Monday, January 9, 2012

The Goddamn Mastermind

Introduction

The Mastermind is a truly unique archetype within City of Heroes. On his own, a Mastermind has less hitpoints than anyone else, deals a pitiful amount of damage, and has little to no self defense. All of his powers cost more endurance, and often for less effect, than they would for anyone else. A Mastermind, on his own, is the least effective and least efficient character you can create. The strength of a Mastermind, however, lies in the fact that he never has to be on his own.

The Mastermind is the City of Heroes take on the ever popular "pet class" in other MMORPGs, except here we call them henchmen. Every Mastermind is able to summon up to three tiers of permanent henchmen with two levels of upgrades. As if the veritable army itself was not enough, the Mastermind also chooses a secondary powerset that is dedicated to supporting his army. There are a lot of gears trying to work together here, and it is not easy to get the most out of this grand machine.

When you do take all those tools and manage them properly, you create a truly game breaking good character. You create The Goddamn Mastermind. This guide will be dedicated to helping you maximize that potential and get the most out of your Mastermind, but I will not start the guide at the level cap with the top end gear. I understand that you have to crawl before you walk (et cetera), and with that in mind, I will be providing the tactical advice to succeed as a Mastermind at all levels and regardless of budget.

The Core Mechanics

Despite the differences between the many possible power combinations, there are a few basic things that will be the same for every Mastermind. Including summoning and commanding henchmen, as well as inherent powers, understanding these core mechanics is the most important step towards building The Goddamn Mastermind.

Henchman Progression

Every Mastermind gets three powers to summon permanent henchmen, available at levels 1, 12, and 26. The first summon power creates one minion until level 5, two minions from levels 6 through 17, and three minions from level 18 onward. The second summon power creates one lieutenant until level 23 and two lieutenants above that. The third power always summons only one boss. For every pet beyond the first within a group, they all drop one level. So, at level 26 and beyond, you will have one boss that is even level with you, two lieutenants that are one level lower than you, and three minions that are two levels lower than you.

Likewise, every Mastermind will be able to upgrade their henchmen with powers that are available at levels 6 and 32. The upgrade powers have an area of effect, so they do not need to be cast multiple times. This does mean that you should never have to play with a non-upgraded boss or lieutenant.

Stances and Actions

Each time you command a henchman, you essentially give him two commands at the same time. One gives him an action, the other sets his stance. The action commands tell henchmen what they should be doing right now, while the stance mostly governs how they react to the environment without actions.

There are four actions and three stances your pets can receive. The actions are Attack, Follow, Go To, and Stay, but I need to translate this from Artificial Stupid into actual English so you know what the henchman will do.

Command - Translation
Attack - Start by attacking my selected target, but don't stop until everything you see is dead.
Follow - Come step on my toes for a few seconds, then do whatever you feel like doing.
Go To - This spot is "the base." Tag it before you go do anything else. Come back when you're done.
Stay - Stay right where you are until you see something you want to kill.

The three stances, Aggressive, Defensive, and Passive, are much more straight forward. In the aggressive stance, henchmen will shoot, punch, burn, rape and pillage by any means available against any target within perception range. While in defensive stance, they will not start shooting, punching, burning, raping or pillaging until you or one of your henchmen are attacked; after that, all bets are off. The passive stance effectively turns off all of their powers and actually makes them generate less threat for easier travel.

Supremacy

The Mastermind has an inherent power called Supremacy, which is essentially an aura power that affects your henchmen. All henchmen within line of sight and sixty feet of you will receive a +15% tohit and a +25% damage bonus. The range gives you a great deal of mobility, but you still have to be mindful of corners. The nature of the tohit bonus lets you easily take on higher level opponents, especially in the early levels.

Bodyguard Mode

Hand in hand with the inherent is Bodyguard Mode, a sort of damage sharing plan that you can subscribe to. To activate this mode, at least one of your henchmen must be under Supremacy, in the defensive stance, and have been given any action command other than Attack. You may have any number of henchmen in bodyguard mode, and each one increases its benefit. While in bodyguard mode, every attack you sustain will be spread out among your henchmen and you. You will take two "shares" of damage, and each henchman will take one share. You may resist the damage taken before it gets shared, but the henchmen cannot resist their share.

An Example: Assume an attack of 100 points of damage hits you. Your resistance is 20%, bringing it to 80 points of damage. You have two henchmen in bodyguard mode, so you take two shares out of the four total (two for you plus two henchmen), which is 1/2 or 40 points of damage. Each henchman takes 20 points of damage which they cannot resist further.

I'm sure you can already see how powerful Bodyguard Mode can be. How to best leverage this ability is covered in more detail later, but I will tell you now that this ability is the very center of The Goddamn Mastermind.

Enhancements, Set Bonuses, and Inspirations

Henchmen have a variety of attacks, often with many attributes to enhance. Multiple aspect enhancements (particularly HOs) are necessary to being able to improve all the attributes you want. Enhancements placed in the summon power will grant all applicable effects to every power the henchman uses, as well as the summon power itself. To make this abundantly clear, a Damage/Endurance IO will improve the damage of the henchman's attacks, reduce the endurance cost the henchman pays for his powers, and reduce the cost you pay to use the summon. Proc IOs function similarly, in that they get a chance to happen with any attack that could accept the proc. To clarify, the smashing damage proc from Explosive Strike will have a chance to occur with any attack that can cause knockback.

Henchmen are completely immune to recharge buffs of all types, to include those from enhancements and incarnate powers. For instance, slotting a Hold/Recharge IO in your summon power or the Spiritual Alpha will do nothing to make the henchman attack faster, but they will at least make the summon power recharge faster.

Set bonuses from IOs will not apply to your henchmen. Attaining damage and defense bonuses will only affect you and your powers, not your henchmen. There are five unique IOs which grant you an auto power that only affects your henchmen by boosting defense or resistance.

Inspirations can benefit either a single henchmen or the Mastermind. By clicking on the inspiration like normal, you will use it and gain its bonus. You also have the option to drag the inspiration to your henchman or his name in the pet window to give that specific henchman the boost.

Growing the Goddamn Mastermind

The next step in the guide is to walk you through the leveling up process and teaching some tactics you should be employing along the way. Even if you're coming to this guide with a level 50 Mastermind, there's a good chance you could still get some valuable advice in these sections.

In the Beginning (Levels 1-17)

Pick your powers, create your character, log in, and summon your first henchman. Whether it's an ancient zombie or a cutting edge robot, this is your first tier, your minion, your ticket to world domination. First thing's first, though, right click the henchman and select "rename" so you can start calling him something badass.

As to actually ordering the bastard around, the game helps you out by giving you a few macros to start with. Those are a bunch of crap, though, so you should just clear them from your tray. Look at your Pet Window (if you can't find it, open the Team window and click on "Pets" at the top), where you will see your badass henchman's name and a few other buttons. At the top is Options, which you will now click on to select "Switch to Advanced Mode." Notice that the buttons for commands are now split into the two groups of action and stance. The buttons are also broken down into "All Pets" and "Whatever your minions are called." Right now they will both act the same, but you should start playing with the "All Pets" first.

Go find something to attack, then issue the command. Now, left click and drag that command down to your tray. Look at that, you don't have to go through the menu anymore and you have a pretty button. This will be the easiest way for you to make the macros you want. You can always edit them later with a right click, even combine commands. Here's a few examples:

Command arguments - What it tells who to do.
pet_com_all goto aggressive - All pets go here in aggressive stance.
pet_comall defensive follow - All pets follow me in defensive stance.
petcom_pow Batt att - Pets summoned by the power named Battle Drones, attack my target, don't change your stance.
petcom_name Jules fol pas$$petcomname Vincent att agg - Pet named Jules, follow me in passive stance while the pet named Vincent attacks my target in aggressive stance.

A few notes to take away from the examples: Stance/action order does not matter. Underscores do not matter; they only exist if you need them to help you see the command. You do not have to type the full command or even the name of the power. "Batt" is enough for the game to understand you mean "Battle Drones," and "att" is enough for "Attack." You can command different pets to do different things with one button.

There are finer ways to order your henchmen around. If you want to get into those gritty details, this guide is the most in depth I've seen. They are not something I have ever found necessary, but you may like the system more than I did.

Now that you can get the pet to do what you want for the most part, have him go kill things until you're level six, go to the trainer, and get your first upgrade. Be sure to experiment with the different commands and learn how your minion acts while there is still only one of them to keep track of. For the levels in between, simply pick powers you think you will use. I do not usually recommend taking the personal attacks because the damage they do drops in value as your army grows, but if you know you have a few respecs saved up, go ahead and grab one or two for the early game. You will quickly find them burning a lot of endurance, though. In my mind, you get much more mileage out of the support powers and even pool powers.

With your upgrade power at level six, you will also be able to summon two minions. Cast the upgrade on either one (it will hit everything nearby) and you'll notice some graphical changes that make the minions look a little more threatening than before. Henchmen zone with you and keep their upgrades, so the only time to recast the upgrade is if you have to re-summon. The upgrade power does not need any enhancement besides endurance reduction, and the basic slot is enough to cover that.

With your small team, it's time to start making use of bodyguard mode, as I explained in The Core Mechanics. Instead of ordering your henchmen to attack, you should be the one to initiate combat. With your two henchmen it will be like having 50% resistance to everything, so that first round of enemy attacks will not hurt much at all. As soon as your are attacked, the minions retaliate with their new powers. By the time the enemy switches targets to start hurting your minions, they'll be dead. Imagine yourself as the tank and the defender all at once, with your own team that you don't have to share experience or drops with. You are your own force multiplier.

Things progress much the same for a long while. At level twelve, you get your next summon, this time for your lieutenant. Typically these henchmen have support related powers, otherwise they are your heavy hitter, and the upgrade power from level six can immediately be used on them. As you level up, devote most of your slots to the summon powers, particularly the lieutenant. Now that you have three henchmen and the standard difficulty gives you only three minion foes at a time, you should be able to increase your difficulty for a while.

Paradise Lost (Levels 18-23)

I'm going to be frank with you. These levels are going to suck. Your enemies are getting stronger, lasting long enough to start putting a hurt on your minions, and start using area attacks. You just got one more minion, who promptly dropped the other two one more level. Your lieutenant doesn't have his back up and you don't even have SOs to put in the slots that you don't have. To make matters worse, if you are playing redside, you get to deal with Scrapyarders. To get through this, I strongly suggest you find teams and get some help through here.

While you level up in this stage, you should be fleshing out your support capacity; this has the added bonus of making you more valuable to any teams you are joining. This is a good time to start taking powers from the Leadership pool, keeping in mind you pass this benefit not only to your team, but your army of henchmen. If you feel like you need an attack, Air Superiority comes highly recommended. Hasten is another smart choice to bring your support powers up more often.

I'm not saying this stretch of levels is impossible to solo, but it will not be not easy. If you are one of those stoic, stubborn, self challenging types and you are fanatically hell bent on earning the "I Walked Through Mastermind Hell" badge, then there's a few tactics that will greatly help you here.*

First, you will need to start honest to goodness tanking for your henchmen. Get Provoke and maybe even the area attack from your primary if your secondary set doesn't have something you can use to make things angry. That should be enough to keep the attention on yourself, but there are still the enemy area attacks to deal with.

I realize I should mention why area attacks are so lethal before I teach you how to avoid them. If you are in bodyguard mode, an area attack will hit your henchman for its full damage, plus whatever share it gets from you. Make no mistake, your henchmen are frail. They do not have a large pool of hit points and cannot survive being hit by anything for very long. Imagine if blasters took seven times as much damage from area attacks as they did single target ones; that's what happens to a Mastermind against area attacks. The protection of bodyguard mode fails as henchmen die, so you start taking more damage and giving larger shares to the henchmen that remain in a sort of cascade failure situation.

Use the Go To command to keep your henchmen far enough away from you to avoid taking area attacks centered on you, but be careful to keep them within the Supremacy range. Again, your henchmen are not going to want to stay where you tell them to go, especially if they have a few melee attacks, so you may have to repeat the command and keep yourself mobile as well. Kite your enemies by taunting and retreating, allowing your henchmen to keep firing while the enemies chase you.

Sometimes, depending on the powerset combination or the enemy type, you might be better off ordering your henchmen to attack and staying out of the fight yourself. This will be slower and probably safer, but you should expect to re-summon much more often.

*This badge does not actually exist.

Pilgrimage (Levels 24-31)

Level 24 hits and boom, you now have one more lieutenant. Yes, your lieutenants dropped a level, but now their support capabilities are stacking with one another or you just got twice as many heavy hitters and bodyguard modes is spreading damage just that much thinner. Remember, as you increase the shares of damage, the henchmen themselves take less damage too. With this level, life starts looking up. Your enemies either die faster or your henchmen survive better and level 26 comes pretty quickly.

The henchman you get at level 26, your boss, is always the crowning piece of your army, bringing heaps of damage or heaps of control, and in some cases, a mix of both. Like every other summon power, devote as many slots to it that you can spare.

Other than those two levels, this is a very uneventful stretch, but it is where you start coming into your own. You start getting enough slots to go around all your powers and the enhancements are strong enough to really matter. If you don't already have it, make sure you snag Provoke in this stretch. I would also suggest taking a look at the Fighting pool, as being able to reduce the damage you take will reduce the damage that gets shared out to your pets. If your secondary power gives you a fair amount of defense, Aid Other/Self can become valuable powers.

Right now I would like to bring up the math of Bodyguard Mode one more time. With all six henchmen out, there is a total of eight shares available to you. When using them all, you take 2/8 or one fourth of all damage thrown at you. That translates to the equivalent of 75% resistance to everything. For point of reference, this is the value all Scraper resistances cap at. Any real resistance you manage to obtain will essentially push you beyond the resistance cap for how much damage you actually take. Keep in mind, this only works while your pets are alive, thus my insistence on getting Provoke.

Promised Land (Level 32+)

No single level is as big for anybody as level 32 is for a Mastermind (yes, this is coming from the same guy who wrote The MFing Warshade). Imagine taking just one power that in turn gives you at least six new attacks or debuffs to put in your tray, that are already enhanced, and that you can use all at the same time. That's what the second upgrade does. Each henchman gets at least one new awesome power that already benefits from the enhancements your henchmen have. Stygian Circle, Eclipse, Lightning Rod, Fulcrum Shift, or whatever, I don't care; not a single one of those has as much impact as the second upgrade power for a Mastermind.

That upgrade power alone turns the dial up at least three notches, then you promptly add in your last two support powers and a whole slew of enhancement slots in between. Epic and Patron pools open up as well, giving you massive benefits, like heavy resist or defense shields and utility powers. Ladies and gentlemen, the dial has officially gone to eleven.

But we don't even stop there.

Turn the Dial up to "Goddamn"

I'm sure you've heard the crazy stories about Masterminds who solo ludicrous difficulty maps, Arch Villains and even Giant Monsters. Yes, it happens. Most of them could do it before incarnate powers and some of them could do it before inventions came around. But how do they do it?

They're Goddamn Masterminds, that's how. They figured out all the stuff you're about to read.

Maximization and Micromanagement Tactics

Your henchmen protect you while in Bodyguard Mode, but you need to know how to protect them to get the most out of it. You need to be able to position three things to keep your pets out area attacks: yourself, your army, and your enemy. If your henchmen need to be in melee range, then you need to immobilize your foe or keep moving to maintain distance. Make sure you keep the attention of the heavy hitters on you; Provoke alone may not be enough, so throw a few attacks out there. Remember that you are your own force multiplier, so use your buffs and debuffs to keep the henchmen standing.

By this point in the guide, I'm sure I've driven home how powerful Bodyguard Mode is, but I still need to tell you that it is not always appropriate to have all of your henchmen protecting you. The one downfall of Bodyguard Mode is that it prevents you from directing your fire to the targets you want to kill first. Get around this by mixing your commands. Have a macro that commands only your damage focused henchmen to attack a specific target, leaving three or four henchmen to protect you. This will help you burn down your dangerous targets without entirely losing the bodyguard benefits.

Another thing to cover is how the game processes the commands you give your henchmen. Commands are a sort of "free action" in that you issue them at any time, so long as you are not stunned, held, etc. This means that even during the animations for your attacks or knockback animations, when you are generally locked out of doing anything else, like moving or using inspirations, you can still be telling your henchmen what to do. For instance, you can execute an attack, queue up another and have a third (perhaps Provoke) on auto, giving you around seven full seconds of command time while your character does his thing.

Put the Intelligence Back in AI

The largest barrier between you and being awesome will be battling the stupid habits of the henchmen. As I alluded to earlier, "go there" rarely ever means "stay there" in whatever language your henchmen use. Even with ranged henchmen, issuing a Go To command will get them to stay in place for a while, but eventually they will either chase a target somewhere or decide they want to be in melee range for no good reason (even if the henchman has no melee attacks). What's worse, a second Go To command is even less effective than the first; often the henchman will tag that spot like a base and go right back to what he was doing. Don't worry, there's a trick I've worked out to get your henchmen to do what you want.

Issue a Follow command first, then do your second Go To. There's something about Follow that "resets" the AI and what it was targeting. The problem is that Follow also seems to enforce some sort of idle loop for a few seconds, during which your henchmen will not respond to combat. To get around that, you issue the GoTo command immediately afterwards, sending them where you want them to be without the pesky "I need to punch him in the face" taking over (at least, for a little while).

Slotting IOs That Matter

As mentioned very early in the guide, set bonuses do not benefit your henchmen. Damage and accuracy bonuses you receive do nothing to increase the damage your henchmen do. You don't really have a standing attack chain to want for recharge bonuses. Your powers can cost a lot of endurance, but since you are not constantly attacking to do damage, you usually don't really need recovery bonuses either. That said, there are still a lot of good things you can get from IOs.

First, and rather obviously, is knockback protection. It won't help the army, but neither can you if you're on your backside. With all the attention you are trying to get for yourself, you can expect this investment to pay off rather quickly.

Next up is the art of frankenslotting; worry more about the actual enhancement value than about the set bonuses you could get. By combining more of the triple and quad aspect IOs from different sets, you can get sometimes as many as eight SOs worth of enhancement in five slots. HOs are often even better if you can get your hands on them.

After you have your powers slotted to the ED cap for just about everything, it's time to fit procs into your build. Just as an example, slotting a single Lady Grey proc into the Mercenaries' Soldiers power will effectively put that proc in ten different attacks across three minions because almost all of their attacks have a defense debuff, the attribute that Lady Grey enhances.

Bodyguard Mode can be made more powerful by increasing your own personal survival. In this pursuit, finding defense and resistance bonuses will help you, especially if you combine them with Epic/Patron shields or anything your secondary can give you. Any bonus to maximum HP or regeneration is also very valuable because your hit points are effectively multiplied through the use of Bodyguard Mode. The best thing about HP and regeneration bonuses are that they usually show up as the first or second bonus from a set, so you can still get the most out of your frankenslotting. This is particularly evident with the ultra rare, unique purple pet set. The first two bonuses, HP and regeneration, are the most beneficial ones to Masterminds. You can only slot one of each of the six enhancements in a character, but by slotting the set across two powers, you can get the best bonuses from the set twice.

The last kind of enhancement worth slotting are the limited few unique IOs that do provide bonuses to your henchmen, but not to you. There are five of them in total now. Two of them come from regular pet sets, which can be slotted in any summon power; the other two are from "recharge intensive" pets, which can be slotted in any summon power that is not one of your three permanent henchmen. The fifth is a recent addition that only grants defense to area attacks. Details are below:

Name - bonus to henchmen - category
Edict of the Master - 5% defense - regular
Sovereign Right- 10% resistance - regular
Call to Arms - 5% defense - recharge intensive
Expedient Reinforcement - 10% resistance - recharge intensive
Command of the Mastermind - 10-15% defense to AoE only - Super Pack ATO


Again, it should be noted that powers which take recharge intensive pet enhancements (e.g. Gang War, Tornado) can also take the regular pet sets as well. It is possible to put all four of those unique enhancements into one power this way, although you will be greatly limiting what the power can be slotted for.

Dealing with Teammates

City of Heroes is an MMO and it does a lot to promote being on a team with other people. Eventually, you will end up on a team with somebody. I'm not going to sugar coat this for you: People hate Masterminds. Now, they'll give you any number of bogus excuses, but deep down, it's really just jealousy. They know that, in the eyes of a Mastermind, teammates are just henchmen who don't follow orders and are a little more expendable. Anyway, you'll need to be aware of the more common complaints and how to deal with them.

"Teammate's Bogus Excuse"
"What Your Reply Should Be"
Reasoning and Actions to Take

"You're more worried about buffing your pets than you are about the team."
"Nobody bitches when the scrapper uses his powers to defend himself, so don't bitch about me doing the same."
Your henchmen are your offense and defense simultaneously, of course you have to support them primarily. Go back to the very beginning where I talk about a Mastermind on his own. If you are on your own, you are helping nobody. This is still a bogus complaint because your attitude towards your henchmen doesn't change the fact that your overflow buffs will still help the team much more than a DPS role would.

"So many pets! Ugh, my framerate!"
"Turn down your graphics settings or get a better computer."
Not much more to say here. Look, some people are unfortunate and even on the lowest graphic settings will have trouble when a Mastermind is on the team. Those people are few and far between, most of the people with this complaint are simply pushing their computer too hard. Also, when the enemies number in the 20s on a full team with eight characters, I have trouble believing a few more NPCs makes a large impact.

"Your pets are blocking all the doorways, I can't fight anything!"
"Your avatar was blocking my henchmen, so I just started moving faster than you."
I actually love this one. In small cave maps and offices with the tiny doorways, everyone blocks everyone else. Sure, it's more noticeable when you have six extras following you around, but the fact remains that tight quarters are tight quarters. There are really two ways you can make things better here. Either hamstring your contribution to the team by dismissing your lowest tier of henchmen or go your own direction on the map and solo the boss or something.

"I could never play a Mastermind, they're too boring."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know pressing 1234 in order over and over was exciting." -or- "Yet you're the one who finds time to talk about it."
The reply almost speaks for itself. You and I know that you aren't doing fancy emotes while your pets trounce the map. Well, maybe you are, but if someone finds playing a Mastermind to be more boring than rotating through a stale attack chain over and over, it's safe to say that the fault was not with the AT.

As an alternative to all these replies, you can simply say "I don't remember asking you a goddamn thing! /SamuelJackson" and proceed to solo the map, the boss, or the AV. It's tough to argue with results like that.

Primary Powersets

In this section, I'll be going over each of the primary sets available to a Goddamn Mastermind. I'll cover the basic info on each henchman type, their strengths and weaknesses, good tactics to use, as well as give you details on the other powers in the set.

Robotics (Bots)

Despite how much I hate to throw the word "best" around, Bots come across as a strong contender for the title. They really do have a lot to offer, but you will find that most of their glory happens after the level 32 upgrade.

Minions - The Drones are are very simple little guys. They just have a few single target attacks until level 32, when they each get a full auto laser cone attack. When they all open up at the same time, the light show is adorable. The ticks of damage can add up so long as you can help them line up the cones. They do have a brawl attack and they are sadly not afraid to use it. Since the Drones don't need anything more than accuracy and damage, they serve as a great place to put the unique IOs or some procs.

Lieutenants - Protectors almost single handedly make the set what it is. The shields are likely the largest benefit. Each other henchman gets two strong defense granting shields, but you and the Protectors only get one each, making your Protectors the weak link in the chain. They also have the ability to heal your other henchmen and each other. Much like the Drones, they only get single target attacks until level 32, when they get a photon grenade attack that can stun enemies and will start to summon Seeker Drones to further protect your army with -tohit and -dmg debuffs. Enhancing Protectors can be tricky, because you'll want to enhance the defense for sure, but they also need endurance reduction or they will burn out during longer fights. I suggest two defense IOs, then frankenslot the rest. The heal is fairly strong on its own, but if you have no way to heal your henchmen yourself, consider enhancing that as well.

Boss - The Assault Bot is essentially a Voltron of the three Drones. Before the final upgrade, this is the only robot with any sort of area attack, but even then it's just a short range flamethrower. The upgrade brings two varieties of targeted area missile attacks, the incendiary version being the largest source of damage available to a Bots Mastermind. Every target hit by the incendiary missile will have a Burn patch spawn at its feet. The Assbot also has a brawl attack, but unlike the Drones, this one actually packs a punch and has a chance to stun. Get out your sunglasses, because this bot deals damage like a boss. Like the Drones, you only need damage and accuracy, maybe a hint of endurance. This is the henchman that should get the Build Up proc from the purple set if you can afford it.

Unless you chose a very passive secondary powerset, the only attack I might recommend taking as a Bots Mastermind is the Photon Grenade because of the minor chance to stack stuns with your Protectors. Chances are, you'll find better powers to take in its place.

Repair is a terrible power. Henchmen don't have a lot of hit points, so don't be fooled by the power of a "full heal." Most secondary powersets come with a heal that is almost as powerful, but even for the ones that don't, Aid Other is generally a better option.

Strategy is simple with Bots. Keep them at range and mow down your foes. Outside of the incendiary missiles, the majority of the Assbot's damage is single target, so be sure to order him to burn down the specific foes. You can try to maximize Drone damage by ordering them to attack enemies at the back of a spawn, putting everything else inside the cone range. Doing both at the same time only leaves two henchmen for Bodyguard Mode, but you can afford to be a little careless thanks to the extra defense from your Protectors.

Necromancy (Necro)

The undead henchmen are a far cry from the robotic ones. Necro is control and debuff heavy, performs well before the level 32 upgrade, and prefers to be in melee range, among many other differences.

Minions - Zombies, minus the intelligence Hollywood would make you believe they have. These guys are fragile and stupid, but they do throw up some good chunks of damage (puns intended). The vomit attacks are toxic damage, which is very seldom resisted, and make up enough of an attack chain with just the level 6 upgrade. The level 32 upgrade only adds Siphon Life, but this does a lot to address zombie frailty. Accuracy and damage are the slotting priorities, procs and anything else are to taste.

Lieutenants - The Grave Knights are nothing short of impressive when it comes to dealing damage, and between the sword attacks and dark blasts, they are hardly short of attacks. Unfortunately, they can often get stuck in a ranged mode; get around this by issuing a Go To command before Attack. Final upgrade gives them one more huge sword attack and Siphon Life. Luckily, you can get away with the standard accuracy and damage slotting and twinge of endurance, because there are two fantastic procs to give these guys. First is the Achilles' Heel -resist proc, which can go off with every sword attack. Second is the Build Up proc from the purple set, as these are your heaviest hitters.

Boss - The Lich is pretty much a Dark/Dark defender lite. Yes, he does damage, but the real awesome here comes from that one-two punch of debuff and control. Most of the attacks are cones, so you want to do your best keeping the Lich at range for the most targets hit. Enhancing everything the Lich has to offer is almost impossible, and you'll need HOs if you want to get close. Emphasize the -tohit before you work on mez, then damage, accuracy, and finally, endurance. Heal might be a good thing to enhance if you don't have one of your own to toss his way occasionally. Almost all of the Lich attacks have -tohit, so one of those procs isn't a bad idea.

Be sure to pick up Drain Life if you do not have a reliable way to heal yourself in your secondary. Otherwise, there is not a lot of benefit to the attacks. The -tohit debuff that these carry is too minor to matter when compared to the Lich.

Soul Extraction is fantastic. It has great damage, fair control and debuff, albeit mostly single target, and is a great power to put the recharge intensive unique IOs into. It does require a dead henchman to use it, but you can always encourage that along with some commands. Don't over emphasize the recharge on this power, because you can only use it as often as a henchman dies. The higher tier the henchman you "revive" with this, the stronger the extracted soul is.

Being a Necro Mastermind will require some micromanagement. You want your Zombies and Grave Knights toe to toe with the enemy for maximum damage, but you still want to engage first so the enemy alpha doesn't kill off henchmen before they can Siphon Life. Also, you want your Lich out of melee to maximize the effect of his cones. Try to set up a triangle with your Lich at one corner, you at another, and your other henchmen and the enemies at the third. The Grave Knights are your heavy hitters, and their damage is mostly single target, so be sure to direct their fire to hard targets.

Demon Summoning (Demons)

By far the most varied set, no two henchmen in Demon Summoning are identical. You get fire, cold, lethal, and toxic damage. You get -resist, +resist, heals and holds. They seem to be the most endurance intensive brand of henchmen, with all too good reason.

Minions - Three cute little rascals of three flavors: Fire, cold and hellfire, in that order. Fire and cold are self explanatory, but Hellfire is a mix of fire and toxic damage, with a side of -resist to make everything else your henchmen do hurt that much more. They get one simple melee and two ranged attacks, and at 32 they each get a breath attack. These are hard to maximize, both because the cones are narrow and short range, and the demons prefer melee range to begin with. It's hard to fit them with procs, so use this power as your way to slot the unique IOs for defense and resistance.

Lieutenants - First you get an Ember Demon, a fire based damage henchman with a lot of buffs for you and your other demons. He boosts resistance for you and the other demons with an aura, has a single target heal, and at 32, will get an aura heal that goes off periodically (this one benefits you). The second lieutenant is a Hellfire Gargoyle, which is the offensive version of the first. Like the smaller version, this hellfire demon has fire/toxic attacks that do -resist to the enemy. Upgrades keep giving him more attacks, a damage aura, and eventually two very strong melee attacks. Enhancing here is a pain because you want damage, resistance, accuracy, endurance, and maybe heal. I go with two level 50 resist IOs, then frankenslot to taste with the other four slots. Despite the Hellfire Gargoyle's impressive damage, I don't recommend the Build Up IO be used here because you're already strapped for slots.

Boss - The Demon Prince is a lot like what an Ice/Ice scrapper could be like. He's got Chilling Embrace and some defense built in on top of his inherent resistance. He gets a damaging hold and eventually Frozen Aura, the icy version of Footstomp. The Build Up proc is probably best slotted in this guy, and damage procs from slow sets could also do a lot for you.

Demon Masterminds are also unique in that the personal attacks provide a very useful debuff, -resist. I recommend taking at least two to cycle through, because you can easily stack up some respectable -resist that will magnify the damage of all your demons.

The level 18 power is technically a summon power, but I consider it a damage buff for your Hellfire Gargoyle that just happens to summon little fire imps and hold recharge intensive unique IOs. In my experience, the imps don't do much to impact a fight, so you can get away with simply slotting recharge.

Strategy for Demons tends to be pretty simple. Get them to stay together and get them in melee range of the enemy. You want everyone benefiting from the Ember shield and heals, and their strongest attacks are all melee ones. The best part is that the demons are surprisingly sturdy on their own, and adding the resist unique IOs increases that significantly. When focusing fire, I suggest doing this with both hellfire henchmen to get all the -resist in one place, and the Demon Prince to make good use of it.

Thugs (...Thugs)

Very similar to Bots in terms of what they offer, these streetwise guys are also strong contenders for best henchmen in town. They also bring some area attacks before level 32.

Minions - The first two you get are simple punks who smack and shoot things, but you want to keep them at distance for the cone attack they get at 32. The third minion is an Arsonist, who gets an area attack out of the box and only upgrades to get more. He lobs burn patches, he spits fire, and throws dynamite. As a bonus, he has the Scourge ability just like a Corruptor. Be careful with this guy, because he drags a lot of attention down on himself and he is very flimsy. Accuracy and damage are priorities, bits of endurance are nice to have, after that these guys are a good place for the unique IOs and maybe even the Build Up proc, if only for the Arsonist.

Lieutenants - Enter the Enforcers, the real centerpiece of the set, rocking double uzis, Scourge damage, and all three leadership auras by level 32 (Assault comes last). And they get trench coats; Badass 101, folks, don't mess with a trench. Each Enforcer creates his own aura that stacks with others, Maneuvers being particularly strong, but they only effect other thugs henchmen, not you. Unlike Protector Bots, though, a single Enforcer will benefit from his own buffs. You may not run into them too often, but you will notice that on teams with other Thugs Masterminds, your thugs will benefit from his Enforcers as well as your own. Again, you want to keep them at range because they have two cone attacks each. It's a shame they have so many things to enhance, mainly defense, but otherwise I would suggest an Achilles' Heel -res proc and the Build Up proc.

Boss - Every gang has the resident tough guy, and your Bruiser is it. The guy has some respectable resists, and coupled with the Enforcer buffs, he can stay on his feet rather well. You want him punching people, not throwing rocks, so the Go To command will be useful. He also has Fury, so a good idea is to send him in first and let him soak as much aggro as he can handle.

Empty Clips (which should be "magazines") is the only tolerable power thanks to cone control knockback.

Gang War is quite the wildcard, summoning a bunch of very fragile, non-command-able Punk lookalikes with an assortment of weapons to a location of your choice. From sledge hammers to pistols, all of their attacks carry a taunt component, obviously intended to draw attention from yourself or your more valuable henchmen, but that's just one great use of Gang War. Sometimes you just want the extra damage, and ten of these guys can really pile it on. Keep in mind that they all benefit from Enforcers as well as the unique IOs. Since the power is recharge intensive, it allows you to fit the other two unique IOs. You can also use Burnout to summon two small armies at once.

As I hinted at earlier, your strategy is to keep most of your henchmen at range and throw the Bruiser into melee. Be sure to let him generate fury, but keep enough of the aggro that you don't risk losing him. When it comes to focus fire, direct just your Arsonist and Bruiser.

Mercenaries (Mercs)

You know I don't sugar coat things, so I'm going to tell you that, out of the box, Mercs lag a little behind your other choices for henchmen. At the end of the day, they're still Mastermind henchmen, and thus capable of awesome things, plus there's a few tricks you can do to turn Mercs into something impressive.

Minions - Two of these are basic Soldiers with machine guns and every version of the "shoot stuff" power you can imagine, including the Full Auto cone. The Medic throws out the occasional heal, loses out on Full Auto, but instead gets a frag grenade. The grenade is more annoying than it sounds because of both the random knockback and his need to get in close to use it. Keep the Medic on a tight leash and you won't need a Medic of your own.

Lieutenants - Here we have quite possibly the most underwhelming henchmen ever, the Special Ed Ops. They get some great control powers and debuffs, but they are on ridiculous long recharge cycles, so you can't rely on them. They also have a strong single target disorient power, but that's with the butt of the rifle, requiring you to send them into melee (don't expect them to come back). Otherwise there's a few good single target attacks, and eventually a sniper power that will do bonus damage while the Spec Ops are under stealth.

Boss - Rambo called and asked for his man card back, but you're going to have to tell him "too bad" because your Commando has it. This guy is beefy, ugly, and carrying a weapons load out that puts most countries to shame. With only the first upgrade he's using Full Auto, but at level 32 he gains a flamethrower, M30 grenade, and rocket launcher. If you've been keeping track, though, that's now three powers with area knockback, counting the Medic, which will make dealing all your area damage difficult.

Just like Thugs, only the third personal attack (M30 Grenade) is even tolerable, and only because you could maybe want more knockback. Say what you want, but bad guys on backsides kill no henchmen.

The level 18 power is one you can do without, but if you do take it, imagine that it's just a damage buff for your Commando you get to use occasionally that will crash his endurance.

All that said, how do you turn Mercs into the awesome that I mentioned at the beginning?  Procs, my dear boy. Procs are the first step. Achilles' Heel -resistance proc and Touch of Lady Grey Negative Energy Damage proc should end up in the first two henchman ranks for sure. Damn near every Soldier and Spec Ops attack will trigger these. Your enemies should always have a -20% resistance debuff and be lighting up with negative energy damage frequently. The Commando should get the Explosive Strike proc, as well as the Build Up proc if you can afford it. The next step is finding a way to keep your enemies in a tight group for the area attacks to do their thing, so turn to things like Hurricane or the Mu Patron immobilize power.

Ninjas (Hyperactive Suicidal Razor Blades)

Nitroglycerin and Ninjas have a lot of things in common. They're both incredibly destructive. If you're not careful, both can get you killed. Both words even start with N. Where was I? Oh yes, Ninjas. If you can keep them alive, they will make things dead very quickly.

Minions - There's a company that rents out ninjas by the dozen for heroes to cut through as they infiltrate evil genius strongholds. They always look really menacing and while I'm sure they're very deadly, they never seem to last long enough to show us. Well, the three Genin you get from this power are the bargain brand of those. They punch things, kick things, throw ninja stars, and eventually throw exploding ninja stars. How cool is that? You can slot a knockback proc in this power, which only effects two of their attacks, but it's better than trying to overslot damage. Just understand that these guys are going to want to run around like chickens with their heads replaced with rocket boosters.

Lieutenants - Ok, these guys are ninjas that the hero actually worries about. Not that they're any harder to kill, but damn are they deadly. You also can't see them until it's a hair too late. They even have swords; unfortunately, nobody taught them Divine Avalanche from the Katana powerset. They eventually get hide baked in so they can lead with critical hits. Like the Grave Knights, they can get stuck in ranged mode with their Poison Dart, so you may need to use Go To commands frequently. Like the Genin, these Jounin have a bit of runaround syndrome. The Build Up proc performs well here and another good idea is Achilles' Heel, since all of the sword attacks can trigger it.

Boss - I'm not sure what to compare this guy to, so I'm just going to say Godzilla. (He's ugly, breathes fire, and is definitely not a ninja. What more do you want from me?) Along with fire attacks aplenty, the Oni has a silly immobilize and a hold which he can use surprisingly often. Slot him with some hold duration, because otherwise you've just got damage and the Build Up proc as options. One other note is to send him after tough targets because the Rain of Fire he summons will disappear if his target dies.

I'm not even going to talk about the personal attacks because they're all that useless.

Smoke Flash is awesome and awful all at once. The placate is buggy, but the critical is still guaranteed. Unfortunately, you can't be sure that the henchman will waste it on a Poison Dart or use it well with a Soaring Dragon.

Strategy wise, I'll say it again. If you can keep your ninjas alive, they will make things very dead. The defense each henchman gets is more flavor than actual protection, so you had best not sneeze near your ninjas. Keep them on tight leashes. It will be anything but easy, but your results can be phenomenal with the damage these guys can produce.

I'm Not Done Yet

I intend to add just a few more sections to this before I call the guide complete. I'm going to add powerset specific advice for the secondaries and what primaries benefit most from them. After that I'm going to include a bunch of stuff for getting the most out of your incarnate powers. The meat of it is done, though, so I figure I can put the main course out there and get dessert working in the background. As always, I'm willing to help with proposed builds and optimize things for you, just get in touch.

Thanks for reading.

23 comments:

  1. Fun to read AND informative. I recommend it to all MMs especially the ones starting on the AT.

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  2. What I've found is that MM's are "boring" on paper - there's always three pet skills, that you should always take, at the same level(s). 1,6, 12, and 26 are pretty much dictated for you; 32 is similar.

    No other AT has such an obviously regimented, optimal progression (Stalkers are closest: Hide and Assassin's Strike at 1 and 6).

    Then there's the other powers in your primary that you should "never" take (the blasts, that occur at 1, 2, and 8).

    (And then there's that level 18 power, which is a fun wildcard)


    BUT... if you go away from the paper and start playing with the actual pets, there's a lot less 'boring.' Once I start PLAYING my Masterminds, they're more fun than the paper.

    Of course, that doesn't take into account any synergies with the secondary powersets, which can be intriguing even on paper.

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  3. Might be worth mentioning the team inspirations work very well for master minds, effecting all of your pets along with team mates and you for five minutes with one inspiration.

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  4. I am glad you made this guide. I can refer people to it form now on. I have been playing masterminds since they day they were available. Still play my Thugs/Poison, constantly.

    I still have a hard time on occasion getting a trial and such, but I have been playing my mastermind so long, most people know i know what I am doing and drop their nomastermind rule. This is what i encourage everyone to do, dont half-ass a MM, play it very well, and people will start asking for you, instead of just grabbing you to fill a spot.

    On a side not,anyone who says MM's arent good, my MM, currently has every master badge there is, that includes the real ones like no deaths and such, so don't let anyone tell you different.

    @Prosperity Marie

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  5. I am looking foreward to your talks on the other sets and perhaps even the secondary and what may go best with what.

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  6. It's funny. I love masterminds, but I just can't play them for long. I get to about 24 before I just... can't do it any more.

    See, it's not that they're 'Borin', it's that I just never feel like I'm really doing anything. Here I am, this super-squishy guy with no attacks, telling my pets to kill things and using my binds and buffs or debuffs to try and keep them and myself alive through all of their AI stupidity, and in the end I just feel like a distressed nanny, watching as my pets try fruitlessly to walk through a crate until I directly order them to move somewhere.

    Meanwhile, with one attack chain, I feel like I'm actually doing things. It's not that it's boring, it's that there's an illusion of not actually having your character do anything themselves no matter how much micro you're doing on /traps or how many keybinds you're pressing that really gets to me. I just feel like I'm sitting back watching other people be cool.

    Ah well, still love 'em, despite it all.

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    1. No clue if you'll ever see this, but try Demon Summoning. 2-3 attacks isn't much of a chain, but at least they're worth using. A relatively low-maintenance secondary may be helpful.

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  7. So, judging by this guide, I am doing almost everything wrong. And yet, I still love playing my main MM, and doing fairly well with him. I still recall with great fondness when I hit level 32, got the Upgrade power, and suddenly started unleashing a SEA OF LASERS on my enemies. It was like attacking them with the Super Bowl halftime show.

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  8. If you're enjoying your mastermind, there is certainly nothing you are doing "wrong." The way I've written about here is only one suggested way to play a mastermind. Yes, it's proven to enhance survivability of both the mastermind and his henchmen, but that doesn't make it necessary for normal content.

    The greatest strength to playing the Goddamn Mastermind is how you will be able to tackle more extreme challenges. If it were not for my strategy, my Mastermind would not handle +4/x8 Arachnos and Giant Monsters all by himself.

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  9. Yeah, mine can't do that...and that does sound like a lot of fun. Perhaps I should try this with one of the other two builds...

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  10. You should consider mentioning that for the sets which get a Recharge Intensive Pet, those powers can actually take both types of Unique Aura IOs, not just the Recharge Intensive ones, as they all also take Pet Sets. I have personally always found these to be a much better space to mule those auras than in my henchmen, who then have extra room for enhancement or procs.

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    1. Good points. I've edited to be more clear about this, but I also feel I should warn that doing this may limit the Recharge Intensive Pet power.

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  11. So, now that Beast Mastery has come out, are you going to look towards that expansion of the guide you mentioned? My main for a long time has been a Thugs / Pain Domination, and I just made a Beast / Dark Miasma after realizing how intriguing that secondary is.
    This guide has definitely made me rethink how I play Mastermind- I just went Rogue alignment today, so I might even flavor his reform by starting to Bodyguard and have him tank for his men.

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    1. I've already added in the talks about each primary powerset, but I want to have some more experience with Beast Mastery before I add that to the list.

      The section on the secondary powersets is still in the works.

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  12. Mmm... it's likely you are already aware of this, but personally I prefer to slot the defense and resistance aura uniques anywhere but in the pet summoning powers. For example, in my own demons MM I have all four of them slotted on Hell on Earth, and I slot Blood Mandates on the pets for the defense bonuses. Although this might be improved, I'm still thinking of better things to slot there.

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  13. Looking forward to a secondaries section one day! I love this guide!

    -Vexen777

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  14. So I'm curious - if you've managed to play beast mastery up to a decent level, how does you feel like it compares to the other sets? I've been pretty happy with my beast summoner, but I don't have any other mastermind experience to compare it to. There's been a lot of talk about how horrible it is, but what I've read has mostly been theoretical rather than based on experience, so I'd love to hear your opinion on the set.

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    1. My opinion of Beast Mastery is pretty much the same as my opinion of Necro or Mercs. Sure, you're a mastermind, so by all rights you're awesome. But they're still not Bots, Demons, or Thugs. There's something to be said for the insane survival those sets give themselves. People that say Beast Mastery is horrible only say that because they're expecting another Bots where you don't have to tank for your henchmen. They're used to the easy mode and didn't get another one.

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  15. Great guide has helped me a lot. I have a question though, what is the cap for a Mm pet damage? And should I focus on damage for all three groups of Mercs or with the first two groups focus on rebuff and -to hit

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    1. Pets cap at 400% damage, or 300% in bonuses. Enhancements can provide 95% of that, and Alpha powers up to 33% more. Definitely focus the mercs on damage, as their Debuffs/Control powers are on very long recharge cycles.

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    2. Thank you!!!

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  16. Awesome guide. On the mastermind himself should I take powers to buff his defense? For example, leap defense power and Arobics power, plus ghost widows defense power. That's a lot of endurance drain.

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    1. It's not a ton of endurance drain, to be honest. Most melee characters, for instance, run upwards of five toggle powers. Chances are you have an additional way to gain endurance, but even without you shouldn't have trouble. My Bots/Traps runs the Mu Patron shield, Maneuvers and Assault with no trouble.

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