Winnie Part Four: Ray-Ray and J.O.

Count Winnie began Nightmare Act II at clvl 45 with the following:

Base Stats
Str 34 [41]
Dex 20 [21]
Vit 181
Nrg 70 [85]

Summon Spirit Wolf @8+1
Summon Dire Wolf @10+1
Summon Grizzly @12+1
Oak Sage @6+1
Spirit of Barbs @8+1
Raven, Poison Creeper, Carrion Vine, Solar Creeper, Spirit of Wolverine @1+1

Blood Crescent (unique Scimitar): 3-10 dam, 15% IAS, 15% life steal, 33% open wounds, +15 life, +15% resist all
Coral Hard Leather Armor of the Squid: +78 life, 29% lightning resist
Large Shield, 3 Perfect Diamonds: 58% resist all
Rare Hawk Helm: +1 druid skills, 10% faster hit recovery, +9 life, 9% lightning resist
Bloodfist (unique Heavy Gloves): 10% IAS, 30% faster hit recovery, +5 min damage, +40 life
Lapis Chain Boots of Speed: 30% faster run, 12% cold resist
Rare Belt: +3 life, +7 mana, 16% cold resist, 11% fire resist
Russet Ring of Sorcery: +15 energy, 16% fire resist
Cobalt Ring of the Fox: 27% cold resist, +10 life
Shimmering Amulet of the Mammoth: 7% resist all, +32 life

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

Pooh Bear Damage: 428-502 (465 avg)
Amplisa Damage: 29-34 (31.5 avg)

Skill points in Act I had all gone into either Summon Grizzly or Spirit of Barbs. Pooh Bear's damage output was plenty good enough at the moment, and I didn't need more than occasional points there to keep his damage ramping up in sync with monster life. Far more skill points had gone into Spirit of Barbs, which I pulled all the way from slvl 3 to slvl 8+1, now reflecting a healthy 210% damage back. My goal was to reach 250% reflected damage, or Iron Maiden at slvl 3, in time for the fight against Duriel. I still wasn't using Spirit of Barbs all that often, and yet I knew it would be badly needed as Winnie got closer and closer to Hell difficulty. The harder the enemies hit, the more valuble it would become. I also wanted more skill points in Oak Sage for extra life, and even intended to max Spirit Wolf for the AR and Defense boosts. The one skill that didn't need more points was Dire Wolf, as Pooh already had an ungodly life total approaching 3000. More points there would just be a waste.

The big upgrade in gear from Act I had been that very nice rare Hawk Helm, featuring +1 druid skills. Winnie continued to look for a club with +skills mods on it, without luck so far. I had also made some minor upgrades to his armor, boots, and jewelry with positive overall effects. Tons of Winnie's gear had bonuses to life on them, which made me a happy camper! I'll also point out here that Pooh Bear's damage more than doubled from Act I, despite the addition of only 4 skill points. The damage from the minions scales up in a somewhat exponential factor, with more bonus coming with each additional skill point. (Those who can reach slvl 30+ with twinked or muled gear can end up with astronomical damage totals. I saw a Poison Dagger build posted recently at Realms Beyond that could do 60,000 damage at slvl 43!) Pooh was also doing more than ten times the damage of Amplisa by now, yet my merc companion continued to be a valuable asset simply because of the way she distracted the monster AI, and provided a second non-Winnie target for them to chase after!

First up, the Lut Gholein sewers. The entry floor was almost entirely burning dead archers, where Winnie did his best to hide behind Pooh Bear's bulk and let the fiery arrows slam into his furry companion. There were two bosses, neither particularly difficult, the LEB/Teleportation one being slightly tougher than his Mana Burn/Teleportation partner. While on this floor, I had the chance to try out a suggestion made by one of my readers. I had complained in my section on Normal difficulty about not having access to Dim Vision for ranged targets, and I received an email which pointed out that I *DID*, in fact, have a form of it: the Raven skill! OK, Ravens are inferior to Dim Vision in every conceivable way, but my reader was correct. I had them, so why not use them?

At slvl 1+1, Winnie could summon two of them, who generally achieved nothing much but occasionally would blind an archer who wasn't able to be covered by Pooh, and thus turn out to be actually useful. In the picture above, the two Ravens have blinded the archers at the bottom of the screen, keeping Winnie safe while Pooh tanks some other enemies on the right. With Raven being a fire-and-forget kind of spell, I had another minor addition to Winnie's overall fighting power. Thanks for the suggestion, Craig!

Now those who know me outside of gaming circles are well aware of the fact that I'm a huge sports fan, and particularly so for my beloved Baltimore-area teams: Orioles, Terps, and Ravens. I thus dubbed my two new avian companions Ray-Ray and J.O., after the two greatest football players in Baltimore Ravens history, Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden. These birds had a lot to live up to!

Sewers 2 added melee burning dead skeletons into the mix. Most of the level was pretty tame, but there was one particular intersection where a double boss pack was crammed together: LEB/Aura enchanted melee skeleton with LEB/Spectral Hit archer skeleton. There were arrows and sparks flying all over the place, too many to avoid, and Winnie took a few hits. Pooh really tore up the enemies though, and dished out a tremendous pounding despite getting hit endlessly. Great work, buddy! Sewers 3 is always all about Radamant and his crew, who spawned with Magic Resistant along with his usual Extra Fast. There were quite a lot of critters in his room, and I would say that the battle was lively, but not terribly dangerous on the whole. Winnie kept drawing the minions away to be defeated and eaten with Solar Creeper, and when Rad was down to just a handful of minions left, he moved in for the kill. Highlight of the fight was the two Ravens pecking away at Radament:

No, not the eyes!

Elzix decided to taunt me by offering up a gambled club with +1 druid shapeshifting skills, argh! Well, it's only a matter of time now...

Out in the Rocky Waste, Winnie ran into dung beetles, sand leapers, and huntress melee cats. There was an LEB/Holy Fire aura huntress boss right by the entrance, made difficult mostly by the tiny space with which to work. Winnie made use of a lot of Spirit of Barbs here; the beetles hit hard and have low life, making them (along with vultures) one of the prime candidates in the game for reflected damage. An Extra Fast/Magic Resist beetle boss dropped a druid pelt with +2 to Fissure on it, which I stashed for possible use against Physical Immune enemies. I'd love to turn up an item with +3 Fissure for those situations in Hell... Found an Arctic Horn set war bow late in the area, which might have been nice for Amplisa in Normal but was badly outdated by now. Not that she's using any weapons at all until we get to Hell!

The Stony Tomb served up a horror boss right at the stairs, LEB/CEB, with that buggy cold lightning effect hitting on all the sparks. Winnie was surrounded almost instantly, and I had to run a crazy jagged path to wriggle through to safety, all the while trying to recast Pooh Bear more effectively as the Oak Sage and Solar Creeper met horrible deaths. Winnie took a number of hits and made it through OK, but unfortunately Amplisa was killed before I could portal out to safety. Her first death in Nightmare, phooey! Darned stairs traps in this game, sheesh... Anyway, once I had room to maneuver, this was a fairly simple problem to deal with. Spirit of Barbs and Pooh cleaned up the mob of horrors with ease on the return trip down into the Tomb; the boss was actually taken out in the initial rush, to my surprise. The rest of the first floor was quite easy, all horrors and burning dead mages. The stairs trap caused all the problems.

And then Stony Tomb 2 turned out to be trapped almost as badly! Winnie comes down the stairs and is immediately greeted by a mob of about ten beetles. I cast Pooh Bear into the center of that mess, and then try to circle around it to the south of the screen, up against the wall, only to have more beetles and poison-tossing burning dead mages continue to enter the battle from all angles! I kept Winnie on the move constantly, walking not running, moving around and through the melee of enemies while Pooh Bear and Spirit of Barbs slowly thinned out the crowds. The saving grace was the lack of bosses, and even more importantly, some space with which to maneuver. I tell you, I'm not looking forward to doing these same stair traps with resurrectable minions and unravellers later on though. There were actually two more lively fights, one at the chest and another against Creeping Feature (Extra Strong/CEB/Mana Burn), however neither one was as tough as the initial battle. Mostly because I had room to move around!

Dry Hills had cave leapers, the misnamed spear cats (who actually tossed exploding potions!), and melee saber cats. These foes were generally on the easy side, and Winnie was so relieved to have space to move around that it seemed like a walk in the park by comparison. A pair of Stone Skin saber cat bosses provided the most interesting challenge.

I tried crafting a Caster sharkskin belt, but the result came up as a dud. No resists, and only two mods: 17% faster hit recovery (OK) and chance to cast Frost Nova (utterly useless). Not worth keeping, sorry. Instead, I swapped Winnie over to a normal belt with 15% fire resist and +63 life. That was a trade of 16% cold resistance for 60 life, essentially. I did hold on to the old belt in case I would need that cold resist. Winnie continued to look for a good four-row demonhide sash or sharkskin belt.

There were decayed mummies, spear-tossing cats, and lots of skeleton/hollow one pairings on the first floor of the Halls of the Dead. In other words, good practice for later on in Tal Rasha's Tomb. Naturally the first boss was encountered right after coming down the stairs (CEB/Spectral Hit), and the situation was a bit hairy for a little while until Winnie got it under control. I cleared most of the level, only to run into one of the worst mobs I have ever seen in Nightmare at the back ends of Halls 1:

Winnie opened up a door and was immediately pelted with spears; I raced out of the way and cast Pooh Bear to block the entry. He does that admirably, yet continues to get absolutely pasted by spears. "There must be a lot of spear cats in there," I think to myself. Umm... yeah. Turns out there were two spear cat bosses in there: CEB/Spectral hit and LEB/FEB, plus two hollow ones and their attendant hordes of skeletons, plus a CEB/Extra Strong mummy boss, plus a mummy maker in the back corner of the same room! I can't even tell you how many times I had to recast Pooh, who took an unbelievable pounding and just kept dishing out the damage. Switching between Oak Sage and Spirit of Barbs, Winnie and his minions slowly cleared out first one cat boss, then a hollow one, then the second cat boss, which allowed enough room to enter the chamber and get the second hollow one, deal with the mummy boss, and finally confront the mummy maker to stop its breeding. Whew! Challenges don't get any tougher than this in Nightmare. Winnie did manage to do it without retreating to town and kept his merc alive the whole time, so I would rate this as a very well executed fight tactically. All those skill points from the last act invested in Spirit of Barbs payed off beautifully here!

Halls 2 was filled end to end with more mummies, skeletons, and hollow ones. Oh joy... Nothing quite as tough as the mess on Halls 1, but there was a double hollow one boss pack in one room, Stone Skin/FEB and Cursed/Spectral Hit, immediately followed in the next room by another Cursed/Magic Resistant hollow one boss - sheesh! At least all these foes were good practice and provided some nice experience. I found that it wasn't too hard to get Solar Creeper to clean the corpses, and the hollow ones weren't quite as annoying as the shamans had been in Act I. (Hollow ones will charge to melee range once all their minions are dead, and stop trying to revive them.) The game continued to taunt Winnie by turning up a rare staff with +1 sorcie skills, and Fissure charges on it (of all things). Where is my +skills druid club, dangit!

Halls 3 was ironically the easiest of the three dungeon levels. There was an Extra Strong/Stone Skin hollow one by himself, which was pretty simple. Bloodwitch spawned Extra Strong/Cursed/Spectral Hit, and Winnie made sure to keep a good distance from her. Spirit of Barbs did her in rather fast. The gold chest at the end had... gold. And a magic sabre. Thanks Blizzard, that was totally worth it. Sigh.

Winnie was greeted by itichies, vultures, and beetles in the Far Oasis. There was a very large mob of beetles near the start, which included a Stone Skin/Cursed boss. Winnie and his crew gave ground repeatedly, making use of Spirit of Barbs to reflect damage back at the monsters. This would have been really tough indoors, without the room to maneuver provided by the desert. There were other bosses, none that raised the danger level noticeably though. Kinemil's Awl (unique giant sword) dropped here from a vulture, which sadly was of no use whatsoever.

And then, finally, Winnie found what he had been searching for: he gambled a Shaman's Barbed Club, +1 druid skills!

Another skill point across the board! Another Raven, better Spirits, and a stronger, tougher, meaner Pooh Bear to send into battle. (The third Raven was dubbed Ed, after ballhawking big-play safety Ed Reed.) I retired the Blood Crescent Scimitar into stash for safekeeping, in case I would want it for its resistances. Winnie was sitting pretty at the moment with his 3D shield, yet I knew that he would need to beef up his resists before entering Hell (only in the 30-40% range without the shield). For the moment though, I was simply pleased as punch to finally get a club with +skills on it! Now Winnie could try and upgrade his belt and boots via gambles.

The Ancient Tunnels were right at the entrance of the Far Oasis, so that's where Winnie headed next. They were mostly packed with horror mages, both lightning and poison types. A double boss pack (Spectral Hit/Stone Skin and Cursed/Holy Fire) of mages made things interesting near the treasure chest. The Tunnels are a small area overall, and without stairs traps or unravellers to force the action, Winnie could take his time and do things safely. Not much to report therefore - good for me, bad for you!

All of the enemies in the Lost City seemed to be encountered in a big group, up near the north end of the map. There was a massive swarm of plague bearers (zombies) and marauders there, with Cursed/CEB and Magic Resistant/Stone Skin bosses mixed into the group. Dark Elder was nearby too, although he died so fast that I never saw his extra ability. Guess it was "Extra Dead Enchanted", heh. Most of the level was practically deserted. No potion-tossing cats to cause problems made this area smooth sailing. That is, aside from standing around for ages slowly killing the Fire Towers... (When I say full clears, I MEAN full clears!)

Winnie entered the Claw Viper Temple - only to meet with disaster!

There was a Stone Skin/CEB viper boss with six attending minions literally on top of the stairs, and Winnie was charged and chilled literally before I even knew what was going on. There was no room to establish a front with Pooh Bear, so I sent Winnie running blindly deeper into the entry room... which turned out to be packed with more vipers, plus bone warrior skeletons and three guardians. Eep! Winnie was quickly trapped up against a wall and nearly forced to Save and Exit; I almost didn't make it through the Town Portal I opened up there. Had to gulp a rejuv during this mad run just to stay alive. On re-entering through the front door, Winnie was again swarmed with monsters from the get-go, and I was forced to portal out again, this time on the west side of the entry room. Finally, on the third trip down, there was enough safety to swap from Oak Sage to Spirit of Barbs, down the boss viper, and get around to clearing out the guardians. Yeesh! What a mess this had been. Somehow Amplisa survived it all; don't ask me how. I can only credit Oak Sage for keeping us all alive and intact through this train wreck.

All of the worst situations in this game come from sardine cans or stairs traps. Blizz better not pull this same crap in Diablo 3, I tell you...

I'd like to say that the rest of Viper 1 was routine, but that just wasn't the case! Vipers, mummies, and skeleton/guardians made the level a long and difficult slog, with endless resurrectables on hand to stretch things out. While it was nice to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that Winnie could handle the Tombs at the end of the Act, I really would have preferred to avoid this headache given the choice. Spirit of Barbs really shone on these floors, and Winnie ran it almost continuously from start to finish. Now reflecting almost 300% damage back on the enemies, it was killing vipers all by themselves. I started getting a lot of use swapping back and forth between the two Spirit hotkeys!

Now I always hate having to do Viper 2, mostly because of the lack of room down there. Winnie prepped all his minions as best he could and headed down the stairs. By advancing a few steps at a time, I managed to lure out Fangy and his crew in isolation: extra ability Cold Enchanted.

Not great, could be worse. Fangy and the other vipers are charging around like speed junkies, hitting poor Pooh Bear so fast that he can't even respond, chilled as he was from their CEB-ness. Spirit of Barbs was again the skill that saved the day, as I quickly swapped over to it and watched the snakes beat themselves to death in relatively short order. Winnie nearly ran out of room though from their charge attack knocking Pooh backwards; there were two vipers left when he was pushed up against the stairs, and one of them got in some nasty licks and forced a rejuv drink. But the only other option to do this fight would have been running deeper into the level, and that seemed like a very, very bad idea! If Winnie makes it back here in Hell, he's going to need to have Spirit of Barbs maxed out in skill points. That would be reflecting about 500% damage, and I think I could pull off the same maneuver under those conditions. Hopefully, anyway...

The first floor of the Palace (Harem 2) served up invaders, blunderbores, and cold skeleton mages. The mages were the only real threat there, and Winnie happily watched Pooh Bear smash them into dust with a single hit! With the many doors to hide behind, I would have had to be a fool in order to get Winnie cornered by the melee opponents... which meant it only happened once or twice. Palace 1 kept the blunderbores, and mixed in fire skeleton mages and skeleton archers as the other two types. There had been no bosses in the Harem, but there were quite a few here: Multishot/Mana Burn and FEB/Magic Resistant artillery types. Some rooms were veritable firing squads, a dozen or more arrows and flaming shots thudding into Pooh Bear every second, my trusted companion shrugging them off like nothing as he decimated the enemy ranks. Winnie stayed in the shadow of the big bear and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Oak Sage naturally got a lot of use here.

Palace 2 had poison skeleton mages, invaders, and dune beasts (a type of jungle bunnies, rare to see them in Act II). There was a double boss pack of this last group near the entrance, Spectral Hit/Cursed and LEB/CEB, which Winnie handled using Spirit of Barbs and some judicious caution. Palace 3 showcased blunderbores, jungle bunnies, and lightning skeletal mages. That was all four elemental types of mages, one on each floor - neat! Palace 3 was also legitimately dangerous; there was a CEB/Fanaticism blunderbore boss near the stairs, then later a room absolutely packed full of blunderbores and skeleton mages, including a CEB/Might aura boss:

Fortunately this room was behind a door that Winnie kept nice and closed, but Pooh Bear - oh my! He was absolutely pasted, the reflected damage from Spirit of Barbs wiping out the enemies in turn. Glad Winnie wasn't in there, heh. Fire Eye died so fast I never saw his extra ability.

The Arcane Sanctuary was literally MADE for a summoning druid like Winnie. The narrow platforms, the ability to cast at a distance across gaps... well, it don't get much easier than this, folks! Winnie could put Pooh wherever he wanted, while keeping himself safe from danger without breaking a sweat. Winnie rolled through this area and barely suffered a scratch. The Summoner took three hits - while Weakened; someone please beef this guy up a little in Diablo 3. Found some good stuff in the Arcane Sanctuary too: a Grand Charm with 23% fire resist (almost as good as a socketed Ral rune!) and a Rare light belt with fire and cold resists plus minor life boost. The idea there was to upgrade it to its Exceptional equivalent with the Horadric Cube recipe, creating a fine Sharkskin four-row belt for Winnie. All I needed was a Thul rune to drop, and I'd be set.

The Canyon was totally uneventful. There was one forgettable boss and that was it. Winnie cleared it out in a little over 15 minutes, and then got to treasure hunting in the False Tombs.

Tomb #1 only had two enemy types, but unfortunately those were mummies and unravellers with their burning dead attendants. Although most of this area was straightforward enough, the treasure room had no fewer than NINE unravellers, five normal ones and a champ pack. Every square inch of that room was completely packed with monsters; a sorcie teleporting in there would have died instantaneously. Pooh Bear stood at the door and killed skeletons for a good five straight minutes. Tomb #2 was the extra same monster draw, only with beetles added into the mix. This Tomb kept going and going; hmmm, looks like we have Kaa's hiding place here. After killing endless hordes of beetles, mummies, and burning dead (including TWO unraveller champ packs at different points in time, yeesh!) Winnie finally ran into Kaa in the very last room: Mana Burn/Extra Strong/LEB/Stone Skin. Well, that could have been a whole lot worse, as Stone Skin is a rather tame boss ability. Winnie made sure not to engage until all but a handful of the revivables had been cleared away, and had no undue difficulty. These first two Tombs alone saw Winnie gain nearly an entire level of experience!

Poor Winnie had been cubing rings into amulets for ages, and nearly got what he wanted: one such Cube result produced an amulet with +1 druid shapeshifting skills - again! Argh. Still looking for summoning skills there, or even just plain +druid skills.

Tomb #3 had beetles, apparitions, and burning dead/unravellers. Another tomb full of revivable monsters... umm, yay? Most of this was routine, aside from one room in the back corner that had a CEB/Spectral Hit beetle and a whole mess of unravellers inside. Winnie had the drill down by now, stick Pooh in the doorway and keeping recasting Solar Creeper until everything was dead for good. Tomb #4 had vampires, mummies, and gorebellies - no unravellers! This area took a fraction of the time and effort to complete; worst threat was some champ gorebellies. Tomb #5 was back to more slogging through apparitions, burning dead, and unravellers. At least Winnie found a nice small charm with +15 life in there for his effort. Tomb #6 actually didn't have any unravellers, but what it did have was tons of bosses:

There were at least five of them in there, the worst being a double gorebelly boss (Conviction aura/LEB and Conviction aura/Mana Burn) that nearly pushed Winnie out of the Tomb before I could get the situation under control. I had set up a town portal elsewhere in the Tomb, actually, expecting that I would need to use it when pushed up the stairs - fortunately that wasn't quite needed. Other vampire and apparition bosses made this just as much of a slog as the other areas, argh.

Winnie did find lots of treasure in the Tombs, and made lots of cash hauling all that junk back to town for sale. (I swear, my characters feel like medieval salvage guys half the time!) I had made some upgrades to belt and boots previously, and now turned my attention to Winnie's jewelry. Elzix offered up some pretty decent rings via gambles, and I replaced Winnie's Russet Ring of Sorcery with a rare ring that had 24% lightning resistance, +66 mana, and some other goodies. Other decent rings got saved in stash for situational use. I also used the Prismatic Cube formula, and created an amulet with +19% resist all and 29% magic find. Not too shabby. I decided to focus gambles on amulets for a while, in the hopes of finding one with +druid skills to alternate with Winnie's prismatic amulet as need dictated.

The True Tomb was full of gorebellies, vampires, and beetles. No unravellers, hooray! I powered through there without even taking any pictures, anxious to get the Act over with. Winnie clears out the whole area, heads to the Orifice chambers, and... hmmm... seem to be missing something. Oh yes, time to go back to the Maggot Lair for the Staff. Now I remembered that this place had been a pain for Skulla, with most of his minions unable to get into the battle, but it was exactly the opposite for Winnie. Maggot Lair is a perfect place for the summoning druid to fight, as simple as walking behind Pooh Bear while the grizzly killed each maggot, beetle, or itchie cloud in one-on-one encounters. Coldworm had a Holy Fire aura as the extra ability, so you can guess how not dangerous that was.

Time for Duriel! Winnie put on all his gear with additional life, taking him up to 910 health without Oak Sage. (Yeah, you guessed it: Spirit of Barbs is the mantra for this encounter.) Let's get it on!

Duriel surprised me by his complete inability to pose any kind of threat whatsoever. He needed something like a dozen hits to kill Pooh, and that was so long that I had all the time in the world to resummon my grizzly pal. Spirit of Barbs was now slvl 13+2, reflecting back 330% damage, and Duriel knocked himself out in no time at all. Winnie drank one mana potion, and Amplisa wasn't even scratched. Ha! On to Act III.