The character report of my insane winner can be found at this link. He was absolutely not played anything resembling optimal - take it to mean that SW is good even if played poorly. So keep in mind as you read this overview that, although I did win Insane on this class, I am definitely no master of this game and my word isn't law.
Stone Warden is a class that has good tools for keeping itself standing long enough to crack heads open. The SW's signature trait is to dual wield shields, with which you shall shield bash your enemies repeatedly, and often. Their signature abilities are Elemental Split, which calls sort-of-clones for a while to wreck things, and Stone Vines, which trades your movement speed for bonuses. While SW has access to a lot of spells, this post looks at the typical melee warden.
Given that warden is a common pick of brand new players, I'll assume that the reader is a new player, and be a little long-winded here by providing a brief explanation of each talent as well as an overview of its usefulness for a melee-oriented warden.
One more thing. Find Tarrasca...
...and you've probably won the game already.
STR - The source of your physical shield damage. Shields scale at 100% STR, so if you want things to die when you hit them, this is where your points go. For weapon-based characters, your primary damage stat is by far the most valuable of all stats.
DEX - Accuracy and Crit Shrug-off. Always a good choice, enemy crits are frequently what get people killed and SW has few sources of accuracy outside of gear. You probably won't have many spare points to put here, however. It's worth noting that shields get their surplus accuracy points converted to big shield proc damage bonuses (+2.5% proc dmg/acc), but SW doesn't exactly have much of those to work with unless you find a shield with a good one attached.
CON - Resilience and Stonewalk scale with it, but neither are critical talents and both scale rather weakly in any case. Given that blowing 50 points maxing it is equal to maybe +10% HP by endgame, you can safely skip it. A few early points placed here for early access to Thick Skin levels isn't a poor idea though. (In 1.5, CON also improves healing mod slightly. In my opinion, this still isn't enough to draw valuable points away from other sources, but it will no longer be a near total waste to invest here)
MAG - A bunch of class talents require MAG and some scale with Spellpower. Unless you intend on doing some kind of weird caster warden, you can take this just high enough to get your requirements through. SW doesn't have good ways to pump spellpower high through stat rescaling.
WIL - Similar to MAG, except only two talents scales with it; Eldritch Stone, and Stone Vines proc chance. Neither are critical talents. Equilibrium is more reliable with high WIL however, and your fail rate is more limiting than your mana pool is. Like MAG, you can afford to leave it just high enough for your talent requirements, or leave it lower and achieve reqs through equipment.
CUN - Crit chance. You use all three of Phys, Spell, and Mental talents, so global crit increase is valuable in that it both damage, nature's touch healing, and so on.
In short, max STR, and raise MAG & WIL as needed, then your preference of CUN/DEX.
Remember that you can qualify for talents and prodigies even if you don't have sufficient stats for them by equipping items which boost that stat.
Example: Your CON is 15, but Thick Skin 1 requires 23. Equip +7 CON through items, learn thick skin, and unequip the items for your usual gear. You won't lose the talent despite not qualifying for it anymore.
Talent Overview - Racial
You only got the one choice; Stone Wardens must be dwarven. Pack your bags, because it's time for you and your best bud Norgan to escape from Reknor.
(dorf talents modified quite a bit in 1.5, analysis below is pre-1.5)
- Resilience of the Dwarves: In conjunction with Stone Fortress, this actually ends up being useful for once, though the talent itself is still pretty bad. You're not going to pump CON, and even if you were, it's very hard to justify higher than 1/5. If you're frequently dealing with long battles, then going higher may make this usable twice per battle. Depending on your luck with escorts, you may end up with generics to waste and this is as good a place as any to let spare points die.
- Stoneskin: It's...something. Against melee attackers, once it goes up, it'll stay up, and it's a sizable chunk of armor. You're durable enough to handle enemies without it, though. Another graveyard for surplus points.
- Power is Money: Tempting to 5/5 this, but it's very dependant on what other sources of saves you can find. If you stack this, Crystalline Focus, and Chant of Fortitude (pending escorts), you can get phys + spell saves at high levels even before normal sources come into play. With decent equipment to push saves a little higher, you could be near-invulnerable to most status effects. On the other hand, you need to keep 2,250 gold on hand to max its effects, which may lose you a merchant randart at endgame. In my experience on Insane, high saves on gear in conjunction with the aforementioned three effects resulted in saves so high they were genuinely useful even though the final battle, but as mentioned it'll be pretty dependent on how high your saves get otherwise. Saves aren't worth investing it unless you can push them up a lot.
- Stone Walking: You can step through (thin) walls, depending on talent level and CON. You can never have enough escape options, but this one is rather weak. 1 or 2 points tops.
Talent Overview - Class
A very weak tree, with the exception of Stone Wall, which is a good panic option. If you feel that you don't need the safety pick of stonewall, you can ignore this tree entirely and save the points.
- Stoneskin - A weak Armor bonus. You have plenty of max mana from pumping WIL, so use it even if it's at 1/5. It's hard to justify more points, though. Sustain eating enemies may take this down instead of the more important Crystalline Focus.
- Pulverizing Auger - A short range damage beam that digs. Marginally useful to escape a hallway you're surrounded in, and a primary damage spell if you're trying to go caster.
- Mudslide - A knockback area attack with moderate damage at 12 CD. Not likely to be critical to any builds.
- Stone Wall - This is why you spend points in this tree. At 5/5 with decent spellpower, you'll get 10~11 turns of near total isolation. Use it to recover, let critical cooldown tick down, and precast major buffs just before it wears off. Alternatively, take out non-teleporting enemies out of battles while you clear the rest of the area. Both options are strong in that they can turn a fatal encounter into a winning one.
Here's your bread and butter as far as offensive talents go; these talents provide almost all of your burst damage.
- Eldritch Blow - Eldritch Blow is potent, dealing almost 400% primary shield damage as Arcane and stunning for 5 turns when maxed. Worth noting that the enemy saves vs stun with Spell Save, not phys. Use it on a Counterstrike for major spike damage.
- Eldritch Infusion - Additional arcane damage on each of your attacks and some thorns damage when you're hit. SW's can deal a lot of strikes per turn, but there are much better places to spend points in.
- Eldritch Fury - When one shield bash ain't good enough. Six bashes, three with each shield, all at 170%~ damage as nature with daze. The daze isn't significant, but the damage certainly is. It typically hits in the same range as a counterstrike eldritch blow, and lets you deliver a lot of on-hit effects in one go.
- Eldritch Slam - A large-ish PbAoE dealing about 275% primary shield damage as arcane. It's a great tool for clearing out weak enemies and wiping more dangerous summons.
- Stoneshield - 5/5 this ASAP. Only 1 is necessary for dual shields and extra bash/turn, but it also doubles as a mana/equilibrium reducer and, most importantly, your weapon mastery talent. Needless to say, you really want that damage bonus.
- Stone Fortress - While Resilience of the Dwarves is active your armor is also applied to non-physical damage, effectively making your armor a flat-damage reduction against virtually everything. If you're keeping Armor at a good amount like you should, this effectively gives you a panic button that vastly decreases all the damage you take for 8 turns. It's perhaps not worth 5/5ing as the scaling isn't super great, but 3 seems like a good breakpoint.
- Shards - Once per turn counterattack with primary shield damage as Nature. Damage does not scale up tremendously high, but the counterattack can trigger on-hit effects, dealing gloom, slow, etc., which can be quite valuable.
- Eldritch Stone - A weak damage shield that scales with WIL. While up, it converts 2x incoming damage to Equilibrium. When it runs out, it deals your equilibrium total as AoE arcane damage, and you regain that much mana. It's tempting to use this as a defensive measure, but the shield is rather weak, so it's most valuable a equilibrium fixer + full mana restore. There's also shenanigans you can do with this and Elemental Split. Another thing to keep in mind - as the shield converts incoming damage to equilibrium, your fail rate for nature talents will go through the roof. Until the shield pops, trying to use nature abilities is probably going to fail.
A distinctly unimpressive tree. These talents are of the 'winmore' variety; anything you were going to wreck already will be totally destroyed by vines, but against anything genuinely dangerous, points spent here are almost useless.
- Stone Vines - Instant cast sustain that slows you by 50%, and tries to pin + DoT enemies every turn. The pin chance improves with WIL and talent level. At 5/5 against normal enemies, you can pin whole crowds while they are worn down by the DoT, but anything you actually need to affect will throw the vines off instantly or just resist them outright. Suffering a 50% movement loss for that is too painful a trade. However, if you find and equip Tarrasca, you will keep vines up for the rest of the game, but for the self-imposed movement penalty, not for the vines themselves. That said, there's little not to use it once you're already in melee with an enemy since it's instant to turn on & off, and opens rockwalk talents.
- Eldritch Vines - Pinning enemies restores mana & eqi, and deals more damage. If you're actually using vines, it may be worth a few points, but Stoneshield/Eldritch Stone is good enough for keeping mana/eqi at good levels. The additional damage is not relevant enough for killing anything that matters.
- Rockwalk - If an enemy is vine'd, you teleport to them & heal. Range, CD and healing improve with level. If you're using vines, take at least 1 point. Generally speaking, if you're traveling TO the target, you're already fine on health and don't really need the healing.
- Rockswallow - If an enemy's vine'd, damage him & teleport to you. Range, CD, damage improve with level. Pump it over rockwalk, since you'll end up relying on this one more than not.
Alternatively→ 5/1/4/4 if you reallywant to use them.
- Elemental Split - This might be the most powerful talent SW possesses. Summon a pair of clones, which are your equals in every way but talents. The stone half is a tank who taunts and melees things, the crystal half fires stone missiles. These guys are baller and you can let them clear entire zones if you can wait out the cooldown. They're better and last longer with levels, so it's worth 5/5ing this very early. They wear the same equipment you do (sort of...it's buggy), but they don't seem to ever activate item powers.
- Power Core - Adds an AoE bleed talent to the crystal half, and stone link (a damage redirection shield) to the stone half. The link is quite good; any damage to friendlies (or you) in the area goes to him, effectively increasing your HP pool by a buttload. As far as pure numbers go, its stronger than popping a heroism infusion. The downside is, you can't be certain when he'll use it, and area damage will wreck him. Neither of your halves makes any effort to defend against avoidable damage either; they will walk straight into arrows and explosions. The bleed talent on the crystal half is okay, but nothing worth writing home about.
- Dwarven Unity - An activatable talent that swaps you and your stone half's location (and he taunts everything in a wide radius), and your crystal half freaks out and missiles everything adjacent to the stone half. Mostly used as a mini-panic button as it can get you out of danger, and more importantly, gets all enemies targeting something else for at least one turn.
- Mergeback - Kill both halves, clearing tons of statuses, healing, and dealing area damage. At higher talent levels, it's a full status clear and the healing (which can crit) is substantial. Damage isn't significant. It's a great talent, which can and will save your life from certain death.
Stone is more a caster-ish category or an AB pick, but Crystalline Focus is a good enough option that it's usually worth unlocking to get.
- Earthen Missles - Fire 2 (or 3 at talent lv5) missles which deal decent damage as well a bleed over 6 turns, at 6 CD. You're not here for this.
- Body of Stone - A sustain that locks you in place, giving CD reductions to earth spells and providing some resistances. Move on.
- Earthquake - A targeted AoE which deals minor damage but can stun anyone it hits. Keep in mind that this effect can and will hurt & stun YOU if you're within its effect.
- Crystalline Focus - Provides +30 to phys/spell save which is nice if you're using Power is Money, but more importantly, gives 10% phys damage and a whopping 50% physical resistance penetration. This is not critical early or even mid game, but by the end, lots of enemies have at least some resist all and others can have crushingly high resistance. Punching through that resistance is equivalent to substantial damage increase. Should you be lucky enough to find high resist penetration on equipment (which is not likely at all), you could probably forgo this without issue. Also worth noting that your damage is while your damage primarily physical, you have good sources Arcane and Nature damage, so you're not totally shut down by highly phys-resistant enemies even without Focus.
This category is a little unusual. It provides a single attack talent: Stone Spikes. CD 12 and duration 6 when maxed, it deals a moderate bleed to all enemies in a cone. The later talents in the category only improve this talent. When totally invested in, you get a radius 6 cone that deals instant Arcane damage (which silences), instant Physical damage (which disarms), DoT Nature damage (which halves enemy healing), all on top of the original physical bleed DoT. If you have enough spellpower that you can be reasonably sure that you can land the disarm and silence, this category may provide you with a abundant control and damage all in a single ability. I have no personal experience using this category.
Recommended Minimum → 0/0/0/0 or 5/1+/5/5
Provides a transformation skill. While active, you get a number of bonuses and talents, but you can't use your dwarven clones. Not a very good tree in my opinion, and should stay locked. I have no experience in this category, however. Other players might have a better opinion of this line.
- Deeprock Form - Change into a rock elemental, which boosts phys damage, phys resistance penetration, and armor by modest amounts.
- Volcanic Rock - A little volcano pops up and fires up to 6 low damage mini boulders at enemies, like an automatic turret. Passively improves Arcane DMG/Resistance in deeprock form. Seems good at clearing weak enemies, but those kinds of enemies aren't what get characters killed.
- Boulderrock - You throw a boulder, same as those jerks in Daikara. May be worth unlocking and raising ASAP just to wreck those guys with their own trick. Passively improves Nature DMG/Resistance in deeprock form. Damage is respectable and is on pleasantly short cooldown of 3.
- Mountain Hewn - Deeprock form passively gains 61% resistance to cuts, poisons, diseases, and stun. At 5, you use physical resistance against all incoming damage. While the status resistances are great, physical resistance is rather uncommon, and may actually be detrimental if it's lower than the appropriate resistance.
Class Talent Overall Recommendation
Earth - 1/1/1/5
Eldritch Stone - 5/3/1/5
Earthen Power - 5/3/1/5
Earthen Vines - 1/1/1/1
Dwarven Nature - 5/2/1/5
Stone - 1/1/1/5
Eldritch Stone - 0/0/0/0
Deeprock - 0/0/0/0
4 spare talent points.
Talent Overview - Generic
- Thick Skin - 5/5 this as soon as you can.
- Armor Training - Ditto. It may seem kind of weak after 3/5, but the crit shrug off is more valuable than it seems.
- Combat Accuracy - Put in only as many points as you need. Remember that you're 100% accurate once your Acc beats enemy Defense by 20. Consider additional points if you have very good on-hit damage from your shield and spare points to work with.
- Weapon/Dagger Mastery - You bonk people with shields. Skip these.
Survival (changed heavily in 1.5, looks like it'll be hugely improved)
This tree is only really relevant for Charm mastery. Heightened Senses is never good, Piercing Sight is usually 1/5 (and you can get it from thief escorts), and Evasion is totally unnecessary.
Recommended → 1/5/1/0
Call of the Wild
- Meditation - Bonuses are not very significant or relevant. You can use it mid-fight for additional heal mod and deactivate it right after, but there's not much reason to go over 1/5.
- Nature's Touch - SW gets pretty substantial max health, and even with crits Nature's Touch may not provide full healing. Raise it as high as you need to feel comfortable.
- Earth Eyes - This is trash. Use Track from items or wands of clairvoyance for scouting.
- Nature's Balance - At 4, this will start restoring the cooldown on some of your most critical skills; Stone Wall and Mergeback. It'll hit Elemental Split even at 1, so it's worth hitting early.
Stone Alchemy (locked)
This category is largely for making money, though if you find specific rare gems late game you can get a major boost by imbuing it onto armor. Money is useful at the very beginning of the game (to gear up) and very late game (to buy potentially kickass max tier random artifacts from the merchant), but has little use otherwise. By the time you start pumping Power is Money (if you bother), you'll have enough cash to have it maxed.
Notable Escort Categories
Celestial - Light 1+/1/1+/5
Always useful for Providence to clear negative effects every turn. Precasting it before engaging can save your life. You have the MAG to make the other skills work, and you may feel more comfortable with an extra heal through Healing Light or Barrier, but strictly speaking you don't have much need of them. You don't get a lot of synergy out of Bathe in Light, either, since it doesn't work with Eldritch Stone.
Celestial - Chants 5/0/0/0 or 1/1/5/0
Chant of fortitude is good (save bonuses stack onto crystalline focus & power is money, max HP is always good) or resistance is okay (likely about 12~ res all at endgame pending spellpower), but in my opinion rarely worth a cat point. Just take the individual levels in fortitude from escorting the sun pally directly. But SW has some points to throw around and you may appreciate the bonuses.
Generic Talent Overall Recommendation
Dwarf - 1/1/1+/1
Combat Training - 5/5/3+/0/0
Survival - 1/1+/1/0
Call of the Wild - 1/5/1/4
17 free points remaining.
As far as shields go, you want the strongest shield in your mainhand for damage, and the best utility shield you can find that doesn't suck in your offslot. You attack with both every turn, but SW has no way to mitigate the offhand damage penalty. Thus, use your offslot for relevant resistances (equip dark resist shield when fighting necromancers, etc), good armor/block values, and strong on-hit effects. Use the training dummy - you'll find that shields such as "of earthen fury" (deal bonus damage on hit equal to armor) and fixedarts like Blackfire Aegis/Summertide substantially higher damage than 70+ damage voratun shields. In addition, the bonus damage from these procs is improved through shield's +2.5% acc bonus, so surplus Acc will dramatically increase the power of these things.
For the remainder of your gear, unless your saves are through the roof, get the important immunities where you can. Stun, Silence, and Disarm are all pretty bad for you, but stun at least is reasonably easy to gear against. Later when you're running multiple movement infusions, stun resist is less critical.
Prioritize on-hit effects where reasonable; you attack twice per turn + shard counterattack, so abuse it where you can. Bonus damage mentioned above is something to keep an eye out for, and status applications like gloom (random of stun, confuse, 30% slow) are always good. Keep in mind that on-hit slow caps at 60% penalty, and stacks onto gloom-slow and cripple.
TARRASCA. This artifact body armor provides major armor and phys save. But more importantly, it takes your movement penalty, and grants that much absolute damage resistance, to a maximum of 70%. It also provides a 3 turn 40% AoE snare activatable ability. In other words, with Stone Vines up, you have a completely unavoidable 50% damage reduction from all sources - it can't be pierced with any form of resistance penetration. If you're stunned or otherwise slowed, that bonus automatically improves to 70%, protecting you when you most need it.
If you thought you were tanky with giant block values covering all damage types, wait till you put that on. On a side note, items that increase all resistance cap (like protective amulets) will not affect absolute resistance.
Find and hold onto a pair of dispersion gloves. Swap them in and use them on enemies with dangerous magical sustains - the final boss in particular is tremendously less dangerous if you do. The Drolem's another example; reflective skin is dangerous, but dispellable. You can use it on yourself to rid yourself of magic debuffs, but you'll probably not do so that often.
If you're playing Nightmare difficulty or lower, Eternal Guard + Spectral Shield make you near invincible, and even most Insane players went this combo as well. A tier 5 shield can keep Block up near permanently, and dual shields adds the block values together resulting in major tankiness. Eternal Guard's probably always worth taking since constant Counterstrike procs on enemies helps mitigate the offensive loss it takes keeping Block up when needed, and the sheer defensiveness of EG feels like cheating on Normal for how potent it is.
If you're willing to deal with the tedium, swapping Spectral Shield with Swift Hands is nearly a direct upgrade - you can just quick-equip a shield into the offhand to block whatever damage type you need to deal with, replicating the effects of Spectral Shield. The other major benefit of Swift Hands lies in lugging around artifacts with activatable powers; you can swap artifacts in and use their abilities instantly, potentially doubling your ability pool with very useful effects.
Arcane Might is the best source of pure damage if you're looking to really murder things. If you take it, max MAG and prioritize it just under STR on equipment.
Flexible combat's another common offensive pick - SW reliably hits twice per bump, with a possible shield counter each turn. Getting extra unarmed hits and big value out of your gloves and on-hit effects seems like a no-brainer.
If you don't like those, there's always the good general-purpose prodigies; Cauterize, Draconic Will, etc. For those who have EoR expansion, PES is often claimed to be among the most potent abilities in the game, but since SW uses STR as its primary damage, it's probably less potent than arcane might..
'I just want to win' recommendation: Eternal Guard @30, Spectral Shield @42.
See bpat's excellent Inscription Guide. Just keep in mind that even if you want to stay away from the usual suggestions, if you're running stone vines you absolutely want two movement infusions regardless of all else.
STONE WARDEN TRICKS!
- Precast Eldritch Stone and your clones will come with the damage shield, too. Intentionally damage them through Eldritch Slam and their shield will overload and burst, dealing the shield's full retaliation area damage twice. Your own shield hasn't even burst yet - though if you have a lot of retaliation damage you may eat enough of it through hitting your clones to trigger your own.
- Precasting anything carries to your clones. Passing Block to them can trigger a lot of Counterstrikes for a turn. Precasting Clear Mind/Free Movement can keep them clear of debilitations. Precasting thorny skin + dwarven resilience gives them your giant armor value applied to all damage, making them near-invincible for half their duration.
- Your stone half is useful even if he's stuck behind you. When he get StoneLink up and starts eating all incoming damage, you can heal him with Nature's Touch. It's the safety net of a Heroism Infusion with vastly more durability and health.
- If it isn't already obvious, 10~11 turns of active clones followed by Nature's Balance gets you another full usage out of them. Stone wall can be used similarly. At high enough talent level, Nature's Balance will refresh not only Elemental Split, but also Mergeback and Stone Wall. Using these intelligently, you can keep your clones active even in very long-running battles.
- Eldritch Stone works as a full mana restore which is handy, but in the rare case you are empty, have no (safe) enemies nearby, and can't rest, you can just attack yourself to trigger it. Using the Attack talent on yourself is sufficient. If that sounds outlandish, I actually had to do this once in my own run to prevent a death. (oozemancer random boss shenanigans)
- You can Stone Walk through your Stone Wall. I can't imagine how useful that is, but it may end up useful at some point.
Stone Warden is not a hugely complex class. You block things, then you bash them. Scary enemies you throw your clones at while you regroup or gang up on. Stone wall yourself or scary things to
Overall, the class is straightforward enough that you can focus less on what you're doing turn by turn, and more the overall situation. So long as you don't throw yourself into ridiculously dangerous situation, you should be able to move through most of the game just fine. The most common causes of death is making a poor choice or misplay, and SW is durable enough that you can survive making mistakes and learn from them.
1/08/17 edit: I'm kinda burned out on ToME for now so I'll be on haitus. 1.5 will probably hit during that time so this guide will be slightly out of date by then.