Normal Part One

We had everyone present for our first session (June 6, 2007). After a few minutes of confusion where a couple of the druids turned out to be incompatible Ladder characters, we got into the game and were off! Out into the Blood Moor, where many of the druids were forced to go weaponless due to their variant restrictions:

Naked druids punching zombies to death - it doesn't get much better than that!

The Den of Evil was as routine as ever, for Normal difficulty at least. I'd forgotten just how big of an experience boost the party bonus provides, and everyone was leveling up like crazy throughout the first night. By the time we'd cleared the Cold Plains and moved on to face Blood Raven, everyone was hitting level 7-8. Level six skills brought the arrival of BWardly's Molten Boulder, Zed's Arctic Blast, Dathon's Spirit Wolves, and my werebear. Blood Raven didn't seem too happy about all of this:

She went down very fast, probably only took about ten seconds. During these early sessions, the Nature's Cabal team simply mowed its way across the landscape, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The feeble denizens of Act I Normal were completely unable to stand up to our skills. Here's a picture showing some of them in action against a carver village:

Bwardly's Molten Boulders made for a spectacular graphical showcase - too good at times, as it was difficult to see what was going on! One of them has just exploded into flames above. Zed's Arctic Blast still had limited range at this point in time, but its chilling power assisted in many other ways. WildViking, as the Ursa Major character, had few skill points to invest in his primary traits at this point, so he pumped Oak Sage instead. You can see the wispy thing in the above screenshot, boosting everyone's life significantly. My werebear would top 400 life in the very first session - Svava never had much more than 600 life in Hell difficulty!

In Tristram, Griswold was absolutely humiliated:

Jaffa (the Rabid Clubber werewolf) and I have him pinned at melee range along with Dathon's Spirit Wolves, while everyone else is wailing on Griswold with spell or bow attacks. Note how two of the druids accidentally picked up Rogue mercenaries from the Blood Raven quest, argh. We would kill them off eventually.

The Smith fared no better; trapped in a corner and pummeled to death. I mostly saved this screenshot because it shows Zed's use of the Raven skill - look out, it's a RAVEN! High comedy.

Now we cleared all the way up to the Jail Level One waypoint in this first session, with no deaths from the team and lots of good fun. Unfortunately, about two hours into the night the D2 servers acted weird for a minute, then went on as though nothing had happened. What we found out when we logged off was that there had been a server crash, and our progress for the last hour had gone completely unrecorded! D'oh. That meant that we had to go back to the Black Marsh and pick up from there in the next session.

Even though the data hadn't been saved, we HAD full-cleared all of those areas the previous night, so the team simply tried to make its way back to the monastery without bothering to venture into areas like the Pit again. This was the best shot I took of fighting inside the monastery:

Molten Boulder explosion going off in the bottom-right, T-Hawk's Fissures opening up in the center of the screen, my werebear is in mid-swing, and there's a Dark Rogue in mid-death animation at the top of the screen. Great stuff!

The Catacombs proved to be fairly easy going; our skills were still extremely strong compared to the enemies we were facing. There were no deaths from anyone, and it was rare to see a lifebar drop into the yellow, much less the red. Andariel was no different:

She went down in about 15 seconds to a hail of elemental attacks. Jaffa and I tanked, Dathon's wolves helped absorb much of the damage, and the Boulder/Fissure combo did most of the damage to Andy. T-Hawk's Fissure in particular was starting to do some serious damage as more skill points were invested into it.

From there it was on to Act II and into the Sewers, where we had one of our more amusing incidents. In the tight spaces underground, the team ran into some... confusion.

Look at the white arrow indicating the pile-up on the minimap. The whole team is stuck in that corner and can't seem to find the way out! This was never a problem for the Rogues, since we had Teleport on hand... but I forsee many more "interesting" days ahead for this particlar group! Tight spaces are the mortal enemy of the druid, it seems.

Radament was pinned against the wall by Dathon's wolves and crushed under a hail of distance attacks. He was so sorry I didn't bother to include the picture. The team cleared the entirety of the deserts, up to the Lost City waypoint on this particular night. There was relatively little challenge from the monsters. Down in the Halls of the Dead, we had our first encounter with Hollow Ones:

With the skeletons being so weak, they were not much of a threat. Jaffa and I could simply wade in and take out the big guys, while the other druids used area-effect spells to down the undead creeps. We barreled through the tombs like a force of nature, moving so fast at times it was difficult to scan the items before moving on to the next room. I was drinking red potions like water, but with 600 life and counting now, my werebear could take a LOT of punishment. It was nice to be able to take a dozen hits without flinching!

We still had a couple of Rogue mercenaries left at the end of the session; they had somehow survived this long without dying. Therefore, we had to take matters into our own hands as far as getting rid of them...

Hostile Mode engaged! I can't remember who owned this Rogue, but several of us went hostile with our teammate and proceeded to kill her off. There was something fiendishly delightful about hacking down the poor little Rogue with a giant two-handed axe.

The next week we were missing Zed, and BWardly showed up late, but still had a good turnout nonetheless. The theme for this session was beetles: lots and lots of beetles.

The Lost City turned out to have beetles, the Maggot Lair of course had beetles, and a bunch of the tombs had them as well. I was doing my best to "post up" against as many of them as possible, to shield the team from their sparks (especially Namarie, with her inability to equip lightning resist gear). Well, with Fissures and Boulders and whatnot raining down on the enemies, I was eating a LOT of sparks! And my poor bear still had 0% lightning resist himself, ouch! I was never really close to dying, but there were some interesting times nonetheless. Had to drink some purple rejuvs off my belt for the first time, which was probably good practice.

The snakes in the Claw Viper Temple were easy pickings, here on Normal where they move at a reasonable speed. Poor Fangy spawned in the best possible place for this variant: up on the platform!

Unable to reach us, he was easy pickings for Fissure and other distance spells. It was rather sad seeing him humbled so badly.

The narrow spaces of the Arcane Sanctuary caused more confusion at times, but when we were able to get Jaffa and me in front, the results were quite good indeed. Here's a shot of our teamwork functioning quite well:

Jaffa and I are holding the bridge entrance, while Namarie (who has finally reached a level where she can use her skills!) calls down Twisters on the heads of the monsters. We didn't actually need to use this kind of caution yet - most of the time everyone simply barreled through the enemies without pause - but it didn't hurt to get in some practice for later.

I always enjoy the Summoner fight, although I wonder why Blizzard never gave him more hit points in one of their many patches. He just dies SO quickly, you really have to wonder what they were thinking. T-Hawk's Fissure dropped most of the foes on the platform, while I distracted the old guy at melee range. Jeez does that bear swing slowly when chilled! Of course, when I connected it took away about a quarter of the Summoner's entire lifebar, hehe. There are some advantages to being a sturdy bear after all.

As mentioned before, in the false tombs we ended up with... more beetles:

I left this picture full size because of all the action going on; it's a great shot. As much as I'd like to claim credit for the destruction taking place, most of the sparks are coming from Fissure, which by this point was becoming something of a monster skill. I started to feel like a bodyguard for T-Hawk, simply holding the attention of the enemies while waiting for Fissure to kill them. But that was the plan for this character all along, so it looked like things were working! I still had to drink just about every red that dropped on the ground though.

We cleared everything except Duriel on this night, so that when Zed returned the next week we could move straight onto Act III. Well, next week we cleared out the True Tomb, and Zed still had not arrived. Rather than wait for an indefinite period of time, the druid team decided to kill Duriel and come back for Zed later. So we kill Duriel, and no sooner do we arrive in the Spider Forest than Zed of course shows up. Back to Act II, where we split up into teams to get the staff and amulet again, then through the Arcane Sanctuary to the Canyon waypoint, and from there back into the True Tomb again. Time for Duriel Part Two!

We had no real problem either time fighting the big bug. Jaffa and I were slowed into marginality by his Holy Freeze aura (or at least I was, anyway!) but the ranged-attack druids laid down some serious smackage. I went with this picture because it showed Zed's Arctic Blast getting in some good licks. For whatever reason, Duriel also seemed to concentrate more on Dathon's wolves than on attacking Jaffa or me, which was welcome news. I think I only had to drink one or two minor rejuvs during the whole fight. Now it was on to Act III for good!

While clearing out the first village in the Spider Forest, I leveled up and added five more points to Vitality, bringing my werebear- and Oak Sage-boosted life total just shy of 1000:

999 life! Can you believe that? It was so amusing, I had to take a picture. Too bad my resists were still sorry as anything! (Just impossible to get any kind of decent resist numbers in Normal difficulty anymore...)

This session was also notable for suffering the first team death. The noodle stick goes to... Jaffa!

Our werewolf got just a bit too aggressive charging solo into a Fetish village, and met his match. Anyway, it was bound to happen sooner or later; if anything, making it all the way to Act III without a single team death showed how well things were going. Rogue Revival was by no means as smooth! The Nature's Cabal variant definitely seems stronger, which is probably a good thing. Rogue Revival was lots of fun, but could also be incredibly tedious.

Everything up to Kurast was cleared on this night, with little difficulty aside from the one death. At the gates of the city, Stormtree was met with a barrage of magics:

Pretty much the whole team is getting in on the action there, as seen from the life bar on the big guy. He and his whole crew were on the ground in mere seconds. We grabbed the waypoint in Lower Kurast and called it a night.

The most amusing item drop to this point was a helmet intended for BWardly:

+3 to Molten Boulder: perfect, right? Except for one little problem: it has 6% Poison Resistance on it, so BWardly can't use the item! The universe has a sense of humor, it seems.

On to Kurast and beyond! Continued on the next page...