Here is a thought I have had, it's not thorough and it may have some holes in it. But I feel perhaps it could have some assistance in reducing some of the extra safety mechanics in place now (forcefields on claims, etc) and provide some 'offline protection' in it's place while also creating some coin sinks, encourage more crafting and trade and utilize mostly existing mechanics.
I will try to keep this brief and would welcome feedback and further ideas.
Since there is the new outpost feature and slaves with lifespans, etc. in place. Could this be utilized to create an NPC guard that can be 'trained' (similar to animal breeding) and 'equipped' (using the crafting system) and then placed for defense within a claim area?
For instance: A building can be made that 'trains' or produces recruits (using the 'deed' system like animals and slaves). Another building, like a barracks, can house X amount of guards. You will need to 'equip' (or craft) the type of guard you want by placing a 'recruit' (deed) and weapons and armor needed to 'craft' an npc with those weapons. you will also need to keep the barracks stocked with food (similar to barns, etc) and coin (similar to monuments, amount of soldiers and quality have an upkeep cost you must maintain)
Perhaps a limit can be placed on max amount of guards based on guild size and/or authority skill. They will also have a 'contract term' (similar to lifespan of animals and slaves) after which they will 'leave' (be lost) to further protect from abuse or overuse and to encourage the production, trade of them and weapons and food and the need to still maintain your claim if you want the protection.
Perhaps their actions could be managed similar to the claim and guild management and permissions system:
You could set your NPCs stance to Ignore, Defend if Attacked, or Attack on Sight similar to permissions (set stance on individuals, entire guilds, or 'neutral', 'enemy', 'ally' etc)
There could also be an option to ignore those who yield or are in flee mode, OR to not stop until the target is dead (your NPC guards actions could directly impact the alignment of the owner)
To keep them defensive, they could only be placed within your claim. They would also need to not be over powered to keep them as a defense to be used along with walls and such, and to ensure the best option is always a real player, not an army of npcs.
If something like this was implemented, it could create a viable and realistic 'offline protection' option rather than simply blocking access to claims or having limited Judgement Hours that never fit everyone's timezone or availability.
It could also encourage trade: people could make a living 'training' recruits to sell like slaves (they have a lifespan so you can't hoard them even if they don't fight anyone), weapon smiths, armorsmiths, cooks would all have demand to keep up with crafting the guards (that have a lifespan so will need to be constantly crafted) and there would be another solid coin sink in addition to monuments to encourage the selling of wares and looting and other means of making coin.
It would allow large and small guilds and bands alike to either be free to focus on PVE (while guards defend their no longer impervious home) or PVP (there will always be someone (real or NPC) to fight and potentially try to loot or at least gain some reward from)
Perhaps these could be implemented with all the current protections still active; give the players a chance to bug test, figure out potential exploits, find the right balance of value vs. overpowered. Then if it works and after players have had sufficient time to produce and maintain some guards, slowly lower some of these protective mechanics to find a nice balance of protection and realistic danger of loss.
Again, this is a very rough idea and full of holes (how to place them, are they static or mobile, how do you keep someone from making a claim near yours and set up some archer to shoot you as soon as you spawn in your claim until you die the second you start the game, etc) but I though it might be a potentially cool idea.
Obviously real players is the best and is the goal, but with all the timezones and different play styles, some form of offline protection that must be maintained but can be overcome is needed to create the living world that the real players can then make the biggest part of.