Why? Because the only thing worse than getting mauled in the face by a bear is getting mauled in the face by a bear with his paws on fire! THAT’S WHY!
I thought I’d celebrate my 1000th post here at the SPF by posting a guide I’ve been working on. I finally went ahead and finished the game with the character I based the guide on, Smokey, and thought I’d finish this guide and post it here. It’s still in a bit of a rough format, mostly bullet points, and very straightforward, but the build is a lot of fun and can be quite powerful. If people are interested and I see more of these guys being built, I may polish the presentation up a bit. I’ll also be adapting my own flaming mauler for melee Baal runs in the near future, so there may well be a section concerning that topic coming later. In the meantime, enjoy!
The Flaming Mauler is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a bear that combines dangerous physical damage from Werebear and Maul with a devastating Fire Claws attack into one simultaneous paw swipe of death. I’m honestly surprised that I couldn’t find a good guide covering the Flaming Mauler build, since the appeal is so obvious – it’s essentially a hybrid build that can make full use of both killing skills simultaneously. Other hybrid builds sacrifice the raw killing power of a single element focused build in order to gain greater flexibility in taking on all areas of the game. Compare a Meteorb to a Blizzballer, for example – the first will simply kill faster against non-FIs and is great for targeted runs of bosses because of it, but the blizzballer is able to more freely deal with a wide variety of critters for area runs. The beauty of the Fire Mauler is that you gain that hybrid versatility, but since you can still use both of your damage dealers simultaneously the build also retains the raw killing power usually reserved for one trick ponies. The ability to leverage both of your attack skills at once means nothing in the game can really hope to stand against you (and anything not immune or highly resistant to at least one of your primary elements is completely, totally, and hilariously boned).
I still couldn’t find much mention of using both skills at once, despite the fact that Fire Claws bears are well regarded and pretty powerful builds, as are Maulers (even if the build’s a bit more niche and less common). Combining the two is very rarely discussed, and sometimes even discouraged in guides for each build. I think the reason for this is that while having both damage skills running at once is great in theory, they demand very different things of their weapons (speed vs. power), and because of the way IAS works when in bear or wolf form weapon choice tends to define shifted druid builds. Thankfully there are solutions to this problem, and these compromises are at the heart of this guide.
So why should you create a Fire Mauler instead of a standard FC bear where you can just slap on a Phase Blade and some Goblin Toes and go to town on some demons? What, did you just skip the opening sentence of this thread? Isn’t that enough? Well fine then, here are a few more good reasons:
1) More damage potential. I’ve never seen a FC bear dish out more than about 8-9k fire damage per attack even with nice gear – and that’s still virtually zero to about 1/3 of the monsters in Hell, and highly resisted by many more. This build can potentially bust 12k damage at almost the same attack speed with the top end weapons (good luck finding them, though), and virtually nothing in the game is immune to it. Like most physical damage characters the weapon is key but even with more budget equipment it’s not hard to reach 5-6k combined average damage at a decent speed, which is more than enough.
2) Leech. FC bears still go toe-to-toe with everything we have to take on but they have to do it with virtually zero leachable damage (CB is not leachable), making our survivability much better.
3) Fairly consistent damage distribution across fire and physical elements. If you’ve played a FC bear or a melee Enchantress, you know why this is a plus – 8k fire damage is fun and all, but it means you either utterly decimate everything not FI on /p1 (and get bored with the ease of it) or crank it up to /p4…and slog through everything with any kind of fire resistance because the CB that generates your only non fire damage is now nearly useless.
4) Shields, wimpy phase blades, and 150 total physical damage are for sorceresses. Two-handed axes and polearms with 3k+ of stunning physical damage are for real bears. It’s just how it should be. Basically, Flaming Maulers are cooler.
5) Damage potential! I was topping 10k average damage listed in the LCS before I even finished allocating points to my second FC synergy, and that’s without considering DS bonuses. Granted, I have almost the most perfect weapon for this build you’re ever likely to dream up – but that doesn’t make one-shot kills of unique baddies at /p7 in AIII Hell any less cool. Heck, I ripped through packs so fast that most of the time I didn’t even realize I was fighting champion monsters until I checked the drops after they died.
6) It’s just FUN – from big numbers in the LCS to laughing at stunned champions to taunting FI monsters who think they’ve got a prayer against you to one-shot kills of unique monsters in Hell when your DS triggers, the build’s just flat out fun to play from the moment you take the character out into the Blood Moor for the first time.
This will be our main attack. Just charge up Maul, then switch over to enjoy a massive AR boost. Oh, and 3-4.5k average fire damage. I’d say that makes for a pretty easy choice. Just max it already.Firestorm: 20
Fire Claws damage is driven by skill point investment (and +skills, to a lesser degree) so investment here is what drives FC damage. At least one synergy must be maxed out for FC to be functional, and this is the first on the list.Molten Boulder: 10-15
Depends on how far you level, but some investment here will help your FC stay dangerous in Hell. I’d advise addressing this last, after your physical damage is set – you’ll be fine with only one FC synergy until then.
Werebear/Maul: 25 [20 WB/5 Maul or 19 WB/6 Maul – see below]
I’ll lump them together, since what it really entails is how you divide up the allocated points. First, why so few points compared to FC and synergies? Well FC simply takes priority for skill points – if it’s not maxed and synergized it’s not worth using. Our physical damage is far more reliant upon weapon choice than skill point investment to work well, so we HAVE to skimp here to free up points for FC. You get 25 points to split between the two (possibly a few more if you chose to emphasize physical damage over FC with any extra levels you gain).
To split up the points it’s very helpful to know how the skills increase per slvl. Werebear yields +50% damage and +25% defense for the first point and +7% for each additional point along with 5% defense. Maul begins by increasing damage by 60% when fully charged, but gets a damage increase of 20% only every other level. What this means is that odd slvls in Maul represent a wasted point, as they offer no increased damage – that same point invested in WB would yield both extra damage and extra defense. Count the +skills on your planned gear and make sure your final Maul slvl is even!
Because both skills are strictly linear even at slvls > 20 it’s easy to compare the tradeoffs between skill point distribution, regardless of the number of +skills on the character: every two points shifted from WB to Maul (since you’d never plan to waste a lone point in Maul) increases your damage% by 6 points (+20% for 2 point in Maul vs. 14% for 2 points in WB) while lowering your defense% by 10. The difference between max/min investment in WB is therefore a measly ~30% ED. In other words, focusing on Maul over Werebear generates a grand total of ~30% extra enhanced damage (a puny 90 damage with a 300 avg damage weapon). Investing the max number of points in Werebear yields extra defense and, more importantly, the damage output is consistent whereas Maul is variable (and let’s not forget, every swing you take with it you miss out on massive amounts of FC damage). In general we simply come out ahead overall by skimping on Maul to maximize Werebear.
So how many points do we invest? Well, either 20 WB/5 Maul or 19 WB/ 6 Maul. This depends on + skills, since we’re trying to end up with an even number of points in Maul when all is said and done. If you have an even amount of +skills (including +shape shifting skills), go with 19/6. If your setup has an odd number of +skills, go with 20/5. If you’re not sure what you’ll end up with set aside a point and distribute it accordingly when your setup is locked in. Or maybe just don’t be as anal about it as I am .
The only problem this strategy brings is a slightly gimped Maul AR, which may annoy you a bit in late Hell, but AR charms will be needed anyway. It’s not as bad as you might think since you’ll most often just be trying to squeeze in one attack to keep the timer going and it won’t take many swings to charge it up with the lower skill point investment (yet another plus). Experience also tells me that your chance to hit stunned enemies is MUCH higher than the listed percentage in the LCS, but I can’t confirm that for certain.
Life is good – we want more of it, but we don’t have the points available to max the skill. Still, it has the benefit of being pre-buff friendly (as does WB) so we’ll be making use of +skill gear on switch to boost its effectiveness. Also increases shift duration.
This is your best friend against…well, just about everything but archers. Not much scares you with a swirly stun icon over their head just WAITING to get pounded. If you’re lacking in +skills this may require more points to get the duration up to a useful level in Hell but since +skills also drive FC damage you’re not likely to have problems with that. Add points as you need them – I personally stuck with 3 through early Hell, but I also had quite a few +skills and killed very quickly so you may prefer a bit heftier investment, especially if your gear is more budget range.
Our beloved meat shield. If you’re very comfortable with using Shockwave to control your enemies this can be a bit redundant in many situation (and cutting it would save 5 skill points to sink into a FC synergy or Maul), but it’s somewhere between nice and essential to have a pal to distract the attention of ranged enemies while you engage a closer pack. With no life boost from Oak Sage he may be a bit more fragile than you’re used to, but it shouldn’t be a major issue since he’s only there to distract attention until you can get into position to lay the smack down. A few points in the Dire Wolf synergy to boost his life may be a good additional investment after the core of the build is finished, especially if you intend to spend time in the WSK hunting Baal.
This is a great utility skill. It’s not really necessary, but it’s very helpful. The massive mana leech can even free you up from hunting after a point or two of mana leech in your gear, although you’ll have to use it frequently to replace mana leech from equipment (FC mana only take 4 mana, but when you swing at 4 frames it’ll still drain your blue ball pretty quickly). It also retains bonuses from Maul charges, so a few shots with this can take you from nearly dead to full health. With only 1 point the AR will be lacking but it only has to connect once or twice to do its job and at a decent attack speed can be a great tool, especially if you don’t have a ton of life leech on your gear.
I can almost see some of you reaching for the reply button to ask which spirit to use because I neglected to address the issue. Well there’s a reason you don’t see either listed – and that is that you shouldn’t invest heavily in either one.
In my experience, druid sprits range from useless to potentially dangerous. Even when maxed and cast with a prebuff they do not posses exceptional life, have no physical resistance (and minimal resistances to all elements but poison), and love to wander into combat range. Simply put, if it’s still alive it’s safe to say that the pack you’re fighting has zero chance of killing you anyway and you don’t really need them. Every single time I’ve fought a dangerous encounter these things have died (taking half your life with them in the case of OS), and I can’t recommend sinking 20 skills points into something I know will be pointless (or even dangerous) when you need it most, especially for a hybrid build that’s tight on skill points as it is. They CAN be useful as one-point wonders, boosting your AR and damage to speed up killing standard packs or providing a small life boost, but with few skill points to go around I can’t recommend pumping them.
As a final note on this topic, if you REALLY want more life there’s a better (and more dependable) place to get it with all the room we have in Lycanthropy anyway – the same goes for damage and Maul. If for some reason you’re planning on departing from the build to sink points into a spirit I’d HIGHLY recommend diverting the points to those skills instead.
- Fire Claws – 20
- Firestorm – 20
- Molten Boulder – 15
- Werebear – 19/20
- Maul – 6/5
- Lycanthropy – 5
- Shockwave – 3/5
- Grizzly – 1
- Hunger – 1
This skill setup will be complete at clvl 86 with all quest rewards spent and Shockwave at 5 points, so there aren’t a whole lot of extra points unless you intend on doing Ball runs for EXP.
As I indicated in the intro, there’s a dichotomy we have to rectify here. Fire Claws relies on pure, untainted speed from the weapon slot. Maul demands raw damage. Only the intersection of this little Venn diagram will work for this build – and even that might be a bit optimistic, since ‘fast’ for a FC build is easy to get at 4 FPA with the cheap 6 Shael Phase Blade, while ‘fast’ in Maul country starts at a positively glacial 8 FPA and comes with a bit heftier price tag if you want to actually hurt anything with it.The main problem is that it takes INSANE amounts of speed on the weapon to be counted as fast for Werebear purposes – if you’re not packing around 70 IAS on the weapon itself (and probably in a fast base weapon at that), you can pretty much forget about it. Now go look at all those nice Grief weapons that are ‘fast and hurty’ for Zealots, barbs, etc – they’re not all that fast anymore. This is why getting decent speed for FC attacks usually involves stuffing a fast base item full of Shaels, and that’s great as long as you don’t care about physical damage. Unfortunately we DO care about base physical damage, which essentially means that we need to find a weapon with:
- A decent base speed
- pre-existing onboard IAS
- Enough sockets to stuff at least a couple Shaels into
- Enough damage to make it hurt
We have to make a tradeoff: attack rate (and by extension average FC damage) for non-negligible physical damage. The idea is to somewhat balance the gain with the loss compared to a pure FC setup. Ultimately this is why you so seldom see this build discussed – there are very few readily available weapons that can easily make up the loss of listed FC damage with physical damage, because they’re either too slow or don’t hit hard enough in terms of absolute damage per second to cover the gap. In practice the gap just gets to huge to bridge if the weapon is slower than about 6-7 frames. I personally think 6 frames is the minimum acceptable attack rate, but a 7 frame attack is certainly viable for completing the game. Overall the guiding principle of Diablo II melee planning is in force: speed kills. I’d recommend shooting for the fastest attack you can manage and not settling for a 7 frame weapons unless you just can’t get your hands on an alternative. Now, let’s pick a weapon!
I’ve included most of the fastest choices, but you can play with the calculator yourself here if you’d like to check out other weapons. You’ll notice that these weapons are all 2-handed and mostly include fast base speed axes and polearms. That’s because shifted druids get a kind of ‘bonus’ for 2-handers in general and those types in particular, and we need this edge to make this build work (i.e., fast enough for FC but still packs enough physical damage to matter). Don’t sweat the shield – Shockwave has you covered and the WB block rate is so horrible it should be avoided anyway, although resists can be a problem. VERY IMPORTANT: WIAS is on-weapon IAS only. oIAS is any other non-skill based IAS. The calculator also expects you to use the negative version of the Arreat Summit WSM value (don’t ask me why).
In order generally from slowest to fastest, here are some weapon options. For the most part, if it’s not on this list it’s just too dang slow (although I’m sure I overlooked one or two options). I’ve said it before and I’ll probably day it again: speed kills. You can get by with 7 frames, 6 is the minimum I personally found acceptable, and 5 frames is where the build really shines if you can reach it.
IK Maul – Only hits 8 frames stuffed with Shaels, but can make it to 7 with 40 additional oIAS. Does good damage and has huge CB, and gets some nice elemental damage if used with other pieces of the set.
Bonehew – Will start at 8 frames with two Shaels, and 20 additional oIAS will drop it to 7 frames. Solid base damage, but has very little else to recommend it.
Ribcracker – 8 frames with a Shael, and 7 with 20 oIAS. Base damage is lower than other options, but it has GREAT additional mods like massive CB and 100% ED. WARNING! The upgraded version has a slower base speed, and will take a loftier 50 oIAS to get to 7 frames. Of course the damage just about quadruples when upgraded, so this is one of the rare situations where I’d recommend the slower weapon if you can manage it. Just be aware that upgrading will impose some IAS driven gear choices.
EbotD Thresher/G Thresher – if you’re one of the two people who actually have a legit version of this beast, it’s not as good as a blue item this time. HA! You wasted a Zod rune! Alright, in all seriousness it’s still a decent weapon for this build but it’s a touch slow. It’ll hit 7 frames with no additional oIAS, but it takes an unpalatable 70 oIAS to push it to 6.
eth ‘Oath’ Champion Axe – 8 frames, and can get to 7 with only 10 oIAS. Deals good damage, and has some ED to demons.
eth ‘Oath’ Feral Axe – the big attraction here is that it’s the first available 6 frame option, and it packs a very nice punch as well. It takes 60 oIAS to get down to 6 frames (probably necessitating the use of a ‘Treachery’ armor), but hits at 7 frames with no additional oIAS.
‘Beast’ Feral Axe – this is the rare exception to the ‘must have at least 60 IAS on the weapon to matter’ rule, and you can thank Fanaticism for that. Skill IAS is a bit more effective than oIAS for increasing the attack rate, so even with only 40 IAS this weapon hits 6 frames with no oIAS (although the slower Champion Axe/Thresher/G Thresher options will top out at 7 no matter how much oIAS you pile on). The aura also gives a nice damage and AR boost, the base damage is solid, and it comes with solid CB and OW. It’s expensive, but a very good choice all around (and the stats are still reasonable enough for use on specialty builds like bearsorcs if that’s a concern for you).
Tomb Reaver – I can’t even count the number of times I’ve looked at this weapon for a PvM build and had to fight down a strong urge to find the guy who chose the clvl req and kick him in the nuts. It hits 6 frames with only two Shaels, and can drop to 5 frames with 50 oIAS and another Shael rune in the weapon. The damage is great, it’s faster than just about everything else you probably have in a stash already, and it even has resists. It’s too bad you’ll probably have finished the game before you can bloody use it at clvl 84. If you plan on doing WSK runs for any reason this is a great choice, otherwise it’s pretty much pointless. Which pisses me off since it’s the hands down default weapon for this build otherwise, but I can’t change the clvl requirement for you, sorry guys.
Cruel Feral Axe of Quickness – two Shael runes gets you to 5 frames with no oIAS. The damage is a bit low compared to other options but it’s crazy fast and can be shopped, although you do have to get lucky and end up with two Larzuck sockets.
Cruel Champion Axe/Thresher/Great Thresher of Quickness – two Shael runes and 10 oIAS get 5 frames, and the damage (and potentially range) is better than the Feral Axe. Requirements are quite a bit nastier for the polearms, though. This would probably be my choice if I didn’t have a monster rare to use.
Rare 40 IAS/2 Sockets – This can be absolutely godly, hitting the same breakpoints as the Cruel XXX of Quickness but with potentially much more damage. It’s even possible to get a self-repairing eth version that’s fast enough to hit 5 frames (like this monster I’m lucky enough to use).
1.07 Feral/Champion Axe/Thresher/GT 40 IAS Cruel craft or rare – This is the grail. 1.07 rares/crafts/magical items could get up to 4 sockets from Larzuck, and 3 or more make it possible to hit 4 frames AND get massive damage – the only weapon from any version that can provide top end damage and blazing 4 frame speed. The ideal would be an eth self repairing 400+ ED/40 IAS/4 socket beast, but I’ve never heard of such a thing actually existing. If you are a dedicated 1.07 player and have such a weapon, I’d like to offer to trade you a kidney for it. Heck, I’d probably still be ripping you off at that price.
What we want here are +skills for prebuff.
‘Spirit’ sword – +2 all, and dirt cheapFleshrender – +1 druid, +2 Shape Shifting. We have essentially no summons, so I personally prefer this over the ‘Spirit’ sword for the additional +1 to WB/Lycanthropy
‘Heart of the Oak’ flail – if you’ve got it flaunt it, I guess. Best there is.
Demon Limb – we have a good AR multiplier in FC, but this can be nice if you’re doing WSK runs. Generally I’d recommend upping your base AR via charms before resorting to using this (and dropping the +skills prebuff), but if you’ve tried that and are still hurting for AR this is a very good solution.
‘Spirit’ shield – +2 all, but requires STR for a Monarch (which we’ll probably have anyway, or close to it, for the weapon)
Sigons/Lidless Wall – +1 all. Lose a skill, spend the STR anyway so you can use a good weapon. Why bother?
Priorities go to +skills and resists. With no shield to boost them we have to be constantly aware of our resists. Any other good mods are gravy.
Jalals Mane – nothing even comes close. +2 all skills, +2 SS skills, +res all, FHR, +STR, on and on and on. There’s not a mod on this thing that isn’t GREAT for druids in general or this build in particular. If you can, I’d recommend sticking an Um rune or resist all jewel in it as well. An Ort rune or rare lightning resist jewel with other good mods would do in a pinch if the Um is out of your price range.
Cerberus’ Bite – only worth it if you’ve got +4 SS. Even then Jalal’s beats it hands down.
Rare pelt – look for +skills, resists, +str, +life, and even +FC in a nice
rare, but anything with resists and +druid or even SS skills will do in a pinch
‘Delirium’ pelt – big +skills potential, but the transformation can get annoying fast. You could also substitute ‘Lore’ in a helm with the same staffmods if you’re on a serious budget.
Guilauime’s Face – DS is great to have, but CB isn’t as big a deal for us as most FC builds since we’ll generally be playing at higher /players settings. The lack of resists is a bad, bad thing for us but it can do in a pinch if you’re on a budget – again, socketing with an Ort or other single element resist rune/jewel will help a bit.
Ideally we’d love to get defense, skills, big resist all, and nice offensive mods like CB/DS. Sadly that armor doesn’t exist, so we’ll have to compromise. There are many good options not listed here, but these are generally the best unless you’re doing something very specific like a damage reduced by X variant.
‘Chains of Honor’ – huge resists, +skills to boost FC damage, good defense. Very, very good armor for this build.
‘Fortitude’ – if you have this armor, I hate you even more than the guy up above who had an eBotD. It has bloody everything except the kitchen sink (in the form of +skills), up to and including a ludicrous 300% damage boost. There isn’t a better melee armor in the game.
Arkaine’s Valor – up to +2 all skills, and the DR and +Vit are nice touches. The 1.07 version is truly godly, but if you actually have one I doubt I need to inform you of that.
‘Duress’ – some resist all (and more cold resist) and good defense with FHR, but the offensive mods of CB/DS/OW and up to 20% ED really shine. DS is the most useful for us, and if you want to load up on it this will most likely be your armor of choice.
‘Stone’ – great defense along with FHR and some resists. If you’re still in 1.10, the charge bug + Molten Boulder charges will most likely make this your armor of choice – it’ll free up a ton of skill points and do more for your FC damage than even CoH.
‘Treachery’ – the most useful feature is the huge IAS, which you may want if trying to hit a very high oIAS breakpoint. If so, you’ll also get great resists and DR from the Fade skill triggering which make this an excellent conservative armor choice by themselves. The defense is terrible, but defense is way down the list of priorities anyway.
Duriel’s Shell – good resists (and socketable for even more), a nice life boost, and the CBF frees up a ring slot for more resists or even a +skill if you don’t mind losing the dex/AR from a Ravenfrost. Can even be upped, which should bring it to a decent amount of defense. Overall it’s a very nice budget armor.
The Gladiator’s Bane – Similar to Duriel’s shell in the CBF benefits, it also includes flat DR of up to 20 and good defense. The lack of resists hurts it, but again an Ort in a socket can be helpful.
‘Lionheart’– terrible defense but has great stats and resists, and even some enhanced damage. This is also a nice budget choice.
I tend to use gloves, boots and belt to patch up resists and pick up whatever other useful mods I’m missing on other gear (like IAS if I need it, or life leech). Gloves especially are a great place for IAS if you need any.
Blood crafted gloves â€“ these are great because the built in mods are awesome (+life, LL, and up to 10% CB) AND they can roll additional mods like rare gloves. It should be possible to get dual leech gloves with 10% CB, resists to two elements, and even IAS if you need it. Good luck getting such an awesome roll, but it IS possible and even less godly pairs can be used to patch up resistances, free up other equipment slots, and STILL get a useful (and possibly hard to come by) offensive mod. These are probably my favorite for this build due to their versatility.Draculâ€™s Grasp â€“ since thereâ€™s a good chance youâ€™ll get little benefit from oIAS, these can be great. They have no IAS but the ctc Lifetap makes you dang near immortal â€“ the only thing less dangerous than a stunned monster is a stunned monster cursed with Lifetap.
Laying of Hands â€“ IAS if you need it, along with big fire resists and a major damage bump against demons which happen to make up a large portion of the enemies youâ€™ll face. These are very nice gloves, especially for WSK running/Baaling.[*]Magefist â€“ if youâ€™ve somehow got all your bases covered you can pick up +1 to your FC here from the +1 to fire skills, but they donâ€™t have much else to recommend them.
IK gloves â€“ can be very nice if used with many other pieces of the set, but arenâ€™t great on their own.
FRW is a necessity to keep from losing your mind, and offensive mods are great if you can squeeze them in. Resists, +life, and +stats are other attractive mods.
Gore Rider â€“ 30 FRW along with DS and CB? Yes, please. The utter lack of resists can make these a bit of a pain if your other gear is budget range, but remember that you can replace the resists with charms. Try doing that with DS and CB and see how far you get. Unless you plan on using a ton of offensive charms (fine small charms, skillers, etc) I’d recommend these over more defensive boots for that reason.Aldur’s â€“ comes with 40 FRW and a big chunk of fire resists along with some +life, and the damage to mana can potentially replace leech since we use very little mana, which can be a very good thing if you don’t have any dual leech options elsewhere.
Natâ€™s â€“ 40 FRW along with lightning & cold resists.
IK boots â€“ see the description of the gloves. Good mods with lots of other pieces of the set, and worth using if youâ€™re using the weapon and/or the gloves and belt.
Goblin Toe – LOTS of CB. Not much else.
Rare boots â€“ patch up holes in resists, and look for +stats, +life, and other useful mods.
String of Ears – the DR is useful and the LL is very nice to have. Probably most useful if you don’t have much other LL (which would be a mistake) and are able to stack DR, but one of the top choices no matter what your other gear is.Nosferatu’s Coil/Goldwrap – both offer some IAS to hit a breakpoint.
Arachnid Mesh – a +skill and slow target are both nice to have.
Thundergod’s Vigor – the lightning absorb is probably overkill but it is reassuring for those of you who have nightmares about Gloams, and the +stats are a good bonus.
Verdungo’s Hearty Cord – DR% is definitely welcome, +vita is useful (but not multiplied by shifting), and it even comes with FHR.
IK Belt – like the other IK pieces it’s very competitive if used as part of a package deal (adding defense and big FHR), and the big fire and lightning resists combined with a hefty strength boost probably make it the best candidate for use on its own.
Leech is easy to pick up here, resists are nice, and even nice rare mods like cannot be frozen and +skills can be found.
Raven Frost – with CBF, big +dex and AR, and even cold absorb, this is pretty much a de facto standard for one slot if you’ve got one available, and for good reason since some of the mods it carries are both very useful and very hard to replace.Rare – great to fill holes. At least a bit of mana leech is nice, life leech is a necessity, any resists are VERY helpful since you’ll most likely be stretching for them, and other good mods to look for are +AR, +stats, and +life.
Bul-Kathos’ Wedding Band – getting married gets you life leech, a +skill, and even +life? Can you say “I do”?.
Stone of Jordan – the +skill is awesome, but we don’t need the extra mana. BK’s Wedding Band is better for this build if you have a choice and want a +skill from a ring slot.
Carrion Wind – big life leech and poison resist, but not much else.
Dwarf Star – fire absorb can be helpful and there’s some good +life.
+skills are a big one here, as are resists, but it can also be used to grab IAS if you need it along with other offensive mods.
Mara’s Kaleidoscope – this is the top-notch option with +2 skills, up to 30 resist all, and even +5 to all stats. It melds pretty much perfectly with the needs of this build for this slot.Highlord’s Wrath – the only competition for the Mara’s, really. If you need extra IAS this has it, good lightning resists, and hefty deadly strike that scales with clvl (and you should know by now how much I love DS).
Rare amulet – can potentially be up there with Mara’s if it has +2 skills, nice resists, and some stats.
Saracen’s Chance – nice resist all and nice +stats, but no +skills
Seraph’s Hymn – +2 skills, and some ED/AR against demons and undead, but no resists kind of cripple it for us.
Cover any weaknesses left by your gear (most likely resists and AR), and then look for offensive properties. If your fire damage widely outpaces your physical damage it’s most likely due to low base weapon damage and a fast attack (like a Cruel Feral Axe) so look for Fine or Sharp charms to help boost your physical damage. If you’re happy with your physical damage Shape Shifting skillers are great since they’ll boost your AR and damage, as well as your life via boosts to Lycanthropy, and even help your physical damage a bit. As always, look for good secondary mods like +life, FHR, etc.
Personally I can see little reason not to use an AII merc, but there are style points to be had I suppose.
AI Rogues – can do decent support damage, but tend to be very fragile.AII Defiance – if you’re packing a decent defense armor this can be useful, but generally defense isn’t helpful unless you can break the 10k mark at the very least. Will usually survive well on his own, though.
AII Holy Freeze – much loved for crowd control by some builds, Shockwave makes him almost completely redundant for us.
AII Might – Bingo. More damage. I love more damage, and as I’ll talk about in a bit offense is often the best defense in the world of Diablo II. And they’ll survive anything you can make it through if you equip them well.
AIII Anything – what kind of a masochist are you to choose these guys? They do no damage and can’t keep themselves alive.
AIV – a good tank you don’t need, but won’t kill jack, and offers no bonus to you. Boooooorrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiing.
Assorted Tactics & Final Thoughts
2) Sometimes offense is the best defense. If you’re doing a couple thousand physical damage even a small amount of life leech can yield hundreds of replenished life per second, and it’s often enough to keep you alive – combine that with an intentional focus on leech and the stunlock from Maul and Shockwave and the massive leech provided by Hunger it can be enough to make you practically immortal if you get enough of it. Keep swinging, keep leeching, keep living.
3) Defense is overrated. Many unique and champion baddies either have massive AR or Fanaticism to bypass defense, and some types of enemies ignore it completely. Unless you have 10k+ defense it simply can’t be counted on – and even then good tactics are far more reliable. With a castable tank in Grizzly and a lockdown crowd control stun skill available in Shockwave you should never rely on defense to save you (even in cases where it probably will).
4) Shockwave is so powerful it almost feels like cheating. It’ll shut down any pack you fight, even champions if youâ€™re . Period. Shockwave until the swirlies are everywhere, then kill them when they can’t fight back. Best of all, it even keeps those pansy Fallen from running away to hide in pools of their own cowardice. There’s just something that feels so very right about having those little punks frozen in place so you can smack them around without having to chase them down.
5) Have you noticed I’ve mentioned Shockwave in the last three points? There’s a reason: it kicks ***. Use it. If you find yourself dying often, use it more.
6) Don’t get tempted to go nuts hunting after life points in the LCS. Even with no Oak Sage and a 5 point Lycanthropy you’ll still only need to reach about 800 base life to make it to 2,000 when shifted and bothering with anything more than that for a build with a castable tank, mass stun crowd control skill, a ton of leachable damage and a skill with 100+% leech will do little to nothing to help your survival. If you’re packing 2k+ life with these safety features and still die regularly 500 more life will not save you very often. Neither will a thousand, for that matter. The problem lies elsewhere.
7) Thoughts on PvP? Don’t bother. It might seem attractive to deal two types of damage, but in practice you WON’T – with the low Maul AR the fight will most likely be over before it’s fully charged and you can switch to FC, and the low life of the build relative to other melee druids/barbs will almost ensure that it ends with you losing. It might be possible to tweak the specifics of the build and create a viable PvP build using the same concept, but I’m not well versed enough in the PvP world to know for certain and I’m definitely not capable of creating that build myself.
8) There are a couple ways to deal with Oblivion Knights in the Chaos Sanctuary and the WSK. The most obvious is to just slap on a wussy Phase Blade stuffed with Shaels and ride the FC damage. Unfortunately, the Chaos Sanctuary just happens to be stuffed to the rafters with FI monsters. You *can* do it this way, but it’s frustrating. In SC play, I’d advise a different strategy: use the OK’s AI against them. OKS will generally only use the deadly Iron Maiden curse when you’re already engaged in combat and they’re in range but not being threatened directly themselves. They also have ‘ranged’ AI, while their packs are more aggressive melee guys. For us, this combo makes for a nice strategy – find the OK, and then drop a Grizzly right on top of him. Generally his response will be to cast decrep on the bear and run like a little *****. Meanwhile, you pop one of the doom knights and run back to a previously cleared area – they’ll follow, and the OK will be none the wiser while you kill off his pack. I DO NOT advise this strategy in HC as it does carry a large amount of risk, but I’ve been using variants of it in SC play with different builds for a good long while and I can’t even remember the last time I died to IM in the Chaos Sanctuary. The most dangerous aspect: if there’s a second pack coming on, there’s a second OK somewhere. DO NOT go after any pack until you’ve found and dealt with any OK you can predict will be inn the area – remember, discretion is the better part of valor.
9) The stun effect from Shockwave and Maul are very nice, but it gets even better. How? Well, curses like Amp, Decrep, and Lifetap donâ€™t override the stunning effect. Nothing is less dangerous than a stunned monster except for a stunned monster thatâ€™s been hit with Lifetap, and hitting them with Decrep or Amp will cause you to rip through packs in a hurry. Iâ€™d highly recommend picking up a ctc source of one these curses if possible. Lifetap from Draculâ€™s gloves is probably most useful since it will make you virtually immortal and she slow effect of Decrep isnâ€™t much use when everythingâ€™s stunned. If youâ€™re planning on doing Baal runs for EXP, Iâ€™d make fitting those gloves into your Baaling gear a pretty darn high priority.
10) AR is probably the most overlooked stat for every melee character. Are you killing more slowly than you’d expect given your damage and speed? Dying often even with lots of leech and strategic use of Shockwave? Check your AR! Going from 60% chance to hit to 80% has a HUGE impact on the damage you deal over time (in that example, you’d be doing roughly a third more TOTAL damage after the AR bump than before, both fire and physical). If your chance to hit is dropping, fix it – doing so will have a larger impact on your character than just about anything else you could do.
The easiest way to do this is through charms – dex is a TERRIBLE way to increase your base AR, but charms are quite efficient. Look for Steel small charms or grand charms and pile ’em on. Ravenfrost rings also come with a fat AR bonus (and you should be wearing one anyway if you can get ahold of one). With the 400%+ AR boost of FC multiplying this base AR you should be able to fix your AR issues in a hurry. If you’re still struggling I’d recommend finding a source of Enchant charges. Demonlimb is most commonly used for this purpose, and shouldn’t be too hard to trade for around here.