Nightmare’s Vitality Cabalist

This post is a backup from a guide that was originally posted by Ceruleansong on the forums of Grim Dawn. I don’t intend to take any credit out of it, I just reproduced it here for safe keeping reasons. I’d hate to lose it because of some forum pruning.


All credit for this build goes to Nightmare, who created a brief guide originally here. Also, shout out to JoV for tweaking the build into what I ended up using. His post is here.

This build is incredibly new player friendly: I personally piloted it through all Campaign content, i.e. all quests in each difficulty including all secret quest chains/bosses (without using items I’ve gained on other characters in shared stash). I also got up to 120 in Gladiator Crucible. What makes this particularly appealing for new players is that it requires absolutely no farming or specific lucky equipment drops to make work, nor do you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what rare or epic items to wear to maximize your potential (if you have, say, only some of the required items for an end game build). You can literally purchase every piece of gear in this build from faction quartermasters with the requisite reputation, which you’ll get by simply playing through the campaign.

What you’re left with is a build that does decent damage (Veteran and Elite are a breeze and Ultimate is very doable), excellent tankiness/life regeneration, and a guaranteed end game gear set up to start farming for those legendaries with no pre-farming requirement. As mentioned above, it can do Gladiator with buffs to at least 120 (might need to use some ointments to get further), but it’s quite capable of at least Challenger runs without buffs/banners. Basically, a great “starter” build that allows you to experience all aspects of the game, can farm for items, and can easily be adapted with new drops into something even stronger.

Since it’s a perfect build for new players, I figured it deserved a detailed guide to help new players pilot it, thus the reason for duplicating an already posted build.

Grimtools Link

The Grimtools link.

This is modified slightly from JoV’s take on Nightmare’s build, in that skill and attribute points have been fully distributed rather than left unspent. Also, note that Bleed Resistance is only capped when Bloodthirster is active, otherwise it’s at 61% (on my character). Now that I’ve switched out some items (see the equipment section, this is maxed without Bloodthirster).

Attribute Allocation

85 Physique
10 Cunning
10 Spirit

I cover it further in the leveling guide, but I put the first 10 points in Physique, the next 10 in Spirit (to deal with early Energy problems), raised Physique to 50, put 10 in Cunning, and then the rest in Physique.

You could keep some attribute points reserved (i.e. don’t dump all your last points in Physique), in case you find gear you need additional Cunning or Spirit to equip, but in my opinion just spend the points and use the faction gear until you’ve farmed the equipment you need to respec into one of the strong end game Cabalist builds such as:
Vitality Cabalist – Gladiator Crucible 170 Capable by ABCbarbecue
DW Vitality Cabalist by THT
Vitality Drain Essence Cabalist by JoV
Vitality Decay Cabalist by THT
‘The Night King’ Summoner Cabalist by DaShiv

Once you have the gear, you can respec skill points at the Spirit Guide and use a Tonic of Reshaping to reset your attribute points and Tonic of Clarity to reset your devotion points.

Skill Rotation

Your skill rotation/priority will look something like this (at high levels):
At start of play, activate Possession, Spectral Binding (SB), and Blood of Dreeg (BoD) (on toggle action bar); continue to keep up BoD, which can be cast every 15 seconds or optionally wait a little longer and use when in need of a heal (but don’t let buff expire, since it’s granting health regeneration)
Drop Ravenous Earth (RE) approximately on top of yourself (since you’ll be swarmed usually) and continue to recast on cooldown
Debuff everything with Curse of Frailty (CoF); I like to use RE first, since there’s a slight delay before RE starts erupting; can refresh CoF periodically, since it expires every 5-10 seconds depending on point investment
Debuff enemies further and add life steal by casting Siphon Souls (SS) on cooldown
Doom Bolt (DB) the highest health target/hero monster and continue to do so on cooldown
Place a Mark of Torment (MoT) on the highest health/highest damaging target; keep this up on same or new targets on cooldown
Optionally/when necessary, debuff hero monsters/high health targets further with Solael’s Flame (SF); when surrounded with lots of hero monsters present, I’ll also activate Bloodthirster (BT) and Mana Infusion (MI) on cooldown. This gives extra life leech, mana regeneration, and damage.

Note that through pretty much all of Veteran and much of Elite, you really only need to drop RE and keep moving, since it does insane damage early on. For boss monsters/tough creatures, you can debuff with CoF, although this is really only necessary in Elite+ (which is why it remains at 1 point for a long time, since you don’t need the larger area or duration until later). That’s basically it.

Using all the abilities only comes into play in Ultimate, where everything has a lot more health and does a lot more damage. Debuffing with CoF and SS while spamming RE on cooldown will yield good results, and then adding DB and MoT on cooldown on hero monsters will get you through everything just fine.

Adding in the extra SF debuff, BT life steal (also grants Bleed Resistance), and MI for damage/energy regeneration are just extras that aren’t strictly necessary. The damage bonus from MI is not particularly great, and BT buff isn’t needed, especially with the itemization change to max out Bleed Resistance without it. Nightmare’s original build didn’t use MoT either. SF is nice on bosses for a little extra resist reduction (RR). I find in Crucible I only use RE + 1-4. I use 5 (MoT) on boss monsters. If things aren’t too hectic or I’m just one-on-one with a boss, I’ll also debuff with 6 (SF). I don’t use BT anymore now that my Blood Resistance is capped, and I only use MI if my constant spam of abilities (usually because I spam CoF more than necessary) has gotten my Energy down to halfway or so, and then it’ll help regenerate it back up.

So if you’re worried about too many button presses, just know you can easily play with only RE, CoF, SS, and DB. Keep BoD up. Optionally on bosses, add SF and MoT. MI only necessary on something like Crucible for occasional Energy regen (which isn’t usually necessary), and even then, it doesn’t do much more than chugging an occasional Energy potion does.


Disclaimer: This is what I use, but there are definitely better ways to map these if you re-hotkey 5-8 and use mouse scroll wheel up/down, so everything is accessible with one hand without stretching/moving. That said, this worked for me and requires no specific customization. Do what works for you.
There’s no need to have Attack on LMB later on, since it won’t do much damage, but for Veteran/Elite, it can be decent supplemental DPS when you’re waiting on cooldowns, and if nothing else, you can whack the occasional cupboard with your sword. I would remove it in Ultimate, though (bind Move instead), only because it helps you move out of stuff a little easier sometimes (with Attack, you’ll end up trying to hit something instead of moving away).
I’ve edited this slightly to reflect the most important skills: you’ll be using RE, BoD, DB, SS, CoF (LMB + 1-4) consistently. MoT used on bosses. The rest are optional.

LMB: Move (or Attack)
RMB: Ravenous Earth
1: Blood of Dreeg
2: Doom Bolt
3: Siphon Souls
4: Curse of Frailty
5: Mark of Torment
6: Solael’s Flame (from Symbol of Solael component)
7: Bloodthirster (from Haunted Steel component)
8: Mana Infusion (from Sacred Talisman relic)

Toggle (press T for a secondary skill bar):
1: Possession
2: Spectral Binding
3: Blood of Dreeg

Items, Components, and Augments

For these purchasable items, they’re always available (with the exception of the pants) but can roll variable ranges for stats. I’m using basically the first one I bought in most cases, but I go back to the vendor to check periodically to see if I can find a better roll. I think I’ve replaced maybe two of them with better rolls. If you really want to min/max, keep shopping for the highest rolls (from the Grimtools link, click on the Cog icon, third one down on the left, then Item Attributes, then “Show min/max values”).


Main-Hand: Wendigo Blooddrinker – Symbol of Solael / Ravager’s Eye
Off-Hand: Elite Harvest’s Ledger – Haunted Steel / Ravager’s Eye
Amulet: Wendigo Vile Pendant – Aether Soul / Survivor’s Ingenuity
Ring1: Skinner Family Seal – Corpse Dust / Uroboruuk’s Word
Ring2: Slith Primal Ring – Corpse Dust / Uroboruuk’s Word
Helm: Elite Legion Spellbearer – Runestone / Wendigo Lifescent Power
Chest: Elite Wendigo Vile Cuirass – Scaled Hide / Mankind’s Vigil
Shoulders: Elite Wendigo Vile Spaulders – Mutated Scales / Wendigo Lifescent Power
Gloves: Elite Harvest Grips – Unholy Inscription / Outcast’s Warding Powder
Pants: Impervious Redeemer Leggings of Mending/Readiness – Silk Swatch / Wendigo Lifescent Power
Boots: Elite Harvest Footpads – Mark of Mogdrogen / Mankind’s Vigil
Belt: Wendigo Tainted Girdle – Molten Skin / Outcast’s Warding Powder
Relic: Sacred Talisman
Medal: Wendigo Defender’s Mark – Aether Soul


(slightly higher damage, but less health/resistances)
Medal: Malmouth Badge of Desecration – Aether Soul
With this medal, use Mutated Scales on gloves.


Barrowholm (honored)

Wendigo Blooddrinker, requires level 84
Wendigo Vile Pendant, requires level 90
Wendigo Tainted Girdle, Blueprint, requires level 90; when you craft these, it can roll additional prefixes and suffixes so it should be even better than the “base” model, just craft as many as you can and use the best one
Wendigo Defender’s Mark, requires level 90

Barrowholm (revered)

2x Ravager’s Eye, requires level 90
3x Wendigo Lifescent Power, requires level 90
Elite Wendigo Vile Spaulders, requires level 90
Elite Wendigo Vile Cuirass, requires level 90

Devil’s Crossing (revered)

Survivor’s Ingenuity, requires level 50

Homestead (revered)

Elite Harvest’s Ledger, requires level 70
Elite Harvest Grips, requires level 70
Elite Harvest Footpads, requires level 70

Order of Death’s Vigil (revered)

2x Uroboruuk’s Word, requires level 50

The Black Legion (revered)

Elite Legion Spellbearer, requires level 70
2x Mankind’s Vigil, requires level 70

The Outcast (revered)

2x Outcast’s Warding Powder, requires level 70

Crafted components

Haunted Steel, Blueprint from Order of Death’s Vigil at Friendly, requires level 24
Mark of Mogdrogen, Blueprint from Rovers at Friendly, requires level 27
Aether Soul, Blueprint from Devil’s Crossing at Friendly, requires level 24
Runestone, Blueprint from Rovers at Friendly, requires level 24
Scaled Hide, Blueprint random drop, requires level 7
Silk Swatch, Blueprint random drop, requires level 15
Molten Skin, Blueprint random drop, requires level 15

Random drop components

Symbol of Solael, rare, requires level 35
Unholy Inscription, rare, requires level 15
2x Corpse Dust, common, requires level 7
Mutated Scales, common, requires level 15

From quests

Skinner Family Seal, from Act 2 quest A Family Crisis, available in each difficulty, requiring level 15, 50, and 65 (Normal/Elite/Ultimate)
Slith Primal Ring, from Act 1 quest That Good Old Slith Charm, available in each difficulty, requiring level 0, 45, and 70 (Normal/Elite/Ultimate)
Sacred Talisman, from Act 2 quest The Lost Elder, available in each difficulty, requiring level 18 (Bone Talisman), 35 (Ivory Talisman), and 50 (Sacred Talisman) (Normal/Elite/Ultimate)

Purchased from regular vendor

Impervious Redeemer Leggings of Mending/Readiness, purchasable from any non-Quartermaster vendor; you’ll have to shop a bit for these, but they’re not terribly uncommon. “Impervious” prefix will always roll Pierce resist, but a random other elemental resist, so you’ll keep looking until you find a Pierce/Lightning combo. Once I got Pierce/Lightning Impervious, I just took the first suffix I found, which was of Readiness (+OA/DA) but you can get any others that are useful (Mending for health regen is good, as is %Vitality Damage, etc.)

Item Priority

Focus on the following on self found gear, until you can purchase/wear the items above, in approximately this order:
+% Vitality Damage
+Offensive Ability (OA)
% Resistance (starting in Elite, all to 80% or above preferably)
+Defensive Ability (DA)
+Energy Regenerated per second/+Health Regenerated per second
+ skills (Siphon Souls, Spectral Wrath, Doom Bolt, Ravenous Earth; other used skills such as Curse of Frailty, Blood of Dreeg, Possession are fine too)
+%Attack Damage converted to Health (ADctH)
+% Cooldown Reduction
+% Chaos Damage (only a priority after getting Doombolt and starting to max it, which won’t happen until level 70+)
Reduced Stun Duration

Note that there are lower level versions of some of the “end game” items that are purchasable or obtainable earlier. In some cases (notably the rings, gloves, and boots), you can find better, but they’re not too bad for a little while or if you can’t find anything else. These are:
Slith Primal Ring, available on each difficulty, the Normal/Elite versions requiring level 0 and 45 respectively
Skinner Family Seal, available on each difficulty, the Normal/Elite versions requiring level 15 and 50 respectively
Bone Talisman relic at 18 (Normal) and the Ivory Talisman at 35 (Elite); you’ll use these relics as soon as you get them on each difficulty and never have to craft your own relic
Harvest’s Ledger at 35 from Homestead at Friendly (this is not bad)
Harvest Grips at 35 from Homestead at Friendly (probably can find/use better)
Harvest Footpads at 35 from Homestead at Friendly (probably can find/use better)
Legion Spellbearer at 50 from The Black Legion at Friendly (definitely worth getting)
Wendigo Vile Cuirass at 65 from Barrowholm at Friendly (definitely worth getting)
Wendigo Vile Spaulders at 65 from Barrowholm at Friendly (definitely worth getting)
Wendigo Tainted Waistguard at 65 from Barrowholm at Friendly (a Blueprint to buy and then craft, definitely worth getting)

This means that about half your gear can be obtained during/at the end of Normal/Veteran and will carry you until 90 or so when you can equip all the other items. However, if you find something better, by all means, use it.

Skill Point Progression

Level 2: 1 point Necromancer Mastery, 2 points Raise Skeletons
Level 3-6: All points in Raise Skeletons
Level 7: Visit Spirit Guide and unlearn all points in Raise Skeletons, then use these extra points to get 15 Necromancer Mastery, the rest in Ravenous Earth

After level 7, put all points into Ravenous Earth until maxed
Necromancer Mastery to 25
1 in Siphon Souls
Max Decay
Max Spectral Binding
5 points in Spectral Wrath
Add Occultist as second class and put 10 points in Occultist Mastery
1 in Curse of Frailty
Max Vulnerability
Occultist Mastery to 15
Max Blood of Dreeg
Occultist Mastery to 32
Max Aspect of the Guardian
Necromancer Mastery to 40
1 point in Foul Eruption, 1 in Blood Boil
Occultist Mastery to 50
1 in Doom Bolt
Max Possession
Max Siphon Souls
Max Blood Boil
Max Doom Bolt
4 in Mark of Torment
Necromancer Mastery to 50
Add final point into Mark of Torment

Devotion Progression and Binding

1. Add: Crossroads Eldritch
2. Add: Bat (all 5 stars)
Bind Twin Fangs to Ravenous Earth
3. Add: Viper (all 4 stars)
4. Add: Eel (all 3 stars)
5. Add: Wendigo (all 6 stars)
Bind Wendigo’s Mark to Curse of Frailty
6. Add: Spider (all 5 stars)
7. Add: Crossroads Order
8. Add: Crane (all 5 stars)
9. Add: Rattosh, The Veil Warden (all 6 stars) – see below, he’s allllll the way at the bottom
Bind Will of Rattosh to Siphon Souls
10. Add: Oklaine’s Lantern (all 5 stars)
11. Add: Scales of Ulcama (all 6 stars)
Bind Tip the Scales to Possession
12. Add: Hawk (all 3 stars)
13. Remove: Spider (all 5 stars at Spirit Guide)
14. Add: Panther (all 4 stars)
15. Add: Solemn Watcher (all 5 stars)
16. Remove: Crane (all 5 stars at Spirit Guide)
17. Add: Crossroads Primordial
18. Add: Obelisk of Menhir (skip the two on the middle right side)

Choices During Campaign

In Act I, for Blacksmith choice, I chose Angrim on all difficulties. This is because his bonus rolls like %Armor are more useful than Duncan’s. I used Angrim to craft the belts, to get his bonuses added to the craft.

In Act III, for Kymon versus Order, your choice is easy. Since you’re a Necromancer, Kymon’s Chosen will refuse to work with you, making the Order your only choice on all difficulties.

In Act IV, side with Anasteria on all difficulties. We don’t need her helm for this build, so no need to farm her. Also, I completed all her quests on each difficulty for lots of extra experience (takes you into each of the challenge rogue-like dungeons). While you lose rep with The Black Legion by doing so, if you wait to do/turn in some of the Act IV Black Legion side quests until after you do her quests, you’ll more than make up for the reputation loss.

In Act V, befriend Scorv/Barrowholm on all difficulties. Since the majority of our gear comes from the Barrowholm Quartermaster, we want to maximize our rep gain with them as much as possible.

Leveling Progression Log

Here is a log of where I was at and at what level my skills/attributes/devotions were at during my leveling. I was fully exploring all maps on all difficulties, and completing all quests. I almost never did Bounties (exceptions noted below). I started on Veteran rather than Normal. You can move forward faster than I did by not fully exploring, skipping some quests, etc. However, I just wanted to be sure this build could clear all content in all difficulties, which is why I fully explored everything/did all quests. Plus, truth be told, I’m a little OCD about my map not being fully explored… Take this as a very rough guide of where you should be at any given level.

  • At 15, at Burrwitch Outskirts, 25 in Necro mastery, 16 Ravenous Earth, 2 Decay, 10 Physique, 4 Spirit
  • At 21, at Warden’s Cellar, RE and Decay maxed, 8 Spectral Binding, Bat complete, 10 Physique, 10 Spirit
  • At 24, Act I Veteran complete, Spectral Binding maxed, 5 in Spectral Wrath
  • At 27, Act II Veteran complete, 10 Occultist, 1 Curse of Frailty, 1 Vulnerability, Viper complete, 17 Physique
  • At 40, at Dermapteran cave, Vulnerability maxed, Blood of Dreeg maxed, 21 Necro, Wendigo complete, 30 Physique
  • At 44, Act III Veteran complete, 32 Occultist, 1 Aspect of the Guardian, 2 in Spider, 34 Physique, 10 Spirit
  • At 52, Act IV Veteran complete, Aspect of the Guardian maxed, 36 Necro, Spider complete, 1 in Crane, 43 Physique, Steps of Torment dungeon completed, Mogdrogen shrine cleansed (did a few Rover bounties to get Honored and access this quest), Hidden Path completed, killed Mad Queen
  • At 55, Bastion of Chaos complete, 1 in Blood Boil, 1 in Foul Eruption, 40 Necro, 46 Physique
  • At 57, Port Valbury complete, 36 Occultist, 48 Physique
  • At 60 (or 61), Act V complete, 44 Occultist, 50 Physique, 1 Cunning
  • At 63, at Malmouth Outskirts, 48 Occultist, 51 Physique (accidentally placed a point above 50 in Physique before getting Cunning to 10; not at all a big deal, but this varies from my leveling guide above), 3 Cunning
  • At 64, finished Candle District, 50 Occultist, 4 Cunning
  • At 65, to Crown Hill, 2 Possession, 5 Cunning
  • At 66, ready to do Fleshworks, completed Iron Docks and Legion Retribution, honored with Black Legion, 6 Cunning, 4 Possession
  • End of Veteran – 33 Devotion points, level 66
    Respected: Barrowholm, Coven of Ugdenbog, Devil’s Crossing, Malmouth Resistance
    Honored: the rest
  • At 68, in Burrwitch Estates, Will of Rattosh complete
  • At 70, Act I Elite complete, including Origin of the Slith, 10 Cunning, 12 Possession, 1 Doom Bolt
  • At 75, at Homestead, about to head out into Blood Grove/Sorrow’s Bastion (after Kymon/Order choice), 11 Siphon Souls, picked up Homestead Revered items and added components when possible
  • Went back to Veteran at 77 to complete Origin of the Slith, The Other You, and to get augments
  • At 77, Act III Elite complete, attempted Mad Queen, while doable, died a few times and very tedious (not worth it), 60 Physique, 12 Siphon Souls, 4 Blood Boil
  • At 80, at Inner Necropolis, 10 Blood Boil, 2 Doom Bolt, 63 Physique, Scales of Ulcama complete, 1 in Hawk, completed Act IV before 81
  • Completed the Outcast quests (no rep needed, but for XP), plus challenge dungeons and some Black Legion bounties to get Revered
  • Once complete with above, now at 83, started Act V Elite, 8 Doom Bolt, 66 Physique
  • Kubacabra showed up and destroyed me, but killed him with LOTS of kiting (and deaths)
  • At 84, activated Altar of Rattosh, bought Wendigo Blooddrinker and other Barrowholm equipment, got some components/augments added
  • Turned 88 after finishing Act VI Elite, 7 Curse of Frailty, 72 Physique, 52 Devotion points (need a couple more in Solemn Watcher)
  • Went back to Veteran to do remaining Honored quests in AoM (The Feast/Cast Off the Flesh to get Revered with Barrowholm), also Malmouth Resistance
  • At 90, reached Foggy Bank in Act I Ultimate, equipped all gear with augments/components (just needed Ultimate Skinner Ring and Sacred Talisman and leggings)
  • At 92, at Laboratory Rift, 54 Devotion points (time to respec out of Crane)
  • At 99 by start of Act IV Ultimate (Darkvale Gate)
  • At 100, in Act IV, doing East Marsh for Hidden Path
  • Killed John Bourbon and clones in Daila’s Secret Quest (~10 deaths, although this was my first time fighting him on any character)
  • Died to Shar’zul the first time (made it easily through rest of Bastion of Choas though), tried again and didn’t try to stand still/face tank and did fine
  • No problem with Port Valbury (the life leech + reduced dmg from aetherial components made this quite a lot easier since I didn’t need to worry so much where I was standing); council was not too bad, but Garl I killed last/had to face tank rather than kite, since he kept healing up
  • Killed Allostria easily, second form took some time, but no danger of dying, with The Other You complete, spent final skill point to get Mark of Torment at 5
  • Died once to Theodin’s second form, once to third form (you need to kite second and third form); once you learn ordering of moves it’s not too bad (if I had known better I probably could have done with 0 deaths)
  • Killed Mogdrogen for the first time on Veteran with no issues
  • Besides Kubacabra, only other Nemesis I’ve seen so far is Valdaran, who I’ve killed twice easily
  • Will be looking to do Ravager next on Veteran, then Mogdrogen/Ravager on higher difficulties
  • Tried Lokarr a couple times and this is going to be a tough fight; based on some I’ve been reading, might need to rework the gear a bit to make this easier (further overcap fire resistance, etc.).
  • Tried Crucible. Completed 150 Aspirant no issues. Completed 150 Challenger (died once on 150 due to bad monster combo, but did a second time successfully with double Iron Maiden + Fabius on final wave).
  • Tried Gladiator and got up to 120 with buffs (Might of Amatok and Empyrion’s Guidance), but died. 🙁 Tried again from checkpoint and died again at 120. Probably doable with some potions/ointments, but I’ll probably just stick to 100-150 runs on Challenger until I’m better geared.
  • Jumped on the Krieg set bandwagon and farmed 5/5 items (for another character) in the process of which, ran into Aleksander a few times. I found if facing him with lots of other mobs present, I would die. Facing him one on one was much better and allowed me to kill him. Waaay overcapped Aether resists helps (he has lots of RR) and then the main thing is to avoid the giant meteor he casts periodically; if you get hit by that, you’re one shot.

Useful Links

New Player Knowledge Compendium for questions you may have as a new player not answered here

How to access secret bosses/quest chains:
The Hidden Path
Daila’s Secret Quest

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