The Bown Charmer
Right, after four years and nearly 3000 levels of TQ:IT gameplay, I decided that it was time to try my hand at guide writing. And, considering that the compendium lacked anything about one of my favourite classes – the awe-inspiring Bone Charmer – I thought I'd start with that.
Every build has a premise in my view, a raison d'etre, a niche, a purpose, a set of characteristics which define it. So what defines the Bone Charmer? There are many ways to play this build. With Monster Lure as a distraction, it could even be viable for Poinas' Ternion and ...of Harrowing build. However, I like the Bown Charmer style. The name is an awful pun but it reflects two central characteristics of the build:
1) It uses a bow mostly, although not exclusively. It is also a spear melee toon when conditions dictate. And...
2) It owns. Everything.
And here is Ilse, one of my visually neatest and most understated toons. Any toon this simple-looking is bound to play equally simply.
What the Masteries provide
Now that we have the premise of a bow/spear hybrid established, it's time to discover what each mastery adds to the class. I like to differentiate masteries as Primary and Secondary, depending on what they add to the build. A Thane who uses a staff has Storm as primary, a Thane who dual wields has Warfare as primary. As our Bown Charmer alternates between a spear and bow, and never uses a staff or Ternion, it is obvious that Hunting is the primary, with Spirit as secondary.
Hunting is arguably the game's most self-sufficient primary mastery. With a piercing weapon, Art of the Hunt, Study Prey and Call of the Hunt, it is covered offensively – no further damage boosts are needed. But its defensive characteristics are also well catered for. Wood Lore provides a huge DA boost, Herbal Remedy gives lashings of critical Poison resistance and the Monster Lure offers a tremendous albeit static pet which holds aggro against anything.
So what does Hunting not get – and which Spirit can provide? The list is short but very, very sweet:
1) Energy. With no boost to the blue bar and several energy-hungry skills, Hunters can go through energy pots like addicts. Spirit mitigates that, not only by providing more base energy but by the game's best energy-regen skill, Dark Covenant.
2) Damage mitigation. Archers are phenomenal at range, when they can pepper hapless foes before they get into melee range. But a surrounded archer is a toon in crisis. Spirit Deathchill aura not only provides great slowing, but Ravages of Time also mitigates both physical and piercing damage.
3) Help with Undeads. They're the most common monster type in the game, you can't leech life from them and they're generally quite painful. There are several bosses as well (Undead Typhon, Dragon Liche, Charon, Toxeus) who are Undeads. Spirit Ward/Bane provides a powerful tool to make fights against Undeads much easier.
4) A traveling pet. Monster Lure is very handy but you don't want to be casting it all the time. Spirit gives you the Liche King, the game's best pet by a country mile. Not only is this ghastly wraith a significant damage dealer in his own right, he also debuffs enemies, saving you from casting Study Prey constantly.
5) Help with Attack Damage Converted to Health. This is a necessity for almost all toons, especially in Legendary. The Necrosis synergy of Deathchill makes it possible to leech life from Undeads, Constructs, even Traps!
6) Boss help. Every toon needs this and Spirit plugs the hole by giving you the Outsider. For one measly point, you get a temporary companion who can shred even the toughest Legendary bosses.
7) Skill point economy. This is an oft-overlooked factor, but any time you can have a modest secondary mastery which requires not many precious skill points, you are saving points for your killer primary mastery skills. The build becomes optimised quicker and there is less need for +skills items.
The Sweet Spot
Many builds have a sweet spot, that magical synergy which propels the build onto a whole new level. Think of the Assassin's Traps boosted by the flat damage bonus of everything in Battle Standard's radius. The Bown Charmer's sweet spot is a doozy. Hunting's Take Down skill is usually ignored, even by spear Hunters. While a single point in it is useful to serve as a rush skill and close the gap to ranged foes, few will max out the skill. Its +% Health Reduction bonus simply isn't worth it against trash mob monsters, and bosses have too much health reduction resistance to make it viable. But the Bone Charmer gets Necrosis to nuke boss Vitality resistance, and the Liche King's Soul Blight special attack to nuke all resistances – including the special boss secondary resistance to health reduction attacks.
The result is a single spear hit that lays waste to bosses. Perhaps a short demonstration will say more than a thousand words. Bown Charmer versus Hydra. And that's without the Outsider...
The benefits of going hybrid
So, Hydra ownage aside, why do we want a hybrid bow/spear toon? Why not just go all bow or all spear? The reasons are very simple:
1) Sometimes one or the other is preferable. Nobody likes taking on Normal Typhon in melee range, using a bow and dodging his clumsy ranged attacks and short-range breaths is much easier. Yaoguai is also considerably easier at range. On the other hand, staying at range against the Hydra invites it to use its deadly breaths. So it's much easier in melee range, where only Poison resistance is required. Dactyls and Lamians are also quite difficult to hit with a bow due to their high Chance to Avoid Projectiles bonuses. So closing to melee range makes the fight easier. The hybrid build gives you the opportunity to choose your range based on the conditions.
2) You have enough skill points to specialise in both. The only difference between a bow Bone Charmer and the hybrid Bown Charmer is 12 points in Take Down. That is very doable.
The end game build is very simple. This is what you will need by late Legendary.
Of course, this raises questions about which mastery to take first and how to build up towards your end game state. Again, Bown Charmer is extremely simple. As Hunting is your primary, you start with it. Spirit's key skills only get added later.
At game start, you will want a bow. Many of the game's early mini-bosses, such as Polyphemus and Arachne, are best tackled with a bow anyway. While the early going is quite tough until you get the key bow skills up and running, this is actually a blessing. All builds will struggle at some point as they level up their masteries and skills. Bown Charmer gets the heavy lifting out of the way early, while monsters are still doing laughable damage. Let's take it Act by Act.
From game start, you will want to level up the Hunting mastery immediately, stopping only to drop a point or so into some key skills along the way. So, by level 10, we would have this. The single points in Wood Lore, Art of the Hunt, Marksmanship and Puncture Shot give your arrows just a little bit of zip, but you will likely be progressing slowly at this stage. Don't worry, you are close to getting the killer skills.
After another eight levels, or by the end of Act I Normal, the build is looking like this. Already that is much better. With Wood Lore maxed, your attack speed is now decent. Volley and Scatter Shot are now both at level 5 and you should be doing great damage, especially against closely packed mobs. Time to make a start in Spirit while gradually maxing out our Hunting skills.
By the end of Act II, at approximately level 27, you will have reached this stage. This is now starting to own. With Volley and Scatter Shot now maxed as well, mobs will be going down almost instantly, especially with mid-level Puncture Shot adding some welcome pass-through damage. Art of the Hunt is adding some more damage, Herbal Remedy gives some Poison resistance and life regen, Study Prey is started to give help against pierce resistant monsters and Call of the Hunt is available for bosses. Spirit now needs some attention, other than mere leveling.
By the end of Act III, at around level 33, you will reach this. As you can see, only a couple of points have gone into Hunting, the rest into leveling up Spirit and getting a start in both Deathchill and Ravages of Time. These skills will be useful in Act IV.
In Act IV, I continue the Spirit leveling mainly. By the end of Act IV, around level 40, I will have reached this point. I have maxed out both masteries, my Hunting skills and Deathchill aura are at good levels and, even though I won't use him in Normal, I have a start in the Liche King, ready to roll when I hit the start of Epic.
For the first part of Epic, my focus will be on getting the Liche King to good levels, while rounding out other important skills – Study Prey for resistance reduction, Outsider for help with bosses, Herbal Remedy for Poison resistance, Necrosis to start leeching life from all and sundry. By level 50, I will want to be here. The build is now nearing completion. Necrosis, Art of the Hunt, the Liche King and Study Prey still need a few points each, so it's time to start pumping Take Down for those Legendary bosses.
By level 58 (approximately the end of Epic), I will have reached this. Et voila, almost everything is maxed, including Take Down. In Legendary, it's just a case of dotting the i's and crossing the t's, putting more points into Art of the Hunt and Find Cover, Call of the Hunt tree, Unearthly Power or whatever else you want.
Of course, if you fancy some extra crowd control in Vision of Death, you can pop a point into there whenever you like – even relatively early in Normal. However, by this point at end of Epic, you're well set. You are fully capable with bow and spear, Take Down and Necrosis are maxed, the Liche King is at a high level (especially with +skills items and a Mastery shrine) to wreak his Soul Blight havoc, and your buffs and debuffs such as Study Prey, Art of the Hunt and Call of the Hunt are all at usable levels.
The above illustrates how crucial Strength is to the Bown Charmer. My one Apollo's Will has reduced my Str to the point where it's only a bit higher than my Dex. Equipping a second Apollo's Will, replacing my current Hale, would see my Str plummet calamitously. Ideally, I want my physical damage toons to have at least 800 Str.
This is really simple. Both bow and spear users benefit from Dex, not just for the piercing damage and equipment requirement but also for OA and DA. So just go 1:1 Str: Dex throughout. If you are feeling a bit fragile, by all means pop a point or two into Health. But I never found it necessary. Spirit gets no Strength so, even with the preponderance of Hale gear later on, you still need to pump it to get your Str and base damage up to high levels.
It must be said that, even though Bown Charmer is superb with both bow and spear, the latter weapon has no AoE capability at all. So it is not ideal against mobs. Reserve it instead for bosses such as the Hydra, and perhaps also against Champions or Heroes who are harder to kill with bow for whatever reason.
Generally, I favour kiting and am very comfortable taking on all trash with a bow. Bown Charmer gives you a nice edge in this regard as pursuing melee foes are instantly slowed when entering Deathchill's radius. They also do less damage to you courtesy of Ravages of Time. And you can leech life off them with Necrosis and an ...of Devouring weapon or Soul Shiver artifact or a socketed Anubis' Wrath relic. So, of all the archers, Bown Charmer has the least to fear from melee monsters. However, if a particularly tough monster manages to breach your ranged barrage, don't be shy to hit W, switch to spear and deal with it up close and personal. Spear toons with shields are an awful lot tougher than shield-less archers. You have options, exercise and optimise them.
Also do not be shy to fire up Dark Covenant and Unearthly Power. The life drain may seem off-putting at first but it is offset by Herbal Remedy and, besides, you will be leeching so much life off everything you hit that you won't even notice the drain. When one or two hits fill your health bar completely, losing a small percentage of your life over time is not a biggie at all.
Ah, the eternal question: what is the best possible gear load-out for my build? Again, the answer is simple: there isn't one. I prefer a play style where I swap out gear frequently, depending on what I am likely to meet next. Always try to enter boss fights with capped 80% resistance to whatever damage type the boss is doing. If that means taking five seconds to swap out some gear items, it is well worth it. With that said, here are some high level items to look out for:
Farm Soronis for a good Bramblewood, preferably a Relentless. There is no better. Socket with Artemis' Bowstring, Valor of Achilles, Anubis' Wrath or Shen-Nong's Dark Medicine, depending on your needs.
Teucer's Warbow drops quite frequently in Epic and is the best of the early purples. Bow of Herakles is also decent later on. But nothing beats a Bramblewood.
Phorkos' Trident is the equivalent of Teucer's, a great early Epic spear that will see you well into Legendary.
Later on, Ares' Wrath, Achilles' Spear and Telamon's Boar Skewer are all good.
However, you will doubtless end up with a good dual affix green. Look for Relentless/Veteran's/Murderous/Ferocious of Havoc/Annihilation/Devouring/Alacrity. ...of Harrowing is not necessary as Take Down gives you all the health reduction you need. Sockets are the same as for bow, except for Artemis' Bowstring of course.
Ancile is perfect. Forget that the +2 to Warfare skills is useless to you. The +% CtAP alone means that, with maxed Find Cover, you'll be at around 60%. Add a decent Veteran's armour and that becomes 80%. Bye-bye archer foes. Oh yeah, it adds a ton of damage too. Along with OA and DA.
Aionios is the other go-to unique, although don't overlook more common Epic shields like Priam's Gate (resistances) or Shield of the Korybantes which gives a good overall range of bonuses.
For greens, Soldier's Unyielding Will or Outrider's Buckler with the right affixes can both be superb. Herculean is a perfect affix, especially as it boosts Str as well as damage. Shade of Hector, with its DA and CtAP bonuses, is the best socket.
Rhesus' Whitewashed Armor is very good, very common and very under-rated.
The Khan's Hunting Harness is superb for all Hunters.
Wyrmskin Harness and Ferrus Gnosi are superb all-round warrior armours. Now if only I could find them...
Alexander's Cuirass is somewhat more common with very good bonuses. However, the +2 to all skills is not as critical for Bown Charmer as for other classes.
If you are stuck with greens, look for a good Veteran's or Juggernaut's of... The best sockets are Guan-Yu's Grace (Veteran's) or Herakles Might with +% Damage as completion bonus (Juggernaut's). Also be mindful of good swap-out items like Hippocrates' Vest for its stellar Poison resistance.
Tracker's Hood is always recommended and it is very good. But I like to keep Vitality resistance up high so I invariably end up with a good Hallowed of... Shard of Erebus, Herakles' Might and Iron Will of Ajax are great sockets for helm.
Alexander's Plumed Helm is a fine item which boosts your attack speed, CtAP and DA, along with capping Stun resistance at 80%. You also get Dex and Fire resistance. So everything a growing Bone Charmer needs.
You don't really need to ask, do you? The best Stonebinder's Cuffs you can find, socketed with Herakles' Might or Rage of Ares. This is the very definition of a no-brainer. If for some reason you have your +skills covered with other items and come across either Conqueror's Bracers or Tracker's Gloves, don't hesitate to use them. Both are excellent.
Bellerophon's Leggings are like Rhesus' – very under-rated, very common, very useful.
Of course, Athena's Battle Greaves is the go-to item for all warriors.
Poseidon's Greaves are also fantastic, not least for the massive DA boost and +1 skills to Hunting.
If you are stuck with greens, aim for a Hale of the Hunt and socket with whatever Hermes' Sandal completion bonus suits your needs. There is such a wide range of completion bonuses on this relic that you'll find something useful. I like the +100 OA when using a spear, although you can also get good elemental and pierce resistance bonuses.
If you have a lot of time on your hands, you could try farming for a good pair of Batrachos Greaves. But I have never found them necessary. With a Veteran's armour, Wood Lore and one or two flat sources of DA (like ...of Supremacy on a ring), my DA is easily good enough for end game.
Apollo's Will is the most recommended. However, I restrict myself to just one of them. Particularly with a Strength-challenged toon like Bown Charmer, you can't afford not to have at least one Hale ring.
Otherwise, Hale of Immortality/Supremacy (OA or DA) is perfect. Monkey King's Trickery will give you even more debuffing, while Dionysus' Wineskin gives a great Health and Damage resistance boost.
Keep every Hale you can find and socket spares with resistances (Dionysus can give +40% Cold resistance) or with any relics or charms that give +50% Damage to Demons or Undeads. These are highly useful in selected areas. Most of late Act IV, for example, consists of Demons. Getting +50% Damage to them smooths your path considerably.
If your resistances are weak, keep an eye out in early Legendary for Resistant of Immortality rings, they drop like confetti and are also available at vendors. They can give you a very timely boost against bosses.
The usual suspects like Pendant of Immortal Rage, Myrmidon's Pendant or Aphrodite's Favor apply.
Otherwise Hale or Sacred of the Tiger would be ideal. Socket with Raptor Tooth, placing the shards directly into the amulet to get the +% Damage completion bonus.
I seldom find a reason to use anything other than Soul Shiver. Available as early as Act II Normal, it sees to your ADCtH needs for the entire game and also adds some +% Damage.
If you're looking for something a bit more upmarket, try Blood Gem (pierce damge, +1 Hunting skills), Symbol of the Polymath (all round goodness), Knot of Isis (but only if you want to attain 100% CtAP), Blood of Ares (OA, attack speed, damage), Crescent Moon of Artemis (pierce damage, +20% Damage to Demons, good defensive proc), Golden Eye of Sun-Wukong (pierce damage, speed), Star of Ishtar (excellent overall boosts), Talisman of the Jade Emperor (Str, resistances, recharge, DA, great defensive proc), or even Glorybringer (less damage from Demons and Undeads, +1 skills).
Other than the major Act bosses, try these farming areas:
Nessus: can drop uniques, as well as Outrider's Buckler and Tunic. Chance for good spears.
The Gorgon Sisters: great for unique and green bows and spears, also a good source for Hallowed helms and Juggernaut's/Veteran's torso armours. Oh yeah, Stonebinder's Cuffs too.
Soronis: farm the Anourans for Bramblewood bows and Batrachos gear, farm the Lamians before the swamp for Ismene's Helm (fantastic Poison resistance) and Ismene's Cuirass (great +% pierce damage). If you're in the area, might as well do the Ampelian Caves too for Soldier's Unyielding Will.
Tower of Judgment: the first two levels contain mostly Epiales, which drop Tortured Soul charms. They can give +50% Damage to Demons, +50% Damage to Undeads or Ritual as completion bonuses. Well worth farming and the only damage they do is Poison. Hunters have that covered with Herbal Remedy.
The lower levels of ToJ contain many Mellinoe, which are a good source of Khthonion Spikes. Good luck finding one with two killer affixes.
Hydra: although it won't drop spears and seldom drops good bows, you still want to farm ole grumbleguts for unique jewelry, shields and armour items.
Secret Passage: you have Monster Lure so most monsters in there won't even target you – not even Toxeus. You don't even have to kill him, just drop ML when he spawns and open the Chest while he toys with the Lure. Hunters are ideal for SP farming and Bown Charmer is among the best of them.
Bown Charmer is a very versatile and powerful toon. Ultimately, it combines the best AoE skills for trash mobs (Scatter Shot, Puncture Shot and Volley) with the best boss-killing pets (Liche King and Outsider) and two massively powerful debuffs in Study Prey and Soul Blight. Toss in life leeching against all enemies and the game's best aggro-holding pet and you can't really go wrong.
Many claim that the two masteries don't fit together because they think that Spirit, with its Energy and Int characteristics, is somehow a “caster” mastery. It isn't, it's a support mastery – as everybody who has played a Spellbreaker will confirm. Hunting, Spirit and Warfare are the three top damage masteries and boss-killers in the game. The Slayer's power is legendary, as is the Spellbreaker's. Why would a Bone Charmer be any different?