Fresh off exploring the Raven skill with my Druid character Corvus, I wanted to create one more character to explore another group of skills widely seen as being among the worst in the whole game. This was the Holy Fire / Holy Freeze / Holy Shock trio of Offensive Auras held by the Paladin class which have been basically played by no one ever since they were first created. Holy Fire in particular has (correctly) been viewed as ubervariant garbage material with damage far too low to be viable for even the most diehard of players. Back before Diablo 2 Resurrected was released, Holy Fire's aura dealt all of 19-21 damage at SLVL 20 which had to have been some kind of a sad joke. These auras also deal elemental on-hit damage (fire/cold/lightning associated with each of the three auras) but that wasn't what I was interested in here. I wanted to focus on the actual auras themselves and ignore anything associated with the Paladin's melee blows. Sirian once created a character named Flammicus who focused on Holy Fire in this fashion and the damage output was so pathetic that he had to stop after Act One Normal because it took 20+ minutes just to kill Andariel. You can even read Sirian's amusing short story via the Wayback Machine's Internet archives at this link.
Much as it did for the Raven skill, Patch 2.4 of Diablo 2 Resurrected introduced changes that made the Paladin's three elemental auras playable... somewhat so, anyway. All three auras received a new feature in which damage scales based on distance to the caster; the auras now dealt double damage at melee range as compared to before and linearly scaled to the previous damage total at maximum range. This was a legitimately cool feature causing the elemental auras to deal significantly more damage at close range and introduced a risk vs reward tradeoff in terms of how close the Paladin wants to get to his foes. Holy Freeze and Holy Shock were otherwise left alone while Holy Fire received additional substantial buffs: damage from level scaling increased by 70% and the benefit from Holy Fire's two synergy skills both increased as well, on top of the doubled damage at melee range. And even with all those buffs, Holy Fire still remains one of the worst skills in the whole game! That should tell the reader something about how laughably horrible it was prior to D2R.
Anyway, I plan to explore the use of the Paladin's elemental auras by relying solely on them for damage, not making use of the elemental on-hit damage, only standing there and letting the auras kill things on their own. Each of the elemental auras has its corresponding defensive aura as a synergy skill (such as Resist Fire for Holy Fire) and all three of them also get a minor synergy damage boost from the Salvation skill. There aren't enough skill points available to max out all three of the elemental auras along with their synergies, unfortunately, which means that I'll have to pick two of them. I plan to start with Holy Fire and give it some time in the sun, maxing Holy Fire first and then concentrating on Holy Freeze next. Holy Freeze does even less damage than Holy Fire, however it has an extremely useful chilling aura and I'll use it for Fire Immune targets or anything with heavy fire resistance. Then if this character can make it to Hell difficulty, I'll respec the build to replace Holy Fire with Holy Shock since poor Holy Fire just doesn't deal enough damage even with all of its synergies maxed. This should work well as I'll get to experiment with all three elemental auras, plus the Lightning Immune + Cold Immune combo is less common than Fire + Cold immunity.
My Paladin will be utterly unable to attack and the elemental auras are slow killers which means that I'll need some kind of minion to serve on blocking duty if I have any intention of this setup being viable in Hell difficulty. The plan here is to hire a standard Act Two Defensive mercenary and let him be the tank while Holy Fire slowly grinds away at the monsters. I'll give the mercenary the best defensive gear that I can find, however I'll limit him to a basic weapon so that he contributes essentially nothing in terms of offensive output. I'm thinking a basic spear with Prevent Monster Heal on it and nothing else to ensure that it's the auras that have to do all of the monster slaying - not much point in coming up with a variant like this if the mercenary just smashes everything with some kind of fancy runeword weapon. I'll try to stash a good weapon for bosses that show up with double elemental immunities and only break it out when physical damage is absolutely mandatory.
One nice thing about this variant is that the stat requirements should be virtually non-existent. All Paladin shields can have up to four sockets (once their ilevel gets high enough) which means that I'll be able to make a Spirit runeword on a Targe or Rondache base without needing the 150+ Strength normally required for a Monarch shield. And... there's really no other place where Strength would be required for the build so I should be able to hold at about 35 Strength, enough to wear all the base gear without needing anything more. Dexterity is naturally not needed and all Paladin auras cost zero mana to employ which removes any need for Energy. This is a character who can quite literally dump everything into Vitality where Paladins have excellent scaling (3 HP per point of Vitality, only the Barbarian does better). I should be able to build a pretty tanky character if all goes well.
The base damage on each of the elemental auras is quite low, especially for Holy Fire which still only deals 32-88 damage at SLVL 20 even after all those buffs. This means that +skills items will be a central part of this character build in order to get the damage from those auras up to something more playable. The good news is that I should be perfectly positioned to stack up lots of +skills gear: a Spirit runeword is easy to make in the shield slot for +2 skills and then it's possible to shop scepters at the vendors for items with +skills directly for the elemental auras themselves. With enough shop refreshes, it should theoretically be possible to find something with +3 Paladin offensive auras (the Marshal's prefix) and additional +skills to Holy Fire/Freeze/Shock innately on the item. This could be +6 skill points in total if I don't get too bored rerolling the shop endlessly. Add in the usual amulet and circlet options and hitting SLVL 30 should be well within range.
But wait, there's more! For one time only, I plan to violate my normal rules and make use of an item that dropped from my previous character. That would be the Gul rune that Corvus found from the Hell difficulty Hellforge quest which will unlock the Principle runeword for the armor slot. That runeword has another +2 Paladin skills on it for a theoretical grand total of SLVL 36! (That's +6 from scepter, +2 from Principle armor, +2 from Spirit shield, +3 from circlet, and +3 from amulet.) More realistically I'll be short of that but it should be fun to try and see what happens. Outside of that single Gul rune, I intend to follow my normal pattern of conducting a single pass through the game while full clearing each area one time through, making use of what items I find along the way without repeating areas or trading/twinking/sharing gear. This is obviously a pretty big exception to my normal rule but dang it, I want to make use of a high tier rune for once and this is the perfect chance to do so! All of the Paladin elemental auras have such low base damage that getting +2 skills from the armor slot will be badly needed to make the skills viable.
I'm naming this character WillPower, appropriate for a Paladin that uses the force of his mind to defeat his enemies with pure elemental magics. It's also a nod to our son William George who maybe will have the chance to read this report when he gets older. Wish me good luck - this should be an unusual character build to say the least!