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The Techie's Bard AE Kiting Guide

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The Techie's Bard AE Swarm Kiting Guide

Many Bard guides have been written about swarm kiting or AE kiting, but many of them gloss over the details. For that matter, many guides about playing a Bard in general lack details. An example of this, for the uninitiated, is what role exactly instruments play for the Bard? What do they do? Go look at the different guides. There is talk about instruments, but not much said about what they do. This guide will try to answer some of the fundamental questions as well as describe how you can use technology to help kite masses of mobs very effectively with a lower risk of death (there is no chance of never dying).

Contents

Introduction

First, instruments are not required for most songs, although a few do require an instrument in hand to play. What instruments do is enhance the effect of the song. For example, playing Selo's Accelerando with a percussion instrument in hand will cause you to run faster than without it. If you play Selo's Accelerando without a percussion instrument, you will still run fast, but you will be "singing" the song (sort of the default instrument for almost every song). Some songs are voice as the instrument, there is no enhanced version of these songs until you get the Bard epic, Singing Short Sword, which acts as all instruments in one. There are a few songs that require the specific instrument to be in hand to play, these are usually the wind instrument related songs. For the newly minted Bard the two important starting instruments are the percussion and stringed instruments. At level 18 the brass instrument comes into play.

Most players understand that kiting involves out-running a mob and doing damage, never allowing the mob to do damage to you. AE swarm kiting is this on steroids, and the Bard is the undisputed master of AE swarm kiting. A confident Bard that has the techniques down in an area they are well familiar with can pull 25, 30, 40, or more mobs and kill them all without ever taking any damage. They might even pull this off without using any kind of mechanical aid, relying on Neil Peart like manual coordination and timing. While anyone can learn to AE kite in such a manual manner, it is likely to exact a toll of dozens of deaths and carpel tunnel syndrome. There is a better way.

If you have a programmable joystick (such as many of the Saitek joysticks) or keyboard (e.g. Logitech G19), you have the perfect tool for Bard AE kiting. The right type of device will allow you to program in keystrokes, mouse clicks, and precise timings (in milliseconds). This will not really automate the kiting process, but it will allow you to 'dial' in on the correct circle arc you need to run for the speed of your Selo's Accelerando and keep a fairly steady distance from the swarm. Done correctly, your biggest job will be rounding up the mobs, find a flat safe area to circle them in, and watching the song casting message results carefully.

Before going further, there are a few technical issues to be aware of. When you initiate an action in the game there is more than one state for that action in existence for a period of time. As an example, when a Bard presses a gem to play a song, the client begins the casting sequence, then the server registers that the casting has begun, then the client shows that the song has been started, then the server registers the completion and send back some bit of information telling the client to show a message. It is important to understand the implications of the client/server aspect of these action-responses. Just because it says that the casting time of songs is always 3 seconds, in reality, you need to pad that time with cast start buffer and cast complete buffer. The buffer on both ends depends greatly on how fast the server responds to the actions. In a very busy zone with you pulling 30 mobs, this can amount to over 250ms on the front and back for a total of 500ms. This means that the 3 second cast time is really 3.5 seconds when all is said and done.

You should also consider that pressing keys or programmed keystrokes in a joystick should not be timed too close together. A pair of keystrokes you set up to press hotbar button 1 and hotbar button 2 should have a 50-100ms delay between them. Otherwise it's possible that only the second keystroke will be recognized.

Most of the time the Project 99 server is fairly responsive, but what most players refer to as "lag" can kill a Bard very quickly. A Bard using precisely timed sequences of song casting can be easily lulled into thinking everything is going great, only to be insta-killed because of a bit of extra latency and Selo's not successfully registering on the server before /stopsong /cast AE is executed. The Bard can also instigate some of this latency problem by initiating too many actions in a short period of time. Latency varies by zone, how busy the server is, how busy the zone is, how many mobs are in the area, etc. The worst case scenario should be no more than 700ms or so. This means that a cast of Selo's (or any other song) should be 3000ms + 700ms to account for all possible latency issues. Even though you might be able to get away with 3000ms + 500ms (or lower) 99.5% of the time, you will get killed for it at some point. It isn't necessary to have faster casts anyway as you are not trying to twist in more than two songs at a time (unless you have some kind of penchant for corpse recoveries).

Making Circles

Watching most mid-level Bards kite is like watching controlled chaos. Many squeak through killing the swarm, narrowly surviving a few stuns and many hits. In the earlier levels, Bards don't survive stuns, they die almost instantly. Later they can handle a few hits, or sometimes many, and still win the fight. The key to avoiding being hit but still doing damage is to make circles. This is easier said than done if playing with a mouse and/or hand-eye coordination only. Most Bards appear to make passing attacks at the swarm, trying to time the casts so that the effect will hit as they are closest, then run a bit wide for a time, then repeat the passing attack. This is what get Bards hit and killed. Maybe 90% of the time you judge things correctly, the rest of the time you take hits.

A programmable joystick or keyboard device can assist you in making consistent circles. The problem with manually circling with a mouse is that every so often you have to pick the mouse up and reset it on the pad. In addition, the client will sometimes appear to cause a sudden 90 degree turn for no apparent reason, meaning you do a 180 into the swarm instead of a nice arc around them! This is actually a result of the server registering where it thinks you should be pointing versus where your client says you are pointing. Holding down a mouse button and turning for a long period of time is sending hundreds of actions to the server is a short period of time; it can't handle that, so the developers used some sort of estimating, that gets 'corrected' on an interval of some kind. So for turning, the mouse is out. That leaves keys.

Keys are hard to turn with while running because you have to hold them down or tap them down for fairly precise periods of time to make a circle that keeps you just close enough to the mobs to damage them, but far enough away to stay out of harm. A programmable joystick and/or keyboard solves this problem easily. The device needs a "toggle" or "latched" capability and repeat function for the buttons/keys. You program a button to repeatedly press the left or right turn key on an interval. Most programmable input devices allow you to use timings in the milliseconds. Keep in mind that you can induce latency by programming key presses too frequently, there is no need to make a circle more precise than about 8-10 key presses per second. So the delay between turning key presses should be between 100ms and 125ms. The length of time to hold a key down is the second component; it is highly variable. It depends on the mobs speed versus how fast your singing Selo's speed is (remember that Selo's speed increases a bit every level). The best way to handle this is to program several keys/buttons with a range of hold-down times. When you start circling the swarm in tight, start with the widest version of the circle, progress to tighter circles until you can damage them. For faster mobs when your Selo's speed is slower your keypress timings will probably be in the 100-150ms range. For slower mobs with a Selo's speed that is faster your keypress timings could get into the 180-230ms range. You will need to adjust as Selo's get faster with every level and the changes in mobs you are fighting.

Strafing

You can run faster by strafing at the same time as running forward. You can also solve a weird hit-box problem. When you run in a straight line away from mobs, they can and will hit you from much further than their actual melee range. By strafing while running and circling, you are keeping more of your side to the swarm, and not your back. There are situations where even this will not help, and these boil down to mobs larger than about Grizzly Bear size. Giant Beetles can be kited, but there is a greater risk that you will be hit, even with very conservative circles. Remember that no matter how precise you are with turning, the server will drift and correct locations periodically. These corrections may be small, but sometimes they will cause a few mobs to get close enough to hit you. A few hits are survivable, but being stunned is practically a death sentence. Strafe, fight smaller mobs, and stay as far out as you can while still hitting with your songs.

Equipment and Those AE Song's

Through your leveling, there there are really only a couple of things you need. You need a stringed instrument, a brass instrument, and a percussion instrument. You could level all of the way into the 40's, at least, naked as long as you have those three items and the songs. The Bard is probably the only class where stats mean zip. Armor helps a tad bit if only a few mobs hit you, but generally, it will not save you. As far as AE swarm kiting goes, Dexterity will help a little bit in avoiding the missed notes, but you have to be attentive and ready at all times to recast on a missed note regardless how high your Dexterity is. Mana, Intelligence, Agility, Strength and even HPs just don't mean anything as far as being successful with AE swarm kiting. 90% of the songs you acquire don't mean anything either. How ironic that the fastest leveling class in the game needs almost nothing to do it with...

The percussion instrument dramatically increases your Selo's speed. This is used to gather the mobs and while circling until level 8. After level 8, you switch to a stringed instrument (or brass when you get to 18) and 'sing' Selo's.

The stringed instrument doubles the damage of Chords of Dissonance. It has no effect on the range, which is and always will be 30. From level 2 to 18 CoD will be your only AE damage song. From levels 5-8, leveling is slower because you can't train in stringed instruments until level 8.

The brass instrument doubles the damage of Denon's Disruptive Accord. It has no effect on the range which is and always will be 35. From level 18 and on, DDA will be your main AE damage song with CoD being an alternate with some mobs. Using the two together can make the kill times quicker, but it greatly depends on how much buffer space you can afford. Keeping within 35 is a risky enough, keeping within 30 to use both will not always be viable. When you turn 18, you will need to train in brass and then find an isolated spot to stand and play it for hours until it gets trained up. Otherwise you will experience missed note Hell trying to AE kite with it.

Hotbars, Macros, and Joysticks

There are several ways to accomplish "safe" song casting while AE kiting, and most likely no two Bards will use exactly the same techniques. In Hmotzart's guide, he describes setting up "Hot key macro's". This technique will work, but there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. The most valuable insight in his guide is always ending with Selo's. This is critical. Not only should you end all of your AE kiting macros with Selo's you should start all of your AE macros with /stopsong. The only misstep in Hmotzart's guide is the idea of twisting in more than one song + Selo's. Don't do this. Do not create a macro (or automate key presses) that go along the lines of:

  • /stopsong
  • /cast AE Damage
  • pause
  • /stopsong
  • /cast Selo's
  • pause
  • /stopsong
  • /cast Regen
  • pause
  • /stopsong
  • /cast Selo's

A macro or programmed sequence like this will get you killed eventually because you will get both Selo's resisted in a row at some point. You might be able to recover in time, but why risk it when it isn't necessary? All of your macros for AE kiting should:

  • start with /stopsong
  • cast a song
  • pause for about 3.5 seconds at least
  • /stopsong
  • cast Selo's

There should not be any variations to this basic principal, otherwise you risk a "double fault" with Selo's that you are locked into. You may get away with a variation 90% of the time, but you will get killed by statistics at some point. Your macros all end with casting Selo's, which means it stays up indefinitely until you start a macro. You must watch for the results of the macro, if Selo's fails, you should have a macro that just does /stopsong, cast Selo's. If that fails, you execute it again. Your eyes should be on the messages and this should be a simple matter since the turning is essentially taken care of for you. Missed note failures for any other song than Selo's are trivial and not of any concern, albeit annoying at times. Bad maneuvering and slowing down are killers, with slowing down being the worst and most common thing that will go wrong.

Side note: Some of the following suggestions (the ones recommending binding multiple actions to a single button press) may violate Project 1999 rules, if you liberally interpret a statement made by Rogean, where he states that you may use a log parser so long as it doesn't initiate any type of automatic control/response/manipulation/macro on your character in place of manual control. There is actually no rule listed anywhere that prohibits the use of binding actions to joystick buttons, keyboard keys, the hotbar, or anything similar. I do not advocate using a log parser to initiate any kind of automatic response or action, in fact, I doubt it would work anyway due to messages from the server being unreliable. (Loramin, this is as far as I am willing to allow you to alter my guide, use the discussion page if you wish to make further suggestions, otherwise, enough with the edits). [1].

For programmable joysticks or keyboard devices, slash commands like /stopsong or /cast x are ill advised. Instead, create hotbar buttons with the spell gems on 1-8 and a /stopsong one liner on 10. Program your joystick button to press the 0 key for /stopsong, then a number key, pause for a number of milliseconds, then 0 and the number for Selo's. Slash commands sent from a preprogrammed joystick button will frequently get truncated or garbled, it is too many characters instantly sent.

Don't attempt to auto-loop casting macros. You will get killed by looping because of the missed note problem. The techniques described in this guide take some of the hand gymnastics out of the equation, but you still have to be very alert to what is going on. Any kind of looping locks you into at least part of a sequence that you may not be able to stop in time before you get into real trouble. Keep the actions triggered by your decisions; don't be suckered into thinking you can run in 'easy' mode. Even at level 40 with high Dexterity (and maxed skills to that level) 3 missed note casts in a row for Selo's has been seen.

Most programmable joysticks and keyboard devices can handle a simple mouse click. When you get to the point that you need or want to use two instruments, put one on the cursor, then with the other instrument in place hover the mouse over the secondary slot. Set up your key sequence to press the mouse button to switch the instrument in hand, cast the song, then switch it back when it has been completed. So at level 18 when you get a second AE damage song, you can alternate between a stringed instrument for the level 2 song and a brass instrument for the level 18 song. Take care not to move the mouse around during the sequence with the mouse clicks!

The Steps to Successful AE Kiting

Assuming you have programmed several joystick or keyboard functions for your needs, follow these steps.

  • 1) Start Selo's (and keep it up, recast if stunned)
  • 2) Run around the zone picking up mobs of the same speed and preferably all the same type, if possible
  • 3) Train the swarm to the general area you intend to kill them (pick a place where there will be no adds)
  • 4) Start strafing and begin manual wide circles to get the mobs pack into a tight grouping
  • 5) Start your widest turning loop sequence
  • 6) Adjust instruments (swap percussion for stringed and put brass on the cursor, if appropriate)
  • 7) Try a damage sequence, if it fails to hit, move to the next tightest turning loop and repeat
  • 8) Watch the end of the damage sequence and ensure that Selo's takes effect
  • 9) If Selo's has failed, restart Selo's until it is working
  • 10) If you have a second damage sequence, use it, and follow steps 8 and 9
  • 11) Goto step 7 until the mobs are all dead or walking away
  • 12) Finish off stragglers starting with the healthiest first

Always Watch/Keep in Mind

Keep your eye on the server responses, if a song fails to respond before you cast the next song, you are experiencing latency issues and need to make your pauses longer

Always make sure Selo's is up successfully when cast, you should be looking for "Your feet move faster." before casting something else.

Don't forget to strafe when you are turning to keep your side to the mobs rather than your rear.

Your circles are not perfect and there will be some variance to how close the mobs are to you; keep them just barely in range, even if it means missing occasionally.

If you can't see the mobs in 1st person view, zoomed all the way out, but you are hitting them, you are doing it right. If you can see them, caution, you might get hit!

If anything goes wrong, you get adds, or you get trained, always be ready to stop the circling and strafe run straight away when you see the trouble coming. If in any doubt at all, zone the mobs. If you get social aggro and who ever had those mobs dies or zones, they will come back at you, and always at the worst possible time.

Don't pull mobs much longer than a Grizzly Bear, because the larger mobs are much harder to kite successfully than the smaller mobs. What happens is that the mobs are so large (length) that you have to be too close to them to actually hit. Even though they might appear to be easily in range, their 'center' is what you’re actually needing to be in range of your song. To hit you with melee, the mobs only need to be able you get the outside border of your hitbox. Another factor is that the server’s location for all of the mobs and their locations on your client get out of sync quickly. When the server periodically corrects this, you will notice the mobs suddenly appear to leap out at you. If they are large size and too close, you will get hit and probably die. That said, Denon's Disruptive Accord allows you a bit if extra leeway at level 18, but keep in mind that you probably will only use DDA on larger mobs and there is still a limit to how large the mob can be.

Leveling Advice

Starting in Qeynos:

Yard Trash; up to level 4, you can get large numbers of beetles and they are easy to train around the zone to pick up adds. No Selo's yet, so movement relies on strafing to keep out of range. Death is easy to recover from.

5-6 Qeynos Hills; There is not all that much to kite and usually competition, but you have Selo's. You can kite small numbers; strafing + Selo's does allow you to outrun nearly everything in the zone. Your goal here is to get a level or two and get out of this place.

6-8 West Karana; Long kites to kill bears, wolves, and lions. Damage is light because you can't use a stringed instrument until level 8, so kills take especially long. It's quite a production to round all of the mobs up and keep them away from guards and bandits, but there is a lot of room. West Karana is big and barren, but stay away from the bandits (a few roam) and guards (they will attack your train). Stay out of the mountains. Avoid the Werewolf at night. Avoid the Grizzlies and stay out of the farm fields. Safe places to circle are found south of the Qeynos Hills zone-in and the extreme east side of the zone near North Karana.

8-15 (or 16 even) North Karana; specifically the Will ‘o Wisps. Turn in light stones for money and extra XP at the Gypsy camp. At level 8, you can level in one pull (if you find and grab all 16). Equip a stringed instrument now, your damage is now doubled. Lot's of resists on yellow and reds, but the XP and money is good. Don't get hit in the lower levels or you die super quick. Stay away from Giant Beetles. Avoid mixed groups of mobs unless you have help to finish off stragglers. Good flat areas to circle west of the guard tower bridge just above the river.

15-20 East Karana; Gorge Hounds, Dark Stalkers, Spirit Stalkers, Gnoll Reavers, Undead Gnoll Reavers. You can take a few hits and might even survive a stun during your attempts at circling and AE killing. At 18 you get Denon’s Disruptive Discord, which really speeds up killing and makes mixed groups of mobs a much easier situation. Be sure to train up Brass all the way at level 18. Good areas to circle near Gorge of King Xorbb zone-in canyon, and in a little corner near the barbarian fishing village. Don't kite around the bridge.

OR

15-25 The Overthere; Succulents, Cockatrices, and Sabertooth Cats. Be sure to stay on the south west side of the zone where the mobs are weaker. Very large pulls can be achieved here, but sometimes there are too many Bards in the zone, Sometimes there are very few. Until you get Denon’s Disruptive Discord, it's best to stay away from the Sabertooth Cats, they have just a little bit too much reach, and you have to play it tight. In the early 20's the experience begins to slow down and a lot of the mobs are green. There is a handy, but greedy vendor right next to a Rhino that is KOS, take care. Fairly safe areas to kite near the cliffs at where Howling Stones entrance is, however, it is not always the case. There are times when a bard dies somewhere and a huge 'fan' of high level mobs will pass by going back to their original locations. Mostly safe, but not 100%. The biggest draw back at this level is where you are bound. If you are bound in OT, then no big deal on corpse recovery, but if you are bound in Firiona Vie, a corpse recovery is not a cake walk. Special note: There are some occasional anomalies; you will slow down for no apparent reason and get killed. It happens about one in ten pulls. The cause is unknown and there is no message. Selo's is still up, but you will just slow down like it is not up. Depending on when it happens, you may survive the hits and be able to recover. It is possible that this anomaly is directly related to the amount of activity in the zone, but what ever it is, it will kill you from time to time. Even with the occasional "not my fault" death annoyance, the zone is a joy to kite in.

20-30 Lake of Ill Omen; Skeletons, Goblin Warriors and Battlemasters around the Windmill (Point 13 on the map) in the early 20's in the SouthWest corner of the map. As you progress you can work your way over to the big field in front of the Fortress in the SE corner of the map, essentially anything from the SE to the SW is where you can pull. Be courteous to the other players grouping up to pull trash to the edge of the lake. I wasn't really able to find a super safe place to do this, but as long as you clear the areas your in and look out for wandering shaman/soothsayers you should be fine.

30-40 Firiona Vie; Drolvargs, Pirates (in the early 30s). Drolvargs are slower than Centaurs, so you are back to tighter turning. Unfortunately, they are also quite large and are really on the edge of what can be kited safely. This means that you will only be able to safely use Denon’s Disruptive Discord, as Chords of Dissonance requires you to be too close and you will get killed. You can also throw in Fufil’s Curtailing Chant, but that is single target only and doesn’t do all that much damage when it lands (the damage proportional to the distance from the mob). The pirates, in particular, resist a lot and they are all blue at 30. So the pulls are a long fight either way, but the pirates are actually a little easier because of their smaller size. There is no money here, but the experience is good, when you are successful. One problem here is that Pilgrims and the Firiona Drixies will fight the mobs you are kiting, so you have the be very attentive. While you are building up your train, make sure you have everything before begining to circle, otherwise you will see mobs coming right at you in the middle of circling and panic will ensue. The main benefit to fighting here is that you are bound in the same zone, so corpse runs are quick and with the bank here you might find clerics in the zone. Ultimately, this zone can produce some gigantic Drolvarg pulls if you dare, but if the server is glitchy that day, you will get your ass handed to you over and over. Once again the Drolvargs are right on the very edge of what can be kited safely, probably more frustration than XP for most players.

OR

30-45 The Overthere; Succulents, Cockatrices, and Sabertooth Cats. The mobs you want are all on the north east side of the zone. If you are comfortable, you can make some insane pulls here. It is very possible to make over 100% of a level in one pull in the early 30s. You will kill so many that you will not be able to loot it all and many corpses will decay before you are done killing a pull. It is highly recommended to stay away from Sabertooth Cats until you have a few levels of experience under your belt. The male Sabertooth Tigers take a much longer time to kill and are very dangerous. You will be pretty much just using Dennon's as large numbers of mobs make the server especially glitchy and getting within 30 is just too risky most of the time. Special note: There are some occasional anomalies in this zone; you will slow down for no apparent reason and get killed. It happens about one in ten pulls. The cause is unknown and there is no message. Selo's is still up, but you will just slow down like it is not up. Depending on when it happens, you may survive the hits and be able to recover. It is possible that this anomaly is directly related to the amount of activity in the zone, but what ever it is, it will kill you from time to time. Even with the occasional "not my fault" death annoyance, the zone is a joy to kite in.

45-55(?) Dreadlands So far I've been kiting the Cockatrices, Dolvargs and Skeletons (NE Corner, Point 5 on the map). A safe area in zone to do this is the BW zone line in the north middle of the map.

47-50 Burning Woods Gorillas, skeletons, and wasps are swarmable in this zone, just look out for Gullerback the named Gorilla (115, 2810) as he summons. As well as avoid the Sarnaks since they have casters. Having not swarmed here yet, assuming the zone lines are fairly safe as they are used in DL/FV for burning the mobs down.