Kell Part One: Normal

The early portions of this variant were standard fare. Act I Normal is very easy for experienced players, and Kell was investing all of his skill points with each level up, giving him lots of immediate power. The first two points went into Raise Skeleton, giving him a full complement of three with his starting wand, then a point into Mastery, and then finally a point into Amplify Damage. Kell rarely needed to curse anything though, as three skeletons with a point in Mastery were more than enough to run over the starting monsters. Each of the skeletons had 21 life, and the enemies only had about 5. That was an asymmetrical encounter!

Coldcrow was the first encounter I can recall that gave Kell any trouble. Her Cold Enchanted attribute slowed down the skeletons' attack, and her archer cronies plugged them faster than bodies were hitting the floor. Kell ran out of spare corpses for the first time in the game. Fortunately Coldcrow was encountered in one corner of a circular area; I backtracked a ways and raised a trio of new skeletons, then re-entered the same place from the other side. Kell's initial retreat had strung out the archer minions a bit, allowing the new skeletons to kill them one at a time. Coldcrow only had two minions remaining by the time Kell reached her again, and that was few enough to get her pinned against the wall and finish her off.

This battle was made difficult by the fact that Kell was only clvl 5, lacking a Golem and Dim Vision curse to assist. Once they were both in play, things got a lot easier, even in some of the claustrophobic underground spaces. Dim Vision to shut up the archers (even at slvl 1, it's very powerful) and Golem cast in the face of the most pressing threat. The skeletons will run around a bit - you can't really tell them who to attack, they kind of pick that on their own - but they'll eventually get the job done. Assuming you can keep them alive, anyway.

Kell made use of Dim Vision curse against shamans as well. Blind the shamans themselves, then wait for the skeletal warriors to hack their way through the fallens/carvers/devilkin/etc. until the whole mob is gone. Kell could provide some extra support with Amplify Damage, but it just wasn't needed at this point. Most enemies died in a couple of hits even without me doing anything. I knew that wasn't going to last forever...

I saved the skill points from levels 10 and 11, so that Kell could place points into Golem Mastery, Iron Maiden, and Terror all at once. Now, a word about Iron Maiden: I will definitely make use of the curse with Kell, especially against the act-end bosses. However, I don't want this variant to turn into a giant IM-fest, with the skeletons being nothing but targets for reflected damage. My goal is to show that the skeletons themselves are strong enough to do the fighting and killing, so I will be emphasizing first Amp, and later on the improved Decrepify curse. I envision Decrep and Dim Vision being the bread and butter of this character, the latter absolutely needed to keep ranged threats from tearing the skeletons to pieces!

The basement levels of the Barracks and the Jail were the first place where Kell had things noticeably more difficult than my similar character Skulla. Kell had no ranged damage capacity at all (and he never will!), so when archers or mages fired between the bars of these cages, it posed serious problems. I had to expose Kell to open up the doors, and even after blinding the enemies with DV, oftentimes it was really tough getting the durned skeletons inside to do the fighting! In the picture above, one of the skeletons has paused in the doorway to attack an archer, and the other three are stuck uselessly outside, twittling their bony fingers. That was a major difference from a character like Skulla, whose skeletal mages did the vast majority of the fighting and killing. I could see that positioning the warriors was going to be a major challenge going forward.

Anyway, for the moment there was still no real challenge. I even took the time to add some skill points to Dim Vision, since the skeletons were strong enough for the moment. Kell rolled through the rest of the Act, probably never dropping below 80% health, and even managed to humble Andariel:

I thought I'd run Amp curse until all the skeletons were dead, then switch over to Iron Maiden and let her beat on the golem. As it turned out, however, 4 skeletons with some extra skill points and a fair amount of Mastery were actually enough to take down Andariel all on their own! Awesome. That's probably the last time that will ever happen, so Kell savored the victory.

Skill Tree through Act I
lvl 2 Raise Skeleton @1
lvl 3 Raise Skeleton @2
lvl 4 Mastery @1
Den Raise Skeleton @3
lvl 5 Amplify Damage @1
lvl 6 Clay Golem @1
lvl 7 Dim Vision @1
lvl 8 Weaken @1
lvl 9 Mastery @2
lvl 10 (saved)
lvl 11 (saved)
lvl 12 Golem Mastery, Iron Maiden, Terror @1
lvl 13 Dim Vision @2
lvl 14 Dim Vision @3
lvl 15 Dim Vision @4
lvl 16 Mastery @3

As I like to do with characters in Normal difficulty, I went straight for the Halls of the Dead and the Horadric Cube, to make use of the huge collection of small rejuvs and chipped gems that Kell had collected. The beetles in the desert dished out a lot of lightning damage, but the skeletons continued to hold up... for the moment. Down in the Halls of the Dead, it was another Dim Vision fest:

Kell simply didn't have enough mana to raise the bodies of all the enemy skeletons and mummies, to prevent them from being revived. That's what I prefer to do on higher difficulties, as it's not really safe to advance forward until you know stuff won't be getting revived behind you. Instead, Kell dimmed the greater mummies and let his own undead minions cut their way through. Definitely starting to take longer to drop the average random enemies now, as monster life continued to scale up with each new area. I practiced helping them out by having Kell blind the room with DV, then curse just the enemies on the front line with Amp. Running two curses at once isn't too bad - it's when you have to use three or more that things start getting dicey!

In a reversal of normal progression, Kell went back and cleared the Sewers and the Stony Tomb after the Halls of the Dead. These areas were pretty easy, with lots of space for the skeletons to attack and Dim Vision on hand to stop enemy skeleton archers/mages. The outdoor desert areas were a breeze as well, especially with crows and vultures popping up in the Far Oasis. I had been worried about lightning sparks from beetles, but Kell's skeletons held up with no problems... for now, anyway.

The Maggot Lair took significantly longer to complete, even if it didn't pose any real danger. Those narrow hallways meant that one or at most two skeletons were the only ones who could fight at a time; more than half of Kell's army was stuck uselessly in the background! I longed for some necromages to help out here, but no dice. At least the Viper Temple was a breeze here on Normal, the snakes having little life and not packing much of a punch. That included Fangy and his crew, who were cut down without issue:

Kell was up to 5 skeletons by now, having found a shrunken head with +3 to Raise Skeleton on it (ha! probably the only character build for whom *THAT* would be an uber item!) and purchased a wand with +1 to the summoning tree on it from Drognan. I was starting to get to a point where there was a clear "front line" of skeletons that Kell could hide behind, shielding him from danger so long as the bony warriors could stay in the fight. I continued to add skill points to Raise Skeleton and Mastery in roughly even proportions. Raise Skeleton adds percentage damage, while Mastery adds to base damage, so you really do need both of them to get full value out of the skeleton warriors.

After clearing the Palace (DV, DV, DV) it was into the Arcane Sanctuary, and this was where the lack of necromages really started to cause some headaches:

Those narrow causeways made it impossible for most of the skeletons to enter into battle! In the picture above, three skeletons confront a group of hell clan goats while the other two skeletons and the golem stand uselessly off to the right. Unless combat was joined on one of the larger platforms, Kell's offensive output was cut dramatically. Now I could and did recast the Golem around a lot, placing him behind the enemies to get more skeletons into the fight, but unfortunately it was rare to get more than three skeletons fighting at a time. Not a problem for the moment, yet I worried a bit about coming back here in Nightmare. At least Dim Vision worked perfectly against the vampires, while even a weak slvl 1 Amp curse tore up the spectres and goats.

The teleporting quadrant created special issues. Even with a skeletal army around him, a Hardcore necromancer can't exactly go jumping onto a platform full of enemies! I could be a little more creative than that, of course, and so it was time for Kell to break out his rarely-used Iron Maiden curse:

Poor Golly was getting torn up over there! But that was the whole plan, and with Iron Maiden running on all these foes, they soon started dropping. Then Kell could raise the fallen enemies as skeletons, and slowly transfer his army across the ethereal gap until they were all on the opposite side. This was a slow and mana-intensive process, so I didn't do it all the time, but there were occasions when it simply wasn't possible to risk life and limb jumping through one of those teleporting portals. Kell kept his head, both literally and figuratively.

Canyon of the Magic was simpler, since everything in there spawned as melee critters and Kell's skeletons could take their time hacking through, with support from Amp curse. The False Tombs were a little tougher when unravellers popped up, with Kell having to race ahead into rooms to tag them with Dim Vision curse so that they would stop resurrecting their fallen comrades. I wasn't really pleased with my performance here, to be honest; Kell took a number of hits on foolish ventures into enemy territory, exposing him to way more risk than was prudent. Even though this may be Normal difficulty, I can't ever forget that Kell is Hardcore, and his journey could end at any moment. I'll be more careful when returning in Nightmare.

Normal Kaa with no extra abilities, although he did have a mixed mob of resurrectables surrounding him. For unraveller bosses like Kaa, against whom Dim Vision was useless, the trick was to cast Golly up in their faces, which prompts an AI switch to melee attack. Alternately, if there were few enemies in play, Kell could also consume all the corpses by reviving them as skeletons. Kell hit clvl 24 while running the True Tomb and opened up Decrepify curse for the first time. It seemed to work very well, with the one drawback of short duration. I planned to experiment more with it in Act III.

Duriel was one of the few times that it was necessary to fall back on Iron Maiden. Kell might have been able to do this battle with just his skeletal warriors and a large amount of Amp/Decrep, but better not to take any chances. I did a fair job of refreshing IM and Golly (could have been better though), with the result that a single skeleton managed to survive the encounter:

I'm rather surprised that one of them made it through! Guess I was wrong when I said it wouldn't happen again after facing Andy, heh.

Skill Tree through Act II
lvl 17 Mastery @4
lvl 18 Mastery @5
Radament Raise Skeleton @4
lvl 19 Raise Skeleton @5
lvl 20 Raise Skeleton @6
lvl 21 Iron Maiden @2
lvl 22 Iron Maiden @3
lvl 23 (saved)
lvl 24 Summon Resist, Decrepify @1

Onto Kurast and the jungles. The outdoor spots at the start of Act III are generally easy fare, with lots of retreat room and little possibility of dying (unless you do something really stupid). Kell began getting a lot of practice with Decrep curse, which I planned to be the default curse of choice against anything that didn't need to be Dimmed. Decrep cuts physical resistance by half (effectively increasing skeleton damage by 50%) while also slowing the target and halving the damage from their melee attacks. There was literally nothing I could use that would do more to keep those brave skeleton warriors manning the front lines! Decrep worked surprisingly well against Sszark:

He cut down a couple of the skeletons, but Sszark's minions provided suitable replacement bodies. While I could have used Iron Maiden here, and simply relied on reflected damage, I wanted the skeletons to have their place in the sun. This variant was all about focusing on the warriors, keeping them alive and buffing their damage potential. We've all seen a gazillion necros before where their minions are nothing more than blocking dummies for endless IM reflection!

Generally speaking, it was rare for the skeleton to die at all. They had a very healthy ~150 life for this point in the game, and Kell was boosting their survivability with Decrep and DV wherever possible. I was getting more practice with Decrep's short duration, which at a starting time of 4 seconds was indeed playable, so long as I was careful to refresh frequently with Kell. More skill points will be needed there before reaching Nightmare. The largest battle took place at one of the fetish villages in the Great Marsh:

This little area was overflowing with bramble husks, fetishes, and soul killers, including a boss and a champ pack. Kell drank three full mana potions off his belt before all was said and done. I wouldn't say it was a dangerous situation, thanks to that narrow bridge for a safe retreat route, but the enemy critters were a lot thicker here than anywhere else in the jungles. Most of the trekking through them was safe and uneventful, which is what you want when playing Hardcore. I thought that Stormtree and his LEB sparks might prove troublesome for the skeletons, but nope, they ate him and his minions up without even breaking a sweat. With some extra skill points added, those skeletons were proving to be more sturdy than I had expected. I guess I was still used to Skulla's experience, who was playing in Hell difficulty with very low-level skeleton warriors! (Come to think of it, Skulla's mages who had gotten all the skill points were actually pretty sturdy themselves, even in Hell... Maybe I've been underestimating what the warriors can do?)

The above-ground sections of Kurast were pretty easy, with DV taking the hierophants and their healing entirely out of the equasion. Kell rolled a friendly draw against Sarina and her crew, with no trap at the stairs and plenty of room to face off against her wenches. That was more than could be said for the Disused Reliquery!

This is the "after" picture, taken once the battle had been concluded. There was a full encounter group of wailing beasts and dark rogues (including an FEB boss) completely surrounding the entrance, which set upon Kell before the graphics had even finished loading. Kell took three hits and managed to wriggle free somehow, then his minions were on the enemies and that was the end of the danger. Thank goodness he had Golly and the skeletons to provide distraction! This is the worst stairs trap I've ever seen in Normal difficulty, almost a full dozen enemies directly on top of the entrance. In fact, they were packed so ridiculously tight that it turned out to be a minor blessing, with Kell spawning towards the back of the mob and closer to safety. There was simply no room to appear right at the base of the stairs. Needless to say, this is pure bull on the part of the developers, and has no place in a game like this. Shame on you, Blizzard!

Travincal wasn't particularly tough, as it's just not that crowded with enemies here on Normal. Kell's biggest issue with the Council was luring them out in small groups, which his skeletons are rather bad at doing. I ended up having to fight Geleb and Ismail at the same time - which worked, because this was Normal, but only because it was Normal. I'll have to get a little more creative in Nightmare.

Down in the Durance Kell came across this fellow, his first Physical Immune boss. Now that's not total disaster, because both Decrep and Amp curses would break that immunity, however it sure did make this fight a lot harder! I wanted to run DV against these vampires to stop their meteors and firewalls, but any time Kell did that the boss would become Physical Immune again and effectively become invincible. Of course the stupid skeletons kept concentrating their attacks on the boss when he was PI... After two minutes spent without making much progress, I pulled a retreating move, separated the minions into smaller packs, killed them off piecemeal, and then went back to down the boss. Even with Amp curse stripping away his immunity, it was a slow process, with the vampire fireballs healing back much of the damage done. (I had of course already hit the boss with a Prevent Monster Heal javelin, or this would have taken even longer!) Anyway, Kell did win eventually. This should serve as example #1 of why I'm not planning on taking this character into Hell, where there will be legions of physical immune opponents running around...

Bremm turned up with Holy Freeze for his aura, which was pretty bad for Kell's skeleton crew. Several of the warriors and a lot of golems died, but fortunately there were just enough bodies left over from some earlier blood lord vampires to provide replacements. Decrep really pulled the fangs out of Maffer, eliminating his extra speed and extra damage. Wyand is just sad now, with the change to Teleportation in the expansion. For Mephisto himself, I resolved to start with Decrep curse and see how long the warriors could hold out. They did yeoman work, and took Mephy below half health before expiring. (Some of the skeletons probably would have survived, if it wasn't for the poison cloud that the boss emits.) Then it was down to Iron Maiden and Golly, which worked as well as you would expect. Mephisto was killing the golem in one hit much of the time, yeouch! I have to keep remembering that this pitiful Clay Golem lacks the health of Skulla's Fire Golem.

Mephisto's experience pulled Kell up to clvl 27. Ha! Nice timing.

Skill Tree through Act III
lvl 25 Mastery @6
lvl 26 Mastery @7
lvl 27 Raise Skeleton @7

The hellish domains of Act IV are some of my favorite parts of this game, and I always enjoying doing these sections. I like Act I and Act IV the best; the first one because it's the only one that gives the impression of journeying through the countryside, through field and caves and then ultimately concluding in the monastery. I know this is all an illusion, and you're stuck on the same restricted path as elsewhere, but Act I has great atmosphere from start to finish, plus the Tristram quest which brings back fond memories for anyone who played the original game. The first three sections of Act IV are pretty blah, but once you hit the River of Flame everything else is dramatic and memorable. I love the Chaos Sanctuary's design especially, always have. By way of comparison, everything in Act II is desert or tombs, way too much yellow and brown earth tones. The Arcane Sanctuary is the best part of that act, just because it offers something different. I love Kurast and Travincal in Act III, but I get bored by the neverending jungles and flayer dungeon + swampy pit. Act V is the worst act in the game - by far - and it's very obvious that less work went into the expansion than the core game. In Normal difficulty, Act V just bores me to tears.

Kell made safe and steady progress through the open regions of Act IV. The breeding monsters (e.g. stygian hags) caused the most difficulty, but I wouldn't say they were really dangerous. With heavy use of Decrepify curse, the monsters continued to be too weak to break through the line of skeletal warriors with any frequency. When abyss knight mages appeared, Kell would fall back on Dim Vision to block their elemental spells. But mostly, I used Decrep:

When all of the skeletons engaged a large mob of opponents, small-scale pitched battles took place. Kell was up to 6 skeletons now, having added one of the Izual skill points into Raise Skeleton. While I can't say it made a big difference, having more power on hand surely didn't hurt either.

Now for Skulla's army, the key was always setting the terms of the engagement so that the monsters were forced to fight in an enclosed area. That would allow only a couple of enemies to take part in combat, while the necromages shot them down in safety. Kell also did well to force the monsters into a narrow defensive position, however that also prevented most of his skeletons from engaging in melee combat! It was not uncommon to see 2-3 skeletons milling around in the background while only a handful of warriors actually fought on the front lines. Not exactly what I wanted, even if it was sometimes safer. Kell often had more success drawing monsters away into a larger area, where all 6 of his skeletons could gang up on them at once. You could fairly say that this is the Achilles Heel of the skeletal warriors necro.

I loved facing the oblivions in the Chaos Sanctuary, certainly the most interesting non-boss opponents in this game. It was a brutal battle of curse and counter-curse hurled in both directions, but Kell had the edge of human wit and guile. I would cast Golly behind the oblivions, blocking their avenue of retreat and giving the skeletons time to chew through the front line of abyss knights to finish off the mages. The biggest danger was Iron Maiden curse from the oblivions, which chewed up Kell's skeletons in a hurry. They would break themselves to bits in mere seconds under the influence of IM! It was funny to see the other curses have no effect whatsoever while IM would always result in decimation. Fortunately there were enough bodies from storm casters and venom lords to prevent this from reaching crisis levels.

Both De Seis and the Grand Vizier were extremely easy, the skeletons cutting them down with little more effort than they needed for random encounters. The Infector was much, much tougher; he and his large crew of minions had little trouble killing the skeletons despite my best efforts to help out with curses. I retreated with Kell and drew a pair of minions away, raised more skeletons in Act I and slew the minions, then repeated the same maneuver several more times. Kell ultimately needed to replace his army three times in this fight, but he did managed to get the job done. Significantly tougher than the other seal bosses, no doubt about it.

The poor skeletons had absolutely no chance against Diablo; he used his Flame Nova and they all died instantly. You can see their broken remains in the picture above; rest in pieces, boys. That meant it would be just Kell and Golly and a whole lot of IM, as I knew it would be all along. That sad little Clay Golem died if Diablo so much as breathed on him, making this a tense and difficult fight. It took quite a while to wear down Diablo's life, with me having to dodge his flame attacks all the while. Fun stuff for a Hardcore character, ya know? Kell's life never really dropped into the danger zone (I don't think it ever went below 40-50% of max) but I drank two full rejuvs just to be sure and a whole lot of reds and blues stored up in inventory. Eventually Big Red dropped over dead. Kell will need to have a much higher level for Iron Maiden if he comes back here again, which should be easily doable with all the skill points he'll be getting.

Skill Tree through Act IV
Izual Raise Skeleton @8, Decrep @2
lvl 28 Decrep @3

After dealing with Diablo, the early parts of Act V were a breeze. Compared to the Chaos Santuary, or even the Plains of Despair, the default monster draw in the Bloody Foothills is little more than a joke. (And these enemies give vastly more experience too, so you really have to wonder just what Blizzard was thinking when designing these areas!) Kell used Dim Vision on the ranged death maulers to stop their tentacle attack and Decrep on the melee enslaved opponents. Everything died in a real hurry, leaving scenes like this behind:

The exploding minions didn't seem to bother Kell's skeletons at all. I guess they don't do enough damage here on Normal to pose much of a threat. The corpses piled up in droves and Kell's army was never seriously threatened. The same pattern held true all through the outdoor areas; the imps could be taken out of the fight completely with DV curse. Only the inferno attack from crusher beasts would occasionally take down one of the skeletons, although there were always tons of bodies for replacement. In the Act IV subdungeons, the frenzytaurs did require a little more care to eliminate. They have much more life and dish out a lot more damage than their peers. One champ pack actually gave Kell some trouble, and I had to use his Prevent Monster Heal javelins to stop their regen rate before they could be overcome.

In the underground caves, the frozen ice creatures forced more DV use:

Kell had to stop their Arctic Blast move from chilling his skeletons, which dropped their offensive output precipitously. That forced Dim Vision curse, even though I really would have preferred to use Decrep here. The other enemies were pretty simple to deal with, including the witches, who just don't pack much of a punch until you reach the higher difficulties.

This picture from the Frozen River was notable for being one of the largest mobs Kell had confronted thus far. The abominables could be tricky due to their stun attack, which prevented the skeletons from hitting back. The solution here was for Kell to retreat backwards to the northeast, stringing out of the enemies along that narrow corridor, and then take them down in smaller groups. Pretty basic tactics - you're always best facing fewer monsters at once. Avoiding the giant mobs is key.

Notice also the walking dead in the picture above... those things were present in the Frozen River, Glacial Trail, and all three levels of Nihlathak's temple. Ugh. More variation in the monster mix, please. For safety reasons, Kell had no choice but to raise all of their bodies as skeletons to make sure that they wouldn't get back up again, a lengthy and mana-consuming process.

Nihlathak was not difficult at all. Once Kell's skeletons had cleared out all of the accompanying minions, the six of them were able to pin Nihlathak against the wall and inflict some serious damage. Yes, Nihlathak teleported around a bit, but I kept him Decreped at all times and he was never able to get too far. Decrep seemed to slow his casting, and Kell saw very few extra minions summoned into the battle. Forced to rely on his weak Arctic Blast for attack, Nihlathak didn't last very long. I stayed well away from the big piles of bodies on the ground, and only got tagged by his Corpse Explosion once or twice. Just make sure you have fire resistance maxed before coming down here!

In the room right before facing Nihlathak, Kell found a gold-colored wand from one of the enemy drops. "Wow, that's the unique bone wand!" I said to myself. I had no idea what that was off the top of my head, so Kell hurried back to town after defeating Nihlathak to see what he had turned up. The result was little short of a spectacular find:

Jackpot! This Ume's Lament wand came with +2 necro skills, 20% faster cast, +40 mana, and +2 to Decrep, a curse that I was using more than anything else! Decrep now up to slvl 4+4 already, wow. Raise Skeleton at slvl 10+5, with Kell now adding a seventh skeleton to the mix! There was no way I was ever going to find anything better than this, so I went right ahead and socketed a very fine jewel that added an additional 27% fire resistance to the wand. Finally got some use out of the Nihlathak quest for once, with Kell personalizing his great new find, even if "Kell's Ume's Lament" was a bit rough on the ear.

Ultimately, I think this is why playing a pure character is much more fun than twinking and muling items. To those who pass gear back and forth endlessly, every character that you play has stuff as good as this, or even better. For Kell, this is a game-changing find, and items like this are immensely satisfying when they turn up. You really appreciate top-flight gear when it comes by so rarely. If you can always get exactly what you want at the drop of a pin, where's the fun and challenge in that?

The rest of Act V consisted of facing upgraded versions of the same monsters: enslaved, death maulers, imps/crusher beasts, walking dead, frozen creepers, witches, and so on. Kell already knew how to defeat all of these foes, and a mixture of Decrep and Dim Vision saw his skeletons through without any serious problems. I was impressed at how well they did against enemy critters when backed by proper curse support, even holding out against the Ancients:

Kell was able to keep all three of them Decreped the whole time, and that seemed to cut their melee damage down below the invisibile line of skeleton regen. I kept Talic locked up with the Clay Golem, and the pair of Korlic and Madawc proved unable to get the job done. Six of the seven skeletons survived! Yeah, wasn't expecting that. I thought I would have to do most of the damage with Golly + Iron Maiden after the warriors bit the dust, but nope, they proved to be up to the task at hand. Skulla's army fared quite well against the Ancients too - maybe the skeleton necromancer is well equipped to handle this battle (?)

The Worldstone Keep offered up nothing new or especially dangerous; Kell just made sure to keep any frenzytaurs that appeared under Decrep curse, which pulled their fangs pretty good. I did the usual careful full clear of the Throne of Desctruction before moving to engage the ending bosses. Colenzo and Achmel were extremely easy for a necro with corpse cleanup disposal. Bartuc proved to be much more challenging; the skeletons were able to kill him and his Decreped minions just barely fast enough, with Kell raising extra minions just as his army dropped down to 4-5 skeletons. In contrast, Ventaur wasn't very tough at all, with Kell Dimming most of the mob (to prevent Inferno) and Decreping the venom lords who were locked up on the warriors.

Lister required a little extra work:

They hit so freaking hard that Iron Maiden was a necessity. I was able to isolate three minions and kill them first, then took on the rest of Lister's crew together. The skeletons took a horrendous pounding, but once again replacement bodies dropped just fast enough to keep up with losses. Kell never had to retreat back to Act I for additional recruits, which was a rather poor showing for the Throne of Destruction bosses compared to the earlier Chaos Sanctuary ones. I expect things will be a little tougher should Kell make it back in Nightmare, although his own army will be much stronger by then too...

I knew that the skeletons would bite the dust again against Baal, thanks to the 10x damage bonus that act-end bosses get against minions, but they managed to get in some decent licks first. One of the skeletons lasted almost a full minute, way better than the one second that they all lasted against Diablo! Then it was just Iron Maiden and a whole lot of sacrificial Golems. Thankfully Baal is pretty unaggressive, making him easy for a Necromancer to take down with just Iron Maiden. I had Kell keep a proper distance, renewed Iron Maiden over and over again, and summoned a whole lot of Clay Golems. Soon enough, it was all over:

This was made easier by the fact that I put the last three skill points of Normal into pumping Iron Maiden, and got it up to 375% reflected damage. I figured that would do the most to see Kell alive through the end of the game, and it worked out pretty well.

Skill Tree through Act V
lvl 29 Decrep @4
lvl 30 Mastery @8
lvl 31 Raise Skeleton @9
lvl 32 Mastery @9
lvl 33 Raise Skeleton @10
lvl 34 Iron Maiden @4
lvl 35 Iron Maiden @5
lvl 36 Iron Maiden @6

Kell did my standard full-clear of Normal on one pass through the game, no trading/twinking/muling of gear, no mercenaries hired, all monsters slain, no Save and Exits. But of course this was only Normal difficulty, and you can complete Normal successfully with pretty much any variant. It's really not that hard if you play smart and carefully. Things will get a lot more interesting in Nightmare, with bosses getting that second affix and appearing much, much more often. Melee skeletons and a sad little Clay Golem running through Nightmare? This is gonna be fun.