After about six months away from Diablo 2, I intend to create a new character. He will be a Summoning Druid, and he will be Hardcore. I will play the character through until he is killed or completes the game on a perfect 3 dot run.
The Summoning Druid is a build that has intrigued me for a while now. It's reminiscent of the Skeleton Necromancer, but without the dependence on corpses to raise minions, and without the crowd control safety provided by the Curse tree. On the positive side, fully maxed out Dire Wolves and Grizzly Bears do a ton of damage, even in Hell difficulty, and don't need to rely on Iron Maiden or Lower Resist to get the killing done. They just maul the enemies into submission themselves! My character will try to maximize the abilities of this single skill tree. No points from any of the other Druid branches, tempting as a few points in shapeshifting might be!
I intend to concentrate primarily on Summon Grizzly, as the minion that does the most direct damage overall. However, one minion is not enough to shield the Druid caster properly, so I forsee having to use Dire Wolves and even Spirit Wolves in various congested sitations, simply to provide meat shield blocking dummies for the Druid himself. While the Summoning tree doesn't have any Curses proper, there are a couple of skills provided by "Spirits" that function similarly. Oak Sage buffs life considerably, and I plan on investing heavily into this skill and using it as the default spirit for most situations. Having more minion life won't hurt, but the main incentive there is to keep the Druid alive better. A skill that provides +100% life is worth its weight in gold for Hardcore players. I also expect to resort to Spirit of Barbs (effectively a weakish Iron Maiden) against certain bosses, particularly combined with Spirit Wolves in some situations. Spirit of Wolverine, which boosts damage and attack rating (AR), I don't expect to use much. The focus of Hardcore mode isn't killing faster, it's keeping yourself alive longer. If I need stronger minions, better to add more points into Summon Grizzly or Summon Dire Wolves and continue running Oak Sage so they live longer. But it may have its place too, we'll have to wait and see. Finally, the various "Vines" are much too weak to do any kind of significant damage, but they will clean corpses off the ground, and therefore serve as a lifesaver against certain reviving enemies. I don't intend to put more than the minimum of skill points here.
Strength will be kept low, very low, as I don't intend to engage in melee combat at all with this character. Dexterity is similarly pointless. That will leave everything free to be spent in Vitality and Energy; I'll try for roughly 100 Energy to start, and see how that holds up. It will depend on how quickly the minions are dying, and how many +mana items turn up. Most of the stat points will go into increasing life as much as possible. The ideal items for this character are +3 Druid Summoning tree gear; the theoretical max is +9 skills from three such items, but realistically I'll likely end up with something in the +4-6 range. As with my other characters, I'll be playing a pure run, one pass through the game, no repetition of areas, use only what you can find, buy, or gamble along the way. The way that Diablo was meant to be played!
My Druid is named Winnie, and accompanied by his faithful companion Pooh Bear. On occasion, he summons his three dire wolf companions: Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail. Settle in. This will (hopefully) be a long journey.