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I’m interested in building an artificer who has a defender-y bent; still an artificer, still a leader, but with a minor in defending. I’m fine with sacrificing some Leadership for Defense; I expect that has to happen, but those are my priorities. What is the best way to do this?

The way I imagine this is a tanky sort of artificer, who makes the area near him either suck for enemies to be in or awesome for allies to be in. He doesn’t necessarily have to draw or take fire personally, I just like the idea of being “in the mix” and creating a sort of “soft zone defense” for my allies.

I’m fairly-new to 4e, and my limited experience is quite old (before Essentials came out, but I want to say it was the within a year of its release). I’m also more than willing to do my homework, and the game is with an experienced DM and a bunch of fairly-new players, so I think that may work out.

The game will start at 1st, but I’m interested in builds and ideas that go all the way to 30. Part of this is information-gathering about the system itself, so even information like “well, this doesn’t really do anything defender-y until Epic, but whoo-boy, when you get there!” will be useful and interesting to me. All material is good, no houserules (yet, anyway, game is still very much in planning stages).

The suggestions that I’ve seen for this in my googling include...

  • Summoner artificer. Consensus seemed to be “it works, but summoning will eat up all your actions and make it hard for you to do the leader thing, and you’ll be a decidedly sub-par defender.” Conceptually, not exactly what I wanted out of the artificer anyway; not strictly opposed, but I’d be happy to learn there’s a better way.

  • Artificer|swordmage. This was just a mention in a couple of different threads, but they were explicitly veterans wanting some “weird/fun defenders.” The reaction there seemed positive, with swordmages cited as “some of the best hybrids […] because they lose so very little with hybriding,” but no details were given and my general understanding is that hybrid is almost always a bad idea, which makes me leery. Conceptually, though, this sounds like exactly what I want.

I doubt these are the only ways to make this idea. I’ve tagged this because I figure dipping into another role in 4e is similar to multiclassing in other systems, but I’m not particularly invested in necessarily having a multiclass feat or hybridizing or whatever; those are just how I imagine it will happen.

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    \$\begingroup\$ this might be a little open ended. You might need to further define your requirements. In general though, an artificer is a terrible leader to try to add some defender too versus say a warlord who's meant precisely for that kind of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 29 '14 at 14:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith That could be a valid answer, per challenging the question. I’d read it with interest. As for more requirements, it may be my inexperience with the system showing, but I’m not sure what else to add. I suppose I could suggest ranged/melee or something, but considering your statement that this is not a great combo I’d think that there are few ways to do it that will work anything like well. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 29 '14 at 14:29
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Okay, I'm seeing a lot of hate on hybrids here, which is undeserved. Hybrids are generally viable as long as you get good AC and resolve any weapon/implement conflicts. Which, luckily, this does pretty cleanly.

Artificer|Swordmage is exactly what you want

This hybrid combination is actually extremely viable, especially for this goal. In this case, the swordmage will probably be the main class, while artificer will be supporting. This even has multiple build paths you can take. In all cases you end up spending hybrid talent on Swordmage Warding 9/10, though if your GM lets you get your hands on some decent daily magic items, Arcane Empowerment is amazing, while a lot of smaller ones across the party can make Arcane Rejuvination tempting. The main thing to remember is that damage prevention and mitigation is a shared concern between defenders and defensive leaders.

Int/Con, The Versatile Path

Going for an Int/Con statline means you can play as a genasi, which opens up the Shocking Flame feat in paragon, giving you free typing to lightning for your melee attacks, which, in combination with Promise of Storm, the genasi racial power, means you can have a few turns of doing pretty solid damage to support your party. You still have access to Swordmage Aegis and swordmage's usual set of interrupt powers to defend with, and Con artificer has access to some of the more aggressive power options, such as Burning Weapons and the Sigil powerline. Resistive Formula will also give you a +1 bonus to your AC (+2 if your DM allows Mark of Warding from Eberron), and can be turned into a huge pile of temps as a free action. All in all, this setup does a solid amount of defending, leading, and even some striking.

Int/Wis: The Defensive Option

This statline is much more dedicated to defensive options, and tends to play a little differently depending on what tier you're in. It is absolutely silly at Epic due to the combination of features and feats giving it access to a close burst 8 mark (Total Aegis Wandering Swordmage), but is still pretty good at lower levels. Prior to epic, I'd probably recommend githzerai for your race (Epic makes Deva the choice for Soul of the World so you can also be a githzerai). This gives you the Githzerai Blade Master feat, which allows you to use any heavy blade you want and get +2 to damage. The choices are Fullblade (highest damage, most strikery bent), Bastard Sword (lets you still get +3 AC from swordmage warding), or Drow Long Knife (allows you to use artificer's ranged weapon powers by throwing your weapon). Githzerai also lets you solve the issue of HP and Surges in paragon by multiclassing monk and taking Zuoken's Centering, making your HP and Surges key to Wisdom instead of Con (also giving you a decent athletics check which can be handy). Artificer powers such as Shocking Feedback and Healer's Momentum (both ranged powers, a major point for the drow long knife) are fantastic ways to mitigate damage coming into the party

Battlemind|Artificer: A Personal Experience

I mostly focused on swordmage||artificer since that was mentioned, but i will say a lot of my knowledge there came from watching a pure class swordmage play through several levels (and nothing they did wouldn't work on a hybrid), as well as playing a battlemind|artificer for 9 levels myself, focusing on the defender role. Imo, the battlemind hybrid is better if you go for the int|con route and especially if you have another defender who relies on marks, because Lightning Rush makes battleminds probably the single best second defender in the entire game, since you can force enemies to violate marks, allowing your other defender to punish (while the enemy probably misses you because of your own defenses and the mark penalty).

On the Topic of Summons

Summons are a horrible route for artificer defender. The artificer summons are poorly suited to defending, having short range for placement, generally lackluster OAs (mostly just mediocre damage with no penalties or other interference), poor action economy, and being tied to your own defenses (which are not natively very good). Plus it means you are reliant on daily powers to accomplish the goal you want, which I consider a fundamental flaw in any build. Artificer summons can be very good for a striker based artificer, with Dancing Weapon and Arbalester giving you access to minor action attacks, but the defender ones will not be very effective at defending before they get killed incidentally by enemy bursts.

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First and foremost let me recommend the build guides for all classes on the WOTC forums found in the Character Optimization boards and collected in one thread.

Artificer's make poor defenders...

Artificers only start with leather armor proficiency, no shield proficiency and 1 less surge granted by the class than all other leader classes. You're already behind for the role of leader, now just imagine how that stacks up against actual defenders. Most artificer healing powers target allies only (aka everyone but you) so you'll be hard pressed to heal yourself when you take hits as a result of trying to be a defender. If you are dead-set on becoming an artificer with a defender secondary role however I would highly recommend focusing on summons over any sort of hybridization. Hybridization only really works in a few well known combos with very, specific goals (usually to combine two powers or class features) and in general hybridization is a trap so I would avoid the Artificer|Swordmage hybrid you mentioned. You are correct that summons will take up actions but summons can usually be used to gain flanking (for you and for allies) and they can get into the think of melee without you exposing yourself. Even better yet if you manage to get summoned creatures (usually mechanically flavored for your class) with instinctual actions they can act on your turn without you spending an action to control them.

You should really just play a Warlord or a Warpriest.

Warlords start with chainmail and light shields (easily upgraded with feats) , 12+CON HP and 7+CON surges, and their healing feature, inspiring word, has tons of feat support and is easy to use. Focusing on a melee, STR based build will allow you to choose powers that buff allies, grant attacks, all the while getting into the think of things yourself. The feat investment to get a heavy shield is easy and its only a little bit more to get up to Plate and it will have synergy with your stats.

Warpriests start out with chainmail and heavy shields and the exact same HP and surge values. Depending upon your domain choice you have a lot of versatility in building toward damage or building toward healing. This again can be improved via feats. Again an MC feat into fighter is a solid way to go.

Regardless of your class choice, the best way to get defender features is by Character Themes

Guardian is a prime example of this, but there are a few others hanging around that either let you make attacks when you are hit/targeted or allow you to respond to other players in the party being hit or targeted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Other traps: Don't play a runepriest. It looks seductive and like it offers these mechanics. Just don't. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Aug 30 '14 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton Joshua and BESW warned me about that one, hah. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 30 '14 at 0:17

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