Thinking up LRL_Punchingbag I at first discarded my original idea to play an Amazon. In light of our gear drops, and how I played, it might have been a mistake
The plan was to provide Howl and Bash crowd control to the team, while using Bash's enhanced damage, amplified with amp damage from our necro and might from our paladin to contribute to our team pysical damage. This latter part was not necessary early on, so I invested in Find Potion 5 skill points, raising it to a respectable 50% chance to make a potion, 50% of which was healing, 40% mana, and 10% rejuvenation potions. This meant every 20 corpse would usually give a rejuvenation potion. After act III normal those were Full Rejuvenation potions, Practically this meant help for ElectricTsunami's mana addiction, and that we had a lot of fat purples on hand.
For normal, I had to miss two sessions due to family matters, but mostly kept the pace via solo catch up sessions. I also was an avid shopper, getting DP101 a chest piece with big boosts to total life, and latter on IAndrosov traps-boosting claws. I even got Burninator's Bootica some boots at the end of nightmare, and DP101 a cheerleading shield. Of course I did not neglect LRL_PunchingBag in this sense either. For a while my boots and my gloves were shopped, and so was my armor, a decent Ancient Armor with extra enhanced defense that lasted until Act IV nightmare when I got donated Skin of the Flayed One.
My big weakness was that by chasing damage, I neglected vitality on the character early on, taking until hell difficulty to finally and properly raise my vitality. Ironically Sullla's sorceress had better defense, some block, and more life than my barbarian for quite a while. This, and playing in melee a lot caused me deaths. One from a frenzytaur back in normal, one in Halls of the Dead to a cursed multishot might spear cat volley, two from being on the phone with my supervisor while we were starting Hell diff Canyon of the Magi and not having a free hand to press a full rejuv or run, and a fifth one somewhere later in hell difficulty. I think there might be a sixth one too, but I don't remember those details.
To illustrate, my final life total was 1437, and my final defense was 1153. Most enemies had at least 3/4 chance to hit me. I started hell difficulty with below 1000 life. Ironically, I did not quite reach the desired damage either. Drops weren't kind to barbarians, especially not in this variant. We got a few weapons that I'd have respecced my mastery for in a heartbeat, if not for the chance to cast of this or that skill that was above clvl 6, which were forbidden skills. Notable were Skystrike, Coldkill, Guardian Naga, and Todesfaelle Flamme. I'd have in particular loved to play around with Coldkill, but the rules were the rules. As Sullla said the rules restricting equipment were causing some frustration.
To note how difficult it was for me to deal damage, my weapon until act V was Isenhart's Lightbrand, then an upgraded Shadowfang to exceptional until Act IV Nightmare, where a donated buriza did better than the rare upped-to-executioner sword with all the skill points put into bash, sword mastery, and stun for damage synergy together. One interesting piece we got was Aldur's Rythm, but since it's ED% is low, and it was still 2.3, we couldn't upgrade it to elite.
In the first session of hell it was so bad I was more or less cheerleading from the sides, and it took me minutes(!!!) to kill a single hungry dead in the crypt/mausoleum by myself. I ditched the sword and swapped to an ethereal hydra edge while it lasted, then a legend sword that was made into a King's Grace. I was dealing some 500-1000 damage each swing, with might and everything, minus 50% when amp wasn't present, +50% when it was.
In the second session we got a superior Colossus Sword, which when imbued ended up with 256% ED, and some attack rating too. My fallback plan was to swap to a thresher we grabbed before and make it into the Honor runeword, sacrificing a socket punch in the process, with a potential upgrade opportunity to an upped Grim's Burning Dead. That was not needed, so the socket punch went into the sword, Death Scalpel, and it was given a perfect skull. This freed up my mana steal ring slot, where a very timely Raven Frost donation allowed me to ditch my rhyme shield and double my damage output, at the expense of block and some resists, while keeping cannot be frozen. This was roughly at the Kicker's level, even if more vulnerable, but that was good enough for a partly utility character, and in line with my original plan.
The rest of hell difficulty went in this vein, with an armor upgrade first to a smoke, then to a Lionheart runeword. Both helped offset the resist loss from having a shield, and especially the Lionheart gave me a good amount of life. I did not respec for it in the end, since we were so close to finishing. The ancients in 2.4 seemed to be acting weird. Korlic was locked on me, bunny hopping every opportunity he got. This must have had to do with the minimum distance reduced, without modifying his AI. I had a lot of fun switching places with him while he was up in the air, ending up at his starting position just as he reached mine. The team not so much, since it was hard to deal damage to him.
One interesting thing about the cow level was that this time I went in before everyone else, the first pack to engage me was of course the cow king's in the almost exact same scenario as the little chaotic start the team had in the previous session. To show how much difference Howl did, by the time they followed, which was about 20 seconds, the minions have been howled away and I was leading His Highness in circles without any danger. We then gained a foothold and from there on the clear was routine.
For LRL_PunchingBag's epilogue, after saying his goodbyes to the team that made him Patriarch, he retired to Kurast Docks and pestered Azsheara until she called over Jarulf, a Fire Mage to lend him a hand. It was because Hellplague dropped in our games, as well as Sigon's Tower, and I wanted to see just how powerful his firebolts and fireballs are. It turns out they are more than enough to deal with wraiths, and the extra attack rating is phenomenal for enchant. Heck, even LRL_PunchingBag deals some damage to the wraiths in this state. Sure fire/physical immunes will be a problem, but as long as the worst part can be howled away, he and Jarulf will find a way to win.
I talked enough about my weapons. Death Scalpel was just what the doctor ordered, damage and attack rating. Gloves were a lucky blood crafted with attack speed, Raven Frost single-handedly responsible for my damage by letting me two-hand without losing cannot be frozen, as well as granting an additional layer of protection against cold enchanted death explosions. Belt and the other ring were just rares, granting just what I needed. Waterwalk was a really handy pair of boots, as my barbarian could really utilize maximum fire resists. The amulet was the biggest twist of fate: Perfect for the amazon we didn't have, but still the best thing I could use. The Lore helm's base I was given by Gario, and it's perfect for this barbarian, since more natural resist means I needed less gear to have respectable resistances. Finally, Lionheart was a big upgrade from Smoke, and would have been even bigger had I respecced more points into vitality.
Maybe we overdid it with the crowd control. Between layers of Minions, Smite, knockback from Psychic Hammer, Bash, and Howl, there was very little that could truly challenge us, especially when all three damage types were present. The more notable parts, where things got a little hectic before they consolidated into a relaxed clear pace were always when we just started, or when we missed someone. And when there's nothing that could really challenge us, then there is no real challenge to overcome, no big triumph. Cakewalks just don't make for interesting stories the same way as colossal challenges with setbacks and recoveries do. I was getting the inkling first when I accidentally pulled Mephisto into the group fighting the council member to the north, but only realized it when watching the VOD of the cow level session I missed. It was exciting to watch the team trying to handle that situation, bringing a new tactic to the table that just wasn't needed before. Compared to that, the final run when we were all together was routine.
Whether it's what we want, or maybe we want things more challenging, it's up to player preference. I think I want something more exciting, and less gear dependent the next time. Still, this run, and LRL_PunchingBag was a resounding success, with all objectives completed with flying colors. Everyone played well, everyone rolled with the punches the game gave them (maybe except me, I think I complained too much), and everyone became a great team member to be had.
And about our team members, in alphabetical order:
Burninator, playing Bootica the Kick/Fireblast Assassin: I did not have the same history with him as Sullla, but this was a great first impression. The kicker was without doubt one of our three pillars of damage, not needing more than boots, meaning that inbetween weapon upgrades, Bootica kept a stable output against elementally immune targets and bosses. I think Burninator1729's biggest achievement, and biggest indicator of how powerful Bootica was, when I not-accidentally pulled mephisto on our sullla-less group catching up Ivan as a joke, and he led Mephisto into a quiet corner before mugging him. A phenomenal build to match a phenomenal player, nothing else can be said here.
DP101, playing ArchaicMight, the Might/Sacrifice paladin: I think she was dealt the worst hand, playing sacrifice before 2.4, as the 8% self-damage was just brutal, especially if one is meeting hell difficulty as a melee player for the first time. Still, she reinvented ArchaicMight into a smiter, giving us a stable form of stunning and reducing the threat we faced. I kept suggesting the use of a ranged weapon like a bow or crossbow, as her main sword required a fair bit of investment in both strength and dexterity, but she kept to the frontlines, and saved us from quite a few hairballs. I'm glad you could try sacrifice out on our last session when you all caught me up, and that it at least performed according to plan.
Gario, playing LRL_Gariomancer, the skeleton and amplify necromancer: Perhaps the most vital role we had was the necromancer, with Amp breaking immunes and the skeletons providing incredible distraction to protect our more vulnerable team members. Just like Sullla, I enjoyed hanging in the back and firing the Buriza whenever I got the chance. Sorry for the first mephisto pull.
IAndrosov playing LRL_Psycho, the fire blast assassin: As one of our main casters, Ivan did tremendous work when enemies were clumped up, shining the brightest in the maggot lair. As a downside, we sometimes rolled all-fire-immune lineups. Still, fire damage was just what we needed, and Ivan performed the role reliably. Psychic hammer was a very useful tool too, knocking enemies back from over empty air onto solid ground. I am very happy I got you the shopped claws for +3 traps and +2 to assassin skills at the tail end of nightmare. I wish we got you too a spirit monarch for a safer +3/+2 setup, but that's how the game played out, and you did very well either way.
Sullla playing ElectricTsunami, our Charged Bolt sorceress: It was Sullla's writeup of the rogue revival that taught me a lot about playing the game, led me to Sirian, and allowed my first sorceress to be made matriarch. Having the opportunity to play with you was in this sense a dream come true, even if our venture was a little less chaotic or heroic, depending on how you view it. ElectricTsunami did a lot to smoothen our runs, as the only source of our lightning damage. On the few occasions when we had to face stone skin fire immune bosses without him, it took considerable amount of time, and only through Gario breaking immunity could we somehow whittle down that particular boss in River of Flame. It was also funny how ElectricTsunami ended up with perhaps the most defense in our team, courtesy of Frozen Armor and a good elite armor, even without any spectacular enhanced defense%.
Well, I think that was all. I'm looking forward to the next run, whichever variant 2.4 will inspire us to make.