NB: This is obsolete
The correct essential combos are BaIE and VSEn.
This is an old draft as I was untangling the knot of near-miss rotated essential combos.
The Form speed boost
I was recently reminded that Forms set innate speed to 1, whether the species is innately fast OR slow! While the former is obviously a reason to eschew Transmuter for fast species, I hadn't adequately considered the latter as an escape for slow species. Potentially affected species are Barachi and Naga.
Naga can spit venom while in a form. This makes Spider Form quite strong. However, Na wants to stay slow to please Chei. And Forms are less appealing given barding, constriction and innate rPois. NaVM Chei is already strong enough.
That leaves BaSu and VSTm, with whom I'm unsatisfied. Swapping gives BaTm and VSSu, a major improvement. There is a small decline in aptitude synergy, but the gain non-apt synergies outweighs it.
BaTm: Trans-Tadpole, Battle Toad
Skilling and Stats
Stay UC at the start until you find a weapon that performs better. BaTm's pre-trained UC is stronger than most weapons you'll find on D1. Fast UC swing speed procs more Beastly Appendage aux attacks, making pure UC the best choice for a surprisingly long time.
Train a SL of Stealth to start. With +LoS and Slow 1, you'll need it.
Increase Intelligence until you can usefully add Strength to an unmet armor encumbrance. The heaviness of BaTm's armor and shield is limited by Form spell failure chance, to preserve his escape. Ignore Dex.
BaTm is fragile in his base form until he finds leather armor. Be ready to flee in Spider Form.
BaSu pre-summons in case fights go poorly. By contrast, BaTm merely keeps an MP reserve in case he needs to retreat at 10-speed in a Form. +2 Ice makes Ice Form especially good for this. Sticks to Snakes further impedes pursuit, making arrows useful, since Ba prefers shields to bows. High Fighting helps Ba multi-train Long Blades and UC. +1 Dodging synergizes with EV in Forms.
Most think of Wu as adding attack to movement, but the reverse is equally true – Wu adds movement to attack. "Free" movement, or more accurately, movement with a reduced opportunity cost, enhances Ba mobility, mitigating Slow 1.
Slow 1 makes martial attacks do more uninterruptible damage, killing foes before they get a chance to respond.
Thus BaTm has reason to whirlwind and lunge. Whirlwind permits Long Blade and UC cleaving, allowing Ba to focus his best melee school apts.
The first non-UC weapon school trained will likely be for whatever non-proportional damage brand one acquires, such as elec or draining. Whirlwind cleaving with a whip of elec at 1.2 daut movement time reveals the true power of Wu Jian.
Wu also mitigates weaknesses of Forms – they're squishy and lack cleave. Whirlwind cleaves and fixes and moves, preventing surround.
Spells are the best way to take advantage of +LoS. Wu makes Forms more viable. Forms such as Ice Form and Blade Hands reduce spell failure penalties from body armour and shield.
Wu's abilities cost no MP, helping Ba to use his strong mage apts.
Golden Storm's opaque clouds block +LoS, reducing the threat of Torment by distant foes.
I suspect this remains strong even in Zigs.
Switch in Slime
Eventually the +LoS disadvantage begins to tell, and Wu's meleeist focus doesn't adequately compensate. For example, Wu is lackluster in the Abyss. To stay competitive, BaTm needs to start winning decisively at range.
The question remains, when should BaTm face Wu's wrath? Wu's durably-summoned flying weapons are obnoxious to deal with, except that they're quite vulnerable to Slime walls. So delay Slime and then abandon Wu before Abyss, and face their wrath in Slime.
Ba's strong meleeist and passable skirmishing means that being a blaster caster makes little sense initially, particularly since Ba has many strong magical apts unrelated to Conjurations and elements.
However, that changes once Armor and Shields are trained. Then blasting, particularly Ozocubu's Refrigeration, is superior to skirmishing output, which will be limited to Slings, Throwing and perhaps Hand Crossbows.
Veh's +Range synergizes with Ba's +1 LoS.
Veh is likely to gift Ice spells.
Veh's MP from kills helps BaTm endure long ranged battles and cast support spells for melee and skirmishing. It synergizes with how good BaTm is at killing (as opposed to running).
Any other Ba should consider Ash, to avoid lethal depositioning. However, BaTm mitigates slow movement with Forms. Forms reduce the pain of cursed equipment. Ash skill support improves mage performance in heavy armor. Ash isn't a great fit, otherwise. Statform Octopode does it better!
+Cast renders low MP from +0 Spellcasting irrelevant, and suits the rhythm of Tm casting. Miscast protection helps BaTm wear heavier armor and a shield. BaTm doesn't mind waiting for 5* piety before spellbooks, since he wants to consolidate his melee side first. But Sif is for mages and Ba is primarily a meleeist.
Ba Invo is weak, and +1 LoS makes Apocalype more deadly. All attackers onscreen are affected by auras. Power Leap fits with Hop's purpose of mitigating Slow 1. However, with BaSu good at everything, no sacrifices appeal except Stealth and perhaps Skill. MiBe has much better choices.
VSSu: Kudzu Garrote, the Choking Weed
Summoner improves the offensive utility of Antimagic Bite and innate regeneration.
VS opens by summoning, then bites 1v1 to recover MP, then backs up while regenerating HP and summons again. Repeat.
Thanks to allies, Stealth provides distraction stabs from the start, with daggers for more bite procs and higher stab bonus.
Even with HP bolstered via a Form, VS shouldn't be a front-line fighter. Allies let VSSu rotate from front to rear repeatedly during a combat, taking advantage of innate regen.
Summoner trades XP for safety, allowing VS to survive to reach her high-regen evolution.
Much of VS's power is in her regen and bite, not her apts. Summoning's easy start but slow midgame thus balances out.
With +1 base magic points and Antimagic Bite, VSSu is incredibly good at maintaining max Summoner headcount. The ability to retreat behind a wall of allies lets VSSu risk infiltrating deep into enemy territory for stabs.
VS wants to pre-summon anyway to leave mMP open for bite refill.
How else is VS to kill a D5 Ice Beast, save by overheated Guardian Golem?
VS's antimagic bite Drained MP formula is
1dDamagedone × (1.25 - MP/MaxMP)
This means that VS is incentivized to fully drain her MP before engaging in melee, and to keep it drained.
Obviously this synergizes with Sif's +Cast. It also synergizes with Summoner, since maintaining headcount is MP intensive, and allies facilitate safe retreat, mitigating the risk of melee without MP.
There is no incentive to melee when below max HP. So the VSSu tactical rhythm is casting to empty, melee to first blood, retreat, repeat.
Obviously this playstyle is hunger intensive, which Kiku's snowball helps.
VS has low combined mHP even with Spirit Shield, making Orc Priests dangerous. Summoner counters them by using allies to attrit them at fullscreen, permitting immediate retreat whenever they start Smiting. Delaying tactics break up packs, permitting safe corner melee ambushes of casters to apply antimagic stacks. With the first Kiku spellbook, VSSu smashes through Orc packs, supporting allies with Pain, polearm and Guardian Golem.
Training and Stats
Weak in Dex and Str skills except Stealth, VS focuses mage, leveling Int.
Fighting is arguably sub-tertiary due to -30% mHP. Fighting becomes more valuable with regen.
Spellcasting is super-tertiary despite only one starting book, thanks to Spirit Shield and low mHP.
VS wants to proc more bites. She's also a stabber. So she favors the *blades crosstraining group, emphasis daggers. However, the Axes xgroup is too strong to ignore, since early gear drops will be better for it. Thus Axes will climb to tertiary at least. Once multiple weapon groups are in use, Fighting can climb to primary.
Dodging and Stealth are tertiary until Dex rises. Stealth needs a stabber spell to be primary.
VS's major early vulnerability is poison, because poison ticks ignore Spirit Shield, targeting -30% mHP. Beware the D2 adder! Fortunately allies counter adders. Regen mitigates damage over time, once it evolves.
Kiku first for the Necro snowball – HP regen and MP bite. Justifies Spellcasting primary.
Starting Kiku adds direct offense, reducing the XP lost to ally kills. VSSu already snowballs with amazing endurance and headcount, so adding Necro mitigates Summoner weaknesses and speeds the snowball. With VS' unparalleled ability to maintain Summons headcount, she prefers Corpse Rot over Animate Skeleton. Allies and regen give her time to check corpse locations and set up landmines. Snowballing's chunks surfeit makes Corpse Rot affordable.
The combination of Animate Skeleton and Guardian Golem makes an OP snowball.
VSSu Kiku gains AC penetration from Pain, Animate Skeleton or Corpse Rot, Lightning Spire, Guardian Golem, Ice Beast, and Vampiric Draining, which might be her favorite spell, since she's always willing to trade MP for HP. Regen helps her win attrition. This permits her to kill early tanks such as Death Yaks.
Kiku's Black Sun ability isn't quite as good for VS as it is for Mummy, but nearly so. VS mitigates Torment with Kiku's rTorment and VS' innate regen and Spirit Shield.
Logically, VSSu should abandon Kiku at the low-corpse branches. Those start with Slime. Miasma is beneficial in Slime since mindless creatures will enter the harmful clouds. Slime walls can burn Kiku wrath derived undead and summons.
The next god should be either Hep or Dith: Dith if VS has found enough stabber spells to justify training Stealth to primary, else Hep.
Dith aids regen kiting and stealth, and leaks lots of smoke when tiny mHP takes a big hit. Shadow Step closes with mages to Antimagic Bite. Shadow Mimic supplements mediocre ranged damage. Umbra slows incoming damage for self and allies, so regen and Guardian Golem can cope. Shadow Form gives enough rTorm for VSTm to manage Extended, along with Kiku's Necromut and hopefully Statue Form picked up along the way. VSTm Dith can farm Abyss well; Amagic bite and Shadow Step shut down the casters while Umbral regen running maintains HP.
Dith is a delayer; he doesn't add much offensively. This is great for VS, given Regen 3 and Bite Drain. Fog is always welcome in Zigs. So VS can stay Dith the whole game. Dith is VS's essential god.
Sif is another good end-game god for VS, and she offers much more offense. Dith's wrath is easily countered on a Tartarus:1 upstair while worshiping Zin. If VS is missing too many essential spells such as Statue Form, Sif is the right answer.
Hep is a low-Invo god, which fits VS's +0 Invo.
VS picks Hexer background. In the midgame, mass confusion is excellent, and the Hexer sets up many stabs for VS's +3 Stealth. This lets VS train Stealth to primary, without wasting any MP or XP on casting Hexes, a big win.
Guardian Golem mitigates the fragility of the Hexer. Lost in a crowd of summoned allies, Hexer becomes much more survivable, the AI unable to prioritize the Hexer's disproportionate threat, as monsters waste turns whacking imps instead. This is the true power of the Crimson Imp!
Transference synergizes with Golem detonation. Transference is a good escape to manage regen for both Hexer and VS, which both have high regen.
The Hexer falls off in late Extended when MR is too high, although his antimagic blade is still useful. VS should switch to either Dith or Sif, depending.
Deep Elf is a purer mage than VS and thus a better fit for Sif. Thus Sif isn't VS' essential god, but still an excellent end-game backup choice.
+Cast lets VSSu melee at low MP to maximize bite drain while still maintaining headcount.
Lowish +0 Invo suits Sif's single Invo ability, which replenishes MP, synergizing with innate Spirit Shield.
Sif maximizes mage power. VS has plenty of spare MP for Hexes to set up stabs, so VS wants Sif's spell gifts.
As usual, donate and wait to accumulate piety before entering Slime.
Kiku's wrath derived undead give easy Zin XP.
Zin counters the chaotic branches Slime Abyss and Zot. Recite is a bit underpowered at +0 Invo, but fits well with VS's regen rhythm and +3 Stealth stabs.
Sanctuary and Imprison synergize with regen.
TSO lets VS sacrifice stabs for per-kill HP and MP and allies. SLS works well with abjuration protection.
Clear Crypt, Vestibule, Tomb and Tartarus. Now the threat of monster Smite Undead is largely past, making Necromut competitive. Switch to Sif.
Usk stabbing fits. However, VS has poor continual meleeist endurance, and Usk provides no piety from ally damage. +0 Invo also hurts.
VS isn't a blaster caster. That's noisy, whereas VS is stealthy. VS lacks any elemental specialization to make blasting worthwhile. VS skirmishes fine and wants to melee. She focuses on support spells, especially those that set up stabs. Thus Veh isn't appropriate. VS wants an empty MP bar to maximize MP drain, and Veh constantly refills it. Allies interfere with blasting.
Whirlwind grants missing cleaves with dagger. Lunge helps stabs. More bite opportunities from whirlwind. Lacks meleeist continual endurance.
Aura debuffs offer stabs. Not a tank, though. No aura proc off hits on allies. Wastes OK Invo.
Mislead by apt overemphasis
In conclusion, this is another of those species-background errors where overemphasis on aptitudes misled me. Both species are dominated by non-apt attributes. Ba is slow and hops, whereas VS has antimagic bite and regen.
Ba's unrivaled +2 Summoning made BaSu seem the obvious choice. But spellpower matters less for Summoning, since it mostly determines duration. More important is having the MP to maintain headcount, and sufficiently low equipment penalties to successfully cast. There VS dominates.
VS' low defensive apts discourage heavier armor and shields, unlike Ba's +2 Armor and +1 Shields. BaTm can cast higher-level spells by first switching to a Form. BaTm Wu benefits from leaping into combat, or out of it to flee in a Form.