Winnie Part Eight: A Tough Slog

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

Base Stats
Str 53 [65]
Dex 20 [23]
Vit 277
Nrg 70 [75]

Summon Spirit Wolf @11+4
Summon Dire Wolf @10+4
Summon Grizzly @18+4
Oak Sage @14+4
Spirit of Barbs @16+4
Raven, Poison Creeper, Carrion Vine, Solar Creeper, Spirit of Wolverine @1+4

Shaman's Barbed Club: +1 druid skills
Coral Hard Leather Armor of the Squid: +78 life, 29% lightning resist
Large Shield, 3 Perfect Diamonds: 58% resist all
Rare Antlers: +2 druid skills, +5 energy, +6 life, 9% lightning resist, 30% fire resist (socketed Ral rune)
Bloodfist (unique Heavy Gloves): 10% IAS, 30% faster hit recovery, +5 min damage, +40 life
Natayla's Soul set boots: 40% faster run, 16% heal stamina drain, 15% cold resist, 20% lightning resist
Rare Demonhide Sash: 17% faster hit recovery, +31 life, 23% cold resist, 17% poison resist
Rare Ring: 24% lightning resist, +66 mana, 6% magic find
Cobalt Ring of the Fox: 27% cold resist, +10 life
Rare Amulet: +1 druid skills, 11% resist all, +12 strength, +2 dexterity, +6 mana, 4% life steal

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

Amplisa Equipment
Blade Bow of Evisceration: 21-84 damage
Rare Short War Bow: 9-17 damage, +111 AR, 1-100 lightning damage, 100 poison damage over 6 sec, 10-14 cold damage
Ocher Ancient Armor of the Mammoth: 218 def, +36 life, 20% lightning resist
Tal Rasha's Horadric Crest (set death mask): 125 def, 10% life steal, 10% mana steal, +60 life, +30 mana, 15% resist all

Pooh Bear Damage: 1139-1239 (1189 avg)
Amplisa Damage: 121-298 (209.5 avg) or 200-350 (275 avg)

Before even beginning the Act, I went back to Normal and used the socket quest Winnie had saved there to add a Ral rune to his helmet. This brought Winnie's fire resist from a questionable 35% up to a healthy 65%. I wasn't certain whether or not that druid pelt would be a keeper item, but it looked likely that I'd be using it for a while in any case, so why not go ahead and use the socket quest? It would be foolish to die in Hell without using the resources available! Winnie actually had an excess of cold and lightning resist, so I planned to do some swapping of gear around to gain additional fire and poison resistance (along with maybe additional life boosts) at the cost of cold and lightning resist. His gear that could most stand in need of improvement now was his armor and rings. Of course, I still continued to gamble nothing but clubs, hoping to turn up that rare club with +3 druid summoning skills, Winnie's ultimate weapon.

Amplisa had a choice of two different bows, one that did "normal" damage and an elemental one that contained strong lightning, poison, and cold damage. Along with her natural Fire Arrows, that gave Amplisa quad-elemental damage potential, perfect for any Physical Immunes that might turn up! Baal had left me a nice parting gift at the end of Nighhtmare. I decided to go with the elemental bow first and see how it fared. Her helmet was the very nice Tal Rasha's set item, her armor a standard ancient armor I bought in Act V Nightmare in preparation for Hell. Good defense, life boost, and lightning resist made it a starter item until Winnie turned up something better. Hopefully some awesome ethereal stuff will show up...

The Blood Moor is the easiest area in the game, without question. It thus makes for a nice welcome into Hell difficulty: if your character runs into problems here (as Rogue Revival did, for example) then God help you when you come across the genuinely difficult areas. Fortunately, I found that Winnie was able to do the first area with flying colors. The monsters definitely took longer to kill, due to juiced up life and global physical resistance, but they were by no means overly difficult. Mostly everything just took... longer. I was extremely pleased to note that the addition of a real bow meant that Amplisa was now doing non-trivial damage. Her poison damage had the biggest impact, simply because any enemy tagged with the green glow was not regenerating life in the interim.

The other thing you notice about Hell is just how many bosses are crammed everywhere. The Blood Moor only had three bosses actually, but along with them were another three champ packs, and yes, this is a very small area! The first boss Winnie fought in Hell was an Extra Fast/Teleportation/Mana Burn fallen. I was sure that there would be many hundreds more like him in the upcoming days.

The Den of Evil mixes things up a bit by adding fallen shamans into the mix. Winnie had already practiced these kind of opponents with the carver shamans in Act V Nightmare, and dealt with them without any real issues. The fallens here were actually much slower than those carvers had been (all of the guest monsters in Act V basically spawn with "Extra Fast" as a hidden modifier). The end of the Den had a surprise, however: Corpsefire appeared as Spectral Hit/Magic Resistant/Stone Skin, creating a Physical Immunity (PI)!

Winnie thinned out the sizable zombie mob by running Spirit of Barbs until they were all dead, and then it was time to hit the boss with a Prevent Monster Heal (PMH) javelin and watch Amplisa slowly wear away his health. I tried to have Winnie melee Corpsefire with a club that had 1-100 lightning damage on it, but this created way too much danger for minimal gain, and I quickly stopped that. After several minutes of standing around, Amplisa got the job done. Urgh, I am not looking forward to dealing with PI enemies in this variant. Winnie is just going to have to muddle on through as best he can with these low-damage options, and maybe have to reroll some maps if he gets an impossible monster draw full of Physical immunities. Without Amplisa, it would pretty much be impossible.

Winnie waved hi to Flavie and entered the Cold Plains with the rest of his entourage. Shortly after entering, Winnie sees a bright yellow glow surrounding a LARGE mob of dark hunters. That's a Might aura - clear out of there!

The rogue boss was Magic Resistant/Spectral Hit/Might aura, and she and her cronies did a scary amount of damage to Pooh Bear. Of course they killed themselves in seconds once Winnie had Spirit of Barbs up and running, which was actually after they had killed off the Oak Sage spirit! Scary situation for a second until I got it under control. There was also an Extra Strong/Multishot/LEB shaman that created quite a stir for a moment; Pooh Bear hit him a couple of times, and an explosion of white death erupted out on all sides! Good thing Winnie had kept his distance there. I used the tried-and-true method of luring away the many, many fallens away from their camp for safe disposal, which was good because there turned out to be another rogue boss in there along with all the shamans! Bishibosh was Magic Resistant/FEB/Multishot/Mana Burn, and was killed quite easily once all of his attendants were stripped away. Slow, patient, tactical play is the way to handle this area. In other words, the antithesis of how the BNet masses used to do things, heh.

The Caves quickly provided a reminder of why only the bold need venture into Hell difficulty. Shortly after clearing out the entrance, Winnie ran afoul of a Cursed/Extra Fast/Multishot archer, fortunately around a corner. Pooh Bear took quite a beating here, while managing to corner the boss against a wall and kill her in textbook fashion. Then before the minions of that boss had been cleaned up, a Stone Sking/FEB/Mana Burn skeleton boss and his crew wandered into the battle from the north. This guy had tons of Physical resistance, to the point where Pooh was barely doing any damage at all. I had to wear this boss and his minions down while dealing with constant sniping from the previous boss' archers in the background - fun stuff! I only mean that half-sarcastically; while this is dangerous work, I really do get a blast out of the challenge.

That means I must have enjoyed this next fight: double archer boss pack, FEB/Cursed/Holy Freeze aura combined with LEB/Spectral Hit/Multishot. Three letters: OMG.

This is about as bad as it gets, folks. I was able to get Pooh to tie up the first archer mob, although he was of course slowed by the Holy Freeze aura. Meanwhile, the second Multishot, LEB-spitting archer was hiding out at the north corner of the screen, just plugging Pooh unmercifully with her quintuple arrow shots. Even with 3000+ life and Oak Sage support, Pooh Bear was dying in seconds. Well, Pooh slowly killed the first boss, which allowed me to go to town and clear the curse, then pull hit and run tactics to divide the second archer mob and eventually slay the boss. Yeesh! This was getting ridiculous, and I hadn't even run into Coldcrow yet!

Winnie had to kill yet another archer boss (Magic Resistant/Cursed/CEB) before even reaching Coldcrow. She came up CEB/Multishot/Magic Resistant, so yet ANOTHER Multishot archer boss in the same area. Good grief!

However, I fought what was probably my best tactical battle yet with Winnie, summoning Pooh Bear over and over again to divide the minions apart and pick them off one by one until only Coldcrow herself was left. Even two zombies running interference weren't enough to mess up the overall battle plan, which went off almost perfectly. And finally, that meant that Caves 1 was cleared out! Still Caves 2 to go, heh.

The second floor was, well, not nearly as bad. There was a skeleton boss near the stairs, and I never actually saw his abilities, as I was juggling keeping the boss distracted with Pooh Bear while coping with a group of fallens on the other side of the screen. Nothing too dangerous, fortunately. The main fight took place on the southeast side of the floor (above), where there is always a narrow passage that leads to the gold chest. There was a CEB/Mana Burn/Teleportation archer boss down there, along with about five fallen shamans, and Winnie dueled with that group for about three minutes until the boss and all of the resurrectables had been slain. The rest of the level was a piece of cake, even though there were two more bosses in there. Just about anything looked easy next to endless hordes of Multishot archer bosses!

That seemed like a good place to take a break at the end of the first session in Hell. More than two hours to do the Moor, Den, Cold Plains, and Caves, heh. Winnie was alive though, so I shouldn't be complaining.

Starting a new session, Winnie headed to deal with Blood Raven. After clearing the surrounding courtyard, he went into the Burial Grounds and prepared to face a small army of zombies. And that's exactly what he got! There were simply too many of them to try and kill Blood Raven - way too dangerous, especially with the way she runs around constantly. Fortunately there is a limit to how many she will raise from the graves, as I had found out earlier with the Rogue Revival team. Winnie's only hope was to run Spirit of Barbs and wait for Pooh Bear to destroy all of the walking dead. There were so many zombies that they completely surrounded Pooh, and then spilled off to the sides to chase Winnie himself. I spent a lot of time running Winnie in circles around the gravestones, his extra fast foot speed easily enough to stay ahead of them. Eventually, after a good 10 minutes of waiting, all of the zombies were gone and Winnie was free to target Blood Raven herself. I was treated once again to the humorous sight of watching a bear chase a funky-colored wench around a cemetary, heh. All told, this is a pretty tough encounter in Hell. Blood Raven herself may be feeble, but two dozen zombies are a genuine threat for most any character.

The Crypt and Mausoleum are always full of skeletons and zombies, and are thus some of the easiest parts of Act I. No archers = much smoother sailing. There were a couple of bosses in the Crypt, and one of the zombies popped up Stone Skin/CEB/Extra Fast, creating a Physical Immunity. Amplisa slowly wore him down in complete safety while Pooh Bear tanked at the doorway. I even ran some Spirit of Wolverine to increase her damage from the Fire Arrows. Bonebreaker spawned Extra Strong/Magic Resistant/Spectral Hit/Mana Burn, which wasn't one of his tougher combinations. He died pretty tamely. A really nice unique item dropped here: the Occulus, unique swirling crystal, which has +3 sorcie skill levels, 20% faster cast, 20% resist all, and other goodies. But as a sorceress-unique item, it was even more useless than usual! I had no choice but to sell it, as Winnie could never even equip such a weapon.

The Mausoleum was pretty quiet, at least up until the very end. Then Winnie was hit with a triple boss pack of skeletons, ALL of which were Extra Fast! The trio was CEB/LEB/Extra Fast, Extra Fast/Mana Burn/Holy Freeze aura, and Mana Burn/Blessed Aim aura/Extra Fast. All of their minions were clumped together into one giant mob of speeding skeletons, and Winnie was dealing with a howling, frenzied crowd that was simultaneously Extra Fast, Blessed Aim, and Holy Freeze enchanted, with the buggy "cold lightning" sparks flying around all the while. It was a huge mess, to put it bluntly, and if the enemies had been something more dangerous than skeletons, Winnie probably would have died. Despite my diligence with refreshing Pooh Bear and Spirit of Barbs, at one point the front line totally collapsed and Winnie took a nasty hit; I saved him from certain death by drinking two rejuvs and racing the hell out of there. Winnie made a second stand behind a doorwar and managed to down the rest of the mob from there. What a nightmare, yeesh! That's as bad as it ever gets in the Mausoleum. As if to compensate, two uniques dropped in there: Rakescar (unique war axe) and Soul Harvest (unique scythe). Sadly, these melee weapons were utterly useless as well.

Skeletons, zombies, and crows were the default inhabitants of the Stony Field, but there were also fallen, carvers, and their shamans thrown in here at their camps, so this location had a wide variety in terms of the monster draw. The random inhabitants of the level were fairly tame, with a few Cursed, Extra Strong, and LEB bosses. Nothing special though, just the usual dangers you see everywhere in Hell. Rakanishu proved to be the main threat in the Stony Field:

I never saw his abilities, because I couldn't highlight him in the heat of the fight. I know that he spawned with a Might aura in addition to his always-present Extra Fast/LEB attributes, and that meant a tense, dangerous fight. Winnie took a few hits despite my best efforts. The large, open spaces of the outdoors was the one factor that made this battle palatable.

Underground Passage 1 really wasn't too bad. The enemies were mostly carvers and corrupted rogues, with a handful of skeleton archers thrown in. Unlike the Caves and the endless array of Multishot archer wenches down there, Winnie only ran into a single skeleton archer boss, who was CEB/Stone Skin/Mana Burn and thus not really threatening. Clearing out the fallen camp inside involved the only real work... at least, until Winnie had to descend to the second floor. There are always two fallen shamans and their attendants right at the entryway on this level, and I based my tactics around that. Just as in Nightmare, I immediately cut Winnie to the right upon entering Underground 2, summoning Pooh Bear next to one of the shamans and then ran in circles until it was dead. Then I raced back to the left and downed the second shaman, whose fallen attendants had all moved over to the other side and left him alone. Winnie unavoidably took a lot of hits in the process, and I simply relied on Oak Sage and drinking several red potions to get through this. It went off like a charm, but the danger level was quite high, and I could have been killed if I screwed up. Had to be done though - I could not fight endlessly reviving fallens in a sardine can with no retreat room! The rest of the level was no big deal, once I had space for Winnie to fight and move around. Half of the "terrible twos" (Caves/UP/Hole/Pit 2) were now over.

Upon emerging into the Dark Wood, Winnie found that the waypoint and Tree were immediately on top of the Underground Passage entrance. Like, all three of them were literally on top of one another, and Winnie faced Treehead (Extra Strong/Extra Fast/Teleportation/Mana Burn) and his mob before he fought any carvers at all! The lack of space for this fight made it enormously more difficult, even with a friendly draw on Treehead's extra abilities. Carvers and enemy rogues wandered into the battle to confuse things further, and in circling around Pooh Bear Amplisa was targeted by the boss and got herself killed for the first time in Hell. Winnie managed the rest of the encounter without difficulty, returned to town to revive his companion, and then headed off to Tristram. I wanted to get the quest out of the way before doing anything else, now that I had the scroll, the Dark Wood waypoint, and a clear path to the cairn stones.

Tristram is always packed with monsters, and this time was no exception. Winnie counted five different bosses and two champ packs; Amplisa somehow managed to die a second time in mere minutes when she simply refused to flee when attacked by a champ pack of goats. I don't know what my girl was thinking there, she's usually much smarter about stuff like that... Well anyway, the bosses were mostly an afterthought, until Winnie reached the west side of the town, where Griswold appeared along with another goat boss, BOTH of them popping up Physical Immune!

The goat boss was Stone Skin/Magic Resistant/Extra Fast, and Winnie had to take on the duo along with a decent-sized collection of carvers, goats, and skeleton archers. Eventually Winnie thinned out their ranks using Pooh Bear (and wow, that was a chore, dancing around two practically invincible bosses while slaying all of their minions!) and got to work on Storm Widow. Pooh was able to post up against both bosses simultaneously, and after several long minutes Amplisa downed the first opponent. Then we started in on Griswold (Cursed/Stone Skin/Teleportation), and it quickly became apparent that he was going to take ages to kill. I resolutely held to my full-clear oath and stuck it out, since the danger level was non-existent once Pooh Bear had Griswold locked up, but all that proved was that I had plenty of time on hand. I counted: it took 35 minutes to kill Griswold. Thank goodness I had a baseball game on in the background to listen to!

When Gris got low on life, he started teleporting around like crazy; it looks like the old "Heal-a-portation" AI routine was never changed, heh. Anyway, eventually the bastard died and I was able to continue on with Winnie's quest. Akara's reward ring was an insult that was best forgotten immediately.

The Dark Wood was one long, tough slog. It was full of carvers from one end to the other, all of which had to have their corpses cleaned up with Carrion Vine or Solar Creeper. And because these skills don't discriminate when it comes to bodies, that meant all of the dark spearwomen and razor spines had their bodies eaten as well, taking up tons of time and effort. There was a Might aura rogue boss (along with Stone Skin/Extra Fast) and another one that had Fanaticism for its aura, however no individual fight rose to the level of true danger. It was rather a lengthy running battle that slowly sapped my stamina as a player. Needless to say, I was glad when this area ended.

While gambling in town, Winnie turned up a Hierophant's Spiked Club: +2 druid skills, yay!

Still hoping for the +3 druid summoning weapon, but this meant another point in everything, and a total of +5 overall. Pooh Bear was now at slvl 25, doing more than 1500 damage per swing. Very nice.

The Black Marsh was a reprise of the Dark Wood, packed with endless hordes of carvers. Doing these areas back to back was an incredible slog. Ugh. Unlike the Dark Wood, the Marsh served up lots of champ packs instead of normal bosses: champ carver shamans, champ returned skeletons, and champ night clan goats. With no ranged threats here, and all of the melee foes relatively slow, this wasn't an overly tough area. Just... tedious. Bloodfist dropped here again, despite the fact that Winnie was wearing it at the time! That would have been impossible in Classic D2, but the rules are different in the expansion.

The Marsh may have gone smoothly, however Winnie was now faced with two very dangerous optional subdungeons: the Hole and the Forgotten Tower. I opted to tackle the Hole first, fearing the dreaded Tower quest and the Physical Immune ghosts that would likely be dwelling within. The Hole proved itself to be as dangerous as expected, as Winnie was immediately confronted with an LEB/Mana Burn/FEB brute boss upon coming down the stairs:

I circled the stairs to highlight them. Thankfully this guy was slow, but Winnie still had a tough time dancing with his entourage in a sardine can, trying not to wake up any more monsters. That effort failed, as a group of misshapen wandering into the picture and started spitting lightning at Winnie - oh, for more minions to deal with flanking threats! I ended up running Winnie further into the level blindly (knowing that the entrance to the Hole always has the same layout), portaling out in the corner of the entryway, and then returning via waypoint to the stairs where the boss was downed in isolation. Then I could clean up the rest of the minions and finally clear enough retreat room to make a proper go of the area. Whew, that could have been a lot worse with more dangerous boss abilities... Next up was an Extra Strong/Cursed/Teleportation misshapen boss, then a Magic Resistant/Teleportation/LEB misshapen boss, and so on. There was even a CEB/Teleportation/Extra Strong lightning-shooting boss INSIDE the carver camp, which necessitated even more retreating than usual. Amplisa got killed at one point, and the whole area was one tense fight after another. I would most definitely skip this place if I wasn't full clearing.

Hole 2 is the easiest of the four "terrible twos" in Act I, as it never serves up a stairs trap and has a defensive layout. Winnie found two bosses down there, however both of them were carvers, and that didn't make for very difficult fighting. While I was unbelievably sick of carvers by now, this was an easy area to clear out.

The Forgotten Tower has a well-deserved reputation as one of the worst deathtraps in the game, five floors of stairs traps and sardine cans full of one nasty boss after another. I had Oak Sage and 2300 life as an insurance policy, but I was still greatly worried for Winnie, especially at the possibility for a floor full of Physical Immune opponents. Oh boy, here we go. Tower 1 was pleasantly non-trapped, and full mostly of devilkin (without accompanying shamans, who don't appear until the Barracks). There were two bosses of note, a Holy Freeze/Extra Fast/Stone Skin devilkin - who was MUCH faster than Winnie! - and a Magic Resistant/Spectral Hit/LEB goat. The bright red of those blood clan goats always freaks me out; I've seen them kill way too many characters before, both in Multiplayer and Hardcore.

Tower 2, however, threw Winnie to the wolves: not only were Physical Immune ghosts present, there was a ghost boss present in the very first room down from the stairs!

This boss was Teleportation/LEB/Magic Resistant, and the accompanying minions were very bad news indeed. I raced Winnie blindly into a side room, hoping to divide up the enemies by moving through the narrow doorways, and this was partially successful. I managed to kill two minions this way before the boss showed up, and then started wearing him down slowly with a combination of PMH javelins and Amplisa's steady arrow barrage. I was pleasantly surprised by how well she worked here; the elemental damage was minor, and yet with PMH help it was definitely enough to down these Physical Immune foes. Halfway through the boss' life, a series of archer wenches started spilling into the fight, creating another crisis. I portaled out of the room, returned down the stairs, and lured the boss away for disposal in the initial room, then returned to kill the corrupted rogue archers. I thought I was out of the woods, and then three rooms later there was ANOTHER ghost boss, Magic Resistant/Extra Fast/LEB - urk!

Talk about baptism by fire, getting multiple LEB ghost bosses out of the gate here. Eventually, this one too was defeated, the fight made easier by having some retreat room to work with. Whew! That was a pretty bad situation, and Winnie managed to get through it... somehow. At least now I knew that Winnie could, in fact, handle Physical Immune foes with Amplisa's help. This was a major relief.

Down to Tower 3, and here comes the stairs trap!

At least a dozen devilkin, including four champs, plus a scattering of enemy rogue archers. Thank goodness there were no ghosts here (who were present on the floor), but this was pretty bad nonetheless. I ran Winnie in circles as best I could, taking hits nonstop, with total chaos reigning and it being completely impossible to establish any kind of front line. Pooh Bear was taking out some of the shrimps, but it was so hard to keep a handle on what was going on! Winnie was cornered against the wall at one point, and I had to drink two rejuvs before Pooh Bear could break him free by killing one of the devilkin. I had to portal out to avoid being trapped a second time, and finally got control of the situation on the return. What a mess. At least the rest of the level was tame by comparison. I swear, doing these floors is taking years off my life!

Tower 4 fortunately did not have a trap at the stairs. What it did have, however, was another Physical Immune ghost boss in the very next room, Extra Strong/Teleportation/CEB. By now, this was almost becoming old hat, and yet the Teleportation caused some problems when the boss neared death, as he refused to stay in one place for easy disposal. Winnie penetrated further into the floor, and found himself faced with a DOUBLE ghost boss pack: Extra Strong/FEB/Magic Resistant along with Blessed Aim aura/Extra Fast/Extra Strong. Oh, come on!

I arrowed the Blessed Aim aura from the second boss. That was way too many ghosts to take on at once, so I had Winnie retreat back a couple of rooms to string out the minions. I defeated the first boss along with about four of his minions, then killed several minions in isolation, downed the second boss with three attendants, and finally the last few minions who had never retreated. That made three ghost bosses on this floor, and no less than FIVE of them in total, as many as all of the other bosses together. I had ended up with a Tower full of Physical Immunes, end to end!

Tower 5 had two blood clan goats right at the steps, which wasn't bad as stairs traps go. This small level was packed with a mixture of foes from throughout the rest of the tower: more ghosts, a group of goat champs, and rogue archers scattered throughout the area. The most dangerous threat was a Might aura goat boss just to the left of Countess' chamber. She had a very large attending mob, which stupidly chased Winnie out of the central room for easy disposal with Pooh Bear and Spirit of Barbs (pictured above). The Countess herself was FEB/Holy Freeze aura/Spectral Hit, and proved quite easy after the terrible struggle to get there.

Thus ended one of the most useless quests in the game. What a rough dungeon. The game pulled out every stop: ridiculous stairs traps, physical immunity out the wazoo, double and even triple boss packs... and Winnie beat them all! It had been an immense struggle, but Winnie's journey would continue on to the second half of Act I.