The archmage, also called tri-elementalist, refers to any sorceress build that includes attacking spells from all three skill trees. While it is a common practice to have a point in static field to weaken high life targets like act bosses, or use teleport to land a mercenary and sometimes the sorceress herself close by for a melee strike, actually spreading out the skill points among the three trees isn't. The obvious reason is that it is far easier to achieve high damage if you focus on one or two elements for your main attacks and rely on a mercenary aided by support skills and your equipment to deal with immune enemies. While the archmage can choose to focus more on one of her skills to be on par with a dual-tree sorceress, she will generally have main attacks that are weaker than those of her specialized colleagues. On the other hand, the archmage will always have a main attack ready that the current enemy is not immune to, and most often not particularly resistant to. This makes the archmage builds have a lot of potential but also require a great deal of knowledge of the sorceress skills and the vulnerabilities of particular monsters to be truly effective.
The archmage is a particularly gear-dependant family of builds. A vast amount of skill charms and high end armor and weapons would be required to bring the under-leveled skills on par with dual tree sorceresses. Not to mention the fact that she still has to be able to survive all the dangers of Sanctuary, everything from extra fast undead dolls to lightning from gloomy creatures of the swamps. Un-freezable minotaurs long to smash her to tiny pieces and charging claw vipers can hardly wait for dinner to be served. In addition, since she has several maxed but unsynergized skills, her spellcasting will be mana-intensive and particularly uneconomical.
Knowing this, one is not surprised to find that the relatively few known archmages of the single player forum are almost exclusively softcore and twinked characters, for obviously no sane player would choose an archmage as an untwinked hardcore character.
As with single or dual tree sorceresses, the most popular mercenaries are town guards, serving either as a defender of a casting sorceress or a comrade-in-arms for the combative enchantresses. A small part of the sorceresses employ rogues or barbarians, while iron wolves are almost non-existent. The sorceresses teleport ability allows her to counter the more severe effects of town guards dim-wittedness, and both the auras and the combat abilities are of great help. For the archmage in particular, who will likely want to devote as much equipment as possible to increasing her skill levels and meager damage output, the arguments for making use of a resilient human wall to hide behind are overwhelming.
Because no archmage in her right mind would ever think of hiring an iron wolf as her mercenary, would she?
Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina are three infamous students of the sorceress academy. They are ambitious, dedicated, organized and attentive. If they would ever turn those abilities towards something more productive than tormenting their instructors with pranks they would surely be a steady pillar of dependability for the Zann Esu to lean on but alas, such is not the case. Frustrated beyond belief, the ill liked and overly bureaucratic professor Theodora Tape (nicknamed "Red Tape" for her dependency on ineffective and needlessly formal forms) sends the three on an important and hopefully fatal quest to acquire quill rat quills to be used as pens. The quill rats have lately become rabidly aggressive and attack anyone on sight anyway. However, in order to be able to obtain the quills the hunter must not destroy the quill rats by magic or other things that would burn or melt everything to pieces. Conveniently, professor Tape also seems to have forgotten to inform the WWW of the fact that the moors close by where many quill rats dwell have become infested with foul dead rising from the ground.
Turning a deaf ear to the complaints of the WWW, professor Tape assigns them the task of clearing the moors from all walking dead as a project, suggesting that they learn some proper spells while they are at it. Either the three will put in some serious efforts to study or most likely not return, which both would please the professor. Either way, the WWW will be out of her way for the moment. Fuming, Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina discuss the situation. That is, they plot their revenge on professor Tape. Wilhelmina theorizes that the spell ice blast could be used to instantly freeze the bath water of the professor and an added bonus is that is deals substantial damage to enemies and freezes them, and could also melt their corpses so that undead can not rise again.
There are several ways to pick skills to focus in for an archmage. She might want to focus in only fast cast skills so that she can take full advantage of improved cast rate from her equipment, or only focus in skills with a cast delay so that she has almost no need for faster cast rate and can dedicate all equipment to skill levels and mana and so on. Both approaches make a lot of sense. Furthermore, she could choose skills that are as similar to one another as possible, so that she can use mostly the same tactics and playstyle no matter what damage type she delivers. Fireball and glacial spike is one example. The WWW will however take a mixed approach and each pick one fast cast spell, one area bombardment spell and one support spell with a longer duration that can be cast and deal damage over time while they do something else. In addition, they will use whatever one-point wonder spells that they have together with item charges and of course a great deal of footwork. Last but not least, each will hire a fellow mage of the flamboyantly garbed iron wolves to aid her and complement her skill choices to some extent. While built to be evenly matched each will have a couple of special strengths and aces up their sleeves.
Iron Wolf: Fire
Fast Cast Spell: Chain Lightning
Support Spell: Hydra
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Wilmas definite trump card are the hydras. Aside from being the best spell in the whole game because it SUMMONS DRAGONS, the hydras give her the ability to attack any non-immune enemy from beyond its range and from around corners. With the least powerful mercenary and lack of freezing her best option looks to be long range combat. When cornered, Wilma will be at her weakest but at least blizzard synergizes the freeze length of glacial spike which allows short time area freezing. Blizzard in itself is also very powerful against a small group of enemies and easy to use for long range bombardment. Blizzard is like the mortar of the cold skills while frozen orb is the canister shot. Chain lightning will be both the strongest and weakest component damage-wise. It can be boosted by faster cast rate and hit a ridiculous amount of enemies in ideal conditions. On the other hand those ideal conditions are rare and the casting animation is a bit long.
Iron Wolf: Cold
Fast Cast Spell: Lightning
Bombardment: Frozen Orb
Support Spell: Fire Wall
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Wanja mirrors Wilma in many ways but seems to be a more short-ranged version. She has the most powerful mercenary and together with the large area of effect from frozen orb the chilling and freezing will be her trump card. Fire wall has a huge damage potential and can be used to attack around corners but it will be notoriously difficult to use effectively against mobile enemies. As long as they can be frozen, her mercenary will likely ensure that they stay in one place long enough to be set on fire. Lightning is better than chain lightning against individual targets and tightly packed rows of enemies but lacks the devastating power against large spread out groups. Like Wilma, Wanjas great dread would be some extremely fast cold and fire immune enemy.
Iron Wolf: Lightning
Fast Cast Spell: Glacial Spike
Support Spell: Thunder Storm
Strengths and Weaknesses:
While Wilma and Wanja have many similarities, Wilhelmina sticks out with a cold fast cast spell and thunder storm as support. Glacial spike has a small round area of effect like fireball which can be better or worse than the lightning bolts depending on the situation although the casting animation is shorter which is very useful. And of course, lightning does not freeze the enemy in their place, nor does it synergize the freeze length of ice blast to dwarf any competitor in that field, and here is Wilhelminas trump card. If the enemy is immune to that and too fast, she can stay out of reach with teleport and wait for thunderstorm to pick them off, making her arguably the safest of the three. She also has the mercenary with greatest damage potential, complementing the thunder storm with fast lightning area attacks. Meteor will obviously work great if the enemy can be frozen long enough for it to fall into place. Otherwise it can still cause huge damage but the question is how successfully she can aim it against a mobile enemy.
Since the sorceress is so focused on direct damage she has fewer one-point wonder skills and support skills than the other classes. The archmages will have to make use of all she can as well as skills from items if she can make room for it among all other properties that she requires from her equipment. These are likely to be the most important.
Teleport, the sorceress most game-changing ability. Unrestricted mobility as long as the mana bulb can handle it. The archmage is likely to use it a lot to stay out of harms way and get in the best firing position for her spells.
Static Field is the ultimate tool for disposing of act bosses even though it requires a dangerously short range. The rune word Memory, quite affordable with Lum as the highest rune, is of particular interest to potentially boost static field range to make it useful in many more situations.
Telekinesis can be cast rapidly and knock an enemy back but the knockback is unreliable. With lots of faster cast rate it could be an excellent tool to keep individual enemies pinned against a wall.
Ice blast, even when unsynergized, can be enough to keep the enemy frozen with a lot of fast casting and thus opens up for corpse control even if you deal damage mainly with another spell.
Energy Shield, even when uneconomical due to lacking telekinesis points, can be a life-saver.
Frozen armor, for no sorceress looks complete without it and the minor freezing might be enought o help the sorceress escape a second hit.
Lower Resist charges can obviously be of great value since there will be none immune to three damage types but quite possibly highly resistant to the third. It can spawn on staves, and an arch-angels staff with this suffix and some skill bonus from the staff itself is possible to buy and nothing to sneeze at.
Weaken charges, obtainable from the practical Smoke runeword or gloves, or a wand if one has to be that unstylish, is a very cheap way of increasing your survivability.
Corpse Explosion from the Black runeword makes for a huge damage bonus in the right situation and corpse control when enemies can't be frozen.
Grim Ward charges, which are pretty rare and something of a novelty, could be useful if the sorceress could find the space to reach one corpse in time and of course as corpse control of cold immunes.
Weapon damage and effects, while being a vulgar thing and not something the archmages really wish to lower themselves to if they can avoid it, can be quite important, especially to prevent enemy healing since the sorceress does not inflict poison damage. With no attack rating, something lowering enemy defense and preferably being fast and ranged would be preferable to stop the healing, or possibly slow the foe. A last resort for the truly desperate spellcaster.
As with your Amazons, this looks fantastic. A very challenging set of conditions but a patient player like yourself will probably be very well suited to having a wide variety of low damage spells rather than the other way around.
I predict that Wanja will be your easiest Archmage, with Frozen Orb + Fire Wall already being a brutal combination (Although the lack of a proper tank will really hurt here - I predict lots of repositioning to try and force CI monsters to run lengthwise through the Fire Walls). Lightning is just icing on the cake to help speed the demise of dual immunes. I think Wilhelmina will be the most patience-trying due to the relatively low damage on two of the three spells combined with Meteor's hit-or-miss nature. Due to operator skill and game knowledge, I also predict that all 3 will make Guardian despite having no tanks.
Looking forward to subsequent updates, and thanks for taking the time to make another one of these epic reads.
Hm, interesting prediction. I would have bet on the opposite and probably hold Wilhelmina to be the easiest. Slow damage dealer, but safe.
I wil endeavour to build the iron wolves to be as sturdy as possible. I'll have to look into jewel properties and stock up on good resistance jewels and many-socket swords. An iron pelt, shaftstop or guardian angel wouldn't be out of place either of course.
The chilled screams echo across the sorceress academy, after which the villainous professor Theodora Tape sends the WWW on a field course in forestry and survival...or not...with the Rogue Scouts. Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina are less than enthusiastic but at least rogues are somewhat civilized and enchant their arrows with cold and ice. Two entire weeks without a comic book or a cup of hot chocolate for as far as the eye can see.
The geology and climbing lessons has less than optimal results as climbing is apparently far less fascinating than trying to tear the cliff side down with telekinesis. Had she known, even professor Tape would surely have lamented the failure in this regard.
During the dark hours, valuable training exercises of nighttime navigation and orientation can take place. For the novice rogue scout, even finding the way back to the camp at night can be a daunting task well worth practicing for. The WWW does however have a novel take on the task and mark the way back with an easy to follow illuminated path next to the cozily burning shrubberies, lending anew meaning to the term "trailblazer".
When not avoiding or botching character-building outdoor exercises, the minds of the WWW are fervently at work with inventing a fitting way to exact their revenge on professor Tape. The darkness has given some inspiration. Perhaps it could be possible to knock out the professors lamps with a long range attack that is luminous enough to also momentarily blind her, after which she could be lured into all sorts of traps.
If you were using any sort of a tank, I would probably have the same prediction as you. You can afford slow battles of attrition much more easily with a decent tank. The thought process behind my prediction is that a lot of this will end up being 'run and gun' and at some point you need to have a decent gun!
It will be really interesting to see how this works out though. I see lots of teleporting (in retreat) in your future!
After having her lamps shot to pieces by lightning bolts and consequently stumbling out of her room disoriented, only to fall into the inconveniently placed bowl of wastes from the kitchens, professor Theodora Tape decides to take stern action and issue the WWW with detention, having to clean the dungeons from old crates, dust and feral skeletons left from the old quadrowizard exchange students from the Rathma cult. Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina immediately prepares their counterattack. Among their growing stashes of assets are detailed building plans for the academy. Nobody else has realized the potential for mayhem that these drawings have in the wrong hands and the WWW has undertaken huge efforts to produce accurate and detailed copies of all strategic areas. Of particular note are the locations of the sewers and drainage systems of the staff wing, which are situated above certain section of the dungeons.
Using measuring equipment borrowed from the willingly and unknowingly contributing mathematics classroom the WWW is able to find the spots in the dungeons directly underneath certain key points of the sewage system closest to the drains and similar open parts. If a powerful fire would be lit alongside the sewer pipe and especially next to the drain areas, the WWW theorize that the heat could be enough to boil or at least heat the waste-filled water enough to render the staff wing utterly uninhabitable. It will however likely be a lengthy process and along with clearing out the skeletons take several days. Stocked with nicked food supplies and vast quantities of magazines, the WWW begin their vigil, seeing to it that the fires made from all the old crates and barrels never die down. Wanja has mastered a most ideally suited spell for the mission, the Fire Wall.
With the sorceress academy indefinitely closed for renovation the students have been sent to Lut Gholein for a hastily conjured field project course in comparative conjuration. With the lack of public school transportation available the main route is by caravan with Warrivs World-Encompassing Wayfaring, quickly dubbed the "false WWW" by the WWW. Unfortunately, the road is dangerous and everything from sparse demonic incursions to unwashed peasant mobs litter the way.
In civilized areas the term "witch-hunt" is a derogatory dismissal of investigators paranoia and chasing of mere phantasms and insubstantial prejudice. In the rural backwaters that cover much of Sanctuary like the otherwordly Zerg creep or warcraftly undead blight, it is a favorite pastime taken most seriously.
"Not you again... Listen, these are my passengers, travelling with my caravan through your...picturesque...lands. We will soon be out of your way, if you would just let us pass along the road."
"We don't take kindly t' yerrr kind here!"
"No, that is plain obvious. You don't take too kindly to anyone but yourselves here, you have made that transparent on many occasions. Fortunately, if you just let us part ways we won't be here anymore."
"Burn the witches!"
"Aye, burn them!"
"Listen, how do you even know they are witches?"
"She turned me into a NEWT!"
"And me into a frog!"
"And me into a pig..."
"I got better..."
"Burn her anyway!"
During this high point of the intellectual debate the WWW decides to join the constructive discussion.
"ENOUGH! Will you hillbilly headholes get out of the way and go back to your pet worms and mud plantations or whatever it is you fleas do for fun, so we can get out of your stinking countryside where nobody would want to set foot even if they were paid to do so?"
"Yes, we ARE witches, we are sorceresses of the Zann Esu, elementary. MAGIC IS MIGHT! Now get out of our way."
"You are practically begging for it now..."
"Ow! Wha's going on?"
"That is the spell called static field. It is guaranteed to be non-lethal, but by now perhaps my light thwack with my staff won't be, so why not crawl back to your little slimy burrows under the local rotten logs, hmm?"
"A witch! Run! Aaaaiiih!"
The rest of the journey passes on without major interruptions having to be dealt with forcefully. Really, static field is such a useful little skill that any witch...sorceress...could find useful in some situation.
The weakest of the mercenaries in the eyes of most, the iron wolves offer quite the challenge for any employer wishing to use them as protection. In my opinion they do however possess three important qualities that a cunning player should be able to take advantage of.
First, the iron wolves retreat gradually like the rogues and don't rush into enemy mobs like a madman like the barbarians or wander aimlessly like a confused sheep in the manner of a town guard. This behavior can in fact turn out to work very well with an employer who is a ranged combatant and wishes to whittle down the foe with a fighting retreat.
Secondly, the iron wolves 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. This effectively adds another armor slot.
Thirdly, they are the only mercenary with a shield. 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.
All in all, the WWW:s future companions must make use of their four armor slots instead of two to compensate for their low life and lack of combat abilities and gear effects that can cripple opponents. With no blocking available, the way to save their red clad hides will be mainly resistances, damage reduction and extra life. Let's take a closer look at what sort of equipment that could be available.
Hexfire is the blade for the fire mage, for the coolness factor.
Crescent moon would be equally ideal for a lightning mage, with matching coolness factor.
Lightsabre if one is that lucky.
Djinn Slayer if it has two sockets and 6-7 absorption, if one is that lucky.
Ginthers Rift if it rolls a high MDR.
I should mention Silence too which would be ultimate, but lets be realistic about it.
These are all interesting but mostly theoretical alternatives. Something far more relevant is the common dimensional blade. Dimensional blades can have six sockets, as can the rarer phase blade which is useless overkill. That means six jewels with all sorts of useful bonuses and potentially a Resistant Blade of Absurd Abjuration. At best, jewels can give the wearer the following survivability.
All resistances +11-15 %.
Resist one element +16-30 %.
7% Faster Hit Recovery.
+9-20 to life.
The Spirit Shroud frees the shield slot from having to be Rhyme while retaining CBF.
Skin of the Vipermagi is sort of ideal for both offense and defense.
The Iron Pelt has a solid mix of damage reduction.
Smokes huge resistances will be very welcome for a mercenary too.
Spirit Forge has two sockets and huge life.
Duriels shell offers life, resistance and CBF.
Shaftstop, being simply excellent.
Guardian Angel if resistances are high enough to take advantage of it. A nearly elemental-immune companion would be awesome indeed.
Natalyas shadow for the very lucky, life and three sockets.
Tal Rashas Guardianship for the insanely lucky.
Prudence, a mal rune is not completely out of the question
Treachery and counting on fade triggering. Even without venom and attack speed it's well worth it for resistances and 15% DR, and not least the etheral look.
Socketed armors of amicae, equivalent to one or two extra sol runes compared to a plain four socket armor.
Sazabis whole set for huge life and endless coolness but again, let's be realistic.
Lore, easy to make.
Rockstopper, a reliable mercenary helm.
Blackhorns face, useful for sparky situations in any case.
Vampire gaze if one is that lucky.
Circlet of life everlasting/amicae.
Chromatic/rare circlet for resistances.
Socketed magic helms of amicae, equivalent to one or two extra sol runes compared to a plain three socketed helm.
Mosers blessed circle, resistances and sockets.
Gerkes sanctuary, probably the ideal shield.
Chromatic magic shield of amicae.
Socketed magic shield of amicae.
Possibly rare shield with resistances and sockets.
Rhyme, easy to make and CBF is useful even for a decoy.
Sanctuary if one is lucky with the runes.
The employers will likely rely a lot on rune words, like memory staves and smoke armor, which is great for the iron wolves since they are much likelier to make use of magical or unique items. That leaves socketing from Larzuk to be spent on enhancing a unique or magical armor piece or two. Drill a hole in the iron pelt or two in a magical shield and pile up on damage reduction.
Finally, what can be expected from all this? Assume that a normal monster deal 100 damage. The sorceress has cast the cheap weaken curse from her Smoke armor.
The monster is left dealing 66 damage.
The iron wolf has a 3 sol'd helmet + 4 sol'd armor + 2 sol runes in a socketed shield, with resistances covered by shield magic and weapon socketing, a not unreasonable low end mercenary gear.
63 PDR in total.
The monster deals 3 damage. Case closed.
Now assume a mean monster dealing 200 damage.
Weaken cast from Smoke leaves it dealing 132 damage.
63 PDR in total.
69 damage is inflicted. Ouch, but not catastrophic. The iron wolf can take a few hits before the employer needs to teleport.
In Lut Gholein, Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina suspiciously subscribes to a sailing course. It is supervised by the master navigator, or waypoint-finder as the local term is, Moana. Moana is a ruthless taskmaster worse than Shenk the Overseer, who notes the slightest mistakes and berates them loudly. She is assisted by her two sisters Whinea and Complaina who are similarly inclined to voice their displeasure.
N00bs and ignorant rookies believe that having a plotter onboard will solve all navigational problems. Their lack of understanding is made apparent when Moanas fleet suffers the calamities from having not one but three plotters commanding vessels and plotting new mischief and creative ways to demonstrate their disapproval of their sailing instructors narrow-mindedness. For instance, Wilma has learned how to conjure chilling gale winds, nearly a veritable blizzard, in the desert climate no less! Wilhelmina on her hand summons a fierce thunder storm. Moana, Whinea and Complaina moans and whines and complains for days about the mess caused and promptly consigns the WWW to the course Basic Careening For Dummies And Insufferable Witches. The WWW grumbles and vows to prove just how troublesome a disgruntled sea witch can become.
At least Moanas pet island boar is funny and can be sent to raid and jump into Moanas and her sisters fruit baskets and lunch boxes, which the WWW encourage with all their heart.
The big finishing event of the sailing course is navigating across the sea to Kurast and back. Many dangers lurk under the waving waves, and there may be a tiny expectancy present that the WWW will end their careers as underwater sea witches instead. Unfortunately that is not to be. The Kurast eels or whatever they are that sticks their heads up to spit slime at the newcomers are promptly melted and blasted into fish food. Quickly understanding who is the master around, the rest of the eels bow to the sea witches like the born sycophants that they are. The WWW appreciate the break from the daily sailing routine that the pet project of electrically charging the eels present. Studied as they are, Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina know that there is nothing like field testing to determine if ones hypothesis is correct, and so send their buzzing eels towards Moanas vessel.
I'm really enjoying this, and looking forward to the progress of the WWW. I apologize for this tardy response; I've been away from the SPF for a while.
A minor nit: Iron Wolves DO swing their swords. Not very often; Fire and Lighting Wolves use normal Attack 10% of the time, while Cold Wolves swing ~3.22% of the time. (See here, there, and this other place for details.)
More importantly, since Iron Wolves are casters, like their WWW employers, casting speed and +Skill items are of great interest. An Iron Wolf's base casting speed is 17 frames per animation, and the fastest which can be achieved with FAM is 11 fpa. That's not too difficult to achieve.
- A "Stealth" armor is an easy first step, achieving 15 fpa by itself. Also, it drops the Wolf's Hit Recovery from 17 frames to 12. No-brainer, IMO.
- A Circlet of the Magus grants +20% FCR, and with "Stealth" drops a Wolf's cast rate to 13 fpa. Optimum level for gambling these is ~25, both to keep the price down and to exclude less useful mods.
- A "Spirit" sword is very nearly the coolest or hottest or sparkliest weapon one can give an Iron Wolf. Any "Spirit" takes a Wolf to 12 fpa casts when combined with "Stealth" and a Circlet of the Magus. (It also essentially eliminates FHR worries.) Lacking a "Spirit" sword, note that Culwen's Point gives a useful +1 to All Skills for any of the Wolves, along with +20% FHR. And Hellplague would be good for the Fire Wolf.
- Wall of the Eyeless and Lidless Wall both offer +20% FCR, reaching the Wolf's maximum casting speed. But a "Splendor" shield will get him there if his "Spirit" sword has 31% FCR or better. A "Spirit" shield is highly desirable, but difficult to equip because of the required Strength.
I have three characters who employ Iron Wolf mercenaries but they're all on Battle.net.
- Chip_Otle, level 45 Holy Fire Paladin, is accompanied by Scorch, a Cold Iron Wolf. His gear includes a 26% FCR "Spirit" Crystal Sword, "Stealth" BP, Wall of the Eyeless, and a rare circlet (requiring level 26) with +10% FRW and two sockets (Ral Ort) in addition to +20% FCR. 11 fpa, +2 All Skills. (I should give him a Lidless Wall.)
- Sparkle_Plenty, level 73 Spearazon, is accompanied by Scorch, a Cold Iron Wolf. His gear includes a 34% FCR "Spirit" Long Sword, "Stealth" BP, "Splendor" Grim Shield, and a rare circlet (requiring level 25) with 13@ and +40 Life, in addition to +20% FCR. 11 fpa, +3 All Skills.
- Vulcan_Urushiol, level 83 Fire/Poison Creeper Druid, is accompanied by, yes, Scorch, a Cold Iron Wolf. He wears an ethereal 30@ Skin of the Vipermagi, swings a 29% FCR "Spirit" Dimensional Blade, and is able to equip a 32% FCR "Spirit" Monarch thanks to his rare circlet, which came from the factory with 16 Str in addition to +20% FCR; Larzuk punched a hole for a PAmethyst. 11 fpa, +5 All Skills. (Ironically, he no longer needs the FCR from the hat, since he'd have +91% FCR without it. But he can't take it off because he needs the Str for the shield.)
10% sounds really high, my impression is that it is far less often. But it's got to depend on where the mage is standing too, so maybe my mobile tactics ensure they hardly ever get the chance. In any case, fair point, yes of course they do swing their swords occasionally but such is my contempt for their martial ineptitude that I over-generalised it off completely just out of spite.
I'm playing completely vanilla so no spirits would help the iron wolves in this story.
After reading your post I looked back and notice that I do indeed never state outright that I intend to use the iron wolves purely as distractions. That is however the case. I have a few characters with an iron wolf equipped for offense with the kind of gear you mention but the WWW will have little need of extra damage, damage that is fairly low anyway, compared to having a companion that can last. Therefore they will go all sol rune and amicae suffix gear from early nightmare and onward. In normal there is not a lot of good defensive gear available and the iron wolves are overlevelled enough to actually help out with damage occasionally so they use fast casting stuff. Stealth is of course a good defensive thing too early on with MDR against beetles and some hit recovery and speed to escape being flayer dinner.
I did find a fairly comprehensive hireling guide a while back, don't remember if it was the one you linked to. Trust incgamers and the basin to come up with that level of thoroughness.
This is an interesting discussion; iron wolves with offensive versus defensive gear. Do you really think the mages can be effective with offensive gear when they have no tank to hide behind?
I've no meaningful experience. I've only hired Cold Iron Wolves, and all I've ever asked of them is that they freeze as many foes as they can. IMO and IME, they do an extremely good job of that. But Vulcan_Urushiol's Wolf is surrounded by a Grizzly, a high level Poison Creeper, and five Ravens, while Sparkle_Plenty shields her Wolf with maxed Decoy and a Valkyrie summoned from "Peace." Chip_Otle has no other minions than Scorch, but he also has never ventured beyond early NM, so he really hasn't been tested.
I was intrigued to discover that @Kitteh's Guardian #6 - Reuben - The Furious Fury Druid was accompanied for much of the game by a Lighting Wolf, and I have watched bits and pieces of the videos he generously provided. But from the bits and pieces I've seen, I have to agree with @Kitteh's assertion that "I had to swap because the mercenary was pretty much useless except for his Lawbringer..."
I also used a lightning wolf for my exploding arrow amazon. Telash did fairly well but he had a crescent moon sword which is fairly powerful stuff for a mercenary.
The (few) people that have used iron wolves and described their experiences seem to generally agree on the following points: Cold wolves are the best because they freeze and they use focused and consistent attacks. They are the most reliable and most effective despite the lower damage numbers. Lightning wolves have the best damage but the charged bolts scatter so much so they don't focus that damage, making them less effective. The fire wolves are the worst, with inferno not only being useless but also making those mages wander close to enemies to get in range which then forces them to flee immediately after due to their skirmish ai.
Personally I see cold wolves having damage potential and lightning wolves can work too, especially thanks to crescent moon, if you have a built that can capitalize on their charged bolts, like area effect or area poisoning attacks of your own. Wilhelmina may actually be able to make a lightning wolf work because she can freeze the enemy long enough for him to safely bolt them at close range. Fire wolves are hopeless, with inferno ruining their damage and behaviour. The only good thing with that is if you actually want them to wander closer to the enemy if you use them as a defense...how fortunate that Wilma is doing just that and has her mighty hydras to deal out all fire damage she needs.
The Sorceress Academy is finally restored! Students and teachers flock to its halls once more...except three of the former. Theodora Tape has managed to find the ultimate perilous group assignment to send the WWW to. It turns out that the Zakarumite cathedral of a small town in the western kingdoms houses a labyrinth cellar, leading to some murky catacombs, leading to some damp caves, leading to...in any case, deepest down is a gateway to Hell itself and a corrupt bishop has kidnapped the prince of the realm to house the lord of terror himself, breaking free from the confines of his imprisoning soulstone that has been buried underneath the cathedral.
In any case, adventurers flock to this hovel, Tristram as it is called, and with Vizjerei sorcerers being among them it would not do for the Zann Esu to not be represented as well. Now, if the demons and undead servants of the burning hells can't get rid of Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina she doesn't know who could. Outrageously enough, the WWW cheats in an appalling way and has contracted three unscrupulous mercenary mages - Haphet, Narphet and Vanji to act as henchmen for them.
Together with a banner of rogues under their captain Blood Raven and several default warriors the WWW rampages through the halls of the hellish residents. Spells fly and hideously imbalanced melee attacks rain upon the heroic party of heroes and their moderately obnoxious spellcasters. Finally the lord of terror himself stands before them and everyone screams. Cowards to the core, the WWW take turns attacking, after much fervent debating on whose turn it is.
Wilma teleports close to the demon and casts a weakening curse from a pair of rare gloves she has gambled from a suspicious-looking innkeeper. She follows up with static field and must then run screaming from Diablos lightning, circling in order to close in again. Haphet the fire mage rolls and dodges fire that is used to fight fire, very illogically. Wilma tries to sneak close to cast blizzards and retreat. She then change tactics to sniping with hydras. It is hard to tell which spell is best at hitting the elusive lord of terror. Blizzard strikes immediately but hydras mean more chances to hit with a fire bolt and they can aim on their own. Wilma finally manages to fins a corner and summon hydras around it so Diablo cannot strike back.
Wanja follows up with a much simpler approach, content with setting Diablo on fire from afar. Even though he usually doesn't stay in place for long the fire walls are powerful enough to deal serious damage during that short time. Narphet the cold mage chills out from a distance.
Wilhelmina mimics Wilmas approach and teleports close to strike first with static field. It is a close call when Diablo nearly fries the impetuous witch with his imperial lightning. The force of Vanji the lightning mage is with her though when she hurries away and skirmishes with the demon, darting close to call down a meteor and back again while storms darken the sky. Which was of course a sky, and not dark, previously. Being in the pits of hell and so. A lord of terror can only stand so much insufferable vandalism and wearily disintegrates before the three Prime Insubordinates. The WWW are victorious and both witches and mercenaries have survived the encounter! They can now contently watch as the foremost warrior wisely cuts out the red stone in which the spirit of the lord of terror dwells, and thrusts it into his own head. That will show him!
The early caster sorceress career is in my opinion hampered firstly by a lack of mana and secondly by a lack of skill points that means less damage per mana point that the spell costs. Caster sorceress in this case includes all sorts of damage-dealing by casting spells, which is most of the sorceresses builds. Going for a casting-only approach from the start is tedious and ineffective. Even the earliest bloomers like charged bolt and ice blast need a few levels of focus and a mana pool reinforced by sapphiresor Tir runes. Despite this, progress need not necessarily be slow or boring early on. In the forgiving environment of early normal there are a number of underhanded approaches that even a frail witch can make use of.
There aren't many skills that can have a huge impact so early without focus in them, but frost nova is certainly one. It is in my opinion totally game changing in early normal and I can definitely recommend a point in it just for that convenience early on.Static field, our epic boss killer, may be overkill against common enemies but it is quite the bargain against a pack of brutes or goatmen. Probably best used if you are going for a shield setup.
Acquiring a minion...trusted ally...is obviously the first step on the road to world dominion. There isn't terribly much that can be done until that but once she has bludgeoned through the Blood Moor she can usually count on having enough gold to buy large axe or a bardiche and some armor, which will have quite the effect so early on. Investing heavily in strength is thus rewarding. Keep in mind that the sorceress swing very fast with two handed axes and mauls. Javelins and throwing knives are plentiful and quite effective, even though the sorceress is no expert with those speed-wise. The same goes for scepters for those who prefer to have a shield available.
If you prefer to take your time on 8 player settings it is easiest to level up and hire a rogue from Kashya. More impatient witches might want to take on Blood Raven as early as possible. An efficient way to do that is to level up to level 6 and bombard her with poisonous potions which are fairly common in the earlier areas. Since they are thrown in an arc the mob of hungry dead will not be an obstacle and the cloud they cause ensures a fair chance to hit when Blood Raven is standing still. The way to use throwing potions is to herd large groups of monsters together and thanks to the frost novas the sorceress shines. Generally speaking you want to run in a circle around a pack of scattered enemies to make them bunch together.
The WWW did all throw pointy and foul smelling things in every direction until they could hire a rogue after clearing out most of the cold plains. Wilma and Wanja had it easy with their frost novas, being a prerequisite for their cold skills, but Wilhelmina had to do without.
From Act II and onward some casting starts to look mandatory. For the late bloomers that specialize in level 24 and level 30 spells the best options are fiery, thanks to the easily available Leafrune word. Fire wall can deal respectable damage with just five or six skil points in it, and an early enchanttogether with some warlike circlet and similar equipment is enough to play as enchantress throughout the act. The even more available Steel rune word is a useful addition. Going ranged, it may be worthwhile to cube an Ort rune in order to craft a Zephyr'd composite bow to quickly deal out damage from a circlet and enchantment. A bow with three Ral runes may deal more damage but the speed and hit rate of Zephyr are important additions as well. The general idea is that spells damage groups of monsters to maximize efficiency and single enemies are slain by the hired help and weapons to conserve mana. Last but not least, having teleporting available opens the door for all sorts of interesting maneuvers to separate unravelers from their minions and similar things.
The WWW all used leaf staves and one or two magical ones before that to get a workable spell for early groups. Together with frost novas and ice blasts and their rogues, no enemy pack was really very troublesome.
The autumnly autumn of Tristram gives way to winter, and the WWW return in triumph to the sorceress academy with a finished report from their group project, titled "Burn you all to Hel - a case study of applied elements and practical evocation".
While professor Theodora Tape is tearing her hair in dismay over the return of the insufferable brats, the WWW are somewhat grudgingly awarded their diplomas for having passed the basic elemental magics courses of the academy, the Zann Esu Elementary. The next step on the road towards becoming a full-fledged sorceress is to apprenctice oneself to a mage to learn from the tutors specialized skills. Influential sorceresses are highly sought by ambitious apprentices and cultivate their present and future influence meticulously. Being an influencer is the pinnacle of trendiness and popularity.
The requirement that an apprentice should choose, mimic and aspire to become like, a senior sorceress has been regarded as so obvious that it has never needed to be formally codified. On paper, one need only find a spellcaster of some sort. Surely no one but a sorceress can properly instruct the green n00b in the finer points of spellcasting.
Wilma, Wanja and Wilhelmina promptly proceeds to shock the entire academy by blatantly breaching this established convention. Instead of a stale and stuffy elder witch, they each submit their respective mercenary mage as tutor, having maintained their employment by means of looted treasure from the dungeons below Tristram. The academy is forced to accept this irresponsible decision but some mutter that it is just as well that none of the distinguished senior sorceresses need to experience the displeasure of dealing with the WWW.
Being the employer of their so-called "mentors", the fresh apprentices begin their terms with moderate fervor. As the other students struggle frantically to keep up with the tasks and expectations of their assigned sorceress, the WWW begin the coming year with a long, long winter holiday skiing and snowball fighting with telekinesis and teleporting.
While none of them would stoop so low as to actually study, in the way the school expects, the WWW are easily bored and busy themselves by researching and practicing some of their favourite destructive spells. While certainly not in any way obedient or serving, the witches seem to be inspired in a way by their respective hired mage.
Wilma has managed to summon and befriend five absolutely adorable hydras. They do of course immediately take to Haphet, being a fire mage, and he shrewdly points out the benefits of having someone else do fireball-casting while you yourself laugh manically from afar. Especially if the caster in question is a fiery three-headed dragon impervious to enemy weapons and spells...
Narphet is a cool fellow, always knowing what to say against wise guys and self-proclaimed advisors of their neighbours and nexts. When the enemy is frozen or chilled, the caster can chill out and do a precautionary sweep of the surrounding areas, while taking the time to invent a devastating retort or insult. Wanja notes the merit and also the fact that frozen orbs offer intriguing opportunities in the perpetual snowball wars against Wilma and Wilhelmina.
Vanji has been assigned to be the companies chef. The vote was unanimous after the presentation of his spicy hallmark specialty "Spinach Vanji", served with sticky Kurast rice and the circular Van' bread. The voters do however not meet his signature greeting with quite as much enthusiasm. You can only stomach so much of "Hellooo witches! How's it going?". Vanjis nerdy affinity for electrics is far more appreciated, especially by Wilhelmina who has become quite fascinated by thunder storms. Imagine if one could conjure a lightning flash and a thunderclap just as professor Tape was going to bed? Priceless!
Life is awesome in the northlands once you have made it through a hellish hell. Everything is easy and you can feel your skills improving almost daily.
Well, now the WWW are in a living nightmare and thus having the time of their lives like the material snobs they are. Like any true Diablo II player their keepers thoughts revolve around the fundamental philosophical question of life: what sort of equipment should they aim to procure and where would be most efficient to hunt for it?
As I have hinted before, I don't count on finding any armor more useful than Smoke. As for headgear, the obvious dreamy goal is some kind of insanely overpowered circlet. Although...it is a bit boring if they all wear the same kind of headgear, isn't it? Lowering the expectations a skill level or so leaves one with looking at the well balanced Lore rune word, which is also a bargain. It has the very welcome lightning resistance to save the WWW from gloams and beetles that cover the screen with sparks. Now, with both hat and coat being rune words, the witches can look the part. Wilma will aim for the finest and flashiest gilded elegance, so a full plate it is. She will aim to crown it with an equally golden crown. Wanja finds it dull and goes for the metal spellpunk look, achieved from scale mail. Completing the vision of badass rebel witch will be a bone helm, whose horns are in fact slightly grey and matches the iron. Wilhelmina yawns at the posers and chills out in common clothing and an unrestricting circlet instead. She will thereby have a chance to get far superior bonuses from her hat.
With +3 to all skills from the Memory staves, +1 from the hat and a modest expectation of +1 from an amulet the astute observer will conclude that the WWW will be expected to make do with a meager +5 to all skills together with whatever staff mods comes from the staff itself and possibly a skill charm or two if they are lucky. I expect to need to dedicate all other equipment towards defense and mana. The latter is the object of a lot of consideration. How much mana is optimal to aim for?
Can you have too much? Probably not. Even past the point of casting more or less indefinitely, mana is always required for the energy shield, not least by those who lack its economical improvement from the telekinesis synergy. Lowering the expectations to something approaching the reality of untwinked play, is there then some threshold or limit past which more mana investment becomes significantly less useful? I'm not nearly experienced enough to know beforehand how much mana will be required to cast enough of the main spells of the WWW to knock out the typical enemy pack. Another factor is however the effect of the available mana potions. If you have at least as much mana as can be restored by the local mana potions you end up with a decent economical balance early on I found out. At least 80 mana by Act II, 160 y Act III and above 200 by Act V has been what I aimed for in normal, which worked out surprisingly well.
I have initially kept one of each lower rune and chipped gem, anticipating the ability to cube up some runes to speed the way towards the first Lum. Unfortunately I have also hoarded magic finding setups for each of the three, without really thinking about it. The stashes are now growing full and I realize there won't be room for both approaches. I am leaning towards throwing the runes out and dealing with the hassle of having to dig up any missing lower rune later in the game. While my equipment ideas are mostly based on rune words and socketed magic items for the iron wolves, there are a few really cool unique items that would add variety, and stuff like the iron pelt or skin of the vipermagi would be godly for the hired help.
The WWW will prioritize vitality, while investing just enough strength to wear their ideal equipment. That being more precisely 63 strength to be bale to use any staff in the game. However, with their different fashion ideas, Wilma finds herself camping at the academy gymnasium a bit more than the others, going for no less than 80 strength to be able to don her gilded full plate. The weeds Wanja and Wilhelmina will do some silly gymnastics or something and invest 17 more points into dexterity instead to keep even. By now, some sort of endgame shopping list...eeeh, equipment plan and specification...is starting to take form.
Amulet: +1 to all skills and preferably tons resistances, life, mana, regeneration...
Rings: Hugely important sources of mana, and resistances, and regeneration...
These will decide a lot. The potential of rare and crafted jewelry is nearly limitless. Finding it is another matter.
Gloves: Unique caster gloves would be stylish, rare resistance gloves would be needed.
Belt: Some rare thing with resistances and life, perhaps even a magical with huge life.
Boots: Rare boots with huge resistances. Running speed is nice but not vital thanks to teleport.
These spots will have to fill much of the need for resistances. It would be extremely stylish if one witch wore the magefist and another the frostburn gloves. Crafted blood boots would be interesting for the added regeneration.
This is high for untwinked play, but not impossible with good rolls on some charms and jewelry. This is a somewhat loose goal. Damage reduction can compensate for lower life and I might find the WWW doing find with less mana.
This can probably be managed, but the real question is at what expense?
Physical or magic damage reduction: 20.
This is the fun stuff that makes a character enjoyable and comfortable to play. I am addicted to regeneration in Diablo II and having it somehow makes me play a character much smarter. 10 will be noticeable but more would be very welcome. Damage reduction just owns, because it lets you maneuver much more unhindered and shoot where you cause the most trouble.