The Misadventures of Four ANTS

Maltatai

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Introduction
Do You get bored of hearing of nothing but the latest repugnant raid by the single-minded single-element spellcaster? Have You had enough of holier-than-thou holy bolters and smug sorceresses? Do You wish to rid your cellar of pests like scrappy summoners and dumb druids? Leave your situation in our capable claws and enjoy the meditative magnificence of magic-free months ever after!


Assassinating Natalyas Terminating Solutions





A ROYGBIV -certified mercenary company. We will dispatch any spellcaster of any inclination wielding magic of any colour.

Elite Unique-ecological services. We will not disrupt the environment of Sanctuary with magic finding over-exploitation of endangered biotopes.


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Maltatai

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1. Concerning Hybrid Assassins
While the class is in many ways versatility itself, hybrid assassins are not a very common sight. The shadow disciplines provide ever-useful benefits that can aid the combat with both traps and martial arts but the latter two require mostly conflicting investments in skill points and equipment. One-point wonders such as death sentry and dragon flight gives a lot for just a handful of skill points and blade fury is a convenient reserve option for any close ranged witch hunter. Splitting the skill points between martial arts and traps will not only strain the synergizing of the primary damage dealing skills but also leave little left for the useful defenses and support skills that enable your main attacks to be effective. As if that was not deterring enough, the equipment needs of the spell-casterly trapper and the brawling and wailing martial artist are rather hard to combine. It is not surprising that the number of hardcore hybrid assassins is small and those going untwinked almost non-existent.

In other words, what are we waiting for?

The idea of making the four martial arts and traps based assassins originated mostly from the fact that there are four styles of their claws and I thought it would be stylish to have one that focused on one type each, hence four characters. I have also not tried out traps and martial arts very much, preferring a somewhat quieter approach. So onward into the fray with them screaming like an indiscreet warrior princess. Since traps are mainly fire and lightning based and since I haven't used fists of fire or claws of thunder as main attacks on a character in a long time I figured that the ANTS would be either lightning or fire themed, two each. The fiery ones fade and cloak in their smoke and use slower but heavier attacks, dressed in the dark and red heavy armour. The enlightninged ones dazzle the mind with their speed and prefer faster and lighter attacks, wearing the shining medium armours. Obviously the two clans despise one another and would go out of the way to bring down those foul heretics.

The ANTS will search for their primary targets across Sanctuary and will need local guides, so they will each look to enlist a different mercenary. These will offer different advantages and disadvantages that should affect the gameplay considerably.
 

Maltatai

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2. Skills and Earliest Levels
Meet the ANTS. Octavia, Nymia, Ignatia and Celexia are the latest assets and proud acquisitions of Assassinating Natalyas Terminating Solutions.

Two of them, Octavia and Nymia, are more combat focused with charged up elemental skills and blade traps that require attack rating of their own and gain a damage bonus from their claw mastery as I understand it. Ignatia and Celexia were originally intended to be mixed trappers both but I shelved the idea in favour of letting each ant have a dragon* move skill. A bit of a drawback for Ignatia and Celexia is that they have no obvious way to take advantage of a really good melee claw as it is but it is possible that some fools thing of piercing would let them use some skill granted by their claws effectively.

*Those skills do not deserve that etymology for it is the necromancers that really follow the dragon deity of Sanctuary and not even the impressive kicks are damaging enough to be worthy of association with such a magnificent creature.

In any case, the ANTS will also for once and for all attempt to woman up and stand their ground with weapon block instead of running for their lives in insufficient frailty like some of their colleagues. 9 points each will give them a solid defense I hope.

The ANTS will be built in the following way.


Octavia

Skills:
20 Fists of Fire.
20 Claw Mastery.
20 Dragon Tail.
20 Blade Sentinel.
9 Weapon Block.
1 Cloak of Shadows.
3 Fade.

Claws: Cestus style claws (the mighty war fist of fire).

Mercenary: Blessed aim town guard. The red aura is the right thing for a fiery red assassin.

Strengths and Weaknesses:
KABOOM. Fists of fire combined with dragon tail will be enough to blow anything and anyone out of the dungeon, or so one can hope. There should be ample fireworks and explosions in any case and that is what truly matters. Octavia will also use the blade sentinel that can work on groups while she create explosions. Blade sentinel matches the colours of heavy armour more than blade fury so that is the trap of choice for her since it is also aided by her claw mastery. A couple of extra points are left over for fade which is excellent as Octavia will be in the thick of the melee and needing to guard her hired guard. Dragon tail offers much less attack rating than the other dragonly attacks and blade sentinel will need a huge investment in attack rating to be useful. Fortunate indeed then to have an advisor of accuracy at hand.

Octavia will build up fists of fire first in order to burn Diablo and make the most of that skill before fire immune morons start showing their unbecoming faces. After that she will likely focus in the cheap and initially useful Blade Sentinel followed by Dragon Tail. Claw Mastery will benefit all other skills and be maximized last.

Nymia

Skills:
20 Claws of Thunder.
20 Claw Mastery.
20 Dragon Claw.
20 Blade Fury.
9 Weapon Block.
1 Burst of Speed.
1 Mind Blast.

Claws: Claws style claws (the lightning quick claws of thunder).

Mercenary: Barbarian. Lightning white stunning will help an equally eager meleer.

Strengths and Weaknesses:
The counterpart and also opposite to Octavia, Nymia is the only one without a kick and the most focused on clawing at things. That she will do with a vengeance and with precision from all the attack rating bonuses. She is somewhat weak in fireworks but on the other hand claws of thunder deals fairly good damage on its own and she will apply the effects twice with dragon claw which should compensate a bit for the limited elemental investment. The lack of kicking means that she has sort of one item luck option less but on the other hand the speed potential of dragon claw and claw weapons could let her capitalize on striking effects much more than the others. Blade fury is probably her least reliable skill since it will require a good deal of extra attack rating to hit and most importantly because her brawling berserker will not wait for stragglers when engaging and thereby requiring prompt help.

Nymia will focus her early efforts on claws of thunder to claw at Diablo, followed by dragon claw and claw mastery. There are a lot of claws in her life, if you didn't catch that. Blade fury will need the most help from her equipment to be effective and will be maxed lastly. It will be workable before that with just one point as a reserve to deal with exploding enemies.

Ignatia

Skills:
20 Fire Blast.
20 Wake of Inferno.
20 Wake of Fire.
20 Dragon Flight.
9 Weapon Block.
1 Cloak of Shadows.
1 Fade.

Claws: Katar style claws (wake of fire-shaped broad blades).

Mercenary: Cold iron wolf. Red robes for the fiery redlings, and cold damage is useful and a third damage type. Keep your allies close but your enemy (mages) closer.

Strengths and Weaknesses:
Igniting the surroundings with her fire traps while kicking the immune enemies apart sounds fairly simple, but how does one do it best and what is the best way to pass the time between dragon flights? Even tax free potion shopping before the next flight leaves will get boring eventually. Perhaps her defensive strength will allow her to focus fire much better at concentrated groups congregating around her or she will discover a katar enabling some completely new skill that can be worked into the build. Since elite katars are a bit more common than the other styles Ignatia has a decent chance of finding a pair with a couple of interesting abilities. Another issue is how a corrupted caster of cold will work with the offensive dragon flight and what to do if a pack of fire immunes are too strong to land on and kick safely.

Ignatia will focus on wake of inferno to roast Diablo and later complement it with wake of fire followed by dragon flight to be ready for immune enemies and heavy boots in nightmare. Fire blast will be maxed last. Because it rhymes. And also because fire blast will be hardest to combine effectively with melee and other skills.

Celexia

Skills:
20 Dragon Talon.
20 Shock Web.
20 Charged Bolt Sentry.
20 Lightning Sentry.
9 Weapon Block.
3 Burst of Speed.
1 Mind Blast.

Claws: Scissors Katar style claws (three blades are good for channelling alternating currents for your lightning traps).

Mercenary: Cold rogue. Inner sight is lightning white and shining.

Strengths and Weaknesses:
Dragon talon is the lightning quick kick so it should be a skill to go with lightning traps. The problem is that that is such an established combination, and heaven, hell and inbetween forbid that it would turn the character into a bland cookie cutter. But someone still has to use dragon talon and I am eager to see it work on an assassin that can endure melee well enough to make the skill shine. Lightning traps offer good variety but it would be interesting to focus on maximizing close range damage from charged bolts or cover the ground in shock webs to make use of Celexias melee capability along with the traps. So long as she is well protected, a ruthless rapid-firing reaver might prove to be the deadliest trap of them all.

Celexia will build up dragon talon to kick Diablo in a convenient and sensitive spot followed by the lightning traps, in order to be decided later. Lightning sentry will be maxed lastly.

The ANTS began their reign of chaos in the following fearsome way:

The ANTS Earliest Progress (Level 8)

Octavia
Beginning with claw mastery Octavia had an easy start finding a couple of sapphires to chill little fallen ones with. She obtained burst of speed and dragon claw before starting to build up fists of fire.

Nymia
Second katar to drop had a little lightning damage which suited her theme well. She found a large charm with cold resistance and lightning damage in the cold plains, very nice. For once early enough for the damage to be useful. She got dragon claw and burst of speed which she would build up before getting claws of thunder.

Ignatia
With few gems but several poison potions her start was easy but boring. She had the least experience of all when entering the cold plains for some reason. However she found a funny rate amulet with 2 to dexterity and regeneration and a bit more, like a tiny version of the Mahim Oak Curio amulet. She put her spare point into fire blast.

Celexia
She began as Celexa until I realized I had forgotten the "i" in her name... Sigh. When restarting with proper spelling she had much better luck however, finding a septic charm, two topazes and a sapphire along with some handy throwing knives and poison potions. She managed to buy a mechanics katar of shock where she put the two topazes, a rather devastating weapon available at level 7. She put her spare points into dragon talon, giving her two kicks.
 
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Maltatai

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...the claws were hanging by the door hoorah, hoorah!
The boots are polished, the plates are bright
The are reflecting the dimming light
And we're all afraid
When assassins are leaving home

Cathedral church bells ring no more hoorah, hoorah!
Tristram was ransacked to the core hoorah, hoorah!
The village lads and lassies lay
In graves too shallow along the way,
See old Griswold stray
Across the ruins of his old home

The ANTS go after all the Three hoorah, hoorah!
But which three will it really be hoorah, hoorah!
The contract has been crystal clear
The game is on, let witches feel fear
For the ANTS draw near
When the lights go out at our home.

What letter was in the professors vault hoorah, hoorah!
So vengeful and bitter to a fault hoorah, hoorah!
Theodora Tape, what have you done
Is sense and reason all but gone
For the demons wait
While the ANTS go after the Three
 

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3. Equipment and Early Levels
The claw and armour types being defined still leaves a lot of questions of what the ANTS will look for in their wardrobes. I intend to rely on gambling and rune hunting rather than visiting act bosses until my eyes shut on their own accord, and part of the mission of the ANTS is to evaluate and hopefully prove that fairly common and easily acquired items can suffice. And naturally they will have to remain stylish. It won't do for a fiery ant to pick up a mismatching bone shield or something like that.

Claws:
Malice and Strength can be counted on I think, at least it seems like rotten luck to never be able to obtain a suitably socketed elite claw. Octavia is limited by the curious lack in sockets on cestus style claws and must prevent monster healing by some other means. Otherwise I expect that gambling will prove to be the main source of weapons and with both ignorance of target defense and prevention of healing being possible from rare claws they could be quite useful for every ant.

The elite claws are generally quite equal. The war fist is slower and heavier which will make it less suitable to employ fists of fire but add more damage to the blade sentinel of Octavia. The feral claws and runic talons are faster and lighter than the rest which is an asset for Nymia when using claws of thunder but has less to offer to aid her blade fury.

All the ANTS will invest 118 points each into strength and dexterity for equality since the scissors suwayyah require that. It is no severe waste though, since all benefit from extra attack rating and the boneweave boots are an economical and fairly available choice of footwear for kicking, incidentally needing 118 strength too.

Armour:
Well, obviously there is a rather desirable armour for assassins with spread out skills and general need for attack speed. It requires a Lem rune and I have heard that it is fairly popular...

Based on my experiences with previous characters I would expect some but not all the ANTS to come across a Lem rune during their travels. The more interesting question is what the others should aim for.

Duress is another ever useful option, not least since none of the ANTS has an inherent source of cold damage. The chances of finding an Um rune are somewhat lower than a Lem rune.

Smoke is always useful and the weakening curse is likely to come in handy to keep ANTS and mercenaries alive in many situations. It would be especially nice to see it in combination with high PDR gear for the hired help. It is somewhere between the two colour themes, being lightly yellow-ish.

Peace would be interesting to try out for Nymia at least. Her potential for high attack speed might be enough to let her maintain a steady flow of valkyries even though they disappear quickly, but not instantly. I expect them to be able to function as a decoy and crowd control effect but not comparable to a minion.

A unique or set armour is not totally unthinkable even with no attention to magic finding, and could provide a substantial bonus, especially if socketed. I'm not really counting on that, however.

PDR is definitely interesting to invest in and some kind of useful prefix of amicae could be helpful if it can be socketed.

A jewellers armour of something useful with three or four really excellent jewels could probably be useful and interesting enough to try out.

Teleporting:
I can not see the ANTS working without teleportation charges, meaning a circlet or amulet with those, preferably an amulet. A staff on switch is too slow in the emergencies where the skill will be needed and dedicating a weapon slot to that is also a serious impediment in itself. Teleportation is not a common suffix and astronomical sums will be spent gambling these, but if the ANTS are really fortunate they will find one with a useful prefix too.

Defenses:
Apart from the obvious need of a good deal of life and resistances, where I haven't got any precise numbers for what is enough, the ANTS will need around 30 PDR/MDR to operate with some level of convenience and I would very much like them to have regeneration, and lots of it. 10 is a minimum to be noticeable but 20 or more is preferable. Regeneration makes me play smarter, calmer and also smile evilly at the futility of minor enemies attempts to inflict harm that is soon healed.

Skill Levels:
Items that grant a bonus to skill levels have a high priority, no question about that. The idea is to make mixed assassins after all and especially the shadow disciplines support skills will be tremendously more useful with a few bonus points into them, and the elemental attack skills likewise. Unfortunately many other things also have a high priority so it remains to be seen what the ANTS can afford to invest in skill levels after all.

Curses:
Apart from the cloaking for the fiery ones, curses can be an important addition gained from the equipment. Weaken is as mentioned very useful and widely available from armour, gloves or wands. The flame-like amplify damage would look great if cast by Octavia when clawing and aslo open up for a much improved dragon tail. Life tap from a wand goes well to the red legs of the heavy armour and perhaps a large shield can complement the gold details on the plates. Lower resistance is purple but also white and possibly something for the lightning ants to make use of. Since they can disable enemies with mind blast there is less need for a curse that improves survivability.

Far from these megalomaniacal plans, the ANTS had to make do with far less impressive trinkets:

The ANTS Early Levels (Level 15)

Celexia
The toppling of enemies like domino bricks accidently knocked over echoed across the meadows. Literally stepping over enemies with her double dragon talon kicks, she found a couple of nice little life charms, plentiful gems and a couple of damage jewels for her and the rogue Elexa along with stylish skulls. Throwing potions kept being useful against crowds to add a little variety and awesome green graphics. Lastly, Celexia gambled a calamitous claw that looks extremely promising. Also, what a name for a claw. She will build up dragon talon and weapon block to stand steady against Andariel.

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Octavia
BOOM. Gaining 11 more mana from items can in fact make a notable difference this early in the game. Fists of fire is a cheap skill at only two mana which is very welcome, and made short work of most crowds that gathered around her. Octavia found a gem shrine to give Isolde the fire rogue a slightly better gemmed bow than is usual. Octavia gambled to rare cestuses with identical damage, with the other rare one coming with a point of cold damage added which is quite neat. Prevent monster heal is a welcome mod to have and the cestus is definitely worth keeping until she finds a replacement with the same.

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Ignatia
Green with envy should all be of the greatest trap of them all - Fiona. With no less than three jewels of envy she is the luckiest rogue in years early on. Wake of fire is expensive so early on but very useful. Carver crowds or brutish brutes fell with equal ease and Ignatia has hardly needed to do anything on her own. She will keep improving wake of fire in anticipation of burning a certain act boss with a sensitivity towards the flames.

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Nymia
While slow, dragon claw slices apart most things this early without effort anyway. Nymia has found some additional mana early on which is still an increase of about a quarter more. Putting more points into strength and dexterity than her sister ants, Nymia took up her signature claws and managed to gamble two with two sockets each but little else. With Ith or Ral runes in them they could last her for some time. She is the least spectacular early on but soon the expensive flashes from her thunderous claws will light up the surroundings. Her cold companion Olena has had little to do other than picking off the odd forgotten fallen one to the side.

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Maltatai

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4. Concerning Mercenaries
Equipment
For the town guard and barbarian the issue is sort of moot for more damage means more leaching and recovering enemies. But on the other hand a very quick weapon with weakening properties may prove to be better than a high damage one, the ANTS will see about that.

As for armour and helm the hirelings need both resistances and damage reduction, the latter preferable around 50 PDR to make a concrete difference. The easiest route might be to stuff Sol runes into socketed helms and gothic plates and rely on a socketed weapon filled with jewels to handle resistances. Miniscule damage but decent survivability. I would be disappointed if all conjured consultants had to make do with such paltry rags however. There should be some circlet of life everlasting waiting out there to be socketed and perhaps one or two unique pieces could add some flavour to the materialistic munch.

Zanarhi the Aimlessly Wandering
Octavia will likely use a wand of life tap as a weapon switch option which points to Zanarhi going for an offense-oriented weapon rather than a defensive one to capitalize on the leeching. Supposedly a socket in his hat and weapon will let him build up enough fire and lightning resistance at least to be reasonably safe, but on the other hand Octavia would have great use of those for her weapons or her own hat.

A mancatcher would probably be the best because it opens up for continuing the mancatcher jokes of the Amazon misadventures. And besides it is also rather useful for dealing out special effects with the high speed.

Kaelim the Heedlessly Rushing
For the barbarian it would also seem that attack speed is going to be more useful than damage since stun and bash will have effect even if the hit is weak. On the other hand one might argue that Nymia could knock out a crowd with mind blast anyway and damage and leech will be needed to counter scarab lightning and similar stuff is going to be the remaining true threat of her northlander nihilist.

Regardless, a phase blade would be fun because of the speed and the potential for many sockets but they are a bit rare and one of the two hand sword varieties is more likely to appear early enough to be useful. Malice legend swords in a barbarians hands are reliable tools for removing fire enchanted enemies from the earth that they stain with their repulsive existence.

Scorch the Scorched (positioning oneself near fire traps will have such adverse effects on ones appearance)
The iron wolves stand out by using a shield and by the fact that they do not swing their swords. Why is this ludicrous habit an advantage? Since they never attack with the sword itself, they can dedicate the weapon slot to purely defensive purposes without ruining their attacking power as would be the case if they wielded the weapon. While they do not block (which would have been tremendously nice and balanced them with their colleagues), a shield can never the less be a formidable asset. Scorch would have most use of a dimensional or phase blade with up to six sockets, but even four could prove to be enough. Shields with some sort of combination of resistances, PDR and sockets would likely be the best.

While quick casting of freezing ice spells is a significant defensive factor it does nothing against immune enemies or swarms where only a small part of the foes can be targeted, so Scorch will not be sacrificing any protection in favour of faster casting.

Elexa the Occasionally Erratic
With little natural resilience and no additional equipment options Elexa could very well end up as the distance damaging distressed damsel in need of constant rescuing. Rogues high attack speed opens up for disabling enemies with on hit effects and she will not rush into battle intentionally at least. Since her most vital offensive role is to provide inner sight and cold damage arrows against dual immune enemies there is on the other hand far easier for her to get around with a defensive weapon filled with resistance jewels. Many bows can have five or six sockets and with one of them used for a Nef rune for some added safety there is plentiful potential to keep Elexa more protected against spiteful spells.

Tactics
The ANTS, upon making contact with a rushing enemy pack, will typically have to do two or three things to ensure that the mercenaries are not immediately overwhelmed. The first would be to either retreat at once with teleporting or to cloak or mind blast the pack to disrupt their approach. The mercenaries will be about to engage the enemy, the melee mercenaries recklessly so. The second move would be to somehow knock back or unbalance the crowd so they do not swarm the mercenary. Thirdly, the ANTS begin their offense by attacking or cursing or laying traps.

Octavia will likely open with cloaking (that statement did sound logical...) and kick the formation apart with dragon tail. Once the enemies are blinded and knocked back they will not advance any more. Hopefully that will be enough to spread them out so Zanarhi can survive against one or two at the time. Depending on the situation Octavia should start charging up fists of fire or tossing blade sentinels across the crowd. Because Octavia can push enemies away from her with her kicking, she should fight next to Zanarhi as much as possible. If the enemy leader is dangerous, this is the right time to teleport away so the minions stay and the leader can be focused on, perhaps to be targeted by life tap from a wand.

Nymia will likely open with a couple of mind blasts in order to stun and then either continue mind blasting in order to convert, or engage in melee. Her goal will be to either keep enough enemies stunned or draw them away from Kaelim. Since she will probably not have any particular crowd controlling effect when clawing at the enemy so she will likely engage a few steps away from Kaelim. If the barbarian is being completely overwhelmed Nymia will be of more use mind blasting without cease or teleporting them away, rather than rushing in to fight next to Kaelim. Once the enemy pack is under control Nymia might speed things up by lowering their resistances before starting to charge up her claws. Because of the barbarian habit of knocking enemies back and pursuing Nymia will have to focus especially on the monsters that Kaelim leaves behind so he doesn't end up surrounded.

Ignatia does at glance seem to have a far easier task with no impetuous imbecile to look out for. She could begin with preparing an ambush of five fiery traps if she has reason to expect danger close ahead. Like Octavia she will likely open the engagement with cloaking but for Ignatia the next step is more unclear. It is possible that Scorchs freezing and psychic hammer will be enough to halt the blinded minions from a distance and since her traps deal damage in the meantime Ignatia can easily devote more attention to that. Psychic hammer does however require a lot of quick casting to be reliable against enemy leaders and her fire may not be very effective against everyone, or more precisely against roughly half of the enemies of the game. In that case Ignatia will turn to dragon flight and use that charge-like style of attacking to hit the monsters on the flanks and other isolated positions. For that reason she would benefit from halting some but not all monsters in a formation so that they spread out and expose themselves. Octavia and Nymia can not take advantage of this as their melee mercenaries will force them to engage quickly to come to the rescue. Scorch can on the other hand be counted on to retreat and lure the enemy along, and dragon flight will summon him to Ignatias side once she starts with that. A cold and fire immune enemy that explodes or deal insane damage will be Ignatias nightmare. Perhaps a suwayyah with a point in blade fury could be her answer for such situations.

Celexia share many characteristics with Ignatia but has a more reliable, if time consuming, means of stopping specific enemies by repeated mind blasts. Elexa may also be able to assist with knockback or other effects. Assuming that the traps, likely charged bolt sentries, are in place Celexia needs to hold her position until they and Elexa have caused enough damage. That could be done by mind blasting continuously in dire situations or kicking the enemy away with dragon talon. Celexia should work best a few steps in front of Elexa. She has roughly similar opportunities to turn the battle into a fighting retreat and spread out enemies as Ignatia but lacks the power of a freezing companion while on the other hand having one that could potentially be equipped to handle any exploding enemy while Celexia keeps it in place with mind blasts.

Stationary enemies, whether ranged or casters or simply lazy, will present much less danger to the ANTS. Mixed assassins can control almost any situation in the game as long as they get a moment of opportunity to do so. Against heroes that can nobly throw traps and other unpleasant objects and magics against you and boldly and valiantly dart away the next moment, a stationary defense seems doomed to fail.

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5. Early Missions and Level 15-23
The ANTS have been given their first important assignment. A vital mission to pick up critical supplies, new furniture for Natalyas office! It will surely be a relief to have replacements after that distracting incident with the enchant charges. The next time Natalya will surely put a level limit to handling such items...

The lightning ANTS task is to pick up the delivered pieces while the fire ANTS are sent to deliver payment. The ambitious new recruits immediately get to work. While Nymia is taking care of the furniture, Celexia is laying in wait. Octavia meanwhile moves out with the gold while Ignatia takes up her position.

As Octavia passes by a bridge, Celexia leaps out behind her and with a precise dragon talon sends the gold purse flying in a wide arch to land in the murky water of the city's canals. At the same time, Nymia is walking right into a well-prepared ambush with Ignatias finest fire traps. The office furniture goes up in flames in no time while Nymia displays a fine example of burst of speed when jumping out of the way to save her hindquarters from roasting.

After a hard days work of managing to deprive Natalya of her delivery and the supplier of his payment the ANTS have gained valuable experience that will no doubt help them to make their employer equally proud in the future.

Octavia
Upon reaching level 18 and her signature skills Octavia actually experience a significant drop in effectiveness. Dragon tail is hideously expensive and overdoing so early on and fade was not necessary whereas burst of speed is extremely useful. Octavia did however get better over time and especially after hiring Zanarhi the blessed aim buffoon they turned out to work rather well together. As enemies grew tougher and Octavia obtained some more mana from early items her dragon tail grew more useable and relevant but most of all three points in fade meant a bad day for all the little insects that thought their lightning tricks would keep them safe. Undead hordes congregating around Zanarhi were also profoundly ineffective. Octavia tens to appear ineffective, taking hit after hit and striking slow but somehow the monsters end up on the ground and she on her feet, having taken only minor damage.

In a dark cave Octavia and Isolde came across an exquisitely named and thematic enemy.

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She found an excellent little early rare ring with regeneration, and gambled a new cestus and at last some thematic heavy plate armour.

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Nymia
Nymia found two rings of warding with 1 MDR each. Combined with stealth armour it looked like that could really solve some scarab problems. She continued to claw wildly at everything within reach, aided by her main attack at level 18. Claws of thunder quickly became worthwhile but the heavy mana consumption make sit slightly less appealing. Nymia gambled no less than three different rare claws with two sockets which also pointed towards a few visits to the countess, and visit she did until she had assembled a stealthy mail suit. The best catch was a rare claw that steals mana and prevents monster healing, a decent main weapon for now and worth keeping against sturdy enemies later.

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Nymia also found two small charms of cold damage in a row in the catacombs, having a total of three by then. It would be superb if she could use them somehow. That somehow would likely be the unique splint mail Iceblink which isn't too common and perhaps not worth the effort to use, as fun as the idea may seem. Additionally Nymia found two regeneration rings and a similar amulet, which is very useful so early on. With skulls in her cap it totals 16. Later a life leech ring replaced one of them. Andariel gave her a ruby and a gem shrine next to the tower upgraded it to flawless. Blood crafted gloves or boots would be an interesting addition. On the way to the esteemed lady Nymia encountered a copycat that could truly get under ones skin.

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The trading metropolis of Lut Gholein greeted the happy visitors with truly beastly and devilish prices! I have never seen a more fiendishly overpriced item, not to mention so early.

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Ignatia
Wake of fire continued to dominate both monster packs and mana bulbs. Throughout Act I Ignatias gemmed wrist blades sufficed as secondary attacks along with the formidable Fiona. Little of note happened throughout the rest of the act.

Ignatia used a lot of saved gold to gamble circlets upon arrival at Elzixs inn and got a stylish entrapping circlet of performance, very fitting. She found a jewel of 9 maximum damage which is quite good so early on and might be usable for something and a rare ring with regeneration and some other useful things. Later she found another regeneration ring, bringing the total from her jewelry up to 8.

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One of the advantages with a trapper that can stand her ground is that she can cast her traps behind an approaching pack, like an unraveler and its skeletons, and have it hit them all with area effects such as wake of fire. If you retreat there are often some minions that range ahead of the others so they spread out and limit the traps effectiveness.

Celexia
Using the mighty dual leech beast scratch claws Celexia kicked over everything as long as she didn't rush into groups heedlessly. Elexa was decently equipped with an envy and some damage jewels but had a modestly supporting role at most. The tactics remained the same but Celexia gained a third kick and improved weapon blocking over time.

By the end of Act I Celexia could equip her signature scissors katars, sadly. Sadly as it meant she would have to get rid of the excellent rare claw she had. Fortunately she managed o gamble and excellent circlet, helping both combat abilities and magic finding, not to mention plentiful regeneration which is always valuable.

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Celexia had filled her stash and inventory with chipped gems and other trinkets and spent them well on rerolling gambled scissors katars, eventually finishing with a dual leech weapon quite comparable to her former claw. Since she kick enemies the other properties did not matter vary much at this point.

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Maltatai

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6. Continuing Missions and Level 24-28
The ANTS next mission is one of subtle spying and discretion. At last will the new talents get to show what they have learned.

The fire ANTS are sent to infiltrate a suspect regiment of the Kehjistanian royal guard, commanded by the suspicious colonel Orangeoumouv. Natalyas customers have reason to suspect that the colonel is using the regiments encampments and field manoeuvres to cover illegal rune mining operations and outlawed item crafting. There has in fact been word abroad of numbers of suspect adventurers flocking to take part in some sort of competition about who can craft the most or the best items. There are even rumoured connections to the perpetual smuggling of illegal jewels via the black markets of Lower Kurast, a most vile hive of scum and villainy.

The lightning ANTS have been given an equally delicate task. Natalyas insufferable bookkeeper, a most shady figure named Bore-is, whose perpetual outbursts of unrefined and crass humour is a scourge upon his surroundings, matched only by his unrealistic and perplexingly exaggerated opinion of his own stellar achievements. A classic example of the good old Bore-is wit has been provided this very morning.

"Bore-is, where is my set? I sent it down for maintenance last week."

"Why, your "set" is right in front of you, and take a deep breath and it will be able to open doors for you!"

"Sigh..."

"Yes! I am INVINCIBLE!"

Little wonder is it that Natalyas Odium has grown to legendary proportions, famed far and wide across Sanctuary. But Bore-is wrongdoings do not stop there, unfathomable as it may seem. Someone has been leaking classified informationfrom the assassin archives about tactics and abilities of the order and potential enemies. This skill data is being collected by a mysterious collector known only by his calling card and trade mark, a deceptively innocent-looking little bird. But that is just a facade for this nefarious information broker is no doubt analysing all data from his inside source and distributing it to a most unsavoury crowd, the SANCTUARY PEOPLES FRONT (SPF). The lightning ANTS task is to expose Bore-is and trace the skill data to the shadowy recipient. The only lead that exists is that Bore-is once, deep in his cups, mumbled something unintelligible about "the goon".

With such difficult tasks ahead of them, the ANTS have to rely on every bit of the training they have managed to make time for so far if they are to succeed in sabotaging the opposing ANTS mission successfully. With that noble goal in mind, they have worked hard since the last episode.

Octavia
The experiences described in the former episode persisted throughout the rest of Act II and Octavia was frequently interrupted and disrupted by enemies due to her insufficient attack speed and hit recovery.

Taking advantage of the savage polearm recipe for the Horadric Cube she cubed a partizan at last after reaching the second tomb of Tal Rasha but it ended up as a meagre one socket partizan of the leech, not better than the savage bill of the icicle that Zanargi had earlier, apart from the life leech. Octavia didn't find any wand of life tap to buy but an orange yew wand with weaken charges which could help as well.

Octavia became steadily more hindered by her slow attack speed, surviving generally fine but too slow to deal damage without being interrupted. She had to fall back and fight behind Zanarhi for that reason, supporting with kicks and burning but not able to play aggressively in the manner of Nymia and Celexia, to my great irritation. Octavia is the one in most dire need of increased speed from items, that will have to become her first priority.

After clearing the fifth tom she managed to gamble the vastly superior Death Song rare cestus, a significant improvement for a character otherwise lacking a lot of useful bonuses from her items. Octavia reached level 29 in the last tomb, just before facing Duriel which she did with good help of the yew wand of weaken and a very helpful shrine in another of the tombs.

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Nymia
Because Nymia carries a couple of cold damage charms she benefitted a lot from opening up with dragon claw when attacking large enemies rather than immediately charging up claws of thunder. It's actually quite nice to see such a small change in tactics and equipment making a notable difference. Nymia did generally well so long as she didn't engage too large groups directly and suffered to many scarab bolt or unholy bolts at a time. Adding mind blast to her skills was a very notable change and quickly proved necessary to handle greater mummies and their packs with some semblance of convenience.

In the second tomb she encountered quite the army of burning dead and scarabs, offering a valuable example of days to come when protecting a rushing barbarian. The pack stretched all along one of the corners where the passage bends to the left and put up an epic fight that actually required a few rejuvenation potions to keep Neeraj the Negligent on his feet due to the horrendous breath of the greater mummies.

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The true tomb was the largest I have seen in ages in normal but it also came with a convenient combat shrine. Poor Duriel.

Upon arriving in Kurast, Neeraj was relieved of duty and replaced by Devak the Doomed, presumably so at least as he would be facing Diablo along with Nymia in the future. Devak did in any case receive excellent equipment for the time being in the form of a stealthy chain mail, however a rattling mail suit can be stealthy, and a fire resistant circlet of faster casting together with a resistant bejewelled sword and diamond socketed shield.

Ignatia
Ignatia moved across the later parts of the deserts with good speed and me constantly itching for wake of inferno to become more powerful than wake of fire since I very much would like Ignatia to find a niche for wake of inferno. It is however not yet ready to take the place as main attack.

The most limiting thing for Ignatia had been her reliance on expensive traps and lack of life and mana leeching. In an effort to address these issues, or ratehr the combined issue of Ignatias uneconomical tactics, I gambled and cubed a very leeching but weak blade for her and then gathered damaging jewels in a shield to add to the damage. This less conventional solution worked surprisingly well and Ignatia had a working normal attack to finish off single monsters without relying on Fiona and recover some mana along the way.

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She found Cathans Seal from the first corpse in the canyon of the magi, replacing a +3 regeneration ring. For once that ring was a welcome sight. Shortly after a 29% lightning resistance jewel dropped which will likely be an endgame thing for Scorch. Speaking of Fiona a new cicrclet was acquired for her with 21-41 fire damage, 7 maximun damage and 20% faster walking. Quite a significant upgrade enabling her to continue on her path of devastating the burned remains that stand after the fire traps have run out.

Ignatia gambled a rare belt that added 20 life and 4 regeneration compared to the old one, very handy and found nothing less than Bloodfist in the true tomb, an excellent damage and stability boost just before Duriel. Duriel actually gave a pair of decent magic finding gloves with lightning resistance. Having now finally hired Scorch the Scorched Fionas old circlet is hers, but not before I had squandered to damage jewels on a cap before realizing that the circlet would become available... On the other hand I doubt I could find a good place for those damage jewels before Ignatia would acquire dragon flight and be rid of her dependency on such trinkets.

Celexia
Celexia did contribute scandalously little to the story by continuing in the exact same manner as before, effectively booting the enemies into the ground one by one. Mind blast was almost as welcome for her as for Nymia and Celexia happily incited civil war amongst undead as well as serpents.

"Down with the oppressive establishment of Fangskin!"

"How dare you suggest that green scales are more fashionable than red?!"

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Celexia ran into the first physically immune enemy of the campaign, which her hired help and bonus damage dealt with swiftly.

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She found an eth rune in the first tomb, leading to stealthy scale mail at last. In the same place she found a flawed ruby, enabling her to cube a flawless one. Lastly, in the last tomb of Tal Rasha Celexia discovered an amulet of regrowth, replacing her amulet of regeneration and thereby gaining her +6 life replenishing!
 
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