[ –] Build Overview - Pierce Runecaster/Gunslinger Infiltrator (SR75-80+)


(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; though I have made some minor changes to this section for this overview)

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 trying to make something similar. 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:

  1. no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used;
  2. 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;
  3. 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:

  1. 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 :smiley: 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.

  2. 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.

Build Concept


This one will be…an experience. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. It’ll make you projectile vomit. It’ll make you ask questions such as “but why tho?”, “were you dropped in a bucket of stupid when you were a kid?” and “why am I reading these fucking overviews?”. All valid questions.

When Ashes of Malmouth came out I was very excited. I had so many ideas for the Necromancer I could hardly decide which one to build first. So I did the only sensible thing. I ignored Necromancer altogether and started exploring the world of Inquisitor.

For the very first Inquisitor I really wanted to capture the essence of the mastery. And what is more characteristic of the Inquisitor tree than gunslinging and runes? And so I put the two together. Both the runes and the gun WPS covered a variety of elemental damage types, so I decided to make the character a Mage Hunter to use Arcanist’s IEE to bolster the tri-Elemental auto-attacking side of the build. And since there was a number of sources of flat pierce damage on the tree, including both of the runes at the time, I then slapped on the Luminari set to convert the Pierce to Elemental. But due to the way I level my characters, I set the character aside after Veteran to be finished later and went to explore other new builds.

When I came back to it after a few months, two things were bothering me about it. Firstly, it felt way too similar to another character I made some time after it, a ranged Discord Cadence Battlemage. Though the Battlemage was a full on autoattacker, it was also tri-Elemental, at range with WPS, utilising Arcanist in the exact same way, and sported almost exactly the same tri-Elemental devotion path (except for Kraken cause the Battlemage was two-handed). Despite the addition of Rune casting on the Mage Hunter, neither of those characters felt particularly original due to their overlaps. Secondly, by the time I came back to the build, Aura of Conviction had been changed. It now supported Pierce and Physical, while previously it used to provide flat Fire damage and boost fire. After the change, I realised that out of the Inquisitor characters that I had made or planned to make in the foreseeable future, not one would want to use the skill. And that is a pet peeve of mine. No skill on the tree goes unused. And so I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone (which sicko came up with that saying, btw? birds are lovely!) and switch the character to Pierce instead. I used a tool to unspec the Arcanist mastery and changed it to a Nightblade.


And this is where the “fun” begins. To retain the intended playstyle under a different damage type, all the Elemental on the Runes and the WPS needed to be converted to Pierce. No, problem there’s an array of items to provide that conversion. The question is, why do it with dual-wielded pistols? Well, cause that was the original concept of the build and I still wanted to retain that. And no other reason beyond that. If only I wasn’t a stubborn motherfucker… If you want to do this the “right way”, don’t do what I did. Cause it’s dumb. Firstly, DW immediately breaks the Runebinder set, which might be the first thing that pops into your mind when the words Runes and auto-attacking are mentioned next to each other. Pierce damage is supported on all the set pieces (except for the amulet for some reason), the set provides solid boosts to both runes and it fills the missing auto-attack slot for the build with a real beaut of a replacer. But because I was stuck with pistols, I would have to settle for a 4 piece bonus at best. And as we’ll get to, I didn’t even end up doing that in the end. Then there’s Messenger’s Repeater. It has a massive chunk of the conversion we’re after, it’s Pierce AA-oriented, custom-made for Infiltrator, boosts the class’ Pierce rr big time through the skill bonuses and provides meaningful item modifiers. Simply gorgeous! Specifically made for a build like this, or, at least for its auto-attacking part. Oh well, can’t use it either.

So what can I use, then? Well, with Messenger’s Repeater out of the window there are essentially four sources of Ele to Pierce conversion that the build can use. The belt is a given. Bunch of flat pierce on it and its passive, ton of conversion, attack speed, Ranged Expertise points. Even without the conversion I’d probably end up using it. It does nothing for the Rune levels though, sadly. Then there are Chosen Espaulets, but those do nothing for any of our skills outside of the conversion and also occupy a slot that might potentially be taken by one of the Runebinder pieces if I still want to take some advantage of that. There’s Bladetwister Signet, which the build would be including either way for the RR. And then there is Oathbearer. I don’t even know how much time I’ve spent umming and ahing over what setup to use. Because with just the ring and the belt, the build is still 10 % conversion short. So either we need to equip another Bladetwister Signet, or we’re gonna have to use the pistol. So what are the upsides and downsides of the two options, then. If we use another Bladetwister Signet, we can’t use Jaxxon’s Lucky Bullet. And that’s kinda important because 1) we’d miss out on the added WPS and 2) it provides a bunch of OA, which is very important to Pierce builds because a number of their devotions proc on crit, including, crucially, their RR. On the pistol side of this dilemma, there are essentially two pistols to choose from: Oathbearer and Bloodborer. We want a pistol with pierce support, attack speed and Inquisitor skill bonuses and these two are pretty much it (we could use something like Hagarradian Enforcer since we’re converting its cold damage, but there’s no Rune skill points on it). Now, Oathbearer has the advantage of better damage, because of its additional flat Pierce instead of the useless Bleed on Bloodborer. The issue is, unless we’re capped on attack speed, Bloodborer provides a lot more AS, so it can make up for that lower damage by greater speed. Beyond that, Bloodborer slaps a bunch more flat damage on Storm Spread and also boosts the Nightblade side (even though we’re not using that mastery for much beyond the RR and Pneumatic Burst). All Oathbearer does extra for Infiltrator is the % healing. It’s not nothing but it’s not much. In the end I settled on one Bladetwister and Oathbearer, since even though the setup then loses out on attack speed, it’s at least not bleeding 10 % damage across the board on both AA and runes (the latter of which sheet DPS can’t reflect) and it gets to fill out some of the gaps in WPS percentages and OA by using Jaxxon’s Lucky Bullet.

With the Elemental safely converted there was then just one outstanding issue, but one which was introduced some time after I had already made the switch to Pierce and “completed” the character for that version in endgame. Rune of Kalastor used to be a Pierce, Fire and Physical Rune. With Fire converted it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal to leave the Physical side be. But then in patch 9.1 the Pierce damage was removed and divided between the Physical aspect and the Fire aspect of the Rune. So missing out on the Rune’s Physical damage would now mean missing out on half of its usefulness. Because of that, I was forced to later make the unpleasant decision to ditch the Runebinder amulet and break the 4pc bonus I was enjoying up to that point to get that sorted through the Kalastor Conduit. I’ve done the math and the net damage is worth it in the end.

The setup I landed on after that change and the one I settled on for testing for this Overview was as follows:

1.2 UPDATE: No real changes to the build directly, though indirectly the build is slightly worse off because of the need to dodge Sunders and therefore leave the Seal every now and then. As the build is not 2h, it can’t make use of the new Runic Seal modifier to counteract that through reduced Seal cooldown. Otherwise, the build is just fine at 80-81, though pushing for 85+ might be a bit much due to low-ish health pool.

Now, let me get ahead of the imminent bitching. A-tatata, stop typing. Nono, I said STOP TYPING! Yes, it’s a Rune-focused build. Yes, neither of the runes are hardcapped. Yes, Artifact Handling isn’t hardcapped. And you know what? I don’t give a crap. Bite me!

Why aren’t they capped? Well, because in order to cap them, I would have to take the above setup and pretty much redo half of it. I was already miffed enough when I had to break the Runebinder 4pc I was using when Rune of Kalastor’s damage types were changed. I didn’t particularly relish the thought of having to toss the remainder of Runebinder and start farming Nemesis greens just to get the hardcaps after that adjustment (not that I had the hardcaps when I was using Runebinder, mind you).

To give an example, here are the available items for Artifact Handling bonuses:
Stormscorched Shoulders - make the build’s Elemental res implode, cost it % damage, and 8% OA by breaking the 3pc Runebinder bonus.
Magnison’s Trench Coat - destroys the build’s Elemental res by breaking Runebinder and wrecks Chaos res for no resistance gains.
Wyrmbones or Dawnshards on gloves - once again wreck existing resistances, this time Vitality and Bleed, both lack % pierce damage
Spellweave pants - once again wrong damage type, less health, no phys res, same resist types but worse numbers, and both resists are just barely ok as it is (cause remember, our elemental res needs to be at least passable outside of Inqui Seal for those cases when we need to run for our life).
Reign of Ice and Fire - wrong damage type once again; if replacing Jaxxon, costs us a WPS too and makes our Vit res a bit shaky against rr.

Most importantly, taking just one of these isn’t that great. Our Artifact Handling is at that awkward breakpoint where the next level gives us nothing. The skill only improves on the +2 point, and then the two levels that come after that are very, very valuable. So in order to really get a proper improvement through Artifact Handling, we should either use an item with +3 (which only the Storm shoulders and Dawnshard gloves provide) or we need to use two items to get that super-valuable 4th point. Pretty much the only workable pair out of the above items that doesn’t require a resist reshuffle is the Spellweave pants and Reign of Ice and Fire ring. They still make the resists worse though, including phys res, and they still reduce AA damage significantly (by over 10 %) because they don’t support Pierce, which is the part that sustains our health. But if you really can’t stand the sight of uncapped Artifact Handling in this build, that is the combo I would use.

I’m not gonna do the same play by play for the individual runes. Suffice it to say that between items such as Galakros Singed Plating, Iron Maiden’s or Moose’s shoulders, Deathwisper pants etc. it is possible even with a DW gunslinging setup to hardcap Artifact Handling and both Runes at the same time (even while maintaining the ideal pants and ring setup for Artifact Handling I mentioned above). Without absolutely dismantling the build’s resistances? If you get the right affixes on the greens, sure. Something like this Infiltrator, Level 100 (GD - Grim Dawn Build Calculator, for instance, seems fairly acceptable on the resist front even without any affixes at all. But doing it without losing at least 10 % of the build’s global % pierce damage? Nah, not really. The auto-attack aspect, which, I repeat, is the aspect that’s actually sustaining the build’s health, is going to take a hit one way or another because a lot of the non-greens the build has to use just aren’t Pierce oriented. Even with the greens having % pierce affixes that 10 % global damage loss is pretty much the minimum unless you wander into dream-greens territory with Cunning stacking (this damage loss is not to be confused with total damage loss cause the Rune aspect is getting boosted by FAR more than 10 % damage).

All that is to say, if you really want to cap all the primaries related to runes and get a full on Runemaster build out of this, it can be done, even with DW pistols, if you have the patience to farm the greens, or the willingness to GDStash them. When I went back to the build to account for the Kalastor change, I personally didn’t feel like making broader changes other than the Conduit at the time. Mainly because…



…that sounds like a whole lotta work I’d have to put into overhauling a build that’s already working well. Unlike the build’s setup, there’s actually very little to say about its performance. It sits in Inquisitor Seal, it casts Runes on cooldown, it RRs through Word of Pain, applies DR through HoG and shoots its guns in between those. That’s it.

Its sheet DPS is fairly poor, not even cresting 80k while in Seal, but it’s enough to keep the build healthy while the Runes more than make up for the low sheet by doing hefty damage on both single target and AoE. The runes also help defensively by providing crowd control (knockdown, stun and freeze). Hagarrad shreds enemy DA to nothing, giving the build consistent crits against everyting for RR and Unknown Soldier triggers, while Veil of Shadow and Azrakaa ensure the build’s seemingly just decent DA goes much further than expected.

While the build isn’t unkillable by any means, there really isn’t any boss in particular that makes it sweat in SR and the solid amount of crowd control gives the build a fairly comfortable fight even against larger groups of heroes. The one point of weakness is disruption from Diseased enemies, which will force the build to leave its current Seal, but as long as you’re preplacing additional Seals for wiggle room, that’s not much of an issue. While on paper the build’s CC resists might look weak, the medal, hat, amulet, gloves and one pistol are all craftable, so with a bit of patience or luck these resists can be brought from passable to maxed. After that the only point of vulnerability is the lack of % absorb or a massive health pool, meaning the build can get unexpectedly bursted down on occasion even inside Seal. However, the build is fast enough to recover from these deaths most times. Across the 10 runs I believe I died maybe 3 or 4 times, so deaths aren’t super rare, but the build doesn’t feel shaky on its defenses outside of these occasional unexpected bursts and I recovered fairly easily all but once.

So yeah, even not fully optimised on the Rune front the build does pretty damn good work in SR. It’s not unstoppable, but it’s consistent, reliable and pretty damn comfortable to play, if you can stomach the piano. If you want to tinker with the setup and adjust it to maximise Runes, I imagine it would perform to a similar score. Its burst damage would go up, its sustained damage would go down, its health sustain will go down due to lower AA damage output; what happens to its survivability depends on the affixes on the MIs (extra health would help). Feel free to explore that option to your heart’s content and report your results if you do :wink:

Here are the traditional SR75-76 and SR80 snippets of one of my runs to showcase the build in action: