I won my first Insane game using a Cornac with Avoidance, Dread, Nightmare, Antimagic, and Fungus, and generally following the advice in bpat's guide. In retrospect, I would move some of the points into different locations, but overall the build worked well enough to win.
One thing I relied on for the win is the manner in which Psyshot allows you to set up advantageous combat situations where you can act effectively but your opponent cannot, often without requiring a direct clash between your power and their save or vice versa. As not all of these are obvious, I thought I would list a number of the combos/tactics/tricks that I found particularly useful.
My winning character. https://te4.org/characters/4806/tome/b1 ... 501a3a07a4
1. Indirect fire + meat shield
Needs: Hand slot summoning tinker, as many of Condensate, Superconduction, Solidify Air, Nightmare, Inner Demons, Psionic Fog, and Mana Clash as you like.
One way to not get hurt is to have the opponent attack someone else instead. In narrow hallways you can block the enemy's approach with a single summon, then rain down attacks (listed above) that don't require a clear path between you and your target. In wider areas if you predict where an enemy is going to move (typically, for melee enemies they will follow the next step on the targeting path between the two of you) and throw your summon into that space, instead of stepping there they will bump attack it, and then are very likely to continue to do so thereafter.
My favorite tool for this is the Toxic Cannister Launcher, which provides very welcome and surprisingly good AoE damage if you can keep enemies within the area, as explained in the next combo. Also worth noting that Resolve 5-backed Antimagic Shield renders you immune to the damage from the poison clouds - since the damage is relatively low per hit and achieves its DPR by stacking overlapping clouds, no one cloud overwhelms your Antimagic Shield.
2. Poison air, solid air, repeat ad nauseam
Needs: Toxic Cannister Launcher, Solidify Air
When Solidify Air is used, every creature in the AoE takes damage, and every space without an enemy in it is filled in with a temporary wall. One powerful effect that this allows is that you can force enemies to stay within the radius of the stacked poison clouds from the Toxic Cannister. In narrow hallways in particular, this allows you to throw a cannister, let the enemy bash through it, solidify air as soon as they do, then throw another cannister when the air de-solidifies, repeating infinitely. It can be very hard for enemies to make any progress towards you if they cannot kill the cannister before it expires, and it's got decent armor and hit points. This combo fades away in utility against some of the overleveled rares and uniques at the end of Insanity, but it can still buy you a few extra turns to cooldown your best talents.
Note also that in larger spaces you can still seal enemies into the area with the cannister. Ideally, you're throwing the cannister off to the side of one of the approaching enemies, and then hitting the enemies with a cone of solid air that avoids hitting your cannister. If the enemies are connected by straight or diagonal openings the poison will still penetrate through the wall to reach them. Or, of course, you can hit your own cannister, which will lower it's life but will provide you with guaranteed damage.
3. Fun with infinite Rocket Boots
Needs: Rocket Boots + Excessive Steam Generation or Steam Powered Boots + Mechanical Arms
If you're running Mechanical Arms, Molten Iron Blood, Automated Cloak Tessellation, Gestalt, and Embedded Restoration Systems, you're probably running 2 steam generators through mid game. However, you're probably generating way more steam than you need if doing so, and one of the fun effects of this is that you can leave Rocket Boots on forever. Later on, you'll probably want to go down to one steam generator, but you can still get the same effect by wearing the Steam Powered Boots, which produce 3 steam with every step.
In addition to the general value of permanent high mobility, there are three major useful tricks you can do with this. First, by turning it on while still in a dungeon and then emerging onto the map, you'll have rocket speed on the map, useful for slipping between adventurer or orc parties. Second, against melee enemies in a dungeon you can kite forever with Mechanical Arms. While actually attacking turns off the boots, Mechanical Arms auto-attack does not. If you're running Antimagic Shield, you won't care at all if you step in the fire trail, but your enemies will be annoyed by that and actually hurt by the Mechanical Arm strikes. Third and lastly, in the final fight you can run around and close all the portals without ever turning off your Rocket Boots, which gives you a significant starting advantage.
4. The importance of not being seen
Needs: Cloak Gesture + Forced Gestalt (or other Track-type ability)
Cloak Gesture does decent damage, but is much more valuable as a utility power. When used properly, enemies lose track of you and cannot target you through the wall, and Embedded Restoration System gives you health and clears a physical effect off you. Be sure to make a little space before you fire it, as you never want an enemy to step into the wall on the turn you use it and break the "enemies lose track of you" effect you get at level 5+ Cloaking Gesture.
If you want to see enemies through the wall, Forced Gestalt is a very strong option, as it debuffs them, buffs you, and lets you see them - a great setup for any number of your attacks, especially Inner Demons. It does seem to interfere with projectile pathfinding, as there are shots between narrow gaps in walls that you can make when you can see that you cannot when you're using Forced Gestalt to see through the steam wall. Nonetheless, a very strong option to be able to hit opponents that can't see you, and without Stealth's possibility of failure.
If Forced Gestalt is on cooldown, you can also just throw down large AoE's blindly onto the other side of the Cloaking Gesture wall (Condensation level 4 is radius 3, Toxic Cannister is similar).
5. Action economy Fungus!
Needs: Ancestral Life, one of: Embedded Restoration System + (Cloak Gesture or Solidify Air), Vaporous Step + Inhale Vapours
You can get an instant heal off Vaporous Step with Inhale Vapours, and if your Embedded Restoration System is not on cooldown then whenever you can't see your opponents (or when they're behind a wall of solid air for some reason, even though you can see them) it will heal you with no time cost. Fungal Growth causes these to trigger a regeneration effect, and Ancestral Life causes the regeneration effect to give you extra time. Note that you will have to cancel any existing regeneration effect to benefit from this. Quite useful for double-tapping with your high-damage attacks of choice, or using Forced Gestalt into Nightmare before enemies can respond and then following up with the combo below.
6. Inner Lucid Nightmare
Needs: Nightmare 2, Inner Demons, Lucid Shot
If you invest 2 points in Nightmare, you'll typically get 3 turns of sleep out it. The first turn negates whatever the enemy was going to do that turn, so you get 2 more chances to act before they wake up. Hit the most dangerous enemy, or whichever dangerous one is fear immune (check their defenses before applying), with Inner Demons, then shoot the second most dangerous with Lucid Shot to give them the Unstable Thoughts debuff that causes them to hit allies. Can greatly change the situation on the battlefield in very little time.
Needs: Automated Cloak Tessellation, Antimagic Shield, Molten Iron Blood, Resolve, Mechanical Arms
This stacking combo of protection works really well. Even on Insane, I wasn't in much danger the majority of the time I had this up, and my health never really dipped during the final battle. (I *did* still get killed once before I had it in place, and twice by a particular Unique urisomethingsomething demon with level 12 Greater Weapon Focus, so you're not completely invulnerable, just highly resistant).
Endgame, depending on Heroism and PES, ACT offered between 46-57 DR vs everything and 55-67% deflect missiles, while Antimagic Shield offered between 134-162 DR vs. non-physical, non-magic damage and 78-96 manaburn retaliation. Harassment at max is 33% reduced damage on enemy, Molten Iron Blood at max is 23% resist all and 28% detrimental effect reduction. (Resolve is pretty much going to be hitting the cap, regardless of stats.)
Needs: Mechanical Arms, Thunderclap Coating for Mindstar
While there are times you won't want to push enemies away from you (in particular, if you're hoping to keep them under Mechanical Arm harassment), in general I found that tacking a repulsion chance onto my mindstar, and therefore both Mechanical Arms autoattack and Psyshot, was a fairly effective way of minimizing the amount of exposure I had to dangerous melee enemies. If you want to keep a particular enemy close to you, see next trick.
9. Swift-ish Hands
Needs: Lots of tinkers
You can swap tinkers on and off items without using any time, although putting one on/taking one off an item will put any inherent powers on both the item and the tinker onto cooldown. While mostly gimmicky and time-consuming, this can be extremely useful when you value a change of stats on an item more than it's activated ability, in at least the following ways:
- headgear: changing out default Steampower boost from Mental Stimulator for a Head Lamp against a high defense foe, or for Focus Lens when facing stealthy enemies
- weapons: so many good options, but probably the main three are adding Silver Filigree to your Mindstar (doesn't work on a steamgun) when facing Demon/Undead/Horror, adding Thunderclap to keep melee enemies distant while using whatever else you like when fighting ranged enemies, and getting Crystal Edge off your weapons when facing luminous/radiant enemies.
- hands: fire off your minion of choice and then switch to Iron Grip for Disarm immunity.
- feet: default Rocket Boots, swap on Kinetic Stabilizers against cultists.
- belt: walk around with Thunder grenade ready, swap in Fungal Web when using salves. (My character doesn't have Explosives 3 so I can't confirm it, but it should work.)
10. Mechanical Alarm Clock
Needs: Mechanical Arms, Nightmare
Less of a combo than a nonbo to avoid, if you're putting someone into a Nightmare and they're within 3 spaces of you, your Mechanical Arms are likely to punch them awake pretty much immediately. Your sweet spot for a Vaporous Step is 5 spaces away from your most dangerous enemy - within range for a Forced Gestalt, but with a space to spare so that if your enemy steps towards you you can still put them to sleep with Nightmare before they can get within range of Mechanical Arms.
Good luck and enjoy. If I can win on Insane, so can you.