Skulla Part Seven: Madness and Folly

Duke Skulla began Hell Act I at clvl 67 with the following:

Base Stats
Strength 38
Dexterity 25
Vitality 222
Energy 135

Raise Skeleton @3+6
Raise Mage @15+6
Mastery @20+6
Summon Resist @2+7
Clay Golem, Blood Golem, Iron Golem, Fire Golem, Golem Mastery @1+6

Iron Maiden @11+4
Dim Vision @10+4
Lower Resist @2+4
Decrepify @1+4
Amplify Damage, Weaken, Terror, Life Tap, Confuse @1+4

Necromancer's Wand of Enlightenment: +2 necro skills, +28 energy, 28% cold resist, +1 Summon Resist
The Spirit Shroud: 295 def, +1 skills, replenish life +10, -8 magic dam, cannot be frozen
Large Shield, 3 Perfect Diamonds: 57% resist all
Rare Circlet: +2 necro summoning skills
Rare Demonhide Gloves: 20% IAS, +3 dex, 25% lightning resist, 16% poison resist
Ruby Chain Boots of Speed: 30% faster run, 34% fire resist
Rare Sharkskin Belt: 17% faster hit recovery, +58 life, 22% cold resist, 25% fire resist
Rare Ring: +48 AR, +1 max damage, +5 energy, 13% lightning resist, 15% poison resist
Rainbow Ring of Blight: 11% resist all, +50 poison dam
Rare Amulet: +1 necro skills, 3% mana steal, 5% lightning resist, 18% poison resist, -1 dam

Javelin of Vileness: Prevent Monster Heal
Summoner's Gargoyle Head of Remedy: +1 necro skills, -25% poison resist
Rare Studded Leather: +15 life, 28% fire resist, 19% cold resist, 8% lightning resist, -2 MD
Scintillating Circlet of the Colossus: +56 life, 12% resist all
Sureshrill Frost unique flanged mace: 43-68 dam, adds 63-112 cold damage, freezes target +3, cannot be frozen, slvl 9 Frozen Orb charges
Venom Grip unique demonhide gloves: +60 poison damage, 5% life steal, 5% crushing blow, 138% enhanced defense, 30% poison resist, +5% max poison resist
Assorted rings and amulets with resists

All of Skulla's stat points for quite some time had been going into Vitality, and I was happy to see that his life was over 750 with his normal equipment setup. I could boost that to over 900 with alternate equipment (by removing +skills items) for particular situations, such as the Duriel fight (should Skulla make it there!) Most of his skill points in Act V Nightmare had gone to pumping Dim Vision in preparation for Hell, and I now hoped to go back and max Raise Mage as fast as possible. After that, the only skill remaining to be maxed would be Iron Maiden, and then I would have to re-evaluate where future points would do the most good.

Skulla's army was actually losing some strength, due to having to swap out his old gargoyle shield with +1 skills for a 3 diamond large shield. Still, that was an easy call - Hardcore characters cannot go running around in Hell with resists in the negative digits! I had already socketed a very nice cold resist jewel into his wand, and had another open spot there, not to mention the socket quest from Normal to be used on either the Spirit Shroud or Skulla's helmet. Still waiting to see what would do the most good there, likely a rune with 30% resist to one of the elements. The demonhide gloves were dropped by Baal in Nightmare, and were an upgrade from the old ones, which only had lightning resist on them. Skulla's amulet with +1 necro skills had been gambled in Act V Nightmare, and was also an upgrade from his plain Summoner's amulet.

The goal for Hell? Survive. Plain and simple. I intend to keep full-clearing with Skulla, eventually, but if that meant skipping fights for the moment, or completely rolling new maps to avoid deadly bosses, so be it. Better to live and fight another day than to die in a foolish display of machismo. That would be the modus operandi going forward. Everything takes a secondary priority to keeping Skulla alive. *Deep breath* Here we go.

Skulla was happily surprised at how well his army stood up to the residents of the Blood Moor. The warriors were undoubtedly taking a greater pounding than before, yet they could stand a couple of blows before crumbling into dust. This was more than I expected, to be honest. Here's Skulla facing his first boss in Hell, no more than a few steps outside the Rogue Camp, and joy of joys - we have an Extra Strong/Cursed customer!

Fortunately only a quill rat though, which wasn't all that rough. Once Skulla reached the full complement of 9 mages, they did a pretty fair job of tearing up the enemies, although taking a little bit longer than in Act V Nightmare. More and more, Skulla began to practice the fine art of Dimming an area full of targets, then engaging a fraction of the foes with IM or LR. This takes a lot of skill to pull off, yet is necessary to get kills in a timely manner in Hell. With the enemies hitting so much harder than in Nightmare, IM was coming into the spotlight more and more.

The Den of Evil was pretty brutal at times. The fallen shamans greatly complicated matters, not just because they revived the fallens, but because they revived them literally the INSTANT the damn things hit the ground. Several times, Skulla clicked on a body as soon as it died, only to see a shaman revive it even faster. Now the shamans by themselves were doable, a group of shamans/fallens along with Corpsefire (Spectral Hit/Teleport/Magic Resistant) was a nightmare:

There were fallen constantly dying and then running behind the lines (to go after Skulla himself!), chaos everywhere. Even more frightening was knowing that there was absolutely no place to go for more recruits if Skulla were to fail here. Mmm, good times. Got it done, but it was really testing my limits as a player. This didn't bode too well for future areas! Maybe things will improve with more practice. The Den skill points (as all early skill points in this act) went into Raise Mage, now 17+6, trying to max it as quickly as possible.

Skulla found a busy four-pack of Fallen shaman champs near the entrance to the Cold Plains, and with the experience picked up in the Den of Evil, managed to handle the fight with very little danger, taking care to maintain a clear front line at all times. I had learned that the shamans actually killed themselves much faster with IM than with running LR, so the best tactic was to cast Golly in their faces and then let them kill themselves. This made me feel a lot better; the semi-distaster against Corpsefire was not repeated.

The other foes in the Cold Plains were rogue spearwomen and gargantuan beasts, so this melee-exclusive level featured LOTS of IM use. Another tough fight broke out shortly thereafter, with a Cursed/?/? gargantuan beast mixed in with a Magic Resistant/Stone Skin/FEB shaman boss. Skulla's army was getting pasted, so he retreated with six mages, strung out the foes, and then returned to finally clear up the shamans. Whew! Again, it was extremely stressful knowing there were no places to fall back on for recruits. My respect for Sirian and his Skeletorr character was only growing here. I can't imagine doing this back in 1.05 with no ability to transfer minions between acts. Bishibosh (Magic Resistant/FEB/Mana Burn/Extra Strong) wasn't engaged until all of the surrounding fallens and shamans were killed - hardly routine, but getting easier with more practice.

Usually, I would go on to the Caves and Blood Raven next. However, Skulla is not like other characters due to his need for bodies. I decided to push on to the Stony Field and full-clear it out to secure the waypoint, then do the dangerous underground areas in a different session, so that I would have the option to return to easier areas like the Blood Moor for recruitment. While this would mean some repetition of some places, it was the safest way to go.

However, Skulla had a horrendous opening to the Stony Field: not only was Rakanishu literally ON the entrance, there was an Extra Fast/Extra Strong/LEB rogue archer boss right with him!

Dear Lord, what a mess. Two Extra Fast/LEB bosses chasing Skulla around and slapping down minions left and right. I arrowed the wench in the above pic, her head just peeking up from the interface. Skulla had to get the archer boss to chase him all the way back into the Cold Plains, kill her with a handful of mages, and then slowly work his way back into the Stony Field, where Rak was finally slain. Good grief! This made it imperative to find the Stony Field waypoint: do NOT use the Cold Plains entrance to this area again!

An FEB/Mana Burn/Conviction aura zombie boss was soon encountered at the same time as a zombie champ pack: BRUTAL casualties among the warriors and even some of the mages, but IM and Golly eventually took them all down. After that, there was pretty much nothing in the rest of the Stony Field. That's the eternal problem with this game, too much gap. Game is either boring and routine, or unbelievably difficult, with no middle ground. And with that, it was time to end the first session in Hell. Only took two hours to clear four total areas, heh.

Next up, going to the Burial Grounds (new session). Even walking there from the Cold Plains waypoint, Skulla had to fight three more bosses, sadly. Well, I guess he can always use more XP. As usual, first I cleared the outside of the Burial Grounds, then went in after the boss:

Blood Raven summoned up a goodly number of skeletons/zombies, but they were tanked by the army in masterful fashion. Skulla kept raising more warriors to replenish the ranks of the fallen, and although it was a little dicey for a moment, the monsters soon fell and the army was replenished. Blood Raven herself got trapped on the cemetary tombstones and did NOTHING while she was beaten to death by the army (inset shot). Amazing how useless she was without her own minions! Like Skulla in that regard, hehe.

The biggest danger in the Crypt was the army walking off in three different directions at each intersection. Skulla had to use some portaling to town to keep them all on the same page. Bonebreaker was Extra Strong/Magic Resistant/FEB/Cursed, but fortunately fought through a doorway, where he reflected himself to death quickly. Poor Golly! There was one other brutal encounter in here: a double boss pack against a Magic Resistant/Stone Skin/Extra Strong skeleton and an LEB/Stone Skin/Teleportation zombie (who was thus Physical Immune). Take a look:

They slowly killed off the whole army, although only the two bosses were left by that point. (That's when I took the above pic, when all their minions and nothing but Golly was left.) Skulla killed the non-PI skeleton boss with Golly, then raised every body on the floor (8 mages) and ran LR to take down the zombie. Not quite necessary to retreat from this area, pretty darn close though. Also, why is the Crypt massively larger in Hell? Doesn't make the area any harder, just... longer. I guess it was more free XP. Skulla had leveled up earlier and raised his total mage count to 10, which is as far as he can go without another +skill item.

The Mausoleum had a fun little LEB/Cursed/Teleportation zombie boss. Glad this wasn't D2 Classic there... Fortunately the boss was really slow-moving. LEB seemed to be the theme of this area, as two more bosses also showed up sparking. Overall the Mausoleum was quieter than the Crypt, although it was still quite large. Each of these areas was fully as big as the Caves! That requires a bit of a different mindset.

Entrance to the Caves was quiet. First fight of any interest was against a Spectral Hit/LEB/Extra Strong skeleton along with accompanying zombies; the Extra Strong was actually a blessing there, causing the boss and his minions to kill themselves faster. Skulla hit clvl 70 in this fight, nice! Then there was a Stone Skin/Magic Resistant/LEB zombie who was therefore Physical Immune (PI) and Lightning Immune (LI), taking essentially no damage from anything. Had to kill off the minions with IM, then use mages to down him slowly with LR, all the while eating nonstop sparks from his LEBness. The very next encounter? An LEB/CEB/Stone Skin skeleton that was PI/LI - the same damn thing!

Come on! Like it wasn't hard enough the first time around... I have to admit, although these are some tough fights, they are also endlessly entertaining! Skulla is definitely going through a love/hate relationship with Hell difficulty here.

Skulla found the stairs down to the second floor while he had a full army, so I decided to bite the bullet and head down there immediately. Well Caves 2 was an absolute nightmare! FEB/LEB/Mana Burn archer boss mixed in with a Spectral Hit/Cursed/Teleportation archer boss!

Trying to fight these two in a sardine can was not pleasant! The stairs up were between those two torches at the top, so we're using maybe 5% of the actual level here. Skulla downed a significant portion of the minions with his initial army, then went on a new recruiting drive and came back. Second trip, he finally got the Cursed boss down, back to town to clear the curse. Limped out of there with 7 mages and 1 warrior this second time. On the third trip, Skulla finally cornered the other boss by the entrance and took down that bitch with LR:

Now Skulla can finally GET DOWN THE STAIRS! Of course, the minute he does, he was accosted by rogue archer champs mixed in with a full triple shaman/fallen brood. Thankfully, not much room for them to move, making it easy to establish a single front. Then when that was cleared out, there was another skeleton boss: LEB/CEB/Spectral Hit. Say goodbye to all the warriors again...

Now do you know why I wanted to come down here in a new session, with the option to go back and recruit more minions in the Blood Moor? Good grief! And we're not done yet, because there's still Coldcrow and the rest of Caves 1 yet to go:

Coldcrow turned up Multishot! Thankfully she and her minions were encountered alone. Herding Coldcrow into the corner that you see above involved some work, but once she was there, it was all over. (Things are often a lot worse than you see in these pictures, because I don't take them until the situation is well in hand!) And with that, the Caves were finally finished. Yeesh!

Getting to the Underground Passage (at the start of another new session) was a huge chore; not only were there bosses galore in the Blood Moor when trying to raise the initial army, but Skulla had to face the same LEB/Extra Strong/Cursed archer from before in the Stony Field... and an archer champ pack showed up during the fight! Sheesh. Killing her the first time was bad enough. The actual Underground Passage 1 was quite easy though, with few bosses. Worst was an Extra Strong/Extra Fast/Spectral Hit skeleton archer, who was shot down in comparative safety. The second floor predictably started with a fallen mass right at the stairs, which was handled pretty easily. Then I saw this aura:

There was a Might-enchanted archer pack (eep!) around the corner, but fortunately the other abilities were only Extra Fast/Magic Resistant. Whew. As I think I've mentioned before, any two of Extra Strong, Cursed, and Might/Fanaticism aura are OK. If all three show up together, that's a potential instant death situation. There was also a rogue boss (Extra Strong/FEB/LEB) who was far less dangerous, since she killed herself on IM in about 15 seconds. This area was nowhere near as bad as Caves 2, thankfully.

Skulla killed a lot of carvers in the Dark Wood. When that was done, he killed more carvers. After that, he killed some additional carvers, with extra carvers on the side, and a few more carvers for dessert. Am I getting the message across clearly enough? This has got to be one of the most densely-packed areas in the game.

Treehead turned up Extra Strong/Extra Fast/Stone Skin/LEB (PI), which wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So much for the plan to have him do himself in with IM! Skulla managed to down his minions with 6 mages remaining, then raise them and kill the boss with LR, limping out of the fight with 4 total mages. Although I often focus on abilities like Extra Strong and Cursed, Stone Skin can be pretty bad too with all those PI bosses, which IM is useless against. Skulla also turned up the unique mesh armor here, Shaftstop. That 30% physical resist is interesting, but not the armor for Skulla - he'll never get close to that 92 strength requirement!

Just getting to Tristram was again a bit of an ordeal, had to fight through a fallen camp and several boss packs in the Stony Field, not to mention killing Rak a second time. Tristram itself was easy enough for the first half. Then on the west side of the town, another boss (Extra Strong/Mana Burn/FEB) showed up the same time as Griswold (Extra Strong/Cursed/MB). Uh oh.

Griswold is right next to the cursor in that picture, turned blue from being chilled. While Skulla was engaged with these two, skeleton archers kept creeping into the picture, and carvers were running around everywhere, plus getting revived by their shamans (since it was difficult to keep raising them in the scrum). During all this chaos, three carvers managed to sneak up on Skulla and smacked him around WHILE HE WAS CURSED! Life fell to half in an instant, Skulla gulped a rejuv, and I got the Hell out of there. My goodness, do NOT do that again! I had to make several portaling trips to town to reorganize the army (which kept racing off in all directions), but it all died eventually. Quite a bad scare!

Skulla had to press on into the Black Marsh, because the Dark Wood waypoint was right next to both the Tree and the carver camp (not a good place to start!) One early boss was fun: Extra Fast/LEB/Stone Skin carver shaman, he and his minions were flying around like crazy. Then there was a double carver shaman pack shortly thereafter:

Extra Fast/Multishot/Cursed and Extra Strong/Extra Fast/Magic Resistant. Neither one all that hard, just interesting to see them right next to one another. (And the attending carver mob was pretty big!) By now, Skulla was really getting sick of carvers... This was the sixth different area with them as opponents (Cold Plains, Stony Field, Underground Passage, Dark Wood, Tristram, Black Marsh) - enough already! What's the point of having all these monsters if the game keeps throwing the same few opponents out over and over again?!

That brough Skulla to the two dungeons in the Black Marsh: the Hole and the Forgotten Tower. There's no way he has any business even going near that Tower deathtrap. I can come back there at a later date for full-clear credit, after gaining more levels and additional skill points. Right? Well... let's at least see what the townspeople have to say on the subject first. Skulla posed the question to Gheed:

That's pretty rude! Screw you, Skulla will save his gold for gambling with Elzix in Act II. How about you Cain, what can you tell me about the Countess?

Whoa! Talk about too much information. What a dirty old man, I asked for advice on the Tower quest, not having... uh, nevermind. Thanks a lot for the "advice". Some help you guys are. I'm feeling a Sirian-esque streak of stubborness here, and Skulla is going to complete this quest RIGHT NOW, or die trying! Hopefully without the emphasis on the "die trying" part. So let's do this thing.

Back in camp, Warriv is shaking his head. Madness and folly, that's what this is.

Entering the Forbidden Tower... Skulla goes down the stairs on the first floor, and is immediately hit by the stairs trap. I walked him right back up the stairs without taking a hit. Do I really want to do this? *sigh* Walk down, cast DV, DV, DV, immediately walk back up the stairs. Hmm, only lost 200 hit points. Drink a red, come back down, and now there is room to run to the corner and get started. Now that is piss-poor game design there, my friend. Once Skulla could get down the damn stairs, the level actually wasn't that bad. No ranged attackers, so IM ruled all here. Several bosses, including a CEB/Stone Skin/Blessed Aim (PI) skeleton and an Extra Strong/LEB/FEB devilkin, plus others I didn't write down.

Tower 2 had no stairs trap, thank god! Skulla did have this very difficult fight though:

Here Skulla had to juggle a Mana Burn/LEB/Spectral Hit archer boss pack coming from the north with goats charging in from the east. DV the whole group of archers and feed the boss Golly over and over again while the rest of the army slowly kills the goats using IM. Only then could the full skeleton assemblage go after the archers. Tough, tough work - do not try this without considerable practice. Skulla would have run screaming bloody murder if he had to pull this off under laggy conditions online.

Tower 3 also did not have a stairs trap. Yay! One great thing about each floor being larger in Hell is that the odds of a boss spawning right on the stairs is decreased (although it can still happen, unfortunately). A lot of ghost bosses were on this floor, all PI, including a triple-elemental one (FEB/LEB/CEB) and this fellow fought through a doorway:

Tower 4 also not trapped, fortunately, and featuring a lot of devilkin bosses. There was also a champ pack of goats where Golly tanked in textbook fashion:

This is basically the ideal setup, with the warriors holding the door, Golly cast behind the monsters to draw their attention, and the mages firing in total safety. Pulling this off is easier said than done, unfortunately. Cathan's Visage set mask showed up here, not particularly useful. Meatbag's temporary wearing of Cathan's Seal ring is one of the few times I've ever found a use for any of that gear.

Tower 5 was technically trapped, but only with two archers, and Skulla comes down all the stairs hurling DV everywhere, so this was no big deal. Kinda funny when he does this for an empty room. This bottom floor was actually the easiest of all! Only one easy devilkin boss, and then the Countess:

She was frankly tame compared to all the archer bosses faced earlier. Grab the useless gold, snap a picture, and save the bloody game! Did I mention this whole quest was done in the midst of a very bad thunderstorm, with the lights flickering several times?! It's true, I was halfway through the quest and rushing to get it finished before the power went out. Fun stuff for a Hardcore character going through a known deathtrap area.

In any case, Skulla managed to survive a lot of bad situations so it looks like his journey will be continuing. Check back soon for the conclusion of Hell Act I - one way or the other!