Skulla Part Thirteen: The Deadspendables
Duke Skulla begins Hell Act IV at clvl 82.
Dex 25 
Nrg 135 
Raise Skeleton @6+7
Raise Mage @20+7
Summon Resist @2+8
Clay Golem, Blood Golem, Iron Golem, Fire Golem, Golem Mastery @1+7
Iron Maiden @20+4
Dim Vision @10+4
Lower Resist @2+4
Amplify Damage, Weaken, Terror, Life Tap, Confuse @1+4
Necromancer's Wand of Enlightenment: +2 necro skills, +28 energy, 28% cold resist, 15% fire resist, +1 Summon Resist
The Spirit Shroud: 295 def, +1 skills, replenish life +10, -8 magic dam, cannot be frozen
Large Shield, 3 Perfect Diamonds: 57% resist all
Golemlord's Circlet: +3 necro summoning skills, +38 life
Rare Demonhide Gloves: 20% IAS, +3 dex, 25% lightning resist, 16% poison resist
Ruby Chain Boots of Speed: 30% faster run, 34% fire resist
Rare Sharkskin Belt: 17% faster hit recovery, +58 life, 22% cold resist, 25% fire resist
Rare Ring: +104 AR, +13 energy, +35 life, 17% lightning resist, -25% poison length
Scintillating Ring of Fortune: 15% resist all, 20% magic find
Rare Amulet: +1 necro skills, +2 energy, 16% cold resist, 33% lightning resist
Javelin of Vileness: Prevent Monster Heal
Summoner's Gargoyle Head of Remedy: +1 necro skills, -25% poison resist
Scintillating Circlet of the Colossus: +56 life, 12% resist all
Nozokan Relic amulet: 20% faster hit recovery, +10% maximum fire resist, 50% fire resistance
Assorted rings and amulets with resists
Skulla began Act IV of Hell difficulty at character level 82. (Well technically he was at the 99% mark for clvl 81, but I went ahead and added the level up into the numbers above.) The Outer Steppes can be a tricky place to get started at the beginning of a run. Getting down the initial staircase isn't always easy, and the monster draw is arguably harder in this first area than the later ones. I still think that someone made a mistake somewhere at Blizzard headquarters by making Venom Lords pop up in the Outer Steppes, rather than one of the easier balrog monster types. In any case, on this particular occasion Skulla's opponents would be venom lords and flesh spawners and corpse spitters, and this would be anything but a stroll in the park. The venom lords were the toughest of the three enemies, due to their fire immunity (which could not be broken with Lower Resist curse) and high health + physical resistance. The Arreat Summit says that they have about 12k health on average, along with 50% physical resist, and even heavy resists for the other elements to go along with their fire immunity. (They have 50% cold resist and 75% lightning and poison resistance.) Geez, do you think that's enough defensive stuff on one monster type?! Anyway, the venom lords took simply ages to kill by the skeleton army, especially when they showed up in large numbers. I couldn't make any progress against them at all without poison mages in the ranks, and at one point I had to retreat back into Act I for more recruits due to a lack of poison shooters. Monster health regeneration was a problem.
That said, normal enemies weren't too bad. Progress was slow but steady so long as it was only the ordinary monster types. The real problems arose when boss packs appeared, adding their extra health and abilities into the mix, and there would be no shortage of bosses. The first was an FEB/Extra Strong/Teleportation venom lord boss fought just to the left of the entrance. That one tore through most of the starting army, at least in part because I was still experimenting with my curse tactics for this area. Next up was another hot customer, FEB/Multishot/Mana Burn venom lord boss, and the Multishot inferno spell on that guy had him breathing tongues of flame in three directions at one. Always makes for a nice screenshot! The third boss was yet another venom lord boss, this one Cursed/FEB/Teleportation. That Cursed ability made this one the worst yet, and the entire army was smashed in the process of combat. I had to pull the boss away from his surrounding mob with a retreat on the part of Skulla, then I managed to slay the boss using nothing but Iron Maiden + fire golem, combined with some Prevent Monster Heal javelins to stop him from regenerating. Whew. That was hard work.
The rest of the Outer Steppes followed that same pattern, lots of tough fights that were extended across tense minutes. The saving grace turned out to be the flesh spawners, since they would breed massive numbers of their pups and provide Skulla with an endless supply of bodies for more skeletons. Some of the engagements with flesh spawner boss packs could spread blood and gore across huge stretches of the terrain, as with the boss in the picture above. Situations like these led one of my Livestream viewers to coin the name "The Deadspendables" for the skeleton army, as they would keep getting killed off and replaced endlessly over and over again. Those poor skeleton minions, unable to rest peacefully even in death! I had discovered through trial and error that Iron Maiden had to be the primary curse for this region, as the only thing that would reflect back damage against the venom lords and flesh spawners. Lower Resist wouldn't break the immunity on the venom lords, and Dim Vision slowed the pace of the fighting to an ungodly crawl. It had to be Iron Maiden. That wouldn't work against the bosses that rolled Stone Skin trait and created a Physical Immunity - and there were no less than three such bosses in the Outer Steppes! - but Iron Maiden could kill everything except the boss in those cases, and then Skulla could use something else for the finishing blows. It ultimately took close to two hours to finish up with the Outer Steppes, with Skulla facing no fewer than eight bosses and a champ pack by my count. Very tough going. I hoped the next two areas would be easier, or it would take all night to reach the City waypoint!
The enemy draw wasn't quite so bad in the Plains of Despair. This region was packing more venom lords (ugh) but also doom knights and doom casters. Lots of doom, it would seem. The doom knights were basically a less-dangerous version of the venom lords, also immune to fire and doing melee damage but far easier to kill. I wished that there had been more of them, they were the least common enemy that Skulla found. Most of the Plains were full of venom lords and doom casters. I would use Iron Maiden in mixed mobs, because it worked pretty well against the doom casters as well as the venom lords. If the doom casters were alone though, Skulla could use Lower Resist to break their lightning immunity. It was incredible how much more frail the doom casters were compared to the venom lords, they would die in a small fraction of the time. Even the champ pack encountered above went down in less than a minute, and with almost no casualties amongst the necro army. This was in contrast to the venom lord clashes, which were always lengthy and marked by dead skeletons. At least there weren't as many boss packs in the Plains, I counted three bosses and two champ packs. (Skulla found the unique battle scythe while clearing this region, Athena's Wrath, but of course it was useless for him.)
Izual didn't appear until the final corner of the Plains of Despair, with something like five percent of the region remaining. He was as toothless as ever on the offensive, and seemed to lack the massive health that he used to have in earlier versions of the game. Perhaps that was changed at some point in a prior patch. In any case, Izual was barely more tanky than a normal venom lord, and roughly as dangerous. Skulla's minions cut him down without breaking a sweat. Izual dropped the Skewer of Krintiz (the unique sabre, hopelessly outdated by this point in the game) and his quest reward of two free skill points. I put them into the last remaining skill for Skulla, Raise Skeleton, taking it up to slvl 8+7. The 15 total points gave me a seventh skeleton warrior, and a total army size of 18. It seemed unlikely that Skulla would level up three more times before the game's end, so the skeleton army was essentially complete at this point. It was a convenient size: 7-11 was easy to remember!
The City of the Damned held damned (of course), stranglers, and corpse spitters. This meant that it was time to break out Dim Vision again as the curse of choice, after making no use of it in the first two areas. The damned simply did too much damage with their lightning shots if they weren't Dimmed into tame submission. Once they had those lovely yellow circles above their heads, they would quietly stand in place to be shot down by necromage fire. The damned were the most common enemy in this area by far, and they too were exceedingly fragile compared to all of those venom lords. Clear pace was healthy, even fast by Skulla's low standards of pace. The corpse spitters actually proved to be the hardest foes, believe it or not, as they were immune to poison and forced me to run Lower Resist to break that immunity. With their poison immunity intact, the corpse spitters would simply regenerate health endlessly. But of course the moment that Skulla began using Lower Resist, all of the damned would immediately begin firing their lightning shots and decimate the army's health. I did a lot of curse juggling here between the two, and often times a mixed mob would be Dimmed until there were nothing but the corpse spitters remaining. Surpringly sturdy, those corpse spitters. There weren't too many bosses in the City either, roughly four or five of them in total. The hardest was a Cursed/Multishot/Fanaticism aura damned boss encountered right near the entrance. That fight became lively enough that I couldn't take much in the way of pictures, and cost Skulla most of his army at the time. Everything after that was relatively straightforward. I secured the City waypoint after a full clear, and stopped there for the day. Three and a half hours to reach that point.
Picking up next time from the same waypoint, I intended to clear the River of Flame and the Chaos Sanctuary to finish the act. The River staircase was almost suspiciously deserted, only a few stranglers came flying over from the left hand corner. That allowed Skulla to get started without issue, whew. Sometimes the stairs can be horribly trapped on the River of Flame. It soon became apparent the the monster draw was stranglers, maw fiends (corpse spitters), and grotesque mothers along with their pups. Out of these three enemies, the stranglers were by far the easiest to kill. They were frail and would die almost immediately to either Lower Resist or Iron Maiden. The grotesques were also fairly easy to defeat, since they were Iron Maiden bait and provided a near-infinite number of additional corpses for more skeletons. Battle with them would lead to vast stretches of gore, and could turn into full-scale battles like the one pictured above. Although the grotesques weren't very difficult opponents, they did take a long time to kill given all of the additional pups that they kept breeding. Somewhat surprisingly the maw fiends were the toughest of the three monsters, and that's not common for most characters in Diablo 2. The maw fiends were immune to poison, however, and that meant they would be regenerating life endlessly throughout any fight. Lower Resist would not break their poison immunity. They also didn't attack as much as the other monsters, and their strong physical resistance cut down on the Iron Maiden damage reflection. Maw fiends were usually the last ones left standing in any mixed mob, and they would even run away to look for more corpses to eat rather than stand and fight. This all meant that the River of Flame was a long slog to complete, even though it's not a particularly large area. I counted six total bosses, including a double maw fiend boss pack at one point which would have been a disaster if Skulla hadn't managed to fight them across one of the narrow bridges over the lava. It took close to two hours to make it up to the waypoint.
Fortunately Hephasto posed little difficulty for a Necromancer with plenty of minions and high level Iron Maiden curse. His boss abilities were a bit of a joke - Holy Shock on the aura? Only Cold Enchanted and nothing else extra? This was definitely Hell and not Nightmare, so I have no idea what was going on there. Hephasto even popped up amidst a group of grotesques, which meant that Skulla had plenty of spare bodies to keep replacing the skeletal warriors that were crushed to bits. This was a very easy battle with zero danger whatsoever. After clearing out the rest of the enemies around the Hellforge, Skulla smashed the soulstone and found a Fal rune for his troubles. That was apparently a low roll on the rune drop, and not particularly useful. I held on to it anyway in stash.
The River Maze beyond the waypoint still had the same monster draw, stranglers and maw fiends and grotesques. The narrow platforms seemed to work well for Skulla's minions, allowing the necromages to fire in relative safety across the lava pits. There was a maw fiend boss along the way, Cursed/Spectral Hit/CEB, but he was taken out in routine fashion. No big swarms of foes in this area, only small groups of two and three at a time. Skulla ran into his first oblivion knight at the entrance to the Chaos Sanctuary at the end of the maze, Extra Strong/LEB/CEB on the abilities. I was able to get the doom knight minions to walk away from the boss for easy disposal with Iron Maiden, and then the necromages tore apart the oblivion once he was trapped against the wall by the skeletal warriors. Easy stuff in this case.
The Chaos Sanctuary itself is probably my single favorite part of the game. It was such a perfect ending to the game in the pre-expansion days, a dark version of a Gothic cathedral laid out in exactly the same fashion, except with the seals in the wings and a pentagram in place of an altar. A very fitting place to fight Diablo. It's a shame that Act V is mostly so bland and uninteresting afterwards. Anyway, Skulla and his minions ran into this boss almost immediately, a Stone Skin/Extra Strong/Teleportation venom lord and his crew. There were way too many venom lords to handle here, and I knew almost immediately that this would be the end of that skeleton army. After they were all inevitably smashed, I had Skulla lead the boss back into the River Maze and opened up a town portal, stranding old Blight Grumble at the portal. Skulla could then recruit a fresh army in Act I and return via the River of Flame waypoint, shooting down the boss (still stuck at the location of then old town portal) across the lava. It looks like this:
That's the safest way to deal with any of the venom lord or oblivion bosses in the Chaos Sanctuary. In a worst case scenario, you can lead them back to the River Maze and use town portal maneuvers to hit them in safety across the lava. Note that this will not work for the storm casters (or the Grand Vizier of Chaos) however, as they can fly across the terrain obstacles. That was the problem for Ember, and why she could not use that particular tactic. Skulla was happy enough to use the shortcomings of this game's AI against it wherever possible. Even better, the retreat back to the River Maze had strung out the minions for this boss, allowing Skulla to kill them in small groups on the return trip back into the Sanctuary. The venom lords represented such dire foes for Skulla and his skeletons, he really had to do anything possible to cut down on their numbers.
That was the only venom lord boss pack in the Sanctuary, fortunately, although there would be one champ pack of them near the second lava pool. Skulla spent much of his time dueling with the oblivion lords and their doom knight protectors, casting curse against counter-curse across the length of the desecrated chapel. The oblivions are basically necromancers themselves; they will cast Amplify Damage and Weaken and Life Tap and all sort of different curses against your characters. (They no longer cast Iron Maiden thankfully, that was patched out of the game since Meatbag's journey.) When an oblivion is threatened, it will cast Decrepify and attempt to run away. Tactically then, it's best to try and corner them against the walls or other parts of the Sanctuary architecture to prevent them from fleeing deeping into the area. Sometimes that's not always possible though, and Skulla wound up having to clear the entire east wing of the Sanctuary to track down several oblivions that he had started fighting at the pentagram. They can run a long way! I loved the back and forth of these engagements, and the need to maneuever the oblivions into a position for easy disposal. Skulla wound up casting a lot of Decrepify himself, trying to stop the oblivions from running away. I would have to clear the entire Sanctuary before nailing the final oblivions in the north wing.
Since I finished in that corner of the Sanctuary, I had Skulla open the seal of De Seis first. This seal boss was totally neutered in the expansion when they changed De Seis' minions from oblivions into doom knights. Instead of fighting six oblivion knights, you now get one oblivion and five doom knight minions, and that's just not very challenging. De Seis rolled Extra Strong/Fanaticism aura/Mutishot/Stone Skin on this occasion, which explained why my fire golems and skeletal warriors had been dying at a fantastic rate against the doom knights. Iron Maiden made for massive slaughter on all sides. After that, Skulla chased De Seis halfway across the Sanctuary before managing to corner him south of the pentagram. The guy could really fly with that Fanaticism aura, even with constant Decrep usage. This was about as easy as it gets.
The Infector would not be easy, and I prepared accordingly by setting up a town portal back in the River Maze. There was no alternative to parking that speeding jerk, and so Skulla bid farewell to another army of minions as he popped the seal. Once it was down to Skulla and the fire golem (which took about ten seconds), I began the tense process of pulling the boss back to the river maze. Somehow one minion came out alone, and Skulla was able to kill it with Iron Maiden plus Prevent Monster Heal javelins. The boss was next, and I calmly walked (walking, not running!) Skulla back past the two lava pools and out to the Rive Maze. The Infector has to stop in place and begin his attack animation to swing, which allowed Skulla plenty of time to stroll on past. This is Sirian's "Tempting Fate" tactic, and it works perfectly against the balrog type of monsters. Walking really is safer than running here. Anyway, back through the portal, back to Act I for a fresh army, back through the River waypoint again. Somehow the process of returning to Act IV changed the elemental type of all my necromages, because I had three poison mages initially and none at all at the time of the screenshot above. How that happened is beyond me! This required tagging the Infector with PMH javelins, and in the process of doing that Skulla took a face full of lightning sparks and nearly died. Wow they were doing a lot of damage! Those LEB sparks were juiced up with the Multishot affix, and were even doing poison damage thanks to the Spectral Hit. So the Infector nearly killed my character from across the lava, heh. Amazing. After that, Skulla and his army worked their way back through the rest of the Infector's minions, which were fought in groups of one and two. The sum total was 11 minions in all, plus the Infector himself, so hopefully you can see why Skulla had to use these tactics. The skeletons never could have fought that boss group head-on, not in a million years. But with a patient tactical retreat it wasn't that bad.
I had little fear of the Grand Vizier of Chaos. Dim Vision Dim Vision Dim Vision Dim Vision. Oh, what's that? Your storm casters are all uselessly frozen in place doing nothing? That's what I thought. The skeletal warriors all died, but the necromages were untouched and shot the boss and his minions down one by one.
Diablo always represents a serious danger to a Hardcore character, even one who employs reflective damage and minions like Skulla. The Lord of Terror is the most dangerous of the three Prime Evils in my opinion, largely because Diablo is so much more aggressive than Mephisto and Baal. Both of them like to sit at range and shoot projectiles, but Diablo will charge your character directly over and over again. Diablo can also trap your character in a bone prison, and that would probably mean either death or Save and Exit time for Skulla. I made sure to clear the area around the pentagram of junk on the ground, and stack up a bunch of extra health and mana potions in case things went badly. (You don't want to go back to town if possible in the Diablo fight, since he can bone prison your town portal when you come back through!) With prepping complete, the Nozokan Relic equipped for 85% fire resistance, and a full army in tow, there was nothing to do but pop the final seal and get the battle underway.
I mishandled the start of this fight badly. I was trying to cast Iron Maiden on Diablo, only to have him get off a pretty good shot with the Lightning Breath of Doom onto Skulla. Then while I was drinking a red potion from the belt, Diablo hit Skulla with another full breath of his red lightning, and life dropped as low as 350 HP. I drank a full rejuv potion right away, but that was still poorly handled on my part. There was no need for Skulla to be in that kind of danger, or take that kind of punshiment. After that the battle went much more smoothly. The fight was carried out just south of the penagram as planned, and a surprising number of skeletal minions survived the initial rush. I had expected them to die in the initial fire nova. I guess that all those skill points in Skeletal Mastery had done their work well. I was dutiful in casting more fire golems as Diablo killed them, and had the good luck to see Diablo using his slap attack repeatedly for Iron Maiden reflected damage. That was the path to victory, I certainly wanted Diablo using his melee attack as much as possible. Eventually all of the skeletal warriors fell (although two of them nearly made it through this battle), and Skulla was down to a single necromage remaining. That one was a cold mage, and his icy cold bolts kept Diablo chilled for the entirety of the battle. That was a huge benefit, slowing down Diablo's ability to roam around the battlefield and cause mischief. Bless you, undead cold mage! Somehow that one lone skeleton was still standing when the demon lord collapsed:
Having gone back and watched the Diablo fight again from the Livestream recording, I think that the necromage actually landed the killing shot. Not Diablo knocking himself out with Iron Maiden, it was the skeleton who secured the deathblow. I'm still stunned that any of them made it through this fight, Diablo is always so deadly for mercenaries or minions of any kind. (Act end bosses get a 10x damage bonus against them.) This was the true Mage Who Lived, the one who belied the "Deadspendables" title for the skeleton army. What a triumph. Forget killing Skulla himself, Diablo couldn't even wipe out Skulla's bony minions! Ha!
Diablo's uperdrop produced Doomslinger, the unique repeating crossbow, and a whole bunch of rares with laughably bad item affixes. Skulla will see you next time in Act V for the conclusion of this journey.