On June 18th, Red Hook Studios began its “Color of Charity” event for Darkest Dungeon, pitting 14 streamers against one another for the top kill count in The Color of Madness’s new Endless Harvest mode. Over the course of two days, each entrant slowly began formulating strategies to conquer the eldritch horrors that awaited them. In second place was Sinvicta, with 337 kills. The winner, CareLevelZero, managed to top the leaderboard with an astounding 901 kills in one 12 hour run, stopping only because he ran out of time for the event. He has since beaten that with, as of the time of this writing, a world record of 1,400 kills.
With a record that ridiculous, at first glance I assumed there must have been an exploitation of mechanics, or a secret strategy no one had thought of. As it turns out, sometimes “simple, yet effective” is the best choice. Let’s take an in-depth look at CareLevelZero’s Vestal / Jester / Plague Doctor / Leper meta, so that any foolhardy adventurer can go seek fortune and glory.
It’s important to note that recent balance changes have resulted in a 10% damage and 5% critical chance reduction for Rake, Hew, and Zealous Accusation. Given that Hew is one of the core attacks in this team composition, the overall strategy will be slightly less consistent as a result of these nerfs. Likewise, the recent introduction of The Hag into the Endless Harvest mode as a potential boss will present this composition with a challenge, as the Leper will not be able to hit her at any point in the fight. Nevertheless, we press onward to victory!
1st Position – The Leper
“Summer before the Fall. Rain in the Forest. Blood in the mud.” These barks show up often during this run, as the core concept behind the Leper is to be a giant chopping crit machine. By emphasizing as much critical chance and damage output as possible, CLZ is able to rapidly destroy one or two enemies before they have a chance to react and bog down his offensive barrage. Utilizing camping skills, Revenge, critical chance trinkets, and subsequent buffs from the Plague Doctor and Jester takes a few rounds to prepare, but they remain for the entirety of the battle until the next break point. While there are some jokes that you simply spam Hew after getting to his maximum critical chance upwards of 70%, there is some nuance to the Leper’s offense.
Be careful to ensure Hew can always hit enemies with Stealth. For example, when up against Farmhand / Farmhand / Plow Horse, using Hew to immediately kill the two forward Farmhands could arguably be the wrong choice. The Plow Horse would advance into the 1st and 2nd position, and possibly have the chance to then stealth entirely out of the Leper’s attack range. By using Chop and only killing one instead, the Plow Horse advances into the 2nd and 3rd positions. This results in the Plow Horse still being a valid target through Stealth, as The Leper can use Hew against the 1st position Farmhand and subsequently hit into the 2nd position.
As always, the Leper’s greatest potential weakness is being shuffled into the backlines. Given his slow movement speed, CLZ sometimes found himself having to spend a full round shuffling him back into the first or second position. Planning accordingly for enemies that have movement attacks by using Withstand is paramount to success. Additionally, intentionally marking the Leper via Withstand can prevent the Plague Doctor from getting hit with some nasty abilities, like an Unclean Giant’s “Treebranch Smackdown”, or Fungal Scratcher’s “Rend The Marked”.
In conjunction with intentionally tanking big hitters, it is not always worth using Revenge. Given the 25% damage taken and negative 10 dodge debuff cannot be cleansed via Medicinal Herbs, potential burst damage from an opponent should always be considered before usage. Normally the lack of reach would be an issue for the Leper as well, but the vast majority of fights will simply be chewing through opposing front-lines as fast as possible or relying on the Plague Doctor to perform a single shuffle at a critical junction to give him access.
Combat Abilities: Chop, Hew, Revenge, Withstand
Camping Skills: Bloody Shroud, Reflection, Quarantine, Encourage
Possible Trinkets: Ancestor’s Pen, Coat of Many Colors*, Focus Ring
Locked Quirks: Photomania (-20% Stress when Torch is above 75), Tough (+10% MAX Health)
It’s worth pointing out that at the time of this run, Coat of Many Colors had not yet been nerfed. With the recent balance changes, other streamers like DolphinChemist have subbed in a Focus Ring instead. Granted, he still reached 1059 kills, so there’s plenty of room for experimentation and success.
2nd Position – The Plague Doctor
Emboldening Vapours is the cornerstone of this entire build. After two uses, the Leper gains an increased damage buff of 50%, with 10 additional speed until the next break point in the run. Getting these two buffs off is absolutely vital. From there, the Plague Doctor can focus on clearing corpses (or attempting a clutch stun) with Disorienting Blast and stacking damage over time effects with Incision and Noxious Blast. While not as burst heavy as the Leper, large stacks of Blight or a quick critical hit from Incision can help smooth out sticky situations. The core emphasis should always be on assisting the Leper: spending camp skills to remove any disease he may contract, and giving up a round shifting in place to assist in getting him to the front-line faster if needed. Ashen Distillation makes a huge difference in this setup, as the 20 additional dodge and 20% increased healing received allow the Doctor to survive the perils of being in the 2nd position.
For a different perspective, DolphinChemist ended up initially running Virtue Trinkets on his Plague Doctor. After getting a Virtue early into the run, he eventually swapped them out for better utility items as he found them. So this could be a viable alternative to consider, though your Plague Doctor will be significantly more exposed in the meantime.
Combat Abilities: Noxious Blast, Incision, Emboldening Vapours, Disorienting Blast
Camping Skills: Leeches, Self-Medicate, The Cure, Encourage
Trinkets: Ashen Distillation and Focus Ring, with alternatives like Hero’s Ring or Ancestor’s Tentacle Idol for Virtue farming.
Locked Quirks: Hard Noggin (+15% Stun resist), Tough (+10% MAX Health)
3rd Position – The Jester
Originally running two Plague Doctors, CLZ eventually concluded that the additional bonus damage from a third and fourth Emboldening Vapours wasn’t worth the offset in poor accuracy from the Leper. Likewise, the Plague Doctors would sometimes miss key abilities, prompting a swap to a Jester in 3rd position. The advantages were immediately noticeable, as this composition allows the Jester to almost solely focus on maintaining a few levels of Battle Ballad, resulting in ridiculously high speeds, accuracy, and critical chance for all four heroes. This makes it easier to take the initiative against certain enemy compositions and preventing potential Death’s Door issues via immediate Vestal reactions (assuming the hero in question isn’t bleeding or suffering from blight). Even better, Battle Ballad doesn’t fully fall off in between fights, as it is a per round basis, and there is no movement within the break rooms of the Endless Harvest.
Alongside this, fighting stress management is much more consistent with Inspiring Tune combined with Dirge For The Devoured, instead of relying solely on critical hit stress relief from the Leper. In a pinch, Harvest synergizes with hitting stealthy enemies that are in 2nd or 3rd position. Dirk Stab is strictly used to reposition from 4th to 3rd position if necessary or attacking as a last resort if thrown into the front lines. For camp skills, Tiger’s Eye is vital for increased critical chance on the Leper when available, otherwise focusing on stress management as needed. CLZ’s Jester did not seem to have optimized quirks, so focusing on either stress reduction or defensive traits will ensure he’s able to survive and work at full efficiency. Speaking of which, Fortifying Garlic is used to help prevent damage over time effects from killing off your Jester before your Vestal can react. This trinket is arguably debatable, with DolphinChemist instead using a Bright Tambourine to focus strictly on stress management, as The Farmstead is considered 100% light so all of its bonuses apply.
Combat Abilities: Dirk Stab, Harvest, Battle Ballad, Inspiring Tune
Camping Skills: Turn Back Time, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Tiger’s Eye, Encourage
Trinkets: Fortifying Garlic, Dirge For The Devoured, Bright Tambourine
Locked Quirks: Fated (Chance to turn any MISS into a HIT (If you miss, you get a 10% chance to hit instead))
4th Position – The Vestal
The Anchor of the squad, the Vestal is here strictly for healing prowess. Trinkets are stacked to increase her healing output, which combines nicely with the Plague Doctor’s Ashen Distillation. She will normally heal anywhere from 7 to 9 damage across all four members, or upwards of 15 on single target heals. During turns where the party is healthy, Dazzling Light will have a 40% to 70% chance of stunning an enemy. She’s a pretty straight-forward anchor for the team, so don’t be afraid to continue to heal if she gets shuffled into 2nd or 3rd position should the need arise. Camping skills are based around additional stress management if needed and Bless for additional accuracy and dodge. Honestly though, these are lowest on the totem pole of potential choices, as you should be focusing on buffing up your Leper to ridiculous proportions.
Combat Abilities: Judgement, Dazzling Light, Divine Grace, Divine Comfort
Camping Skills: Bless, Chant, Pray, Encourage
Trinkets: Salacious Diary, Sacred Scroll, Junia’s Head
Locked Quirks: Fated (Chance to turn any MISS into a HIT (If you miss, you get a 10% chance to hit instead))
With that information in tow, the general strategy is quite simple. Address any immediate threats in the first batch of enemies as needed, while focusing on buffing up the Leper as much as possible. Vary between stress management and Battle Ballad with your Jester. The Plague Doctor should first expend uses of Emboldening Vapours, then apply damage over time abilities when prudent, otherwise focusing on removing corpses as your Leper grinds them into paste. Lastly, the Vestal should always do her best to keep the entire group topped off on health and prevent Death’s Door scenarios whenever possible. Camping skills should likewise focus on buffing the Leper, barring any immediate needs like removing a nasty disease with the Plague Doctor.
Inventory items should be used only against really nasty debuffs. The sweet spot seems to be anything over 6 damage or stress per round, though this will vary quite often depending on what threat you’re facing or if you find yourself in a pinch. It is much better to use an item in a potentially sub-optimal way than risk outright death! Just make sure to leave at least one Medicinal Herbs and Laudanum in your inventory, or you will lose out on trinket bonuses for the Plague Doctor and Jester respectively.
This team composition should allow you to enjoy progressively deeper runs into the Endless Harvest, or quick and dirty runs to farm crystal shards. As always though, don’t be afraid to experiment! The Color of Madness is built from the ground up for individuals of all skill levels to enjoy, so don’t feel beholden to one particular strategy if it doesn’t suit your style.
We hope you find this guide useful and wish you luck on delving into the extraterrestrial insanity of The Color of Madness!