Winnie Part Three: The Nightmare Begins

Count Winnie began Nightmare Act I at clvl 37 with the following:

Base Stats
Str 34 [42]
Dex 20 [23]
Vit 141
Nrg 70 [85]

Summon Spirit Wolf @8
Summon Dire Wolf @10
Summon Grizzly @8
Oak Sage @6
Spirit of Barbs @3
Poison Creeper, Carrion Vine, Solar Creeper, Spirit of Wolverine @1

Blood Crescent (unique Scimitar): 3-10 dam, 15% IAS, 15% life steal, 33% open wounds, +15 life, +15% resist all
Rare Studded Leather: 45 def, +1 strength, +9 life, 9% fire resist, 7% poison resist, -25% poison length
Large Shield, 1 Perfect Diamond: 19% resist all
Rainbow Circlet: +10% resist all
Bloodfist (unique Heavy Gloves): 10% IAS, 30% faster recovery, +5 min damage, +40 life
Rare Heavy Boots: 20% faster run, 53% extra gold, repairs durability
Rare Belt: +3 life, +7 mana, 16% cold resist, 11% fire resist
Russet Ring of Sorcery: +15 energy, 16% fire resist
Cobalt Ring of Protection: 27% cold resist, -2 dam
Ocher Amulet of Dexterity: +2 dex, 18% lightning resist

Javelin of Vileness: Prevent Monster Heal
Assorted rings, amulets, charms, and jewels

Pooh Bear Damage: 195-253 (224 avg)
Amplisa Damage: 18-23 (20.5 avg)

I won't try to mince words: Winnie had some pretty atrocious equipment for the outset of Nightmare. The only two items of any worth were the two uniques he had turned up: the Blood Crescent scimitar and Bloodfist gloves. Blood Crescent would have made a decent melee weapon for some character, especially if upgraded to its exceptional equivalent, but it wasn't really the right item for Winnie. What I really wanted was a club with the +skills mods on it, the ideal of which would be a club with +3 druid summoning tree. (Items with +druid skills will only show up on clubs, no other weapon types.) I had yet to find one, unfortunately, so Winnie made use of Blood Crescent for its resist all and minor life boosts. Bloodfist wasn't quite perfect either, however the 30% faster hit recovery and +40 life were both excellent, and I could live with it for a long time.

Almost everything else was junk, quite frankly. Winnie's studded leather armor was from Act I Normal, and hopelessly outdated by this point in time. Nothing better had shown up so far, not helped obviously by Winnie's inability to shop the vendors in Act IV or V for armor due to his low Strength. Winnie was working on a three Diamond shield, and had only completed one perfect so far. The boots weren't too bad, with 20% faster run, but I knew I could do better there. Winnie would be looking for an upgrade with 30% faster run and hopefully some stability (faster hit recovery) and resist mods. Everything else was pure garbage. That crummy rainbow circlet was actually the best Winnie had found, despite two dozen circlet gambles thus far. Winnie's jewelry wasn't much better, still not using any rares at all there. Yeesh! Well, something was bound to turn up eventually...

On the plus side, Winnie had tons of life thanks to Oak Sage and relentless pumping of Vitality, so he would probably be OK so long as I continued to avoid any egregiously bad mistakes. I had actually already capped Energy permanently at 70, finding that 200 or so mana was enough for almost all situations, and all future stat points were going into Vitality. With no need for Dex, and no further need for Strength either, that made Winnie quite sturdy indeed!

Starting out in the Blood Moor was of course much easier than Act V Normal had been. I found to my delight that Pooh Bear could sometimes kill quill rats in a single mighty blow! Hehe, that hadn't happened in a very long time, and probably wouldn't occur again. Fallen usually took two hits, while zombies would go down in 3-4. All of these opponents moved very slowly, and Winnie had all the time in the world to cast and recast Pooh as position dictated. No random bosses were encountered, and as such Nightmare got off to a cushy start.

The Den involved some actual use of tactics. Wailing beasts and zombies were another snorefest, but the fallen shamans made things interesting for a change. Winnie frequently had to pull back Pooh to his position, as Pooh would go charging off to down more fallens, only to see the ones next to Winnie suddenly come back to life again! Solar Creeper did a decent job of cleaning up the corpses, particularly when I had Winnie summon it directly on the intended target. The Corpsefire fight (the only boss in the Den) was a total blast, as Winnie and Pooh slowly picked away at a mixed fallen/zombie mass, using hit and run action to avoid getting swarmed with enemies. I wore them down and had the Creeper eat all of their corpses, until nothing was left! The skill point went into Spirit of Barbs, taking it to slvl 4 and 110% damage reflected.

Winnie shopped the Act I merchants on each visit, looking for new gear. I quickly turned up some boots with 30% faster run, which was better than anything on the rare boots with 20% faster run he had been wearing before. Winnie also found an Ocher Ring Mail of Colossus with 13% lightning resist and +44 life, enough to replace his hopelessly outdated studded leather from Act I Normal! That change gave Winnie over 900 life while running Oak Sage, excellent!

The Cold Plains served up a series of rapid-fire bosses packs right out of the gate. First an Extra Fast/Lightning Enchanted (LEB) corrupted rogue, immediately followed by Spectral Hit/Cursed and Extra Fast/Mana Burn duplicates of that same wench. Then, as if that wasn't enough, an LEB/Spectral Hit brute boss showed up immediately afterwards, all of this in the first 10% of the level! Fortunately, Winnie fought them each one at a time, and even had had the fortune to hit an Experience shrine right before the whole gang showed up. Bishibosh was handled carefully, pulling his minions away from the fallen camp and cleaning up the bodies to prevent revivial. No problems with Winnie taking his time.

Blood Raven's zombies and skeletons were whittled down until only the evil archer herself was left. There is a limit to how many minions she will summon; eventually they stop appearing. I had a good laugh watch Blood Raven run around all over the place, chased behind by a giant grizzly bear! Eventually Pooh Bear swatted her into oblivion.

The Crypt and Mausoleum were both packed with bosses. Fortunately, all of them were zombies or skeletons, making for very easy encounters. Winnie was able to get in some more practice swapping back and forth between Oak Sage and Spirit of Barbs as the situation demanded. I also turned up an astonishingly good rare bone wand for a necromancer, which sadly had no purpose and was sold:

Skulla could have used that for quite a while, let me tell you...

The Caves were the first location to turn up archers as an opponent, adding a new threat to the mix. Winnie responded by casting Pooh Bear up in the face of the corrupted rogues, forming a giant meat shield that soaked up the arrows and then proceeded to dish out retribution with giant furry paws. About two thirds of the way through the Caves, Winnie came across Coldcrow (CEB/Stone Skin):

Her archer minions were split off to the north side of the screen, while Coldcrow herself drifted off to the west, setting up a nasty crossfire with Amplisa stuck in the middle! Winnie responded with a true frenzy of grizzly summoning: cast Pooh over by Coldcrow, hit her once and trigger her retreat AI, then immediately recast Pooh to the archer minions to do as much damage as possible in the 3-4 seconds before Coldcrow reappeared on the left side of the screen. Every time that Winnie summoned Pooh, the chill effect from Coldcrow's CEB status would disappear, making the fight go that much faster. I emptied the full mana ball with grizzly summons, and drank a blue potion for the first time in ages. And yet the tactics worked perfectly! With some help from Oak Sage, Amplisa never even dropped into the "yellow" portion of her life, despite an exposed position and total lack of armor. I took this as a sign that I was starting to get the feel of this variant down.

There were rogue archers, skeletons, and crows in the Stony Field, which didn't exactly make for a tough draw. The archers were the only enemies that incurred the least fear. Several boss packs turned up, the only notable of which was an Extra Strong/FEB archer group that split into three different directions and created a messy crossfire. Winnie took a few hits there before I could get things under control. The least threatening was an FEB/Conviction aura crow boss that went down in a mere two hits from Pooh Bear - sheesh! You could at least try to put up a fight! I never saw Rakanishu's extra ability since he died so fast, but I believe it was Mana Burn from getting hit by one of his minions.

On one of Winnie's many trips to and from town, Charsi had a really nice armor on sale: Coral Hard Leather Armor of the Squid, +78 life and 29% lightning resistance. Wow! More life and more lightning resistance than Winnie's current armor. I made that swap happily, and could live with the new armor for quite a while if necessary.

Underground Passage had skeleton archers, rogues, and carvers. As usual, the archers were the major threat, with a CEB/Magic Resistant group being a typical encounter mob. Down on the second floor, Winnie knew that he would be walking into a fallen mob (the second floor always has the same layout and enemy groupings), so he cut to the right side immediately upon entering, cast Pooh Bear into the face of the two fallen shamans and downed them both in the first few seconds. From there, he could pick off the fallens at leisure, and not care about how long it took the vines to clean up their corpses.

The Dark Wood is one of my least favorite areas in Act I; it's quite large, there are always a gazillion carvers and attending shamans to deal with, and the "trees" all over the place make it very hard to see what's going on. Winnie spent a lot of time here waiting for his Solar Creeper to eat the defeated carvers. It's just not safe to go charging into the next carver camp until you know the army behind you won't come back to life! Treehead drew a Conviction aura for his extra ability, which wasn't overly dangerous. Spirit of Barbs helped out there; it was beginning to make a noticeable difference against any boss that rolled Extra Strong, Cursed, or a combination of both. I had been adding skill points throughout Act I into Summon Grizzly and Spirit of Barbs, trying to raise the latter skill into the useful range. It wasn't needed now, but it definitely would be later on.

Tristram had a lot of bosses in there, about five or six by my rough count. Fortunately, they all seemed to be goats or carvers, and no skeleton archers. Poor Griswold (and I still hate what they did to him in this game, ten years later now!) came up Cold Enchanted (CEB) to go along with his Cursed ability. More importantly, Winnie found a rare Hawk Helm, and it came up golden: +1 to druid skills! Yes!

It even had some minor extra goodies, such as 10% faster hit recovery, +9 life, and 9% lightning resist. Those who are used to twinking or muling gear might scoff at a single +1 skills item, but it really makes a differnce to a pure character. Winnie received an extra level in all of his abilities: more health from Oak Sage, more life/mana recovered from his vines, more damage reflected from Spirit of Barbs, and a triple skill synergy increasing AR, Defense, life, and damage for Pooh Bear! I could live with this helmet for a while, so the next goal became finding a club with +skills mods on it. Ideal would be +2 druid summoning skills, which Winnie now had a chance to gamble, having hit clvl 40.

A really nice melee weapon called Aldur's Rhythm (jagged star set item) dropped, but Winnie had absolutely no use for it. He would never even have the 74 strength needed to equip it, nor could Amplisa equip a mace. So I sold it... for 3k gold, heh.

I came across the Hole immediately upon entering the Black Marsh, and so went in there first. It was full of archers, in many cases setting up crossfire situations where I couldn't possibly cover both Winnie and Amplisa with Pooh. I gave ground constantly, stubbornly moving in small circles to throw off the aim of their bows, while casting and recasting Pooh to guard first one side, then the other as the situation dictated. Despite some true hairballs, I managed to keep Amplisa alive and never once saw her health drop into the "yellow", despite the fact that she continued to wear no armor whatsoever! Hole 2 was frankly quite easy, with only two bosses and neither of them dangerous in the least.

Outside in the Marsh, Winnie found himself facing off against more rogue archers and carvers... again. This was literally the fifth area in a row with carvers (Underground Passage, Dark Wood, Tristram, Hole, Marsh) and I was getting sick to death of dealing with them and their shamans. This game has dozens and dozens of different enemies - more monster variety, please! Act I is actually my favorite act, but this was testing my patience. The one fight of any interest was against a CEB/LEB shaman boss, and that only because he kept reviving both carvers and shamans, forcing Winnie to pied piper a large mob away for safe disposal with Solar Creeper. Urgh.

Tower 1 was mostly devilkin, mixed in with some goats and a very few ghosts. The one interesting moment came when Winnie was caught moving through a doorway, then got stuck in the unsafe room behind it as a swarm of devilkin moved in behind him. Oh, and there was a Cursed/Mana Burn goat boss in there too, which drained all his mana instantly! Drank a blue and recast Pooh Bear, which allowed Winnie to wriggle free to safety. Tower 2 was practically deserted, just one rogue archer boss to deal with. No bosses at all on Tower 3, just devilkin and goats, so nothing special there. Tower 4 had a group of devilkin champs - not exactly the most frightening champ pack! - and a Spectral Hit/Conviction aura rogue archer. Nothing worth sweating over. There were three archers at the stairs on Tower 5, but fortunately no boss or champs.

Countess drew Cursed as her extra ability; still, she's just not a dangerous foe. So Winnie completed one of the most useless quests in the game, the gold that dropped as a reward almost paying for another gamble of a club. Uh, thanks...

All of the foes in the Tamoe Highland were ranged: skeleton archers, skeleton mages, and thorn beasts. There were quite a few bosses in there as well, two of which came up Multishot (oh fun!) including everyone's favorite: Multishot/Lightning Enchanted (MSLEB).

Even with maxed lightning resistance and over 1000 life, Winnie still kept a good distance away from the ocean of white goo floating out from that guy. On the whole, this place wasn't too bad, with no melee enemies in place to force close contact and dictate the terms of the engagement.

The Pit had what was by now a familiar mix of devilkin, rogue archers, and skeletons. For the most part this was pretty straightforward, although at times Winnie found himself facing off against veritable firing squads of archers. That was when it was nice to hide behind the huge furry target provided by Pooh Bear:

Ouch, poor Pooh! Did you know that the grizzly bear will absorb enemy fire, like arrows and mage firebolts? It's true, and Winnie would quite frequently walk in a straight line directly behind Pooh, letting him soak up all the damage and clear a safe path, just like a lead blocker in football. Especially useful tactic in narrow underground areas, with little room to manuever or retreat.

Pit 2 is always a bit of dangerous area for that very reason: tons of enemies (many of them resurrectable), at least three boss or champ packs, and hardly any space to move at all. Winnie barely even cleared the steps down before the devilkin were all over him. Thank goodness for Solar Creeper! Even though a lot of devilkin were revived, it slowly ate up all of the corpses until moving forward was possible. That brought Winnie and crew into contact with a CEB/Extra Strong rogue, who was quite a hairball. I cut Winnie over to the right side of the screen once she was gone, as that's usually the safest and least-congested area after clearing the initial steps down. Two more bosses and a whole lot of devilkin later, the area was finally secured. For Winnie's troubles, he did find a slightly better amulet: 7% resist all and +15 life. I was looking to find or cube a Prismatic amulet in the future (if I couldn't find one with +skills) but this would do for the moment.

There were bosses all over the place in the Barracks, after a relatively tame Outer Cloister. This area always has at least three bosses or champ packs, but this seemed an unusually heavy cluster of beefed-up opponents. Winnie barely turned a corner before the next group would jump out at him. The worst opponents here were actually the devilkin, as multiple Extra Fast shaman bosses popped up, and the little buggers were moving so fast that it was really tough to eliminate their corpses before being revived. I ultimately had to take some hits and brave danger in order to advance, cast Pooh Bear in the faces of the shamans, and get the kill.

The Smith spawned Extra Strong/Extra Fast, and he was zipping around in a blur as well. This level proved that speed is one of the hardest things to deal with in this game - if not the very worst!

Winnie ran into a large mob of flame-tossing skeletal mages on Jail 1, one of which happened to be a Multishot LEB boss. What made this situation much worse was the fact that the boss was nearly identical in color to the normal skeletons; I had no idea of the true danger until waves of white death started spilling across the screen. And to make matters worse, Pooh Bear kept getting stuck on some barrels at the top of the screen - argh! Winnie took some hits and had to drink both red and blue potions to clean up the mess.

Two set shields dropped within seconds on Jail 2: Milabrega's Orb (kite shield and absolute garbage) along with Whitstand's Guard (round shield). That second shield was really quite nice for a melee character, and it would have been absolutely perfect for Meatbag, who actually found the belt (Wilhelm's Pride) from the same set. But the gear was useless for Winnie, and thus it got sold. A thousand Diablo mule accounts shed a tear at that last sentence...

Pitspawn Fouldog drew Teleportation as his extra ability, which simply wasn't much of a threat. He remains a dangerous opponent regardless though, and the Oak Sage spirit was downed by a volley of lightning shots at one point. Winnie kept his distance and remained safe. Jail 3 was noteworthy for having an Extra Strong/Fanaticism boss! Fortunately it was a ghost boss though, whew! Even with their physical resistance, Spirit of Barbs was reflecting some major damage there. An Extra Strong/Multishot skeleton mage also proved a bit of a hairball to deal with. Thank goodness it was a mage and not an archer, so that the Extra Strong ability didn't have any real effect.

Yes, there was a CEB/Teleportation boss in the Inner Cloister. Another one! Blizzard, what was the point of removing Flamespike again if you're going to stick random boss packs in the same place?!

Endless checking of the Act I vendors finally paid off on a trip back to town during the Cathedral: Gheed had a set of boots on sale with 30% faster run and 12% cold resistance. That was a minor upgrade from Winnie's previous boots, which had simply been 30% faster run. I know this stuff looks like garbage to those who twink gear, but hunting around for bargains really makes a difference for pure characters. And you'd be surprised at the ability to turn up serviceable gear with nothing more than gambling and diligence in checking the town merchants. You simply can't count on some uber piece of loot dropping that magically solves all your problems!

Pooh bitch-slapped (bear-slapped?) Bone Ash around in the Cathedral, hehe.

Cats 1 was almost all made up of dark one/shaman pairings, with two such bosses, the worst of which was FEB/Might aura. Winnie did a lot of leading the shrimps away from their masters, to remove them from resurrection range where his vines could eat up their corpses in peace. The biggest threat on the level was actually a group of tainted champs, one of which was an extremely fast Fanatic who was definitely quicker than Winnie, even with his 30% faster run boots. Cats 2 was nothing but more dark ones from end to end; the end of the level featured a four-pack of dark one champs, encountered together with a double dark one shaman boss pack. This wasn't all that tough, but man o man, it did take a while to clean up!

Cats 3 had a mix of zombies, arach spiders, and vampires. The big threat was a double boss pack encountered together, Stone Skin/Magic Resistant vampire and Extra Fast/CEB zombie. With the chill effect from the CEB boss, Pooh Bear was unable to do enough damage to get past the life regen of the Stone Skin boss! Without Winnie's Prevent Monster Heal javelins on weapons tab two, I would have been in quite a pickle here. As it was, Winnie simply had to hit each boss to stop their self-healing, and watch as they slowly killed themselves with Spirit of Barbs. PMH gear: don't run unpowered variants without it! Later in the level Winnie encountered an FEB/Fanaticism vampire boss pack, and rather than whittle them down slowly through a doorway with Pooh, I foolishly ran into the room to tag the boss and minions with PMH javs. This worked, but Winnie took a lot of fireball hits in the process. A stupid thing to do really, even though Winnie never lost more than 300 of his 1100+ life. I must avoid this kind of silliness later on. Patience, patience - always patience!

Down on the final floor, Winnie began as usual by clearing the two initial rooms. Once all of the dark ones and shamans were gone, he opened the doors to Andariel's chamber, and began by killing a CEB/Teleportation afflicted boss. Then I had him lure out more dark ones in the side wings, pulling them away from their shamans for easy disposal, and having the vines eat up their corpses. (This was all so much easier when Andy would charge out of the front doors!) Winnie's one weak resistance was poison, at only 30%, so I had stocked up on some Antidotes ahead of time and planned to drink them anytime he turned green. I also wanted Oak Sage running instead of Spirit of Barbs, as Andariel's melee attack isn't all that strong. The poison is the dangerous thing.

Finally, the big girl herself appeared. Unfortunately, an afflicted champ wandered out with her, and that made things much more difficult! I had to make sure to keep summoning Pooh Bear on the opposite side of Andy from Winnie and Amplisa, so that her poison shot would fan out in the opposite direction, and that darned afflicted champ kept getting in the way - argh! Anyway, I got the battle done OK, but Winnie was poisoned twice and it made things at least three times harder than it would have been otherwise. Nevertheless, Winnie came through with flying colors and was never seriously in danger. Even better, I kept Amplisa alive too (and the mercs drop like flies if the Act end bosses so much as breathe on them) which should serve as a sign of a well-managed fight. The only downside was Andy dropping nothing of value: a rare halberd and rare crossbow. Umm, thanks.

On the whole it was a successful act. I found some useful gear, avoided any truly dangerous situations, and even kept Amplisa alive the whole time perfectly. Winnie and Pooh are moving on to Act II!