[ Disclaimer, --- , ]
Cleric Guide to Self Defense
== Introduction ==
This guide is intended to be a self-defense guide for clerics. All too often in my groups everyone panics when I, as the cleric, draw aggro. Must save the cleric! This isn't helped at all by weak clerics. I actually played with one who had a hot key, "IT'S HITTING ME! IT'S HITTING ME, GET IT OFF!" I was playing my warrior at the time and what I really wanted to do with him involved a trip to Kerra Isle, a stack of Kiola Nuts, and a Sebilite Croaking Dirk. When playing my cleric, it takes a while for me to get the group to realize it's OK. I'm a tough guy. Not only am I a tough guy, if I don't want the aggro, I won't have the aggro. I have that power. If a mob is beating on me it's because I have decided it's the best thing for the group at that time. It's amazing the lengths they will go to in order to save a cleric with 2000 hit points and 900 AC while never batting an eye while mob attacks a wizard with 400 AC and 700 hit points. Then again all clerics aren't like me, and they don't know what I know, and what you will know when you are done reading.
== Character Creation ==
It has been debated, and will be debated. So lets put the matter to rest by agreeing to at least something. If you are geared out of Veeshan's Peak and High-end Velious raid content certain rules are less firm than others. Absolute top-of-the-line gear can make up for almost any shortcoming. We aren't talking about that stage in your career. Too often I see these discussions turn into debates about gear that only one in a thousand clerics will see. I know, I had that gear on live and and it sure makes a huge difference, but what you do is still more important than what you have.
That being said, unless you want the worst of both worlds, there are really only two choices that make a lot of sense, Dwarf and High Elf. It really isn't close. If you want to be able to take care of yourself, the sixty, yes sixty point advantage in Str and Sta that Dwarves have over High Elves absolutely, wait for it, dwarfs a High Elf's 12 point advantage in Wisdom. A High Elf Cleric expecting to wear plate mail has a starting Str of 60! They can't carry the gear they need to wear to protect themselves and don't have the hit points to weather the storm. A High Elf cleric in my guild is wearing a Robe of Living Fungus at level 31 because he still only has a Str of 91 and can't move while wearing plate mail. The discussion was kicked off by a comparison of weight-reduction bags and which was best. My Dwarven cleric, on the other hand, has an unbuffed Str of 152, doesn't really know anything at all about weight-reduction bags and still sucks up fine steel two-handed loot like a Hoover. And lets face it, once the first spell is cast, mana pool means very little compared to mana regen, and that is almost completely out of your control. That extra 12 Wis (60 mana at level 50) isn't going to help you much.
There is, however, another reason for this. P99 is an inflated server. There are gobs and gobs of platinum floating around the economy. I mean people will pay 15pp for a stack of bone chips for crying out loud! The gear we have today is far superior to what we had at this point on live. And, while this isn't the last time you will hear this phrase in this guide, the Velious launch changed things. In this case, it's cultural armor. Since it first came to market, the price has dropped to half what it once was. The stuff is starting to get downright affordable.
Every piece of Dwarven cultural plate has Str, Sta, and Wis. Elven plate? Dex, Wis, and, uhm, Charisma! While the Elven armor does seem to have an additional point of Wisdom on some pieces, it makes up for it in a point or two less AC on each piece. This is a self-defense class, pay attention!
If you go the cultural armor route, and for a dwarf there is no real reason not to, it's another heavy advantage.
Finally, of course, the standard disclaimer. It is a role playing game. If you see your role as a life completely devoid of barrel-rolls, so be it. Play what you want, but do read on. If you're gonna be a Gnome, be the best Gnome you can be.
== DEFENSE! DEFENSE! DEFENSE! ==
Life as a cleric, lets face it, includes a hell of a lot of ass-sitting. Especially early on when heals are woefully inefficient. You don't exactly jump in the fray and mix it up with the bad guys very often. You need to med up that precious mana to keep that ranger tank vertical after all. What that means is, if you are doing it correctly, you aren't getting hit very often. Very good, but you are going to pay the price later. You must learn, at least in the early levels (and by that I mean up to late 30's) to solo, or at least join a duo or trio that will allow you to tank.
Why? There is only one way to raise your defensive skills. You gotta get whacked young cleric. Repeatedly.
I found myself in just this situation around level 30. I was 80 points below my maximum defense skill. I knew it was important, just not how important. On live my gear was god-like, how many clerics did you ever see wearing a Breastplate of the Void? I never paid attention to it. So I read up on several methods to raise the skill. One method was to go to an arena with a mage and have them cast a light-blue pet. Probably effective, but cheesy as hell as well as boring. Instead, I borrowed a Jade Mace.
The location, of course, depends on your level. In my case Paw made perfect sense. Some would say I should have found appropriate level undead to fight, but remember, the point is to melee and clerics have no advantage against undead in that case. Besides, at that level those nice scrolls the gnolls drop provide a sweet, sweet, xp incentive to hunt there. So I started to solo, and Holy Lord of the Underfoot it sucked!
In the beginning I had to include three or four nukes per mob to kill them. At the very least I would have to root, back off, heal myself, and dive back in. Each gnoll took forever. At the start I was killing one spawn. By the time I had the mana back to go again, that same damn gnoll on the hill behind the dungeon entrance was back. So I killed him again, and again.
And it got better, in four different ways. My 1HB skill rose, my offense skill rose, my dodge skill quickly maxed, and my defense skill rose. Defense? What is that? It's gold, diamonds, and pixie dust all in one. For every two points my defense rose, my AC magically climbed by three points. Same gear, same buffs, and more AC from the very ether.
Yes it took a while, but solo xp isn't bad, and those scrolls certainly made taking a break to run to Qeynos every now and then worthwhile (about half a yellow per scroll turn in). It's definitely a friendly activity if you need to AFK often to watch the kids, cook dinner, etc.
Eventually it only took two nukes, then one, then only one little heal. By this time I was melee soling the safe room inside Paw at level 33. By 34 I could simply melee the whole fight and still have plenty of health left over. "This," I thought, "is what wearing plate mail should be like."
As long as those gnolls stayed blue (up to around 38), I would come back and put in some melee time when not grouping. Defense maxes at 200 (level 39 (5 + (5 x level))) so no reason to go beyond that. In the end I had maxed my offensive skills, defensive skills, and had an additional 160 or so AC for my efforts (remember I was already 80 points behind at level 30, the math works when you carry it out to 39). The difference is dramatic. A successful Dodge keeps you from getting hit at all. AC is avoidance and mitigation, you get hit less often and when you do get hit you take less damage. Combined they are powerful indeed compared to sub-standard skills in these areas.
Still there are times when it's not enough. Things go completely to hell, you have multiple hard-hitting mobs giving you a beat-down, and things are looking grim, terminally grim. What you need, is a little magic.
== The Divine Duo ==
Seventeen years ago there were two spells I learned to always have memorized. "You will not evade me, Ezrick" triggered an instant stab of the 8 key. That means something really ugly just noticed me and I'm about to... live to tell about it. The spells are Divine Aura and Divine Barrier.
A little history here. To be clear, in this case P99 and classic Everquest diverged. P99 went with these spells as they are today right from the start, but they were subtly different early on.
Divine Aura and Divine Barrier were originally designed to buy time. Every cleric knows that under certain circumstances a heal must be cast and that heal will bring on the pain. Others in the group probably don't understand this, but we know when we cast it that there are uncontrolled mobs out there and we know exactly where they are going once that heal lands. It gets the adrenaline pumping. The closest thing I can think of in other classes is that shaman. You know, the one that insists on casting slow (while standing on the opposite side of the room from the tank) the minute the mob is in sight in order to get aggro for a sympathy heal to cover his constant overuse of canni? Yeah that one.
These spells were designed with your group in mind. Eighteen seconds for the group to off-tank, charm, mez, or whatever it took to regain control of a bad situation and save your precious hide. Eighteen seconds where you could do nothing but watch. For this reason the spells have a bad rep with clerics. We understand the pain is coming, we feel it's our duty to endure it. Taking one, (or three, or four, or a dozen) for the team is a badge of honor. Hiding behind a magical shield while the others do the dirty work just feels wrong to every cleric except the dweeb with that macro. The original versions of these spells would have the mob(s) continue to try to attack the invulnerable player unless some other action was taken by the group.
Still, there were times in the pre-Velious days on EQ that they were useful. I learned to use the spells when needed (remember growing up as a cleric in 1999 I didn't know squat about that last section on defense). Often times moving to the tank while the spell was up would transfer the aggro. I learned to definitely not wait until my health was so low the only thing mobs could think to do once the spell wore off was coming back to finish you off. Obviously Divine Barrier can help you here when needed.
Then Velious was released and a certain mob in Kael changed everything. The Statue. You see this mob was permanently rooted. It didn't take long for guilds to realize that, like any rooted mob, it would attack the closest player to it. Even if that player was an invulnerable cleric. If you are a raid tactician you've already figured this out, "with two invulnerability spells each, if you had enough clerics..." Yes, I once tanked the Statue, for my turn of thirty-six seconds. Sony was not amused.
So, the spells were "nerfed" (more accurately the game mechanics were changed.) Now the spells would drop you down the aggro list and the mob will steadfastly refuse to even look at a player with an active invulnerability spell. On the other hand, what would you give for a fast-casting spell that simply removed your aggro? A lot I'm willing to wager, but there is that one last niggling concern. Eighteen seconds, and you can do nothing. Right? A lot can happen in eighteen seconds, people can die.
Think about it, the spell is a buff. What do you do with a buff you don't want? You simply click it off. What you are left with are two nearly instantly casting aggro reduction spells whose only drawback is a long refresh time. But really, you don't need it that often do you? A couple of times a night, not much more than that, and some nights not at all. The key is understanding when it's OK to simply allow the mobs to hit you, when to channel through it, and when to use one of these spells and get on with things while understanding that those mobs are going to instantly transfer their hatred, probably to that stuffy, crunchy, finger wagging wizard standing next to you wearing a dress. Discretion is needed. There are plenty of times, most of the time actually, it's better to allow the mob to beat on your defensively maxxed high hitpoint self than allow it to run amok through the casters. Then again there are times that the party can survive without that mage, but not without you.
== Conclusion and Some Tips ==
1. Stand in a corner. One reason for needing one of the Divine Duo is that someone absolutely needs a heal NOW and you're getting beat on. In a corner your position is static; the mobs can't move you making channeling through the melee much, much easier.
2. If you need it, use it. Don't wait until your health is dangerously low. These are rough fights. Clicking off the divine aura with a bubble of health left puts you in a tough fight with, well, only a bubble of health left. The chances that your healing in that fight will draw more aggro are pretty high, don't be so low on hitpoints that you are an easy target. I can't stress this enough, it's not a last resort, it's a smart, tactical play. Think of it as that aggro reduction spell, not a shield you hide behind. Unless you are in full-flight to the zone you will almost always instantly click it off.
3. Keep them memmed always. Even when not in a group they can come in handy, or as a surprised newbie guildmate said just today, "Does an Undead Foreman always spawn on the Skyfire ramp?" Just when you think you won't need one, you will. Also if, God forbid, you ever get trained, intentionally or not, the instant turn of the tables is absolutely hilarious.
In conclusion, it is, of course, always better to not have aggro at all. Certainly don't use your ability to survive to load up nukes and aggro mobs needlessly. Your group will not approve of you making a nuisance of yourself. Good healing takes experience to understand the timing of things and only through experience can develop that feel. Hit point and AC buffing, for instance, allows you to delay healing. Delayed healing gives the mobs more time to build up hate on someone other than yourself. Clerics that don't buff, or don't buff completely are only putting themselves at risk and, in the case of the main tank, dropping the mana efficiency of Complete Heal costing you much more mana than the buff ever will. (Never thought about that did you?) Yes, symbol reagents are expensive, especially when it hits the peridot level, but they make you more effective.
The measure of a good cleric isn't in the ordinary fight, it's in the extraordinary fight. Be prepared for it.
Ezrick - March 1999 - present