Self-Sufficiency: How I Became a DDO Recluse
Oh, I remember back in the early days of DDO. PUGs filled with decent, hard-working player characters, willing to pitch in and work as a team. People would always fill to 6, because even if you picked up a horrible player, there wasn’t any way for them to make things *worse* than with fewer players. I would join LFMs, and be happy to lead a party through the entire Sorrowdusk chain, helping newbies and giving them twink loot. I had a guild filled with laid back folks, and we’d happily get together for a raid and a drink (often at the same time).
Then, I went and started having kids! My first was born around Module 6. Alas! My DDO days were numbered. Having to drop group at a moment’s notice, I was relegated to wilderness areas and occasional groups when I was home alone. I dropped out of DDO, and went and tried some other MMOs that were solo-accessible (AoC, Tabula Rasa). But, it just wasn’t the same.
But over time, DDO started making concessions to me and my lifestyle. Come back, they said – here’s a hireling to help you. Don’t want to run with a full party? No problem – we’ll balance the dungeons automagically to your party size.
So, over the course of two years, I went from “out of DDO” back to “in full swing”. Yeah, I still PUG when I can – when I know I’m not going to have to drop for a sudden kid-mergency. When I’m “on kid-call”, I solo. Heck, I even started a guild built around this lifestyle restriction, the Brotherhood of BYOH. We have other folks in the same boat: parents, people on-call for work, and generally people who might have to disappear, but don’t want to wait for the 1-hour a week that they can PUG to develop their characters.
Now, it wasn’t a completely painless transition. Some of my characters, built to fulfill specific party-roles, had to be re-tooled. Some were outright deleted to be replaced with better builds for self-sufficiency. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, and I’m here to share them, to try to help other people who, for one reason or another, want to make sure they’ve got good self-sufficient capability.
Why am I bothering posting this here? Almost all of the build advice on these forums is oriented toward raiding/end-game. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s some portion of the DDO population that spends a lot more time short-manning level 1-20 non-raid content, for a variety of reasons. I want to pass on whatever I can of my own lessons learned.
And, of course, if this thread intrigues you, you’ll also want to check out our guild over on Thelanis, the Brotherhood of BYOH. /plug
What is Self-Sufficiency?
Let’s start out by better defining what we’re looking for. By what criteria do we measure self-sufficiency? Is it solo-ability? Unfortunately, this alone isn’t a great criteria – by using enough expendable resources, any class can solo. For someone who’s going to need to spend a lot of their time soloing, it’s not viable to always get by using expendable resources. In fact, if you’re not making more gold from running a quest than you’ve spent in potions, wands, and scrolls, then you’re not sustainably self-sufficient.
For my purposes, I decided to ask two questions:
1. Can the character run quests “at a profit” without other players? If yes, they can be considered sustainably self-sufficient.
2. If they are self-sufficient, *how much* are they spending on each quest? Are they using no resources, or are they just barely squeaking by without taking a loss? The less they’re spending in purchasable consumables, the more self-sufficient we’ll call them. A battle-cleric using no potions, for example, is *more* self-sufficient than a barbarian drinking a stack of potions.
Do any builds fail check #1? Probably not, once you realize that Hirelings Are Cheap, especially now that they can last for 2-4 quests per purchase. If you can do damage, it’s tough to find a quest where the at-level cleric or bard hireling won’t provide sufficient healing to cover you. There are exceptions, of course. Sins, for example, features enemies who Cleave *and* who aggro on healers – it’s tough to keep a hireling alive in here unless you can use intimidate to pull mobs off of him. If you start looking at end-game quests on Elite, it may be hard for a hireling to keep up with the rate of damage unless you’ve also got good defenses. But, for most of the game, even a 0-AC barbarian can maintain a self-sufficent profile by investing in hirelings for cheap healing.
You may have noticed the emphasis on “if you can do damage”. Ironically, a build that’s a “support” build can be the least self-sufficent! If you can self-heal but only do marginal damage, you’re simply going to run out your spell point bar. Sure, you can experiment with melee hirelings, but they can be much more difficult to manage, and don’t really have the same DPS profile as a well-run player character.
A slightly different question is, “Can you bring your own healing (BYOH)?” When running with a BYOH PUG, you won’t be able to count on using a hireling. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that someone will spend the majority of their time in BYOH PUGs, so sustainability isn’t as important; spending more than you get back is acceptable. Wand healing is the most economical option, here – Heal/Reconstruct scrolls and Silver Flame pots are better for time-sensitive healing, though. Since anyone can (eventually) get access to Silver Flame pots, anyone can BYOH. The important distinction to draw, here: self-sufficiency, as I’ve laid it out, is a measurable of a build. BYOH is simply a in-game exercise in being prepared.
Finally, self-sufficient =/= soloing. For many, the act of soloing excludes the notion of using hirelings. This is a fine achievement, and adds a level of challenge not present when relying on hirelings. In this regard, “soloing” falls in the same category as “permadeath”. It’s a worth accomplishment, and worthy of being a build goal. However, “can solo” is a different build goal than “can be sustainably self-sufficient”. One’s about bragging rights, and the other’s about being able to play the game even when you can’t group up for RL reasons.
So, to recap, we’ve got three terms that are similar, but distinct: self-sufficient, BYOH, and solo. My focus is on being self-sufficient, with solo-ability being a nice-to-have side benefit.
Building for Self-Sufficiency
What’s important for maintaining self-sufficiency? What’s nice-to-have? What doesn’t matter? Some things are more valuable when trying to be self-sufficient than when with a party. Some things are less important. Many of the builds and posts on these forums assume you are building for Raiding and Epics. Folks who are trying to run alone aren’t often doing the raids at all! As such , there are some areas where you need to go against “conventional wisdom” when building for self-sufficiency. Conventional wisdom is mostly making Raid/Epic targeted builds. I’ll note how the importance of each of the following areas compares to building for Raids/Epics. Personally, I tend to take a lot more about the level-up process than the “end-game” process.
Damage-Dealing Push. As I mentioned above, capacity to deal good damage is a very important factor. Specifically, you need to worry about bosses with self-healing or regeneration capacity. Without sufficient DPS, you’ll simply get into stalemates with these guys, as their self-healing or regeneration is tuned to a 4-6 person party, and doesn’t scale. This can also be a problem for arcanes relying on spell damage; in some cases, Wall of Fire is going to fall short, and other options may empty your spell bar before the boss is dead. Of course, in more general cases, dead guys don’t shoot back. The faster you can kill guys, the less you’ll expend in healing resources.
Self-Healing Up. Being able to self-heal without expending resources isn’t a must, but it is *very* nice to have. Simply put, the amount of SP pots a self-healing caster is likely to need is dwarfed by the expense of Wands/Scroll/Pots needed by someone with no other options.
Saving Throws Up. Saving throws in general, and will save in particular, become much more important when trying to be self-sufficient than they are in a full party. As you get toward end-game, you’re often provided buffs that protect you from any nasty will-save effects. Not so if you’re on your own! Builds with poor saving throws are much more likely to struggle, especially in Hard/Elite content when alone.
AC Up. Unlike end-game raiding and Epic content, where AC doesn’t really matter much anymore, it definitely does for self-sufficiency. There is a difference between running around Shavarath difficulty-scaled content with a 55-60 AC and a 10 AC.
Evasion Up. If you’re primarily attempting content on Normal only, Evasion may not come into play. However, it becomes critical as you start running on Hard/Elite. Traps become more damaging, but more importantly, Elite casters are more likely to be spewing evadable spells, and in some spots that can really add up fast,
Hit Points Down. ...up to a point. When talking about Raid-tanking, people talk about 550-600 hit points as a target for a tank. Running non-raid content on your own, that kind of total isn’t as necessary. 400 hit points in Shavarath is often more than enough for a melee, at least up through Normal. On the other hand, the minimum requirements on the low end of the spectrum raise quite a bit. For example, an arcane can skate through raids with 200 hit points and not be noticed. When trying to go it alone, it’s a much more glaring deficiency! So really, hit points are less important for classes that tend to have them to begin with, but more important for classes that don’t!
Spell Points Push. If you’re on a build with *no* melee capability to speak of, having enough spell points to make it between shrines will be your main challenge. (For this reason, Arcane builds with some melee capability are often more self-sufficient than pure Arcanes, since they can kill some mobs at a 0-SP cost.) If you’re trying to build a self-sufficient arcane, its important to have a good plan around this. Strongly consider Archmage for the combination of additional spell points and low cost spell-like abilities. Archmage Chain Missles is a better return-on-investment than Wall of Fire, even.
Sneak Attack Down. Becomes useless unless you’ve got a plan to trigger it on red-names, which falls to one of two things: Unbalancing Strike, or Sleet Storm. Stunning Blow/Fist works on trash, of course – but you’ve got the trash covered easily anyway, right? On your own, the main thing you need to worry about covering is the red-name.
DR Up. Damage is scaled down according to dungeon scaling, and DR's value scales exponentially (technically hyperbolically) as damage scales down. Get DR 5! The Necropolis trinket is easy to get, if you can't get it any other way.
Favored Enemies Up. For people running into Epics, bonuses like KotC's EO damage or two ranger FE's for a ranger 6 splash are of marginal value. For folks who aren't ever running epics, favoring Evil Outsiders can be a big plus for late levels.
There are only a few pieces of equipment that I'd consider "must haves" for extensive solo play and self-sufficiency.
Visor of the Flesh Render Guards - a must for anyone who can't cast death ward
Kaelth's Touch - a must for anyone without inherent DR
Heavy Fort item - but this isn't specific to soloing, of course!
There are plenty of other nice-to-haves -- SP clickies, Torc and/or Concordant Opp item if you're a caster, the best stat items you can get at each level, etc. However, the three items above are easily obtainable as a mostly-solo player, and each make a big difference.
On a personal note, I’ve spent time (and more than a few LR’s) over the past year gradually transforming my roster of characters to be more self-sufficient, and I’ve also rolled up various new guys with the same principles in mind. Here’s my list of “build migrations” and new builds that I have in rotation, with commentary as needed. I’ve got some of these builds up on the forums already, and will link to my own/others builds where they exist. I’ll be trying to fill in the three missing ones of my own over the next few weeks. (Figure that making this post will motivate me to finally post some of the rest of them!)
Crater – WF Stalwart 12/KotC 6/Rogue 2 (build post in progress)
My only capped character, Crater has changed very radically from his initial roll until now. Back in the day, when the level cap was 10, Crater was a Heavy Armor/Evasion S&B Tank. He’s been through multiple re-definitions along the way, as the game has changed around him, and as I was running him with fewer and fewer party members. Believe it or not, back at launch, you could get to hit-on-a-20 AC just by building for it, without worrying about grinding for rare pieces of loot! (Of course, we could only have 4 enhancements back then, and I had to spend them to get WF immunities – the devs giveth, and the devs taketh away.) Crater’s plan was always as an off-tank: be able to dish decent damage, but to be able to intimitank when things went south, and to play “carry everyone back to the shrine” afterwards. With a decent UMD score, he was always able to heal/resist/etc himself if the rest of the party went down. Back at launch, this was a good strategy!
Things changed! Getting tank-AC became harder and harder, requiring grinding for rare drops. (I think the Chattering Ring was one of the worst pieces of loot ever introduced to the game, grumble.) Meanwhile, I was running with groups less and less with Crater. It was time to re-cast Crater as a “balanced” melee. Rather than top DPS, or top Defense, he tries to strike a balance with “very good” in both departments. These days, he rarely breaks out his tower shield, and instead relies on an off-hand Icy/Pure Good/Bodyfeeder as a compromise between DPS and Defense. While he doesn’t do all the damage of a pure DPS build, he manages about 80-85% of that rate with PA on when he’s actually raiding with a group. While alone, I’ll most commonly run in TWF, sometimes with PA and sometimes with CE depending on the quest. Shield wands, barkskin pots, and ship buffs all help. Crater is generally capable of running solo with healing off of Reconstruct scrolls, but I often run with a pocket bard to save money and time.
Self-sufficiency rating: High
Charged – Drow Sorc 18/Pally 2 (currently 16/2) (build post in progress)
Back shortly after launch, this build was called a “Longblade”, and a Sorc 8/Pally 2 could be a decent meleer! Back then, in a group, Charged would stand with the front line melees, only giving up a small margin of hit points, and sporting an AC that was only 3 or 4 points off of “tank” AC.
Things changed! Charged can’t get good AC anymore, and relies on the “standard” Displacement/Stoneskin/Jump combo for damage mitigation, and typically only pulls out a pick to take down FtS mobs. She can still rely on Lay on Hands+Wands for healing, but it takes a lot longer to top off now. I’m grappling with the question, “why should I still keep these two Pally levels?”
So far, the answer has been “Saves, Saves, Saves”. Displacement/Stoneskin/Jump can be used to usefully evade melee attacks, but it ain’t quite so good against casters! Staying survivable against casters has been worth it, so far.
If I was building a self-sufficient character from scratch, I’d obviously go Warforged instead – but I’m not about to throw away a level 18 character and reroll – I don’t have that kind of play time! So Charged stays in the stable as I continue to try to work out how to keep her self-sufficient. She does have one distinct advantage, after all: DC! As long as I feel she’s decently self-sufficient, I’m willing to work at it to keep the higher spell DC vs. a Warforged.
Self-sufficiency rating: Medium
Poxs – Fist of an Angry God (Currently 14/2)
Well, this one’s easy. Self-sufficient? Build a Favored Soul – check! Poxs is probably my *most* self-sufficient character, dealing out good unarmed DPS but also maintaining good offensive casting capability. Ironically, Poxs is the only character who regularly plays in a party – Poxs was built for a dedicated static group! But there’s really not much to see here – almost any good Favored Soul build will be very self-sufficient.
Self-sufficiency rating: High
Twitch – The_Phenx’s Big F’in Stick (currently 12/3)
Twitch is another character that had to be re-invented. Back at launch, Twitch was a pure rogue, built for high sneak attack damage and decent AC, but marginal base damage. That don’t play so well outside of party play! Therein lay the problem – with 15 rogue levels, which bestow a lot of sneak attack, but are light on good self-sufficiency contributors, how could I respec to a build with mostly-rogue levels that played well alone?
The answer I found was in Big F’in Stick, building for decent base quarterstaff damage through speed, and self-healing through the Monk light path. This is a compromise – Big F’in Stick is still designed, first and foremost, as a party build. But, one of the few things that can be used to generate sneak attack on a boss while alone is Sleet Storm, and an acrobat can UMD scrolls *and* run through sleet storms unhindered, so Big F’in Stick was the logical choice. (Yes, I’d probably do more damage as a TWF Acrobat. Quarterstaff was too fun to pass up, once I committed to acrobat as a path.)
Self-sufficiency rating: Medium
Seadancer – Halfling Monk 18/Rogue 1/Wiz 1 (Currently 12/1/1) (build post in progress)
Seadancer was the first character I rolled up from the start for my new playstyle. As a Wis/Str-based Monk, Seadancer generates DPS through Unbalancing Strike and Ninja Spy+Rogue+Halfling sneak attack dice (plus decent base STR and PA), while splashing a Wizard level to maintain easy use of buff wands with low CHA, and a meta-magic feat on Dragonmarks. I find that Maximize makes a big difference in the usefulness of tier 1 and tier 2 of the Halfling marks. Seadancer is by far my most self-sufficient melee, with excellent self-healing even though he’s dark path, and excellent DPS even when solo from Unbalancing Strike. He’s a little slower against undead, sure – but I’ve got some nice Mabar event handwraps to help bridge the gap, there.
Self-sufficiency rating: High
Crash – Pale Monkster (Currently 10/1)
Crash (the Pale Monkster) is another build that was started from the ground up as a self-sufficient project. He is still largely in-progress, having not gotten to undead forms yet. While level 10 is hardly a litmus test, Crash is able to “conserve spell points” by taking out many enemies with unarmed damage. Generally, the rule of thumb is: melee down single or double non-casters, Wall of Fire 3 or more. Dangerous casters get hit right away with Fireball/Scorching Ray/Acid Blast/etc. As a Warforged arcane with some melee capability, soloing is relatively easy to pull off. Spell point management is the biggest issue, but that will continue to get less concerning with each level. It’s still reasonably likely that I’ll choose to respect to Archmage after trying out forms at wiz level 12 – we’ll see. The practically unlimited supply of chain missiles is hard to pass up for soloing, after all.
Self-sufficiency rating: High
Gugg – Shade’s Max-DPS Half-Orc Frenzied Berserker 20 (Currently 8)
Gugg, believe it or not, was started as a self-sufficient “project” as well. Really, what I wanted to see was: if I go all-out DPS, can I kill stuff sooooo fast that I don’t take that much damage?
The answer so far: yes, although Gugg is still the least self-sufficient, still requiring more healing than most of my other characters. Still, a pocket cleric is sufficient to keep him alive, and the expense of a hireling every 3 quests or so still leaves me with a “net profit”. If I try to rely on potions, I start running at a loss; hirelings are essentially required for sustained self-sufficiency.
On the plus side, Gugg’s leap into Hard/Elite content is slightly easier than some others on my roster.
Self-sufficiency rating: Low, but still there.
More Self-Sufficient Builds
I’m going to reserve this space, for builds others have had success with. I’ll start with a few of Thanimal’s that I’ve run with, but I’d love to hear other suggestions, based on other’s personal experience.
Axesinger - Melee Warchanter
HHHH - Unarmed Dragonmarked Halfling
Batman 9.4 - A Batman Update
Hopefully more to come based on suggestions...
Look, many folks (perhaps most) won’t necessarily care about being self-sufficient. When you’re running around in a large end-game oriented build and every quest you run has a full guild party, it just ain’t that important. On the other hand, what do you give up? In a lot of cases, it’s possible to find a build out there that’s flexible – which has the potential to go off on its own when you don’t feel like waiting for a PUG to fill (or dealing with poor PUG play in the first place), but that still is able to “hold down a role” as an end-game contributor. If you value this flexibility, don’t be too quick to listen to folks who give you build advice based only on the end-game – you can probably find a middle ground that gives you what you’re looking for.