- 1 I. Introduction
- 2 II. What Defines a Summoner?
- 3 III. Are Druid summons limited in any way?
- 4 IV. The Summoning Tree
- 5 V. Elemental Support Skills
- 6 VI. Shapeshifting Support Skills
- 7 VII. Stat Allocation
- 8 VIII. Dealing with Attack Rating problems
- 9 IX. Dealing with Physical Immune monsters
- 10 X. Equipment
- 11 XI. Dealing with Bosses
- 12 XII. Mercenary Selection
- 13 XIII. Pre-buffing Summons
- 14 XIV. Conclusion
This guide is not of the typical cookie-cutter variety. I will not hold your hand and tell you exactly how many points to place in skills, where to level and what gear to wear at each stage of your progress. I am a big believer in tailoring a build to suit your particular tastes and play style. Playing someone else’s build can be enjoyable, but playing your own creation is infinitely more rewarding.
What follows then is a discussion of druid summoners in general with a lot of hard numbers and formulae as well as advice on skills, playing tactics and so on. The goal is to provide you with enough information to be able to put together your own build that will not only be viable, but also be fun and perhaps even slightly different from the norm.
A summoner is any druid build that focuses largely or exclusively on the summon skill tree. For the purposes of this guide then I will assume that all variations within this build focus on summoning with a smaller investment in one or two other trees as needed. As with all generic builds, a number of established variations exist:
Thee Pure Summoner
The Pure Summoner focuses all skill points in the summon tree and relies solely on his summons to vanquish his foes. The largest problem such a druid faces is the presence of Physical Immune (PI) monsters in the later difficulty levels of the game. As a result, there has been considerable debate on whether such a build is in fact viable in 1.10.
Popularised by FenrisWulf’s 1.09 guide, the Hunter is a Summoner who employs a bow or other ranged weapon in order to assist his minions. Not only does this provide an additional damage source but it also provides an opportunity to work around the PI problem. Most hunters tend to use bows with magic/elemental damage specifically for this reason – Kuko Shakaku (Pierce and Explosive Arrows for elemental splash damage) and Witchwild String (Magic Damage, Deadly Strike and a chance to cast Amplify Damage) are both popular choices.
The Elemental Summoner
The Elemental Summoner places excess skill points into the Elemental tree for additional damage and/or crowd control options. With the advent of synergies in 1.10, such a build will typically be forced to invest heavily in one or two skills at best so as to ensure that the maximum benefit is achieved, as excess points will be at a premium once you have completed your investment in the summoning tree.
A hybrid build, the huntermentalist tries to capitalise on the strengths of both the Hunter and Elementalist. Given the option of a bow/ranged weapon as an additional damage source for PI’s, the Huntermentalist is usually capable of getting away with a smaller investment in the Elemental tree. Huntermentalists therefore tend to invest almost exclusively in crowd control options from the Elemental Tree, e.g. Molten Boulder for the knockback effect or Twister for stun, or a defensive enhancement in Cyclone Armour as an alternative way of dealing with elemental damage if they are struggling for resistances.
Most Were-Druid builds tend to focus around the character as the primary source of damage output, with some then adding a few summons to act as meat shields. The Were-Summoner, on the other hand, focuses to a larger extent on his summons for damage with a few points in shape shifting skills providing a healthy boost in life as well as access to either Rabies or Fury in the Werewolf branch of the tree or Shockwave in the Werebear branch.
+skill items will typically be sufficient to boost the relevant Shape shifting skills to reasonable levels.
Yes. At any given time you can have the following available:
It is therefore essential that you decide from the outset where your focus will lie so that you maximise those skills you will be utilizing most often. Synergies within this particular tree are limited apart from the passive bonuses between the wolves and grizzly.
It is also important to realise that while your quantity is more restricted than that available to necromancers, druids do not require any source other than magic to cast their summons. This gives you much more flexibility in your ability to reposition your minions as required in the middle of combat.
Ravens still bear much of the stigma they developed in 1.09 and as a result are underestimated by a lot of players. The skill allows you to summon up to 5 ravens which will peck away at a target until such time as they have completed their allocated number of attacks (based on the level of the skill) after which time they will vanish.
Changes since 1.09:
The damage ravens deal remains insignificant after the change-over to 1.10 but ravens serve two functions essential to any summon build: Firstly, they cannot be damaged by monsters meaning that they can be an effective way to tie up small groups. Secondly, and most importantly, in 1.10 ravens have a chance to cast blind on enemies. Blinded enemies will stand inactive and only respond if engaged in melee combat or if they are in close proximity to a target. It is therefore useful to summon Ravens near ranged attackers to tie them up while your other minions engage their melee opponents first.
I should, however, warn you that the AI for Raven is quite poor and you will often find them continuing to attack a target even after it has been blinded. It is therefore always useful to monitor their activity and recast them on a new target once one has been blinded.
A raven’s level is determined as follow:
Mlvl = Caster Level + Skill Level – 2
The Chance to Blind is determined by:
CTB = 50 + (Mlvl – 4 – Target Level) * 5
For example: You are a level 42 druid with 10 points in Raven. If your ravens were to engage a monster in an area with a level of 41, the chance to blind would be:
Rlvl = 42 + 10 -2 = 50
CTB = 50 + (50 – 4 – 41) * 5
It is important to note from the above that at a skill level of 16, ravens have a 100% chance to blind targets of equal or lower level to you.
Summon Spirit Wolf, Summon Dire Wolf and Grizzly
Each of these summons provides a passive bonus not only to itself but also to the other two. Spirit Wolves provide a passive bonus to attack rating and defence, Dire Wolves provide a passive +% life bonus and Grizzly provides a passive +% damage bonus. Points in one of these skills is therefore almost never wasted as they will benefit the other two summons as well.
In addition to the above, Spirit Wolves have teleport. While all minions will reappear next to your character should he move sufficiently far away from them, Spirit Wolves will actually use their ability offensively, for example to attack a pack of monsters on the other side of a river. Dire Wolves eat the corpses of the fallen which enrages them and allows them to deal double damage for the duration of the rage. The added damage is calculated on their base amount, however, and is therefore less significant than might be expected. The Grizzly has knockback as part of its swipe attack and is also able to stun targets.
Changes since 1.09:
The passive synergies of each of the summons has been improved to some extent:
|Dire Wolf Life Bonus||240%||525%|
|Grizzly Damage Bonus||120%||215%|
|Spirit Wolf Attack Rating Bonus||240%||525%|
|Spirit Wolf Defence Rating Bonus||240%||240%|
The improvement in the passive life bonus provided by the Dire Wolves is of special interest in 1.10. Whereas before you would almost be forced to invest heavily in Oak Sage to ensure that your summons would be effective tanks in Hell difficulty, 1.10 druid summons have received a healthy life boost which in my opinion outstrips the increased difficulty that the new patch brought.
There has been considerable confusion about Ravens and summon resists because of the poor phrasing on the Arreat Summit. Ravens do not grant a resist all bonus to any of the other summons.
All three summons gain 5% resist all each for each skill point in their particular summoning skill after the first one, with a cap of 85%. For example a level 11 Grizzly would have (11-1)*5 = 50% resist all which would not be affected by the number of points you had in Summon Spirit Wolf or Summon Dire Wolf.
Basic Summons Data:
The following table as well as the analysis of auras that follows was provided by Kirsty from the Druid Forum.
Grizzly Spirit Wolves Dire Wolves life 650 71 114 Grizzly Dire Wolf lvl base damage %damage shown damage base damage %def %ar base damage %life shown life min max passive min max min max passive min max passive min max 1 30 60 25 37 75 2 6 50 50 7 12 50 147 195 2 40 70 35 54 94 3 7 60 75 9 14 75 171 227 3 50 80 45 72 116 4 8 70 100 11 16 100 196 260 4 60 90 55 93 139 5 9 80 125 13 18 125 220 292 5 70 100 65 115 165 6 10 90 150 15 20 150 245 325 6 80 110 75 140 192 7 11 100 175 17 22 175 269 357 7 90 120 85 166 222 8 12 110 200 19 24 200 294 390 8 100 130 95 195 253 9 13 120 225 21 26 225 318 422 9 115 145 105 235 297 11 15 130 250 24 29 250 343 455 10 130 160 115 279 344 13 17 140 275 27 32 275 367 487 11 145 175 125 326 393 15 19 150 300 30 35 300 392 520 12 160 198 135 376 466 17 21 160 325 33 38 325 416 552 13 175 205 145 428 502 19 23 170 350 36 41 350 441 585 14 190 220 155 484 561 21 25 180 375 39 44 375 465 617 15 205 235 165 543 622 23 27 190 400 42 47 400 490 650 16 220 250 175 605 687 25 29 200 425 45 50 425 514 682 17 240 270 185 684 769 29 33 210 450 51 56 450 539 715 18 260 290 195 767 855 33 37 220 475 57 62 475 563 747 19 280 310 205 854 945 37 41 230 500 63 68 500 588 780 20 300 330 215 945 1039 41 45 240 525 69 74 525 612 812 21 320 350 225 1040 1137 45 49 250 550 75 80 550 637 845 22 340 370 235 1139 1239 49 53 260 575 81 86 575 661 877 23 366 396 245 1262 1366 54 58 270 600 89 95 600 686 910 24 392 422 255 1391 1498 59 63 280 625 97 104 625 710 942 25 418 448 265 1525 1635 64 68 290 650 105 113 650 735 975 26 444 474 275 1665 1777 69 73 300 675 113 122 675 759 1007 27 470 500 285 1809 1925 74 78 310 700 121 131 700 784 1040 28 496 526 295 1959 2077 79 83 320 725 129 140 725 808 1072 29 526 556 305 2130 2251 87 91 330 750 140 153 750 883 1105 30 556 586 315 2307 2431 95 99 340 775 151 166 775 857 1137 31 586 616 325 2490 2618 103 107 350 800 162 179 800 882 1170 32 616 646 335 2679 2810 111 115 360 825 173 192 825 906 1202 33 646 676 345 2874 3008 119 123 370 850 184 205 850 931 1235 34 676 706 355 3075 3212 127 131 380 875 195 218 875 955 1267 35 706 736 365 3282 3422 135 139 390 900 206 231 900 980 1300 36 736 766 375 3496 3638 143 147 400 925 217 244 925 1004 1332 37 766 796 385 3715 3860 151 155 410 950 228 257 950 1029 1365 38 796 826 395 3940 4088 159 163 420 975 239 270 975 1053 1397 39 826 856 405 4171 4322 167 171 430 1000 250 283 1000 1078 1430 40 856 886 415 4408 4562 175 179 440 1025 261 296 1025 1102 1462 41 886 916 425 4651 4809 183 187 450 1050 272 309 1050 1127 1495 42 916 946 435 4900 5061 191 195 460 1075 283 322 1075 1151 1527 43 946 976 445 5155 5319 199 203 470 1100 294 335 1100 1176 1560 44 976 1006 455 5416 5583 207 211 480 1125 305 348 1125 1200 1592 45 1006 1036 465 5683 5853 215 219 490 1150 316 361 1150 1225 1625 46 1036 1066 475 5957 6129 223 227 500 1175 327 374 1175 1249 1657 47 1066 1096 485 6236 6411 231 235 510 1200 338 387 1200 1274 1690 48 1096 1126 495 6521 6699 239 243 520 1225 349 400 1225 1298 1722 49 1126 1156 505 6812 6993 247 251 530 1250 360 413 1250 1323 1755 50 1156 1186 515 7109 7293 255 259 540 1275 371 426 1275 1347 1787
The three summons are affected by party auras as follows. Base values relate to the values quoted in the table above.
Dire Wolf damage = Dire Wolf Base * (100 + %passive + %HoW + %might + %concentration + %fanaticism)/100
Grizzly damage = Grizzly Base * (100 + %passive + %grizzly maul/bite/swipe + %HoW + %might + %concentration + %fanaticism)/100
Note: Fanaticism only gives half the stated bonus to party members. Minions count as party members for purposes of such calculations.
Of the three summons the Spirit Wolf is the least useful. Minion defence is less important to the druid than it is for necromancers as druid minions can be re-summoned immediately after they’ve been killed. Additionally, at least in my experience, Dire Wolves and the Grizzly seem to have little difficulty hitting throughout Hell even though the Grizzly no longer has ITD in 1.10. 5 points in the skill is therefore useful to gain access to the full number of Wolves, at least initially, for your journey through Normal but I would advise holding off on pushing the skill any further unless your minions seem to be struggling.
Dire Wolves are both hardier and deal more damage than Spirit Wolves and tend to fare a lot better as a result once you reach Nightmare. Dire Wolves will be your primary summon throughout Nightmare with Grizzly making an appearance for end of Act bosses as needed. In Hell, I tend to favour the Grizzly as primary summon and fall back on Dire Wolves only when in a particularly crowded area where a bigger presence is needed to distract the increased monster numbers. Both Dire Wolves and Grizzly provided significant bonuses which are essential to the basic summon build and as such I would recommend maxing them both, especially considering the improvements they have been given in 1.10.
Oak Sage, Heart of Wolverine and Spirit of Barbs
The three druid spirits function in much the same way as paladin auras in that they grant a passive bonus to the caster and any minions/characters in his party. The primary difference between spirits and auras, however, is that spirits are minions and as such have life and can be killed. All three spirits are Immune to Physical and Poison in Nightmare but only Immune to Poison in Hell.
Of the three spirits Oak Sage and Heart of Wolverine (HoW) provide the most immediate benefit to your minions: Oak Sage grants a passive life bonus while Heart of Wolverine grants bonuses to AR and damage. Both bonuses are additive, not multiplicative.
For example: If you had a slvl 1 Grizzly (650 life) with 20 points in Dire Wolves (525% bonus) and an slvl 20 Oak Sage (125% bonus) your Grizzly’s life would be:
Grizzly Life = 650 x (100 + 525 + 125)/100 = 4875 life
The Oak Sage bonus is therefore effectively applied to the base life of the summon, not the life that has been adjusted for other bonuses.
Similarly, the HoW bonus is calculated on the base damage of the summon, as illustrated in the summon damage formulae earlier.
Spirit of Barbs is similar in effect to the Necromancer’s Iron Maiden and the Paladin’s Thorns skills in that it returns a percentage of the damage inflicted on you or your minions to the attacker. The Spirit of Barbs effect is much diminished, however, with the result that the skill is far less appealing. The comparison is illustrated below:
|Spirit of Barbs|
|% dam returned (Slvl1)||200%||250%||50%|
|% dam returned (Slvl20)||675%||1010%||430%|
Changes since 1.09:
There was a bug in 1.09 which rendered additional points in Spirits beyond 20 useless. This has since been fixed, however. Also, “aura stacking” as it was known is no longer possible in 1.10. There is therefore no longer any benefit to be gained from having substantial investments in two or more spirits as only one of the effects can ever be active at any time.
The spirit effects have remained largely unchanged although there have been some minor adjustments to spirit life and effect radii. Spirit of Barbs has, however, had its % damage returned improved from 240% to 430% at slvl 20 as mentioned earlier.
The choice of Spirit is a touchy one for many druid players. In the past, Oak Sage was favoured because summons were a lot more fragile in 1.09, especially when entering Hell. With the improvement to Summon Dire Wolf’s passive bonus, however, summons have twice the life they had in the old patch making them even more effective as tanks. Remember, the life difference between a fully synergised Grizzly with and without Oak Sage is:
The difference is only 812 so the life gain achieved with Oak Sage is therefore only equal to 20% even though the listed bonus is 125%. At the same time, Oak Sage suffers from the same argument as Spirit Wolves in that your minions can be re-summoned as required so a high summon mortality rate isn’t actually a big problem for the druid summoner.
The only possible problem in this regard is a pack of monsters able to decimate your summons as quickly as you can summon them – after all, if your minions don’t live more than a few seconds they can’t really deal any damage. In my experience, however, even Frenzytaurs in Hell are unable to kill a synergised Grizzly before he is able to get at least a few swipes in so that would seem to be less of a concern.
I tend to favour Heart of Wolverine for the added damage and AR in 1.10 (“Damage is King” for summoners of every description, after all). Remember that monsters have been buffed up across the board in Hell, especially in Act 5. HoW is especially useful when you plan to be active alongside your minions. A frequent problem encountered by most hunters is their lack of AR and HoW goes a long way towards correcting that.
The question of Oak or Wolverine is also dependent to some extent on your choice of mercenary selection. Should you decide to go with a mercenary other than a Might mercenary, (you shouldn’t, but I’ll be discussing that in greater detail in the Mercenaries section) How becomes essential to ensuring your minions deal enough damage in Hell.
Having said that, I can definitely see an argument for Oak Sage in HC where survival is more important than speed.
One final point on the debate: Spirits die quickly in Hell. No matter where you cast them they will wander right back into the middle of combat, roll over and die. When you’re in the middle of combat and this happens to your Oak Sage the sudden loss of life can be fatal to both you and your minions. On the other hand, having your HoW killed in Hell is less serious as you and your minions are only losing out on a few seconds of additional damage.
As mentioned above, Spirit of Barbs is far less appealing than its fellow % damage returned skills. One point may be useful for dealing with particularly tough packs/uniques that are carving a swathe through your minions, especially since the increased minion life in 1.10 means more damage will tend to be reflected back than before. I have yet to find a situation where I have wished for or needed a point in the skill, however.
The three vines travel underground, surfacing occasionally to carry out whatever function they were summoned to perform. They are invulnerable while underground but can be killed while surfaced.
Poison creeper is the only vine which provides an added source of damage to the summoner. While the displayed damage is fairly low (84-86 over 4 seconds) the vine’s usefulness rests not on the damage it does (although it does make a significant contribution throughout Normal) so much as the fact that it restricts monster healing.
The vine spends most of its time below ground, surfacing only to attack monsters by laying poison mats across the ground. The size of these mats seems to be fixed although their duration increases according to the skill level. Rough estimates which I observed during play seem to indicate that the initial duration at level 1 is 5 seconds with an additional 1.25 seconds each level after this. For example at level 5 the duration would be (5 seconds + 4 x 1.25) = 10 seconds.
The mat remains behind until its duration has been completed, irrespective of whether the creeper itself has died or not.
Any monsters walking over or standing on the mat at the time it is created will be poisoned. Of note is the fact that the creeper does not remain in combat with a monster once the mat has been created – instead, it immediately moves away to a new target. The creeper will therefore continue to lay new mats as long as there is a target on the screen.
Both Carrion Vine and Solar Creeper are utility minions rather than damage sources. Each of them eats corpses in order to provide the summoner with a particular benefit: either life leached in the case of the Carrion Vine or mana leached in the case of the Solar Creeper. Importantly, the percentage quoted as stolen by these skills represents a percentage of the druid’s total, not of that of the corpse. i.e. if you have a level 20 Carrion Vine and it eats a corpse it will return 10% of your life total to you, not 10% of what the corpse’s maximum life was.
Changes since 1.09
The vines have suffered somewhat with the introduction of 1.10 having gained nothing in the way of synergies with one another, although Poison Creeper does provide a synergy bonus to Rabies in the Shapeshifting tree. There has also been an increase in life for all vines in 1.10.
Poison creeper proves useful throughout the game although its focus shifts from providing additional damage in Normal to distracting monsters and preventing monster heal in Hell. Remember that Poison Creeper’s damage is entirely poison-based with no physical component so it gains no benefit from HoW. On the other hand, its damage is so effective in Normal that there are numerous builds which are able to work through most of Normal with Poison Creeper as their primary damage source.
There are typically two ways to maximise the benefits of poison creeper. Since the poison creeper lays a mat as soon as it damages a monster and then moves away to seek another, you can spam creepers on a particular monster in order to fill a particular area with mats. This is especially effective in doorways. Also, the fact that mats have a duration means that you can frequently lead monsters over them in order to poison them even if they weren’t in the area when the mat was created.
The primary use for carrion vine and solar creeper would seem to lie in their corpse-removal abilities, which at first glance seem to be perfect for packs of monsters with shamans or similar resurrectors. I have found, however, that the rate at which the vines dispose of corpses is not generally sufficient to keep up with the rate at which your minions are killing monsters. For every corpse eaten one or two others will be resurrected again so even though, in the long run, the vine will eventually eat all the corpses it is something of long process.
I have usually found it more productive to simply summon my minions next to the shamans and have them killed first before I focus on the lesser monsters. That having been said though, the life leech properties of the Carrion Vine are always useful for a summoner who is active in combat. On the other hand I have found little use as a summoner for the mana leach of the Solar Creeper although it would be useful for an elemental-based build.
One more concern you should be aware of is the fact that even though the Carrion Vine and Solar Creeper have more life than Poison Creeper, they tend to die quicker in Hell due to the fact that they spend more time above ground than the Poison Creeper does. Vines in general have a short life expectancy in Hell though so expect to have to recast all of them fairly regularly.
Given the above I would recommend at least one point in Poison Creeper and Carrion Vine and none in Solar Creeper unless you plan on investing in the Elemental tree (see below). The one point in Poison Creeper is usually sufficient for most of Normal when used in conjunction with other minions and +skill items will typically push both of them to reasonable levels in terms of life by the time you hit Hell.
Assuming you plan to play all the way through Hell you could reasonably expect to finish around level 80-85 which is a total of 92-97 points. That leaves you another 26 – 31 points to invest elsewhere. You could of course go with fewer points in the summons tree but the more you do the less of a summons with support build it becomes and the more of a build with summons support it becomes.
For a summoner the Elemental Tree is most useful as an additional source of damage against PI’s. I have seen hunters with a few extra points to spend recommend an investment in utility spells: something like Molten Boulder (knockback), Twister (Stun) or Cyclone Armour (Elemental Soak).
I personally don’t think this route is optimal. Molten Boulder’s knockback is useful but of limited benefit to your minions, especially with the new 2 second casting timer delay. Twister’s stun length is negligible and inferior to Shockwave’s and Cyclone Armour now requires synergies in order to absorb a reasonable amount of damage because of the general increase in monster damage in Hell. A point in Werewolf and Lycanthropy will net you a much bigger increase in life than the damage soak two points in Cyclone Armour would provide.
In terms of optimal damage options, your best bet is probably a combination of two synergistic skills given the number of free points you’ll have. Remember that if you’re going to be going with Elemental spells you will probably favour +skills gear so your final elemental skill points total will probably be higher than the 26-31 points listed above. From the fire branch of the tree Volcano and Fissure are probably your best choice. Fissure, with its area of effect, is widely considered to be the best elemental skill against packs of enemies while Volcano provides an excellent means of killing single stationery targets such as bosses who can be kept in one place by your minions. These two synergistic spells therefore provide options for all eventualities. I would recommend AlterEgo’s Fire Summoner guide if you decide to go this route and want to read up a little bit more on tactics for their use.
Point distribution between the two will depend largely on which area of combat you seem to be most lacking in and how many points you have free after your investment in summons.
The wind tree is largely ignored by Elementalists but it is also viable to a much lesser degree through a synergised Hurricane (although the Hurricane does only a portion of cold damage and the rest is physical). The elemental damage quotient therefore isn’t as high as for the fire skills. If your only reason for delving into the elemental tree is for added damage though and you’d like a change from the normal, I’d recommend a combination of Tornado and Hurricane, with the focus being in Tornado (the primary damage source for a wind druid). Be warned, however, that controlling Tornado takes a while to master. Twister and Hurricane is also an option, if damage is less important, as the combination provides stun from Twister (which can be spammed in order to affect whole packs) and Hurricane for an added elemental damage source.
Before I begin this discussion I need to stress that I am covering Shapeshifting as a support tree only. Were-Druids with summons are a completely different breed who typically spend most of their points in the shapeshifting tree and then add a few points to the summon tree for access to meat shields. This guide covers the reverse.
Shapeshifting offers the summoner two very important additions to his arsenal – firstly, via Lycanthropy a summoner in were-form typically experiences a substantial increase in life. The second benefit is a measure of crowd control depending on the route chosen.
he Werewolf tree offers rabies as a means of shutting down monster regeneration and can be an effective damage source if synergised well. If you’re going the rabies route, I’d advise a high dex/blocking build or Oak Sage since you’ll find yourself needing to step into the fray in order to spark off the initial poison spread. In areas where monsters are widely dispersed the poison will also not spread very well meaning you’ll have to run around biting multiple targets and in such situations max block is very useful.
I’m not a big fan of rabies as it requires a maximum investment in both rabies and poison creeper in order to show significant damage. Given that you only typically have 26 – 31 points as a full summoner the only way you can achieve this is by either skimping in the summoning tree or resorting to the Carrion Wind bug in order to save points in Poison Creeper. I won’t discuss the bug in greater detail since I personally find it cheesy but if that’s your sort of thing, feel free.
There is one final argument against rabies: the skill loses effectiveness as the number of players in the game increases. With a fully-synergised rabies, you will see a noticeable drop in monster health in a one-player game. In an 8-player game though, you’ll find it removing slivers of monster life. In all honesty, if stopping monster healing is all you need invest a point in Poison Creeper and recast it a couple of times in combat.
Fury is also a possibility from this tree although you will never be as effective in melee as a true werewolf build. Such a build will leave you with tough decisions to make between melee gear for your benefit and +skills gear for your minions. If you want to play a werewolf play one and add a few summons as meat shields. The build is far less effective in reverse.
Should you be interested in the challenge of playing a summoner with a few points invested in the werewolf combat skills, however, I would advise you to invest heavily in Oak Sage as opposed to Heart of Wolverine. Werewolves tend to be low on life as it is, especially since you won’t have very many spare points to channel into Lycanthropy. The distribution between Shapeshifting skills is somewhat difficult. Werewolf provides a decent increase in attack speed and attack rating while Fury provides both an attack and damage bonus. I would advise pushing Fury ahead of Werewolf, however, as the difference in AR and attack speed can be compensated for with gear while Fury’s damage bonus is far harder to make up for. Whatever you decide on I would recommend at least 4 points in Fury after gear so that you reach the 5 swings per attack mark. Rely heavily on items that provide Crushing Blow to compensate for your lack of points in the traditional werewolf combat skills.
The Werebear tree is far more interesting with its offer of Shockwave. Shockwave is the ultimate crowd control skill, stunning all normal monsters in its area of effect thereby enabling your minions to finish them off without resistance. For such a build you will want one point in Werewolf in order to get to Lycanthropy. Slvl 1 Lycanthropy only provides a 20% bonus in life but your primary reason for taking it is the increased duration of your were-form. 1 point in each of Werebear and Maul is also a given and then I would recommend at least 10 points in Shockwave.
Such a build is best played as a caster with as much +skills and faster cast rate gear as you can find.
Additional points may be placed in Lycanthropy if available for the added life and longer were-form duration but I would advise against placing more points in Werebear. The increased damage and defence from Werebear are largely wasted as your melee capabilities will be virtually zero because of your slow attack speed and lack of AR.
Similarly, points above 10 in Shockwave for increased stun duration are never wasted.
Strength: Strength is important only for meeting gear requirements, regardless of the summoner variation you play.
Dexterity: Dexterity is important if you plan on playing a Hunter or if you plan on playing a build with max block. If you’re playing a Hunter you can typically get away with fewer points in Vitality since you’ll be focusing mainly on ranged combat. In such a situation I have found an even split between dex and vit or a 3/2 dex:vitality ratio to be reasonable. Otherwise simply strive to have enough for your final blocking or gear requirements.
Vitality: All excess points not spent elsewhere.
Energy: Base. Even if you decide on support skills from the elemental tree, a combination of +mana gear and a Solar Creeper will be enough to meet your mana requirements.
This problem is experienced mainly by Hunter variations. In 1.09 you could rely on bows with magic damage as those did not require AR to hit. Under 1.10, however, that’s no longer the case so your options are somewhat more restricted.
Any Hunter should have a substantial investment in dexterity as not only does this provide a healthy increase in AR, it also directly impacts on the amount of damage he does. This proves less useful for melee-based builds, however, unless they’re planning on taking the one-handed weapon/shield approach where the increased dex will benefit their blocking percentage.
Heart of Wolverine
Heart of Wolverine provides a healthy 158% bonus to AR on top of the 153% damage bonus it grants.
While magic damage no longer guarantees your chance to hit, “Ignores Target Defence” is still useful in this regard. ITD reduces the chance to hit equation to a function of your level and that of your target so AR is essentially eliminated. Please note that ITD does not work against bosses, uniques and champions, however, so it is something of a piecemeal solution.
Possible ranged sources of ITD include: Widowmaker (Elite Ward Bow, Ladder Only), Eaglehorn (Crusader Bow). In addition to its ITD property, Widowmaker also grants the Guided Arrow skill which ensures you will always hit your mark.
Most bows and crossbows also provide a bonus to AR of some kind. Those which provide a % boost are typically more useful than those which provide a simple numerical addition. Arctic Horn is good at lower levels with its 20% AR bonus, especially when used in conjunction with the rest of the set. Other useful options in this regard include Raven Claw (50% AR bonus), Skystrike (30% AR bonus), Goldstrike Arch (100%-150% AR bonus), Demon Machine (+632 to Attack Rating) and Hellrack (100%-150% AR bonus).
The third option is equipment that provides the Enchant spell as this too provides an AR bonus while active. Lava Gouts offer a 2% chance to cast Enchant on striking as well as a 20% IAS bonus which is useful and compensates slightly for the low chance to cast. Alternatively you might try using a weapon on the switch: Todesfaelle Flamme (Level 10 Enchant) or Demon Limb (Lvl 23 Enchant).
Most people don’t realise how useful it is to fill your inventory with a couple of AR small charms. The small bonuses they provide are typically magnified quite rapidly when other AR bonuses are applied. E.g. HoW
The bane of summoners, physical immunes provide an insurmountable obstacle to the druid’s minions. These creatures can be dealt with in one of two ways: either you can attempt to strip away their immunity with decrepify or amplify damage or you can rely on elemental/poison damage while your minions distract the target. Given the choice you should always strive for Amplify Damage as opposed to Decrepify as the former lowers monster physical resistances by 100% as opposed to the 50% on Decrepify thereby making it easier to remove immunities. This is especially important in Hell where Decrepify is sometimes not able to remove monster immunities. Also, remember that curses don’t stack and if a new curse is landed it will replace any old curse currently in effect. Thus it makes little sense to have a combination of Amplify Damage and Decrepify on yourself and your mercenary as one will constantly override the other.
Elemental Skills: As discussed in section V, the Summoner can fall back on the Elemental tree in order to gain access to a non-physical source of damage.
Equipment: 1.10 has enabled one to strip the immunities from monsters using curses. Unlike the necromancer, the druid does not have easy access to decrepify and amplify damage but can gain the above skills from gear. Equipment that grants elemental damage is likewise useful.
Possible decrepify options include: Spellsteel (30 Decrepify Charges, good on weapon switch as it also provides teleport charges) or The Reaper’s Toll (33% chance to cast decrepify on striking – excellent for a mercenary).
Possible amplify damage options: Witchwild String (2% change to cast amplify damage on striking – quite effective when wearing a razor tail to enable pierce), Lascerator (33% chance to cast amplify damage on striking – a good option for those Hunters who want something other than a bow/x-bow), Atma’s Scarab (5% chance to cast amplify damage on striking).
Possible elemental damage options: Hellrack, Gimmershed and Timat’s Rebuke, all of which add fire, cold and lightning damage.
Many people don’t have access to high-end gear so equipment choice is frequently decided by what’s available. I will, therefore, attempt to provide a general idea of what to look for in terms of equipment based on your build as well as mentioning a few of the more individual items which might prove useful.
All of the builds will want to take into account the considerations raised above with regard to Physical Immunes and Hunters will also want to consider the problem of AR. Those are the two primary problems with summon builds so be sure you take at least some measures to compensate for them.
If you’re playing a Hunter you will focus on providing a decent amount of firepower to support your minions. Increased Attack Speed assists in upping your damage tempo and is especially useful in cutting down the time it takes to deal with a physical immune target on your own. Knockback ensures that you can remain far from the action and can also be used in various creative ways, for example to clear a doorway or push monsters back onto poison mats left by your creepers. Pierce is useful for increasing the number of targets hit and is also of great benefit to increasing the chance of amplify damage landing on Witchwild String. +skills will of course benefit your minion’s damage and life. Lastly, resists are less important given your distance from the action but are always advised, especially for bosses like Diablo and Baal who use area of effect elemental damage.
If you’ve chosen the elemental/shapesfhiting support option you’ll be focusing primarily on +skills in order to improve the effectiveness of both your summons and your support skills. FCR is useful especially for the elemental skills but also ups the tempo of Shockwave. Beyond that look for gear that provides life, stat increases and resists.
The list below details all the best available options within each of the categories listed above. I will not make any recommendations. Instead, I would advise you to find the specific combination that suits your particular build and playing style. Find your minions dying a little too quickly in Hell? Try upping your +skills gear to improve the Dire Wolf passive life bonus. Struggling to hit with your Hunter? Increase your AR gear and so on.
The most important attribute for any summoner remains +skills which improves the effectiveness of his minions across the board. I would therefore advise that you always favour +skills helms over any other, regardless of your build. Gambled rares tend to be good for this, as are socketed druid pelts which can have their basic skills bonuses augmented with the Lore runeword. Leech, resists and so on can be made up for in other slots which cannot spawn skill bonuses.
Peasant Crown (+1 skills, 15% Faster R/W, +20 Energy/Vit, Replenish Life)
Jalal’s Mane (+2 druid skills, +2 shapeshifting, +20 Str/Energy, +20% AR, Resists)
Harlequin Crest (+2 skills, +1.5 life per level, +1.5 mana per level, 10% PDR, +2 stats)
There are a number of armour pieces that provide a skill bonus in addition to providing resists/faster cast rate. Remember that FHR and PDR is less important for you given the fact that you’ll tend to stay away from combat unless you’re a melee build. If that’s the case, however, PDR, FHR and resists are probably best obtained in this equipment slot at the cost of +1 skills. Cannot Be Frozen is also a possibility here if you cannot manage that elsewhere.
Silks of the Victor (+1 skills, 5% ML)
Spirit Shroud (+1 Skills, Cannot Be Frozen, Replenish Life)
Skin of the Vipermagi (+1 Skills, 30% FCR, +20-35% Resistances)
Skulder’s Ire (+1 Skills, 1.25% MF per level)
Que-Hegan’s Wisdom (+1 Skills, 20% FCR, 20% FHR, +15 Energy)
Arkaine’s Valor (+1-2 Skills, 30% FHR, +0.5 Vitality per level)
Chains of Honor Runeword (+2 skills, +20 Str, Replenish Life, +65% Resist all)
Enigma Runeword (+2 skills, 45% FRW, Teleport, +0.75 Str per level, +5% Max Life)
Unfortunately, Arachnid Mesh is the only belt with +skills. Other good attributes to look for in this slot include leech if you’re a hunter or melee build, +life/mana/vitality and Cannot Be Frozen and PDR for melee builds. Razortail is also popular for the Pierce it offers Hunters, especially when used in conjunction with Witchwild String.
Death’s Guard (Cannot Be Frozen)
Arachnid Mesh (+1 Skills, 20% FCR, Slows Target 10%, +5% Max Mana)
Verdungo’s Hearty Cord (10% FHR, 10-15% PDR, +30-40 Vitality, Replenish Life)
Trang-Oul’s Girth (Cannot Be Frozen, +25-50 Mana, +66 Life, Replenish Life)
Gloves should offer Knockback for Hunters, Faster Cast Rate and Increased Mana to Elemental Summoners/Huntermentalists and leech/IAS for melee builds.
Laying of Hands (20% IAS, +350% Damage to Demons)
Boots tend to be somewhat less exciting than the other gear choices. The primary mods to search for here include FRW, +life/mana and + attributes. Gore Riders are also a good option for melee builds.
Sandstorm Trek (20% FHR, 20% FRW, +10-15 Str/Vit, +40-70% Poison Resist)
Marrowalk (20% FRW, +10-20 Str, +17 Dex, Regenerate Mana 10%)
Again, +skills are key. If you’re playing a pure Summoner or Hunter I’d recommend a rare/magic amulet with +3 to Summoning Skills. If you’re playing a Huntermentalist or Elemental Summoner I’d recommend a +2 skills rare/magic amulet because of your dual-tree investment. Other good attributes to look out for are +resists, FCR and leech if a melee build. The crafting recipes are a good place to hunt for these.
Eye of Etlich (+1 skills, 3-7% LL)
Highlord’s Wrath (+1 skills, 20% IAS, 0.375% Deadly Strike per level)
Atma’s Scarab (+20% AR Bonus, 5% Chance to Cast Amplify Damage on Striking)
Mara’s Kaleidoscope (+2 skills, +5 all stats, +20-30% Resistances)
If you can get your hands on them, SoJ’s are good for Huntermentalists and Elemental Summoners while Bul Katho’s Wedding Bands are ideal for Hunters and melee builds. Since these are typically out of reach, however, I’d recommend a good pair of rare, magic or crafted rings with resists, leech, AR or FCR depending on what areas of your character need bolstering.
Ravenfrost (Cannot Be Frozen, +150-250 AR, +15-20 Dex, +40 Mana)
Bul-Katho’s Wedding Band (+1 skills, +0.5 life per level, 3-5% LL)
Stone of Jordan (+1 skills, Increase Max Mana 25%, +20 Mana)
Shields provide an interesting option to Summoner builds who eschew the use of bows. Tiamat’s Rebuke provides added elemental damage for dealing with PI’s, Stormshield remains the best choice for any melee build and Lidless Wall and Sigon’s Gage provide a skills bonus. As a Hunter, you might wish to consider the less traditional route of using a thrown weapon like a Lascerator or Gimmershed to allow you the use of one of the above depending on your requirements.
Sigon’s Guard (+1 skills)
The Ward (+30-50 Resistances, +10 Str)
I will cover weapons slightly differently than the other sections. Each particular Summoner variant will require something different from its weapon. Pure and Elemental Summoners will tend to favour weapons with +skills and party auras over anything else, with the Elemental Summoners also appreciating a bonus to FCR. Hunters will favour bows or thrown weapons, preferably with elemental damage or the Amplify Damage/Decrepify curses. Witchwild String tends to be the favourite here because of its wide range of mods all of which are useful as well as the fact that it’s relatively easy to acquire. Melee builds will require something with a good attack frame rate as well as a reasonable amount of elemental/poison damage and mods such as CB, PMH, DS, etc.
Pure Summoners/Elemental Summoners (+Skills):
Athena’s Wrath (+1-3 Druid Skills, +1 life per level, +15 Dex)
Dark Clan Crusher (+2 Druid Skills, +20-25% AR)
Fleshrender (+1 Druid Skills, +2 Shapeshifting Skills, +20% DS, +20%CB, +25% OW, PMH)
Islestrike (+2 Druid Skills, +1 Fury, +1 Maul, +25% CB, +10 stats)
Ondal’s Wisdom (+2-4 Skills, 45% FCR, +40-50 Energy, +5% Exp)
Kuko Shakaku (Fires Explosive Arrows , Piercing Attack , Adds 40-180 Fire Damage)
Witchwild String (Fires Magic Arrows , 2% Chance to cast Amplify Damage on Striking, +1% DS per level, +40% Resistances, 2 Sockets)
Widowmaker (ITD, +3-5 Guided Arrow, Fires Magic Arrows , +33% DS)
Hellrack (+100-150% AR, Adds 63-324 Cold, Fire and Lightning Dam, Level 18 Immolation Arrow, 2 Sockets)
Gimmershred (Adds 218-483 Fire Dam, Adds 29-501 Lightning Dam, Adds 176-397 Cold Dam)
Lascerator (33% to cast Amplify Damage on striking, 33% OW, PMH)
Baranar’s Star (Adds 1-200 Cold, Fire and Lightning Dam, 50% IAS, 200% AR bonus, +15 Dex/Str)
Gimmershred (Adds 218-483 Fire Dam, Adds 29-501 Lightning Dam, Adds 176-397 Cold Dam)
Lascerator (33% to cast Amplify Damage on striking, 33% OW, PMH)
Ribcracker (50% CB, 50% IAS, 50% FHR, 100% ED, +15 Dex)
Buriza-Do Kyanon (80% IAS, Freezes Target, +35 Dex, Adds 21-196 Cold Dam)
Doom Runeword (+2 Skills, Level 12 Holy Freeze Aura, +45% IAS, +330%-370% ED, -40%-60% Enemy Cold Resistance, 20% DS, 25% OW, PMH, Freezes Target)
While Summoners don’t have the curses necromancers have at their disposal to ease the difficulty on act bosses, in my experience that is compensated for by being able to re-summon minions quickly. So while necromancers will need to watch their minion numbers and occasionally have to run off to raise more, Summoners take a while longer to bring down their enemies but can usually tough things out in one trip.
The first and most important thing to note is that you should always use your bear as opposed to any of the other minions when facing an end-of-act boss. The bear is both tougher and tends to deal more damage to a single target than the other summons who are more useful as a buffer in large crowds. Most combats of this nature will simply entail casting/re-casting your bear as required to distract the boss while you add whatever damage to the combat you can in the form of a bow, elemental attacks and so on. Always maintain the maximum amount of distance between yourself and any boss as you can – this gives you the time to recast your bear as required without giving the boss the chance at a few free swings at you.
I played my last summoner with HoW as opposed to Oak Sage. While the difference that made to minion damage against act bosses wasn’t terribly significant, it did mean that I was able to make a much bigger impact on the combat and could compensate a little for their deficiencies. The other benefit I found in using HoW was that when my mercenary died (especially to Diablo) I didn’t have to keep spending money to revive him as the dip in damage output wasn’t as great as it would have been had I been using Oak Sage and suddenly found myself with no damage-increasing auras whatsoever.
Lastly, I would advise crushing blow on both yourself (if playing a hunter or melee variant) and your mercenary as it will speed things up significantly.
Andariel is the easiest of the five act bosses. Her primary poison attack is used only at close range so unless you’re playing a melee summoner you should be well out of range of it.
Duriel is annoying for one reason and one reason alone. His knockback makes it difficult for your bear and mercenary to remain in combat with him. While they’re walking back into melee range he typically hits them before they can start attacking again because they’re chilled by his aura. You therefore have a continuous process of your minions trying to get back into combat with him while he simply keeps knocking them out of range. Fortunately he doesn’t have any ranged attacks to add to your headaches so fill up with mana potions and every time he knocks the bear out of range immediately recast it right next to him. This ensures that the bear gets in at least one swipe every time and it also keeps Duriel’s attention focused on the bear as opposed to your mercenary.
The only boss that should offer the summoner any difficulty is Diablo, because of the ring of fire he occasionally fires off. Your mercenary will typically die often enough during the combat that it is more efficient and cost effective to simply let him rest in peace and focus instead on keeping Diablo distracted with your bear while you either fire arrows at him or use elemental skills from the edge of the screen. Maintaining that distance will keep you out of range of his lightning attack and enable you to dodge the creeping fire he also employs. It is, of course, possible to have your bear carry the combat by himself although that approach does lengthen matters somewhat.
Baal too is simple enough as long as you keep your minions on one side of him and you yourself attack from the other side. That ensures that he fires off his Hoarfrost and other elemental attacks in the direction of your minions while you plink away safely with your arrows. I usually run around to the first pillar at his bridge and cast the bear right in front of him. I’ll then run behind him and start firing arrows. If he teleports I repeat the procedure, always keeping behind him. He’ll typically remain focused on his melee opponents in front of him and completely ignore you.
The Might mercenary remains the most important mercenary for any summoner as his aura provides the most direct benefit to your minions of all the possible options at your disposal. As the oft-used phrase goes, “Damage is king”.
The other Act 2 mercenaries may also be considered, although the Holy Freeze mercenary is really the only remaining one of note. Holy Freeze slows all your enemies making it easier for your minions to go to work on them and also ensures that your minions are hit less in combat saving you having to recast them constantly.
For those with significant rune wealth, a Doom runeword on a Might merc can offer you the best of both worlds.
The prayer and defiance mercenaries suffer from the same problem as Summon Spirit Wolf does: the increased healing/defence isn’t really necessary specifically because you can simply recast your minions when they die and the two auras add little direct benefit to combat.
Another possible choice is to stick with your rogue mercenary all the way through the game as this provides you with an additional way to deal with PI’s. Personally, however, I have found that I prefer my mercenary in the middle of combat, acting as another distraction for the enemy. That then allows you the freedom to cast spells/plink away with your bow without fear of reprisal. If you are having difficulties with PI’s as the game progresses, however, and feel that your minions can cope fine in melee without the presence of a melee mercenary, feel free to re-hire a rogue mercenary and do a few levelling runs to bring her up to scratch.
Much like your own gear selection, equipping your merc will frequently come down to what’s available. You’ll want to invest in a good amount of life leech to ensure that your mercenary can keep his health at a respectable level while in combat. Additional considerations are IAS and a weapon which provides Amplify Damage or Decrepify (Reaper’s Toll is perfect for this role).
Early on, use whatever decent gear you have available as long as they meet the basic criteria listed above. Good choices for mid-endgame gear include:
This is another difficult area in druid lore. The generic D2 view on pre-buffing summons is that when you switch back to the lower skill level you will lose any excess minions gained by increasing the skill, but the minions which remain will retain the higher skill level’s stats and bonuses.
Testing on the druid forums has seemed to indicate otherwise, however. While it has been demonstrated that Spirits, Vines and Ravens can be pre-buffed as normal, Wolves and the Grizzly don’t seem to follow the usual pattern. Allow me to illustrate by quoting Kirsty’s findings while testing Grizzly:
Originally Posted by Kristy
A) Level 5 grizzly has 70-100 base damage and a passive bonus of 65%.
This means the grizzly damage will be: 70*1.65 to 100*1.65
Grizzly damage will be: 115 to 165
B) If you add +2 skills after he is summoned you seem to keep the 65% passive damage bonus but the base damage will revert to that of level 7, namely 90 to 120.
The final damage of your grizzly will revert to: 90*1.65 to 120*1.65
Grizzly real damage: 149 to 198
Grizzly indicated damage from the level 7 description: 166 to 222
Recasting the Grizzly at level 7 sets the damage to: 166 to 222
C) If you now remove the +2 skills to go back from level 7 to level 5 you seem to keep the 85% passive damage bonus but the base damage reverts back to that of level 5, namely 70 to 100.
The final damage of your grizzly will revert to: 70*1.85 to 100*1.85
Grizzly real damage: 130 to 185
Grizzly indicated damage from the level 5 description: 115 to 165
Pre-buffing thus seems to help but only for the passive damage increase, not for the base damage. Since only the passive damage bonus will be pre-buffed, HoW, might, concentration, fanaticism don’t benefit from high level recasts and gear switches.
To summarise then, the three passive-bonus summons only seem to retain their passive bonus at the pre-buffed level and not the damage/life associated with the higher summon level.
This is the second draft of the guide. I continue to welcome commentary and suggestions on improvements, corrections and so on.
Before I close, a special word of thanks to Kristy for the constant flow of information she provides on the Druid forum and FenrisWulf for his 1.09 Hunter Guide and continued encouragement. Also thank you to AE, Beowulf, Bolinbrooke, CheekyJez, Dinnin, Forcefeedback, Jaffa, Kremtock, Ricestoni, Sunbearie, ThaCheeze, Vesve, Wildjinn and anyone I might have forgotten for their words of encouragement, thoughts and advice.