Diablo II - Hardcore Star Team Beta - Nightmare

Act 1

Act 1 Nightmare took longer than the first team, more like 3 hours per character rather than 90 minutes.  Unlike them, this group isn't at the peak of their powers now; most need better weapons that haven't come yet.  The exceptions were the assassin and necro, who do operate like the first team did, with a major attack skill maxed and synergized at this point.  The poisonmancer is definitely the strongest offense presently (with no sorceress), with Poison Nova wiping entire fallen camps in seconds; although his defense consists of wildly running around in circles between poison belches.

For the assassin, I think I will stick with Phoenix Strike.  It's challenging to drive but I'm getting enough of the hang of it.  It's about getting used to the chaos.  You'd think a martial artist should be precision targeting her strikes, accurately releasing exactly one charge for the meteor each time she wants... but in practice that takes too much time to react, so it's better to just spam hits as fast as you can even if half of them come out as the lightning or ice instead.  The lightning release gets better once the second synergy ramps up in Claws of Thunder, which is about to start.

The other character with questions about her development plan is the bowazon.  I'm still not quite sure where to go with her skill build.  She maxed Strafe and put a few in Multi, and is now doing Immolation.  But after that I'm still undecided about how to allocate skill points between more physical damage (Guided Arrow, Critical Strike, Penetrate, Pierce) or Immolation's synergies.  I hadn't realized that Immolation takes two synergies, separately for the fire explosion and the afterburn flames.  My gut is telling me to go with what the game provided and rely on Immolation thanks to Kuko Shakaku; physical damage just really never seems to get high enough short of an Eaglehorn or Windforce.  Although an upcoming Might merc will help some.

And the paladin is starting to become a lot of fun.  With Vengeance maxed, I decided to start raising Fist now and leave Conviction for later.  Fist is effectively three different skills: its own lightning damage, its holy bolts to sweep crowds of undead, and its synergy to Holy Bolt to target single undead.  I love his versatility on offense - but like all paladins, he's vulnerable as all hell with no crowd control; gotta hope the upcoming Holy Freeze merc will help at least some.


The item collecting was marred slightly by twice doing a save & exit with lots of items left in town, once when the paladin got himself trapped by monsters and once accidentally with the assassin after killing Andariel.  I lost a bunch of low-level set items and a couple uniques (an extra Frostburn), but I think nothing critical.  The one that might have been regrettable was a Riphook bow, that might have slightly outdone the Kuko for physical damage, although not by much.

The items I did get (none really worth a picture): a Skystrike bow, though that's probably inferior (slower) to Kuko.  Got three copies of Frostburn gauntlets all in the same act, something the first team never found at all... but I'm not sure anyone on this team really wants it, they need IAS in the gloves slot more than a mana multiplier.  Similarly, also got Chance Guards gloves, which the poisonmancer will take, he's the only one that doesn't need IAS on gloves, and Poison Nova doesn't spam a ton of mana to need Frostburn.  Set items: finally found a Berserker's armor to go with the helm, that's another combo that gives a big AR/level bonus, so the barb will take those instead of the Cleglaw's gloves/sword combo.  Merc weapons: Kelpie Snare (hit slows target 75%), that goes to the paladin's merc, he's absolutely the most desperate for crowd control.  And a Hwanin's Justice polearm and a second Tannr Gorerod also to upgrade.

Interesting weapons: the paladin found a Hexfire unique shamshir halfway through the act (in Tristram) and adopted it as his main weapon.  But then he and someone else found two copies of Aldur's mace.  I worked out this for his best dps option going into the next act: use the mace with one Shael socketed (it comes with 3), plus a Sigon's gloves and belt combo for the 30% IAS to get to a good speed breakpoint, then add two +max damage jewels in the other sockets.  I was a lot more willing to do that thanks to the second copy of the mace which I can socket better if better stuff comes up later.  The Hexfire could go to the assassin - it's fast with ITD, just what she needs - although I'm liking the Angelic sword to enable 100% magic find on the two Angelic rings a bit too much to give up just yet.

A big concern regarding weapons is the stat requirements.  I don't want to go too high on strength and dexterity, never know when a weapon might come up that's great for damage but lower in requirements, as happened with the Ribcracker for the first team.  The paladin, barb, and werebear are all trying to hover around no more than 70 str and no dex invested yet, and patch the deficiencies with charms and socketables.  In particular I'm really unsure about the paladin's dex stat; I'd really like him to have dex for shield blocking, which would mesh with a phase blade of some sort for endgame weaponry; but who knows what weapons with what requirements will come up.  Yes, this situation could be averted by allowing character respecs -- but I want to welcome and deal with this challenge, not have an easy reset button out of it.

I skipped the normal-difficulty cow level, and also the Countess quest in nightmare.  Reason is to save them for later.  The normal cow level is a great source of chipped gems when I need those for things like the low-quality repair recipe later, and nightmare Countess isn't likely to give anything useful now but the low runes will be for crafting later.  I do intend to do the nightmare cow level, that can give useful runes and some elite base weapons, at least with the characters that are capable.

Act 2

The big development at the start of act 2 nightmare is access to the best mercs.  I'm not doing anything clever this time; the bowazon gets Might and everyone else gets Holy Freeze, really everyone needs the crowd control and can't justify anything else.

Also I made a slight change to the equipment allocations described before.  The paladin's Aldur's mace got socketed with a second Shael, so he could take 10% IAS gloves instead (Bloodfist, which also has +min damage and 40 life), to leave the 30% IAS Sigon's gloves+belt for the barbarian instead, actually mostly for the 10% life leech that helps him more than the paladin.  Other adjustments: the bowazon got a Peace armor, and took the Tarnhelm, because the assassin got a Lore instead for need of lightning resist, and also it's good to move Tarnhelm's magic find off the character that's already got 100% from the Angelic rings.  I also gambled a lot of boots and belts, and shuffled around resistances with them and charms.

The bowazon got a lot more powerful this act.  Thanks to Immolation getting up to its increasing-returns skill levels past 23, plus more skills from Peace and an amulet, both for Immolation itself and for getting to 100% piercing which is also effectively increasing returns.  Immolation with full pierce in tight packs is quite a force, and the patch 1.13 buffs to blast radius and damage are definitely noticeable.  Immolation is like 90% of her offense now, even with the Might merc helping on the physical side.  Wasn't what I had in mind when I planned the character, but I'm going to have to go with it, play the hand that was dealt in that Kuko Shakaku.  But stay tuned...

The paladin ramped up similarly, with Fist of the Heavens hitting its increasing-returns max skill levels too, and that was a blast wiping all the undead in the tombs.

Haven't mentioned the werebear in a while.  He got better presently too after maxing Maul and Werebear by raising Shockwave now, which I'd forgotten how good it is, this is really the reason to play a werebear, stun an entire room of skeletons and run around them to take out the greater mummy resurrector.  What he really needs is a source of Cannot Be Frozen... and then I realized he actually can have one: he's wearing the Hsaru's belt/boots combo for AR, and I also have the shield, and the completed set grants CBF!  I'll keep some good one-handed weapon (for now the second Aldur's mace) on switch with the Hsaru's shield for that when he needs.

Ha, who says Duriel never drops anything good.  This amazon isn't planning to use any javelin skills, but she'll keep that Titan's anyway.  It would be cool to continue this streak: every amazon I've ever done who had a Titan's went on to make Guardian, while every amazon without one didn't.  But then Duriel got even better:

Witchwild String!  That's the best mid-level bow for physical damage, and if upgraded the best of anything short of Windforce or a crazy runeword.  I think Kuko for Immolation is still stronger offense at the moment, particularly against packs of flayers in act three, but now she's well set to handle fire immunes as well.

A Lem rune showed up super early, in the maggot lair, hadn't found anything past Hel yet.  Treachery is the obvious option, and I even got a 3-socket cuirass already for it... but I'm not quite sure I want to commit, the assassin doesn't really need any more IAS (Phoenix already goes as fast as I can drive it), and might need the life and stats more from a Lionheart eventually.  My original intent for a Lem would have been a Passion bow, but now the bowazon is perfectly set with Kuko and Witchwild.  My other thought is a Passion weapon for the barb on switch, for the +1 Berserk against physical immunes to save the hard points.  I'll save the Lem for the moment and see what happens.

After that, I also got a Lum and three Ko runes; hah, Ko was the big gap for the first team, and now it shows up in clumps here.  That's enough for a Lionheart, it's fine to cube the three Kos into the Fal, Ko doesn't do anything else urgent.  The Lionheart goes to the paladin to replace his Stealth.  It's not going to perfect use presently; Lionheart's resists are overkill on top of a 4-diamond paladin shield, but the stats do help and it's still always 110 life.

I also got an Io, which can make a White wand, probably best-in-slot for this necro build like for a standard bonemancer (don't forget the +4 Skeleton Mastery.)  But I want to find a specific base for it, with +Poison Nova for offense, or +Lower Resist in order to save the hard points up to that.  That can't be shopped, so need to wait for an appropriate drop.  For now, the necro is using a shopped wand with an odd but effective combination of mods: +2 bone skills prefix, +3 Decrepify, and Lower Resistcharges.

Armors: got a Goldskin, great for the werebear and very worth an exceptional upgrade, he needs resists with no easy source from shield or skill, also wants defense, and doesn't need +skills in the armor slot.  Silks of the Victor also, something the first team never found, although it really doesn't fit well here for anyone: the werebear got Goldskin; the barb is stuck with Berserker's armor for the partial-set AR bonus; the necro and assassin aren't going near Silks' 100 strength requirement; the paladin and bowazon could consider Silks but are better set with Lionheart and Peace.  So the Silks is just on a merc for now, might be worth upgrading to exceptional just for the defense value.  Also got two copies of Hwanin's set armor, also good enough for merc use.

That's about it, nothing super exciting besides Witchwild, on to act three.

Act 3

First, I'll sidetrack for a moment to say I actually like act 3. The jungles are relaxing. They feel endless, but there are patterns and rules about how the maps work that can cut down on searching and backtracking.  The dungeons are small and quick (except the sewers, but that's not too bad with low monster density), and the Travincal fight is a cool climax.  What's best about act 3 is that your progress never bogs down, there's no moments when all your work is getting undone by resurrectors or spawners or just wasting time against objects like barricades and doors, you always keep moving.

Act 3 is smooth.  I've never lost a hardcore character in the jungle or dungeons.  Only one ever in the act, to a fire enchanted council explosion... ...and then exactly that fate almost befell this assassin, she got blasted to a sliver of life (about 120) by just that.  Too close a call, I need to get her a Lionheart and also a big +life belt (first time that's easy to shop is Halbu in nightmare, so presently.)

And I'm going to like act three if it serves up goodies like this, from a Great Marsh sparkly chest:

There we go, a real heavy hitter for the barbarian.  Butcher's Pupil is great for now and endgame worthy if upgraded.  That would need a Pul rune, and some attention to the stat requirements (115 str 83 dex), but should all be doable.


Kuko Shakaku!  Perfect for the bowazon, good physical damage and big bonuses for Immolati... oh wait, we already did this, she already has one.  It was the paladin that found it... so why not him put it to use too!  He kept it on switch, and between the piercing attack, its own fire damage that transfers to the exploding arrow blast radius, and Conviction, it was actually dealing good damage faster than melee against dense enough packs of flayers and itchies.  Worth keeping on switch for flesh spawners and maggots in act 4 as well.  Lionheart gives him the dexterity to use it.  I was already loving his versatility on offense and this makes that even better.

And remember how I said the paladin's 4-diamond resistance shield was overkill?  So Mephisto served up this nice little number.

And there's my second Lionheart.  I'm loving how this team format works with these mid-level runes.  We always find just enough to put together just enough good stuff, unlike a solo character; but they're still scarce enough that every one is exciting.  Although I'm not going to use this Lionheart just yet.  I talked about it for the assassin, but:

I finally turned up the Angelic amulet, completing the full set.  I can't resist using this on the assassin for at least one act, and probably two through the end of nightmare.  The resists and life from the set bonus are almost as good as Lionheart itself, so I'll hang on to that big magic-find bonus from the rings and set for a while here.

Nobody else wants the Lionheart?  Surprisingly, no.  I was going to put it on the necro, until he turned up a Skin of the Vipermagi and kept it.  And someone found an Iceblink armor that seems great to put on the barb, and worth an exceptional upgrade.  The werebear is better set with upgraded Goldskin, the paladin already has a Lionheart, and I think the bowazon still prefers Peace for now; maybe Lionheart later when she needs the stats for an elite-upgraded bow.  (If I still had the sorceress, she'd take the Vipermagi and then the necro would have this Lionheart.)  For now the assassin will keep the Lionheart in stash, to use against act bosses and Ancients.

And there's the first skill charm, and it's handsome.  Second one was nice too but not for this team, assassin traps, where was that the first time around, heh.

Recalibrating the barbarian's equipment: I finally got a Sigon's helm, which gives a big AR/level bonus for two set items.  That and the gloves are a perfect pair.  So he doesn't need the Berserker's helm/armor for AR, which frees up the armor slot for the Iceblink.

Finally thought to make a Rhyme shield for the assassin, she can really use the Cannot Be Frozen, even if the MF is overkill on top of the Angelic set, and for hell I may trade it out for either real resistances or a +skills claw.

Also got some interesting pieces that don't quite fit in to use.  One was a Minotaur ancient axe.  This is very similar to Bonesnap, same speed, similar damage, crushing blow - but just not quite as good with slightly less damage and would need another socket quest to Shael.  But the interesting angle is that it's a better candidate to upgrade to elite than the Bonesnap; still the same slightly less damage, but needs 80 less strength (requirement 60 lower plus 20 on the weapon itself.)  Not committing to anything with either weapon yet, we'll see what the hellforge runes yield and what the upgrade options are from there.

And two shields, Tiamat's Rebuke and Gerke's Sanctuary.  Both have interesting properties but don't quite fit anyone on this team.  Tiamat's elemental damage isn't quite enough to be worth displacing a paladin shield or Rhyme.  Gerke's would be great on the assassin, but the strength requirement at 133 is too high to be practical.

And a Spellsteel axe, bunch of charges including Decrepify, but that's not really good enough to serve as a physical-immune solution for the werebear or barb.

I didn't talk much about the characters, they're just trucking along with the same skills.  The necro is the only one with any significant change lately, he got the skeleton skills up high enough to be worth using (plus a shrunken head with the +2 summoning skills prefix), and so his hybrid build is working well now, hide behind the skeletons while belching poison novas.

Also, logistically: I got smarter about the order I play the characters.  Mostly I'd just been doing whatever I felt like on a given day, but there are strategic reasons to choose the order.  I should have one character keep all the uncubed gems from the previous act, and play first, then each next character combines their gems with that one, to free up space to receive more gear from the following characters.  And when I have something waiting to go to a particular character (like that rare paladin shield here), I should play that recipient next, to take it and free up space too.  Yes, I'm still doing this with no shared or expanded or external stash; I want the purist challenge of keeping no more than what seven (well, six) characters can carry.

Next up is the biggest reward point at the Hellforge runes, so pray to the gods of Um and Pul.  As before, I plan to full-clear most of the game from here through roughly act 2 hell, this is the sweet spot of good rewards against manageable monster opposition.

Act 4

Well, Nightmare Act 4 is the best act for fighting, but the hellforge came out as a bust.  Lem, Fal, Fal, Dol, Sol, Sol.  None of the two critical runes, Pul to upgrade a unique weapon or Um to make a Crescent Moon.  And Fal only does Lionheart and I don't need more of those.

The one useful spot in there is the Lem, and I also had one from earlier.  These can make Passion weapons, an overlooked but very solid mid-level runeword.  I'm not sure for whom, though.  The bowazon would have been my first choice going in, but she's set enough with Kuko and Witchwild.  The werebear, paladin, and barb would all be happy with Passion.  (The paladin least so, because of the monster-flee property; the werebear and barb can cancel that with Shockwave and Taunt, but the paladin would be stuck chasing down everything.)  At any rate I need an elite properly-socketed base to start anything here, so we'll see what happens with that.

Character notes:

Phoenix Strike took on a new life now.  With fire immunes (and highly resistant venom lords), it's not just about spamming meteors as fast as you can, but you have to manage it closely.  It's interesting and engaging to drive, but quite a bit slower to charge up twice and release accurately to get the lightning consistently.

The bowazon also had to adjust to the presence of fire immunes, having to rely on Strafe instead of Immolation, drastically so in Chaos Sanctuary.  Witchwild String worked well enough, though I really do want to get it upgraded to elite.  And I've decided on her skill build: after maxing the Exploding Arrow synergy to Immolation, she will then do skills to support physical bow damage, some combination of Critical Strike/Penetrate/Pierce.  Not Fire Arrow for the other synergy to Immolation (those damage numbers aren't that big), and not Guided Arrow either since Strafe works okay enough against a single target.

For the paladin, I was super excited about putting his undead-fighting capabilities to use in act 4... and then only got doom/abyss knights once throughout the act.  Although he still stormed through Chaos Sanctuary at full power just as I'd built him for.  Except he had one embarrassing moment, when I loaded up a Black flail to put the crushing blow on Diablo via Smite... and realized that I never took a point in the skill.  Oops, but he can fix that before he gets to the Ancients and Baal of course.

The necromancer is still the most powerful offensive force, although met his first poison immunes in the venom lords.  He was able to handle them with his skeleton skills nearing max now, plus Amplify and some Corpse Explosion.

The werebear did his first interesting thing in a while, he found that Shockwave was actually dealing enough damage to kill swarms of maggot young, took about 12 casts but that was still faster than one-by-one melee.

Items, only one really worth a screenshot:

The one big jackpot was a Shaftstop armor.  Not super rare, but something the first team never found.  This could be a character-defining item, like the Guardian Angel for team one.  Same as that, I'm putting this armor on the paladin, 30% physical damage reduction beats Lionheart's life (and Shaftstop has 60 anyway), and he can make up the resistances with a paladin shield and elsewhere.  Plus solid defense too, which he needs fighting at close range with no crowd control skills.  I'd love to upgrade it to elite, but not sure how to handle the strength requirement, that will depend on what sort of strength he needs for weapons too, plus there's the question of dex for blocking as well which he still hasn't committed to either.  At the moment, I recalibrated the paladin's equipment as the Shaftstop armor, Sigon's gloves + boots + belt package (the gloves have 10 strength to support Shaftstop), the other Aldur's mace socketed with one Shael and some better damage jewels, and rings of strength and dex to support Shaftstop and Kuko.

Magnus Skin set gloves, IAS and AR and fire res, best for the werebear.  (Bowazon still has Sander's gloves, IAS and life and poison damage which are a better fit for her.  Although of course I still want about four copies of Laying of Hands instead.)

Arm of King Leoric wand.  Lots of good skills for a summoner necro, plus 2 bone/poison skills as well.  But it does derail my plan, which was to always have Decrepify and Lower Resist curses as skillmods on wand and head, to save the prerequisite points in the curse tree.  What I think I need is Lower Resist on a head (currently on his wand), and can then spend hard points up to Decrepify which is only half the tree.

Also got a Suicide Branch wand and Magefist gloves.  Perfect fits... for the dead sorceress, oh well.  There's nobody else on the team to use these items, no fast-cast tweakers, the paladin a little with Holy Bolt but he's got other priorities.  (Although now I realized that half my time managing equipment on that first team was allocating all the FCR items between the casters.  This team at least has less competition between themselves.)

And a Swordguard executioner sword, which is fairly cool, but again nobody on this team to use it; too slow for the druid, paladin doesn't want to give up a shield, barb would lose out on Axe Mastery.

That's about it for now, continuing on to act 5 nightmare next.

Act 5

And finished nightmare difficulty with six Conquerors crowned. (Still minus the sorceress that died back in normal difficulty.)

A small but sweet moment: The barb started the act short on lightning resistance after some equipment swapping.  I hoped to get through the Anya quest (resistance bonus) at least without running into gloams... but then, before he was even out of the Bloody Foothills, he happened to turn up two good lightning-resist charms.

Another cute moment: the assassin's Angelic sabre once ran out of durability... exactly as another copy of it dropped, so I could just grab that to keep going.

More serious paladin report: While playing the other characters first, I came to realize that act 5 has a lot of undead, as much as half of the guest monsters are skeletons and such.  I was getting excited about using the paladin's undead combat skills here.  So of course, then he turned up no undead at all through the first half of the act.  But from there it ramped up a lot, including an all-undead spawn in Throne of Destruction.  Greater mummies resurrecting doom knights and explodey dolls... that's a nightmare spawn for anyone else, but I was absolutely loving Fist of the Heavens wiping them all.  That all said, he had one scary near-death moment, when Talic (Extra Strong) dealt enough damage to kill me from full health in a single whirlwind, saved only by hitting a full rejuve in a split second mid-whirl, may not even have survived that without Shaftstop.

I also did the nightmare cow level.  I'd originally intended only to do it with the area-of-effect characters (necro, bowazon, maybe phoenixsin.)  But then I changed my mind and did it with the slow meleers too.  I didn't want to skirt the idea of the no-twink rules, which is supposed to be that everything a character possesses came from somewhere they could have gotten it themselves, which wouldn't have been true if only capable characters did the cows.  To my surprise, the meleers handled the cows fine as well, even going to players-3.  Cows on nightmare just aren't that dangerous, their attack rating isn't high (1500) and each of the meleers had enough defense to hold up against up to about ten at once.

Except the assassin, running with low defense.  But holy god that made the cow level fun with Phoenix Strike.  I had her constantly running on the edge of disaster, spamming Cloak and Mind Blast, looking for exactly the right spots where one cow was hanging off the pack just long enough for me to hit a charge and release before getting surrounded.  On the brink of oblivion if I ever slipped up with the crowd control measures for a second, but I'm awesome at this game and so never did.  I came to find that the lightning charge of Phoenix was more useful than the meteors, because it hits over a much wider area, and also immediately on releasing rather than waiting for the meteor's delay.

That all said, I didn't get anything at all from the cows, nothing more than duplicates of a few low level uniques.  Act 5's loot was pretty marginal and nothing really exciting either.

Well, this team is good at finding Titan's Revenges that we don't need.

Biggest prize from act 5 was a Laying of Hands set gloves.  Basically everyone besides the necro wants that.  But there's all sorts of tradeoffs, like the bowazon wants the damage-to-demons the most but needs the IAS the least.  I haven't decided who gets it yet; I'll see where it best fits considering everyone's needs for the fire resist and IAS.

Cliffkiller bow.  Okay, I guess this team justified the bowazon well enough, that's now six different exceptional unique bows we found.  Thanks, but I could really use more melee weapons instead.  Cliffkiller is very close to Witchwild for damage figuring in Witchwild's deadly strike, but overall I think Witchwild is still better with its resistances and two sockets, and definitely so if I can upgrade it.

Second copy of Goldskin armor, worth an exceptional upgrade to use on a merc.

Spirit Shroud armor, +150% defense and +1 skills... and Cannot Be Frozen.  I want to upgrade this to elite to use on the werebear, chilling cripples wereform speed and so CBF is a tremendous boon, in hell difficulty where every other boss is cold enchanted or spectral hit.  More on upgrading in a bit.

Finally got a wand with +Lower Resist that is socketable into a White.  That's better than Arm of King Leoric for poison offense.  I'd like to keep Arm on switch for raising skeletons, though not sure if I may have to resort instead to a teleport staff as is usual for summoners.

Blackleach Blade, merc weapon, good for life leech and fun with CTC Weaken.  This led to a little mini-game of arranging merc CTC items (Weaken, Hit Blinds Target on a Coif of Glory helm) on characters where they won't overwrite and interfere with other effects (Lower Resist, Battle Cry, Cloak of Shadows, Amp from Witchwild.)  Blackleach ended up on the paladin's merc, switching Kelpie Snare (75% slows target) to the werebear's, which shores up his weakness against unique monsters where Shockwave's stun chance is low.

Two copies of Blade of Ali Baba (the big gold and magic find), we can't really use it as a weapon but I can't resist keeping them in stash for MF for act boss quest kills.  (Wish I had a singer barb, that's the class that can really dual-wield these.)

Wall of the Eyeless shield, but really not anyone to use that, no fast-cast tweaker on this team.

Vile Husk sword, 6% CTC Amp, which the first team found too, but it came four acts earlier this time.  I'm going to do the same thing with it as did the first team: put it on a barbarian mercenary for the druid.  Same as the wind druid before, the werebear deals in physical damage and can really use the Amp; and he already applies crowd control (Shockwave) so that Holy Freeze isn't so critical.

With that, I'm rethinking the werebear's skill plan.  I'd like to keep him doing all werebear skills, rather than the half-assed fire hybrid I'd originally planned.  (Needing 5 useless prereqs in wind skills for Armageddon really irks me here.)  The problem is physical immunes, of course.  But I'd forgotten how amazing Shockwave is.  With that stunning everything continuously, it may work to just wait as long as necessary for the Amp to trigger.  Besides that, I'm also going to try an elemental-damage setup on switch: an Arcing weapon shopped from Charsi, plus the Tiamat's Rebuke shield too.  I'm going to try all of that through act 1 hell and see if that's tolerable enough to handle ghosts that way.  (Or just Shockwaving ghosts to leave them behind is also an option, much as I hate not clearing areas, there really may not be any solution worth the trouble and tradeoffs.)

The werebear's biggest deficiency is his life total, only around 1300 now.  Turns out that the Werebear skill alone doesn't get all that high on life without Lycanthropy or Oak Sage.  I'd really like to max Lycanthropy to get that life total up.  Also want to get a Whale belt on him to take advantage of the big multiplier... but to do that I need some solution for attack rating, which is currently Hsaru's belt + boots combo, might have to go with Angelic ring + amulet here, though occupying those slots will make resistances a big problem.  I have a few rings and charms with AR but the bowazon and barb need them too...

Another character about to undergo a rework is the assassin.  The cow level was her last hurrah with the Angelic set.  For hell difficulty, she needs to move on to grown-up equipment, starting with Lionheart's stats and life and resists.  So then I had to do something to replace the 1600 attack rating from the two Angelic rings.  I did that by gambling up this claw here, with Ignore Target's Defense, which is unusual in that it only appears on a few types of weapons (daggers, rods), but does on claws.  I was actually hunting a Fool's modifier (huge AR), but this will do too; it lacks any other typically good modifiers (skills, speed, sockets), but it is the fastest base item type of claw and should do well enough.  For her other hand, I'm undecided whether to go with a +skills claw or a Rhyme shield (Cannot Be Frozen is a lifesaver for her too.)  For her skill build, I'm also not sure where to go after finishing Phoenix and the two synergies; I'm currently leaning towards Shadow Warrior, I think she needs a minion that will hold up, unlike a trapsin who doesn't get mobbed and has time to recast her whenever.

Finally, the big decisions to be made now or soon involve my rune inventory.  After two more Fal and a Lem this act, it stands at 4x Lem, 5x Fal, 2x Ko, 3x Lum, 5x Io, 7x Hel.  I can cube three of the Fal into one more Lem; Fal doesn't do anything but Lionheart and I don't need any more of those.

There's some interesting choices here.  Lem does two major things: make a Passion weapon, and upgrade a unique exceptional armor to elite.  I have several armors I might want that for: Spirit Shroud, Vipermagi, Shaftstop, maybe the Iceblink.  But I also want Passion weapons for the werebear and barb, but I can't do those yet without the elite bases.

But there's also the tension that three Lems could cube into a Pul, which goes into upgrading an exceptional unique weapon.  I have a lot of those I want to do too: Witchwild String, Butcher's Pupil, possibly Bonesnap, maybe Hexfire.  Butcher's Pupil is the strongest of those options: its damage more than doubles, and it won't get superseded among all of its three potential slots on the barb and paladin.  But the 83 dex requirement is just high enough that I don't really want to commit to that.  Actually I'd be okay with that on the paladin (dex for blocking, and he has a rare circlet with 20), but then the barb would have no good axe at all (his other one currently is a mediocre Blood craft.)

So I haven't made any decisions there yet.  I'm going to rebuild and reallocate everyone's equipment before starting hell difficulty, and see where I want to go from there.

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