Diablo II - Hardcore Star Team 5 - Nightmare

I spent quite a while optimizing all the equipment before nightmare difficulty. As usual for starting each new difficulty, I pulled all interchangeable equipment (particularly charms, rings, boots) into a common pool and redistributed them all according to need. The glass bowazon got all the best life charms, and also a Squid armor and circlet I'd come by, to get up to about 450 life total, hope that's enough.

Act 1

First just the procedural notes: I played at players-5, partial-clearing only enough to complete the quests, except for skipping the Forgotten Tower (I save it for later in case I need crafting/cubing runes), and cleared a bit extra on p7 in the catacombs if necessary for each character to make level 50.

As always, nightmare act 1 is the peak of power for many character builds, with their major attack skill maxed and synergized, and fighting against mostly fairly weak monsters.

Paladin: He went through the outdoor areas still using Blessed Hammer (at level 1 with +5 from items including a +3 scepter), then at the entrance to the indoor areas, switched over to using all Smite full time. My previous smiter didn't get to run Smite at this peak-of-powers time, since he had started by maxing Holy Shock first instead. And the game helped me out: I found a Crushflange mace early in the act, so swapped that in for the crushing blow with Smite at just the right time.

He did have one close call, where Pitspawn Fouldog's cold explosion knocked him down to about 40% life. I suppose I needed that reminder, DON'T NEGLECT A SMITER'S COLD RESISTANCE. That's what killed my previous smiter - that's the big danger against this character build, the boss death explosions that get buggily triggered extra times by knocking them into hit recovery.

Druid: He had the funniest moment of the act. Blood Raven spawned with a monster-flee bow, which sent Oak Sage hurtling away every time she shot him! Fine by me, I'd rather have the spirit staying out of combat.

He also had the toughest fight of the act, against Andariel. Of course Rabies isn't going to do much against the queen of poison. I had to go with what's become a pretty common strategy when a character has trouble handling an act boss: let the merc do the work, but move in to tank the boss myself to take their attention and attacks away from the merc. Even so, I still had to keep a portal open and flee into it about every ten seconds for healing. It took about fifteen cycles of that to work Andariel all the way down, but when that's what you gotta do, that's what you gotta do.

Bowazon: Ha, here's another consequence of her low vitality: low stamina! She kept running dry of that after traversing only about half an area. She might actually need boots with some kind of stamina-drain help. Anyway, I had no close calls with her low life total in the act, although there were several times when I ran away out of a crowd very narrowly before they started landing some hits. This reminds me to keep fast boots on her long-term, although it might be true that I'm always going to push to the edge of danger no matter how fast the boots are.

For combat, she was solidly average. I wasn't sure what to expect - I've never played a bowazon who would attack with physical damage at this point, every one I've ever done was using an elemental attack instead. Her bow was barely adequate, the one with +50% damage on an exceptional rare. Her dexterity is now high enough (200) to be somewhat helpful for damage, but it's not yet all that much higher than the ~100 a typical bowazon would have.

Her dps was noticeably lower than the melee classes and even her own merc, but her overall progress speed didn't feel slower than the other classes. Then I realized why: what's lower is her damage rate while attacking, but a greater proportion of her time is attacking, rather than spending half her time chasing monsters into melee range. Half the damage per attack, but twice the time attacking, comes out to the same overall dps. For skills, she's still using Magic Arrow as the mainstay, because Strafe and Guided cost more mana, but those get some use too.

Assassin: Not quite as much as the bowazon, but she needs to be careful with her life total too; her vitality is somewhat lower than other melee classes at this time thanks to needing to raise both str and dex for claw requirements. But now she maxed Claw Mastery and Dragon Claw so can start ramping up Fade, which really seems to be key to martial assassin survivability, and what was lacking for my dead Phoenix Striker several teams ago.

Necromancer: For the third time in this series of teams, Poison Nova wiped every fallen camp in seconds. But I also got 10 points into Dim Vision, and pushed myself to be mindful of using that first against anything that looked remotely like a threat, basically every boss pack or even just a large enough group of archers or damned-types.

Sorceress: She was the fastest damage dealer, which isn't unusual for a sorceress, but doing it in melee with Enchant is a different feel. At this point, it's way more powerful than any physical melee skill, dealing around 2000 damage per hit compared to a few hundred from the physical classes. And what I hadn't realized was that Enchant's minimum damage is high too, and so attacking with it would reliably kill almost every normal monster in two hits on players-5. And something else fun that she got to take big advantage of: skill shrines! There were two next to waypoints, and I went back to grab one every time I recast Enchant through the second half of the act. Enchant is quadratic with +skills (itself times mastery), and so a skill shrine boosted its damage by quite a bit, from 2000 to 2400. That quadratic effect happens for many skills, but Enchant lasts tens of minutes rather than just the shrine duration, so it's worth going back for the shrine each time.

She was diesel on offense, but of course very vulnerable on defense. Pitspawn's death explosion blasted her to even lower health than the paladin. She needs to play like an assassin or melee necromancer - constant and precise attention to positioning, only move in to hit loose and separated monsters on the edges of a pack... except she has to do it without Cloak of Shadows or Decrepify or Dim Vision to tame the crowds. Eventually my plan is points in Ice Blast for the freezing to help with that, but first I'm maxing the Enchant package. And what she badly needs from equipment is hit recovery, though I really don't have any good source of that. (This team really wants about five Rockstopper helms.)


The barbarian got a wave of good upgrades. The big score was Immortal King's helm, although he isn't using that yet, because:

I got my first Partizan base, cubed into 5 sockets, for an Honor. There's the weapon upgrade he needs. But I don't really want to spend a hard point into Polearm Mastery since most of the better endgame weapons aren't polearms, so instead I loaded up a primal helm with +Polearm Mastery, socketed for a Lore. Also the 250 AR on Honor means he could get by without the Hsaru's set belt+boots combo for AR, and could instead take Sander's boots for 10 dex towards supporting the partizan base.

And here was an unusual but fun find. I got a Chaos Armor base item, which usually can't drop until much later, but it can here because Griswold (and the Smith) erroneously drops from his hell treasure class even in nightmare. And it has a good defense prefix. And my plan for the barb is to let him go high on strength if he wants (less vitality is okay with two defense skills plus Battle Orders all maxed), so he could take this.

The other big finds were necromancer items with Poison Nova. He got a +3 wand on which the cube hit 2 sockets, as the base for White when I get an Io rune. And I also got a necro head with +1 Poison Nova socketable into Rhyme; a slight downgrade from a rare with +1 all necro skills, but Rhyme's resists free up charm space for life, and cannot-be-frozen always helps.

The druid also got a +3 Rabies pelt socketed into Lore.

The bowazon and assassin got minor weapon upgrades, more rares with slightly better damage, cube-upgraded to exceptional.

Sigon's shield, given to the amazon for summoning Valkyrie on switch. (Nobody wants Sigon's as a main shield, everyone wants resists or smite damage or necro +skills or Rhyme.)

Iron Pelt armor, good for a merc.

Ironstone war hammer and a second copy of Bloodletter gladius, but nobody needs those.

Infernostride boots, went to the sorceress; I'm willing to let her tolerate 20% run speed with teleport, and she's probably the most likely one who might save a death with the max fire resistance.

Sander's gloves, second copy, for the bowazon (first is on the sorceress.) I hadn't realized how perfect this is for her, 20% IAS and 40 life, and even poison damage too.

Ha, my best life charm for the bowazon even has a stamina prefix that will actually help.

I didn't go gambling after the act. I wanted to gamble better claws or a bow... but the problem was I ran out of Amn runes for upgrading rares to exceptional. I'll wait on these anyway until better damage prefixes come available. Same goes for +3 skill tree prefixes on circlets and amulets, which come available after the next two acts. So I saved my money for now (the characters aren't full, carrying a bit over 1 million each, stash holds 2.5m.) I also haven't crafted anything yet; after one more act (over item level 50) is when you can consistently get most of the best chance for the maximum number of affixes. (Everybody has their stash full of about ten gems and jewels awaiting crafting. What I'm going to do is craft with each character before exiting act 2, since that's when they'll need to crunch their available space.)

Act 2

Again the procedural notes: I played on players-5, minimal clearing through most of the act, but full-cleared Arcane Sanctuary, and mostly cleared the false tombs up to the sparkly chests and most or all of the boss packs, and downshifted to players-3 once the characters reached level 58.

Bowazon: She reminds me of the fire druid from my last team, in that each of the skills has similar functionality but different tactical applications. She uses Magic Arrow for most routine situations, Strafe against clumped monsters for a bit more dps, and Guided against critical targets. This spread of skills is common for any bowazon, but I've never had these physical attacks take center focus without an elemental attack overshadowing them. Since her defensive skills (Decoy and Valk) are fairly sturdy now with 10 points each, I decided to raise her offensive skills some: max Magic Arrow (it's her physical-immune solution for hell, so may as well max it now), 5 in Strafe mostly to raise the arrow counts, and 5 in Guided to reduce its mana cost.

This character gives a new playing experience I haven't had before: she gets into combat situations that can continue indefinitely, with no limiting factor at all. She often has a few monsters attacking the valk and merc, but not overcoming their defense and regeneration... so she can stand and shoot forever with no limitations at all, taking no damage, and consuming no mana or weapon durability or ammo by attacking with Magic Arrow. So it almost doesn't even matter how much dps she's dealing, every monster in such a situation dies eventually, the only question is how long. I don't think I've ever had any other character that could fight so indefinitely like that; even a summoner necromancer always keeps spending mana on curses.

Druid: His skill situation was the opposite of the bowazon's, good offense but needing more help on defense. So I raised Oak Sage to max now. This is important for this character build; the merc and summons need to hold up for a lengthy amount of time while Rabies works. Fire Claws can wait until later; I think it won't be needed until hell; he should be able to get up enough physical damage to handle the few poison immunes in nightmare.

Sorceress: Enchant hits like a truck, now over 3000 damage and killing monsters in typically two hits. This character is better than the one other enchantress I did a long time ago. That one wasn't a full-blown build, actually it was the version that doesn't take Enchant at all but gets it as charges from a Demon Limb item. It turns out that Enchant at level 31 rather than 23 from those charges is quite a bit beefier indeed. Her play style feels very much like the kicker assassin on my last team: very tactically intense, constantly teleporting to kill the highest-priority target like unraveler mummies, while also constantly very vulnerable on defense and madly trying to stay just out of reach.

Not much to say for the others, trucking along with the same skills, Poison Nova and Smite and Concentrate and Dragon Claw.

And for treasure hunting, the bowazon was also the star of the show, here we go.

First she found herself a nice bow upgrade, with CTC Amplify, and then the Amn rune to upgrade it to exceptional. And then:

She just happened to drop herself the runes to make Lionheart! That's the item I was most craving for this whole team, to rely on to boost her paper-thin life total, and it simply and easily came together right here. To get this going right away, I decided not to wait for some better 3-socket exceptional armor, but immediately just went to buy a breast plate in normal difficulty for it. I always hate making an armor runeword in something with low defense, but Lionheart is so so so critical for her, I'd never forgive myself if she died without it for the sake of waiting for an extra hundred defense. Finally, Lionheart coming right now also meant I didn't have to do the other plan I'd had in mind for her armor slot, which was to spend four perfect rubies into a gemmed armor to get life that way.

Some minor disclosure: That Fal rune happened at the end of the second leg of Arcane Sanctuary. Changing difficulties to go buy the base meant resetting her map, and on returning to nightmare, she ended up having to go through all four legs of Arcane again to find the exit. I treated the last two as I do when retraversing already-cleared territory: minimal killing, on players-1, and keep none of the drops; and I compensated for the slight bit of extra experience by clearing a little less in the false tombs.

And the bowazon wasn't even done then. She also dropped herself this fantastic pair of boots from Duriel. And also that nice amulet - she does want some fast-cast on jewelry, it does help noticeably for casting Decoy.

That Lionheart was only the first step - then I went on to keep racking up the runes. First I also got another Lum, for another major armor upgrade, a Smoke. It goes to the sorceress; she could really use some defensive value fighting in melee range, including the hit recovery, and the resists allow freeing up her belt slot for a Whale belt, and she's the most willing to give up Stealth's run speed thanks to teleport.

And two Io runes, for the poisonmancer's White wand and paladin's Black flail. It seems like Black isn't all that great a use of a weapon slot, crushing blow and nothing else... but, without Grief (ladder-only), what else is there to do for a smiter? The other thing to get in the weapon slot would be +skills, but that doesn't help all that much, since Holy Shield gets pre-cast with dedicated equipment on switch.

And finally I also got both Ko and Lem runes! One of each, as early as they can drop. But they went unused for the moment. Lem makes Treachery, but I don't want that for this assassin long term; she'll want a defense armor for hell difficulty, and also will have her own Fade and Venom higher than its level 15. Same goes for all the meleers; they will all want defense instead. And no I'm not doing a Wealth armor either. Ko also doesn't do anything important now; the only runeword it caps is Melody and that's for an elemental bowazon not physical. Best to save both the Lem and Ko for upgrading an armor later.

The biggest item find besides runes was from the barbarian, who found himself a nice Bonesnap, penperfect at 299% enhanced damage. With an exceptional upgrade, it does beat his Honor polearm with more dps plus crushing blow, plus it has no dex requirement, and finally the Honor can pass down to one of the mercs. (Although note that Quarterstaff drop right next to it - if those had dropped in the other order, that would have been a Ribcracker!)

I got a Goblin Toe boot, for the first time among all five of my teams. The werewolf druid conveniently found it just before Duriel, to put it on for the crushing blow there. I'm not sure anyone wants to use it long term; everyone on this team really needs run speed, five meleers and a paper-thin bowazon and a short-range poisonmancer. For now, the bowazon took it to use for act bosses; she's the one who needs the help but can't easily swap in a crushing-blow weapon. (Bonesnap on the barb, Black on the paladin, Crushflange in stash for the druid, a Strength claw in stash for the assassin, and the sorc has Static Field instead.)

Paladin got a nice akaran targe with 22 resist all socketed for Rhyme.

Ethereal Meat Scraper polearm, there's a fun merc toy. Also Sazabi's helm and Hwanin's polearm also for mercs.

Second Sigon's shield, to the druid on switch to prebuff shapeshifting and summons. Also a third copy of Sigon's gloves, but what I'm missing is any other pieces to enable the good 2-piece combo (30% IAS, 10% life leech), only got one copy of the belt (on the assassin) and none of the boots or helm.

Coldsteel Eye cutlass... but ethereal, dammit, would have worked well for either the enchantress or rabies wolf. Still, I'm going to keep it - I could see the enchantress using this physical damage against a fire-immune Ancient.

Twitchthroe, but lost it in town on accidentally saving and exiting too soon while cleaning up at the end of the act. Might have upgraded that for the assassin or smiter for the IAS.

After the act was gambling time, now targeting circlets. +3 to a skill tree is now available (requires affix level 60, after the +3 magic level property on circlets, and the characters are level 58.) This is probably the best sweet spot of time to gamble circlets, before the costs escalate even more with character level, with most of the top affixes available presently, the only significant exceptions being 21+ str/dex and the top leech suffix.

Got a couple nice +2 skill tree rares. I also got two plain +3s I wanted, shadow for the assassin (cast Shadow Warrior in town) and combat skills for the paladin (prebuff Holy Shield). Didn't get a Volcanic to prebuff Enchant. But this was the other big score:

Chromatic of Squid! This is worthy of endgame equipment for the bowazon. She will want this over any +skills, all the way through hell difficulty. So I took the plunge with her first socket quest, and Larzuk kindly nailed it with two sockets, to fill with two glorious rubies.

And this turned up on a random shopping trip (when I was looking for some craft input), and the bowazon is very happy with that too.

Finally, the other thing I did was start to slot in some magic-find in the equipment loadouts. I could arrange for that thanks to the big resistance upgrades on those armors and circlet, which freed up other slots for magic-find. The bowazon took two MF rings (one a Nagelring), the sorceress and assassin went with 3-topaz helms (they can still effectively get +skills in the helm slot by prebuffing Enchant and Shadow Warrior in town), and elsewhere I slotted in some magic-find amulets, gloves, and boots.

Act 3

Procedurally: This is where I start fully clearing most areas. I do all the outdoor areas plus Arachnid Lair and Swampy Pit for the sparkly chests, skipping only the false temples, and minimally clearing in the sewers and Durance. I do this act (and all of nightmare difficulty) on players-5, except for downshifting to p3 for the Durance.

I don't have much to say about the characters at this point. Nobody has started to use a secondary attack yet, that starts to happen with immune monsters in act 4. So just a few quick notes:

Bowazon: I keep focusing on her the most, but she really is the character I think about most on this team, the one character I've ever played who is doing something different (zero vitality) than every other regardless of class. How is her damage doing? She still has a fairly weak weapon, a rare with just 100% ED and Amplify, but that is barely enough. Her dexterity is now approaching 300 which is high enough to account for noticeable damage, about twice that of a bowazon with normal dex of 100 or so. She's got twice as much damage from dex, but her weapon is about half that of optimal, so that comes to just about break even... and then what saves her damage rate is when Amplify from her bow triggers. So her play pattern now is mostly to focus on Strafe, to dish out the Amplify triggers faster.

Necromancer: He had a cool plan vs the act boss: he made a Black flail for crushing blow and wielded it himself. He put on a Tal Rasha's belt he had found for the dexterity to wield it. And for attack rating, he swapped the Visionary helm from his mercenary!

Paladin: A neat detail about his play pattern: he would always run out of weapon durability on just about the same schedule as Holy Shield expired, so back to town to refresh both together. In town, he casts Holy Shield with an extra +5 skills worth of equipment from stash, worth doing.

And here we go with the items. Nightmare act 3 is when the game really begins for item hunting, when the mid-level exceptionals that can be useful to endgame start coming available. Like this one:

Hexfire unique shamshir. This is perfect here, for both the enchantress and elemental werewolf, ITD and physical damage and even +fire skills! The wolf is taking it; he needs the +3 fire skills more, for his fledgling Fire Claws attack to get anywhere against act 4's poison immunes where Rabies won't work. And also because this:

Butcher's Pupil. That's a better proposition for physical damage, for the enchantress to use against fire immunes in act 4. And actually I got two copies of it! The second one will go to use too, keep reading.

And Kuko Shakaku! Those Kurast poppables seem to always yield a unique or two. This time, Kuko isn't the huge score it was for my previous two bowazons who both used Immolation Arrow. But it's still the best I've found so far here and so the bowazon took it to use.

Blackhorn's Face death mask, think this is the first time any of my teams found that, I didn't even know what it was when it dropped. It doesn't do much, except for one important stat of Prevent Monster Heal. I'm having the smiter keep it in stash for that if he needs against physical immunes in hell; he's the only one who can't deal poison damage to stop monster regen.

String of Ears, goes to the assassin, she lives on leech and also gets the most from the damage reduction stacked with Fade. Yeah, the amazon, sorceress, and necro are all more fragile with lower life totals, but I feel like they want Whale belts more, and they have minimal ability to use the leech.

Fleshrender club, that always shows up, and always goes in the druid's switch slot to prebuff shapeshifting and summons.

Pierre Tombale Couant, always a fine merc weapon. It might even be my barbarian's endgame weapon if upgraded, we'll see if I get enough Pul runes for that. Without upgrading, Pierre is roughly comparable to Bonesnap, factoring in the deadly strike and +3 skills, but Pierre can go to better use on a merc in the meantime.

Wall of the Eyeless, but nobody here wants to commit a shield slot to fast-cast.

Some set items:

Aldur's boots, found by the bowazon and a perfect fit for her: max run speed, fire resist, life, and she even meets the 95 strength requirement thanks to Lionheart. Although the stat she now lacks is hit recovery, with the best slots for that occupied in Lionheart armor, belt of Whale, magic-grade circlet, and Aldur's boot. I never like spending charm space on hit recovery instead of life, but I think now for her she has to.

Tal Rasha's belt and helm. I don't think there's any grouping of this set that really helps an enchantress. But the pieces individually go to fine use. The werewolf takes the belt, for the 20 dex to support Hexfire. And the helm has a great place to go, on the assassin, she's definitely the lives-on-leech meleer here. (And her Fade at least somewhat mitigates the ugliness of the thing!)

Angelic sabre and amulet. This completed the full set. It comes to 140% magic-find with two copies of the ring, and so I've got to put this to use for late nightmare difficulty whenever I get it. The barbarian will take this, since he can hold the sabre off-hand, and use the other Butcher's Pupil as his main weapon one-handed. This will slow his killing speed, but I don't really care, it doesn't matter how long he takes to kill things, he's not going to die in nightmare with 2500 Battle-Ordered life. And he could use the big attack rating from the rings too.

Skill charms: well the first doesn't help here, but the second is fine, particularly since she can keep it in stash, only needed for casting Enchant.

Couple more nice charms too.

For the werewolf, I got a pelt with +1 Summon Grizzly, +2 Fire Claws, and three sockets. That's a pretty cool piece for him to use - supplies Grizzly instead of spending prerequisite points, helps his fledgling Fire Claws backup attack, and the sockets can go for three topazes for magic find.

And finally, I got another Fal rune, for a second Lionheart. This goes to the werewolf, for both the strength and dex to support the Hexfire sword. Lionheart's resists then let him trade out a 3-diamond shield for Rhyme instead.

With String of Ears, the assassin gave up the Sigon's belt/gloves combo, so the barb took that. That also triggered rotating a Magnus's glove to the assassin (fire resist to make up for that on Sigon's belt), a Sander's glove to the werewolf (who gave up the Magnus's and got resists from Lionheart), and the barb's old 20% IAS glove to the smiter (who gave up the Sander's.)

After the act, I went gambling for amulets, that's the best target now, with +3 to a skill tree now available at character level 62. I got a Communal of the Squid (+3 shapeshifting and +70 life), and a couple other minor upgrades with a bit more skills or resists. The big prize was actually gambling a Mahim-Oak Curio, and that was a great fit for the assassin, with +10 str and dex for claw requirements.

Finally, now is the time I like to seriously optimize for magic-find on the characters. The last two acts of nightmare are the sweet spot for treasure hunting, when good upper-exceptional stuff is available, but the monsters are only medium threat level before hell begins. I happened to shop one very cool piece to help with this, an Artisan's armor of Stability, so the assassin could have hit recovery and 72% magic find from socketed topazes in the same slot. I also resocketed the bowazon's circlet with two topazes. Besides that, many characters loaded up on 3-topaz helms and of-Luck amulets. Here's how it played out, in the order that I go over these characters each time, first the ones who need to build around the best life and resists equipment and going down to those who need it the least.

Act 4

Now the characters get a bit more interesting, when the first monsters with immunities start appearing. The relevant ones here were fire-immune doom knights for the enchantress sorceress, and poison-immune venom lords for the poisonmancer and Rabies wolf. All of them got that job done pretty much entirely by way of their mercenaries. The enchantress now has the Enchant package maxed so could start putting skill points into Ice Blast just for the freezing, which helped significantly to break up packs and buy time for the mercenary. She could also contribute damage with 1-point Static Field, although that did get risky moving into close range all the time. The poisonmancer can also buy plenty of time for his merc with Dim Vision. The werewolf is the one who couldn't really contribute much against immune monsters; Fire Claws didn't help against highly resistant venom lords; he could deal a little physical damage with Hexfire but not much. His merc got the job done, thanks to Oak Sage multiplying his life total, which was plenty for him to hold up against just about everything.

Everyone else (barb, smiter, claw-sin, bowazon) deals all physical damage, and so they don't have any trouble with immunities until hell difficulty.

For loot, first I'll cover the Hellforge. That came out exactly dead on average expected value: Dol, Io, Io, Lum, Lum, Ko, Pul. The average rune rank there is exactly #17 (Lum), exactly the middle of the possible range of Shael (#12) to Um (#22). I got one of what I wanted in a Pul, the rune to upgrade a weapon to elite, most likely for the bowazon, but read on. Besides that, the only other thing to do was cube Lums and Kos up to a Fal, to make another Lionheart, my third one, this time for the sorceress.

This was the big giant score:

This team's greatest need from day one has always been a weapon for the all-physical bowazon. And there we have it! The biggest of all, the mighty Buriza-Do Kyanon dropped from Diablo, courtesy of the necromancer. Perfect.

There is the question of whether to upgrade it. The Buriza actually doesn't gain all that much, since most of its damage comes from that +max-per-level modifier; upgrading would increase Buriza's damage by only about ten percent overall. There's also a significant downside in the upgraded strength requirement of 163; having to put an extra 50 points into strength instead of dex would end up costing about half of the damage that the upgrade would gain. This difference is close enough that it's not worth spending the Pul rune that could go to better use elsewhere.

The other upshot from finding this is that the bowazon's leftover Kuko Shakaku can be repurposed. I'm giving it to the sorceress to keep on switch, as a way to deal Enchant damage at range: Enchant transfers to the blast radius of the Fires Exploding Arrow property, and doesn't even need a hit check! I'm not sure how much she'll do this for general use (ranged Enchant damage is much less than melee because Fire Mastery's multiplier doesn't apply twice), but I do have this plan in mind specifically against the Ancients for both nightmare and hell difficulties.

That was the other major score, a Hone Sundan that came from a completely ordinary poppable skull pile. It goes to the sorceress's merc, she's the one most reliant on him for physical damage. I may even upgrade this with that Pul rune ahead of any weapons for the player characters.

I also got a second Tal Rasha's helm. It went to the bowazon's mercenary; she's the one who needs merc survivability the most but can't support him with curses or a life multiplier or teleport or mind blast. (Decoy doesn't work all that well for merc survivability; you can't get it in the middle of a tight pack that's already on him.)

And a second copy of Hexfire. The sorceress will keep that, although not use it yet, it's slower than the Diggler dirk and has a dex requirement. But it might turn out to be her best way of dealing any physical damage against fire immunes; Hexfire is better than Butcher's for this because of ITD; she tried using Butcher's some this act, but couldn't hit anything with it; even with Enchant's AR multiplier, she's got no base AR to multiply. I'm not sure yet if she will try to do physical damage herself long-term against fire immunes, or rely entirely on the merc and supporting him with Static Field and Ice Blast.

Also got a Saracen's Chance amulet that's a direct improvement (more stats and resists) over Mahim-Oak Curio for the assassin.

And this was the last noteworthy find, a really nice grand charm for the bowazon. The one thing Buriza-Do Kyanon lacks is anything for attack rating or defense piercing, and so she can use good AR from any source she can get it.

And the near-miss: Diablo for one character dropped a magical Greater Talons with double durability, so that was a failed set item, inches away from rolling a Bartuc's claw, which would now be my most wanted unique item after getting the Buriza.

Act 5

And once again I crowned seven Conquerors in the nightmare of Mount Arreat. I'm always worried about the Ancients, but they're always pretty doable on nightmare difficulty.

Druid: Act 5 Nightmare has more poison immunes than I remembered or noticed before. Several types of skeleton mages and archers, particularly burning dead that are also highly resistant to Fire Claws. But it turned out that Hexfire's physical damage was actually enough to take care of their fairly low life total, unlike for the venom lords in act four. Although really, the druid's merc still did most of the work, and he's plenty robust to do it thanks to a max Oak Sage life pool. A fun play pattern that happened here: Immune monsters don't take damage from Rabies, but they can still get and spread it. This includes the barricades and doors in the outdoor areas. So he would hit a barricade with Rabies, and let it spread to the monsters waiting behind it!

Necromancer: He also had to handle those poison immune skeletons, which he did entirely with his merc supported by curses. This has to be his plan for all of hell difficulty; let's hope it works this time, with Dim Vision as his main curse to always buy time and keep the merc from being surrounded.

Sorceress: She also has her merc carrying a lot of the show. Not exactly against fire immunes (not many in the act, just one salamander type and doom knights in Worldstone) but just in general, he was killing as fast as she was. Enchant is a big deal for a merc, not just because of the fire damage directly, but also the attack rating multiplier. Unmodified merc AR is roughly equal to monster defense for a 50% hit rate, but multiply his AR with Enchant and he hits almost twice as much.

And when she's doing her own fighting in melee range, she's incredibly fragile, getting caught up by as few as three monsters can mean a pounding of more than half her life ball, which happened several times this act and I need to be more careful driving her. She does have Ice Blast ramping up now, to use solely for the freezing, and it can help quite a bit if I'm accurate with it to freeze several monsters around the merc. But also she really needs more defensive capability... so stay tuned for the item finds coming up.

Bowazon: Oh yeah. Buriza-Do Kyanon in the hands of an all-dexterity amazon is exactly what I wanted. It delivers in the damage department, averaging four or five hits to kill most monsters on p5, way more damage than any lesser bow. Although it's inconsistent - Buriza has a wide min-max range, and Critical Strike doubles that; killing the same monsters might sometimes take two crits or ten low rolls. As for speed, it hits hard enough that it really doesn't feel slow, although I do have to watch out for Strafe-lock.

And for her play pattern, Buriza makes for using Strafe more than I've done before; most bowazons can't really kill a roomful of monsters with a middling bow and Strafe's 75% damage missiles, but this one can. Actually, this would also be the best case for using Multishot - when the shots are dealing all physical damage, rather than elemental or CTC effects that most of Multi's arrows don't carry. But I think I don't want to put skill points in Multi that could go elsewhere. The freezing and cold damage on Buriza also help, although fairly marginally.

One fun moment: she happened to get a Valkyrie with a CTC Amplify weapon for Lister's pack!

Assassin: Saracen's Chance amulet doesn't work great for her. The problem is the CTC Iron Maiden overwrites Cloak of Shadows. Anyway, she finally upgraded her terrible damage rate when she got to Anya, where I spent an hour to shop two Cruel Greater Talons, and the second one even came with an Evisceration suffix, wow.

For items, the huge story of the act was runes. Where my previous team got nothing higher than Ko in this act, here we go. This is why I full-clear, all of these came from optional dungeons:

Um rune from a random poppable in Halls of Pain!

MAL rune, from the sparkly chest in one of the hell-portal dungeons.

IST rune, from a random monster in Infernal Pit!

And also a Lem (didn't get a picture), from Ventar the Unholy's pack.

That's quite a haul. The prizes will be a Stone armor, Sanctuary shield, and Delirium helm; I'll cover the details and who gets them in the setup for hell difficulty.

The biggest item find was a Shaftstop armor. Pretty much everybody would want to wear this. The best beneficiary is going to be the bowazon, she's obviously the most desperate for a virtual life increase, and also is the only one over 92 strength (for Buriza) besides the barb (who doesn't need it with max Battle Orders life.)

The other major finds were set items. As I commented with my previous team, the magic-find that I pack on for late nightmare pays off not always in uniques, but in set pieces; the diminishing-returns formula applies half as harshly for set-quality.

Laying of Hands, best in slot gloves for all sorts of builds, came nice and early this time. My first thought for this too was the bowazon, but actually after sorting out everything for hell difficulty, I think it belongs on the sorceress.

And Trang-Oul's Claws. It was found by the werewolf early in his act, and so he got to use it for the +25% Rabies damage! For hell difficulty, it had to go to the necromancer, he needs the +curses (and cold resist) more. The werewolf was annoyed at losing his toy here... until someone else found another copy so they could both have one!

Minor finds, without pictures, in roughly descending order of significance:

Pierre Tombale Couant polearm, second copy, actually much better than the first one (213% ED over 160%.) The barbarian is now taking this as his main weapon.

String of Ears, second copy again, slightly better on the leech and damage-reduction numbers so the assassin takes this one, and the first goes to the paladin.

Iron Pelt armor, also a second copy, OK merc armor, but they get superseded for hell difficulty by godly ornate plates shopped from Anya.

Kelpie Snare, another second copy, useful for a merc, the bowazon's since she could use the slowing but doesn't rely on him for physical damage.

Goldstrike Arch, the next-best exceptional bow after Buriza, and I actually might consider using it over Buriza if upgraded, so the bowazon will hang on to it. Also Skystrike and Langer Briser bows, each could be barely on the low end of serviceable as endgame bow equipment if upgraded, but I'm set with Buriza.

Athena's Wrath battle scythe, don't remember finding that before (although it can't be all that uncommon as only a mid-exceptional base item.) Druid skills and damage, but not quite enough to want to use, particularly as a two-hander. +2 druid skills doesn't help him on switch, the pair of Fleshrender + Sigon's shield is more.

Tearhaunch boots, but everyone has a better rare by now.

Blackbog's Sharp dagger, but that's really only useful for Poison Dagger, and Nova is pretty much just always preferable.

Guardian Naga unique axe, but that has no useful properties.

Steeldriver maul, but Bonesnap is better if I want something along those lines.

M'avina's gloves, but I'm not sure it's useful even if I find the full set, for which the chances are pretty infinitesimal.

Gloom's Trap belt, but that doesn't really do much of anything.

Third and then even fourth copies of Hexfire sword, ha.

One usable skill charm, necromancer poison & bone with a life suffix, very nice. Also a bow skills charm; but no, that really isn't worth using, she needs resists and life in charm slots, not 5% damage.

Actually, one area where I keep getting decent stuff is small charms. Two great ones here, plus a few others with good combinations of resists, run speed, cold or poison damage.

Also boots. Finding two-out-of-three among run speed, resists, and magic-find is easy, but all three on one item is a lot less common, so these are great. The lightning one here even throws in some dex, and the fire one is low but also adds hit recovery.

The other activity that happens at this time but didn't pan out for anything useful was imbues. I tried necro heads, druid pelts, and assassin claws (Suwayyah base items), but didn't get anything good. Some classes don't need their class-specific items; the bowazon isn't going to beat Buriza, the enchantress doesn't want an orb, and the barbarian probably wouldn't beat Immortal King's helm. I usually do circlets in these cases, although I only got two plain base circlets once I was thinking about them, so several of these still aren't done yet. And now the correct play is to wait for a coronet base item at character level 78+, since that can roll +2 class skills.

I also took a spin through the nightmare cow level with everyone, but didn't turn up anything notable there. So turn the page to see the setup for hell difficulty.

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