Ultimate Defenders: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
You Shall Not Pass! -Gandalf the Grey, Ultimate Defender
This thread is a compilation of certain builds that I have dubbed Ultimate Defenders. To give some background as to the criteria I use, we must first discuss some Defender Theory:
We all are aware of what a defender is. Or at least, we think we are. Your Defender is the guy who takes the blows so you don't have to. Sort of. See, in MMOs this is the role of a Tank: make sure the enemies only attack you, and make sure they don't hurt you either. It is easy to believe that this translates directly to D&D 4e, as the creators have designed a role parallel to the Tank. However, there is no "aggro" to manage in D&D. Your foes are controlled by an intelligent DM rather than a computer, and most DMs know better than to attack the meatshield just because he insults them. This was a problem in 3.5e, as the big dumb brute didn't have much by way of means to keep things attacking him. So the designers of 4e tacked some abilities onto the meatshields that enabled them to accomplish that purpose.
This leads to the First Principle of defender theory:
Defenders are Specialized Controllers.
Defenders are Controllers
Consider the one thing all defenders have in common: a marking mechanism. The basic mark simply says: as long as the target is marked, it takes -2 to hit on attacks that don't include you. This serves two purposes:
1. Reduce the impact the enemy has on your allies.
2. Direct the enemies to attack you rather than your friends.
Both can occur in a regular encounter. Everyone who has played a 4e defender for long has seen their marks obeyed and disobeyed. An enemy disobeying the defender's mark does not mean the mark has failed. After all, the enemy is less likely to hit with that attack.
Next consider that most defenders also raise their defenses as high as they can, to become the "meat shield." +2 to all defenses is effectively a -2 to hit you. -2 to hit your allies + -2 to hit you = -2 to hit. That's a controller debuff. By the same token, inflicting -2 to hit on a target is as good as gaining +2 to defenses against that target AND increasing your mark penalty on that target by 2.
There are a LOT of examples of this same principle, but the conclusion is clear: Defenders are controllers who specialize in a narrower range of control. Specifically: keep your allies alive by directing enemy actions and blunting enemy effectiveness.
The Second Principle of defender theory follows right on the heels of the first:
Defenders Control Primarily through Catch-22 Tactics
Defenders use Catch-22
Let's look at the classic mark punishment model. If you, as a defender, mark an enemy, you have some means to punish disobedience to that mark.
It's easy to see that if your punishment is strong enough, no enemy will want to disobey your mark. But at what point does that happen? When you're dealing 100 damage? 200? 50? Suppose it's 50. If everyone is now attacking you and never triggering your mark, doing 60 instead of 50 clearly does you NO GOOD, because you never get to deal the extra 10 damage. If the extra 10 damage took a feat to get, you're better off spending the feat on something else. In particular, the usual wisdom is to boost your defenses. Now your enemy is facing the choice between 50 damage, and -2 to hit you. Maybe now 50 damage ISN'T enough to make them attack you. So now you can crank up your damage to 60. But then they won't disobey your mark, so now you boost your defenses. And so it continues.
The direct conclusion of this analysis is that an effective defender will balance the punishment he gives out on mark disobedience against the punishment for attacking him directly. Make no mistake, +2 to defenses is as much a punishment for attacking the defender as the mark's -2 penalty is to attack the defender's allies.
This is control.
It is giving your enemies no good choices, and making them choose between them. Even the defender's higher hit points are part of the catch-22: given the choice, would you rather attack the squishy(but hard-hitting) ranger, or the beefy(but weaker) warden? The same problem with too much stickiness occurs if you are TOO durable: they won't go after you, and your excess durability is wasted.
So working the defender catch-22 consists of this general process:
1. Improve the "attack me!" until it outstrips the "don't attack me!"
2. Improve the "don't attack me!" until it catches up to the "attack me!"
3. Repeat until you run out of resources.
In practice, the sticky is easier to come by for some defenders, while others find it easier to be more durable. Furthermore, boosting both sides of the equation often takes some creativity, and it's difficult to know from the build alone whether your sticky is stronger than your anti-sticky or vice versa. The game is so complex that many (myself among them) believe you should err on the side of the sticky...at least that way you can tone it down in-game if you need to, and if the monsters are focusing on you, you don't have to wonder WHICH of your squishy allies they'll be headed for.
As a sidenote, just what kind of catch-22 you impose only determines what kind of defender you are, not whether you are a defender or not. For example, if you are using immediate interrupts (like pre-nerf White Lotus Master Riposte) to damage enemies for attacking you, that simply hastens their demise, which limits the amount of time they can be harassing you or your allies. In that case you are a Defender/striker. If your catch-22 is all about improving your defenses and your mark debuff, you are leaning more heavily into your defender/controller roots. If your catch-22 heals your allies, you find yourself dipping into leader. And so on. All are valid methods of protecting your allies.
1. Defenders are controllers. Very specialized controllers. In fact, they specialize in blunting monster attacks.
2. Defenders use Catch-22s. Make all your enemies' choices terrible, and you've done your job.
So What's an Ultimate Defender?
There are a lot of good defender builds out there. I don't want to give the impression that the builds I am labelling in this thread are the only good defenders. Nor necessarily that they are the best defender builds ever made. A high-dpr fighter is accomplishing his objective of defending his party by ending the encounter faster. But that makes him a Defender/striker.
Rather, Ultimate Defender builds leverage defender tactics to an extreme degree. In the end, an Ultimate Defender defends his allies by optimizing his catch-22 and controller aspects.
Common aspects of a good Ultimate Defender include: multimarking, heavy mark punishment, high defenses, reactive damage, strong debuffing, lockdown, action denial.
This thread exists to highlight such builds, and encourage players and optimizers to do likewise. What explanations I give for my inclusion of certain builds will be brief at best. If you have a build that you feel qualifies, post it and I will have a look. I reserve the right to reject builds for utterly arbitrary reasons based mostly on my own perception of defenders (which is admittedly changing often). I don't expect to need to exercise that right often.
The Builds Darth Vader
, Warlock|Swordmage/Avernian Knight/Sage of Ages - AlphatheGreat The Gist
Darth Vader combines defenderlock and swordmage abilities to impose debuffs and a heavy catch-22 between strong marking and high defenses.Davy Jones
, Paladin/Hospitaler/Ceaseless Guardian - Imperii
Paladins have good debuffing, and Hospitaler+Weakening Challenge is arguably the most powerful mark punishment in the game. Shielding Swordmages prevent damage. An enemy tagged by your DC stands a good chance of HEALING your allies more than they hurt them.
, Fighter/Kensei/Ceaseless Guardian - Lordduskblade
Mr. Smith takes it and deals it. Dazes at-will, slows, debuffs, is very nasty to be around...for the enemy
, Fighter/Pit Fighter/Demigod - Herid_Fel The Gist
Essentially a higher-damage variant of Mr. Smith. Still an ultimate defender, though.Beowulf
, Brawler Fighter/Kensei/Ceaseless Guardian - Lordduskblade
Beowulf grabs enemies, knocks them prone, and keeps them with him. His unbreakable (I'm not kidding) iron grip on up to two enemies of your choice makes him well worth his spot here.Crimson Legion Champion
, Paladin|Warlock/Questing Knight/Legendary Sovereign - Inferenz
Combines defenderlock tactics with paladin debuffing, marking and durability to make for one nasty catch-22 build.Ioun Grey Stone Marker
, Battlemind|Fighter/Daring Blade - Mommy_was_an_Orc The Gist
Battleminds and Fighters both have generic marks. But Battleminds have more durable marks with weaker punishment, and fighters have temporary marks with strong mark punishment. The hybrid of these two is a match made in heaven, especially with Blurred Strike fixed. Try getting away from him. I dare you.
Dr. No the Sigil Cartificer, Artificer|Swordmage/Sigil Carver/Ceaseless Guardian - Ytterbium_Dragon The Gist
The Sigil Carver has one of the best multimarking punishments in the game: opportunity attacks against violators of your mark. Don't let the "adjacent ally" requirements fool you, this is both one of the first Ultimate Defenders and one of the best. I have posted the build here with the author's permission. I may repost his explanation as soon as I have it properly formatted. The Build
*note: The build here written assumes that free melee training and expertise are given as a houserule, which is fairly common. As the originator of the build is no longer on the forums, that's the version available. Just keep that in mind, you'll need to do some adjusting in any game without the same houserules.
Sigil Cartificer (aka Dr. No), level 30Inexhaustible Dragon Sovereign
Shadar-kai, Artificer|Swordmage/Sigil Carver/Ceaseless Guardian
Hybrid Talent: Swordmage Warding
FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 15, Con 24, Dex 15, Int 28, Wis 12, Cha 10
STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 13, Con 16, Dex 11, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 8
AC: 49 Fort: 47 Reflex: 46 Will: 42, resist 5 all w/ 2 enemies marked
HP: 182 Surges: 15 Surge Value: 45
Arcana, Endurance, Perception
Free: Versatile Expertise (Heavy Blades, Light Blades)
Free: Melee Training (Intelligence)
Level 1: Hybrid Talent
Level 2: White Lotus Riposte
Level 4: Shield of Hestavar
Level 6: Mark of Warding
Level 8: Devious Jaunt
Level 10: Improved Initiative (retrained to Enhanced Resistive Formula at level 11)
Level 11: Psychic Lock
Level 12: Double Aegis (retrained to Total Aegis at level 21)
Level 14: Greater Swordmage Warding
Level 16: Greater Aegis of Shielding
Level 18: Improved Initiative (retrained to Superior Initiative at level 23)
Level 20: Improved Swordmage Warding (retrained to Swordmage Implement Expertise at level 22)
Level 21: Rapid Aegis Reaction
Level 22: Strength Through Challenge
Level 24: Triumphant Attack
Level 26: Epic Will
Level 28: Epic Fortitude
Level 30: Epic Reflex
Hybrid at-will 1: Sword Burst
Hybrid at-will 1: Static Shock
Hybrid encounter 1: Scouring Weapon (retrained to Sword of Sigils at level 7)
Hybrid daily 1: Punishing Eye
Hybrid utility 2: Channeling Shield (retrained to Swift Mender at level 14)
Hybrid encounter 3: Transposing Lunge
Hybrid daily 5: Shielding Fire
Hybrid utility 6: Regeneration Infusion (retrained to Swordmage's Decree at level 10)
Hybrid encounter 7: Repulsion Strike
Hybrid daily 9: Radiant Sigil
Hybrid utility 10: Healing Figurine
Hybrid encounter 13: Hypnotic Swordplay (replaces Sword of Sigils)
Hybrid daily 15: Hunter's Pursuit (replaces Shielding Fire)
Hybrid utility 16: Iron-Hide Infusion
Hybrid encounter 17: none taken
Hybrid daily 19: Hellfire Sigil (replaces Radiant Sigil)
Hybrid utility 22: Oni's Gift
Hybrid encounter 23: Prismatic Strike (replaces Repulsion Strike)
Hybrid daily 25: Planar Shock (replaces Hunter's Pursuit)
Hybrid encounter 27: none taken
Hybrid daily 29: Astral Thunder Blade (replaces Planar Shock)
+6 Shared Valor Starleather Armor (2,125,000), +6 Githyanki Silver Longsword (2,625,000), Opal Ring of Remembrance (2,625,000), Siberys Shard of the Mage (epic, 425,000), Shadowfell Gloves (epic, 1,125,000), Dice of Auspicious Fortune x2 (18,000), Diamond Cincture (paragon, 125,000), +6 Cloak of Distortion (2,625,000), Ring of Giants (17,000), Iron Armbands of Power (1,125,000), Eye of Awareness (425,000), Planestrider Boots (85,000)
, Paladin/Questing Knight/Legendary Sovereign - LitigationThe Gist
Apply Divine Sanction to everyone nearby, consistently. Now heal your allies a little, grant some saves, get them out of trouble, make your sanction weakening, be able to take a beating...Litigation's build does a whole lot of marking and a fair bit of everything else. Watch the variants section for interesting variations...The Man of Steel
, Warden|Battlemind/Gladiator Champion/Topaz Crusader - BaronSengir
As the first (I think) Dizzying Mace+Intellect Snap builds, this definitely deserves a place here. Full defender hp, con-build surges, immunity to most of the worst effects, decent to high defenses, standard resist all, synergy between the warden and battlemind marks, robust multimarking all make this a very good defender. But it's the "and more" that makes him Ultimate.The Anointed Knight
Intellect Snap dazes at-will, onto which Dizzying mace adds a -conmod to hit penalty. On top of your mark, that's a massive at-will hit penalty worthy of the very best UDs.
Gladiator Champion and warden plug the holes from being a hybrid Battlemind, by making sure that nothing can get away from you.
He is sticky, he is tough, he applies massive penalties and he has strong multimarking.
, Knight/Anointed Champion/Ceaseless Guardiant - I33
The first essentials character I am adding to the Ultimate Defenders, this build has certainly earned its spot. As a line defender, the Anointed Knight is arguably the very best. Solid defenses, Come and Get It and some other miscellaneous tricks make him durable and sticky. By grabbing Sonnlinor's Hammer for his mba(inflicts -cha to enemy damage), and boosting that with further penalties to hit, dazing, and granting thp to allies, not only is his main attack a brutal debuff, but he gets to use it as his "mark" punishment as well. And that is the final cap: his punishment is against ALL adjacent enemies(no need to mark), and is an opportunity action. Right from the gate, he's unbound by the immediate-action starvation faced by so many other defenders. One of the very best Ultimate Defenders on the market, and he is totally item and campaign-setting neutral to boot!A Save Haven
, Swordmage|Warlock/Sigil Carver/Sage of Ages - billyhThe Gist
Like Dr. No, Save Haven leverages the ability of the Sigil Carver to punish more enemies in a round than the usual Immediate Interrupt defenders allow. Building on the highly versatile Swordmage|Warlock base like Vader, he capitalizes on his mark punishment by specializing in slides. Like Dr. No you want your party to gather round, but then, so do Magic Weapon Artificers. High defenses and strong mark punishment make this an excellent addition.The Inescapeable Fisherman 2.0
, Battlemind|Swordmage/Gladiator Champion/Destined Scion - SongNSilenceThe Gist
The concept behind the fisherman is simple: keep your enemies close. It uses extreme stickiness as its main defender schtick. Enemies can't shift away, if they try to move away they get knocked prone and slowed before they get there. Expanded Swordburst and Thundering Vortex drag enemies in, and once they are in they stay there. For those occasional enemies who are still able to attack your melee allies, you're still a Swordmage and Battlemind, with solid marking ability and Immediate Interrupt attacks. Add solid defenses, defender hp on top of that, and you'll be dominating the battlefield as defenders are mean to do. As a bonus, you're fairly item independent. Most effective if your game allows both dragonmarks and dark sun themes, but still doable otherwise.Set Hammers to Stun
, Paladin|Fighter/Adroid Explorer/Reincarnate Champion - GelatinousOctahedron
A shining example of using power selection as the primary route for defending your allies. Stunning enemies again and again on top of the already decent defense package available for a hybrid Paladin|Fighter ensures solid disruption of the enemy's ability to target your allies. With full defender hp and defenses, he loses little by way of durability. In epic the stuns turn to dominates with the utterly abusive Royal Command of Asmodeus.
Thanks to Qballony and Ytterbium_Dragon for the builds that first tipped me off to the Ultimate Defender phenomenon, to everyone in ##4e for the discussions that developed it further, and to everyone who has created Ultimate Defender builds.