I'm going to play D&D 4e on the PC side of the screen for the first time soon, and it looks like the best way to fill the party's needs is by taking up a striker that can also defend a bit. Maximizing stickiness in a striker build is a priority.
On paper, I'd go with a lot of the choices listed, especially the Barbarian, but in practice I've seen melee rangers really end up excelling in this role, especially if they're willing to drop a feat or two into armor proficiency. The lack of marking is, of course, a problem, but it's offset (perhaps strangely) by some of the ranger's more controller-ey attacks that slow or move enemies. This allows for a decent amount of battlefield control (something both Defenders and Controllers achieve) while maintaining an immediate melee threat (which is something Defenders and Strikers both achieve) without requiring any fiddly multiclassing or peculiar gear combinations.
It does require the tradeoff of ditching dexterity in favor of strength, but that choice is one that any ranger needs to make anyway. The trick is not to think of it as forgoing ranged attacks so much as knowing that you have some secondary range capability to fall back on. As a bonus, in reducing focus on dexterity, the investment in strength and constitution means that you can actually take the heavy armor feats.
Again, not as fiddly and interesting as some other options, but I've seen it at the table twice, and in both cases it's surprised me with its effectiveness.
As of December 2010, here is a list of strikers who can secondary in defender, ordered roughly by effectiveness:
List of Builds taken from the CharOp Wiki and Heroes of the Forgotten Lands, with hypotheticals taken from Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms previews. (If someone pings me when HoFK drops, I'll update this.)
The important characteristic of the Defender, as taken from the Art of Defending is to impose the Defender Catch 22:
A: Risk a miss against the defender
Concentrate your attacks on the defender. He has high defenses, high hit points and ways to remove or ignore status effects. This makes the enemy's attack likely to have little impact.
B: Soak the punishment
Try to circumvent the defender and attack his softer allies. First of all, the defender imposes a penalty to this attack with his mark. Then, each defender class has individual ways to keep the enemy from reaching the target, staying near the enemy, reducing the attack's effect or punishing the enemy.
A good defender needs to make both A and B painful for the enemy. If he neglects his defense, he is a liability to the party because it is easier for enemies to render him ineffective with weaken, stun and other effects. He also needs to be healed more often, which drains party resources. If he neglects B, he'll be like a stone pillar that enemies can't push over, but they can just walk around him and kill his allies first, then finish him off last.
Defender as secondary presents the "we can defend everyone some of the time, or someone all of the time, but not everyone all of the time." Considering that requirement, I'll class a defender as secondary if they perform at least one of the following well:
- a) can compel a monster to attack them that would not otherwise attack them at least once an encounter;
- a1) Through mark or peseudomark
- a2) By reducing movement options through "stickiness" or otherwise presenting coherent debuffs to attacking other people
- b) if they naturally draw attacks, to be able to survive the concentrated punishment of around 50% of the monsters for one round.
List of Builds, each rated by suitability for defender secondary:
- Bleak Disciple Assassin
- A consistent funnel of THP as well as acceptably dex-based defenses means they are not bad at case b. Whlie they would be hard-pressed to survive for more than a round of focus, the right ki-focus (iron-body) combined with their THP should provide for quite acceptable secondary defender. No feats or multi-classing necessary to move to case A, as they're insufficiently survivable for that. Though technically their at-will power executioner's noose which combines a pull and slow satisfies A2 weakly.
- Nightstalker Assassin
- A complete joke. These folks want to stay as far away from combat as possible. No HP, no THP, no melee.
- Executioner Assassin
- Jury's still out, depending on the revisions they make to the revised preview. No dedicated defendery powers though, so unlikely to be useful at case B. They have a grab at-will that quite neatly satisfies case A2 though.
- Bleak Disciple Assassin
- According to the handbook: "Defender: You've got the defenses and the HP and surges. If you're pursuit, your censure sort of acts like a Mark, you convince the bad guy to not run once you get it alone. Look for powers that let you take your target off to the side, away from the rest of the scrum." From personal practice, at low-levels, avengers do *not* have the durability to be a defender without building specifically towards that.
- Censure of Persuit
- Your class feature punishes running, so intelligent enemies satisfy A2. Dex boosts AC, so your defences won't suck, but you're not con focused and cloth (with bonuses) only goes so far. Decent off-defender, as you're designed to privately wail on someone in the corner and have many class
- Censure of Retribution
- Your class feature rewards masochism, but doesn't have any way of satisfying case A. And you absolutely cannot satisfy case b. No off-defender here.
- Censure of Unity
- No bias for or against, though the unitarians are encouraged to fight in formation. The lack of a secondary attribute allows for multi-classing, as such, MCing defender and grabbing A1 is quite feasible. Again there are case B problems.
- Rageblood Vigor
- Designed to be an off-defender, the str-con focus means low defenses, while the multitude of THP options means an ability to soak the damage fairly effectively. Ragebloods fail case A, but very neatly satisfy case B. It is important to note that the party will die *very* quickly if the barbarian is primary defender, as ragebloods are charge happy, and thus offer no useful battlefield control, and they don't have the defenses to really soak case B for multiple turns, especially with the nature of THP.
- Thaneborn Triumph
- Off-leader. Charisma focus means less HP and similar defensive weaknesses. Debuffs are cute, but don't satisfy A or B.
- Thunderborn Wrath
- Off-*controller* the AoE nature of the powers, and con focus means that taking damage is a tertiary priority.
- whirling Slayer
- Dex focus helps the AC, and it's far more likely to provoke case B's than the rest, due to the desire to attack many nearby targets. The survivability increase is negligible for the amount of risk. A whirling slayer can be a good off-defender if there's a very capable leader sitting behind them.
- Rageblood Vigor
- Centered FoB
- Off-controller. While the slide is useful, it does not inherently generate stickiness needed for case A2, though it's certainly possible with the right feat support. a Dex focus provides defenses, though HP are lacking
- Stone Fist FoB
- Pure striker. Can't generate stickness, though multi-classing fighter or warden could provide for weak off-defender support. Very tricky build to pull off.
- Iron Soul FoB
- Off-Defender as designed. Con as secondary stat with the FoB providing absolutely fantastic lockdown as well as exclusive riders on powers. The Lion's Den at-will provides even stronger battlefield control and defenses as well as the proning attack of Dragon's Tail. With a mark, an Iron soul could be an excellent defender.
- Centered FoB
- Archery Style
- No con or defenses for Case B. No way of reliably generating sticky through twin-strike. Look at the Seeker class instead if you want case A2.
- Beast Mastery
- Conceptually possible to send your beast in to off-off-defender, but the mechanical issues are such that it's not feasible. Fails cases A and B
- Hunter Style
- Rapid weapon switching and twin-strike to not a defender make.
- Marauder Style
- If you *really* want to be an off-off-defender and ranger, this is the style to take. It's a poor choice, but it's the least bad, and offers some not completely horrible defensive bonuses.
- Two-Blade Style
- 5 HP with a strength focus means your dex is suffering as it fights with wisdom. Good luck surviving, much less sticking people down. You'll do absolutely fantastic damage, so most enemies will target you for preference (and you'll be in range of them.) With two-blade rangers the question is always: who will die first? Make sure to bring a defender to the party who *isn't* you, and focus on doing damage instead.
- Unknown. If the horribly broken preview is any indication, the class is broken and over-powered, and as such may have a magical marking ability as well.
- Archery Style
- Artful Dodger
- Fails cases A and B in heroic, though sneak attack offers many options later on to be modified for lockdown via feats. Still, not a class focus at all.
- Brutal Scoundrel
- According to the guide, the right feats can make a BS an off-defender, Decent fighter synergies provide for this combination, but it takes concerted effort towards this goal. Useful if you want to play a "thug"
- Cunning Sneak
- The ideas of staying hidden and drawing fire are functionally opposite. Horrible defender.
- Ruthless Ruffian
- The class feature is a trap, therefore, anything extending beyond it is also a trap. Avoid at all costs.
- Thug's Trick and unbalancing trick offer a easy way to satisfy case A2, while a high dex for melee offers some protection. A very solid off-defender with the right build.
- Artful Dodger
- The guide notes that all sorcerers make horrible defenders. "There are highly specialized builds of Sorcerers with absolutely ridiculous AC, but that just makes them hard to hit, not tanks, and certainly not defenders." As such, and as there are no builds that provide for defendery qualities, I'll skip the class. They have little inherent focus on being sticky, and insufficient HP (even with a defensive focus) to allow for case B.
- Dark Pact
- Charisma based with a pact boon that triggers when an enemy hits you. pass.
- Fey Pact
- Charisma based with a pact spell that renders you invisible. pass.
- Infernal pact
- Excellent off-defender with the right choice of sticky-making powers, the THP granted by your boon as well as your con focus make you very tough. Defenses need work though, but that just means that enemies will want to satisfy case B *for* you. You might even survive.
- Sorcerer King Pact
- Constitution focused with an emphasis on melee touch provides for being in the middle of combat, though few options for surviving combat. Still, there are worse choices. Very build dependent. Stickiness can be achieved by teleporting with warlock's curse via the paragon feat Flitting Shadows.
- Star Pact
- Con focused, but highly variable. Depends on many build details. No real melee focus
- Vestige Pact
- Highly versatile, the right vestages can make you a decent off-defender combined with the correct feat support. Requires pre-planning of the character. Difficult to pull off in heroic
- Melee focused warlock is already most of the way there. Some powers may provide the necessary stickiness.
- Dark Pact
The Rageblood Barbarian is a good choice for a Defender-y striker because you can stand up to a lot of punishment. I think it's the most defender-y of the strikers. But it's not super sticky. Match it with a durable race (dwarf, goliath, or warforged) to be extra-chewy.
If stickiness is the goal, have you considered just making a very striker oriented defender?
The Ardent Paladin is a great choice because it's already a defender, but then it deals some major damage with ardent strike, challenging strike, and blood of the mighty (a reliable 4W attack). Focus everything on your defender toward strength, use a brutal 2-hander, and pick a race like half-orc or human and you'll have a real bruiser of a defender. Another option is a tempest fighter.
Barbarians in general have the hit points to be sort of like defenders, although you'll find yourself short on ways to be sticky. There are a handful of powers that allow barbarians to mark at higher levels.
A dragon sorcerer becomes an interesting choice around paragon tier -- the Dragon Guardian paragon path has an encounter power that marks. If you focus on defensive utilities and a couple of specific powers, like Lightning Breath, that damage opponents when they hit you, you can make up for your low hit points and low number of healing surges. Again, though, you'll be punishing monsters that hit you rather than punishing them for leaving you alone.
I would actually choose a pursuit avenger. You can, with effort, push your defenses up reasonably high, although you'll never soak damage like a barbarian would. However, your ability to punish opponents for leaving you alone is unparalleled among strikers. It's an excellent choice if stickiness is your concern.
If you don't mind being a defender with a lot of striker in you, a two-handed weapon fighter or a tempest fighter might work out for you. Fighters who focus on offense and don't bother with defensive feats or shields do a surprising amount of damage even without a striker class feature, and obviously the stickiness is built right in.
It's easier by far to build a defender who is very striker heavy. Almost all of the defenders builds have a striker secondary and most feel the roll fairly well. Both Fighters and Wardens have builds that can make them very capable strikers without sacrificing much in the way of defending. It's always going to be easier to add damage to a defender build than add marking/defense to a striker. If you have to go striker, beast rangers do a decent job of sucking up the damage and controlling enemy positioning.
You may want to consider a staradin (a warlock, paladin hyrbid), play it up as a heretic paladin .
Also thraneborn barbarian, despite technically being a leader secondary, is brawley enough to merit some attention as a defender (especially if you use some cheese such as polearms or heavy armour, and a good multiclass/paragon choice could make it viableish I think + Barbarians are fun to play).
The Master Pai Mei build (courtesy of svendj at the 4e CharOp forum) combines decent (though not stellar) striker damage and an almost complete defender package. It prevents foes from shifting away, has a decent OA if they move away, and starting in paragon its OAs knock foes prone (or as early as level 2 if you go with the minotaur variant) and it gains the ability to mark; the only thing it lacks is defender mark punishment.
It's an Iron Soul monk build so it has good HP & defenses (typical same level enemies need at least a 15 on the die to hit its AC). Monk in general offers a lot of versatility and maneuverability as well, to ensure you can go lock down the enemy you want to lock down.