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Help Designing a Melee Cipher Build


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#1
JerekKruger

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The first character I played through (most*) of the game with was a melee Cipher, and it has been a class build that I have returned to time and again since then. However when I build my Cipher in this way he inevitably spends a significant portion of his combat time taking a nap, and ever since respeccing was added to the game I've usually respecced him to a ranged Cipher at some point out of frustration. Despite this, I still want to complete the game with a melee Cipher and, more importantly, have fun doing so, so I thought I'd turn to the good people of the "Pillars of Eternity: Characters Builds, Strategies & the Unity Engine (Spoiler Warning)" forum for advice.

 

I also noticed that of the three Cipher builds in the build list, two are ranged and the sole melee one is an outdated (though still effective) retaliation build of Boeroer's. A secondary objective of this thread would be to end up with a new melee Cipher build to add to the list so that other players who are, like me, struggling to make this class build work will have a solid example of it easily available. Ideally this would include some interesting item synergies (if there are any) that are not immediately obvious to less experienced players

 

Since ranged Ciphers are relatively easy to build and tend to be very effective, perhaps the place to start is with the two major differences between them and melee Ciphers (that I can see), and how to accommodate them. So, here goes:

  1. Ranged Cipher's can, generally speaking, afford to have low Resolve and wear light (or even no) armour since they shouldn't be getting hit much. A melee Cipher doesn't necessarily have that luxury. How much additional protection would you give a melee Cipher? (What Resolve, what armour, would you give them a shield and, if so, which type etc.)
  2. Because of their positioning in Combat some powers seem less effective for melee Cipher's than for ranged Cipher's. In particular Antipathetic Field, which comes highly recommended in many Cipher guides seems much less effective for a melee Cipher since they can less easily manoeuvre themselves into a position to use it effectively and their targets will generally speaking be less far away, leading to a shorter beam. Are there any powers that you would not take on a melee Cipher that you would on a ranged one, and vice versa? If so, why

No doubt there are other differences, so feel free to outline them and explain how you would modify a build for them.

 

Beyond that we can get onto specifics. What sort of Attribute spread would people recommend? What gear should a melee Cipher use? What Powers and Talents should they take? The list goes on...

 

*I have a terrible habit of abandoning playthroughs part way through Act III.


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#2
QuiteGoneJin

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Same as far as getting to act 3 and restarting. That's like, my thing. 

 

I've had two random themes that smarter brains can flesh out if they are in fact doable;

 

What about a Bald Quarter staff monk style cipher. Using a reach weapon to melee from safety?

 

A con heavy tanky Fire Godlike with the cross class unarmed skill?

 

Clearly I like martial arts. 

 

 

Boeroer sent me this info on Novice's Suffering once, I found it fascinating though confusing. 

 

"What you must know about Novice's Suffering is that it's a damage bonus that doesn't count as base damage.
As you might know, things like a critical hit or savage attack add a percentage to your weapon's base damage. Unarmed base damage is very low (5-8, average 6.5) so things like crit (+50%, meaning +3.25) or savage attack (+20% or around 1.3) don't add a lot of damage to your unarmed attacks. Novice's Suffering's bonus, which is quite big, gets added then. This leads to the funny situation where grazes, hits or crits do all nearly similar damage. This is optimal for characters who don't have very high accuracy and tend to graze and hit more often then crit. 
Novice's Suffering's bonus damage gets buffed by MIG though.

That's a reason why Novice's Suffering is good with barbs for example (the -30% base damage for carnage doesn't matter much, as do the grazes because of lower carnage ACC ). It's also good for any character who has tremendous MIG but wants to dump PER or any other char who has low ACC but wants to go melee nevertheless."

 

Gotta say I like the idea of a psuedo mind monk. The tricky sneaky fist fister. 

If you don't like that asthetic I think more builds based on soulbound items need to happen.

 

Maybe something around Steadfast http://pillarsofeter...a.com/Steadfast

I am not a great theory crafter, just have an overactive imagination, hope I spark an idea for you. 


Edited by QuiteGoneJin, 04 January 2017 - 12:21 PM.


#3
Boeroer

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Usually a melee cipher can build up more focus than a ranged one, so it's OK to give him more sturdyness to balance out the higher risk of getting knocked out.

I like ciphers with shields, but that's just me. There's no particular reason for it other than the higher defense - which I like. Psychovampiric Shield and later Borrowed Instincts stack nicely with the shield's defense and make your cipher quite tanky. This way he doesn't need the thickest armor. With durgan steel on the shield he also hits faster than a two hander cipher or one with a single weapon.

A dual wielding approach is nice because your higher speed (+50% dw, +20% two handed style) leads to more focus if enemies' DR is not too high. He has no Full Attacks though which would be nice with two weapons. And of course his defense is worse than with a shield. Your higher speed allows you to wear thick armor and still hit considerably fast. With Time Parasite it's easy to reach 0 recovery even with plate and Vulnerable Attack.

A two handed cipher can get good focus even when fighting against highly armored foes. And it's possible to take a reach weapon and use the front line as protection. You can skill more offensively because of that. Durance's Staff is the only reach weapon with two damage types. Llawran's stick has speed. Both are good weapons for a reach cioher. With the additional damage of two weapon style you will do more damage and gain more focus.
Weapons like great swords and estocs are also great, but you need more staying power for those.

Good weapons in general are those who will give you more focus via direct damage. Enchantments like annihilation or Coordinating and things like Bittercuts corrode damage which can be buffed by 20% via Spirit of Decay help. Annihilation works nicely with ACC buffs like Tactical Meld or Borrowed Instincts, paired with disables like Mental Binding to produce crits and geht even more focus.

For sturdyness, I like to take Veteran's Recovery with max MIG and INT plus Fulvano's Amulett or a Belt of Bountiful Healing and put survival to 8 or even 14 for the bonus healing. Most of the time it's the belt because I want to wear the Unconquerable talisman which gives more focus. I no one else needs them, I'd also put on Shod-in-Faith. I also like the Caoe of the Master Mystic on my cipher. So when I get a crit I will turn invisible and won't get attacked further while I can reposition. Paired with heavy armor (Sanguine Plate gives me +4 MIG and +33% speed- good for healing and dps), this usually leads to a very sturdy cipher. The cipher has no self heal but potions also work with the healing bonuses.
As I said: with reach weapons you might be able to skill more like a ranged cipher and thus deal more damage than in the front.

Things like Savage Attack and Apprentice Sneak push your damage further.

If you have a priest and your cipher is your number one killer then use Triumph of the crusaders and he won't die from low endurance. Use potions of Infuse with Vital Essence when health is low.

#4
MaxQuest

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Beyond that we can get onto specifics. What sort of Attribute spread would people recommend? What gear should a melee Cipher use? What Powers and Talents should they take? The list goes on...

I like ciphers being specialized.
- Either he focuses on AoE damage powers and casts CC mostly on emergency.
- Or he is a cc-specialist who covers your other dps'ers, plus indirectly amplifies their damage, due to stuns/paralyzes reducing enemy defenses.


melee cc:
- 10/10/18/16/16/8 Boreal Dwarf with BotEP 
- 10/8/18/18/16/8 Pale Elf with BotEP
- 10/8/18/19/15/8 Boreal Dwarf with Dual Purgatory or Bittercuts


melee dps: (works best if has his ass covered by a ranged cc-cipher; and his targets chain stun/paralyzed)
- 18/8/17/12/17/6 Boreal Dwarf/Pale Elf/Hearth Orlan with Dual Bittercuts


melee dps: (if left without cc-support; not recommended)
- 18/10/15/10/15/10 Boreal Dwarf/Pale Elf/Human with Small Shield + Rimecutter/Purgatory/Bittercut (need to run attack speed math on this)


melee dps: (there is also a dumped-INT variant, when you focus exclusively on echo beaming, mind lance spamming and low-radius detonate)
- 18/12/18/15/3/12 Boreal Dwarf/Pale Elf/Human; DW or 1H+Shield depending on party composition



P.S. Until you get your BotEP/Purgatory/Bittercut/etc, going for plate armor + dw-sabres (enchanted with lashes asap) proved to be the most efficient (and knockdown'less) way.

Edited by MaxQuest, 06 January 2017 - 10:37 AM.


#5
Livegood118

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Just to think on a high level here for a second, in my opinion the core advantage of going in as a melee Cipher is that under certain circumstances you'll be able to generate focus much faster than a ranged variant. In order to do this you need to be able to stay alive, meaning defences and liberal use of CC. Melee Cipher also carries the benefit of being able to use Ciphers' short range spells easier.

 

A Cipher's auto-attacking damage output is more or less below a fighters for most of the game. For example with Sword and Shield:

 

Fighter = 15% (Spec) + 10% (Mastery) + 15% (App. Sneak) + 20% (Savage) + confident aim + armoured grace = 60% dmg + conf aim + armoured grace

Cipher = 20 % (Base) + 20 % (Biting) + 15 (app Sneak) + 20% (Savage) = 75%
 
There are obviously other modifiers you can add to this as well like Might and Wep Enchantments but this is just to give a broad outline. A Cipher will overtake a fighter to the extent that Time Parasite reduces recovery. A fighter will always outdamage a Cipher in terms of weapon damage with recovery being equal or not too far off.
 
I think a Melee Cipher should definitely go sword and shield until you get defensive mindweb, and have Quickswitch + Arms Bearer + Island Aumaua with Arquebuses at the start of fights for fast focus generation to get your buffs up to increase survivability and damage.
 
Psychovampiric shield should drastically increase survivability at the start of the game, then graduate to borrowed instinct later on.
 
I'd build as follows until you get defensive Mindweb:
 
Might 15
Con 09
Dex 16
Per 10
Int 18
Res 10
 
Sword and Shield
Quick Switch (Greater Focus seems like a waste when you could just switch to Arquebuses for same effect?)
Biting Whip
Weapon Focus
Draining Whip
Arms Bearer
Apprentice Sneak
etc ...
 
Hatchets might be pretty good for the early game? 
 
IMO battles for the melee Cipher should be done in three stages:
 
1. Use Quickswitching Arquebuses to build focus
2. Cast Cipher Buffs
3. CC
4. Attack
5. Cycle through 3–4 and 2–4 as needed for when buffs restart.
 
After you get defensive Mindweb:
 
Might 18
Con 03
Dex 18
Per 18
Int 18
Res 03
 
Then get the 2H talent instead of sword and shield and use the blade of the endless Paths. No point whatsoever going Dual Wield when you've got no abilities that make use of full attacks and 0 recovery can be so easily achieved with Time Parasite. In late game you probably want to get off Defensive Mindweb > Time Parasite > Borrowed Instinct in that order.


#6
MaxQuest

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A fighter will always outdamage a Cipher in terms of weapon damage with recovery being equal or not too far off.

A fighter will indeed outdamage cc-cipher.
But not damage-oriented cipher. Auto-attacking is merely a third of this damage output, while powers are the main source. 
Mind Lance, Echo, Silent Scream, Amplified Wave and the best of them: a well placed Detonate (which although has a short range is easy to use by a melee cipher, especially when body blocking a door passage and most of enemies are on the other side).

#7
Livegood118

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A fighter will always outdamage a Cipher in terms of weapon damage with recovery being equal or not too far off.

A fighter will indeed outdamage cc-cipher.
But not damage-oriented cipher. Auto-attacking is merely a third of this damage output, while powers are the main source. 
Mind Lance, Echo, Silent Scream, Amplified Wave and the best of them: a well placed Detonate (which although has a short range is easy to use by a melee cipher, especially when body blocking a door passage and most of enemies are on the other side).

 

Sure - that's why I limited it to weapon damage :)

 

The points I think I'm making in that long winded post above are as follows:

 

1. There's little point in making a melee Cipher if your focus generation isn't going to be greater than a ranged Cipher.

2. To achieve greater focus than a ranged Cipher, you have to balance your damage and survivability an appropriate amount.

 

Where the balance lies in #2 I think is the main issue. Somebody with practical experience should be able to weigh in – I think that a Cipher with Hatchet + Shield should be able to do it in the early game, and then branch out mid game to something else + shield and then 2H + defensive Mindweb in late game.

 

Edit: Regardless of what melee weapon you ultimately go for, Quickswitching Arquebuses seems to be particularly suited for a melee Cipher because it (a) allows you to quickly generate focus to shore up your defenses through buffs/cc at the start of the fight and (b) generate focus at convenient times in battles against enemies with heavy debuffs (e.g. shooting a paralysed enemy and being pretty sure you're going to get a crit).


Edited by Livegood118, 04 January 2017 - 09:27 AM.


#8
Braven

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When I last played melee cipher, I focused almost completely on offense (much like a ranged cipher) with the idea that if the enemies are disabled, they can't attack regardless of how far away the cipher is so defenses and health are not very important (though I still wore plate armor most of the time in the early/mid game because focus generation isn't very good yet).  By using melee weapons, you do more damage than ranged weapons and gain focus quicker.  Guns are good for quick focus, but for sustained focus generation, melee weapons are king.   Ciphers have the best renewable disabling spells in the game and a disabled enemy is as good as +1,000,000 to all defenses.  Because the cheap-to-cast powers are single target only, good battlefield position is key to survival so you don't draw too much attention.  It is good to attack from the edges instead of trying to engage in the middle where you can get surrounded or overwhelmed.  Finding a choke point is also very helpful so that you only need to disable one enemy at a time.

 

The most important stats are Intelligence and Perception which should be maxed as high as possible.  You really need your charms and mental binding to last as long as possible and hit reliably because those serve as both your offense and defense.  Dexterity should also be high so you can cast your powers quickly, attack fast, and react to changes swiftly.  Constitution should be at least average so you don't get one-shot (ciphers have naturally low endurance).  Might and Resolve are not very important and can be left as low as you want.  

 

Might only has a minor impact with damage because ciphers already have additive modifiers from talents and soul whip.  Accuracy bonuses from perception and enemy debuffs also helps damage output a lot.  More damage is always nice, but it just isn't as important as the other stats.  I also recommend having only 3 Resolve.  The reason is that you can actually cast the Vampiric Shield power with yourself as the target right before you "start" a battle.  Doing so before the encounter makes it free to cast (focus instantly regenerates) and enables to use your starting focus for whispers of treason or mental binding instead.  This drains your remaining resolve, but gives you 25 deflection.  Effectively, it provides a free +23 deflection boost after the resolve loss because you can't go below 1 resolve.  Your concentration will be terrible, but ideally enemies shouldn't be attacking you anyway.  I recommend wearing the belt of chimes to help compensate for the low concentration.   You can also use drugs if you want.  One of them provides an attack speed boost which is helpful for a melee cipher and the drug's downside of losing resolve is negated completely.

 

Early on, you want to use most of your focus on the first level charm spell because it is a very cost-effective crowd control and mental binding is also a good option.  Both provide a huge deflection debuff which effectively increases your accuracy by a ton allowing for frequent critical hits.  Don't be afraid to attack enemies you charmed if that keeps you in a safer battlefield position.  You can always just charm another after it dies since it doesn't take long to get 10 focus.

 

Some enemies are immune to charm in which case you rely more on the "stuck" AOE of mental binding to keep them out of range.  Vessels tend to be immune to charm so it is good to use anti-vessel items (like bartender ring) and enchantments.  Burning lash is good for undead and corrode lash is good for mechanical vessels if you want specialized weapons for them.  Against enemies immune to both charm and paralyze... are big problems for a cipher.  In a party, I would just avoid those enemies and stay back.  For solo, I relied a lot on figurines and consumables to deal with them.  There are not many immune to both afflictions.

 

At higher levels, I tended to use Puppet Master (because it is instant cast and has a longer duration) instead of whispers of treason because each melee attack generated tons of focus.  I would also use the one that increased speed by 50% in order to reach zero-attack recovery.  That really boosts focus generation, but really it is just to hurry up encounters because by the time you have the focus to cast it safely, the battle is already under control.


Edited by Braven, 04 January 2017 - 09:58 AM.


#9
MaxQuest

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The points I think I'm making in that long winded post above are as follows:
 
1. There's little point in making a melee Cipher if your focus generation isn't going to be greater than a ranged Cipher.
2. To achieve greater focus than a ranged Cipher, you have to balance your damage and survivability an appropriate amount.
 
Where the balance lies in #2 I think is the main issue. Somebody with practical experience should be able to weigh in – I think that a Cipher with Hatchet + Shield should be able to do it in the early game.

You are thinking in right direction)
I understand your point of view, and basically agree from where we are standing.
But I'd like to paraphrase your statement a little, and provide a second PoV:
 
1. "There is little point in making a melee Cipher if there is a better alternative for that melee spot/niche in your party."
 
For example I already had a ranged cipher, and had a right-flank spot empty on the frontline. I could take monk/rogue/fighter/cc_wizard_offtank/chanter.
What I mean by this example, is that I wasn't comparing melee cipher with ranged cipher, but with other frontliners.
 
 
Now about focus generation. You make a completely valid point about focus generation and provide an ok solution for early game survivability:
1. [Hatchet + Shield]
 
I just wanted to add that there are two more decent alternatives for the early game (I tried all 3)
2. [Estoc/DualWielding Sabres + Plate, preferably Sanguine]  + Mental Binding those who hit you
3. [Estoc/DualWielding Sabres + Plate, preferably Sanguine]  + use damaging powers; and let your ranged cipher Paralyze the enemy who hits your melee cipher, if it is his target, or Treason otherwise.

The increase in damage, was leading to substantial increase in focus.
I started with a shield too, but having a higher paralyze uptime ended up in more survivability gain than +10/15 deflection.
Plus debuffed deflection (-40 malus) on the enemy was leading to scoring more hits/crits, leading to even more focus gain.

Edited by MaxQuest, 04 January 2017 - 09:41 AM.


#10
Elric Galad

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Advice #1 : include a druid in your party. Casting Form of the Delegan each fight will ultimately remove the need of an armor (durganized unique robe/padded/naked martyr pants are ok)

Advice #2 : use reach weapon.

Advice #3 : flanking and using fast CC (whisper of treason) is usually enough to avoid getting slaughtered.

#11
Livegood118

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Hmm yeah, as you and Boroer say, a Melee Cipher seems like a really good candidate for Sanguine Plate and Shod in Faith – though wouldn't health be a huge issue with this approach? I understand Potions of Vital Essence can mitigate this to an extent but it sounds like a pain to have to deal with. 



#12
MaxQuest

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Hmm yeah, as you and Boroer say, a Melee Cipher seems like a really good candidate for Sanguine Plate and Shod in Faith – though wouldn't health be a huge issue with this approach? I understand Potions of Vital Essence can mitigate this to an extent but it sounds like a pain to have to deal with.

It would. That's why you don't let your melee cipher get hit too much.
And give Shod-in-Faith to other frontliner, with maxed Mig, Int, low-deflection and high health pool. Usually it's a monk or barbarian.


On a side note, Wound Binding is increased by Might and is usable in combat)
Moon godlike, shod-in-faith'ed barb/monk with high Mig/Con/Int can just stand and stand and stand alive.

Edited by MaxQuest, 04 January 2017 - 10:01 AM.


#13
Braven

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If health (not endurance) is a problem, the binding wounds talent solves that completely and can also be used in the middle of combat, if needed.  With high Might, it recovers the majority of your health pool.  Basically turns a cipher into a monk from a health perspective.  

 

The impact it has is a lot higher than many other talents people frequently take in the mid-late game which only very mildly help damage output or defenses.  By level 10, you should already have the most important talents taken for your class.

 

That said, I agree with the notion of just not letting your melee cipher get hit too much instead of focusing and health or endurance regeneration.  Shouldn't be too much of an issue since they have quick-to-cast disable powers.  Ideally, they should be beating up on charmed or paralyzed enemies instead of fighting a fair fight.


Edited by Braven, 04 January 2017 - 10:09 AM.


#14
Livegood118

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Hmm yeah, as you and Boroer say, a Melee Cipher seems like a really good candidate for Sanguine Plate and Shod in Faith – though wouldn't health be a huge issue with this approach? I understand Potions of Vital Essence can mitigate this to an extent but it sounds like a pain to have to deal with.

It would. That's why you don't let your melee cipher get hit too much.
And give Shod-in-Faith to other frontliner, with maxed Mig, Int, low-deflection and high health pool. Usually it's a monk or barbarian.


On a side note, Wound Binding is increased by Might and is usable in combat)
Moon godlike, shod-in-faith'ed barb/monk with high Mig/Con/Int can just stand and stand and stand alive.

 

 

This is kind of why I felt that a more defensive approach with Shield + Hatchet might be better, because if you've got higher deflection you're going to be much less likely to get attacked in the first place, which means more focus and less interruptions.

 

Maybe Brynlod had a hatchet for a reason?  :biggrin:



#15
Braven

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Hmm yeah, as you and Boroer say, a Melee Cipher seems like a really good candidate for Sanguine Plate and Shod in Faith – though wouldn't health be a huge issue with this approach? I understand Potions of Vital Essence can mitigate this to an extent but it sounds like a pain to have to deal with.

It would. That's why you don't let your melee cipher get hit too much.
And give Shod-in-Faith to other frontliner, with maxed Mig, Int, low-deflection and high health pool. Usually it's a monk or barbarian.


On a side note, Wound Binding is increased by Might and is usable in combat)
Moon godlike, shod-in-faith'ed barb/monk with high Mig/Con/Int can just stand and stand and stand alive.

 

 

This is kind of why I felt that a more defensive approach with Shield + Hatchet might be better, because if you've got higher deflection you're going to be much less likely to get attacked in the first place, which means more focus and less interruptions.

 

Maybe Brynlod had a hatchet for a reason?  :biggrin:

 

 

Remember, if you charm an enemy with whispers of treason, they get huge debuffs to their defenses.  To the other enemies, they seem like ideal targets to engage because of their poor defenses.  That is why the "charm" affliction is actually better than the "domination" affliction most of the time.  You don't really need particularly high defenses to make yourself look "tankier" than a charmed enemy who has -40 to all defenses.  The +25 deflection buff of the long-lasting PsychoVampiric Shield power should be enough.


Edited by Braven, 04 January 2017 - 10:19 AM.


#16
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Look at Raven Darkholme's "arena" fight (solo upscaled Magran's Faithful) with a tanky shield cipher. Cipher with shield can be tanky as hell while providing good offense, too. The upside of this approach is that you don't have to babysit at all. The downside is a bit lower DPS/focus generation. But with a durganized shield dps is not bad at all because of better speed while defenses are still great. And once you get Reaping Knives (and have somebody in the party who dual wields) your own weapon damage doesn't matter anymore. ;)

#17
Braven

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Look at Raven Darkholme's "arena" fight (solo upscaled Magran's Faithful) with a tanky shield cipher. Cipher with shield can be tanky as hell while providing good offense, too. The upside of this approach is that you don't have to babysit at all. The downside is a bit lower DPS/focus generation. But with a durganized shield dps is not bad at all because of better speed while defenses are still great. And once you get Reaping Knives (and have somebody in the party who dual wields) your own weapon damage doesn't matter anymore. ;)

 

In my playthrough at level 16, I noticed that I generated more focus than I had time to use with dual weapons and I actually switched to a shield/sword at that point because there really wasn't any downside.  With fully enchanted gear and durgan and all the talents, focus really isn't a problem so you might as well have higher defenses.  You can even get zero-attack recovery with Time-Siphon while using a shield in which case having a shield hardly impacts damage or focus generation at all.  However, in earlier levels I think a shield is much more of a hinderance because the deflection bonus is not yet significant (talents and quality enchantments really make the difference) and your damage output is still low and eaten up a lot by DR.  Using a larger shield hurts all of your powers since all of them have accuracy rolls and accuracy impacts power duration a lot. Attacking faster/harder and charming/paralyzing more is just a more effective defense in the early/mid game.  I completely agree that shield and max defenses is very good in the late game, though.


Edited by Braven, 04 January 2017 - 10:39 AM.


#18
Boeroer

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Early on I use a small shield. I hate it to switch styles during a playthrough. And in a party you really don't need to. I will stay true to my original idea even if it's a bit harder in the early game.

Man, that solo priest with a great sword was really demanding until he reached defiance bay. ;)

#19
Livegood118

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I don't really see a need to use anything other than a 2H once you've got defensive mindweb and providing you've got a good tank in your party. Just quickswitch Arquebus for the initial focus for it and then go hog wild. I'd almost say it's more much optimal at that stage than ranged Cipher.



#20
Boeroer

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More optimal? ;)




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