Skulla Part Nine: Halls of the Undead

Duke Skulla began Hell Act II at clvl 75 with the following:

Base Stats
Strength 38
Dexterity 25
Vitality 262
Energy 135

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

Iron Maiden @15+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: +104 AR, +13 energy, +35 life, 17% lightning resist, -25% poison length
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
Assorted rings and amulets with resists

The only equipment change for Skulla was a new ring dropped from Andy, which preserved lightning resist while adding more life and mana. He was now up to 895 life and 475 mana with normal gear. I should mention that I also lost Sureshrill Frost and Venom Grip uniques when forgetting to pick them up in town at the end of a game session (whoops). Not a huge loss. All skill points from Act I had first gone to maxing out Raise Mage, then to maxing out Iron Maiden. It will probably take until almost the end of the act to finish up with that skill, then the final skill points will probably go into Raise Skeleton for lack of anything else to do with them. Remember, no more than one base skill point into Fire Golem and Golem Mastery.

Skulla had to fight two bosses in the Cold Plains getting started, including a Cursed/Might aura gargantuan beast. This was a pretty good warmup for the session. Trouble popped up right out of the gate with a Stone Skin/Extra Fast/Teleportation skeleton boss in the first room of the Sewers:

He was a pretty speed son of a gun! Then a Teleporting Sand Raider boss leaped behind the front lines, and Skulla had to retreat and pull the whole army to town with him to re-establish a new front. The Teleportation boss ability is usually a non-issue, but created a real danger there. Almost all the foes in the Sewers were Fire Immune, which was mitigated by Skulla drawing an unusually large number of cold necromages (about 7 of them). Cool! Sewers 2 had the same monster draw, and was proceeding along normally until Skulla rounded the corner and faced a pack of burning archer champs, along with a Cursed burning dead boss! That prompted a retreat back around the corner, pulling the melee boss with the army, to be slain there out of range of the archers. After clearing the curse, Skulla could go back and mug the champs. Not too bad, but not something all that routine either.

Skulla found Radament's lair right away on Sewers 3, as it was close to the stairs. Rather than wait for later, Skulla tackled the boss right away. Unfortunately, there was a burning dead mage boss mixed in with Radament:

FEB/Mana Burn/Cursed, which made everything that much harder. Skulla had a grand fight on his hands, having to retreat back out of the boss room (which was ridiculously packed with enemies) and conduct a mad dance of DV, IM, and LR at various times to stay safe. The boss was finally taken down in the back corner of Rad's room, after all the other nasties had been eliminated. Radament himself was Extra Fast/Extra Strong/Spectral Hit and whittled down slowly with Lower Resist; he was an afterthough compared to the previous struggle! Took his picture, decided again not to post it because of Rad's feebleness without his minions. The rest of the level had lots more burning dead/mage bosses, including a Cursed/Fanaticism one! Typical stuff by now.

The Rocky Waste served up a monster mix of slingers (spear cats), sand leapers, and vultures. This was actually a bit of a tough mix, as the vultures and cats demanded different curses (IM and DV respectively), while the leapers ran around like crack junkies on speed. Really nasty foes for the necromancer, as they jump over and behind the lines constantly. Near the entrance to town Skulla fought an FEB/Cursed/Spetral Hit cat boss (seen above), mixed in with a Holy Shock/?/? leaper boss. Tough to see the boss abilities on those leapers! This encounter sent him running back to town two different times, however there was no need to go back to Act I for more recruits. Just enough bodies on the ground to struggle through, with difficulty. An Extra Strong/Stone Skin/Cursed leaper boss later on proved easier than expected. The extra damage caused it to kill itself that much faster with Iron Maiden.

Large mob right at the entrance to the Stony Tomb, in a huge open room, including a beetle boss: Spectral Hit/Mana Burn/Holy Shock.

The open nature of this room made the fight tougher in some ways, as it was impossible to establish a single front. A whole lot of DV kept the army alive here. The other foes in the Stony Tomb were burning dead mages and horrors - all three enemy types Immune to Lightning! Interesting. DV was the order of the day here, with mostly projectile enemies about. A CEB/Spectral Hit/Stone Skin horror boss took a very long time to take down, Iron Maiden being almost useless against him, and even Lower Resist didn't seem to help much.

Stony 2 had the courtesy not to offer up another stairs trap, fortunately. The monster mix was the same, except that now the burning dead mages shot poison instead of fire. (Oddly, this enemy had no immunities to anything. Weird.) Creepy turned up Extra Strong/CEB/Cursed/Teleportation, in a room packed with enemies:

Skulla's not venturing into that mob! A retreat back into the hall was needed, where Creepy and his groupies were taken down as they moved through the doorway. Attempting to stand and fight in the spot seen above would have been a disaster.

The Dry Hills looked much like the Rocky Waste, with more leapers and two different types of cats (saber cats and spear cats) running around. The latter had exploding potions, so I guess they were slighyly more dangerous. Only slightly though. In the back corner of the Dry Hills, Skulla came across a Spectral Hit/Magic Resistant/Fanaticism cat boss, and a... something leaper boss (never saw the abilities):

This fight was incredibly brutal, with all the warriors and the two bosses going down in a matter of seconds. Powerful stuff, when enemies get juiced up with all kinds of extra damage and then run into high-level Iron Maiden reflecting back blows at 800% force. For an ordinary outside area, this place had an absolute ton of bosses. Something on the order of six or seven, without counting exactly. Amazingly, a Pul rune dropped here - wow! Highest rune I've ever seen drop naturally. Skulla will probably never use it, but it went into the stash anyway.

Halls of the Dead Level 1... oh what a nightmare! Skulla rounded the first corner innocently enough, only to find a Stone Skin/FEB/Mana Burn bat boss, mixed in with a Teleportation/Magic Resistant/Fanaticism cat boss:

The bat is highlighted above, its Stone Skin making it all but immune to Iron Maiden. I arrowed the cat boss, who is actually providing the Fanaticism aura (note that there is no Dim Vision circle above her head; that's the only way to tell!) At the same time, Skulla faced legions of spear cats chucking their projectiles and hollow one/returned combos. Again, this was all around the first corner! Situation was impossible to deal with, so to prevent the entrance from being trapped, I ran Skulla up to the northwest and into open space, portaling out to safety. But up there were more bosses...

Skulla faced another bat boss, while the Fanaticism spear cat crept back into the picture and began attacking from the rear - bringing that nasty aura with her! So on the return from town, I pulled Skulla back further to the north, around another corner... and into even more bosses!

There was a third bat boss (Telepotation/Extra Strong/LEB) mixed in with legions of undead plus their mummy parents. Got that finally straightened out, only to work back to the entrance area where there was a (new) double cat boss, one of them Extra Strong and the other Cursed. Skulla had to retreat back to Act I for recruiting drives on multiple occasions, as well as gulp rejuvs three different times when he took Cursed hits. All told, there were at least eight bosses fought in little more than a phone booth. This was one of the toughest areas yet in Skulla's entire quest; his life dropped under half at least three different times. And that was just the first floor!

Is there any wonder why most Hardcore players skip these places in Hell? I mean, you'd have to be crazy to keep full-clearing, right?

Halls of the Dead 2 served up an interesting first boss, a Multishot/CEB/Spectral Hit hollow one. That was the first time I'd ever seen the poison cloud spewed by the mummies come up multishot, very strange. The rest of the level was pretty uneventful: two more bosses, relatively straightforward, same three monsters. On Halls 3, the highlight was a normal fight against a hollow one and its minions, only to have my own necromages run over to the side of the room and open the door, pouring out a flood of enemies into the room! "What are you doing?!" screamed Skulla. Ahh, the feeble minds of the undead. Anyway, this forced a retreat and some fancy skill swapping between IM and DV to keep half the foes Dimmed, but Skulla got it done.

This is the entrance to the treasure room, where Skulla's army managed to employ perfect tactics. Get Golly and the skeletons to block the door, while all of the mages shoot from perfect safety behind the lines. This was a brutal, brutal fight, but there were enough corpses such that the lines remained unbroken. Skulla never saw Bloodwitch's abilities, just too dangerous to go into the treasure room until it was thinned out. I know she was in there though, since the army was Cursed during the fight. The encounter ended up dropping me a new sweet amulet: +1 necro skills, 16% cold resist, 33% lightning resist! This maxed lightning, took fire to 63% and cold to 70%. Excellent. Unless an ammy with +2 necro skills turns up (and that's not even possible untile clvl 84), Skulla is probably set for the rest of the game with this piece of gear.

Getting started again in the Dry Hills (new session), Skulla had to fight three different spear cat bosses before reaching the entrance to the Far Oasis from the waypoint. Nothing too deadly, just a whole lot of monsters running around, requiring lots of DV use to fight only a few at a time. The Oasis was overflowing with itchies and maggots, along with a few vultures. One of the first bosses popped up Extra Strong/Fanaticism/Mana Burn, although fortunately on a swarm of itchies!

LR got a lot of use here, since the bugs are all Physical Immune, making IM useless. DV doesn't do much against melee foes in this context either. One interesting tidbit to report, Skulla turned up an Ethereal Diamond Armor with 1705 defense here (!!!)

I bet that would make some dynamite armor for a merc somewhere. Meatbag would have killed for that, if it hadn't been Ethereal. Too bad Skulla doesn't employ mercenaries and could care less about Defense, so it was sold as useless junk. The Umbral Disc unique small shield also dropped here, and that truly WAS junk.

A fierce fight against a huge mass of plague bearers (zombies) awaited Skulla at the entrance to the Lost City. There must have been two dozen of them shambling around, all eager for undead bones... and necromancer flesh! The lines just barely held, down to five mages at one point - the warriors getting decimated and more raised constantly. For a bunch of zombies, they put up quite a good fight! The Lost City also featured tons and tons of leapers, forming a speedy contrast to all the walking undead hanging around.

Dark Elder (Extra Fast/Magic Resistant/Teleportation/Extra Strong) turned out to be easier here than in Normal or Nightmare, mostly because there were no potion-tossing cats to complicate the battle. It's also possible that I've simply gotten better with using curses and keeping the army safe too. Overally, since this area was 100% melee foes, Skulla could break out IM on everything and not have to sweat too much. Just maintain distance from the monsters. The warriors kept dying from zombie poison, but there were enough bodies to keep replacing them.

Ancient Tunnels served up a Cursed/Teleportation/Spectral Hit zombie boss immediately, which was quickly flanked by a mummy champ pack. Might have been more dangerous, if the foes weren't all quite slow. This area turned out to have a lot of melee opponents (invaders were the third opponent), so IM was once again the curse of choice. For what seemed like a tame draw, Skulla kept getting wiped out over and over, forcing retreats back to Act I. The poison damage his minions kept taking was likely the culprit there. Rogue's Bow (unique composite bow) turned up here, also uniquely useless.

The entrance to the Claw Viper Temple was much more lively than it had any right to be, with two Guardians in the front room with their attendant mobs, one of them a boss with Cursed/Multishot/Mana Burn (above). Their bone warriors are literally identical to Skulla's warriors, making it very confusing. I had to keep cursing them just to tell the sides apart - and it wasn't easy with the Amp graphic displaying above my own Cursed army! More vipers started pouring out of the side doors, making this fight even more delicate. Good thing all of these opponents hit hard and did themselves in with IM quickly. An Extra Fast/CEB/FEB viper boss was ridiculously quick, fortunately it could be fought through a doorway. My minions again amused themselves by opening door after door, stirring up all kinds of unnecessary trouble. Argh!

Then it was time for the battle I had been dreading. Claw Viper 2 is always bad, real bad. And this trip through the second floor definitely held true to form. I wanted to stick to the north edge of the chamber, to avoid waking up Fangskin, but of course my minions refused to do that, and so out he came roaring with full crew in tow:

Fangy turned out to be LEB/Extra Fast/Extra Strong/Mana Burn, but I thought he was Cursed because my army was hit with the Cursed aura and sound effect immediately. That turned out to be due to a guardian boss in the corner who was Cursed/Extra Strong/LEB - great! Just what I wanted! Two different Extra Strong/LEB bosses running around in a sardine can while Skulla was Cursed! I spammed golems like you wouldn't believe, casting and recasting IM the whole while, and the line just barely managed to hold. I'm kind of surprised it did, actually. Skulla would have had no choice but to retreat back up the stairs if it had broken completely, so that was an enormous relief. Guess all those endless skill points invested in Skeleton Mastery weren't a waste after all! Finally managed to reach the second boss in the corner:

What a piece of work he was himself! Being LEB all the warriors were of course doomed, and he managed to down a lot of the necromages too before finally doing himself in with IM. Finally cleared him up, took down the last few minions, and got the Hell out of there with the Viper amulet! Whew!

Skulla is very glad he never has to go down there again, thank you very much. His quest will continue starting from the Palace next time.