Skulla Part Five: The Mage Who Lived
Count Skulla began Nightmare Act IV at clvl 58 with the following:
Raise Skeleton @3+4
Raise Mage @13+4
Summon Resist @2+5
Clay Golem, Blood Golem, Iron Golem, Fire Golem, Golem Mastery @1+4
Iron Maiden @8+4
Dim Vision @4+4
Lower Resist @2+4
Amplify Damage, Weaken, Terror, Life Tap, Confuse @1+4
Necromancer's Wand of Enlightenment: +2 necro skills, +28 energy, +1 Summon Resist
The Spirit Shroud: 295 def, +1 skills, replenish life +10, -8 magic dam, cannot be frozen
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 Sharkskin Belt: 17% faster hit recovery, +58 life, 22% cold resist, 25% fire resist
Rare Ring: +48 AR, +1 max damage, +5 energy, 13% lightning resist, 15% poison resist
Cobalt Ring of Strength: 25% cold resist, +2 strength
Prismatic Amulet of the Wolf: 16% resist all, +18 life
Javelin of Vileness: Prevent Monster Heal
Three Socket Large Shield (3 Perfect Diamonds)
Rare Studded Leather: +15 life, 28% fire resist, 19% cold resist, 8% lightning resist, -2 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
Summoner's Amulet: +1 necro skills
Assorted rings and amulets with resists
The main changes to Skulla's equipment from the previous act were his new armor (Spirit Shroud) and very fine rare sharkskin belt, both of which I discussed earlier. The only other alteration was minor in the extreme: I swapped from his old Necromancer's wand, with +29 energy, to a new one with +28 energy and +1 to Summon Resist. Was losing 2 mana worth gaining an additional 3% in resistances for Skulla's minions? Probably, although I doubt it made much of a difference either way!
I debated whether to head right out into Hell, but ultimately had Skulla accumulate an army in the Cold Plains before starting. This turned out to be a very good idea indeed!
There was a flesh spawner boss pack right at the entrance, and monsters kept pouring in from all sides during the fight. It was so hairy that I never actually saw her trait combos, or at least wasn't able to write them down in time. Nice intro to Act IV... Shortly thereafter, a Cursed/Spectral Hit corpulent boss showed up (with a large mob of venom lords), then a CEB/Mana Burn spawner boss, then a fourth FEB/Cursed venom lord boss. Then a fifth Stone Skin/Spectral Hit venom lord showed up. Sheesh! Gimme a break. All of this within something like the first 10% of the Outer Steppes. Fortunately, the rest of the level only had one more boss, and was cleared without undue difficulty.
Brainhew, the unique great axe, dropped here from a trapped soul. Argh! This is just crazy. Skulla is at a loss for words.
Skulla had to get a better opening to the Plains of Despair, right? Ummm....
Immediately at the gates there was a Cursed/Holy Shock corpulent, mixed in with a champ pack of doom casters. (Note the funky colors on the finger mages above, it's a little hard to see.) That battle spilled over into a second doom caster boss (Extra Strong/Conviction aura), and then into a third doom caster mob (Mana Burn/FEB). Yeesh!
Game doesn't know when to let up... At least Skulla was getting some good strength training for the battles to come, although some of these lengthy engagements with multiple bosses were starting to strain the nerves. Death's Touch set war sword dropped, which was - you guessed it! - another uselessly unique item. Can Skulla maybe get something other than a million unique swords and axes?!
Izual just about put me to sleep; he didn't even make it through the warriors. (And that's sad.) Skulla put the two skill points into Dim Vision, taking it to slvl 6+4. I'd like to take DV to about a base level of about 10-12, with +skills increasing that into the 13-15 range, which should be sufficient for the rest of the game. Also note that Skulla now had 8 necromages. He reached clvl 59 in the Outer Steppes and placed the skill point in Raise Mage, now sitting at slvl 14+4.
The City held abyss knights, pit lords, and stygian hags. Ugh - that's a very unfriendly draw for Skulla, lots of ranged threats and dangerous foes. DV was again the curse of choice here (as it had been throughout Act IV so far), needed to stop the hags from breeding and the knights from casting their magic. The fact that it stopped the Inferno attack from the balrogs didn't hurt either.
On the west side of the City, Skulla faced another brutal mixed boss mob: Extra Strong/Spectral Hit stygian hag, along with an abyss knight champ pack. Yes, those weird blue knights above are all champs of some kind. Lots and lots of carnage here, Skulla having to let the hags breed additional pups at times to spawn more bodies. That fight spilled over into another stygian hag boss pack: CEB/Spectral Hit. At times Skulla was nearly overrun, and he had to drink quite a few mana potions to pull this situation out. Fortunately, this lengthy battle was by far the worst that the City had to offer, and the rest of the way proceeded without incident.
The monster draw for the River of Flame looked a lot like the City: abyss knights, pit lords, and stranglers. First part of Act IV with no breeders, yay! An Extra Strong/Extra Fast balrog boss really put the smack down on Skulla's army; even using IM and spamming Golly couldn't prevent the whole army from being wiped out. A retreat to the Cold Plains was needed to clean up this mess with a new army. Couldn't even get any pictures, the situation was so dire. An Extra Strong/LEB abyss knight then almost eliminated the army, but Skulla just managed to pull out the situation. He was down to 3 mages at one point, and was able to rebuild from there once the boss himself was down.
Now look at this picture here. What's strange about this shot?
Look at the composition of Skulla's necromages - lot of lightning there, eh? Seven out of the eight mages are shooting charged bolts! This served as a confirmation to me that the necromage skill is less than completely random in terms of what gets raised. I'd noticed this many times before, when trying to unsummon poison mages and getting them as many as five or six times in a row. Earlier in this same act, Skulla turned up five different cold mages, all raised in a row. Now I know that this is not outside the realm of statistical possibility (I have a degree in Statistics, actually!), but when so many highly improbable results keep occuring over and over, it really makes you wonder. I suspect that Diablo 2 uses a pseudo random number generator here akin to the one in Civ3, which was infamous for its streaky combat results.
Running around with seven lightning mages meant that Skulla was temporarily playing much like a lightning sorcie in some ways. (The variety of this character is part of what makes the build so much fun!) It was painfully obvious that the abyss knights had a fair amount of lightning resistance, especially when LR dramatically increased the damage output. Fortunately, this guy doesn't seem to have much lightning resistance, in Nightmare anyway:
Hephasto was easier than many normal bosses - stand back, cast IM, and wait for him to die. (He did kill Golly quite a few times though... that Might aura was packing a punch!) This just isn't that bad of a boss for the summoning necro - unless the whole army gets smashed, and then you're in real trouble! The Hellforge reward was a Ko rune; I was hoping for an Um rune, but maybe Skulla can use it. The only runeword I know offhand that uses a Ko rune is the Ko - Ko - Mal shield, and that's clearly not going to happen for this character.
And then it was time for one of the coolest areas in the game, the Chaos Sanctuary:
Skulla's army here is engaged with a mixed mob of storm casters and doom/oblivion knights at the base of the first lava pool. As I noted originally in Normal, oblivions were so much more dangerous than anything else in the Chaos Sanctuary, the rest weren't even worth talking about. They prompted a crazy dance of IM (for doom knights), DV (against storm casters), and LR (oblivions themselves), with many recastings of Golly for positioning purposes. Very stressful, but great fun when executed correctly. The worst part about the oblivions is that they will cast Decrep and retreat when attacked, meaning they can often survive for quite some time, hiding behind multiple mobs of melee foes. And of course they can't be cursed in any way either; it's like every oblivion knight is a champ in that regard. They are hands down the most dangerous normal foe in the game for the summoning necro.
This was the worst fight in the Chaos Sanctuary. A gigantic mob at the entrance to the Infector's wing completely annihilated Skulla's army, despite the best efforts on my part. The picture above captured the perfect moment, as Golly explodes on the right side of the screen and the venom lord boss is about to tear into the exposed ranks of the mages. The good news is that Skulla has had considerable practice in this regard, and knew exactly how to handle the situation. Cast Golly into the middle of the enemy ranks, refresh IM, and then calmly walk away and open a town portal at a safe distance. Unlike D2 Classic, you can always return to an earlier act and return with a new army of recruits. This hairball was handled about as smoothly as possible, with virtually no danger to Skulla himself.
Skulla leveled up to 60 towards the end of the Sanctuary run, taking IM to slvl 9+4, for an even 500% damage returned. I figured that was the skill that would most help against Diablo; more skill points in DV could be invested in Act V. But first, the Seal Bosses:
De Seis was just pathetic. IM chewed through his minions in seconds, then LR took him down in isolation. Sad, very sad. Skulla made sure not to repeat the idiotic portaling mistake with the Vizier from Normal! Heh. Vizier was equally pathetic - he killed ONE warrior. Boy did these guys get emasculated in the expansion. The Infector was the only one to put up an actual fight, trashing the initial army and then forcing a retreat to string out his minions. After Skulla cut the pursuit down to a single minion, he slew it with Golly + IM, then slowly rebuilt his necromages one at a time, never actually having to leave the CS. Pretty deftly handled, with extremely little actual danger.
For Diablo, Skulla swapped equipment around to get 73% fire resist, 75% lightning resist, and 802 life (at the expense of decimating cold/poison resist). Yeah, that should work. Diablo trashed most of the army pretty fast with his Lightning Breath of Doom (LBOD), except for one poison mage (circled in yellow above). Skulla found that slvl 1+4 Fire Golly absorbed the damage from the flame river attack completely, and stood up against a couple of melee attacks too. He was only wiped out instantly by the LBOD. Skulla was persistent in casting Golly and refreshing IM, never letting Diablo free for an instant. He never got off the pentagram:
No trips to town were required - Skulla used a total of one red and seven blue potions. Ha! Even better, one poison necromage survived the fight! The mage who lived! That's a feather in Skulla's cap he can brag about for quite some time. Diablo couldn't even kill off a skeleton mage with 280 life. After that one, I think he's red from EMBARASSMENT, not the fires of hell.
One more act to go to lay claim to a full clear of Nighmare. Skulla is looking forward to it.