Lernie: Hell Difficulty Part One

Lernie began Hell difficulty at CLVL 67 with her health and resistances in good shape for a pure character lacking twinked gear. I was still making use of her 3 Diamond shield and my biggest focus from an equipment perspective was trying to make the transition to a Spirit runeword in the shield slot without losing too many resistances in the process. Lernie would need to find a Monarch shield to use as the base item and then I'd have to use one of her respecs to reach the 156 Strength requirement which would inevitably mean dropping a lot of Vitality. Still, I needed to run 65 Strength anyway for her Natalya's Soul set boots and Spirit provides so many stat bonuses that it felt worthwhile to make the switch at some point down the road. I was really hoping against odds that a Lum rune would appear which would allow Lernie to make a Lionheart runeword and cushion the blow of needing to invest in so much Strength. I'd make sure to save an elite armor with 3 sockets to serve as the base item should Lernie get lucky enough to see that rune drop.

As for Lernie's mercenary Kasim, I had finally figured out a way to make use of that Lem rune from the Nightmare Hellforge quest: I could use it for the Passion runeword. This wasn't the ideal runeword but it did have good enhanced damage and extra attack speed along with hit blinds target. Lernie already had all four of the needed runes and I spotted that she could use the Horadric Cube recipe to put 4 sockets on an elite Stygian Pike whenever the base item dropped. The odds would be 50/50 to get 4 sockets on a Stygian Pike whereas it would be very difficult to get 4 sockets on any of the elite Polearm-class weapons (the odds would be 1 in 6 for anything other than a Colossus Voulge and Kasim lacked the 210 Strength to wield that). Stygian Pikes are Spear-class weapons and therefore can't be used as the base for Insight but aha, the Passion runeword will work on any weapon type including spears! Thus I was keeping my eyes peeled for a Monarch shield and a Stygian Pike which were both potential drops in Hell Act One.

The transition to Hell difficulty meant the onset of mass fire immunity, not simply fire resistance as in Nightmare but full-on invulnerability for many classes of monster. The most common such enemies that Lernie encountered in Act One were the Fallens and their palette-swapped cousins which were of course everywhere throughout the act. Lernie already had some practice at dealing with Fire Immune opponents from her time in Nightmare and therefore this wasn't a totally new experience, only much more prevalent than what she had seen before. She also benefitted from Nova being maxed out at SLVL 20+3 and now Lightning Mastery starting to get some skill point investment as well. Lightning Mastery scales better than Fire Mastery, with 12% more damage per skill point as opposed to 7% more damage, and I could really feel the difference on Nova's damage as more points kept going into the associated mastery. For the moment, Fallens were pretty easy to handle with Nova and especially so when they didn't have shamans to revive them as in the Blood Moor.

Of course the shamans did start appearing almost immediately and I needed to figure out some way of dealing with them. Lernie had no cold damage to freeze bodies and no method of corpse cleanup which meant that she either had to pull the minions far away from their resurrecting kin or else get right on top of the shamans and down them first. Even though the latter option was significantly more dangerous, it was the tactic that I found myself employing almost all of the time. Lernie would let the Fallens walk towards her to create some space, then Teleport over their heads directly on top of their shamans and start spamming Nova. The Teleport would also pull Kasim to her side instantly and usually would cause him to target the unlucky shaman. I had very good success at killing the shamans in this fashion and if the action was too hot in the middle of one of the enemy camps then Lernie could always Teleport back out again before she was surrounded. Teleport is a truly amazing skill, it's no wonder that all of the PvP stuff in Diablo 2 focuses on getting Teleport skill points onto all of the non-Sorceress classes. Bishibosh was immune to both fire and lightning but Kasim was able to down the boss with pure physical attacks, whew.

By way of contrast, the enemies that lacked the Fire Immune property felt more and more like a joke. Lernie could toss down her Hydras, hide out in the background while Kasim tanked, and everything would be dead shortly thereafter. Even though I hadn't been able to increase the skill level of Hydra or Fire Mastery for some time now, the skill continued to be incredibly strong at killing anything that wasn't invincible to fire element. This is a really, really good skill which was only being held in check for the last two decades by its ridiculous spell timer. With that limitation removed in Patch 2.4, it's probably the best Sorcie fire spell in the game, certainly from a utility standpoint although I guess the raw damage is lower than Meteor and Fire Wall. I detest the spell timers which is why I tend to avoid character builds that focus on those skills. Anyway, Coldcrow and her archer gals were quite easy since they lacked any protection against Hydras. Lernie was able to kill them from a distance without ever facing their arrows. Blood Raven similarly ran around in circles doing nothing while Hydras shot her to death, and then the Crypt and Mausoleum were both full of skeletons and zombies that lacked the Fire Immune property. These were easy areas which would have been good places to build levels if I were re-running areas with Lernie.

The Stony Field was another friendly area with no Fire Immune enemies outside of Rakanishu at the Cairn Stones. The little bugger had drawn the Cursed trait and he was a tough customer thanks to his incredible speed and safety against Hydras - at least until Kasim could stab him a couple times with his big pike. Rakanishu only has 3300 HP even in Hell difficulty and thus he dies fast when hit with real damage. The Underground Passage was next and almost immediately an enemy dropped a Grim Scythe with gray coloring. I picked it up to check and the thing had 4 sockets - jackpot, an item that qualified for an Insight runeword! Now the Grim Scythe is only an exceptional base item, not an elite item, but it is the top-tier exceptional Polearm and has the fastest attack speed and highest damage of the bunch. Realistically I wasn't going to get much better than this in pure play and if by some chance I would find an elite Polearm with exactly four sockets I could always make another Insight later. Thus Kasim was handed a shiny new weapon:

This weapon had everything that I possibly could have wanted for the mercenary and more. 243% enhanced damage was far more than I could ever find naturally on a weapon and then Insight piled on top of that +9 minimum damage, 5-30 fire damage, and 75 poison damage which would be fantastic for shutting down monster regeneration. The big reason why people love this item on the desert mercenaries is the Meditation aura that it provides and I immediately found that it made a huge difference even though this Insight rolled the minimum possible SLVL 12 on Meditation (the range is 12-17). Along with SLVL 1+5 Warmth, Lernie jumped up to roughly 600% faster mana regeneration which had her mana globe refilling at lightning speed. The way that mana regeneration works in Diablo 2 is that it always takes the same amount of time to fill up the mana orb regardless of total max mana; it takes 2 minutes = 120 seconds to go from nothing to full whether the max mana is 10 or 1000. Faster mana regen then reduces that 120 second timer to fill up the orb: 100% faster regen knocks the time down to 60 seconds and so on. With 600% mana regen Lernie was refilling her 330 mana in about 17 seconds (i.e. roughly about 20 mana gained back per second) and that was downright insane. She actually hit a Mana Regen shrine elsewhere in the Underground Passage and briefly had 1020% faster mana regen which was even more hilarious.

The addition of that Meditation aura from Insight essentially meant that Lernie no longer had to manage her mana consumption outside of combat. She would always regen back to full by the time that the next battle started and therefore I didn't have to worry about drinking blues in between monster groups as I'd done for the majority of the character's history. Lernie still had to drink lots of mana potions while in combat - that need would never go away - but the inventory management became a lot easier and I had to make fewer trips back to town. As convenient as this was, I was left with the feeling that Insight provides far too many benefits given the low-tier runes that it requires. Like Spirit, the runeword is just way too good and has a negative effect on gameplay because it crowds out other options. It should come as no surprise that these were both ladder-only runewords when they first appeared, with Blizzard deliberately creating overpowered runewords that only functioned on the ladder as a way of forcing players there. I wish that there were more low-tier runewords that weren't as wildly over the top as Spirit and Insight.

The Dark Wood had Carvers galore but Lernie was getting used to handling them by now and didn't run into any real problems. I was getting better and better at blinking next to the shamans and then bursting them down with Nova to stop the parade of endless resurrecting. Treehead Woodfist drew Cursed as an extra trait to go along with his Extra Fast / Extra Strong base affixes and I was very glad that he lacked any protection against fire damage. The Hydras handled that at a distance, thank goodness. Tristram turned out to have very few Carvers present and thus lacked much in the way of fire immunities. It was mostly full of skeleton archers which didn't put up much of a fight. Griswold was Magic Resistant and thus took a while to kill while not having anything dangerous in his traits.

As it turned out, the next big threat was the random archer boss pictured above encountered in the Hole Level 1. She was Extra Strong for increased damage and her Magic Resistant trait made her 65% resistant to lightning damage. I didn't realize what was going on at first until Kasim was instantly dead and Lernie's life globe was sitting at 50% with all of her mana gone via Energy Shield. Fortunately my Diablo reflexes kicked in as I hit the full rejuv buttom and Teleported away to safety; it had been so long since I needed to drink a full rejuv that I had been worried that I'd be rusty, not so much as it turned out. I revived Kasim in town and began working to separate the archer boss from her minions. I was able to kill them one and two at a time, with Kasim dying several more times, until it was only the archer boss herself left. Nova just did not do much damage thanks to all of her lightning resistance and this was where I realized that spamming Nova casts locked my character in place where she was easy prey for arrows. Plus every hit drained away her mana through Energy Shield, ouch! Ultimately Lernie did kill the boss without dying at the cost of about a dozen full rejuv potions, ugh. However, that's why I always make sure to save up a million gold and 15-20 full rejuvs in stash: you never know when a hairball situation like this is going to pop up unexpectedly. I would spent the remainder of this gaming session rebuilding Lernie's stock of full rejuvs.

The Forgotten Tower was another area with lots of Fire Immune monsters present. Devilkin and Blood Clan goats can appear on every floor and both of them were completely invulnerable to Hydras. At least there are no shamans for the Devilkin in these areas which made them functionally equivalent to the goats. Lernie spent a lot of time casting Nova on these floors and in fact sometimes it was easier when she did draw an all-Fire Immune set of opponents. I knew in those cases that there was no point in raising Hydras at all and that everything would have to be done at short range with Nova. It could be trickier when the rogue archers showed up because they were Lightning Immune and had to be killed with Hydras... which were then useless against the other monster types. At least the ghosts were pathetically weak against Lernie's skillset since she had no physical damage worth mentioning. These fights in the Tower were lively without ever having a truly dangerous moment. The Countess on the bottom floor dropped Ral, Thul, and Amn runes which didn't do anything to change Lernie's overall rune situation. Oh well, still looking for that Lum rune at miniscule odds!

The Tamoe Highlands were nice and easy thanks to plenty of open spaces; fire immunity on the skeleton mages was hardly a problem by this point in the game. The Pit Level 1 was a bit of a cakewalk as well since it was full of skeletons and two types of corrupted rogue that all lacked fire element protection. Soon enough it was cleared out and I had to face the Pit Level 2 which is one of the worst deathtraps in the game. I started out on the top ledge and started working my way down, killing a few rogues and a whole lot of Devilkin while being careful not to go deeper into the room and wake more monsters. I was making solid progress until this boss appeared:

The Fire Enchanted property created a fire immunity while the Lightning Enchanted ability gave this boss 75% lightning resistance. Lernie's Hydras were able to slay the non-Fire Immune minions that accompanied this boss right about the time that Kasim was suffering another death at their hands. I Teleported back up to the entrance of the room and portaled back to town to revive Kasim, then lured the boss up to the very top floor where Lernie and Kasim could double-team her in isolation. Kasim died yet again but his melee attacks along with Lernie's Nova castings were enough to get the kill. From there, I worked my way down to the bottom of the Pit and cleared out the remaining shamans along with another boss that lacked dangerous traits. A pattern was starting to emerge here: the most difficult bosses had the Fire Immune property to render the Hydras ineffective and then lots of lightning resistance to cut into Nova's damage. If Lernie ended up dying, it would most likely be caused by one of these foes.

Sure enough, the Smith managed to roll a similar set of boss traits to put him in the same situation:

The Smith is always Extra Strong and this time he spawned with Fire Enchanted to create the immunity and then Lightning Enchanted for 75% resistance to that element. Once again, the Hydras were unable to touch this boss and Kasim found himself bashed into the floor to leave Lernie unprotected. I pulled a retreating maneuver and lured the Smith away from the other monsters around the Horadric Malus, then returned with a resurrected Kasim to fight the boss in isolation. This resulted in Kasim dying again with Nova dealing very little damage to the Smith before I retreated back to town a second time. We repeated this dance a couple more times until the boss croaked in what was an extremely inelegant solution. I'm not sure what else to do here; Hydra was useless and Nova was being heavily resisted. Kasim probably did most of the damage in this fight while also keeping the Smith from regenerating with the poison damage on his Insight polearm. Short of being faster to heal the mercenary with full rejuvs I don't see too many other options for this character. It did work, eventually.

I didn't hit any other bosses as bad as those last two while proceeding through the levels of the Barracks. There remained lots of Fire Immune opponents in the form of Dark One critters and skeleton mages but Lernie had lots of practice in dealing with these threats by now. I had learned that it was a good idea to drink a mana potion as Lernie Teleported next to Fire Immune shamans or bosses and take advantage of the "free" mana from the refilling orb to spam out more Nova spells. Most bosses or champs would drop a new mana potion to replace the one that she drank when pulling this move. The enemies that weren't Fire Immune barely even registered since the Hydras could handle them so easily. Pitspawn Fouldog and his crew all died offscreen from Hydra fire without ever getting close to Lernie, that sort of thing.

The toughest fight in the Catacombs happened right at the entrance to the Cathedral where there was a huge mob of enemies just behind the doors. There were Dark Ones crawling around everywhere getting resurrected and two different shaman bosses lurking in the side corridors; I only took the screenshot for one of them who had Cursed and Multishot among its traits. I blinked around Lernie left and right trying to down the shamans and had to drink a full rejuv at one point due to taking too much damage. The lower floors of the Catacombs ended up being a bit quieter than the entry area even though seemingly everything seemed to pop up with the Fire Immune property. All of the Dark Ones and their shamans were Fire Immune of course but so were the spiders and the rat men on the one floor where they showed up. And wait, even the zombies were Fire Immune as well? Come on! Nova continued to see heavy use against all of these enemies since Hydra was so limited as a damage source. That's not to say that Hydra was useless here though, far from it as Lernie was using it to scout every new room and every blind corner before entering. She had so much mana regeneration from that Meditation aura that it would be silly not to check for the presence of monsters ahead of time with Hydra.

Catacombs 4 was heavy on the Fire Immune zombies again in addition to the always-present Dark Ones and their shamans. Lernie teleported around the blood pool in the entry room clearing them out with Nova casts, then fought two more bosses in the main room before she could even get in through the doors. I was very careful to eliminate them and the shamans in the little side wings before advancing up the main room and waking up Andariel. I didn't need to worry though because she was a complete farce of a boss:

Longtime Diablo 2 players are well familiar with Andariel's weakness to fire element which manifests in the form of -50% fire resistance. With Lernie's Hydras juiced up with additional damage, they shredded right through this boss in the span of about five seconds. I barely even had time to get the screenshot before Andariel was collapsing onto the floor. Lernie legitimately had more trouble killing a normal Fallen thanks to its Fire Immune property - sheesh! This was the end of a gaming session so I stopped to spend Lernie's accumulated gold by gambling in Lut Gholein. I spend a lot of time in Single Player mode hauling stuff back to town for sell purposes and this time I had about 800k gold in stash on top of the million that I always save for emergency repairing / mercenary resurrecting. Most of my gambles are wasted efforts and I had dropped millions and millions of gold on circlets without finding anything useful. But this time fortune was on my side and Lernie managed to pull what I'd been looking for: a Volcanic circlet with +3 sorcie fire skills!

This is why I invest the time carrying so much junk back to town for sale purposes: you never know when gambling is going to land a big hit like this. (It's also very possible to gamble and never hit too: Electric Tsunami was unable to turn up a circlet with +3 lightning skills across her entire journey.) Swapping from a Lore helmet over to this new circlet lost +1 skills in Nova and Lightning Mastery in favor of +2 skills for Hydra and Fire Mastery, well worth the exchange. Lernie also lost 30% lightning resistance from the Ort rune in the Lore runeword and I expected that I'd eventually socket quest either a Ral or Ort rune into this new circlet to make up for that loss. Unfortunately Lernie still hadn't found a Monarch shield throughout all of Act One to make a second Spirit runeword so I held off on using a socket quest until knowing whether I'd need fire or lightning resistance more. Finally, I also went back to Normal difficulty and used the Imbue quest reward on an Ornate Plate base with this solid result. The item had a decent increase to Defense rating along with some lightning resistance and minor faster hit recovery. This was better than the unique armor that Kasim was wearing so I went ahead and made the swap. With his Defiance aura, Kasim went up to something like 8000 Defense which was high enough to let him tank for at least a little while even with the massive Attack Rating bonuses that the monsters get in Hell difficulty.

The first place to tackle in Act Two was the Sewers and they were rough going for Lernie. This was a place where she had struggled in Nightmare difficulty and those troubles absolutely carried over into Hell thanks to tons of Fire Immune enemies crawling throughout the underground terrain. All of the Burning Dead skeletons were Fire Immune of course but it turned out that the Sand Raiders also had enough fire resistance to create an immunity. Lernie was forced to rely on Nova against practically everything inside the Sewers and it was dangerous going against bosses like this one:

The Cursed affix flipped the math of these fights against Kasim; instead of surviving comfortably long enough for Lernie to down her foes, he took a massive pounding and collapsed while the monsters were still very much alive. I had to Teleport away to safety and portal back to town many times in the hopes of avoiding more mercenary resurrection bills - and didn't always succeed. By the time that Lernie reached the third floor I was more than ready to be done with this place. Nevertheless, painful as it may have been fighting through all these Fire Immune opponents, Lernie's Nova spell was indeed working. It might take ten casts to destroy a group of Burning Dead skeletons but they still died in the end. That was a good sign given that Lernie would have to face these enemies again in the Tombs along with greater mummies. As for Radament, he appears with Horror skeletons which were not Fire Immune but this time rolled the Cursed affix which made the situation significantly more dangerous. Lernie pulled his resurrectable minions away from him and killed them at a distance before going back to finish off Radament himself.

Fortunately things became much easier for Lernie after leaving the cramped spaces of the Sewers behind. Everyone remembers the Burning Dead but outside of them there isn't too much in the way of Fire Immune monsters in Act Two, only the leapers out in the deserts which don't pose much of a threat. Lernie greatly preferred fighting against the spear cats and vultures and beetles out in the Rocky Waste who lacked immunity and had virtually no fire resistance at all. Thanks to that Volcanic circlet Lernie had SLVL 20+7 Hydra and Fire Mastery which was absolutely annihilating these opponents almost like she was back in Nightmare difficulty again. The Stony Tomb was another dreamland for Lernie with zero fire resistance on any of the foes inside and her Hydras massacred everything with extreme prejudice. Like the Crypt and Mausoleum back in Act One, these would have been perfect places to gain experience if I weren't playing the game on a single pass through all areas.

The Dry Hills wasn't quite as much of a cakewalk since Lernie drew the Fire Immune Saber Cats as one of the three monsters and had to fall back on some more Nova use. This area was still far easier than the Sewers though and the other vultures and Cave Leapers (who were oddly Cold Immune unlike the other leapers) were easy prey to Hydra fireballs. The Halls of the Dead were next which introduced greater mummies for the first time. For the moment they only had non-Fire Immune skeletons and mummies to raise from the dead which made the situation much less dangerous. I handled the greater mummies in much the same fashion as the shamans from Act One, trying to cast Hydras directly on top of them and Teleporting right next to the key monsters when it was safe to do so. Unlike the shamans in Act One, the greater mummies were not Fire Immune themselves and died quickly if Lernie could get the Hydras to focus on them. The only other foes of note in the Halls of the Dead were some Fire Immune bats which didn't cause too much trouble by virtue of their unaggressive AI programming.

The Halls of the Dead were more noteworthy for multiple unique items showing up in drops. First of all I saw the gold coloring next to a Silver-Edged Axe which I was pretty sure was one of the elite axe types. Sure enough Lernie had found Ethereal Edge which is an absolutely monstrous weapon. This item always appears as ethereal while also having the Indestructible property and the base damage was an absurd 260-462; only the top-tier runewords will noticeably outperform a weapon like this. What's even more crazy is that this was a MAX DAMAGE roll on the Etheral Edge! The enhanced damage can roll anywhere from 150-180% and I had hit the perfect value at 180%. Sadly there was nothing that Lernie could do with this weapon since Kasim was unable to equip axes and Lernie herself certainly couldn't use it. I stuffed it in her stash without having any real use for it since I always run my characters in pure fashion without gifting them items. If anyone reading this wants this item, let me know and I'll be happy to gift it over - someone should get use out of it!

The other unique that appeared was on a Grand Charm which had to be Gheed's Fortune since it certainly wasn't an Annihilus or Hellfire Torch. This was honestly a terrible roll for Gheed's Fortune with low values on everything but I held onto it in stash anyway. It was valuable simply because it reduced vendor prices by 12% and yes, that does apply to gambling costs as well. I had Lernie pull it out from stash at the end of sessions when she went on her gambling sprees and it allowed her to roll for slightly more items. Later I checked to see if it worked on mercenary resurrection bills as well and unfortunately the answer is no, it doesn't. That was surprising to me since I expected it to work on all town vendors, oh well.

The next few areas were straightforward if not exactly easy. The Far Oasis never produces any monsters with fire immunity, instead rolling different combinations of maggots, beetles, vultures, crows, and swarming insects. This is one of the least-dangerous sets of monsters anywhere in Diablo 2 and Lernie's Hydras had a field day against everything that they encountered. I reluctantly entered the Maggot Lair to retrieve the Horadric Staff and Lernie fought her way through three floors of tedium to reach the bottom. It's not that this area posed any real threat to kill Lernie, not when there was no fire immunity on any of the monsters inside. Hydras are good at firing in straight lines and Lernie could always Teleport to safety if she found herself in a bad spot. It's just that the completely inability to maneuver in the Maggot Lair makes it such a chore to explore. This is one of those ideas that the Blizzard developers came up with that simply didn't work in practice; restricting all movement to a one-dimensional plane turns out to be not much fun. Coldworm was immune to cold and poison damage but not fire element which meant that she and her children didn't last long aganst massed Hydras.

The Lost City also proved to be pretty simple to complete despite the unnatural darkness. The zombies and the melee spear cats lacked any fire resistance at all while the leapers were the only foes that rolled with the Fire Immune property. They occupied most of Lernie's attention but lacked enough health or damage to be truly dangerous. The Ancient Tunnels were more annoying since the Invaders down there were also Fire Immune and liked to swarm over Kasim in big waves. I was happy that all of the bosses that spawned in the Tunnels were either zombies or mummies who lacked any protection from fire damage. The Valley of Snakes had the worst enemies of all: Fire Towers and their 99% fire resistance. Once again I took the time to kill the things out of the principle that Lernie wasn't going to run away from an inanimate object. It took three rotations of the full six Hydras blasting away at each Fire Tower to destroy them and I think Kasim did most of the work with his physical attacks. Good riddance!

Lernie drew one of the Claw Viper Temple setups where all of the enemies on the first floor were snakes of some kind, everything either Claw Vipers or Salamanders. This proved to be very friendly for her build since both types of snakes had minimal fire resistance and fell immediately to Hydra fireballs. Poor Kasim was battered around something fierce with their knockback blows and spent much of these combats stunlocked. That was fine though, he simply needed to soak up damage for a few seconds until the fire element reptiles could down the living and breathing snakes. The danger level for Lernie was minimal and the clear speed was fast. For the tiny second floor of the temple, I had Lernie start raising Hydras immediately upon coming down the stairs and then started walking the Hydra line slowly forward once she had all six of them on the screen. She was able to lure out a couple of snake minions and slay them followed by Fangy racing out with the rest of his crew. Fangskin was a speeding blur flying in from the bottom of the screen right into the packed mass of Lernie's Hydras and the boss was dead before I could even get a screenshot of his abilities. Once again this went about as smoothly as I could have hoped with no need to Teleport up onto the altar for safety.

As for the Palace, I was surprised to find how many enemies had the Fire Immune trait across those four floors. I always associate the Palace with lightning immunity due to all of the Horror skeletons - and there is indeed a ton of lightning resistance/immunity on the monsters in there - but it seems that fire immunity is just as prevalent. The Invaders and Blunderbores were potential opponents on every floor and both of them are Fire Immune in Hell difficulty, plus the Palace Cellar 1 has fire Horror mages and they're also Fire Immune as well! I think Lernie had the bad luck to roll an unusually high number of these foes and it was a real effort to fight through so many opponents with Nova as the primary skill. Hydras were still great at scouting around corners and through doorways as well as killing anything that wasn't immune to fire element. Fire Eye was of course also Fire Immune and I had the good tactical sense to face him and his mob at a doorway where Kasim could tank in safety while Nova cut down their numbers. Lernie was never in danger of dying but these weren't areas that I would have been eager to replay again.

I hadn't been sure what to expect of the Arcane Sancutary ahead of time, knowing that the goats would all be Fire Immune here in Hell difficulty. It was a pleasant surprise to find that this place was quite easy overall and the goats weren't any kind of a threat despite their fire immunity. The architecture of the Arcane Sanctuary made it easy to isolate the goats, either hitting them across staircases or gaps in the floor or simply standing behind Kasim while he tanked them. The only somewhat dangerous moments came when Lernie had to Teleport directly onto a group of goats in the teleporter quadrant since Nova didn't have the range to reach them, and she was still able to burst them down with rapid casts whenever this took place. The other monsters in the Sanctuary were a real joke; the ghosts collapsed as soon as the Hydras sneezed on them and the vampires were only barely more sturdy. The Lightning Spires were easily the worst opponents since they had 90% fire resistance and it's almost impossible to dodge their Lightning spells. (This felt like being in the Maggot Lair again; what is it with these parts of Act Two and one-dimensional movement planes?) I found the Summoner at the end of the first quadrant and Hydras cast onto his platform easily picked up the kill. Then I had to clear out the remaining three quadrants which wasn't too bad for Lernie.

The Canyon of the Magi had a lively start as Lernie went to the south and immediately confronted three different boss packs. Fortunately she was able to face them one after the other instead of all three at the same time and only the Hell Slinger cats had the Fire Immune property. I followed my normal pattern for clearing the Canyon, starting at the bottom of the region and then working my way up towards the Tombs in counterclockwise fashion. Lernie had completed most of the Canyon and was drawing near to the western edge when this drop appeared:

Oh my goodness, a Gul rune!!! This was by far the highest level rune that I'd ever seen while playing solo in all my years of Diablo 2, just one tier below the Vex rune that appeared during our Low Rent Legion run. I stopped the game for the moment to consult a rune list and see if there was anything that I could make with this drop only to conclude that it was sadly pretty useless for Lernie's build. It was a real shame that she wasn't a Paladin since this would have unlocked the Principle armor for +2 skills. The best that I could see would be a Ko rune to unlock the Rift runeword for Kasim although I don't know that that would really be much better than Insight. I would have happily traded the Gul for a Pul rune to make Enlightenment, or even for a Lum rune to make Lionheart or Smoke. The Lem and Gul runes had both been pretty big duds for this character - if I'm missing some creative way to have used them, feel free to let me know!

By the way, another unique elite item appeared a few minutes later in the form of Thunderstroke, the unique Matriarchal Javelin. This is an amazing item for a lightning Javazon thanks to the way that it debuffs enemy lightning resistance while also adding +skills to the whole javelin tree. I had no use for this item but couldn't bring myself to sell it and thus stuck it in stash where it will probably never see use. Why couldn't this have been a unique version of one of the Sorceress Orbs instead?

I had a sinking feeling that the Tombs were going to be a painful slog and that's exactly what they proved to be. Even though these areas have the reputation of being rough for fire element users, the Burning Dead are the only monsters that have the Fire Immune property outside of bosses gaining immunities with traits. The problem is that the Burning Dead are everywhere in the Tombs and they always appear together with Unravelers which can resurrect them from the dead. Lernie had no method of removing corpses and thus these enemies posed a real threat for her in mixed mobs of opponents. I had the bad luck to draw the Burning Dead/Unraveler combo over and over again, with them appearing in 5 out of the 7 Tombs along with both Kaa's Tomb and the True Tomb. There was no easy way to deal with these monsters who were omnipresent across the Tombs. When the number of enemies was on the lighter side, Lernie could Teleport on top of the greater mummies and then start raising Hydras at her feet to get them to target the Unravelers. When that wasn't possible, I would try to have Kasim fight the Burning Dead at a doorway so that all of the melee opponents would clump up there. This would empty out the room enough for Lernie to Teleport right over their heads and onto the Unravelers to pull off the fast assassination strike. This was dangerous, of course, and I thanked my lucky stars that Lernie had full use of Teleport to pull her out of innumerable tight spots.

The very worst rooms were so packed with monsters that Lernie had no choice but to pull the Burning Dead back away from their Unraveler protectors and slay them outside of resurrection range. We had to do a lot of this with the Rogue Revival team way back in the day and I knew how to pull off the drill, Teleporting backwards again and again to lure the monsters out, then repeating the maneuver until the greater mummies were left unguarded. Kaa's chamber was like this, absolutely crammed with monsters of all types, and it took long minutes of retreating and fighting to clear out enough space to down the boss. The other monsters were all subject to Hydra fire and thus didn't cause as many problems although the False Tombs in particular are stuffed with boss after boss after boss. Sometimes there were as many as six or seven of them in the little False Tombs and Lernie was really having to work to stay safe from their clutches. The Unravelers also have an absolutely insane poison breath attack at melee range (the Amazon Basin says it does 2800 damage!) and Kasim stupidly let himself get hit by that over and over again. I'd have to return to town to cleanse the poison every time or else his life would drain away to nothing and leave me with another 40k resurrection bill. It took several hours of hard fighting to make it through all seven of the Tombs, with the True Tomb holding an all-resurrectable monster mix of Burning Dead/Unravelers, ghosts, and mummies. I was very glad for this part of the quest to be finished.

Duriel is one of my least favorite parts of the whole game. I hate the cramped spaces, the total lack of room to maneuver, and the fact that Duriel simply makes a lot of character builds unviable unless the player twinks their gear or gets help from others. I had been saving all of the rejuv potions that dropped throughout the Tombs and wound up with another 20 full rejuvs on top of the 15-20 full rejuvs that I always hold in reserve in stash. My plan was to fill up Lernie's inventory with purple potions and then feed them to Kasim to keep him alive throughout the fight long enough for Hydras to squash the big bug. The pair of them entered the Orifice Chamber and Duriel charged out at Kasim, smashing through his lifebar at a frighteningly fast pace. I tried to Shift-click on a full rejuv in inventory to give it to Kasim onto to discover again that that's not a viable hotkey in Diablo 2. Kasim died and then Duriel came charging at Lernie, forcing me to Teleport away and open a town portal for safety. I went back with Kasim in tow and tried again only to get the same result. The Hydras were chipping away at Duriel's health and the poison damage on Kasim's Insight polearm was keeping the boss from regenerating in between these clashes. The third time that I went into the boss room turned out to be the charm as Hydras managed to get the kill which is when the screenshot above was taken.

I was not at all pleased with this performance and I knew that I'd need to do much better against the Ancients where scurrying back to town wouldn't be an option. I had to practice using the hotkeys to heal the mercenary with full rejuvs; the actual hotkey is Shift-number key for belt slots 1, 2, 3, and 4 which gives the potion on your character's belt to the mercenary. You can drink potions for your own character from inventory but not for the mercenary it seems. I have very little experience at using the mercenaries and need to get better at this before the end of Act Five. That would be the biggest thing on Lernie's to-do list going forward along with continuing her deathless streak. Oh, and also trying to find a Monarch shield for her second Spirit runeword - I had only found one the whole game and it was a magic item that couldn't add sockets. Argh!