Depending on where you live and how much you care, Essentials has either been out for a week, or you're still waiting on it. Regardless, it's already got quite a hefty content delivery with a full-blown 30-level playtest class, the executioner. Though cited in Heroes of the Fallen Lands as a martial class, the executioner is (currently) unique in that it hastwo power sources--Martial and Shadow--which is something people either like or revile. Personally, I just look at it like a modified hybrid rogue/assassin build as unlike theassassinthis one only dabbles in hexes, also relying on martial prowess to see the job through (it is perhaps for this reason that it's slightly more durable than the alternative).
Since the executioner is half martial, I'd expected that the majority of its attacks would rely on melee basic attacks...and I was partially correct. Every weapon attack you make gets a passive bonus to damage thanks to Attack Finesse, kind of like the barbarian. It also let's you use your Dexterity modifier for your MBAs regardless of weapon, though the at-will exploits demand specific weapon usage so you'll wanna stick this those (say goodbye to fullblade-wielding assassins). You get to pick from one of two guilds, which determines the weapons you're proficient with and exploits you can choose from, and there's a table featuring the Superior weapons you get that aren't inHeroes of the Fallen Lands.
Exploits from the Red Scales guild--in addition to mandatory weaponry--either require that you are hidden or make a charge, or don't deal damage and instead impose some kind of controller effect like grabbed or prone. All of the League of Whispers exploits are limited to ranged weapons and modify what they do on a hit or granting you a bonus effect (generally free movement). Basically, if you want to focus mostly on melee go with the Red Scales, otherwise you're looking at the League of Whispers. Each guild only gets to pick from four, and these are theonly attacks you get throughout the entire game. At levels where you'd normally get new encounter attacks, you instead gain Death Attack, the ability to make more poisons while resting, or to pick a third at-will from your list.
Like knights and slayers, youdo get a damage-boosting at will,assassin's strike. It works on any creature within 5 squares, so ranged executioners don't get fucked, deals an extra 1d10 damage (scaling up to 7d10), triggers as a Free Action, andalsoinflicts maximum damage on a helpless target (which I thought was a coup de grace, and thereby dealt max damage already). Unlike most encounter powers, you cannot recharge it byanymeans save a short rest. In case this wasn't enough, their Death Attack class feature (gained at level 3) allows them to kill shit even faster, causing an automatic kill when you reduce an enemy to 10 hit points or less with any attack. You cannot subdue a creature using this; youmust kill it. This hit point range increases to 20 and 30 at levels 11 and 21 respectively.
At 1st-level they can create poisons during an extended rest, so long as they know the recipe and have a poisoner's kit (typo-ed as an "assassin's kit"). You start out knowing any two from the 1st level list, and they're pretty potent, having both in-and-out of combat uses. When used on a weapon, they generally inflict ongoing poison damage, or grant you bonus poison damage (notably,id moss powder lets you throw it, dealing both poison damageandongoing psychic damage, causing the target to attack it's allies each time it fails a save). That's nifty, but the really cool shit happens if you use a little subterfuge; when poured into a drink or used on a plate of food,bloodroot poison dazes the first creature that eats ituntil they take an extended rest. Sounds cool? Wellid moss powder can be placed in a container, and deals automatic damageand ongoing damage when a creature opens it. The best part is that if the creature dies from the damage, it is instead drivenpermanently insane.
There's no purchase price for these poisons, so unless a DM is willing to houserule only executioners can make them, but since there's no restriction on who can use them it’s feasible to let another character try it out. There's also a limit on how many you can have at any given time (which increases by level), and they become useless when you take an extended rest. The explanation is that in most places, poisons are illegal, so executioners learn how to make them from seemingly innocuous components, greatly reducing longevity. I can see players and DMs getting pissy because of this, but I'm glad to see a class that provides an elegant method for actually applying poisons outside of the other assassin's liberal use of shadow magic.
As per Essentials you don't get to make a lot of choices as you level, typically just utilities (though in some cases you get to, ahem, pick your poison). Utilities can be martial or shadow, and while you can try to stick to mundane fare inevitably you'll get saddled with a hex at level 10 since it offers no exploits. All of the exploits are at-wills, save for daring escape, which is an encounter. There aren't a lot of martial utilities--like, five I think in total--and in summary they let you move and remain hidden even if you break cover (well, 'til the end of your turn), reduce falling damage and remain standing if the falling damage is negated, climb/jump your speed without making a skill check, or shift twice your speed in addition to gaining a hefty skill bonus if you have to climb or jump while shifting. On the other hand, hexes let you do stuff like create zones of fog or darkness, teleport (sometimes without having line of sight), unerringly track a target, or place a corpse into a tiny container so that you can quickly conceal and/or transport a victim.
I like that WotC went outside the power box on this one and made something that combines two different sources. I think it works, and have no problem with "dual-sources", as it goes outside of the whole symmetry thing that they don't like adhering to. I don't think that its better than the assassin, it just goes about things in a very different fashion. I like the use of poisons, as players in my games tend to ignore them, but the restrictive power selection kind of tanks it for me. Josh wants to run an all-Essentials campaign, so I'll see if I can give it an in-depth run.