How do you deal with players new to 4e who want to run characters that the system doesn’t support? I’ve got one player coming from 3e who wants to run a “Buffing/Utility wizard who does very little damage.” There’s really not a lot of buffing powers outside of the leader classes (and the “buffs” are fairly short term and small), and not a lot of utility outside of rituals. Considering every power does some form of damage, and pawning this player off on a cleric is unlikely, I’m not sure what to say.
Here’s the first essential step to overcoming this problem–stop equating class name with what the character is in the game world. I’ve heard players say, “Boy, I miss druids being able to use healing spells.” Well, I play a 5th-level druid, and she can heal as just about well as any 3e druid of her level. See, she’s a multiclassed bard. In the game world I play in (Jeremy Crawford’s Oberon campaign) her social title is “druid.” But that would be her title even if her class were wizard. If I had wanted to emphasize healing and retain the “primal” feel, the shaman class would have suited that purpose just fine.
I also allow my players to customize the narrative appearance of their character and powers to support character concepts. For instance, the shaman class talks about primal spirits, emphasizing animals. Those spirits can just as easily be ancestor spirits and stay well within the intent and description of the primal power source. But, in your own home game, you don’t even have to be beholden to the power source description. I’ve seen a player create a deva “shaman” whose spirit powers were manifestations of her own past lives. In the game world, she was not identified as primal or a shaman. In my Dark Sun campaign, the shaman is a dwarf “animist” who calls primarily on ancient dwarf ancestor spirits. Mechanically, he’s a bear shaman–but bears don’t exist in my Dark Sun campaign. The classifications exist only to define the character for the player with reference to the rules, rather than to define the character in the world.
Some players want the character’s performance to be a complete match to concept at 1st level. That’s rarely possible in any roleplaying game. The concept solidifies only after the character advances to a certain point. That’s cool, in my mind, because the character (in the game world) might have the ambitions the concept embodies (in the player’s mind in the metagame). Like anyone with an ambitious agenda, the character is unable to express the full extent of that ambition yet. That’s a roleplaying opportunity.
As an aside, and not meaning to be snarky, one also has to go with game. What I mean by this is some concepts don’t match the tenor of a game. The 4e D&D game is high heroic fantasy that emphasizes beating monsters and overcoming obstacles. Other editions of the D&D game had the same core concept.
All that buildup is so I can say that a character who doesn’t pull his or her weight in a fight doesn’t belong in a typical D&D game in any edition. A character needs to be able to do some damage. Further, in 4e, the nature of most effects is “short-term and small.” The fact that the buffing powers work that way shouldn’t trouble anyone. They have their intended effect within the game’s framework.
Enough with the philosophy, though.
It’s clear to me your player actually wants to be in the leader role, probably without being beholden to the other meanings of “leader.” Arcane magic power is also part of his or her goal. I’d recommend he or she start with the bard class. Emphasize the Cunning Bard build, along with Charisma (obviously) and Intelligence (for the AC and Reflex, as well as multiclassing into the wizard class). Wear leather armor–it can look like fancy, heavy robes. Choose implement powers, focusing on those that help allies or hinder foes in place of higher damage. The character already has the Ritual Caster feat, so I’d recommend multiclassing into wizard immediately. For this player, I suspect a desire for wizard cantrips, so I’d allow access to the cantrips in place of the at-will power Arcane Initiate grants. I’d even grant training in a wizard class skill instead of Arcana, since bards already have access to Arcana, but I’m generous. Along the lines of my “narrative appearance” philosophy, I’d allow the player to ignore the “music magic” aspect of the bard, allowing the player to describe power effects “in-game” as he or she desires. I’d probably ask for a general description of power usage as part of the creation process.
There are other ways to solve the problem, such as a hybrid bard/wizard. My feeling is that full-fledged leader-role character is what this player is really looking for. The freedom to customize should result in something close to his or her desires, if not an exact fit. This sort of nonmechanical customization should be encouraged anyhow, and it often solves the problem you speak of.