Skulla Part Twelve: Temples of Doom

Duke Skulla continues Hell Act III at clvl 81.

The next gaming session picked up from the Lower Kurast waypoint. Skulla had a new map layout this time, since I'd earlier run the first Multiplayer game with the 2014 Elemental Strike Team, and now the waypoint was nowhere close to the entrance of the Kurast Bazaar. Skulla had to fight a fair amount of monsters on his way there, including a boss, but nothing too difficult. In the Bazaar itself, Skulla drew a mix of hell swarm bugs, thrashers, and zakarumite/sexton pairs. This last group was the most dangerous, as the bugs were easy prey to Lower Resist and the thrashers went down immediately to Iron Maiden. Skulla had no choice but to use Dim Vision against the zakarumites and their healers, as the melee foes would run away when they dropped low on health, and the sextons would use their Blizzard spells and healing if they weren't Dimmed. Normal groups of these enemies weren't that bad, and even a sexton boss wasn't that much trouble. Skulla could lead the zakarumites away from their healer friend and dispose of them in safety, then go back for the boss (who couldn't be affected by Dim Vision). The problem was a champ pack of sextons in the southwest corner of the Bazaar, four of them in a group, who had literally infinite healing that overwhelmed the offensive capabilities of Skulla. I left them alone for the moment after losing an army there to no effect, and finished up clearing the rest of the Kurast Bazaar. Aside from that champ pack, it was fairly straightforward.

This led Skulla into the first of the dreaded Kurast temples. For those who aren't familiar with Diablo 2 (or played it many years ago), there are six temples in this part of the game. Each one is a small, underground area notorious for having bosses inside. There are often giant mobs of enemies right on top of the stairs, an example of horrendous game design where your character can be killed before you know what's happening, especially if lag is bad online (and it was *BAD* back in the early 2000s). Most Hardcore characters would never bother with these areas, or at least none of them other than the Ruined Temple because there's a quest reward in that one. But as always, the goal is to full clear each part of the game, so down Skulla went, hoping for the best.

The Disused Fane was first, and there were flesh hunters and flesh hunter champs directly on top of the stairs. Fortunately the champs didn't spawn in the actual staircase room itself, and they came into the battle one at a time from around the right corner. My skeletons were able to down them without getting overwhelmed, even as more non-champ flesh hunters tried to pour in through the door on the left. I used the golem to block off that avenue of approach, fired off Iron Maiden on all of these opponents, and managed to stay calm while the ladies beat themselves to death. As stairs traps go, this one was relatively minor. Maybe 2/10 or so, little true danger. Iron Maiden works very well against hard-hitting melee creatures like those flesh hunters. The rest of the Disused Fane was uneventful, nothing worth reporting. One down.

The Ruined Temple was next, home to Sarina's crew and the Lam Esen tome quest. Even among the Kurast temples this place is notorious for being a deathtrap. Skulla went down the stairs, and immediately there was a large mob on top of him, more flesh hunters and flame spiders. At times like this, I'm glad that Skulla has an army to take the heat for him. I calmly stepped him over to the right side where there was some open space, hurled Iron Maiden into the midst of that frenzy, and prayed that Sarina's crew wouldn't come dashing out of that door to the southeast. This was the right-facing "T" layout for the Ruined Temple, and Sarina's boss pack was mere feet away through a doorway off to that side. All it would take was one idiot skeleton running in there to wake them up and bring this whole house of cards crashing down. Even assuming that didn't happen, could the army hold the line here against all those melee monsters pictured above? Ah, but this is why you sink all those skill points into Skeletal Mastery and Iron Maiden! Skill level 26 Iron Maiden backed by slvl 27 Skeletal Mastery was reflecting terrible damage back on Skulla's foes, and providing just barely enough survivability for his minions. I was able to raise more skeletons as they fell from the corpses of the monsters, and they were never able to break through the lines. Whew! Dangerous stuff there. The Ruined Temple was far from over, but at least Skulla had now managed to get down the stairs.

With this temple layout, it's imporant to clear the two sides of the "T" before venturing into the long bottom room with Sarina inside. Skulla headed off to the left first, and immediately was confronted by a Cursed/Teleportation/Mana Burn spider boss. At least two of the three abilities were fairly useless, but the Cursed ability - ouch! Thank heavens that this spider had stayed out of the last fight, Skulla hadn't needed his whole army to be Cursed while doing the previous song and dance. The army eventually slew this boss, although it was close quarters and far from easy fighting. Back to town, curse cleared, check out the right side of the "T" next: empty. That just left Sarina and her mob, and that was another nervous moment because she's always Extra Fast/Spectral Hit. In Hell difficulty, that means FAST! Thankfully Skulla had a friendly draw on the two random abilities, Teleportation and Stone Skin. The physical resistance from the latter kept her alive long after all the minions were dead, however it wasn't a serious threat to Skulla's safety. That was the end of the Ruined Temple, and Skulla added five more points to Vitality from the quest reward (10 total health). Even though it went smoothly, this was a near run thing. If the Cursed spider boss had been in the initial room with the stairs, or if Sarina had woken up at the wrong time...

The plan was to enter Upper Kurast next. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was another champ pack of four cantors immediately at the entrance of Upper Kurast, and their infinite healing of one another presented another barrier. I did lure out and kill all of their attending zealots, but Skulla still did not have the offense to kill them. Hmmm. Well, since the skeleton army had been destroyed in that last battle, this was a good time to go back and deal with the four sexton champs that I'd left unfinished back in the Kurast Bazaar. Skulla himself, shorn of any minions at all, began the painstaking task of trying to separte the sextons from one another. This is really tough to do because their AI doesn't pursue your character. They mostly stood in place casting Blizzard spells at me, forcing constant drinking of red potions. Fun stuff with a Hardcore character, sitting there taking punishment while trying to lure the enemies away. After five to ten minutes of careful effort, I'd managed to draw one sexton champ away from his buddies. Skulla went back and recruited a new army in Act I, then returned through a portal. Get 'em, boys! Without his infinite healing for protection, the sexton dropped immediately. Could we defeat the others with only three champs present now? The army focused one of the remaining sextons, while I had Skulla run Decrepify on the others. Yes, Decrep - it slows down their movement speed and their casting speed. I didn't need Lower Resist here, I needed less healing from the sextons. The army just barely managed to pull this off, I caught one of them exploding in the screenshot above. From there, the army easily took out the Berserker sexton, and then crushed the final isolated champ. Success! This proved that it could be done, that Skulla could take out these infinitely healing champions with enough time and effort. The group at the entrance to Upper Kurast was way too tough to fight with an uncleared region surrounding them, however, so Skulla ran past them and resolved to come back for them after the rest of the area was finished.

Now that Skulla had gotten into Upper Kurast, he was able to see the monster mix: vultures, zealots, and faithful/cantor pairs. That was two different monsters that the cantors could heal. More vultures next time, please! I used a lot of Dim Vision here, as the only thing that would stop the zealots and the faithful from running away at low health. Non-boss and non-champ cantors were no trouble, just Dim them and wait for the army to chew their way through the attending faithful. There was one Cantor boss in Upper Kurast, with a fairly nasty combination of Cursed/Magic Resist/LEB. Skulla had to lure the minions away from the boss to dispose of them in safety, as the healing rate from the cantor was simply too strong, plus the Cursed ability and lightning sparks were dealing real damage to the poor skeletons. Eventually all of the minions were dead, and Skulla could down the boss in isolation, using more Decrep to slow his movement. That was about it as far as Upper Kurast went. The cantor champs at the entrance to Upper Kurast had been the worst opponents in this area by far.

There are two more temples in Upper Kurast, and the Forgotten Reliquary was next on the agenda. Skulla went down the stairs to find... nothing? The entry room was completely empty. Hooray, no terrible stairs trap! The army would soon find some flesh hunter champs and, umm, that was basically all. No bosses, nothing dangerous, the flesh hunters easily handled with Iron Maiden. There were tons of corpses available for more skeletons that Skulla didn't even need. What a cakewalk. This was one of the easiest temple draws I've ever seen in well over a decade of playing Diablo 2. Skulla will take it.

Then he ventured down into the Forgotten Temple, and Skulla was wondering what had happened to his luck!

The stairs were trapped, and badly trapped. There was a beetle boss right on top of Skulla (Extra Fast/LEB/Holy Shock aura) along with close to a dozen corrupted rogue archers. I wanted to run Iron Maiden to reflect damage against the beetles, but that left Skulla's minions completely exposed to fire from the archers. There was no good curse available for this situation, and Skulla's army was hopelessly flanked on all sides. Skulla himself was taking hits as well, and I was forced to drink rejuvs off of his belt, more than one in fact. I saw within seconds that this was a hopeless position for the army, and that all of the skeletons would be dead in a hurry. Skulla had one chance to avoid being forced out up the stairs, and that was to run blindly into the room to the left, hoping against hope that there weren't more monsters inside. Another bad mob inside would mean a Quit and Save situation, or death for Skulla. I ran into that room, and thank heavens it was empty. I threw down a town portal and got the hell out of there with at least some of the skeletons intact, I think there were four or five of them still alive at the time. Using that portal, I could now recruit more minions in Act I, return through the portal, and fight the rest of the battle through that narrow doorway. I had Skulla run Iron Maiden curse, knowing that the archers would decimate the skeletons, in return for getting a kill on that beetle boss. This did work, and after the boss was down Skulla could re-enter the original staircase room through the doorway, using Dim Vision to eliminate the archers one by one in safety. Now we were actually inside the freaking door, argh! Can you see why most Hardcore characters avoid these areas like the plague? (It could have been worse though. If the beetle aura had been Might or Fanaticism instead of Holy Shock, Skulla very likely would be dead now.)

There was still more of this temple yet to clear though. Skulla carefully worked his way in a clockwise circle, fighting a pack of the third monster type down here, which turned out to be bats. Whew, nice safe bats. There was a nasty archer boss around the next corner though, Mana Burn/CEB/Blessed Aim aura, along with almost two dozen of her corrupted sister rogues. Skulla had no choice but to use mass Dim Vision here for safety, even though all of the melee skeletons would surely die once again. I know it sounds easy, just cast Dim Vision on everything, but actually playing these situations out requires long minutes of constantly refreshing curses, standing scant feet away from extreme danger. This archer boss was a prime example, where everything went smoothly and without a hitch, but any failure on Skulla's part would have smashed his army to bits and left him in mortal peril. All of the minions had to be downed first, until Skulla could finally corner the boss herself in a back corner and finish her off. One more group of bats remained, and then finally the Forgotten Temple was done.

That's it, that was the whole size of the place. Doesn't look like much, does it? The smallest areas in D2 are often the worst ones though, since the game's engine will cram the same number of bosses into a more compact space, leaving no room to fight. The saving grace was the empty room to the left of the entryway, the one where I've set up an emergency portal in the screenshot above. If Skulla had run to the right instead of to the left, he would have entered the room with the archer boss, and that would have likely forced a Quit and Save situation. Or a game-ending death, but let's not think of that.

There were still those four cantor champs right at the entrance of Upper Kurast. I had Skulla unsummon his entire army, then patiently lured a single one of those cantor champs away from the rest. Yeah, take 'em down, skellies! One down and three to go. There were two normal champs and a fanatic remaining, and my hopes that knocking the cantor numbers down to three would be enough to win this engagement were sadly dashed. They still had too much darned healing, Skulla's army could not overcome their rate. I think the fanatic cantor was part of the problem, even when hit with Decrepify he would heal at such a ridiculous rate. I couldn't get it done. Unfortunately, I also didn't have enough time to unsummon another army, spend 5-10 minutes luring out another cantor, return to Act I to rebuild the minion army again, and so on, all to kill a single cantor champ. Unlike Skulla, I have to live in the real world, and I was already pushing the time limits of this particular gaming session. Therefore I had to leave these three cantor champs in place without finishing them off. I knew the exact procedure, and I'd just demonstrated how to do it against the quartet of sexton champs in the Kurast Bazaar. There simply wasn't enough time, and it wasn't worth the effort to kill three measly champs. Personally, I think that the gameplay design of infinite healing champ packs can go screw itself, bah! This was one battle Skulla would have to leave unfinished.

I started the next session in the Kurast Sewers, with the intention of proceeding from there to the end of Act III in one trip. The Sewers are one of my least favorite parts of the act, lots of dull and dark underground mucking about. The monsters down there turned out to be undead flayers, mosquitoes, and horror/horadrim ancient pairings. None of this was too terribly dangerous, and Skulla was one character who wasn't bothered overmuch by the reviving ability of the greater mummies. Keep raising the horrors as they hit the ground and move on to the next target. (Skeleton on skeleton violence, oh my!) There were several bosses near the entrance to the Sewers, Cursed/LEB/Mana Burn horadrim ancient followed by Cursed/Spectra Hit/Extra Fast undead flayer (that one was extremely zippy, moving around on steroids) and then a Stone Skin/LEB/Extra Strong undead flayer after that. With the tough fights mostly occuring at the start of the Sewers, that left the rest of the large area comparatively quiet. Normal critters presented few challenges. Skulla found Icehawk Riftwing with most of the Sewers completed, and the bat boss had drawn Magic Resist and a Fanaticism aura for his extra abilities. I went ahead and used Iron Maiden here, knowing that the bats would run away when they dropped into the red zone on health. Once they ran, Skulla tracked them down one at a time in isolation and killed them off with ease.

Sewers 2 had an undead flayer champ pack, and that would be it. Strangely quiet down there this time. Skulla grabbed his latest piece of Khalim's body (the heart) and headed back to the surface of Kurast.

I was working from the Upper Kurast waypoint, and Skulla would have to clear out some safe space before he could get to the Causeway. There were several faithful/cantor mobs along the way, with the worst fight coming against a cantor boss: Stone Skin/FEB/LEB. This required more of the same retreat moves to separate the faithful from their cantor protector. Nothing as bad as the sexton/cantor champ packs from the previous session, fortunately. There were a total of three infidels on the Causeway, the only place in the game where those things can spawn. I always feel bad for them, they never get to see the light of day for more than ten seconds in this game. On to the last two temples.

The Disused Reliquary had serpent magi right on top of the stairs. That was not at all what Skulla wanted to see, as the snakes can be extremely dangerous foes when juiced up with extra boss abilities. Fortunately these were only normal monsters and nothing else, and Skulla was able to let his minions handle them in relative safety. There were actually corrupted rogue archers trickling into the fight at the same time, which could be shut down with prudent use of Dim Vision. Overall not too bad here. There was no boss inside the Reliquary, only a group of blood diver champs (bats). Yeah, Skulla could live with that. This was almost as easy to clear as the Forgotten Reliquary back in Upper Kurast. I guess they just don't make Reliquaries the way they used to!

When Skulla came down the stairs into the Ruined Fane, there were so many rogue archers surrounding him that he was totally unable to move. There wasn't space for most of his minions to fit down there either. Yikes! When my mouse click failed to move Skulla, I instantly walked back up the stairs again to safety. The good news was that I hadn't seen a boss in there, no off-color monster graphic or aura or Cursed effect or anything like that. So I queued up Terror as the curse of choice, went back down, scattered the rogue archers in all directions, and then was able to establish Skulla and his minions inside the first room. With Dim Vision in operation, the rogue archers swiftly went down. You know, once Skulla could actually walk down the steps! Atrocious game design there, how Blizzard allowed monsters to spawn literally on top of the entrances in places like the Kurast temples... Anyway, despite the rogue archers in the first room, this temple mostly had beetles as the monster opponent. The skeleton army killed one beetle boss through a doorway, I don't even know what his traits were. Skulla threw the fire golem into the doorway, cast Iron Maiden on the occupants, and waited for them all to drop. Iron Maiden works beautifully against beetles. The second beetle boss I did manage to screenshot, CEB/Teleportation/Magic Resist. Those were not very dangerous traits, and this fight went off without difficulty. I was glad that there hadn't been any beetles in the entryway though. Thankfully that was the last of the Kurast temples, and hopefully the end of any serious chance for Skulla to perish until reaching Durance 3.

Travincal was next. This is on the short list of my favorite areas in the game, along with Tristram and the Chaos Sanctuary. The layout of Travincal is always the same, and there are always great fights against ghoul lord vampires and their meteors, hierophants and their blizzards, and finally the council members themselves. The atmospherics of Travincal are awesome as well, I genuinely feel as though I'm fighting in the decaying ruins of a temple complex. It almost makes up for having to walk through all that jungle to get to Kurast. Almost.

Skulla pulled his army to the right at the entrance of Travincal, and immediately found himself up against a vampire boss: Teleportation/LEB/Holy Fire aura. That wasn't too bad on the boss abilities, but there were lots and lots of other ghoul lord vampires surrounding this guy, and then some zealots began to spill into the fight as well from the side, and then the hierophant accompanying those zealots started casting his spells and healing... argh. It turned into quite a nasty fight in a hurry. The solution here, as everywhere in Travincal, was heavy use of Dim Vision. Dim those vampires to stop their meteors, Dim those hierophants to stop their healing, Dim those zealots to stop them from running away. Skulla lost all his skeletal warriors here (of course), however he managed to keep most of the necromages alive. They slowly worked their way through this clustered mob, downing all of the vampire minions first, then most of the zealot mob, and then finally the vampire boss himself. The hierophant was the last to fall. I had to keep Dim Vision running on well over a dozen widely-spaced monsters for long minutes on end while waiting for the necromages to get the job done. It was a lot of effort to secure one corner of Travincal.

I headed to the left next, only to be beaten back by waves of zealots and hierophants. Skulla employed his tactical retreat moves once again, giving ground to pull the zealots away from their healing breathren. This also require long minutes of Dim Vision usage, and some of the Travincal buildings were blocking my line of sight during this whole battle. What a pain in the rear. Finally most of the zealots were dead. I tried to kill the hierophants now, but there were four of them still alive healing one another, plus a hierophant boss that couldn't be Dimmed. Eventually I pulled the army out of there and decided to hit them from a different angle. Skulla led the minions straight ahead, only to run into another vampire boss:

Extra Strong/Mana Burn/Stone Skin. It's a good thing that the vampires mostly deal damage from their spells, making traits like Extra Strong fairly harmless. The whole time that the skeleton army was slowly shooting down this boss and his minions (Dim Vision Dim Vision Dim Vision), the hierophant boss was firing away from the left side. He was Teleportation/Spectral Hit/Multishot, and his multishot lightning bolts + blizzards were devastating the necromages who happened to set up firing positions off to the left. Look at the poor mage getting lit up by electricity in that picture above, heh. Fortunately many of the mages stayed safe off to the right, and they were enough to down the vampire boss and his minions. Then Skulla could go back and mug the hierophant boss, who had chased the skeletons so far that he was out of range of the non-boss hierophants. That allowed the final step of going back and defeating the last four hierophants, shorn of the boss who had been protecting them. Whew! All that work, and there was still plenty more to go.

Next I had Skulla clear out the surrounding walkway on the outer edge of Travincal. This goes completely around the area, and there are often vampires up there who will shoot meteors down at you if you don't clear them out of the way. On this occasion, there was a huge mob of zealots and hierophants directly behind the council chamber, I think five total hierophants and each one with its own mob of zealots. None of them were bosses or champs, thankfully. This allowed Dim Vision to rule the day, and Skulla spent long minutes Dimming another big group while the necromages slowly killed them one by one. There was one more hierophant boss on the left side of the city, this one with the very dangerous Cursed/Stone Skin/Fanaticism aura combination. One of his zealots smacked Skulla and did about 450 damage in one hit. Nasty stuff, the Cursed + Fanaticism combo. His zealot minions were lured safely out of healing range for disposal, and then the boss was eliminated as well.

Now it was down to the council members in the center chamber. I managed to lure out two of the council minions, then froze them in place with Dim Vision for slow disposal by the skeleton mages. Very slow going, their health bars were not dropping with any speed. Just as the first one died, one of the necromages must have strayed too far to the top of the screen, because out came Geleb to join the party. Extra Strong/FEB/Conviction aura/Cursed - oh no, that's not a good combination at all!

The initial skeleton army was wrecked, although it did manage to take out the other council minion before dying. I had to head back to Act I to recruit another full army to tackle this boss. They actually held up reasonably well, given the Extra Strong/Cursed combination and Conviction aura destroying everyone's resistance to Geleb's hydra spells. I tested both Iron Maiden and Lower Resist here, eventually using the latter because it broke the fire immunity on Geleb. As the battle began to wind down, Geleb looked to run away somewhere, or something like that. I didn't really know what he was doing, other than jerking around in circles. Skulla swapped over to Decrepify to slow his movements, and that seemed to do the trick. Geleb exploded in a fountain of blood, leaving Skulla a very messy Khalim's Flail as a souvenir.

That left two more council members and their attendant minions. Skulla had three minions chase him next, and patiently slew them with a lot of Iron Maiden use. This cost him another army, but so far so good. Skulla was still making progress. After a brief jaunt into Act I for more minions, Skulla led a full army against the last two council members and the few minions they had left. Toorc rolled CEB/Stone Skin/Extra Strong/Teleportation while Ismail was Extra Fast/Cursed/Multishot/Extra Strong. Yikes on the abilities there, Cursed in play along with two Extra Strong bosses! While this did mean that the skeleton army was horribly smashed (check out all the white bone piles on the ground in that screenshot), it also meant that the bosses were highly vulnerable to Iron Maiden. They were killing the golems at a fantastic rate, reflecting damage back onto themselves at that 800% rate. This was eventually enough to get the kill on both bosses and the remaining minions in a complete bloodbath for all sides. It looked like Skulla was going to get his chance at the Durance of Hate.

The first floor had more vampires, undead flayers, and maulers. Things started out well enough through the first few rooms, and Skulla was able to secure plenty of room to fight and retreat. Then the skeletons ran into this mauler boss: Spectral Hit/Extra Strong/Cursed. Those last two traits on a mauler boss? Danger city there. As the army was getting pounded by this particular group of opponents, a second mauler boss flanked in from the right side: Stone Skin/LEB/Spectral Hit. I knew immediately that the position was hopeless, my one goal to take out as many maulers as possible before this group of skeletons bit the dust. They were all dead in a shockingly short period of time, mere seconds, and then Skulla was running away for dear life. Double mauler boss pack with the Extra Strong/Cursed combo - run away! I portaled out of there and recruited a fresh army back in Act I. Upon returning, Skulla found that the second Stone Skin boss had followed him back towards his portal, and we began another brutal clash between skeleton bone and mauler flesh. I ran Iron Maiden to kill off the mauler minions, even though the boss himself was Physical Immune by virtue of the Stone Skin trait. Once they were all dead, the remaining mages (seven of the starting eleven had made it that far) were able to down the boss with Lower Resist. All of the skeletal warriors had died in the battle, they never survive against anything tough. I used more Iron Maiden and a lot of fire golems to clear up the remaining mauler minions after that. I never did see the original Extra Strong/Cursed mauler boss again, he must have died to poison or to Iron Maiden in the initial fight off screen from Skulla. I hadn't kept my character too close to the action earlier, I'd been clearing out for dear life at that point! There were more bosses on the first floor, but nothing else as dangerous.

Durance of Hate 2 is always an enormous floor. It goes on and on seemingly without end. This was the result of an ill-fated attempt by Blizzard to stop players from doing repeated Mephiso runs, which achieved exactly nothing other than annoying non-abusive players. In any case, Skulla found himself facing more maulers in the first room down the stairs, followed by a mauler boss that emerged from a nearby room and began flanking his army. Stone Skin/Spectral Hit/Cursed - not another Cursed mauler boss!

At least this one didn't have the Extra Strong trait. Skulla's army was still doomed nontheless, and I tried to get as many kills as possible with Iron Maiden before retreating. This may have been a bit of a mistake, as I was quickly reduced to Skulla and the golem running around in circles, while Cursed, with half a dozen maulers following them around. That's not exactly what I wanted from a Hardcore character, so I wisely got out of there and went back to recruit a new army. The biggest issue here was the lack of space, Skulla was still in the very first room of the Durance with no space to retreat and string out the boss. With a new group of skeletons in tow, Skulla was able to head back down and thin out the ranks of the minions. Iron Maiden picked up most of the kills, then Skulla could switch to Lower Resist for the boss himself. That's when this picture above was taken, and even this second skeleton army had lost all of the warriors and three of the mages despite my best attempts to tie up the boss with fire golems. Oftentimes it's not safe to get the screenshots until the most intense action has passed.

The Durance went on and on from that point. The monster mix was identical to the previous floor, with vampires and undead flayers accompanying the maulers, and that didn't do anything to liven up the journey. Skulla fought an Extra Strong/LEB/Holy Fire undead flayer boss, more mauler champs, and a vampire boss that rolled Cursed/Mana Burn/Extra Strong traits. But mostly he fought normal enemies across the vast expanses of the dungeon. That's part of the reason why making Durance 2 such a large floor doesn't achieve much of anything in terms of difficulty. Durance 2 has the same number of boss/champ packs as Durance 1 (it's roughly a half dozen for each floor), but they're spread out over a much larger area. This means that genuinely tough engagements are few and far between. You end up spending the whole time killing normal critters that present almost no danger at all. The whole thing is pointless.

Eventually Skulla had a full map after about an hour of grinding. That's not even the whole thing there, the waypoint was a good ways off of the east side of that picture. Along the way, Skulla had found the unique knout (Baezil's Vortex) and the unique francisca (The Scalper). That throwing weapon was pretty good in all honesty, just not useful for Skulla. In any case, now it was time for the final battles against the remaining council members and Mephisto.

Durance 3 had no blood lord vampires in the first room. When I nudged Skulla toward the first doorway on the left, out came Bremm Sparkfish and one council minion. Bremm is probably the most famous LEB in the game, and to go along with those sparks he'd rolled a Holy Freeze aura/Multishot/Teleportation combo. Ugh. That Holy Freeze aura was a major problem, slowing down the casting speed of Skulla's necromages to a crawl. I tried to use a portaling maneuver to separate Bremm from his minion, pulling the sparking one to a portal and then returning down the stairs. This didn't work at all, unfortunately, and Skulla would still have to face the two of the together. With my own offense chilled into irrelevancy, I concentrated on Iron Maiden to do the hard work in this struggle. It worked better than I expected, and eventually Bremm punched his own lights out. One boss down.

Next up were two council minions, which Skulla locked down with Dim Vision for the necromages to (slowly) shoot down. I headed to the room on the right next, expecting to find Wyand Voidbringer, only to come across a blood lord vampire boss instead: Stone Skin/Cursed/Teleportation. Dim Vision defeated them slowly and safely. Then it was over to the room on the left, where Maffer Dragonhand was the only one present. Hmmm, Durance 3 looked pretty empty on this trip for whatever reason. Not many monsters down here. Maffer was Extra Strong/Extra Fast/Stone Skin/FEB, but Skulla managed to corner him against a wall:

All of those boss traits were totally useless in this position. Maffer growled and hissed at the skeleton army, then went down under a hailstorm of necromage fire. He was reborn after death as a lowly skeletal warrior. It turned out that Wyand was indeed over on the right side of the Durance, only lurking behind the room with the blood lords. That actually worked perfectly, allowing Skulla to tackle them one at a time instead of together in concert. Wyand was Mana Burn/Teleportation/Spectral Hit/Magic Resist, which is just about the least scary four trait combination possible. He did not kill even one skeletal warrior. Totally pathetic.


I doubted that any of the skeletons would survive for long against Mephisto, expecting that fire golem + Iron Maiden would have to secure the kill once they were all dead. I spent the first half of the battle tossing Prevent Monster Heal javelins for that very reason, as the boss would begin regenerating health once all of the poison necromages were dead. This proved to be an overly negative estimate on my part. Although Mephisto's poison cloud and charged bolts were tearing through the skeletal warriors, I was having good success at keeping him focused on the fire golem, where Iron Maiden was getting in some choice blows. The necromages were being completely ignored. Mephisto's healthbar was dropping very quickly, much better than I expected. He was less tanky than many of the mauler bosses Skulla had been fighting! In less than a minute, the Lord of Hatred exploded into a cloud of flame.

That went... better than expected! Nine of the skeletal mages survived the battle. This was an improvement over Nightmare, when only three of them had seen it through to the victory. In fact, one of the skeletal warriors almost survived, getting taken out in the final seconds of the fight. Apparently skeletons backed by slvl 27 Mastery are more sturdy than you'd think. Mephisto's uberdrops were junk, nothing even remotely useful for Skulla amongst the spetum, cedar bow, throwing knives, and cestus that dropped. I grabbed the soulstone (and the charged essence of hatred, whatever THAT was!) and stepped into the red portal. (Livestream link to the Travincal/Mephisto streaming session for the curious.)

Next target: the Lord of Terror.