Skulla Part Four: Bazaar Luck
Count Skulla began Nightmare Act III at clvl 53 with the following:
Raise Skeleton @3+3
Raise Mage @10+3
Summon Resist @2+3
Clay Golem, Blood Golem, Iron Golem, Fire Golem, Golem Mastery @1+3
Iron Maiden @8+3
Dim Vision @4+3
Lower Resist @2+3
Amplify Damage, Weaken, Terror, Life Tap, Confuse @1+3
Necromancer's Wand of Enlightenment: +2 necro skills, +29 energy
Rare Studded Leather: +15 life, 28% fire resist, 19% cold resist, 8% lightning resist, -2 MD
Summoner's Gargoyle Head of Remedy: +1 necro skills, -25% poison resist
Scintillating Circlet of the Colossus: +56 life, 12% resist all
Coral Heavy Gloves of Thawing: 29% lightning resist, half freeze duration
Ruby Chain Boots of Speed: 30% faster run, 34% fire resist
Rare Belt: 10% faster hit recovery, 19% lightning resist, +24 life
Rare Ring: +48 AR, +1 max damage, +5 energy, 13% lightning resist, 15% poison resist
Coral Ring of Greed: 25% lightning resist, 25% extra gold
Prismatic Amulet of the Wolf: 16% resist all, +18 life
Javelin of Vileness: Prevent Monster Heal
Three Socket Large Shield (3 Perfect Diamonds)
"Stealth" Studded Leather: 25% faster run, 25% faster cast, 25% faster hit recovery, +6 dexterity, 15% faster mana regen, 30% poison resist, -3 MD
Sureshrill Frost unique flanged mace: 43-68 dam, adds 63-112 cold damage, freezes target +3, cannot be frozen, slvl 9 Frozen Orb charges
Venom Grip unique demonhide gloves: +60 poison damage, 5% life steal, 5% crushing blow, 138% enhanced defense, 30% poison resist, +5% max poison resist
Assorted rings and amulets with resists
There had been some fairly significant changes to Skulla's equipment setup since the beginning of Act II Nightmare. I talked about the biggest upgrades (to the Necromancer's wand, and the Summoner's gargoyle head, each with additional +skills) already, so here I'll mention some of the other items. Skulla's former belt had little more than the "stability" affix (24% faster hit recovery), and I swapped him over to this new belt with lightning resistance and greater life. Only 10% faster hit recovery though, so I began using a Grand Charm with 12% faster recovery in his inventory. Casting characters absolutely must maintain fastest hit recovery on their setup, in my opinion. Getting stunlocked means getting killed. I also made use of the Prismatic Horadric Cube recipe: six perfect gems of each color plus a plain amulet. Skulla rolled the lowest possible prismatic result (16% resist all), but also turned up a "wolf" affix with +18 life, so the end result was a pretty decent amulet.
In terms of alternate gear, Skulla had been storing some of his excess rares/uniques on the ground in town to save stash space. Evidently I didn't return to town fast enough on one of the dungeon runs, because the Sander's Riprap and Taboo gear disappeared between trips. Ah well, probably not a big deal. I was never going to use most of that stuff except against Duriel, and Skulla turned up an amulet of the whale with +89 life for that fight anyway!
Skulla raised five mages from the Wanderer's flesh pups. Nice of the developers to put them there for the summoning necro - makes starting out a lot easier! The Spider Forest had cloud stalkers (crows), mosquitos, and fetishes. This all-melee draw meant lots and lots of IM, which chewed them up like nobody's business. I really have little to say about this area, as it posed little challenge to Skulla's army. A CEB/Spectral Hit fetish dropped the Jade Figurine, 20 more life. Skulla hit clvl 54 early in the Forest, this skill point and the next going into Mastery to max it out, finally.
The first jungle alcove held the Spider Cavern; no time like the present to start collecting Khalim's mangled corpse, so here we go. There was a triple boss pack fight all together on the north end of the cavern: FEB/Teleportation spider + LEB/Cursed fiend (bat) + Stone Skin/Cursed giant lamprey. That was a lot to be dealing with at once, and a couple of minions even managed to sneak through the lines and get a few hits on Skulla. It was good to have 650 life at a time like that! After that hairball, it was time for the traditional boss fight:
Sszark drew FEB and was considerably easier than that other mess in the Cavern. Fights like this (and against Hephasto in Act IV) are where the summoning necro really shine. The harder the foe hits, the faster they kill themselves with IM.
The second alcove held the Arachnid Lair, both dungeons located quite close to town. This area had two types of spiders along with maggots. Really pretty uneventful; there was one Stone Skin/LEB spider boss, which was handled with a mixture of IM and LR. The rest of the Spider Forest was similarly unexciting. And that's not really a bad thing when playing Hardcore!
The Great Marsh had one connection to the Flayer Jungle, but was mostly a giant dead end. (I correctly guessed this early on; think I'm getting better at reading the map generator!) Of course it still had to be cleared out. Zombies, bramble husks, and more fetishes. This melee draw was tough on the warriors, pretty easy and safe overall with lots of IM use. A Stone Skin/Magic Resistant zombie popped up with Physical and Fire Immune:
Skulla went with IM first (even though it was useless against the boss), in order to take down the rest of the hard-hitting melee crowd. Once all the minions were dead, a steady diet of LR and several Fire Golems sufficied to do in this tough customer. It's not just the offensive boss affixes that cause trouble (although they are the ones I most fear in terms of keeping Skulla alive), these defensive ones can be tough as well.
The Flayer Jungle was an all flayer/soul killer draw. I always thought that was an interesting mix, if not the most challenging one. The Gidbinn boss was Stone Skin/Cursed, easy pickings for LR. Ormus' ring was utter garbage, which sucked because Skulla really could have used a nice ring. Still using a Coral Ring of Greed here for its 25% lightning resist - that's the best Skulla had turned up! Some of the battles in the Jungle were practically small-scale wars, with a dozen fighters engaged on each side. I tried to get a good picture, but nothing really came out looking right. Sorry!
Skulla found the Flayer Dungeon early in the Jungle, and just like the Spider Cavern, there was no reason to delay going down there. First level had exploding dolls, ghosts, and bats. This was pretty uneventful, one Spectral Hit/CEB doll boss had a death explosion that did more damage than expected, Skulla was too close. He also turned up this interesting tidbit on the first floor:
So close! I honestly thought that Skulla had hit the jackpot when I first saw the item... then saw that the +2 summoning skills were +2 DRUID skills. Argh! With a prismatic affix and additional mana, that would have been a gamelong keeper for sure.
Flayer Dungeon 2 had a terrible trap in the second room: triple boss pack! There was a Cursed/Mana Burn shaman along with a Stone Skin/Extra Strong ghost (Physical Immune!) and a third non-shaman flayer boss. Here's the situation right when things really started to break down:
I circled the ghost boss in yellow, since it was hard to see. Not sure where the third boss was in this picture. The initial army was thoroughly smashed, and it was only from experience playing this character that I knew the front lines were about to collapse and got Skulla the HELL out of there! Skulla had to portal out, gather a new army in the Cold Plains, and then return to finish this mob. I used the initial retreat to string out the bosses, fighting the ghost and his minions alone on the return trip:
Afterwards, Skulla made his way back to the main room and dealt with the remaining opponents. Quite a nasty hairball there, I was pleased with how well Skulla managed to cope with it. On the third floor of the dungeon, Endugu turned up Cold and Fire Immune (he was FEB/CEB/Magic Resistant), so Skulla made sure to stay well away from his death explosion! The rest of the floor was mostly empty, as Flayer 3 tends to be. A very fine rare wand with +2 necro summoning skills dropped here too, which will serve as an alternate (it has some major fire and lightning resist). Too bad it wasn't +2 to all necro skills! Skulla also found an awesome rare light belt, which Skulla planned to upgrade to Sharkskin, as soon as he found a Thul rune (or another Ort, to upgrade to Thul!) That meant the stash was getting majorly crowded, so Skulla sold off the Stealth armor that he was never going to use to make room.
The Swampy Pit wasn't found until the very end of the Flayer Jungle. An Extra Strong/LEB gloam was on Skulla in the Swampy Pit before he even knew what was there. Ugh - those things can be almost impossible to see in dark areas. Somewhat of a scary moment; Skulla drank a red and fortunately the minions were able to surround him and then clean up the situation with LR. I hope that nothing like that happens in Hell! Swampy 2 had an Extra Fast/Fanaticism... zombie - whew!
Could have been a lot worse, but still not something to mess around with. This boss was encountered at the same time as an undead doll with Stone Skin/Magic Resistance. There was no real danger to Skulla, however Golly was killed three times in this fight - IM was getting a workout. The rest of the Swampy Pit was routine. This is one of my least favorite areas in Act III - it's so long and so pointless. Still, full clear means full clear. Everything's gotta die.
The Stormtee fight was incredibly brutal... and short. Cast IM, throw Golly into the middle of the boss pack, and keep refreshing both as needed. In the course of 15 seconds, all the enemies were dead - and Golly was killed about five times! Remember, this isn't the sad little Clay Golem from Normal, Fire Golly has almost 1200 life. Unlike the minor disaster Skulla faced here in Normal, almost all of the necromages survived this fight. I think this demonstrated an improvement in tactics on Skulla's part.
Lower Kurast had doom apes, zakarumites, and tree lurkers. An all-melee draw meant extensive use of IM, which was now reflecting almost 500% damage back on its wielders. There were some bosses here, just none remarkable. Pretty unexciting area. Skulla cleared the area, secured the waypoint, and signed off at the end of a lengthy gaming session. (Yep, did everything in Act III up to here in one go. I like to do all the jungle areas in one playthrough, just because the waypoints are so few and far between in there.)
The Kurast Bazaar featured faithful, itchies, and bramble husks. A Stone Skin/Might aura bramble husk was an interesting fight, if only because Golly was getting pounded so badly, and IM was significantly weakened by Stone Skin's 75% physical resistance. Then shortly thereafter, Skulla came across a very significant find:
Well, if it wasn't my old friend the Spirit Shroud unique armor! Most of the affixes were irrelevant, but the Spirit Shroud was a keeper for the +1 all skills. Very few armors have +skills on them. Skulla was definitely putting this on, with some help from Strength charms. (Remember, target Strength was only 34 for a large 3D shield.) This new armor forced some reshuffling of gear; Skulla's cold resist had to go way down to maintain fire/lightning resists; now only 8% cold resist! This will be remedied once Skulla manages to upgrade his belt to the rare he found. That was the bad news - the good news? Now Skulla had +4 to all skills, which was pretty awesome. Then mere moments later, Skulla found a Grand Charm at the end of the Bazaar with 30% lightning resist - wow! Now that is another AWESOME item - as good as a socketed Ort rune! After shuffling gear, Skulla's resists were now 64/7/60/55. He just needed to improve that cold resist, which looked very doable. Everything else was gravy.
Talk about having some great luck turning up good finds in the Kurast Bazaar. Practically eerie in some ways. You could even say Skulla had some "bazaar luck" in this area! (Enjoy that dreadfun pun? You read it, you can't unread it! Ha!)
Ahem. With the Bazaar cleared, it was now time to begin the dreaded temple runs, starting in the Ruined Temple and the Lam Esem quest. Skulla drew the left-facing T here, with only one or two enemies at the stairs. That was quite doable. Skulla first managed to kill wailing beasts in both side wings without waking up the main mob in the center room. And it was a damn good thing he did!
Sarina was accompanied by two other boss packs, one spider and one wailing beast. There were so many enemies I never had time to check any of the boss abilities. I couldn't even get a better picture than the one you see above. Sorry, busy not dying here! Skulla kept spamming IM, Golly, and raise skeleton warrior until everything was dead. Whew! There was some unbelievable carnage in the area just below his position. Grabbed the book, added 4 points to Strength (to use Spirit Shroud without charms, total now 38) and the other to Vitality. The unique heavy belt, Goldwrap, also dropped down here. Sadly useless.
There was a significant mob of wailing beasts and rogues in at the stairs of the Diused Fane, thankfully no bosses though. It's nice to have an army to take the initial blow at times like that. The big danger was a room with four vampire champs, which was a very tough fight... Golly could only cover one of the four, meaning the other three were free to rain down fiery death from the skies. Skulla was lucky enough to be using a Resist Fire shrine at the time!
The Kurast Sewers had horadrim ancient/horrors, gloombats, and a sprinkling of undead dolls. The toughest boss was a FEB/LEB horadrim ancient, who had a ton of hit points and whose sparks killed off a lot of minions. Icehawk Riftwing was really fast (Extra Fast third ability), but not too dangerous - he died just as fast to IM. That would have been a really nasty fight in D2 Classic, Extra Fast/Teleportation combo.
Upper Kurast featured thrashers, vultures, and zealots - but not hierophants (?) As such, this was a surprisingly easy area. Just not much going on, only a single champ pack and no bosses. IM everything, let the necromages shoot down anything that doesn't kill itself.
Time for the remaining four temples! The Forgotten Reliquary was almost entirely vampires, including the Extra Strong/Magic Resistant boss you see above. Skulla fought an absolutely textbook battle here, using Golly to decoy the boss and DV to shut them all up while the mages slowly shot them all down. Fairly lengthy fight, lasting about two full minutes, but it could not have been done more safely. Bladebone, the unique double axe, dropped here - more useless uniques. I have never found so many with any other character, and Skulla's not even into Hell yet!
The Forgotten Temple has the worst stairs trap in the game, and sure enough, the stairs were trapped here pretty badly. The area had lots of archers and beetles right out of the gate, Skulla spammed DV and managed to stay pretty safe. Sorry no pix, busy not dyin. The whole area was one big DV fest, since Skulla had to Dim the archers to be safe in any mixed mob. A Magic Resistant/Holy Shock archer proved mildly entertaining.
Ruined Fane had a BAD stairs trap, a dozen beetles right there at the entrance. Skulla was very happy that he could hide behind his minions here, who nicely absorbed the bulk of the sparks. Skulla soon found himself fighting a two-way battle between beetles on one side and a CEB snake boss on the other. Good times! Nothing's worse than when Skulla comes to an intersection with two openings, and half the army runs off in one direction while the other half goes the opposite way. It was nice to have slvl 24 Mastery pumping up the skeletons here - each of the warriors and mages has over 300 life! That helps keep them alive in really stupid moments. In contrast, the Disused Reliquary was nice and quiet. Thankfully, the worst parts of Act III are now behind Skulla.
Travincal was awesome as always, racing back and forth across the narrow causeways, cursing vampires and hierophants with DV left and right. Incredible fun. There were quite a few bosses present, including the vampire one you see above. With the aid of a skill shrine, Skulla was temporarily able to field 5 warriors and 8 mages! Three fire mages, two lightning, two cold, and one poison - an ideal army composition! No wonder Skulla was ripping this boss a new one. There was also a double hierophant boss pack up on the ledge that runs around the edge of Travincal (very strange location!), which took some aggressive golem placement and a whole lot of DV to resolve. Got it done though.
With the whole level cleared, time to lure out the Council members and see what happens...
Toorc was the first one out, as he usually is. Third ability was Extra Fast, oooh, not a good draw! He and his minions were racing around like speed junkies, and raising hydras all over the place. The Stone Skin meant that IM was out, so LR was the curse of choice. The warriors were of course useless here, but by recasting Golly again and again in the faces of the council members, the necromages managed to get the job done pretty well, although some were inevitably fodder for hydra shots. Towards the end of the battle, the commotion woke up the next boss:
Geleb drew Magic Resistant as his third ability, making LR very much not the desirable curse here. I continuned to run it until his minions were dead, then swapped over to IM to get the kill with Golly. During the fight, Ismail woke up and came charging out as well (Extra Fast/Cursed/Stone Skin), and Skulla had a bonefied mess on his hands. The Council's hydras ended up smashing all the necromages, but Skulla himself was able to stick around long enough to finish off Geleb with IM. After portaling out and raising a new army in Act I, Skulla returned and humiliated Ismail in rapid fashion using LR. Ismail dropped a circlet with +2 summoning skills... DRUID summoning skills. Another near miss!
The first level of the Durance proved to be uneventful, with only a pair of forgettable bosses. Skulla found the next waypoint after exploring only 5% of Durance 2, which was nice because I REALLY wanted to end a gaming session here. Even better, Skulla located an Ort rune in that short span, which meant a Thul rune (using the 3 Ort = 1 Thul Cube recipe), and thus the missing piece for an upgrade to Skulla's belt:
Now THAT is a keeper item! Faster hit recovery, +58 life, and two very nice resists. This also bought Skulla up to 4 belt rows for the first time, which helped make life easier. Resists were now 63/54/70/25 - MUCH better! With Malah's scroll from Act V and Skulla's stashed 3D large shield for use in Hell difficulty, he's now pretty much set on resists for the rest of the game.
The second (full) trip through Durance 2 had a monster mix of mummies, undead dolls, and maulers. This lack of elemental damage (no vampires, yay!) meant that Skulla could swap to a recently-found Summoner's amulet: +1 necro skills. With Raise Mage at slvl 13+5, that meant a full 8 mages! Slvl 25 Mastery! The necromage bolts did a LOT of damage. These necromages are easily powerful enough to stand up in Hell difficulty... so you can imagine how they were tearing through the foes of Act III Nightmare.
For Durance 3, it was back to Skulla's Prismatic ammy. This is a pretty dangerous area, and has to be managed carefully. Unlike in Normal, Skulla hugged the lower wall and managed to fight the blood lords in the first room without waking up Bremm, and yes, there was a boss there (Magic Resistant/FEB)! Then it was time to face Sparkfist, and uh oh on that third ability:
Cursed! Not what Skulla particularly wanted to see. Even worse, Bremm was fought alongside a SECOND vampire boss, CEB/Magic Resistant, at the bottom of the screen in the above picture. Somehow Skulla managed to win this fight without having to retreat, using Golly placement and a whole lot of DV. Don't ask me how I managed to pull this off, because frankly I have no idea. Skulla was ready to clear out as soon as things fell apart, yet the army hung in there and got the job done. Maffer was LEB - not the easiest draw in the world. Got it done using Golly to shield most of the charged bolts. Wyand was Mana Burn/Spectral Hit/Teleportation. That's just sad. Probably the three weakest boss abilities possible there.
Mephisto put up a decent fight, although not particularly threatening. He took a while to kill off the warriors, surprisingly, then mostly focused on Golly. Occasionally he shot a lightning bolt or cold shot and downed a mage, but not often. Mephy never actually shot anything at Skulla; I positioned him at the corner of one of the platforms, which may have prevented him from being targeted somewhat. Eventually Golly + IM did its work, with considerable help from the mages:
Three necromages survived the fight, even better than in Normal! Bloodthief (unique brandistock) dropped from Mephy, another entirely useless unique. Blah to that. Why couldn't I get something useful for a change? Well Skulla did find the Spirit Shroud, so I guess I can't complain too much.
Another act cleared, next up a trip to Hell and a hot date with Diablo.