. If you're not a keen MFer of have not been playing the game long, then you're not likely to have a huge list of unique, rare and set equipment. You don't really need them to be honest and a merc can be perfectly viable with items that you can buy from shops or those that drop from monsters.

Plus to Skills Items & Mercenaries

What + to skills items do mercs benefit from? Is a commonly asked question. Furthermore what is the effect of the bonus skills when the item is equipped?

In the cases of the Desert Warriors, Iron Wolves and Barbarians + to skills work by raising their existing skill level by the equivalent of 1 entire level of a the equivalent player characters skill. While merc skills do improve with each level, it isn't in the same way as that of player characters, so + to skills can really benefit mercs. The Iron Wolves magical skills are capped at lvl 18 so + to skills here can lead to a significant improvement. The general rule of thumb when using + to skills equip on the merc is, if the merc doesn't have the skill then an item which gives a bonus to that skill won't have any effect on that merc. So there is no point in giving an Iron Wolf cold merc an item with + 1 to Frozen Orb because, sadly, it won't do a damn thing.

The following + to skills benefit the different mercs:

If you put the appropriate +skill items on a merc, then it will help their skills. The thing is that they do not utilize the +skill items in quite the same way as the players.

The following will boost ALL the skills on that type of merc reguardless of which class the skill came from orginally.

Rogue Scout: +all skills or +amazon skills
Desert Mercenary: +all skills or +paladin skills (yes it will increase the Jab skill)
Eastern Sorceror: +all skills or +sorceress skills
Barbarian: +all skills or +barbarian skills

When it comes to the +skill Tabs, the mercs will gain the benefits differently for these. What will matter is which of the 3 tabs the skills are on for the class that normally has them and any +skill tab bonus that would effect that tab will also work on that skill for the merc reguardless of which class it should be for.

The skill tab groupings:

Skill Tab 1:
Amazon Bow & Crossbow
Sorceress Fire
Necromancer Curses
Paladin Combat Skills
Barbarian Combat Skills
Druid Summoning
Assassin Traps

Skill Tab 2:
Amazon Passives
Sorceress Lightning
Necromancer Bone & Poison
Paladin Offensive Auras
Barbarian Masteries
Druid Shape Shifting
Assassin Shadow Skills

Skill Tab 3:
Amazon Spear & Javlin
Sorceress Cold
Necromancer Summons
Paladin Defensive Auras
Barbarian Warcries
Druid Elemental Skills
Assassin Martial Arts

An Eastern Sorceror that uses cold spells would have those cold spells boosted by any of the 7 +skill tabs effects listed under Tab 3. For example to get to +11 skills with one of this type of merc:

Head: magic Circlet with one of Lancer's, Glacial, Golemlord's, Guardian's, Echoing, Gaea's or Kenshi's on it for +3 skills (all will work ).
Body: +2 sorc arkaine's valor for +2.
Weapon: magic sword with Echoing on it for +3 (a 3 socketed one from the cube formula might be nice for putting jewels into it).
Shield: magic shield with Guardian's on it for another +3.

Total: +11 to the cold skills on this merc.

The barb merc does not have weapons mastery or natural resistance skills, so any item with those skills will have no effect. Rogues benefit the most with a huge array of skills available and these have been comprehensively listed on Diabloii.

Merc's and Magic Find Equipment

When a merc is wearing MF gear, the value of that MF is added to the value of the MF your character is equipped with, when the merc makes a kill.

Merc as 100% MF
Character has 300% MF.

Whenever the merc kills something his MF is treated as being 400%. This does not apply in reverse however and a Mercs MF does not add to characters. So if you're out Mfing with your merc, make sure he/she gets the last hit in on whatever Boss or Unique you're attempting to MF from.

Mercs and Gold Drop Equipment

Any % increase gold drop equip that a merc is carrying apparently does add to any increased % gold drop that the player character is carrying. If you're into gambling in a big way, load down you merc with extra gold items.

Merc Healing

Use rejuv potions wherever possible to heal you merc. As per your character, regular potions take time to effect a merc and if you're healing them in the heat of battle, odds are a regular potion will not stop them from being killed. Use the horadric cube to create rejuv potions via the following recipes.

3 Health Potions + 3 Mana Potions ==> 1 Partial Rejuvenation Potion
3 Partial Rejuv Potions ==> 1 Full Rejuvenation Potion
3 Health Potions + 3 Mana Potions + 1 Gem (any quality)==> 1 Full Rejuvenation Potion

Also, when healing your merc, hold down "shift" and right click on a potion in your belt rather than dragging the potion over to your merc. The first method is quicker and removes all the fumbling that can occur when you're trying to get an antidote potion to them in a hurry. Alternatively hold down shift and hitting 1, 2, 3 ,4 (for your belt slot) to heal your merc. This is even quicker and requires no mouse movement!!!

Note - Battle Orders & Oak Sage

I couldn't think of where else to put this but it fights with the healing section quite nicely. If you are playing a barb and have Battle Orders active you'll notice that your mercs life drops up levelling up. This is because whenever your merc levels up, his life resets to whatever his new base hitpoints are, but doesn't apply the bonuses from Battle Orders, or other similar skills such as Oak Sage. Don't panic, you can either leave your merc to leach his life back up to the new max modified by BO or Oak sage or heal him up somehow. The latter would be the more advantageous route to take if you were in a melee situation.

Merc Resurrection

If your merc dies you can visit the leaders of the merc groups in each act and pay a sum of money for your merc to be resurrected. In act 4 Tyrael performs this roll. The cost of resurrection increases as your merc levels off, but peaks at the princely sum of 50,000 gold when your merc reaches level 50 (I think). You can revive your merc at any time, even if you start a new game in a different difficulty setting.

To date there is only one instance where a merc cannot be revived and it only occurs in v 1.08 of Diablo 2./LOD. The Corpse Spitters in Act 4 will devour your mercs corpse rendering them unressurectable. If you a playing v.1.08 and your merc dies in act 4 either a) get back to town a.s.a.p a resurrect them or b) kill all the corpse spitters in the vicinity. If you don't you will lose your merc and all the gear that is on them.

Mercs Versus Bosses

If you're facing an act boss for the first time, then odds are your Merc is going to get killed in fairly short order thanks to the x7 damage done by the bosses. In addition, the 1.09 patch reduced the amount of damage mercs could do to bosses. Mercs now do - 50% damage against bosses in normal, 40% in nightmare, and 25% in hell difficulties.

While its down to the individual whether they want to use up an entire belt of rejuvs keeping their merc going, I would suggest its not worth the bother especially if your character can manage to fight on alone. After all, if you've used them all up on your merc, what're you going to drink? Then there's ressurection costs. Do you really want to throw thousands of GP away to keep your merc up through a fight?

It's not as cut and dried as that, the ranged attack Mercs (Acts I & III) can survive a boss fight if you position yourself careful and keep the act bosses attention. This leaves the Merc free to throw ranged attacks at the boss until they are dead.

Mercs can be useful against an act boss though as they can buy precious seconds worth of distraction before they die, allowing you to get the first few hits in on the boss and develop a bit of momentum. Against the Ancients they can help distract one or two of them and allow you to lead the third away to a corner for a private pummeling. When you enter Tal Rasha's chamber in Act II, Duriel will invariably charge at your merc rather than you, thus you avoid the hideous amount of damage that the initial charge attack can do to you. If you're lucky, the merc might even still be alive and forcing a quick Full Rejuv down his/her throat will give you an added source of damage in the fight.

Boss Fight Tips

A basic rule of thumb I've noticed in boss fights is that the boss monster will go for the nearest character. If you want to keep your merc alive this is worth bearing in mind, though this can be quite an easy decision if you are playing a melee character and have hired an Act 1 or Act3 merc.

Melee Character + Ranged Merc

In this instance, where the player character is melee and the merc is ranged, simply go toe to toe with your boss monster and this should keep your merc out of harms way. The only stumbling blocks for this strategy are Diablo, the ancients and Baal. Diablo is a big hurty thing and its not always advisable to go to toe to toe with him, especially on Hell diff, some running around is usually called for and a stray Pink Lightning Bolt from him, or his fire attacks, will waste your merc in next to no time.

With the Ancients, there are three of them. One of them will usually find the time to attack your merc, which is usually a pretty short conflict, especially on Hell diff. This is especially true if Korlic, the leaper, decides to leap attack your merc.

The problem with Baal is his tentacles. Whilst they don't hurt the player character much, they can surround and wear down a merc very quickly (thanks to the extra damage). As the tentacles attack when you character and merc are a distance away from Baal, ranged mercs will often fall victim to them.

Melee Character + Melee Merc

Where both the character and merc are melee based I've noticed that the boss concentrates on the character that hits hardest. Not the most often, but the character that does the most damage in a single attack. If this is the character then the boss will focus its efforts on you, if its your merc the same rule applies.

Invariably the player character is better suited to surving a boss encounter at melee range and if the primary reason for having a merc is to take advantage of their aura effects it can be worth your while substituting their current weapon for something that does slightly less damage then your character does. Thus the boss will focus on you.

This strategy is pretty sound against all the boss monsters (especially Duriel if you have a fat purple handy to help them survive the initial charge) except for Diablo as his big hurty fire attacks are something that you don't want to experience at close range (especially on Hell diff), and the Ancients, because there are three of them. At least melee range against the ancients Korlic is unlikely to use his leap attack which does reduce a potential source of huge damage from these monsters.

Ranged Character + Melee Merc

I don't have a great deal of experience here, but what I have seen happen is that the merc charges into the fray and invariably dies. It does depend on the boss monster in question and a melee merc will have an easier time surviving Andariel and Duriel at close range then they will against Mephisto or Diablo. Mephisto's melee attack is just too powerful for mercs to stand up to very long and Diablo's attacks (especially fire and lightning) are very formidable.

In the case of the Ancients, its highly likely that your merc will be mobbed by them in the opening seconds of the fight while your character is going to range.

Ranged Character + Ranged Merc

The rule of the closet character applies here if the monster is going to melee attack you. If both characters are equidistant, then I guess the rule of most damaging applies. I don't have any experience here at all, so if someone wants to fill in the gaps please do so.
However, if you're not too concerned about your merc surviving the fight. Tool em up to them max, send em into the fray and get ready to resurrect them after the fight is over.

MeleeMercs Versus Lightning Enchanted Monsters (from Drandimere)

Two characteristics of LE monsters are that the more they get hit, the more sparks they generate. The type of damage you are inflicting also makes a difference - cold damage generates more sparks than fire. At times the damage you are dealing out may kick up so many sparks that your merc can't life leech it back fast enough (at low and mid levels), especially if you are dealing elemental damage. Therefore, it may help prolong the life of your merc if you back off for a moment and just let the merc take care of the LE while you handle its buddies. Yes, he is still causing sparks to fly from his weapon, but he is also leeching it back with each hit and thus doesn't die.

In addition to this, I have also noticed that if your merc is equipped with an item which freezes the target then Lightning Enchanted monsters tend not to throw out less lightning bolts. In act 2 I have noticed this to be especially pronounced on the Scarabs.

The Mercenary Groups

Act 1 Merc: The Rogues of the Sisterhood of the Sightless Eye

Hire from: Kashya upon reaching clvl 8 or receive as a quest reward after Blood Raven is defeated.
Can equip: Bows (with unlimited arrows), except crossbows
Level up: +1 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +6.5 Defense, +1.5 Resistances, +8 Life

These feisty lovelies become available once you've defeated Blood Raven and can be very helpful. They are restricted to using bows, but require no arrows in order to fire them.

Fire vs Cold

Despite the freezing effect from cold arrow, fire arrow Rogues have more advantages than their cold shooting sisters. Firstly they require 5% less XP to level up and secondly Cold Arrow suffers a 50% penalty to its physical damage whereas Fire Arrow doesn't, therefore fire arrow Rogues hurt more and can leach more effectively.

Equipped with a reasonable bow they can do an awful lot of damage very early on in the game and usually will more damage than most melee characters for quite some time. Players 8 slows them down a bit but not much and with a good bow a Rogue will kill off most monsters with one or two shots. With a fast attack bow, the Rogue can eliminate a fair number of monsters before they get near the player character, which is of immense benefit to melee characters.

Of all the Mercs they benefit most from + to skills equip thanks to a bug in the game code and at +3 to skills, the Rogue gets the infamous lightning hose skill which can be quite devastating. While it does have a relatively short range, it will kill most monsters on normal and nightmare diff very quickly and make short work of a monsters on hell diff as well. When a monster is beyond the range of the hose, the Rogue will usually revert to using normal arrows or fire & cold arrows, but on occaision she will fire the lightning hose at monsters that are well out of range. While the hose it is of little use against Lightning Immunes, against other monsters this ability packs quite a punch and the +3 to skills is not too hard to acquire either.

You probably will not find the items to give you the skills without "twinking" (i.e. passing gear from another character) to your character but the following table shows the following equipment with + to skills that your Rogue can make use of to obtain the lightning hose effect.

+ 3 Skills Bows
Koku Shakaku (clvl 33)
Melody Bow (clvl 39)

+2 Skills Bows
Cliffkiller (clvl41)
Silence Bow (clvl 55)

+2 Skills Helms
Harlequin Crest (clvl 62)
Valkyrie Wing (clvl 44)

+2 Skills Armour
Arkaine's Valor (clvl 85 )

+1 Skills Bows
Blastbark (clvl 28)
Skystrike (clvl 28)
Eaglehorn (clvl 69)
Magewrath (clvl 43)

+1 Skills Helms
Tarnhelm (clvl 15)
Peasant Crown (clvl 28)
Lore helm (clvl 27)

+1 Skills Armour
Silks of the Victor (clvl 28)
Spirit Shroud (clvl 28)
Skullder's Ire (clvl 42)
Que Hegan's wisdom (clvl 51)

For example: Combing Silks of the Victor with the Harlequin Crest would give you the necessary + to skills for the hose and so would combining the Valkyrie Wing with Magewrath. If you have a Kuko Shakaku, then thats all you need to obatin the hose effect.

Equipping any combination of gear that gives the rogue merc + 3 to skills gives her the lightning hose. However it gets more complicated than that as the strength and character level requirement of the item determines if she can equip it. Basically by clvl 28 you should be able to get the hose if you go for the low character level and strength gear - Tarnhelm, Skystrike and Spirit Shroud. After that - well anything goes. As your rogue advances in levels her equipment options expand but your needs will vary.

Lightning Hose Damage

Here is how to calculate the dmg from the lightning hose (Thanks to RTB for this information): 1 - 40 base dmg, + 8 max lightning dmg per lvl from merc lvl 1 - 9, +12 max dmg per lvl from lvl10 -15 and finaly +20 max lightning per lvl from lvl 16 and on. A level 98 Rogue will do 1-1832 damage with a single hit from the Lightning Hose, which works out as an average of 916 per hit, per second. As the hose can potentially hit an individual monster up to 8 times, that is an average damage of 7,356 per second if all 8 hits connect. However it is considered unlikely that all 8 hits from the hose will connect with an individual monster under normal circumstances. Still, even from a few hits the damage is enormous.

The rogue mercenery gains these abilities with + skills:

+1 skill: always use fire arrow
+2 skills: always use cold arrow
+3 skills: chance to use lightning hose
+4 skills: chance to use charged bolt (looks like a stunted version of Diablo's pink lightning - thanks to Ruvanal for this info).

With ranged attacks, the Rogue makes good back up for a melee character freezing the incoming monsters, or thinning out the herd to ease the pressure on a Necro's minions, while at the same time staying out of trouble herself. Her inner sight ability allows the merc to start picking off monsters off screen which can be useful, but can also bring a Unique and his minions down on you when you elast expect it. However with a decent bow (good damage+high speed) you could probably leave your Rouge to cut those monsters down by herself. This has the added bonus of thinning out packs of monsters that you might run into later.

The key disadvantage of the Rogue is her low strength. She won't be wearing high def armour anytime real soon and if she is attacked, is likely to be hit and downed quite quickly as she doesn't have a great deal of health either.

Another big disadvantage is the AI for the Rogue. The way they move to target monsters often involves her being a distance away from the player, where she is a) unprotected and b) likely to attract more monsters to her position. This happens a lot and if the rogue does get surrounded she will be cut down in short order if she can't shoot her way free and your character is engaged in melee elsewhere. In such an instance a melee character will have to break off from the monster they are fighting to assist the Rogue. Ranged characters have an easier time by simply diverting their fire in the mercs direction for a few seconds, thinning the herd and allowing the Rogue to give them covering fire in return.

Also Rogues once they have target a monster tend not to move until they have killed it, which means that if they are about to be surrounded the usual trick of running the player character about to get her to move won't work until she's picked off her foe. You have to run along way to get her to move.

Finally Rogues have a bias for elemental attacks. Which means in Hell, she's good against PIs, but there will be large groups of monsters which she can't kill thus hampering her effectiveness. In addition to this elemental attacks will effect her ability to life leach thus making her less self sustaining in some instances. This also applies to any bow that fires magical or explosive arrows (which currently only do fire damage in 1.09) and equipping a merc with such a weapon will also effect her leaching.

When you first get the rogue merc she will be heavilly biased towards using her regular attack over her fire or cold arrow attack. As she levels she will use the cold or fire attack more often, until at level 25 she gets the following probabilities of using her various skills:

75 in 154 chance to use her regular or + skill altered attack
10 in 154 chance to cast inner sight
69 in 154 chance to use her mercenary type specific fire or cold arrow attack.

Essentially a 50/50 split between using normal arrows and invoking her cold / fire arrow attack with a smallish chance to cast inner sight. Obviously, if you have equipped any + to all oor + to amazon skills items she will alternate between the special skill and her normal cold/fire arrow skill.

A number of bows spawn with mods like "fires explosive arrows" or fires "magic arrows" (these are mostly - possibly exclusivly - found on unique bows) - if you have given your merc any +skills items you will prevent the bow from firing the stated arrows as the merc will never be using the bows regular attack.

Act II Mercs: Desert Warriors

Hire from: Greiz
Can equip: Spears and Polearms (and Javelins, but with no throwing ability)
Level up: +1.5 Strength, +1.5 Dexterity, +9.5 Defense, +1.5 Resistances, +10 Life

These guys are possibly the most used Mercs in the game thanks to their auras.

The Mercs aura is dependant on the difficulty you get them from. The Merc auras all have level restrictions with the exception of the Might Merc aura. The forumla for calculating the level of an aura is: 10/32 of a level per level of the hirling (hlvl). So a level 98 might merc aura would be 10/32*98 = level 30 might aura.

The level caps for the aura's are dependant on the difficulty from which you hire them and can be seen below:

Normal Difficulty

Combat Prayer (hlvl 9 = alvl 3, max. alvl = 18)
Defensive Defiance (hlvl 9 = alvl 3, max. alvl = 18)
Offensive Blessed Aim (hlvl 9 = alvl 3, max. alvl = 18)

Nightmare Difficulty

Combat Thorns (hlvl 31 = alvl 9, max. alvl = 17)
Defensive Holy Freeze (hlvl 31 = alvl 9, max. alvl = 17)
Offensive Might (hlvl 31 = alvl 8, There is no cap on Might level )

Hell Difficulty

Combat Prayer (hlvl 55 = alvl 18, max. alvl = 16)*
Defensive Defiance (hlvl 55 = alvl 18, max. alvl = 16)*
Offensive Blessed Aim (hlvl 55 = alvl 18, max. alvl = 15)*

The figures for hell diff show that where the same merc hired from normal diff, they would have an aura level (alvl) of 18 when they reached hlvl 55 but the max aura a Hell diff merc can have is 16. Hence if you want a higher lvl aura, hire a merc from a lower difficulty.

Normal & Hell Mercenary Skills

Offensive - Blessed Aim

Not the most popular aura for many characters, as most of the melee characters have sufficient skills to raise their AR and the Sorceress doesn't really need much AR as she hits with her magic attacks. However for variant builds such as the Melee Sorc, Ranger (bow/crossbow Paladin) and Meleemancer (melee Necro) where AR is of critical importance, the blessed aim merc can be very useful. This merc can also be very helpful to Werebears who also suffer from AR problems.

Defensive - Defiance

A high level Merc with this aura, and good equip, is very hard to hit, even in Hell diff. So a character who has hired such a merc is equally difficult to hit. The advantages of this are straightforward to any character, you'll get hit less often, therefore be less likely to die. This aura has a pronounced effect on the longevity of a Necro's minions, even when the Merc is of a low level. This aura is a must have for characters aiming to have a huge defence stat i.e. IronMan barbarians.

Combat - Prayer

The life regen that this aura provides is probably only of use to most characters as a way to ignore the effects of poison or of life draining items (Malice runeword for example). However to characters with life steal and high resists, this aura is going to prove to be of little use, and if the merc himself has a life stealing weapon then the aura won't be of too much use to him. This aura is of use to the Necromancer and his minions though, as Necro minions can only be healed via wells or a priest in town. The continual life replenish will help keep them alive for much longer.

Nightmare Merenary Skills

Offensive - Might

A very popular aura for almost any character, as additional damage is always useful. The Merc himself will be doing a godly amount of damage at higher levels and quite happily tank for himself and for those who think that "the best defense is a good offense" this is the way to go.

This aura is probably of least use to a Sorceress as it does not add any benefit to her magical attacks, but should she run low of mana and be caught in a corner with only a melee wepaon then, this aura will give her a chance of fighting her way free.

The effect of this aura on a Necro's minions can create a virtual wall of death to descend upon the ranks of diablo minions. A few revived Frenzytaurs with a might aura on them can easily sway the tide of battle in the favour of the Necromancer.

A point to note is that even if you have a might merc whose lvl is sufficient to provide 100% extra damage this won't automatically double the damage of your character. Th forumlae below from Nikodemous from the Paladin forum explains how your might mercs aura factors into your damage.

Lets say your weapon does 100 points of average damage. (that being the average of the minimum and maximum shown directly on the weapon). You have +100% damage from WW

200 str = +200% damage

and the might merc has lvl 7 might, which gives (40+6*10) 100% bonus.

Total damage is:

(100 * (100 [base] + 200 [str] + 100 [ww] + 100 [might]))/100 = 500 average damage

All elemental damage is added to the total, with no % bonuses on top.

Combat - Thorns

The essential problem with Thorns is that you have to be hit for it to take effect, though admittedly the effect at high levels can kill many normal monsters outright.

The Necromancer Overlord is the character build that can make best use of this aura. With many minions running around the map all effected by thorns and with the possibility of an Amp Damage curse as well, this can create havoc for boss monsters that use phycial attacks i.e Hephasto the Armourer, Duriel and the Ancients. By wading through the thorns aura'd minions to get to the player character, these boss monsters will take an awful lot of damage.

Defensive - Holy Freeze

Another very useful for aura for any player character, moreso for the slowing effect on monsters than any damage done. This aura, at high levels, will bring many enemies to a near stop. Demon Imps stop teleporting all of the place, flayers slow right down and explody headed Slayers are easily avoided. For characters using thrown weapons, bows or magic, the slowed monsters make ideal targets.

The Necromancer Overlord (or a Corpse Explosion Necro) is the class most disadvantaged by this aura, as the increase number of bodies that shatter upon death greatly reduces the Necro's potential revive, summon or corpse explosion fodder.
On Hell diff, cold immune monsters will still be slowed by this aura.

Important Note on Holy Freeze:

It seems that not all monsters are affected by this aura. Blood Lords, Moon Lords and Death Lords of act 5 seem resistant to its slowing effects. The Frenzytaurs are immune to freezing. So do not rely on your merc to slow these monsters down.

Act 2 Merc Aura Activation

Act 2 Merc aura's do not automaticaly activate when you hire them, or do they become active when you leave town. The Desert Warrior requires a little stimulus to use his aura and this means getting him involved in the action.

A basic rule of thumb is this. If you have an offensive aura, then the aura will become active once the merc has attacked something. If you have a defensive aura, then it becomes active once the merc is attacked. In short, if you character kills everything before the merc gets a look in the aura won't activate.

It's a little more complicated than this and there do seem to be instances where a hired mercs aura will simply not turn on, or at least take a very long time to do so.

The merc has percentage chance to do something when it chooses and activity to perform. Every time the merc changes his current activity there is a chance that his aura will become active.

Multiplay Tip for Act 2 Mercs

Don't all hire the same merc in a MP game ir you're all using Act 2 mercs. If you have 6 players with 6 mercs all with the same aura all the game will do is cycle through the aura effects for each merc. While the radius of effect may be huge (6 might mercs supporting 6 Zookeeper Necros would be a frightening sight) its not the best use of the abilities available. If you have 6 mercs all with different auras you'll have an entire party of hard hitting, life replenishing, accurate, difficult to hit characters, versus a load of monsters who are moving slowly and that get hurt whenever they hit your characters.

Desert Warriors use Polearms, Javelins (but with no throwing ability and they cannot equip amazon specific spears) or Spears and can therefore do a lot of damage. They attack using the Amazon "Jab" attack which under 1.09 no longer ignores weapon speed. A Might aura merc can do a phenomenal amount of damage with such a weapon and can quite happily cut down any monster that crosses his path. They non might mercs still do an impressive amount of damage and with a decent exceptional or elite polearm/spear, can easily top 1000pts of damage. They are also strong enough to wear heavy armour and can survive in the middle of a melee for some time. In addition they get a fair few hit points to boot.

Their AI is more focused on staying within aura effecting distance of the player, but as they level up and the range of their aura grows the distance they are inclined to wander for a fight grows. Even high level Act II mercs have less of a lemming tendency than the other mercs and will retreat quite quickly if your character decides to leg it.

The obvious disadvantage of the act II mercs is that when they die, outside of losing your support you also lose the aura effects a few seconds later. This can turn the tide of battle against your character very quickly.

The more damaging Polearms/Spears are usually quite slow. More than any other merc there needs to be a trade off between speed and power here in choice of weapon. In addition the weapon needs to have some elemental damage attached to it otherwise the merc will be useless against PIs on hell diff. This Merc, unless totally overwhelmed, can survive quite well in hell diff.

Act III Mercs: The Iron Wolves

Hire from: Asheara
Can equip: Swords and Shields
Level up: +1.5 Strength, +1.5 Dexterity, +4.5 Defense, +1.5 Resistances, +6 Life

The Iron Wolves are all sorcerers who come in 3 flavours, fire, ice or lightning with the following spells.

Lightning: Charged Bolt and Lightning
Cold: Glacial Spike or Ice Blast with Frozen Armour
Fire: Inferno and Fireball

Their spells reach the following levels as the mercs experience lvl increases.

Eastern Sorceror - Fire
Exp Level 15 37 61 99
Inferno 6 13 20 20
Fire Ball 4 11 18 18

Eastern Sorceror - Cold
Exp Level 15 37 61 99
Glacial Spike 1 5 9 9
Frozen Armor 2 9 16 16
Ice Blast 6 13 20 20

Eastern Sorceror - Lightning
Exp Level 15 37 61 99
Charged Bolt 4 8 12 12
Lightning 3 10 17 28

They can equip shields and swords, but, only use the sword in rare circumstances (such as when they are being mobbed) so it is worthwhile equipping them with a decent weapon. Ideally a sword with +1 to all skills or faster cast would be of most benefit to them. Life leach is less of an issue here, due to the infrequency of melee attacks that these mercs make.

Like the Rogue these are ranged combatants and can provide useful back-up for a melee character. Again the cold mercs attacks will help against crowds of monsters but freezing them solid or slowing the monsters down.

As they use a shield they can block and this will help with their defence and also their resists if you socket your shield or simply give them a good unique or rare shield. They are strong enough to wear heavy armour and use large shields, which is useful as their defence increase per level is pitiful.

Their magic attack is also very useful against PI's in Hell and Nightmare, just so long as the PI is not immune to the Sorcs chosen element or is magic immune as well. This particularly useful for those character classes that do not have a strong attack for dealing with PIs i.e. Werewollf Druids. The added elemental damage from the Mercs attack can assist whatever damage the WW has on his weapons.

Sorcs suffer from the same AI problem as Rogues though, they back off to range, target something and keep firing until its dead, irrespective of whether 20 Flayers have just run onto the screen next to them and are currently turning the merc into a swiss cheese. Again once this process has started it is very difficult to get the merc to move away. The shield will help the merc survive for a bit, but their low hp means that will be killed sooner rather than later, unless the player character has the opportunity to thin out the mob somewhat.

As these mercs only attack very rarely with their melee weapon the amount of damage these Mercs do isn't very great. This means they can't fight their way out of a scrape very quickly and on hell diff it takes an age for them to hurt anything. Add in the existence of elemental immunities on Hell diff and this mercs use becomes severely limited. This lack of damage can be compensated for if the Merc is accompanying a Paladin that uses the conviction aura.

However, because the act 3 merc's damage is mostly unaffected by the equipment they use, there is an ideal niche for them to fill. Magic Finding. Its easy to equip these mercs with up 300% MF and because they tend not to go, toe to toe with monsters, you can shield them with your character while they get the last shot in on a boss monster. For the dedicated Mfer, this can be worthwhile niche to exploit.

In addition the cold merc is often in danger of trapping you or himself when surrounded. Because he's targeting a monster a distance away, he will fire at it regardless of whats in his way. This can mean that you can find your retreat blocked by frozen, or chilled monsters, or him surrounded by a crowd of frozen enemies from which he cannot retreat.
He will use his sword to fight his way out of these situations, but is unlikely to escape when surrounded by monsters. The cold merc is also of least use to a Necro Overlord as the frozen corpses which shatter into nothingness are no use to the Necro for summoning or reviving.

Getting your Act III Merc to Move (a tip from Pantin)

When my mercenary starts getting hit too often for its own good, I start running in a big circle from where I was to where I was with a radius just a bit smaller than half the screen's height. So I always end up exactly where I left off, and with some speed the monsters almost don't move from where they were.

The main GOOD thing is that the mercenary stops firing and actually moves back to follow you. But when you go back and restart fighting it stops where it is, usually half a screen behind you, safely placed.

Act V Mercs: The Barbarians

Hire from: Qual-Kehk
Can equip: Swords (only one at a time)
Level up: +2 Strength, +1.5 Dexterity, +7.5 Defense, +1.5 Resistances, +12 Life

These guys really are tanks. They are stronger than the other mercs and therefore capable of wearing heavy armour and wielding big swords.

Unlike the other mercs, barb mercs can wear class specific items which can greatly increase their strength. Wielding big swords and doing lots of damage coupled with either the barb skill stun, or bash, they are very keen to get into a fight. Fast attack on the swords is of great use to these mercs. The barb gets great strength and life increases as he levels up.

Barbarian Mercenaries' Skills

The Barbarians have two skills which they use as and when they feel like:

Bash: This is the more useful of the 2 skills to choose from. Outside of doing more damage and having increased AR the attack knocks the monster away, thus buying the barb and the player character extra breathing room. This is especially useful for when fighting through a doorway.

Stun: The stun is quite useful because it leaves monsters standing around looking stupid for 2 seconds or so, giving free hits and preventing the monsters from swarming the merc and the player character.

Conversely monsters with stun attacks are bad news for mercs because stun effect leaves the merc unable to keep the monsters off balance and is liable to get swarmed. Against a pack of Urdar's in Hell, even a very tough well equipped merc (irrespective of which Act the come from) is likely to be killed in short order.

The disadvantage of the barb merc is their enthusiasm for getting into a fight. Of all the mercs they have the greatest tendency to run off at speed to kill a nearby monster, irrespective of how many there may be. This does help to keep monsters away from the player character (useful if they happen to be a Sorc or Necro) but invariably gets the barb killed. The barb has good defence (not as good as the Desert Warrior) but its not good enough to survive repeat attacks on nightmare or hell diffs. If you can back your merc up though, his Bash attack will keep the monsters at bay and give you room to kill monsters at a more leisurely pace.

Barb mercs don't work well if your playing style is to stand around and pick through chests, study you gear or think about where you're going next. Odds are he's already decided where you're going and has shot off after the nearest monster. Sticking close to your barb merc does up the tempo of the game somewhat. However, if you give your barb a fast attacking weapon, with big damage and life steal you shouldn't have to worry about them too much.

The barb merc should also have some elemental/magical damage on their weapon if you wish for them to be of use against PIs.

Character Specific Tips

Ranger Merc Tip from Wassup

The Blessed Aim merc is especially useful to the Shock Ranger should you fail to find a weapon that shoots fire, explosive, or magical arrows (these special arrows have the side effect of always hitting) since you'll be using Holy Shock as your main aura and use Normal Attack to shoot arrows, you'll suffer from serious Attack Rating problems rather quickly. also when facing Lightning Immune/Lightning Enchanted bosses, I found the following tactic useful - turn on Fanatism/Salvation for Lightning Immune/Enchanted bosses respectively and shoot arrows at the boss with him and knockback (thus requiring Knockback equipment) into a wall. with the boss in constant stunlock, you merc can then do the actual damage to the boss (given he's not Physical Immune as well, in which case you should just leg it)

Assassin & Might Merc Tip from bablyon_f

One thing to be aware of using Might Merc with an Assassin is that your Shadow Master companion becomes a bit of a liability.

The Shadow Master seems to spam Mind Blast all the time & converts some monsters, these then pickup the Might aura from your Merc. This is all very nice until they go hostile again and KEEP the Might aura for a while (5 secs-ish). This is normally more than enough time to completely annihilate your Merc who isnt clever enough to get out of the way & can even be nasty for yourself if your not watching closely!! The only answer is to keep a close watch & run as soon as conversion ends - this gets very boring very quickly though.

A similar effect can occur with a Paladin, Thorn's merc and a conversion aura. When the conversion wear's off the monsters will still be affected by thorns for a few seconds afterwards. Be very careful with melee attacks at this time. - Thanks to Psychotron for this tip.


Jul 1, 2003
love the guide,always have. Can i ask you wheres darkness? is he gone forever? i knew he left after this friend got killed or something?


Jun 24, 2003
Cornwall, UK
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I seem to remember reading that they changed how +skills worked on mercs (ie. only +all skills work on mercs now) - although the skill caps on some mercs have been eased a bit to compensate.


Nov 13, 2003
Evanston, IL
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As additional information, these are the changes that i remember hearing about between 1.09 and 1.10 mercs. Correct me if I'm wrong, since there's a good chance. :)

+skills strange attacks for a rogue merc were removed.
Mercs level up the same way regardless of which act they come from.
Merc corpse removal bug with the act 4 monsters got fixed.

edit: doh! i removed the part that said something like, "Thanks for getting this back up so quickly, AE!" :)


Jun 24, 2003
Cornwall, UK
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wildjinn said:
Merc corpse removal bug with the act 4 monsters got fixed.

This was way back in 1.08 I think... they fixed it in 1.09. It was an interesting sort of feature that made those monsters rather more dangerous than they are now...


Feb 5, 2004
I have a nightmare merc on one of my characters and his aura has never activated. If I recall correctly, he is supposed to be a Thorns merc ;) He has leveled six times, killed lots of monsters, and died plenty too. Is there a minimum level he has to be in order for the aura to activate? He is 29 now.


Jan 15, 2004
Where The Rivers Run Clean
There are some things that makes this guide...dated.

1. Most notably, the Lightning Hose bug HAS BEEN FIXED. No longer can you get it.

2. The listed hire levels are skewed. The listed hire levels for Normal are accurate, but they raised the levels in both NM and Hell. It says that the Act Three mercs can be hired at lvl. 37-41, but I hired one at lvl 53.

3. I have heard that the skill tab bit for the Act Three mercs has been eliminated, but I cannot confirm this. However, I do know they benifit from + to sorceress skill items (Visceurant.)

All in all, it does give very thorough information on their AI, personality types, etc. for people that have never used mercenaries to their full potential.


Feb 5, 2004
Just leveled NM Act 2 merc to 31 and his Thorns aura kicked in-- so I guess that is the minimum. Anyone know of other aura minimums?


Jul 5, 2003
great guide, thnx, so now i know how i can equip my act 3 sorc with a stormshield and ali baba :thumbsup: thnx

Sep 6, 2003
Wow. This Dark's guide used to be a permanent part of these forums! [gets a teary-eyed and nostalgic]

We ought to dig up some of the recent 1.10 merc-weapon discussion and attach it here.



Jun 22, 2003
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Ravenforce3 said:
1. Most notably, the Lightning Hose bug HAS BEEN FIXED. No longer can you get it.
Has it been fixed for 1.09, 1.08 and 1.07? Or is it only fixed in 1.10? Just a thought.

Ravenforce3 said:
2. The listed hire levels are skewed. The listed hire levels for Normal are accurate, but they raised the levels in both NM and Hell. It says that the Act Three mercs can be hired at lvl. 37-41, but I hired one at lvl 53.
The info was correct as of the time of writing. It'd be nice to see an updated version for 1.10 with all the game changes in it. I for one would be interested to read a revised version. :)


Jun 24, 2003
Cornwall, UK
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Darkness said:
Has it been fixed for 1.09, 1.08 and 1.07? Or is it only fixed in 1.10? Just a thought.

Any version it did work in, it will still work in. Blizzard don't retroactively update their patches... or, for that matter, update anything outside each self-contained patch (mutters something about sticking an FE monster somewhere in a Blizzard programmer's anatomy).

Darkness said:
The info was correct as of the time of writing. It'd be nice to see an updated version for 1.10 with all the game changes in it. I for one would be interested to read a revised version. :)

There were a few interesting changes in 1.10... most of the info is posted on other forums already so it would be a simple copy-and-paste(-and-credit) job. Maybe if I get some time, I'll look into a revision... maybe :)

Good to see you around too :howdy: