(this section will repeat between my build overviews; you can skip to Build Concept if you’ve read one of my overviews before and are familiar with my rating system and test criteria)
Patch 9.8 brought, among other things, major changes to the Shattered Realm. Given that SR is where I do my endgame build testing, with the release of the patch I decided to redo all the testing for all my builds. And since I’d be putting in the time and noting down all my results anyway, I thought I might as well post the builds and their scores publicly for others. Who knows, maybe you’ve been thinking of trying something similar and are curious if it even works. Or maybe you’re just morbidly curious and like that tickly feeling in your brainhole when you see someone play something utterly stupid.
Now, what exactly does this testing entail? Each character has to do 10 SR75-80 runs (I used to do 5 runs but I’m expanding it to 10 for this second wave). Every run completed within timer counts as a success. It takes 6 successes (over 50 % success rate) for me to consider a build complete. If a build keeps failing to meet that quota, I keep improving it till it works. Ergo, no build I post here will have a lower score than 6/10, because if it doesn’t have over 50 % success rate, I’m not done improving it and it doesn’t get posted.
Three rules were followed to make the results more representative:
- no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used;
- no shrines can be taken; if a build has bad resists, it’ll have to make do with bad resists, Rattosh isn’t gonna be saving its ass;
- no mutator hunting; if I get shitty mutators, I’ll have to succeed with shitty mutators.
Other than that, it doesn’t matter in what manner the runs are completed. If a build takes twice as long to finish a run than others do, that’s perfectly fine as long as it successfully finishes. Doesn’t matter whether the build has to dodge Nemeses in shards like the plague or whether it hunts them for sport, doesn’t matter if it has to kite like crazy or stands its ground with ease, doesn’t matter if it completes the runs deathless or not. Only thing that affects the score is completion within timer. Generally, a weaker build that is slow, fragile, hard to play etc. will end up with a lower score regardless because its shortcomings will affect its reliability across the 10 runs.
Now, two final things before we get to the build itself:
As mentioned in the title, this is a build overview, not a build guide. What’s the difference? Well, a build guide says “this is the way you should build this type of character”. What I’m saying is rather “this is what I did, here’s why I did it this way, here’s how it turned out”. It’s more of a documentary, a post-mortem, rather than an example to be followed. “Wait, that’s just a fancy way of saying you make shit builds,” you might say. No, not exactly. I try to make a strong character without deviating from the concept of the build. But the concept of the build might not necessarily be something one should even be doing in the first place While my build concept and the in-game support will often align to create a reasonably predictable, almost cookie cutter build, just as often I’ll just be doing something abundantly demented for my own reasons. I’ll always endeavour to explain in the Build Concept section why I chose to do a thing a certain way, but I don’t want you to get the impression that what I’m presenting is a thing you should necessarily be doing.
I’m also by no means hyperfocused on optimising the crap out of a build once it’s in a workable state. There will almost always be things to optimise on my characters, but frankly, I prefer spending an hour theorycrafting a new character rather than shuffling an existing character’s devo tree, gear, component and augment setup just to squeeze 5 % more damage out of it. I don’t care that much.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.
Ah, the skelemancer. I don’t think I need to explain the inspiration behind this build. Summoner Necro was my favourite and most powerful build back in D2. It was clear the moment Necro was released in AoM that I was going to be making a Skelemancer at some point. It was such an obvious build, I specifically went out of my way NOT to make this build immediately when Necromancer was released, so that I can explore other aspects of the mastery instead: the spellcasting and the melee combat. I spent so much time theorycrafting and levelling anything other than a skelemancer during AoM that it wasn’t until FG that I finally got around to this.
Edit for 1.2: Build has gained a lot of skill points through skill overcaps, allows slotting in a mid-level Wendigo Totem for extra healing, making the defensive medal a bit redundant. Replaced with Wendigo Gaze. Good glove conversion roll is now required due to loss of conversion on exclusive skill. On the plus side, glove summons are now actually useful cause they trigger on attack instead of on kill. Enemy Vit res has gone down globally, improving the build’s damage. Skelly mages now also supposedly have more AoE, though I haven’t noticed a difference myself.
This build still comes from the time when I was making builds from the bottom up, i.e. based around mastery synergies, not around gear. And so, though the final build uses the Lost Souls set, as that’s the most straightforward skelly-focused equipment out there, I’m not playing a Cabalist, but a Ritualist. So, why a Ritualist? You might think it’s because I wanted to make this a Vitality build and so I was after Devouring Swarm. Nnope. I had absolutely no specific plan as to what damage type I was going to be using when I started the character. The thing I was actually after is Mogdrogen’s Pact. Cause universally in ARPGs, skellies may be flimsy, or short-lived (like, actually timed like in PoE), they may not each individually do a lot of damage, but there’s a lot of them. Skelemancers tend to be the build if you want to actually have the numbers advantage in an ARPG fight for once in your life. And while flat damage auras and buffs to boost one’s DPS are nice and all, there’s nothing quite like applying your flat damage aura across an entire battalion of minions. Screw getting 50 extra flat phys damage to just your weapon attacks, how 'bout we get more than ten times that? Now we’re talking.
I followed the same philosophy with the devo route. Extra flat damage with skellies is just so yummy. And I couldn’t think of a build that would be better suited to take advantage of Ishtak than this one, so instead of the routine Mog path I went a bit experimental. In 9.8 came the addition of flat RR on the devo proc, which this build was previously missing, so that’s nice.
The consolidation of the damage to Vitality was then an easy choice. Lost Souls already pushes that path on the 3pc set bonus, Master of Death pushes for that as well, and both Necro and Shaman overlap on that type of RR. I then completed the partial Phys to Vit conversion from Master of Death through the gloves, which also incidentally brought some Acid to Vit conversion for Blight Fiend, which was a minion I already wanted to explore anyway to stick to that D2 Necro theme. All that was left to consolidate the damage, outside of the lingering 40 % Acid on Blight Fiend, was Elemental. Basic skeletons only do Physical and Vitality damage. The Skeletal Archers also do some Pierce on their Deathbolt skill, but screw converting that, it’s the only source of Pierce in the build. However, Mages deal a good amount of Fire damage. And while I could have settled for just Fire to Vitality conversion, getting Elemental to Vitality instead unlocks the full potential of the Wraiths from Reap Spirit. With the two Spiritbinder Glyphs that’s all the conversion solved and all the Necro summons used. Muah chef’s kiss.
Now, though my goal was to just really focus on the Necro summons and, ideally, to juice Skeletons in particular as much as possible, I did actually make some compromises and didn’t go all out. Firstly, I’m not using Wendigo Gaze on the medal. There are multiple reasons. I already have 13 skellies. Adding an extra 1 isn’t nothing but it’s not that dramatic of an upgrade. Mark of Unlife may seem like a wierd choice given that I’m not an Arcanist or using Briar but the pet bonuses it provides are significantly better than whatever affixes I would find on the Wendigo. The Bleed res especially is very helpful in allowing me to cap pet bleed res. While there is a jewelry augment that could do that too, dropping the augments I have on the jewelry would then break the Chaos res. And keeping all resists capped seemed like a pretty damn important thing to do, given that Skellies aren’t the sturdiest. Another reason for the medal was also my personal safety. That proc can be a real life saver. The build has no heals (unless you count the leech from Devouring Swarm) so having some fallbacks is pretty important. Between the medal and the offhand, the build would be able to bounce back from the brink of death very quickly.
The other compromises were in how much I actually committed to juicing the skellies through all those flat damage sources. Cause Mogdrogen’s Pact is far from the only way to boost pet flat damage on Ritualist. It’s actually probably not even the best way. There are two sources of flat damage that I’m not using at all, in Wendigo Totem and Soul Harvest. If I wanted to go really all in on skellies, I should absolutely have those two. Question is, what to drop for them? Blight Fiend? That’s my main tank. Reap Spirit? That contributes more through its minion damage than the flat boost from Soul Harvest or Totem would. There’s also the matter of where to put these skills if I took them, cause the skill bar is packed. Arguably I could move the Skeletal Servant and Blight Fiend to the other skill tab. But being the only minion I have with built-in threat generation, Blight Fiend, despite being quite tanky, actually needs resummoning fairly often. And since it’s the best crowd control tool on the build, having to fumble with the other skill tab when things get hot is not ideal. And so I went for the lazy route with Mogdrogen’s Pact that I can just turn on and forget, rather than messing around with constant Bone Harvest casting or Wendigo Totem placement.
One last matter I want to mention before moving on to performance is the damage devotion to bind to the Skellies, I couldn’t think of a better option than Twin Fangs. Vit is a bit starved when it comes to just straight up damaging devotions, particularly those that can stack damage through repeat procs (Wendigo’s Mark wouldn’t work, for example). And while I’m not strictly limited to Vitality devotions due to the conversions, it was also important to take a devotion that works just as well on melee as it does on ranged, cause I will be having warrior, archer and mage skellies running around. Bull Rush might work great on the melees but it’s completely wasted when procced by Archers or Mages. Maybe Tsunami could work but the damage actually isn’t much better than on Twin Fangs (I guess the DoT could do some work), and Twin Fangs also keeps the pets alive and can trigger 40 % more frequently.
I’m very split on how to present this build. Cause on one hand, I think this is almost a perfect realisation of what a pet build should feel like, from my perspective. But I think so specifically because the build is far from absurdly overpowered, which from your perspective might mean that it’s not a good pet build to play. I’m going to be judging this build’s performance relative to the only other pet build I’ve overviewed (at the time of writing), the Beastcaller Conjurer, as that seems like the best basis of comparison. Both builds may have reached the same score, both may be pet builds, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Long story short, the Beastcaller Conjurer was an absolute monster. Its pets may have been few, but they meant business. They were essentially immortal, and they crushed everything they came up against ridiculously fast. They also did an amazing job of holding aggro, so the player was in no danger whatsoever. It was just a broken build. It demanded nothing from you, played itself and yet was absurdly strong and fast.
This here Skelemancer in comparison, is, well, anything but. It’s an exceedingly fair build. Because, well, I guess that’s what happens when you’re not running around with items that give your summons 25-30 % Total Damage Modifiers. The damage is good. Enough. But it’s not absolutely demented. In terms of safety, the only summon capable of holding any amount of decent aggro is the Blight Fiend, and under that concentrated aggro it ends up taking a fair bit of damage and dies every now and then. The skellies, if improperly positioned, can melt pretty damn fast under stacked AoEs and ground effects. Their large numbers also mean that their damage is much less concentrated than that of a Briarthorn or a Hellhound, so in order to not split damage all over a horde of enemies, the player has to take an active role now and then and direct the minions to the right target, or signal a retreat when the opposition gets a bit too dense. While in concept it may have been an attempt to copy the D2 Skelemancer, in practice it’s almost the exact opposite, cause D2’s Skelemancer was mindnumbingly dull to play. This here Ritualist may just be the most engaging pet build I’ve ever played. Aside from having to command your army to the right targets, you have the job of applying your RR, which fires in a line and therefore won’t cover the entire enemy group in one cast. You have to keep up your Wraiths from Reap Spirit. You have to apply Ill Omen to give your pets some extra survivability. You have to keep an eye on your skeleton numbers. And you need to get intentionally hit every now and then to apply your RR from Spectral Wrath. Oh, and keep an eye out for enemies that are switching aggro to you, cause you have no healing. And find the right targets to latch Mark of Torment onto, if you end up taking some heat. There’s a lot to do. Now imagine if you were to add Wendigo Totem and Soul Harvest to the mix. Sheesh! Good thing I didn’t.
And for all that work you have to do, you get rewarded with a solid pet build that gets the job done. May not be the fastest, may not be the tankiest, may not be the brain-deadest, but it’s effective and reliable. There is not a single enemy that I’ve encountered that gives the build any particular issues. There are really only three foes I think deserve mentioning. Firstly, Iron Maiden will be the biggest pain in the ass when it comes to keeping the aggro under control. Nobody seems to delight in switching aggro to you quite as much as she does. That said, there’s a trick to get her to behave a bit more. Counter-intuitively, don’t try to keep your distance. Get closer to her. She seems to be programmed to periodically check for targets that are at a disance, and if she finds one, she Blitzes it. Even if it’s not her current target. If you stick close to her, she is much more likely to focus your minions, primarily the Blight Fiend, and will leave you mostly alone. The second noteworthy enemy is Valdaran. Of all the Nemeses, he does by far the best job of killing off skeletons. The pet ele res overcap is low enough that his RR shreds their resists and when his projectile barrage shield is up, he’s gonna chunk through those melee skellies because of all the projectiles coming in from the Archers and Mages. The best solution is, of course, to pull your guys back and wait for the barrage to drop. Issue is noticing, cause good lord does this build have visual clarity issues. The first time you’ll notice an enemy is doing something dangerous is when your skellies start dying, cause you won’t see shit when it comes to animations. Now, you’d think that since Valdaran is an issue with his projectile barrage, that would mean Rashalga is as well, right? Not at all, actually. You can let your skellies stand in that shit all day long, they don’t care. Just make sure you don’t eat a faceful of it. Rashalga is a complete cakewalk otherwise. The last enemy to note is…well, I actually don’t know who specifically they are, but enemies that apply a proliferating damaging debuff, kinda like Bloody Pox or Ill Omen. You’ll see one in the SR80 video below. Because of how many skellies the build runs around with, the debuff will just keep spreading and reinfecting previously infected targets, over and over. The only way you’re getting rid of that shit is unsummoning your entire army. However, that’s not a particularly prevalent issue. Out of the 10 runs I did, it only happened once, in the run below.
All things considered, if you want to play a pet build and don’t want to feel dirty at the end of the day, I can definitely recommend this one. It avoids the main downside of pet builds (that they’re generally boring to play) by demanding an active playstyle and provides a fair and balanced dose of power in return. Not busted, not underpowered, juuust right. The only pitfall I can think of is the aforementioned lack of visual clarity. That is especially true in SR, where the Shattered Soul effect applied to all your skellies makes it very hard to identify human-sized threats in a crowd. Sometimes you’ll have aggroed a Nemesis like Aleks or Fabius and not even notice. Thankfully, you got more than enough bodies to put between yourself and them.